Archive for the ‘sermon manuscript’ Category
Welcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (podcast). In this episode, you will hear a sermon from Ezekiel 37:1-4. I preached this sermon to my congregation on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009. Be blessed.
Access the sermon manuscript from box.net: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Waking the Dead
Prophesy to the Bones. And the Lord put words in his mouth: Say to them, ‘I will make breath enter you, and you will come to live. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’
And what does the Bible say? “I prophesied as I was commanded.” I think this means that he did as he was told, and he told as he was told. Then he says, “While I was prophesying, there was a rattling…” You see, here a beautiful thing: Nothing happened until Ezekiel started preaching. Nothing happens apart from the proclamation of the Word of God. If Ezekiel had just stood there, silent, disobedient, nothing would have happened. The bones would not have rattled. The tendons would not have appeared. Flesh would not have appeared. Skin would not have covered the flesh.
Nothing would have happened if the prophet hadn’t spoke. But see the Word of God creating worlds out of nothing. See the Word of God calling Lazarus forth. See the Word of God do it’s work. And why? “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” This is the revealing God—He speaks and dead, dry, very dry bones are recreated.
Still Ezekiel saw there was a problem: “There was no breath in them.” I think we want something to happen. We want some sort of hope. We want sort of revival. We say, “Our coffers are dried up. We are pews are empty. We have not a lot of youth.”
And God doesn’t send us anything but his Word. And what is His Word to us: I will make these dry bones live. Preach, son of man. “So I prophesied as I was commanded. That’s all. He just spoke aloud with ordinary words. No magic. No secret incantations. No conjuring tricks with bones. Just the living power of the word of the living God invading the valley of the shadow of death.” (Wright, 306)
You can access the audio here: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Waking the Dead
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Soli Deo Gloria!
New Testament Lesson: Acts 4:5-12
No Other Name**
The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone.’”
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
“Salvation is literally inconceivable apart from Christ: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). […] Peter’s statement does represent what the church has always and everywhere believed about the name of Jesus. If Jesus is, as we believe him to be, as much of God as we ever hope to see, the one who uniquely brought about our at-one-ment with the Father, then we can’t also say that Jesus is only a way, one truth among man, and just another life. Jesus is not simply a great moral example; he is the salvation of God, God’s peculiar, unsubstitutable fullness. Jesus’ distinctive way of suffering, sacrificial love, outrageous invitation, and boundary-breaking, government-enraging, relentless-seeking—vindicated by surprising, unexpected resurrection—cannot be merged with other means or definitions of salvation.(William Willimon, Who Will be Saved?)
Everyone gathered—rulers, elders, teachers of the law; Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, others of the high priest’s family. They surrounded the disciples just as they had surrounded Jesus on the night he was betrayed. Perhaps there is strength in numbers; perhaps they could bully the disciples into submission; perhaps…just perhaps if they nip this in the bud now they could halt this ‘Jesus movement’ before it gains too much more steam.
There is strength in numbers. There is power in people. It is probably not insignificant that Luke uses the word ‘rulers’, which I don’t think is a technical term, but I do believe is at least metaphorical. Jacques Ellul counts six evil powers in the Bible: Mammon, the prince of this world, the prince of lies, Satan, the devil, and death. These may be too vague and overlapping, but they get at the point well enough—and there must be some intimately involved in their perpetuation. He further spells it out for his readers: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. And someone must perpetuate such things—I call the perpetuators, Rulers. What does Ellul say about these things:
They select as their primary target those whom God elects and sets apart (saints), those to whom God reveals his love in Jesus Christ (Christians), and the fellowship of such people (the church). The efforts of evil powers (I call them such for convenience, although I repeat that they are not powers in themselves nor evil as the antithesis of the good God) focus on the place where God’s grace and love are best expressed. They deploy their full strength on Jesus Christ. They concentrate all the forces of evil on Christians. […] [The Devil] brings all his efforts to bear against those who carry grace and love in the world. For his problem is not to bring people to eternal loss or to carry them off to hell, but to prevent God’s love from being present in the world. (Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, 176ff)
And they do well enough. Constantly destroying. Constantly baiting. Constantly threatening the church into complacency. Ellul continues:
What the vanquished powers can always do is dramatize the situation on earth, make human life intolerable, destroy faith and mutual trust, make people suffer, kill off love, and prevent the birth of hope. In other words, what seems to me to be biblically certain is that the evil powers make earth a hell, and that there is no hell but this earth of ours that is said to be a delightful garden. What they do is precisely this: they destroy all that Jesus came to bring. In so doing, they disrupt our relations with God and others, especially the relation created by Jesus Christ. Misery, no perdition, is the issue. Their grand work is to produced in those who have received the mark of the Lord the opposite of what God expects. We should not be surprised, then, at what has happened in the church. It is the normal outcome of this ongoing revolt.”
I believe we see such powers at work in the lesson for today from Acts. This issue, of course, is the exclusivity of Jesus. Ellul is right: The enemy deploys his full strength against Jesus Christ. That is what the ‘rulers’ did that day when they arrested the apostles. Look what Luke tells us:
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
I love how Luke continues to point out how all the rulers just piled on and on and on the apostles for ‘teaching’ and for ‘acts of kindness.’ Sadducees, Priests, guards, and others—all of them ganging up on the apostles for teaching. Peter turns it on them, ‘If we are being called to account for an act of kindness…’ And I think this is Peter’s way of saying something like this: What’s the real reason you are calling us to account today? How can you possibly find fault with the healing of a crippled man? Show your cards! What’s the real motivation here? Well, we already know what the real reason was: They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching people, and ‘proclaiming in Jesus’ the resurrection from the dead.
That was the problem. The world’s problem is not with you and me per se but with Jesus and this is why when Peter mounts his ‘defense’ to their charges, he doesn’t defend himself. Did you get that? Their problem was with Jesus—the very one they had killed, but whom God had vindicated. So, Mark Driscoll notes:
“Jesus’ exclusivity as the only possible means of salvation. Oprah Winfrey expressed the thoughts of many in our age of spiritual pluralism, saying, ‘One of the biggest mistakes humans make is to believe there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call God.’ While the view seems kind and generously open to all faiths, the belief is as foolish as saying that every road one might travel in this life ultimately leads to the same destination.
“Because the superiority, glory, exclusivity, preeminence, and singularity of Jesus as both God and Savior are at stake, we must contend for Jesus as the only God and the only possible means of salvation, as both Jesus [John 14:6] and the early church [Acts 4:12] did.” (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 137-138)
So Peter contends for Jesus—not for himself. He knows they have a problem with Jesus because no one in their right mind has a problem with someone healing a crippled man. I sense in Peter not a little sarcasm: Well, OK. If we are being called to account because of kindness, then know this, even the very kindness we are doing is done because of Jesus. We do nothing apart from Jesus. Not teaching. Not preaching. Not kindness. Not anything. The Person of Jesus motivates and amplifies our actions.
But why is Peter so intent on proclaiming Jesus? Why is Peter so intent on not defending himself and on only pointing to Jesus? I think there are a couple of important reasons.
The first is this: Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. The rulers gave Peter the opportunity for defense and Peter took it upon himself to instead utter proclamation. His defense is the Gospel. He frames his answer inside the confines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and resurrected. But Peter doesn’t say these things of his own accord either.
Sometimes we are confronted and we defend, but Peter here doesn’t defend; he contends. And not for himself, but for Jesus. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and then he spoke. It indicates that Peter was did not speak on his own, but as the prophets of old he spoke as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. I love what William Willimon says about preaching, “The Risen Christ is always a more fit subject for conversation in the church than us. To be a preacher is to relinquish all homiletical assistance other than that give, or not given, by the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit must empower the preaching. Interestingly enough, after this short sermon, Luke notes, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” Perhaps being with Jesus and empowered by the Spirit is of far more consequence when preaching than is any other consideration. But the Holy Spirit, we can see, inspires far more than mere courage, he also inspires content. Peter simply got up and declared what they asked: “It was the name of Jesus.” So this is not merely about courage to talk. This is about confidence to say only what is given at the moment.
I don’t think we preachers, and by that I mean every person who has been given the testimony of Christ, rely enough on this Holy Spirit. “What are we attempting with which could not be accomplished without the Holy Spirit? What is there about our lives which demands an explanation? We will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ when we dare to do what could never be accomplished on our own strength and insight” (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Acts Communicator’s Commentary, 1983 as quoted by William J Larkin Junior, Acts IVP NT Commentary Series, 73).
Seriously, if all we do can be explained away as the mere byproducts of human ingenuity—eh, where is the Spirit of God in all that?
But look what the Holy Spirit filled Peter did. Look where the Holy Spirit pointed Peter to: Jesus.
A second consideration is that Peter proclaimed the Word of God: “The stone you builders rejected, which has become the Cornerstone.” Peter didn’t have to look far or point far to show the people he preached to that nothing that was happening should surprise them because it is what God had been saying all along. If they had only paid closer attention to the Word they would have noticed, they would have seen.
We can try all day to outwit the rulers of the world using all sorts of worldly weapons and powers and reasons, but there is only one answer for all the world’s accusations. One writer noted, “Today as well the Spirit’s witness to the truth through Christ’s messengers will be unanswerable, though still unacceptable, for many people” (Larkin). Preach the word, Paul wrote, “be prepared in season and out of season.” Preach the Word. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Isaiah said it is the Word of God that will not return to God void. And Jesus said the sower went out to sow and the seed he sowed was the Word of God.
Another noted a similar point, “Luke is thus describing effective ministry in the New Testament era: speaking out of the fullness of the Spirit and out of a knowledge of Scripture. The apostles have a boldness that comes from confidence about their message and empowerment by the Spirit” (Aijith Fernando, NIV Application Commentary). Too easy is it to follow the way of the world and preach out of the fullness of ourselves or out of the wisdom of the world. We learned during our Lenten sermons that what we preach is foolishness, but it is God’s foolishness we preach and in that foolishness is power.
I think there is a time and a place for what we call testimony. But testimony is not necessarily Gospel. Testimony is our history—what happened in the past. Witness is the telling of what God has done and is doing and will do in Jesus. What Peter quoted that day is—simply, nothing short of what Jesus himself had said in Luke 20:17: “Then what is the meaning of that which is written, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” This is yet another reason why it is imperative that we, as a people, continue to involve ourselves together in the Scripture.
Peter had listened to Jesus, Peter was listening to the Spirit thus it follows that Peter would preach the Word of God and let the Word of God be his defense and witness. Later Luke says that they ‘saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, and were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” We learned last week that after Jesus resurrected and met his disciples on Emmaus and in the locked room, he redirected all their attention to all of the Scripture. So John and Peter do the same. They redirect the people’s attention to the Scripture.
Look where the Word of God pointed: To Jesus. Just as the Holy Spirit directed Peter’s words to Jesus; so too the Holy Scripture directed Peter witness to Jesus.
Look where the Holy Spirit and the Word of God pointed: To Jesus.
And so we must continue to talk about Jesus. He must continue to be the subject of our conversations, the pillar of all our preaching. Why? Peter says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.”
How can we possibly preach anything or anyone else? Peter earlier said that ‘all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Now he says that ‘salvation is found only in Jesus.’ But I don’t want to talk about salvation because even Peter did not talk about it. He mentions it merely to talk about Jesus. Jesus is the subject. Peter starts working into some terribly exclusive language here. He says, ‘no-one else,’ and ‘no other name,’ and it is at this point that the rulers just lose it.
Remember, the rulers and the powers and the principalities can get along well enough in this world so long as the church is just another social services office or another psychologist’s couch or another soup kitchen. Seriously: those places are never attacked by the rulers and powers. In fact, it is the rulers and powers who set up such places in the first place. And if that is all the church is—fine, but let the church start talking about Jesus and watch the rulers and powers kick it into a different gear altogether.
Do you think our church has suffered the way it has suffered merely because of personality differences among us? But there is something about that Name! There is something about Jesus that irks the powers and the rulers of this world. So look what the rulers say and don’t say to Peter and John before letting them go: They don’t say: Don’t go around healing people or feeding them or clothing them. That’s all fine and good and the implication is that these are harmless things. The powers of this world couldn’t care less if I stand here on Sunday mornings and tell you all about the things I refuse to tell you. But let us dare to stand and preach that Jesus alone is the exclusive way of salvation that God has given us—and what them boil over with rage and hate.
What they do say is this: “But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone is this name. Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach all in the name of Jesus.” Ah-ha!! There it is. It’s the Name that the World fears. Think about it. When God called Moses out in the desert and told him to go back to Pharaoh and preach he armed him with what? The Name: God said to Moses, “I am Who I am. This is what you are to tell the Israelites. I AM has sent me to you.”
Do you hear this? And this is what the Holy Spirit is attempting to wake up in you and me. The rulers of this world are not stupid. The leaders seemed to think that the church was no threat until the church started to preach in Jesus’ name. We can be safely ignored until we start making exclusive claims about this person Named Jesus. The church is a faithful ally in the world’s attempt at Utopian dreams until the church starts talking about Jesus as superior to the gods the world loves. The church can talk all day long about whatever the church wants until the church wants to talk about Jesus. The church is beside the point until the church starts talking about Jesus.
It’s that pesky Jesus every time. You see the world pronounced it’s verdict on Jesus: They crucified him. They nailed him to the tree.. They buried him. They ‘conspired against God and against his anointed one.’
But God also had a verdict on Jesus. The one enthroned in heaven scoffs. He laughs at the world’s attempt to rule and control and overthrow Him and to throw off their fetters. God’s verdict on Jesus: He resurrected Him!!! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!
There is no place in this world for two gods, and Jesus is the competition for every other god that has been erected on this planet: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. These gods rule; but these are the very gods over which Christ has triumphed in the cross. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Peter and John were bold and courageous that day precisely because they preached in the Spirit of God, from the Word of God, and about the Son of God. They were bold because they had been with Jesus. They were courageous because they were empty vessels whom the Holy Spirit could fill. They were full of wisdom because they relied on the Word of God and not their own theological prowess.
So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?
There is no other Name given by which men must be saved. What else on earth could possibly be of interest to the church but the Name of Jesus? Have we lost our nerve? Have we grown weary of the Name? Have we lost interest in the Name above all Names? Have we tired of the Name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess? Do we think that people will be more interested in us if we preach something different or something softer or something more compelling or something more interesting?
But I also wonder what power we give up, what significance we lose, what authority we surrender when we, in fact, speak in names that are other than the Name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us to preach only in the Name of Jesus because that is the only Name given by which men must be saved.
You see a fine example in these verses of a church that refused to cooperate or compromise with the world’s powers and rulers and authorities. They threaten the church and hope that they can silence the church with violence and accusations and threats and bully tactics. Not the church, though! “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to him? You be the judges. As for us, we cannot help but speaking of what we have seen and heard.”
Those are the words of a church convinced that the world is no ally. Those are the words of a church convinced that being obedience to God renders obedience to any earthly ruler a moot point. Those are the words of a church that will not allow the Name of Jesus to be rendered impotent in this world through compromise with the defeated powers of the world. Those are the words of a church that is sure and certain of God’s verdict on Jesus. Those are the words of a church empowered by the Holy Spirit, convicted by the Word of God, and saved by the One and Only Jesus. And it seems to me that it is far, far better for the world to fear us because we refuse to preach in any other name than it is for them to fear us for any other reason.
So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?
There is only one answer the true church of Christ can give.
He is our King.
He is our Love.
He is our God whose come,
To bring us back to Him.
He is the one.
He is Jesus.
He is Jesus.
**(All of the references in this sermon manuscript can be found by accessing the sermon notes here.)
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
There has always been, at least for a great many years, in the history of mankind, a terribly large and unhealthy debate about creation. One the one hand, there are some who are absolutely convinced beyond doubt that we have, gradually, over time, evolved from or at least share common ancestry with other species of life on earth. On the other hand, there are some who dismiss all of these sorts of mechanisms and accept by faith that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. It’s a fun debate and one that I am certain will not find any resolution this side of divide.
There’s another debate, however, that we rarely hear anything about at all. Well, ‘debate’ is not really the right word, but it seems that Christians, in their zeal to defend a literal 6, twenty-four hour day, creation cycle get caught up in a debate that prevents them entering into a discussion concerning creation that carries far more weight and as infinitely more important. Frankly, even though I happen to believe Genesis is true, I’m not so much interested in the old creation as I am the new creation. Paul wrote as much in Galatians 6: What matters is the new creation.
I mean, the old creation is fine and fun and to an extent theological necessary, but even that creation is going to prove futile. NT Wright wrote, “When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’s own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed.” (Surprised by Hope, 294)
The next seven Sundays are considered Easter, meaning Resurrection. Thus seven Sundays between Resurrection and Pentecost. Today is the second.
John began his Gospel with words that recall the book of Genesis and that initial act of creation by God: “In the beginning…” In Genesis we are told “In the beginning God created…” John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word…” Clearly he wants us, at the beginning of his Gospel, to think about what happened at the very beginning.
We stroll through chapter 1 and we see John continuing to recount the Genesis narrative: The next day John was there again…The next day Jesus decided to leave…On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding…and the days keep on rolling. John picks up this theme again in John 20, except that it’s a little different.
In John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week…” Then again in John 20:19: “On the evening of the first day of the week…” Again in John 20:26: “A week later…” which a week earlier was, clearly, the first day of the week.
The point is simple: The Resurrection of Jesus has ushered in a new day, a new beginning, a new creation. And he has invited us to participate in this new day, this new creation. His resurrection marks a new ‘in the beginning.’ New life. New hope. Again, as NT Wright notes, “The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.” (Surprised by Hope, 67).
So the first new day draws to a close. “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said.”
Jesus stood among them. John also told his readers, in the Revelation, that there were seven lampstands and that ‘among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…’ Jesus is not afraid to stand among the churches, he is is not afraid to stand among his people…even in his gloriousness…he is not afraid to stand among us and dispel whatever fears we have.
Fears of people! Then he said ‘Peace be with you.’ Then John tells us this interesting little note, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” In other words, peace because he triumphed. Peace because he resurrected. Peace because he was victorious. Oh, be certain of this: the world conquered for a little while—see the hands? See the side? Yes. For a little while the world has its way. But the disciples were overjoyed because ‘they saw the Lord.’
This resurrection of Jesus ushers in a life of vindication. Out with the old peaceless, fearful, comes the new resurrection, peaceful, fearless overwhelmed with joy life of the new creation. Yes there are wounds. Yes there are scars. But the other side of Good Friday is Easter; the other side of death is life; the other side of fear of humans is the peace of Christ; the other side of defeat by the world is vindication by God!
Then Jesus said to them again: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We go out in peace. We go out without fear. We go out by order of Christ. We go out…with orders by Christ.
So we look at what Jesus did while he was out. What did he accomplish? What did he do? He gives them, in other words, a new purpose, a new responsibility, a new reason to live and exist and work and serve.
Our work in Christ, our work in obedience to Christ, is no longer futile. But you will recall the old creation and what God said to Adam just before Adam was cast out of the new creation and into the wilderness, and barrenness that is not Eden: “Cursed is the ground because of you: through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
But here Jesus removes the essence of futility by giving us work that is not bound up in the flesh even if it is done in the flesh. This is not merely to spiritualize all the work we do; not at all. It is, however, to transform the nature of that work. We serve a risen Savior who’s in the World today.
This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. After telling all about the defeat of the cursed world, and the flesh, and death, he merely writes, “Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Go out and be agents of peace, and forgiveness, and hope, and new creation, and love, and mercy, and grace, and forgiveness. Go out and bear fruit…not the fruit of cursed, dead soil, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of new creation, the fruit of Resurrection. By his resurrection, on this new day, we have new work to do in Him and because of Him; and He himself continues this new work through us.
In Genesis he said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” Now Jesus says, “I am sending you.” He sent us.
And then Jesus did something that I wonder if the disciples weren’t a little shaken by. Jesus continued his re-enactment of Genesis by imitating the actions of God himself, “He breathed on them” and he spoke. “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
This is Jesus, after His resurrection, not only recreating our purpose, triumphing over the old creation, but recreating humanity and breathing into them his own Holy Spirit. He himself has empowered us to go about doing what he has called and commanded us to do. He himself has empowered us to continue his work. He himself prepares us to be people through whom he can continue his work.
And to the world, and to us, what Jesus has empowered his people to do is simply out of control. Frankly, what he has empowered us to do is the last thing we want to do and the last thing we are capable of doing. But the new creation is marked by this: Go and forgive. Jesus makes perfectly clear the point of being in possession of the Holy Spirit: Go and forgive.
In a different book, Tom Wright notes, “The point [of receiving the Holy Spirit] is so that they can do, in and for the whole world, what Jesus had been doing in Israel.” (John For Everyone, 149) He has sent us out into the harsh and terribly world, recreated, repurposed, and in the new day free to forgive in the Name of Christ.
So I don’t know that this is entirely personal. I don’t know that this is only about learning how to forgive those people who personally crush and bruise you. It could be that Jesus is concerned that we spread the fragrance of forgiveness is spread far and wide and to as many people as possible in as quick a time as possible. I think we should be as generous with forgiveness towards people as he was with us. Grace freely received and grace freely given.
“But,” you might say, “I cannot forgive. Some people are too consumed in their flesh. I must make all sorts of demands upon them before they can be forgiven.” But Jesus thinks you can forgive and he has made certain that you are able to by giving you His Holy Spirit. When he breathed new life into you, as he did the apostles, he gave you power to forgive.
So if we find ourselves in a situation where we say something silly like, “I cannot forgive…” well, there might be a couple of things in play in our lives. First, we might simply be disobeying the commands of Christ. Being unforgiving is simply not an option when it comes to Christians. Second, we might simply be denying the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That is, we might be saying that we don’t want the Holy Spirit to work in our lives—we are quenching the Spirit.
Or third, we might be, shudder the thought, un-regenerate. That is, if we can muster up the nerve to say that someone has done something in the world that we cannot forgive…shudder the thought…we might not even have the Holy Spirit to begin with. I shudder to think that the words ‘I cannot forgive’ can come out of the mouths of people who claim to be empowered by the Holy Spirit of Christ.
Disobedience. Indifference. Or unregeneration. Yet I suspect that since Jesus empowers us to be forgiving by the power of his spirit, I don’t suppose it matters all that much if it is disobedience, indifferent, or unregenerate: It is all wrong and a denial of the work of Christ in our lives.
This is the morning of resurrection. This is the new day. This is the ushering in of all newness and hope and grace. This is the end of law and the beginning of freedom. This is Christ remaking each of us and thus remaking the world. This is Christ the firstfruits of resurrection resurrecting each of us now.
I don’t know if those disciples, locked behind doors as they were—because of fear—had any idea what the first day held for them. As they slept off the failures and unforgiveness of the days before, as they limped along in the old creation, as they went about under their power…who knows what was going through their minds. But it wasn’t resurrection: Jesus’s or their own.
Jesus arose, resurrected, cracked the stone table of death and resurrected, bringing with him the dawn of the True First Day, opening our eyes to the beginnings of the New Creation: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
Frederick Buechner wrote, in his book The Alphabet of Grace,
To wake up is to be given back your life again. To wake up—and I suspect that you have a choice always, to wake or not to wake—is to be given back the world again and of all possible worlds this world, this earth rich with the bodies of the dead as our drams are rich with their ghosts, this earth that we have seen hanging in space, our toy, our tomb, our precious jewel, our hope and our despair and our heart’s delight. Waking into the new day, we are all of us Adam on the morning of creation, and the world is ours to name. Out of many fragments we are called to put back together a self again. (Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace, 22)
The problem is that some get stuck between Good Friday and Easter and never wake up. The problem is that some are so concerned about the Old Creation that we are thoroughly unconcerned about the New. The problem is that some are so concerned about their own resurrection that they have no interest whatsoever in waking others by offering them the same forgiveness.
Resurrection is a call to wake up and taste the day. Resurrection is a call to live now on the way to then. Resurrection is the first day of the rest of your life. Resurrection is not just something we hope for, it is something that defines us: We are a live now and Christ has given us peace, power, and purpose to show the world a new creation, and be a new creation, and not just talk about it.
Soli Deo Gloria!!
This is a podcast of the sermon I preached this past Sunday evening from Hebrews 10:19-25. It is the fourth part of a series I am preaching through Hebrews. I have been posting the manuscript links here and I will publish this manuscript too and also upload it to my box.net. Here are the links to the first three sermons:
Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith
Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work
Sermon four is: Drawing, Holding, Considering Because of Jesus
Download Podcast here: Hebrews 10:19-25
Or us the inline player below:
Sunday, March 22, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 4
The Book of Hebrews
I suggested to you last week that chapter 5:11 through chapter 6:12 was a parenthesis. That is, the author interrupted his argument about the superiority of Jesus’ high priesthood which began in chapter 4:14 (which actually began in 2:17 & 3:1) and reminded us yet again about the need to persevere in the faith.
In last week’s imperative, he said that we need to grow up in the faith-we need to grow up in the Word of God. Paul said similar things to the Church in Corinth; things we looked at this morning. A little maturity will go a long way towards Christian unity. This was the interruption in the book of Hebrews 5:11ff. Grow up!
Now he brings it back around to his earlier discussion on the High Priesthood of Jesus. And this discussion is not a short discussion. And the author is not willing to spare a single detail of this conversation-however hard or complicated it might be for the babes on milk to understand. Thus there is a lull, so to speak, in his imperatives from 6:13-10:18. When the author is all done, we sense a deep breath before he finally utters, “Therefore…”
This high priesthood of Jesus carries with it powerful consequences to all who know of it and are blessed enough to participate in it. When we begin engaging in the 90 Days with Jesus in May, we will explore deeply this priesthood because I think it is probably one of the more unexplored aspects of the Christian faith. Still, we can say this much: Everything said in Hebrews 10:19-25 is predicated on the substantial idea of Jesus’ high priesthood being sufficient, and, what’s more, on the idea that he is not only He the High Priest over the House, but He is also the sacrifice that was offered. Both aspects are important when considering what he says in this sixth ‘therefore.’
As one commentator notes:
As Paul often does, the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers on the basis of the doctrine he has made so clear. Because the great teachings he has set forth are true, it follows that those who profess them should live in a manner befitting them. There are resemblances between the exhortation in this paragraph and that in 4:14-16. But we must not forget that the intervening discussion has made clear what Christ’s high priestly work has done for his people. On the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, the writer exhorts his readers to make the utmost use of the blessing that has been won for them.
So, again, the great teaching he has made clear is the High Priestly work of Christ and the perfection of the sacrifice He offered. So, imperative section number 6:
6. The sixth marker is found in Hebrews 10:19-25: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Now, as you heard, and as you can see, he actually includes within this ‘therefore’ three distinct imperatives that we should be concerned about because Christ has opened up a ‘new and living way for us’. I don’t think it would be unhelpful at this point to visit the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, and see exactly what all this entails-this ‘entrance’:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats-one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
23 “Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work-whether native-born or an alien living among you- 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community.
34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses.
So you can see what a terribly complicated situation this was. Jesus not only simplified this matter of entering in, but he also opened it up for people outside the priestly caste and people outside the Jewish population.
33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
This is what he is talking about: Jesus, at his death, opened things up for people. Those who enter the temple, the part opened up for us, enter in as priests (‘let us hold unswervingly to what we profess’), as companions (‘let us consider how’), and as people who have the right and authority to commune with the living God, that is, worshipers (‘let us draw near’). It is in this context then that the author of Hebrews offers up his imperatives in verses 19-25. Let’s look at each one briefly.
First, he says, “Therefore…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” This is the authority to commune with the living God. Jesus has opened up the way, and he has clothed us with the proper wedding clothes. I happen to think here he is talking about baptism in some way. We might debate over the issue of baptism a great deal, but the Scripture seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the important things that happen at baptism.
So we can draw near to God. The work of Jesus at the cross makes worshiping such a God even possible. There is a cost. Jesus paid it. So we should draw near. Get close. Get to know. Worship. Offer ourselves up to him. He is not for us to fear in the sense that we stay away. We come before him in sincerity because he knows we don’t have to fake it. We come before him with assurance. What I wonder, for those who have not experienced the outward sign of baptism is: Can they have the full assurance? If it is merely an outward symbol of an inward work, can we be certain of the inward work if we have not experienced the outward symbol?
Second, he says, “Therefore…let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised us is faithful.” We have hope. We have hope precisely because hope does not depend on us. Somewhere in all the mix is a mustard seed of faith that the story we have believed and the Messiah we have followed is true. Frankly, sometimes that’s all we have; sometimes less. But there it is: hope does not lie within us. If it did, it would be destroyed in a minute. Our hope, Peter says, is stored up for us in heaven; it is precious; it is resurrection hope in Christ; it can never perish, spoil, or fade; it is protected by God’s power (1 Peter 1:3-5). Praise God.
Our hope depends upon the one who is faithful and therein is our hope. Again, it is important to remember that our hope is not in a dream, or an idea, or a concept, or a religion or anything of the sort. The author of Hebrews says that we have hope because he who promised it is faithful. He is faithful. We hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. This is the same thing he said back in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Profess is also confess or announce to declare. As priests, we have a confession to make; we announce to others this hope. We must hold unswervingly to this hope.
Third, he says, “Therefore…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the day approaching.” The danger, of course, is in trying to hold on to this course alone. As I have been emphasizing in our Sunday morning messages from Corinthians, we are best served and best when we are together. So we must encourage one another which means that this is a responsibility for everyone in the body towards everyone in the body. These are words we ought to be sharing with one another constantly. But I think it is critically important that these words rest not on a single person, but that the responsibility falls to all of us.
If this is but the responsibility of one person the words can grow weak, the person can grow weary, the warning can be wasted. I think if I am reading this correctly and all of us have been invited into the priestly class, then all of us have a confession to make, a worship to offer, and encouragement to give. How can we do this? Well, it means we have to talk to one another, share with one another, be involved in one another’s lives. We have to love one another enough to care about them. We have to know enough about one another to do the spurring. Frankly, as I have said elsewhere, some people have more access to others than some others do. We all must share in this responsibility so that people know they are loved and cared about and that people are concerned for them. We are companions on this journey. We move at the rate of everyone, neither speeding ahead nor lagging behind. We journey together.
Let us draw near is an exhortation to worship, fellowship, communion, confidence, faith, and trust. We enter as worshipers.
Let us hold fast is an exhortation to our priestly responsibilities inside our confession. Our confession is not something we keep secret. We enter as priests.
Let us encourage one another is an exhortation to fellowship, communion, companionship, and love. We enter as companions.
The profoundest part of these verses is that they are even possible. But Jesus had made it so. We no longer exist in solitude, we no longer live in isolation, we no longer walk alone.
The profoundest part of these verses is surely that Jesus’ work does not compel us laziness and complacency, but rather to work and energy and fellowship. We are together.
We are called together in a fellowship in God’s presence. He has opened the way for us not to enter singly, on our own, but together; as one. We come before him together. We draw near together. We hold fast together. We encourage one another together. We. Together.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Sunday, March 8, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 2
The Book of Hebrews
[These sermons are also available for download at my box.net account.--jerry]
Last week [here], we began some preliminary explorations of the book of Hebrews, in preparation for the 90 Days with Jesus which will start in May. Our preparation for the 90 Days comes in the form of exploring what I have dubbed the ‘imperatives’ of Hebrews. They are imperatives I think only to the extent that we are willing and ready to listen to the God who spoke. (1:1-2) These imperatives come at fairly regularly placed intervals in the book of Hebrews as if to remind us constantly to be looking back, opening our ears, softening our hearts. “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
So these imperatives are God’s word to us. They are his promises. They are his voice speaking to us and we have to learn how to quiet ourselves and listen. We must pay attention to what he is saying. William Willimon notes:
Contrary to [the] contemporary stress on spiritual practices, [we] are reminded that the church is created and sustained through the proclamation of the Word, not through practices or the formation of allegedly Christian character. The church must rise anew, in each generation, among those who have head, not simply among those who have been inculcated and indoctrinated. The Word is forever tearing down and rebuilding the church, disrupting, confusing, killing in order to raise us from the dead. (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 230)
So we listen. And the Word does its work inside of us. We don’t know exactly how it works just as we don’t know exactly where the seed will land once it is scattered. Yet we continue to listen for God’s voice. Sometimes it is clear, audible and majestic. Other times we have to discern it. But there it is, speaking to us in Christ.
So last week, we tuned into the first of these several imperative gestures. The first being that we need to ‘pay close attention to what we have heard so that we don’t drift away.’ I note, not in mere passing, that these imperatives are always spoken out of and to a community. ‘We’ and ‘us’ dominate these sentences. I also note that they are given to us with an intention. That is, we do not just ‘pay attention’ for the sake of paying attention. Nor, I might add, do we pay attention to just old thing we like. On the contrary, we ‘pay attention’ in order that we will not drift away. Paying attention serves a purpose in our lives. And we pay attention in this case to ‘what we heard’. What have we heard? We have heard the God who spoke to us and speaks to us in Jesus. It is probably also not insignificant that he says ‘what you heard.’ There is an emphasis on the importance of the proclaimed, spoken, audible word.
Second, we were concerned with ‘keeping our thoughts fixed on Jesus our apostle and high priest.’ What we hear is the Christ speaking to us and instructing us, praying for us, leading us and directing us. What we fix our thoughts on corresponds to what we have heard with our ears and with our eyes. We fix our thoughts on the one sent to us, the sacrifice, and the High priest, the one who offers the sacrifice. When we fix our thoughts on Christ our mind clears and is refreshed. And his person is so dominant and attractive that we can scarcely find room within for competing lords and gods. In other words, if your thoughts are fixed on Christ, how can there be room for any other thinking?
So, let’s examine a couple more of these ‘imperatives’ this evening. The first is found at the head of chapter 4, verse 1:
3. The third marker along this journey is found in 4:1: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”
This is explained thus:
“The author argues that the purposes of God are not frustrated because Israel of old disobeyed him and failed to enter the rest he had promised his people. The promise remains. If the ancient Israel did not enter God’s rest, then someone else will, namely the Christians. But this should not lead to complacency. If the Israelites of an earlier day, with all their advantages, failed to enter the rest, Christians ought not to think there will be automatic acceptance for them. They must take care lest they, too, fail to enter the blessing.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, online source)
The promise still stands. That is, it is hasn’t been fulfilled completely yet. This means we have to press on. The Promise itself still holds, which suggests that its fulfillment might be a time off yet: There is still room for entry by those outside, and there is still room for failure for those inside.
But what does the author here mean by ‘rest’? Does the author here mean long lazy days of relaxation and peace and tranquility by the lake? Or perhaps does he have something a bit more expansive in mind? Three specific ideas come to mind as we reflect on the Old Testament promises of Rest. There is certainly the idea of Sabbath rest which we learned about early on in the history of Israel. God himself took Sabbath and commanded his people to do so as well. Sabbath is a powerful idea and practice in Scripture. There might also be the idea of ‘rest from enemies’ that God promised to Israel. But the author in Hebrews is building on Psalm 95 and the idea of rest found there. The Psalm reads:
1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the desert,
9 where your fathers tested and tried me,
though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
“They shall never enter my rest.”
Now the author of Hebrews brings this into a new generation. First it was spoken to Joshua and Caleb’s generation as Israel wandered in the desert. Then the author of Psalm 95 recites it for his own generation. The author of Hebrews quotes it for his own generation. And now you and I are hearing it in our time: If you, the flock under his care, today, hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. And it was their hardness of heart that prevented them from entering into the rest of God: “They shall never enter my rest.” The rest he is speaking of his rest. These are people who did not know God’s ways, whose hearts went astray, who tested God, who hardened their hearts and quarreled, who tried God-even though they had seen what he did-these are the ones prevented from entering his rest. The author of Hebrews brings this into his own situation. What we wonder is this: Will our generation be the generation who will finally enter his rest? Will we listen to his voice or will we harden our hearts?
“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.” The author of Hebrews is saying to us: Don’t fall short of it. Don’t fall short of the rest of God because you have all the advantages, everything is in your favor, all the cards are stacked for you and there is no reason why you should fall short. Whatever this ‘rest’ is, it is God’s rest, and I don’t happen to believe that God desires to say to this generation, ‘you shall never enter my rest.’ He’s talking about obedience as if there is a sort of disobedience that will prevent us from partaking of his rest. This rest is not from Moses, David, or Joshua-it is a far more comprehensive and less mundane promise of Rest that still stands. And he concludes with what would be a fourth marker: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (v 11). He thus comes full circle. The promise of rest is somewhat contingent upon our perseverance in towards it. Stopping short because of disobedience will not nullify the Promise, but it will prevent our participation.
He says three times: Don’t harden your hearts if you hear his voice. He also says three times, “they shall never enter my rest” (11, 4:3, 5). Again, listen and obey so that you can enter.
4. The fourth marker is found in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”
I think a new section was started in verse 12 of the previous chapter. There, after a short exposition of the rest we hope to inherit, the author of Hebrews breaks out with this even shorter doxological type of statement concerning the Word of God and God’s judgment:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Therefore, he writes, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. What is the connection between the ‘there’ and the ‘fore’ in this marker? Andrew Murray chose to emphasize the word ‘have’. We ‘have’ a great high priest. He notes, we ‘have a great high priest. You own Him; He is yours, your very own, wholly yours. You may use Him with all He is and has. You can trust Him for all you need, know and claim Him as indeed your great High Priest, to bring you to God.” (184) Well, I don’t like the word ‘you’ and ‘yours’ because the author of Hebrews uses the word ‘we.’ But Murray’s point is taken. We are not so much in possession of Christ as he is in possession of us and we have access to Him.
Twice previously the author has also used the words ‘hold firmly.’ In 3:6 he wrote, “But Christ is faithful as the Son of God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed, we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” And in 3:14 he has also written, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction.” Now, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” It’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ we hold firmly, but a command: Hold Firmly.
The short and long of it is this: He has gone through the heavens, he has finished the work, nothing escapes his eye of judgment, everything is laid bare-why give up? No one can take away from what Christ has already accomplished. He knows the struggles, he knows the weaknesses, he knows those who cause trouble-why give up? Why turn your back on what you know to be a finished work? And here again we are confronted by this living Word of God-this God who speaks. He has spoken his word into our lives, into our community, into our world. It cuts deep and rips us in two. It causes a schism within ourselves. There’s part of us that wars against his judgment and there’s part of us that struggles onward. We are quite divided beings.
And he says: Press on! Don’t be so quick to let go of what you know inside is true.
So what is the confession we made? Back in 3:1 he uses the same word, “…fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we confess as our apostle and high priest.” Now here, “…hold firmly to the faith we confess.” What we are confessing is a high priest who has finished the work that needed to be finished. We confess Jesus who gives us the promised rest that Joshua could not. He softens hearts that Moses could not. We confess Jesus who is God’s Word to us. We confess Jesus, our high priest, who is able to understand our weaknesses. So again, we are not confessing some wimp. We have confessed this Jesus, this Son of God who is faithful over God’s house (3:5).
This is a call, if you will, to consider deeply who it is who calls us into being. This is a call to consider wisely if we will follow and consider carefully before bailing out on such a confession. The confession we make is no small thing in light of who we are confessing. Frankly, I don’t think we make enough emphasis on this confession. Our confessions are cheaply constructed and probably not carefully thought out. Perhaps if we put a little more thought into whom we have confessed we would not be so quick to jump ship or to fail when we struggle or when things get rough. We have confessed one who is ‘able to help those who are being tempted.’ Since he can, perhaps we should.
It seems to me that these markers we have focused on this evening are about persevering in the right way. Much of the effort that we make when it comes to persevering is silly because it has as its focus or goal something elusive and primitive. But we in Christ are not called to something primitive and elusive, nor something mundane and trivial. We are called to faith in the living Son of God who understands us too well because he has been made like us.
So there is a right kind of perseverance that will not fall short and there is a kind of perseverance that will miserably fail. I think if we are persevering for merely earthly objectives then we are certainly bound over to failure. Earthly objectives can be met, often without much struggle at all. But the true objective, who is living, is Christ Jesus. He is our goal. Indeed, the writer says, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly to the end our original convictions.”
Before us will be all sorts of stumbling blocks and hazards and chicanes. But these things I have said to you tonight are book-ended. In 2:18: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And again in 4:16: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Here we see the great objective. Persevere! Cling to the faith confessed! Cling to Jesus! He is not about to fail you because he has already succeeded and won where the world has already and continually fails. Don’t give up. Stay the course!
If we are being torn down, ripped apart, it is only that He might put us back together, that He might Resurrect us according to his own will. This is God’s word to us.
Sunday, March 1, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews
The Book of Hebrews
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”
“The book of Hebrews offers us, quite simply, Jesus. It offers us the Jesus who is there to help because he’s one of us, and has trodden the path before us. It offers us the Jesus who has inaugurated the new covenant, bringing to its fulfillment the age-old plan of God. And it offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 10)
The book of Hebrews begins by reminding us that God spoke, both in the past in various ways and with various means, and in the present in Christ Jesus. This is not an odd way to begin a book that has so many things to say about the finality of God’s voice in Jesus. In these last days, God has spoken to us. He has raised his voice above the din and clutter of noise that is all the other voices so easily heard, and clamoring to be hear, and He spoke. To us.
I am here stuck in the same awe that renowned theologian Karl Barth was stuck in: God spoke to us. Us! He desired that we hear his voice. He desired, and desires, that we engage him in active listening and active speaking. God’s word to us is not mere monologue: we pray, and sing, and worship in any variety of ways. William Willimon notes, “Who is the human being? Someone who is ‘summoned by this Word.’ Our great, God-given dignity is that God wants to talk to us. God speaks to us and what God says is, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’” (166) The essence of our existence is that God took initiative and spoke to us!
But Willimon makes another point too, and perhaps an even more important point about what we hear, what our task is as hearers, and our role as speakers:
“Knowledge of God is always in Barth linked to the call of God, communication and disclosure are always linked to commission and call, and revelation divinely given is linked to obedient human response. Our challenge, as preachers, is not to master God’s word but rather to develop the skills to listen to God without despising God for speaking to us. The God of the Bible who speaks is the God who commands and one wonders if many of our hermeneutical and homiletical strategies are designed to manage that command. For Barth, every single verse of scripture is a potential act of vocation. The question to be put to any of God’s three forms of proclamation is never simply, ‘Do I understand?’ or certainly not, ‘Do I agree?’ but rather, ‘How am I being called to change and commit through this word?’” (165)
So the book of Hebrews, as we call it, begins here with “God spoke.” This is the most radical thing God can do and did. He spoke to us in Jesus, his Son. Everything else flows from here and everything else said in the book only makes sense when we accept that God has spoken, in these last days, through his son. We have to get into our heads first who spoke and and how (in the Son) then we can get into our heads what he spoke and then we can try to understand why he spoke it. I think at some level, though, we hear his commands (‘what he spoke’) merely for what they are. They are words with a certain emphasis placed on them, perhaps an imperative, but as a command we are to act out under his watch they are perhaps nonsensical.
Radical Christianity, radical Scripture, Radical God is not for anyone and everyone. It is for those called together by this Son who is the exact character of God in the flesh. And Hebrews offers no apologies for taking such a radical approach to lived out faith. I’m not suggesting that only a few are invited. I think the invitation is wide open to any and all who hear and obey. What I am suggesting is that as we read through the book of Hebrews we hear the voice of God saying to us: Buckle up. It’s not going to be an easy go of things. You will be challenged at every step to turn back and quit. That is where I would like to break into this letter tonight and show you several major stops along the path that is Hebrews.
This book is filled with some of the most profound theology and Old Testament biblical exegesis in the entire canon. However, along the way, the author periodically stops and looks back in order that he might point forward. The call is radical: radical indeed. He speaks for a moment or two on some important issue, and that issue is always the superiority of Jesus or the better nature of the Jesus work, and then he challenges the reader. He marks off these challenges with the word ‘therefore’. There are eleven of these markers found in Hebrews. Let’s begin.
1. The first marker is found in chapter 2:1: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”
What must we pay attention to? God spoke. We have to pay attention to what we hear from Christ who now speaks to us in these last days. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Fact is, we cannot afford to not pay attention. There are many, many voices clamoring for our attention. The basis of our listening and paying attention is that Jesus is ‘superior angels’ and has ‘inherited a name that is superior.’ Therefore, we must pay attention. He warns us here that if we do not pay attention we will ‘drift away.’ We will be like a boat that has lost its tether and floats off out into the ocean where it can be tossed about by every wind and wave and storm that comes up.
The Real Older Brother
1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4″Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8″Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27′Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31″ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “
Last year when I took Doctrine of Grace, we were required to read a book by David A Semands called Healing Grace. I’m sure I have quoted from it before, and I have actually given away a couple of copies to people. He states his case early on as to what one of our major problems is in the church:
I am convinced that the basic cause of some of the most disturbing emotional/spiritual problems which trouble evangelical Christians is the failure to receive and live out God’s unconditional grace, and the corresponding failure to offer that grace to others. I encounter this problem in the counseling room more than any other single hangup. (14)
I read the sermon of a friend this week. The sermon was about being a minister in the church. He wrote that it is about grace:
Indeed, here is grace’s way – of Israel’s birth through a barren womb. Here is grace’s way – of the champion from Gath killed by Jesse’s youngest son. Here is grace’s way – of the Word taking on fallen flesh and stubbornly refusing to be fallen in it. Here is grace’s way – of ostracised women being commissioned as proclaimers of God’s good news. Here is grace’s way – that the deepest revelations of God are not given to the wise and understanding but to infants. Here is grace’s way – that God has a deliberate policy of positive discrimination towards nobodies, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and that the earth will be inherited by the meek. Here is grace’s way – love your enemies and bless those who make life hell for you. Here is grace’s way – of God making foolish and weak the wisdom and power of the world. Here is grace’s way – of God putting his treasure into jars of clay in order to show that God’s all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. Here is grace’s way – that only in humiliation do we find God exalting us, only in dying do we find God making us alive, only in throwing our lives away do we find God giving life back to us. Here is grace’s way – of power being brought to an end in weakness. Here is grace’s way – that we might actually be more use to God with our thorns than without them. Only when I am weak, am I strong.
These are beautiful words, grace words.
Jesus told four stories that day.
He told these four stories to a particular group of people: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
They were concerned because Jesus was doing, in their eyes, the wrong thing. Jesus was paying attention to the weak, the poor, the less than famous, the less than righteous. They were concerned because Jesus wasn’t paying enough attention to those who kept the rules, did all the right things, and demonstrated their exclusive righteousness before the world. Jesus actually went to the sick people, the weak people, the unrighteous people and this offended those who were well, who were strong, who were righteous. So Jesus told these three stories to those who grumbled.
Eugene Peterson notes for us in his book Tell it Slant that Luke is the only author in the New Testament to use this word ‘grumble’ or ‘mutter.’ It is a word similar to words used in Exodus 15:24 and 16:2 to describe the manner in which the Israelites were expressing their frustration with Moses and Aaron. Luke also uses it again in 19:7: “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘he has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” This after Jesus went to the house of Zacheus for dinner.
This, then, is the context. And Jesus tells four parables.
In the first, there are 100 sheep. One is lost. So the good shepherd goes out to look for the one sheep. He eventually finds it and brings it home. And what happens? He calls his neighbors together and they rejoice in the Lord over the one lost sheep that was found.
In the second, there are ten coins. One of them is lost. So the woman sweeps and cleans and turns over the cushions and tears up the planks and digs through the garbage until she finds it. Eventually, she finds it. What does she do when she finds it? Well, she spends it on a lavish party and invites all her friends to come over and celebrate the one lost coin that was found.
In the third, there are two sons. One of them is lost. So the father stays at home and does nothing. He waits and waits and waits and waits. No one goes to look for the younger son. Not the father. Not the older brother. The father waits. The older brother goes about on his own…why? Well, frankly, because he has his share of the inheritance. Why should he expose himself, his inheritance, what is rightfully his to go out and look for the younger brother who has squandered everything? Tim Keller in his book The Prodigal God writes:
In the first two parables someone ‘goes out’ and searches for that which is lost. The searchers let nothing distract them or stand in the way. By the time we get to the third story, and we hear about the plight of the lost son, we are fully prepared to expect that someone will set out to search for him. No one does. It is startling, and Jesus meant it to be so. By placing these three parables so closely together, he is inviting thoughtful listeners to ask: ‘Well, who should have gone out and searched for the lost son?’ Jesus knew the Bible thoroughly, and he knew that at its very beginning it tells another story of an elder and younger brother-Cain and Abel. In that story, God tells the resentful and proud older brother, ‘You are your brother’s keeper.’ (81)
And Keller’s point is that it should have been the older brother who went out to look for the younger brother. And he also points out that to bring the younger brother back would have cost the older brother considerably. Remember, the property had already been divided. Jesus said in verse 12, “So he divided the property between them.” Keller notes that “every penny that remained of the family estate belongs to the elder brother. Every robe, every ring, every fatted calf is his by right” (82). This is why the father says at the end of the parable, “…everything I have is yours.”
Yet the father takes a ring, a robe, and a fatted calf from the older brother and gave them to the younger brother. To bring the younger brother back in involved a cost to the older brother.
Thus there is a fourth parable. In this parable there is one lost son. He is the older brother who had remained behind and done everything right. In his own words, “‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Jesus certainly doesn’t argue with him. The father doesn’t argue with him. But that doesn’t mean, at any level, that the older brother isn’t lost. Jesus is ‘redefining lostness.’ He was pointing out to those who grumbled that the Son of Man came to seek and save what is lost and that the lost included them as well.
Keller goes on in his book to point out several characteristics of what he calls ‘elder-brother-lostness.’ I won’t list them all for you, but hear this one particular quote:
If such people [as the younger brother] wrong them, elder brothers feel their spotless record gives them the right to be highly offended and to perpetually remind the wrongdoer of his or her failure. [...] When the younger brother comes out of his denial, and the father welcomes him, the elder brother realizes that the pattern is being broken, and his fury is white-hot. [...] If the elder brother had known his own heart, he would have said, ‘I am just as self-centered and a grief to my father in my own way as my younger brother is in his. I have no right to feel superior.’ Then he would have had the freedom to give his brother the same forgiveness that his father did. But elder brothers do not see themselves this way. Their anger is a prison of their own making. (57)
It must be remembered to whom Jesus told this parable: It was to the Pharisees and those who grumbled that Jesus would dare go and look for the younger brother. They were angry because they knew Jesus was doing what they should have been doing-being their brother’s keeper, looking for the lost and the wayward. Jesus was the older brother. That’s why they were angry. They were angry that the father was so extravagant, gracious, and generous and forgiving. Keller nails it again:
The younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not. That’s why older-brother lostness is so dangerous. Elder brothers don’t go to God and beg for healing from their condition. They see nothing wrong with their condition, and that can be fatal. If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don’t know you are sick you won’t-you’ll just die. (66)
And this brings us back to the point of the sermon which is God’s grace. And I suppose it is fair to ask this question: If your life has not been changed, radically altered at the core, do you understand grace? Or, let me state it negatively: If your life has ‘remained unchanged by God’s grace’ can you really say you understand the costliness of that grace?
Can you say you even understand the Gospel? Keller states, such people “have a general idea of God’s universal love, but not a real grasp of the seriousness of sin and the meaning of Christ’s work on our behalf. [...] If we say ‘I believe in Jesus’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” (123, 124)
That statement really made me step back, examine myself, and evaluate just exactly what I believe. That is a hard statement to accept. But the good news is that if the Father waited and waited for the younger brother to return, he went looking for the older brother, begging and pleading for him to come inside. In other words, he is not at all content that the older brother stay outside, missing the party. If the father made a fool of himself for running to the younger brother and robbing the older brother to welcome him home, he also made a fool of himself by begging and pleading for the older brother to come in.
The problem is that Luke 15, like the book of Jonah, does not have an ending. We don’t know if the older brother received the same grace from the father the younger received and went into the party. Did he go in and party and rejoice that the younger came home? Or did he stay outside unhappy and, frankly, unsaved?
Because those who are saved join the party. Those who have received God’s grace, join the party. Those who are join the party, are glad that the younger brother has come home.
Every single one of us, every single day, need to evaluate and re-evaluate and immerse and re-immerse ourselves in God’s grace. That God goes out of his way to search and welcome everyone home is an startling indication of the prodigal, spendthrift nature of God: he gives his grace away radically, freely, to everyone: To younger wayward brothers; to older self-sufficient brothers.
We are invited to examine ourselves. Three of the stories had happy endings. What of the fourth? How will the fourth story end? Did the Pharisees Jesus spoke to that day, the ones who grumbled and muttered, join the party? Did they go inside and rejoice and celebrate?
We are invited to stop and look at ourselves and ask a very important question: Which brother am I? And we are invited, before we too quickly associate ourselves with the younger brother, to stop and see if perhaps, just perhaps, we are the older brother.
[This is the text of the sermon I preached at the wedding of some dear friends. I trust they will not be angry that I have published the sermon here for others to benefit from. I admit that I took some liberties with my application of Isaiah 6, but not too many. I also confess to sneaking in a reference to David Crowder*Band song lyrics. I hope Crowder doesn't mind. Be blessed. jerry]
Marriage, Holiness and Grace
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t have much to say, relatively speaking, about weddings or marriage specifically. I suppose our concept of marriage and weddings is somewhat foreign to Scripture. To be sure, God did say that for this reason a man would leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. And, furthermore, Jesus did perform his first miracle, changing water into wine, at a wedding banquet. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in the book of Revelation the consummation of the church’s life and history is described in terms of a wedding between a man and a woman.
As images for the relationship between God and His people, Christ and the Church, marriage is an appropriate metaphor. It describes at once the beauty of intimacy, the glory of fidelity, the joy of friendship, and the grandeur of love. It at once shows us a picture of protection and comfort. We can speak on these things all day long if we like, but I’d like to talk about two other ideas that are married to the marriage and I think demonstrated for us here in Isaiah 6—a text that you may not normally associate with marriage and weddings.
These things might not normally be thought of in marriage. They might seem givens. They might seem irrelevant. They might seem out of date, but I believe that in a marriage that is blessed by Christ they will be evident and courageously practiced.
The first is holiness. I firmly believe that at the heart of marriage—given to us at the beginning by God—is about holiness. Most people get married in today’s world because they fully hope and expect to be happy forever. I’m not suggesting we should get married with the expectation of being unhappy as if unhappiness will make us holier. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. But I am suggesting that in the divine economy, marriage is far more about your holiness in the Lord than it is about your happiness in each other.
This is why so many marriages fail, Christian and not-Christian alike.
It seems to me that after 17 ½ years of marriage I have had to learn that someone else matters in this world far more than I do and that as such there were aspects of me that were ugly, terribly ugly. We see that in the presence of God—our true selves, our true ambition. Marriage has a unique way of teaching us that we are not quite as important as we, in our own eyes, presumed. Marriage has a way of opening our eyes to the truth about ourselves.
To love someone else more than the self is, I believe, part of the essence of holiness. That doesn’t fully capture it, but it approaches it. Holiness means that we begin to shake off those parts of us that are imperfect, unrefined, and completely self-absorbed that we may give our whole self to another. Holiness means that we begin, actually, to be made complete. To be made holy means that we are at some level incomplete.
Marriage begins to make us whole—which is not to suggest that marriage is the only way to be made whole—but only to suggest that in marriage we are made whole.
Isaiah came into the presence of a holy God and was undone. I think as you wed today in the presence of God you are taking your first steps to being undone. Holiness is about God remaking what is broken and making you wholly alive, wholly other (as you two become one flesh), and whole.
This is what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of the water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Not to make her happy; but to make her holy.
The second is grace. Isaiah came into the presence of a Holy God and instead of that Holy God striking him dead, that Holy God cleansed him and made him pure.
If misconceptions about holiness and happiness cause the downfall of many marriages, lack of grace causes the downfall of most and the rest. We have created a culture where the sin of Genesis 3 and the blame of Genesis 3 have triumphed over the grace of Genesis 3. In other words: we find it much easier to sin and to blame than we do to assume responsibility and to forgive. Much of this has to do with pride. Marriage has a way of breaking down pride. Grace and forgiveness go a long way to humbling the arrogant and deepening the well of grace we can dispense to others. Marriage is a lifetime of grace and forgiveness.
You know, one of the things that bugs me about my own marriage is that it seems I am the one who always has to say I’m sorry. It seems that when there is an argument or a fight or a disagreement I am always the one who has to go to Renee and say, “I am sorry; will you forgive me?” I don’t know why that is. Oh, wait, yes I do. I am nearly always wrong. Seriously. A temper tantrum here, a harsh word there, a snide remark instead of a loving brush, and inconsiderate avoidance instead of a compassionate caress, or a selfish consumption of time instead of a generous display of affection.
But this has taught me about Christ, because I can honestly say that there is nothing that Renee hasn’t forgiven me. She has spared no amount of grace. She has reserved no amount of mercy. She has retained no right to double-jeopardy. She has always received my apologies with grace and kisses, with affection and quiet rebuke. Marriage is humbling. She has, time and time again, shown me the necessary grace to allow our marriage to grow in holiness. Time and time again, because of her grace, I have been undone.
If I put the burden of holiness in the marriage on the man, then I put the burden of grace upon the woman. I think this is why Paul told wives to ‘submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which is the Savior.” It is no secret, and I have bared my heart, that men are often in far more need of grace than women when it comes to marriage. Paul’s words here do not mean ‘be a doormat.’ They mean, be a savior; demonstrate grace; come under his care and protection; be an instrument of grace. If the husband protects the wife through holiness, the wife protects the husband through grace.
The man confronted with his burden, ‘woe is me,’ he cries. And there, in the marriage, he finds grace and salvation even as Isaiah found grace and salvation even as the church finds grace and salvation, even as you will find grace and salvation.
So I charge you today not with wishy-washy sentiments about the bliss and joys of marriage. Marriage is hard work. Holiness does not come in a day; it is a lifetime project. Grace is not a one time coupon; it is an every day project. I charge you today in the presence of God and these witnesses: [Man], protect and perfect holiness in your marriage. [Woman], proffer and practice grace in your marriage.
If you keep holiness and grace before you, you will constantly be undone. But if you keep them before you, what will happen to your love? Even though you are undone, your love with prosper, Christ will truly be honored, and you will become the One. When holiness and grace collide, it is a beautiful collision.
May all your collisions be for the glory of God.
Friends, here is the text for tomorrow’s sermon from Luke 9. The gist is that Jesus has given us power and authority to do something. That something is defined by Jesus himself as ‘proclamation of the kingdom’ and ‘healing the sick’ and ‘authority over demons.’ It seems to me that sometimes we church folk have forgotten about the power given to us, what Paul calls Resurrection power. Still, we have to be careful. This power is nothing like the power that the world wields. This power has the power to confound and perplex for that very purpose. It will all make sense once you have read the entire text. grace and peace. jerry PS- This sermon grew out of thoughts I posted the other day and posted here.
The Kingdom of Crucifixion
“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)
1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.
10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. 37The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44″Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” 45But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”
49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” 51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases.
It kind of makes me wonder, seeing what he armed them with, what they would be up against. After all, he didn’t send them out with AK-47’s or Master Cards.
He sent them out, indeed, as sheep among wolves, doves among vipers, and he stripped them of all outer defenses: No staff for defense, no sack for extra gear, no bread for sustenance, no money to pay people off, no extra shirt for the long journey. Maybe he was reminding them that he was sending them out into a hostile badlands much like the Lord had sent the Israelites. Maybe even here Jesus was thinking about Scripture:
But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 29:4-6)
So Jesus arms these men he sends out with nothing more than power over sickness, authority over demons, and a proclamation about a kingdom. And so they went, village to village, proclaiming the message of the Kingdom and healing people everywhere. They went out and did the very thing they were armed to do.
It appears they did it well. And it appears they did not lack anything they needed, despite the fact that they left everything behind. Jesus gave them power to accomplish a mission and that is just what they do.
Jesus warned them, however implicitly, that this power did not come from them, that this power is not for them, and that this power is not to be used for any purpose other than what he has assigned it, and that this power will confound people, and that this power is unlike anything found on earth among those deemed powerful.
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Here is the latest Skycast from my series 90 Days with Scripture. In this sermon, I explore Luke chapters 1 and 2 and examine four areas that that are subverted in the birth narratives of Jesus. The problem we have as modern disciples is that we have sacralized and sanitized the birth narratives of Jesus and turned them into Christmas. This is unfortunate because it really, terribly detracts from the subversive work that God was doing through His Holy Spirit in those days. The four areas I examine in this sermon are: History, human power, our conceptions of discipleship, and worship. In all four of these areas, God undoes humanity. It is, to be sure, terribly frightening in that it these ideas are drawn from the birth narratives. The sermon runs about 35 minutes and I have posted the manuscript below and also at my box.net account. jerry PS–my recorder failed during part 8 of the series from Matthew 1. I have, however, posted the manuscript below.
You can download here: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 1
Or use the inline player
Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People
Part 3: Exodus 7-12 (a), Freedom For God’s People
Part 4: Exodus 7-12 (b), Freedom For God’s People, b
Part 5: 2 Samuel 5-7, The King
Part 6: Isaiah 60-66, The New Heavens and New Earth
Part 7: Jeremiah 31, The New Covenant
Part 8: Matthew 1, Jesus pt 1
Part 9: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 2
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
This sermon manuscript is from this past Sunday (Oct 26) at the church. This is sermon 5 in my short series exploring the narrative high-points of the Scripture from Genesis through Revelation. This sermon focuses on the promised king who was exemplified by the man David. My original intent was to make a few observations about David’s kingship based on 2 Samuel 5-7. Indeed, that’s where I begin the sermon with some excerpts from chapters 5, 6, and 7 of 2 Samuel. As the research progressed I realized that I would not be able to merely talkabout the Israelite king without going back to Deuteronomy and then going into the prophets and eventually tracing this history to the New Testament books of Matthew, John, and Revelation. So, I limited my own thoughts and simply let the congregation hear a great deal more of what Scripture says about the ‘root and offspring of David.’ David is important, as I note in the sermon, but David is not (and was not intended to be) an end in himself. He points us forward to the Great King that the Israelites were to expect and the King we now serve and under whose authority we live.
90 Days with Scripture
Week 5: October 26, 2008
2 Samuel 5-7: The King of God’s People
1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ” 3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. (2 Samuel 5)
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel-I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” 23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. (2 Samuel 6)
18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:
“Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD ? 20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
22 “How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel-the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God.
25 “And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, ‘The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you. 27 “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. 28 O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.” (2 Samuel 7)
David’s story sits in a particularly interesting place in Scripture: after the Judges before the prophets. After the Judges means that he is coming into being at the time when ‘there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ Before the prophets means that he was a powerful figure before the prophets started to lament the corruption of Israel and her magnificent downfall and predict the coming of a King who would be the King who truly followed in the footsteps of David.
There’s a lot that can be said about the Davidic king. David is named in the Scripture almost a thousand times. By way of contrast, Moses was named only around 800 times. I could also note that David seems to be the reason why the book of Ruth was included in our canon. David is the culmination of the books of Samuel & Chronicles. David is the author of most of the Psalms. David is the standard by which all other kings of Israel would be measured. We are told that it was David’s kingdom that would stand in perpetuity. David is no insignificant figure in the history of Christianity. In fact, in our last canonical book, the Revelation, David is prominently mentioned. But more importantly, it is the role of David that is of more significant-his role as king of Israel.
King wasn’t a new idea. The Lord had anticipated that Israel would want a king. In Deuteronomy 17, we read:
14 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
By the time we arrive at the book of 1 Samuel, following closely on the heals of Judges when ‘there was no king and every one did as he saw fit,’ we should be expecting what would happen:.
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
David was the height of a righteous king. After David, it pretty much went downhill. There were occasional bright spots, but for the most part the kings of Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not walk in the ways of their father David.
It got so bad that eventually the kingdom split, the people, including the king, were carried into exile. The prophets would prophesy that at some point David would regain his throne. Isaiah prophesied: (9:6-7)
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
And also: (11:5)
5 In love a throne will be established;
in faithfulness a man will sit on it-
one from the house of David-
one who in judging seeks justice
and speeds the cause of righteousness.
Friends, this is the manuscript for a sermon I wrote about three years ago. Interestingly, I had gone to a Stephen Curtis Chapman concert and a song he sang–or maybe the record he was selling–had something to do with all things being made new. The song inspired me to search a little deeper these things that God is making new. I’m only just now starting to understand what these thoughts even meant as some more of my theology is sorted out and firmed up. This is a little rough and, to be sure, too lite on the Scripture, but I think it conveys the germs of some ideas that I was only then beginning to think. jerry
All Things New
Sermon One: All Things New
I read a story this past week. A sad, pathetic and ridiculously stupid story. It’s a story that I would rather not tell you, but I feel compelled.
Nicholas Kristof, a reporter, wrote the article this year for the New York Times. He tells the story of two women, Srey Neth and Srey Mom. Kristof proposed buying these two women. Srey Neth, a Cambodian teenager, was purchased for a mere $150—from a brothel.
Srey Mom had a difficult time. Her debt was established at $337 of which $203 was the agreed upon price. She was free. But she did not want to leave. She needed an extra $55 to get her cell phone back. Kristof wrote, “Srey Mom start crying. I told her that she had to choose her cell phone or her freedom, and she ran back to her tiny room in the brothel and locked the door.”
“With Srey Mom sobbing in her room and refusing to be freed without her cell phone, the other prostitutes—her closest friends—began pleading with her to be reasonable.” Kristof went back and bought her phone back—and some jewelry. As Srey Mom left the brothel Kristof reports that some of the family members of the brothel owner lighted joss sticks for her and prayed for her at the Buddhist altar in the foyer of the brothel.
I suppose it is easy enough for us to look around at the world and the people in the world and consider some parts of it irredeemable. I suppose that it is easy enough to consider the broken, fallen, decrepit brokenness all around us and simply ignore it. Or to wonder it away.
Kristof wrote at the end of his op-ed piece: “So now I have purchased the freedom of two human beings so I can return them to their villages. But will emancipation help them? Will their families and villages accept them? Or with they, like some other girls rescued from sexual servitude, find freedom so unsettling that they slink back to slavery in the brothels? We’ll see.”
It’s almost like it is an experiment for him, like he is saying, ‘I’m not gonna do anything more than set them free. We’ll see if they can handle freedom on their own. As for me, I’ve done my part.’ It is one thing to set them on the path of newness, freedom, it is something entirely other to make certain that this newness will be secure and have a profound, lasting effect on the girls and the communities where they live.
Psalm 40:3: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and hear and put their trust in the Lord.”
I don’t personally believe it is enough to drop someone off at the doorstep of newness and wave a happy good-bye. I am free, now what will I do? I am free, now what does freedom mean? I am free, now where will I go? I am free, now who will I be, who will I become? I have a new life, now what? I am damaged goods, but can I be made new again? I have walked a thousand steps away, can I be made whole again? Is there newness in me?
Psalm 40 indicates, to me, that God intends for this new song he put in our mouths to be heard by more than just His ears. Undoubtedly, we are singing this new song to God. But as we sing many will see and hear and put their trust in the Lord. This new song has an element of evangelism in it. We can rescue all the people from slavery we want, but rescue from slavery is meaningless if they remain slaves. I don’t think, to put a point on it, that people who are rescued are merely the subjects of op-ed pieces.
I would to speak to you over the next several weeks about the God who makes all things New.
I would like to speak to you over the next several weeks about the God who is no more satisfied with this broken world, full of broken people than you and I are.
And yet, what we discover is that the American version of spirituality is all too often focusing it’s light into the self and not into the dark places of the world. Those two fortunate girls who were interviewed by a New York Times reporter so he could write an essay were only two of thousands of girls, boys—children—and other weaklings who are trapped in a never ending cycle of debt and slavery, torture and abuse.
The world is broken. I’m not talking about the trees and rocks and salamanders and crayfish. I’m not talking about fleas or flies and far-flung planets that we can only look at and name.
The world is broken. I’m talking about the creation, the Image of God, the Glory manifest in a thousand ways in a thousand places. The Bible says it is falling apart—The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…the creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay—it is falling apart; fleas and flies, lions and leopards, monkeys and marsupials.
The world is an unruly, unpredictable, broken and untidy place. And if the earth is falling apart—in bondage to decay—then how much more is man? “…they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and penguins and cows and iguanas…they have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity…”; and more.
But he also announced: Behold I will create a new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
A reason to look forward to forgetting; amnesia might be all that bad after all. How can we cleave to this place, to this body, to this life when this is not even a taste of what is to come: The former things will not be remembered—in other words, when the New comes there will not even be anything for us to compare it with. We won’t remember how bad this place is; we won’t want to. And I suspect that as long as the New that is coming is not in any way like the old, it will matter little what the new is like.
One of the aspects of worship that we have been trying to accomplish in our congregation is the idea of the New Song.
We Christians are strange about singing. We find any reason to sing. There are stories of martyrs tied to stakes, covered in pitch, singing songs.
Paul and Silas sang in prison. We are singers and even those who can’t carry a tune in a bucket still, and they should, sing with gusto.
We introduce New Songs into the worship as often as we can, not because we enjoy torturing you or embarrassing ourselves, but precisely because it is a Biblical idea and one that is a key element of our salvation. “And they sang a New Song: You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
How many ways can we sing of the glories of Christ? How many ways can we say: Jesus paid the price for your sins? What new way will say it, with song, today? What was the content of their song? What was the basis of singing this New Song? Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice.
“And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like the loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”
Only we can learn this New Song. Only we will sing it.
The world remains in bondage.
I woke the other day and my ankle was stiff again. It has been stiff in the mornings ever since I fell through the ceiling in the changing room more than a year ago. There is nothing broken, but it hurts almost constantly. But I carefully took a step and stayed standing.
I sat down at my desk the other day. I wrote my name at the bottom of a small piece of paper that any institution in the world will accept as payment for goods or services. I sealed the envelope, paid the postage, dropped it through a small slot. Paid.
I had a fight with my wife Saturday through Thursday. I had a fight with my children Monday through Wednesday. I was far from perfect this week. I failed more often than I succeeded. I was angry more than I was pleasant. My children kissed me goodnight, and good-morning. They hugged me. My wife said, “I love you.”
Annie Dillard said it this way, “Today’s god rises, his long eyes flecked in clouds. His flings his arms, spreading colors; he arches, cupping sky in his belly; he vaults, vaulting and spread, holding all and spread on me like skin.” (12, Holy the Firm)
Jeremiah the prophet said it this way, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
He never stops showing us kindness. Waking. Sleeping. Walking. Talking. Loving and being loved by others. The very air we breathe. His mercies play out in ten thousand ways and in ten thousand places. Each day is a Newness in itself. Each day is full of the mercies of God—His creative newness.
I sinned this week. More than once; I wish I could be perfect, but alas. Yet there is more mercy than we can imagine: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Paul the apostle, no novice when it came to understanding what God is doing in this world, wrote: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Sometimes I wonder what God is doing in this world. It makes little sense to me that God made this place, set us here, and then let us proceed to ruin it, blow it up it, analyze it, break it, corrupt it—hurt, hunt one another. Strange that Jesus had to tell his people to turn the other cheek—also.
Sometimes I wonder why so much despair is necessary. Sometimes I wonder why God, if He intended to make all things new, allowed them to become old in the first place; why if he were going to fix all the broken people did he allow them to be broken in the first place? But I have no answers—except what Paul said.
Truthfully, it seems rather ridiculous doesn’t it? Who understands this place? Who understands all the broken? Why do our bodies hurt? Why are we frail? Why did God not make us all superman to begin with?
Under our noses, before our eyes we see His work. I saw what God was doing. I planted no garden this year and yet tomatoes are growing in my weed patch. I planted no seeds and yet my yard is full of flowers. I did not dust the cherry trees and yet they are littered with cherries, ripe, sweet and sour.
And I woke up today.
Paul’s point is simple: God is remaking the world but He is starting with you and me; with us.
And we are here today.
We were not set free from slavery so that others could sit around and wonder if we are going to make it and the write articles bemoaning a system of government or economics that would allow us to go back to slavery or, worse, force us back into slavery.
He set us free and has already given us new life. He has redeemed us from an empty way of life and raised us to walk in newness of life.
Are you walking in that newness? Do you sing new songs? Do you partake of or even recognize and thank him for his new mercies each day? Will you go and leave your life of sin? Are you cleaving to this world or anxious to forget it? Is your new song a song that declares—so that others see and hear—the mercies of God?
The Lord has redeemed the earth, and is redeeming it, and he invites us to participate. He invites us to walk in newness of life, but that journey starts at the cross—where God hung one day.
Have we put the old way behind us? Have we put our childish ways behind? Do we even realize that the moment Christ received us as His, the moment we came up out of the water, we were new? Do we even realize that He did not raise us up to newness of life so that we would continue to live in the oldness of the past.
And here we are today.
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90 Days with Scripture
Week 1: September 28, 2008
Genesis 3:1-24: When Everything Went Wrong
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
“The author uses irony to show the folly of man’s fall. He shows that even though man’s question to be like God was obtained, the goal itself proved to be undesirable. Man, who had been created ‘like God’ in the beginning, found himself after the fall curiously ‘like God’—but no longer ‘with God’ in the garden. In this subtle interchange, the author has shown that man’s happiness does not consist of his being ‘like God’ so much as it does his being ‘with God’ enjoying the blessing of his presence.” (Sailhamer, 59)
There are a lot of ways that these verses can be approached: we could dissect them and discover an anatomy of temptation; we could look at the different polemics spoken against Canaanite gods that Israel was faced with; we could look at the garden of Eden as a prototype of the tabernacle and temple that would later mark the Israel’s distinctive character; we could examine the insidious nature of evil. All of these are worthy investigations and indeed many commentators choose exactly these routes or at least mark them as significant side-streets or side trips along the way.
But I think there is a more important message here in Genesis 3 that we simply must not miss. We have to be careful to ask what it is that the Lord wishes us to understand from what is written. We can focus on the periphery, but it will serve us better if we have nailed down the center. After all, that is part of the problem in this very story: They didn’t pay attention to what the Lord said and instead they distrusted him and believed a liar. They distorted the word of God and listened to themselves. In doing so, we see that the entire universe has come under serious assault. There is no peace, and there will not be until…until…until…
Today we are beginning 90 Days with Scripture. The aim is to read through the entire Bible in 90 Days by reading a mere 12 pages per day or spending about 45-60 minutes with the Bible each day. Our goal in this series of sermons is to trace the history of humanity from start to finish, from first sin to final redemption, from Genesis to Revelation, to trace the big story from beginning to end, Alpha to Omega. I think what we will see is that God had a plan from the first. Today we begin where it all started going wrong, Eden, and begin to see the groundwork that God laid down for the future redemption and restoration of man.
I’d like to begin this series by noting a couple of the more important aspects of this particular passage of Scripture that will be fleshed out in due course of this series.
First, Paul Kissling illustrates my initial observation about this scene:
“The net result of the sin and its punishment is the distortion of every relationship between the Lord God and his creation…Humanity’s relationship with the Lord is damaged as they hide from him and the man blames the Lord for giving the woman to him. The relationship’s between men and women are scarred as the man passes off blame to the woman and they mus cover themselves from seeing each other’s nakedness. The man and the woman have distorted views of themselves as they are suddenly ashamed of their nakedness. The relationship with the animal kingdom is marred as the woman in part blames the deception of the serpent for her own desires….Humanity’s relationship with the animal kingdom is also distorted by the predicted enmity of the descendants of the woman and the serpent.”—197
Nothing could ever be the same. And nothing has been. Sin and its consequences is the one theological doctrine that is verifiable in every single person on the planet.
After the consumption of the fruit, we see blame. We see shame. We see a fear of the Lord that is newly introduced into the creation as man hides from the mere voice of God: “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid, so I hid.” In a sense we can say that God’s relationship with his creation too is ruptured. No longer is the ground ‘good’, but now it is cursed; no longer is the serpent part of the ‘good’ creation, but it too is cursed. Adam and Eve too are cursed and now there is subordination and authority: Adam names his wife. We see distortion in our own flesh: Eve’s increased pain in childbirth, the sweat of Adam’s brow and his backbreaking labor, and, of course, death. We see distorted hierarchy: her desire would be for her husband (which cannot be specifically sexual since a woman desiring her husband can hardly be a bad thing).
These effects continue in our day and we will see this enmity, this hostility unto murder, played out in the lives of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Israel and Egypt, 10 brothers verses Joseph. Israel versus Judah. It is a thread, this enmity, that runs the length of the Bible. But it is not without end. Enmity, hostility, violence–enmity unto murder, an eternal conflict–that’s what our relationships amount to now.
Second, sin ruptured God’s intent for the creation. One commentator said it this way:
In Genesis 3, YHWH’s intent for creation is ruptured. In challenging the divine design for creation, the human couple tragically altered their vital relationship with their Creator, with each other, the rest of the created order. Where once there was harmony, productivity, and meaning, there is now pain, struggle, and potential meaninglessness to life. The contrast could not be more poignantly drawn. In their desire to circumvent the need for a Sovereign Lord, the achieve not fulfillment but become keenly aware of the weakness and vulnerability of the creatureliness. In their relationship with each other, equality, mutual concern, and care are replaced by struggle, conflict, and obsession with hierarchical order….The story continues, for the God of Genesis 1-3 is a God who repeatedly calls his creation to realign with his purposes and intent. (Marrs, 36)
This is the core of the problem: We are simply not yet who we are supposed to be, and we live in a place that is not as it should be, and we are not towards each other the way we were intended to be. We live in a world of hostility and violence. Nothing is the way it should be. [See Romans 8:18-27]. Everything is fouled up; everything is wrong. Look the problem is not that someone on Wall Street made a bad choice; it’s that all of us have made bad choices. It’s not that our leadership in Washington is corrupt; it’s that all of us are corrupt. It’s not that hurricanes and tsunamis destroy this island or that state. It’s that nothing in creation is right.
Finally, and perhaps worst of all: we have been expelled from the presence of God. It was made abundantly clear in the commentaries that the exit to the East of Eden and the Cherubim flashing back and forth are two of the many signs that there is some temple or tabernacle imagery going on here. The tabernacle and temple were entered from the east; man exited the garden to the east. The cherubim were guardians of the temple, the holy of holies, and formed the seat on the ark of the covenant. Here they guard the entrance to Eden where man had unmediated access to the presence of God. Gordon Wenham wrote, “These features all combine to suggest that the garden of Eden was a type of the sanctuary where God is uniquely present in all his life giving power. It was this that man forfeited when he ate of the fruit.” (86)
Kissling agrees, “The cherubim serve as a warning and as an impediment to sinful human beings presuming that it is permissible for them to walk into the unmediated presence of the Lord.” (213)
No longer is there unmediated access to the presence of God. Man forfeited this when he sinned. We no longer enjoy that fellowship. Now, we are enemies with God.
This is what we gained and what we lost. Relationships all around. Creation out of whack. Presence of God denied. I think this story serves two purposes. First, it serves to demonstrate to us a sort of history of our origin and our sin (Wenham). The account of disobedience ‘traces the descent of the whole human race, [and] must have grave consequences for all mankind’ (91). On the other hand, it also serves as a paradigm for every story, of every human. It is, to be sure, ‘our’ story. One need only look to Ezekiel 28:12-19 to see how this story played itself out in the life of another.
What we ultimately see in Genesis 3 is that God himself remains God. He didn’t change because we altered the relationship. But God does become different to us. He becomes distant, distorted, and untrustworthy. His word becomes meaningless and uninteresting. Now disobedience is the defining characteristic because we thought that it was more important to be God than it was to be with God. “There’s a way that seems right to a man, but it only brings him death.” And from that point—everything changed.
Their act of disobedience became paradigmatic in every person, in every generation, in every community. All have this same distorted view of God. But that is not the entire story.
The creation may be frustrated. Relationships may be distorted. Salvation—defined here as unmediated access to God—may be impossible. But we are not without hope. And we see his grace in action here. We see grace in his provision of animal clothing. We see hope in Eve—the mother of all living. We see victory in the offspring of the Woman crushing the head of the serpent.
We see, ultimately, Jesus. He becomes the sacrifice that clothes us and hides our nakedness. Now, we are commended in Scripture to ‘clothe ourselves with Christ.’ To be clothed in his righteousness. He is our provision.
We see, ultimately, Jesus. He becomes for us the Resurrection and the life—our hope. It was he who is the Offspring of the woman who came to crush the head of the serpent and deliver the death blow to death. He is our hope.
We see, ultimately, Jesus. He becomes for us Mediator between God and man when He tears the temple veil. He ushers us in, by his own blood, into the presence of God. He is the Victor who restores the broken relationship between God and man.
The world is a broken place, but one thing we learn is our ‘expulsion from the garden indicates and irreversible change in man’s situation’ (Wenham, 91). But Scripture declares, boldly, that all the world’s ills, all the brokenness, and all the distortion will be put to rights only in Jesus Christ. Many people are looking for change—and rightly so. We want the world fixed. But the narrative of our history indicates that we messed it up and we are thoroughly incapable of fixing it. But the narrative also declares that God has taken every step, not just the first or the last, but every step, to fix what we broke. Turn your eyes upon God’s solution to all that is wrong; turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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Friends, Here is the continuation of my series from Isaiah’s Gospel. I think this is part 5 or 6. Anyhow, what governs these verses is the short almost formulaic phrase ‘in that day.’ This was first mentioned back in chapter 2 and ‘that day’ has not always had overtones of happiness for those who do not belong to God. Here, in this fourth chapter (a chapter that is closely related to the short chapter 2:1-5) is like an interjection of hope in the midst of great calamity. The prophet here continues speaking to the people of God and not the population in general. I have reserved my comments in this sermon for the congregation–as an encouragement to them of what we have to hope for. Surprisingly, however, our hope is not ‘that day’ or ‘that place’ or anything like ‘that.’ Our hope, ‘that day,’ is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus we hope for. He is our reward. He is our Pride, our Glory, our Beauty, and our Gloriousness. (Also, you will note that I happen to think that this chapter is very closely related to Revelation 21-22. And, I’ll be posting the audio sometime next week if I get my laptop back from the shop.)–jerry
Beholding God: When God is All in All
2In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel. 3It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy–everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem. 4When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, 5then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. 6There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.
In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis writes:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The key to understanding these verses, I believe, is found in the beginning of verse 2: “In that day…”
You will no doubt recall that ‘in that day’ has been a phrase that has marked Isaiah’s gospel since chapter 2.2: “In the last days…” Then we learned that God had something planned…planned for his people, planned for the world. God has a day in mind…and now Isaiah continues that thought here in chapter 4.1: “In that day…” In that day, something is going to happen. But what we have read a lot about in these verses is judgment, destruction, the humbling of the arrogant, the stripping away of pride, the lowering of the haughty. In that day…in that Day…The Branch of YHWH will be beautiful and glorious. In that day things that we have yet to imagine will be happening. In that day, says the prophet, those things we have settled for, those mud-pies, those things we settle for because of weak desires, will all be overthrown, replaced, re-imagined, re-created, purified and inhabited by the presence of God.
So let’s look at the passage from Isaiah-a passage I am certain inspires hope and vision and stokes the imagination of what that day will mean for those righteous to whom God announced ‘it will go well with them.’ If the last chapter spoke little about what will be in store for the righteous, this chapter speaks to no one but the righteous. I’d like to encourage you with 5 images of what will take place on that day.
You know there is a lot that we consider glorious and beautiful. The evidence of this was seen at the end of chapter three: “The women of Zion are haughty…with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” Man has a conception of what is good and beautiful; God has his. Ours is woeful and inadequate, it is incomplete because all it seeks to do is adorn the flesh and magnify the creature. Our conceptions of beauty and gloriousness do not inspire hope, but encourage vanity. But Isaiah says God’s conception of beauty and glory are entirely different: “In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath, for the remnant of his people.” (28:5)
God’s conception of beauty is the presence of himself. The women of Israel adorned themselves, as do we. The people of Israel took pride in their sin, so do we. The people of Israel rebelled against the Lord’s glorious presence, so do we. But what does he say: “In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the Fruit of the Land will be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.” These are parallel, if the Branch of the Lord is talking about the Messiah, then so is the Fruit of the Land talking about the Messiah. I think Isaiah here is talking about the two-natured Messiah-Son of God, Son of Man; fully God, fully man; Branch of God, Fruit of the Land. He himself will be our pride and glory, True beauty and gloriousness.
EJ Young wrote, “The actual Israel looked for her glory and ornament among foreigners and strangers; she neglected her true inheritance. The Israel of the future, however, will not judge with the eyes of flesh but will understand that her true glory and ornament are found in her real inheritance, the long promised seed of Abraham through whom the blessing was to come.” (178)
In that day, there will be true beauty. Also in that day there will be a holy people. Those who are left, those who remain, will be called holy; all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. This means that there will be no place for unrighteousness or unrighteous people in this Holy place.
Thus we can safely assume that some distinction has been made between those who are and those are not holy; there has been some change made to some people and they have become holy. Whatever it is, there will be no unholy people in this place. This place, that day, will be marked by the sort of people whom God has destined to live there: The Holy ones, the Righteous ones, those who belong to God by virtue of his grace and their faith.
He said, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Rev 20.6) There is, unfortunately, no room for unholy people in that day. It will be entirely up to YHWH to make that distinction, but it is a distinction that he will make
This is the manuscript of my sermon for tomorrow (June 22, 2008). It is based on Mark 5:1-42. Obvsiously, I have not dealt with every single issue in this chapter. Instead, I have highlighted a single aspect, namely, that Jesus did what others could not: Restored a mind, healed a woman’s suffering, raised a dead child to life. –jerry
The Kingdom Advances
1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
21When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31″You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ “
32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
35While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
36Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ).
42Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
It should come as no surprise to you that this past week I finished reading another book. This book, Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright is a fascinating examination of the biblical evidence for what it means to live the Resurrection life. I really wasn’t prepared for what I read, the conclusions he drew, and how they would affect my understanding of the Gospel life. Thus, I read:
But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the Gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit is to build for the Kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly to be thrown into the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. ( 208 )
And when I did I suddenly thought to myself: what I do in the Lord is not in vain. But I further thought: There is a lot more to this ‘go and make disciples’ than merely going and getting people to check off a checklist or recite a creed. Then I also thought: Everything that I do can be approached from the point of the Resurrection of Jesus; the firstfruits of the new heavens and the new earth. Then I thought, if all this is true—and I believe it is—then I have missed the boat in a lot of areas of my faith. God’s Kingdom is breaking in and breaking out. Jesus said in Revelation 21, “Behold I am making all things new.”
This means Jesus is currently about the business of fixing all the stuff that is currently broken, stuff that we have invariable had a sincere part in breaking. And yet, as Wright properly points out time and time again, our prayer, the one Jesus taught us is this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth…” If we have had a significant, almost exclusive role in the breaking of what God created, then through Jesus and because of His resurrection, we have a significant role in the fixing of it too. So our author continues:
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. God’s re-creation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there.” (208-209)
I have to say, this is mind-boggling, revolutionary stuff.
There are three inter-connected stories in Mark chapter 5. We have first the story of a man possessed by Legion, a horde of demons. We have second the story of a woman who had a issue with bleeding for 12 years. And we have third the story of a man whose daughter was dying and by the time we reach the end—she is dead. These are very real people, with very real problems.
The first thing I noticed about these stories is that there is an element of mystery in all three. In other words, these are three hopeless cases. The man possessed by demons was bound hand and foot in chains and shackles and what does it say: “no one could bind him any more…” and also “No one was strong enough to subdue him.” This man was out of control. He was in a hopeless situation, a hopeless condition. He didn’t just have one problem, he had a legion of problems. He was confined to the tombs which suggests to me that he was, for all intents and purposes, dead already. No one can help him; there’s nothing we can do.
The bleeding woman was not much different. She had a condition for 12 years—a bleeding issue. It obviously caused her a great deal of pain, perhaps it also caused her a certain social stigma as well. Such things were not so freely discussed in that culture as they are in ours. But again, what does it say about her situation: “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” No one could do anything for her.
The story of the man, Jairus, is, again, not different. Here is a man who is in a hopeless situation. We don’t know why his daughter was dying or from what. We just know that she was. Presumably this man too had spent some time with doctors as I don’t think he wouldn’t provide care for this girl. And when Jesus gets to the house, and the girl is dead, then no one could do anything for her. What does it say, “”Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Translation: There is nothing anyone can do.
Three stories; hopeless all. There was nothing anyone could do. To alleviate living hell. Hellish living. Or death. Nothing. Human power had exhausted itself. It was pointless.
It seems at times that all our efforts are in vain, but maybe not.
We probably do the same, don’t we? I mean there are ill people all over the place. There are demon-possessed people all around. There are dying people everywhere. What do we humans do: More jails. More pills. More therapy. More doctors. More cemeteries. More asylums. These things are touted as solutions to problems that have causes much deeper than the mere physical manifestations of pain, erratic behavior and death. But these aren’t solutions. They are merely ways of ignoring the problem, they are ways of not treating symptoms not diseases, they are ways of silencing the demons but not driving them out.
These ideas don’t dig deep enough.
Does the church have anything to say about these situations? I think we do.
Jesus comes along and at the end of the story: “When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
Jesus comes along and at the end of the story: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”
Jesus comes along and at the end of the story: “He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.”
Here what we see is the advance of the kingdom: Jesus accomplishes what we cannot. Jesus will accomplish all that we hope for.
You see these were not just healings in and of themselves. The miracles were not ends in themselves. They were signs that pointed in the direction of something different. They were signs that pointed to a cure, a solution. They were signs that demonstrated the breaking in of the Kingdom of God a place where and a time when there will be no more people possessed by demons, there will be no more issues with blood, there will be no more death. But perhaps even more significant than that is this: It will also be a time when there is no more need for chains to bind people. It will be a time when there will be no more need for doctors. It will be a time when there will be no more need for resurrection.
Still, I don’t think that is enough. If these things are signs of the advancing Kingdom of God, and if we pray, ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ then what are we doing to advance the kingdom on earth? Are we waiting for God to move mountains? Are we waiting on God to return? Are we shapers and formers and advancers of the kingdom or are we, as I heard so eloquently put yesterday, polishing the brass while the ship sinks? You see, if God means to re-create the heavens and the earth, and all our work is not in vain, then what are we doing now to advance the kingdom, to promote justice, to drive out demons, to heal the sick, to raise the dead?
And I do not mean in any mean metaphorical way. What are we doing now, as resurrected people who will not go to heaven, but will inhabit the new earth, in new bodies? What are we doing now?
To put it another way, we live somewhere between the end of Acts and the closing scene of Revelation. If we want to understand Scripture and to find it doing its proper work in and through us, we must learn to read and understand it in the light of that overall story…As we do this—as groups, churches, and individuals—we must allow the power of God’s promised future to have its way with us. As we read the Gospels, we must remind ourselves again and again—because the pull of prevailing Western culture is so strong that if we don’t it will suck us back down into dualism—that this is the story of how God’s kingdom was established on earth as in heaven in and through the work of Jesus, fulfilling Israel’s great story, defeating the power of evil, and launching God’s new world. (281)