Archive for the ‘sermon text’ Category

Friends,

This is a sermon I preached from John 17:6-19 on May 24, 2009. My congregation has been going through some tough times lately and this sermon was a great way to put those issues in perspective. The battle we wage is not against the flesh; Jesus prayed for and prepared us for the battle that is being waged against us.

You can access the sermon manuscript from box.net in MS Word format. Below is an excerpt.

John 17:6-19: Jesus, the World, and Us

An important evening was about to conclude. The disciples had been introduced to the real Jesus. This was Jesus in the raw…the hardcore Jesus who takes off his clothes and washes feet. This was uncontrollable Jesus who quietly announces that his betrayer is among his throng. This is Jesus who says that his people will be defined by nothing less than their love for one another. This is Jesus who sat and listened and patiently, confidently answered all the questions the disciples put forth that evening.

This was the Jesus who decided that the conversation was over because the ‘hour had come’ and that it was time to close the evening’s conversation. So how else would Jesus conclude a conversation, but in prayer. So Eugene Peterson writes:

“The disciples are in the room, but they are no longer asking questions and making comments. They are listening to Jesus speaking with the Father. As Jesus’ followers, we are most definitely included as listening participants.” (Tell it Slant, 217)

Remember, this prayer became Scripture for us. We are not just reading a prayer or even listening to a prayer, but we are listening to the Very Word of God, prayed on and remembered from the night of his betrayal, the eve of his crucifixion. The very night before his death Jesus prayed. It is necessary, then, for us to hear and listen to this prayer—this prayer turned Scripture.

When we take the time to listen to the words of Jesus then we start to hear the voice of Jesus—praying for us, praying with us, praying to the Father. The book of Hebrews says he always lives to make intercession for us. We hear the voice of Jesus in the upper room, on the night he was betrayed, some two-thousand years ago praying a mighty prayer for his people. I want you to hear that prayer this morning.

Be blessed in the Lord.

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Friends,

During Lent, I am preaching a series of sermons on the essential unity and oneness of the church, forged in the cross of Christ. I will be providing excerpts of those sermons here and also links back to my box.net account where they might downloaded in full. The sermons are drawn from 1 Corinthians. These sermons are born also out of the experiences of my current congregation and include historical references to the Restoration Movement church of which I am a member. The congregation is also reading a book called Together Again by Bob Russell and Rick Atchley. Thanks for stopping by. May you be blessed in the Lord’s Word. I will update this post each week. jerry

1. A Common Plea, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

The problem is easily identifiable. People. People were the problem at Corinth. Their quarrels and schisms were nothing more than power plays, power grabs. They were the human attempts to accomplish something in the church that could not be accomplished by the means of power. Paul lays this out for the reader in verses 10-12. People were elevating other people over other people. It became a matter of territory, a war cry of ‘my guy is better than your guy’ or ‘my guy has more authority than your guy’ or, worse, ‘I was baptized by a guy who is far superior than the guy who baptized you.’ Paul is quick to the draw: Such an attitude in the church is wrong.

There were people who were trying to construct a church community on the basis of externals. In this case they were trying to build upon the idea that baptism by one person was more important than baptism by another. What ended up happening? Well, what happened was certainly not the betterment of the church, the growth of the church, the expansion of the kingdom, or the filling up of the cross. All these external building blocks did was contribute fuel to the quarreling and divisions that were and had formed in the congregation.

What we see here is a stark, cold reality. There will be times when we have issues in the church that cause us discomfort and pain. There will be times in the body when we, let’s not sugarcoat it: There will be times when we fight. There will be times when we simply do not get along. The apostle wisely confronts the issue right out of the box: I hear there are divisions among you. This shall not be because quarrels and divisions never get the church or those involved what they think they want or what they hope: power.

2. A Common Savior, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

You and I, we have this in common. We are bound together under the weakness of a foolish message, a foolish word. This is what he is saying here. One group looks for signs and wonders; another group looks for wisdom; but all that we have to offer is what God gave us: Christ Jesus crucified. This word is a stumbling block to some; it is foolishness to others; but this is all we have. We cannot preach or proclaim something we have not been given. (And as a side note, I would say that we need not offer anything else. The Gospel has more than enough to offend everyone.)

And this is the confounding part of our message: It is not our message. It is God’s message. It is his word to us and this is why Paul cannot speak of anything else: He has nothing else to say. This message goes out to the world and it draws in all the misfits and losers. “Think of what you were when you were called.” We were called. We were called. Then it says this: “God chose…” God did! Thank God that he did the choosing! He chose all the weak, broken, battered, un-things. He chose the despised things and gathered them all up and together he did this: “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus.”

And this is the message: It is the same for everyone. We preach Christ crucified because we cannot preach anything else. We are bound together in this common Word, by this common Savior. We preach Christ crucified and some will stumble, others will scoff, but all will be called. But we have only one message to proclaim

3. A Common Truth, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Apart from the Spirit of God there is no communication between Gospel and human. Apart from the Spirit of God there is no growth into maturity. Without the Spirit of God the very truth we claim to have in common is incomprehensible. But for all this, Paul writes, ‘we have the mind of Christ.’ We. We. We have the mind of Christ. The Spirit Paul said earlier who searches the mind of God and reveals his thoughts to us is in us and has revealed to us the mind of Christ. This is the Spirit in us. In We.

Is it any wonder that the apostle is frustrated with this church? Paul writes that we have the very mind of God, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit of God, the deepest mysteries of the heavens are ours in Christ, it is the power unto salvation…and we? We are bound together in Christ and by His Spirit. Those who love God are those who have been brought into fellowship and who have received the wisdom of God as revealed in the cross of Christ…and we?  Those who have submitted and acted unto the obedience of the message spoken have understood the deep things of God, have heard things spoken that the wisest and most advanced among the human race cannot fathom, are those who are among the wisest fools on the planet…and we?

“There are quarrels among you.”

And do you think the apostle was disappointed? And do you think God is?

4.  A Common Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Third, see the grace of the Gospel (8-9). The grace of the Gospel is that it may accept us as we are, but it doesn’t leave us that way. This is what he said in the sixth chapter: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Yes we might sing ‘Just as I am’ but our song of triumph is something more like, ‘He’s changing me.’ Takes us from persecutors of the church and makes us into promoters of the church.

5.  A Common Mission, 1 Corinthians 3:1-23

Why would nations want to flow to a place that is ravaged by the same problems that men in the flesh are ravaged by? We can go anywhere for quarrels and jealousy and division. Where can people go for unity, oneness, and brotherhood?

We are the temple of God which means that we are the habitation of the Holy Trinity—the essence and completeness and perfection of Unity and essential oneness. So when we are jealous and when we quarrel do we seriously consider God among us? God in us? And when we are jealous and quarrel and follow mere men do we consider how we are destroying God’s temple? What do you think it means that we ‘destroy’ the temple of God?

God’s temple is holy. We are the temple. We are holy. How can God make other holy people, add to his holy temple, when we are acting in a manner that is contrary to a holy God? God’s spirit lives in us so how can we act and live and behave in a manner that is contrary to the Spirit of God? The temple is the very place where the Oneness of God is on display before the world. What does the world think when they see a divided temple, a divided church? A divided God?

6. A Common Bond, Ephesians 4:1-16

Fifth, again Paul states that the purpose behind such gifts is that the church might grow up into Christ. This is really the only sort of maturity that is required or necessary or the goal. He writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ.” You see, our goal is Christ. He is the goal of the unity we are preserving, he is the maturity of the unity we are preserving. We are not growing up into some man made idea of what it means to be one and unified and united and whole. We are growing up into a Spirit driven, grace provided, Christ called, humanly preserved unity and oneness.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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
Selected Scriptures

Introduction

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.”

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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.

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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

Introduction

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.

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“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…

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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.

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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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Isaiah 3:1-4:1 For, behold, the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; (2) the mighty man, and the man of war; the judge, and the prophet, and the diviner, and the elder; (3) the captain of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counsellor, and the expert artificer, and the skilful enchanter. (4) And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. (5) And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor: the child shall behave himself proudly against the old man, and the base against the honorable. (6) When a man shall take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand; (7) in that day shall he lift up his voice, saying, I will not be a healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: ye shall not make me ruler of the people. (8) For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen; because their tongue and their doings are against Jehovah, to provoke the eyes of his glory. (9) The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have done evil unto themselves. (10) Say ye of the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. (11) Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for what his hands have done shall be done unto him. (12) As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they that lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. (13) Jehovah standeth up to contend, and standeth to judge the peoples. (14) Jehovah will enter into judgment with the elders of his people, and the princes thereof: It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses: (15) what mean ye that ye crush my people, and grind the face of the poor? saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts. (16) Moreover Jehovah said, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet; (17) therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Jehovah will lay bare their secret parts. (18) In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, and the cauls, and the crescents; (19) the pendants, and the bracelets, and the mufflers; (20) the headtires, and the ankle chains, and the sashes, and the perfume-boxes, and the amulets; (21) the rings, and the nose-jewels; (22) the festival robes, and the mantles, and the shawls, and the satchels; (23) the hand-mirrors, and the fine linen, and the turbans, and the veils. (24) And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a robe, a girding of sackcloth; branding instead of beauty. (25) Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. (26) And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she shall be desolate and sit upon the ground. (4:1) And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name; take thou away our reproach.

When I finished last week, the challenge was: In whom are you placing your trust? Those were the words the prophet ended with, and I thought it was appropriate not to stray too far from his point: In whom have we placed our trust? I am fairly confident that the prophet now intends to draw out some meaning from that as he sort of stretches us out and shows us a little more of what is coming, what is happening, what God is planning for his people.

A while back I read a short book by a Catholic priest who had served time in a Soviet work camp. The book is called He Leadeth Me. It is a fabulous little book. In the book, he asks his readers to consider deeply the implications of our faith in the rather fragile things of this earth:

That same lesson each of us must learn, difficult or not. How easy it is, in times of ease, for us to become dependent on our routines, on the established order of our day-to-day existence, to carry us along. We begin to take things for granted, to rely on ourselves and on our own resources, to ‘settle in’ in this world and look to it for our support. We all too easily come to equate being comfortable with a sense of our well-being, to see our comfort solely in the sense of being comfortable. Friends and possessions surround us, one day is followed by the next, good health and happiness for the most part are ours. We don’t have to desire much of the things of this world-to be enamored of the riches, for example, or greedy or avaricious-in order to have gained this sense of comfort and well-being, to trust in them as our support-and to take God for granted. It is the status quo that we rely on, that carries us from day to day, and somehow we begin to lose sight of the fact that under all these things and behind all these things it is God who supports and sustains us. We go along, taking for granted that tomorrow will be very much like today, comfortable in the world we have created for ourselves, secure in the established order we have learned to live with, however imperfect it may be, and give little thought to God at all.-He Leadeth Me, Walter Ciszek, 21

What are we to do? Here the Lord God made it perfectly clear to the people of Judah that he was going to remove every last vestige of strength from among them. There would be nothing left: A complete reversal of all human wisdom, strength, power, and wealth. All of it would be removed.

All those people so typically counted on to lead and provide and guide and direct and encourage and strengthen and reveal: Gone. No more supplies. No more support. No more food. No more water. No more heroes. No more warriors. No more judges. No more prophets. No more elders. No more captains. Not one. They would all be removed. What will become of you and me when the Lord removes all visible means of support? What will we do? How will we survive?

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Friends,

This is the text of a sermon I preached on Resurrection Sunday in 2007. It’s a very personal reflection on suffering. 2007 was a difficult year for me physically as I have never been to as many doctors, taken so many prescriptions, and told my health history so many times as I did last year. When it was all said and done, I still have no answers to what was going on inside of my body or why I felt the way I did. I will say that it totally wrecked whatever confidence I may have had in doctors. Chiropractic, cardiology, ENT, General Practice, Urologist–not one of them could figure out what was ailing me. Waste of time and money is what it was. Anyhow, this is the manuscript from Resurrection Sunday 2007.

Resurrection Sunday, April 8, 2007

Thoughts on the Resurrection Life

Various Scriptures

 Introduction

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”—Romans 6:5, NIV

__________________

I spent the better part of Holy Week lying prostrate on a green, old, cushion-worn couch that sits on the hard, cold wooden floors of my 100 some year old house. For a few hours of the holy week I laid on a cold, plastic hospital gurney in an Emergency Room. For a few minutes I laid on the floor of my study at the Church building. I also spent several hours lying on the not too uninviting bathroom floor in front of the toilet in my house. For some reason, and I don’t know why, but when I am sick, lying on the bathroom floor brings me considerable comfort. I also spent some time in the back of an ambulance, in my bed, in a doctor’s office, hunched over behind a small pulpit, in an emergency room lobby, and in my pajamas.

I did not get a lot of work done this week. I felt rather worthless and guilty. Here it is the most important week on the church calendar, by far, and there I lay: on a couch, on the linoleum, on the carpet, on the bed, on the plastic. I felt ridiculous, absurd, and more than once, like a complete waste of time, a non-benefit to humanity. How can I just lay here? I have to get something done, there are people who are depending on me and the work I do every day.

When I was not writhing in godly pain, I was too tired to read or stay awake. Television lost its distracting benefit after about 5 minutes—and besides, who can sit through more than 2 minutes of Maury? When I did manage to fall asleep the dogs or the phone managed to cut it more than short. When none of this worked, I was twisted and wrenched in a pain that has been described to me in words that range somewhere between equal to and worse than giving birth to a fully gestated human being. I care not to experience either one either again or at all. They say a woman soon forgets childbirth; I wish I could forget what I experienced but for some reason the memories linger on even today. Residual pain from all the work the muscles did over a period of 5 days trying to expel a small stone only slightly larger than a mustard seed.

When the pain came upon me I had a few options at my disposal. First, I could take pain medication. Vicadin is what the ER Doctor prescribed. He may as well have given me M & M’s. Alternately, I could lay there, or stand, or walk, or roll around on the floor like a dog with fleas, or jerk, or shake my limbs as if I had been slain in the spirit. There was also the possibility that I could assuage my pain with a hot water bottle or with the nicely microwave heated bag of field corn that Mrs. S. loaned to me. I could drink water or cranberry juice. There was, surprisingly, the option of going upstairs to the bathroom and taking a long scalding hot shower. The doctor I saw Friday told me this relaxed the muscles and reduced their contractions. This worked well until I drained the hot water tank. It worked 3 or 4 times over the course of a couple of days. I could also spend as much time as I liked saying, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Water, water everywhere…

Well, mine was no crucifixion, but it may as well have been because insofar as pain is concerned, I was being crucified. And I make no apologies for thinking such. Pain is pain and hurt is hurt. In my heart I believed, because the pain was so great, the stress so un-mitigating, and the fear so unnerving, that I was dying.

________________

What a way to spend this most Holy week on the Christian calendar. Surely, I guess, I should have been ‘out there’ among the masses. I should have been conducting Holy Wednesday services, Maundy Thursday Services, Good Friday Services, Sabbath Services and finally Sunrise & Resurrection Services. And each of those services should have been something original, inventive, unique and entertaining—something causing us deep emotional stirrings. But there I lay, on my couch, barely able to lift my eyes let alone my bible or my pen.

I couldn’t even go to school where I believe I have a very serious, real-life, real-time ministry to the masses. But the one day I tried to go, Wednesday, I walked in, grimacing in pain, and walked out, hunched over like Quasimodo barely able to control the nausea rising up inside my esophagus, shamed because I was hurting so badly, embarrassed because I could not stay and discharge my responsibilities in the lunch room, humiliated because I had to make such a confession to a room full of older ladies. There I was: young, vigorous, strong, healthy young man, as weak as a baby, helpless as a cripple, weaker than an old woman.

What a way to spend the Holiest Week on the Christian calendar. Unable to do anything but lay on the couch, in pajamas, wrapped in a blanket, succored by a hot water bottle, crippled with an unquenchable pain that incapacitated me. I could do nothing. The medication didn’t work. I could barely smile. If I received five minutes of relief I suffered for 5 hours for it.

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Friends,

This is a rather lengthy text from a sermon I preached in January 2007. It was the introductory sermon I preached in a series of sermons from the book of Daniel. I have also uploaded it to box.net if you would prefer the .doc version. jerry

The Church in Exile, pt 1

The People of God will Go Into Exile

Grounding Text: Jeremiah 25:1-14

1 The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. 2 So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: 3 For twenty-three years-from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day-the word of the LORD has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.

4 And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. 5 They said, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you and your fathers for ever and ever. 6 Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.” 7 “But you did not listen to me,” declares the LORD, “and you have provoked me with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.”

8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever. 13 I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. 14 They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”

*  *  *

We are beginning a new series of sermons today. It is a series from the book of Daniel, but before we get to Daniel’s book next week or even this week, we need to do some preliminary investigation and background work. Daniel’s book is a book about Israel in captivity, in exile. It is a not a pleasant story to read. It is not a mere children’s story. People being thrown into fires, people being thrown into lions’ dens, wars without end, ghost-hands writing on walls, and people getting sick are not normally the things that make up children’s stories.

Daniel is a difficult story to read, but I don’t mean difficult to understand, or comprehend. What I mean is this: If Daniel is reckoned as a canonical book that is inspired of the Holy Spirit and is thus binding upon the church for it’s theological content and practice of faith, then the message of Daniel is not only relevant and timely but it is also a terrible reminder of just how powerful is the Lord God whose Spirit inspired the book.
 
But, on the other hand, it is a magnificent book of just how powerful and mighty is the Lord God whose Son is attested to in the book. We encounter a majestic Lord in this book. One who is not given to really care too much what man thinks unless man thinks in the wrong way as in the case of Nebudchadnezzer or Belshazzar or any of the other kings we will encounter who think they are unshakeable, unbreakable and invincible. God proves over and over again to these malcontents that this universe is His and that He will not be wished away or disregarded. The Book of Daniel is the story of a God who will not be pushed away from the center to the periphery. It is the story of a God who is control and who, in spite of appearances, protects his people. 

We shall learn about this God over the course of the next several weeks. We will travel all through the 12 chapters that make up Daniel’s book. And, in that course, we will read every word from the book. Some might think that is uneccesary, but Daniel is a book of the canonical Bible and as such it is a part of a larger narrative of God’s purposes and plans for this world. In it we learn far more about the nature and actions of God than we do of man-even though man plays a prominent role in the story. We learn about God’s plans for this world and for the people who inhabit it. We get a peak into why God does what he does and the means he uses to bring about his purposes. Scary as it sounds, God used Babylon to bring judgment on Israel, but he also used Israel to redeem Babylon. It is an amazing story that I believe needs to be read in complete context-not only within itself, but also within the greater biblical narrative.

So to begin our series on Daniel’s Gospel, I would like us to travel to the book of 2 Kings and read a few selections from that book to set the context of Daniel’s book. I will read these selections without commentary or any detail analysis. Furthermore, there will only be the barest minimum of application. Here they are, unfiltered, uncut, in the raw.

Continue Reading »

Friends,

This is the text of last Sunday’s sermon. I have been reading and re-reading Isaiah’s sermons since June 23 of this year. The depth is overwhelming. What struck me though is where he chose to begin his sermons (or, at least what his editors chose as the first sermon in this collection). The first complaint is that Israel (Judah) does not know her God. Everything else, chapters 1:4-66:24 follows this announcement that the people to whom God has revealed himself do not know Him–at all. If the church accepts Isaiah as canonical and thus must make application of his words to the church, then he is also saying the church does not know God either. This has to change.–jerry

Isaiah 1:1-31: Knowing God: Isaiah’s Call For Reformation

 Introduction

 2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.

3 The ox knows his master,
the donkey his owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

Several years ago, DA Carson wrote a book on prayer he titled A Call to Spiritual Reformation. It is 230 pages of very heavy theology and exegesis concerning they why and what of prayer. In order to introduce his subject matter, he spends several pages surveying the landscape and investigating several things that the church, Christians in general, are missing or needing.

In fact, his first chapter is titled “The Urgent Need of the Church.”

Well, there are a lot of things he surmises the church needs.

  • Personal morality-holiness. “Our culture,” he writes, “is heating up and destroying us.” But this is not our greatest need.
  • Perhaps it is a need for a ‘combination of integrity and generosity in the financial arena.’ Nope, that’s not it either.
  • Could it be that we need more evangelism and church planting? But Carson writes, “evangelism-at least the evangelism that has dominated much of the Western world-does not seem powerful enough to address our declension.”
  • Perhaps, he suggests, we need more disciplined, biblical thinking.
  • Then again we could need vital corporate worship. The need to be involved in politics and policy making also ring bells.

But none of these things ranks high on Carson’s list of things that the church needs in order for spiritual reformation to take place. Instead, Carson writes this:

There is a sense in which these urgent needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.

When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs-and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfills our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.

In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God’s blessings without running after him. (15-16)

I sense this is a great problem we are facing in the Church still. The pressure is felt more acutely in some ways and places. There’s always the pressure of keeping up with the church down the road and sometimes, in some churches, that pressure causes great compromise in the way things are done and the things that are said.

I sense that this lack of knowledge of God is still the main problem we face. Oh, I don’t mean the simple lack of knowledge as in facts and figures-although that is a problem too. But the fact is that Carson is right! We spend so much time on the extra-curricular nonsense that really fail to get at the heart of God. His solution is, of course, that we should be praying.

As I read through Isaiah 1, several times since June 23, I noticed that these words preface the entire book of Isaiah: I reared up children, but they rebelled; my people do not know me. What a sad, sad state of affairs this is. To bring this into our own context, I would ask: Do we know our God?

I don’t mean: Do you know God in the sense of, ‘have you heard of God?’ I mean, do you really, deeply, truly know him? Do you have inside of you a unquenchable hunger and thirst for God? Do you seek first His Kingdom and righteousness? Is he your first and last thought each day? Can you say with the apostle, “I want to know Christ-yes the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead”?

Paul wrote to the Colossian Church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

But he also said something like this:

33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34″Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35″Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Or according to the Westminister Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. In other words: to know him!

But the Israelites didn’t know God. They didn’t make time to know him. What then of all that follows in chapter 1:4-23? It is my contention that these things Isaiah talks about in those verses are not the reasons why Israel did not know God but rather these are the consequences of Israel not knowing God. And you can see that it was a rather dreary list of consequences.

Let’s look at them ever so briefly.

  • Verses 5-6: There was a great deal of physical suffering among the people. Beating. Wounds. Welts. From top to bottom, there was no soothing their wounds. How much of our suffering is because we really do not know God?
  • Verses 7-9: They were economically and socially falling apart. They were desolate and their cities laid waste.
  • Verses 10-17: This is probably the most damning of all the consequences: Their worship of God was meaningless. But listen, how can we worship the true God in any meaningful way if we don’t know the God we are worshiping? How can we understand and know what he prescribes if we have spent no time in his presence? If we have not gone out of our way to be involved with him, to walk with him, to know him…how can we properly worship? Oh, don’t make this mistake: They had all the forms right. They knew the right moves, the right steps. They had all the motions down pat, but there was no meaning to any of it. Any of us can go through the motions. Here’s the trick: Do you go away from worship sometimes feeling like you have just gone through the motions? Do you ever have a sense that things are just not right? I suspect that the days when we feel that way it is because we have settled for mere ceremony and motions instead of moving from a hunger for God. Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, they will be filled.
  • Verses 18-20: They were a people who paraded their sins around. Scarlet, or deep red, is not a color easily missed. They were stained greatly with sin because they didn’t walk with the Lord.
  • Verses 21-23: Look at all the rest. There was no justice and they tolerated murderers-those who defile the image of God by destroying those made in His image. Their offerings were worthless. They were cheats-watering down water. Their silver was impure. And they tolerated rulers among them who would do nothing about any of this. Do you think we have leaders among us, do you think we tolerate leaders-and I remind you that the prophet here is talking about God’s people and that if this is so then he is also talking to the church!-do you think we tolerate leaders among us who look like these ones Isaiah is saying they tolerated? I think we do and I think the reason so many in the church tolerate these shameless, greedy rebels among them is because, again sadly, they do not know God.

This was quite a fix these Israelites had gotten themselves into through the years. It is a rather embarrassing fix, to be sure. But God did not turn his eye blind or his ear deaf to it. I think it would be easy to assume that the God of the Old Testament is angry and filled with rage, but that is simply not the picture I see: Scattered throughout Isaiah, over and over again, are these little advance signs-little pictures of grace and hope. We see the same in chapter 1. God does not turn an eye blind to the unscrupulous, recalcitrant, rebellious human: Instead, he enters into it and sets about fixing the disaster we create.

We are good at rebelling and creating messes. God is better at repairing completely what we wreck.

He will purify his people. He will restore justice. He will avenge himself against his enemies. He will deliver Zion. He will take away their faithlessness and shame. The prostituted, Sodom and Gomorrah will once again become the City of Righteousness and the Faithful City! God is going to set straight all the crookedness. God will return the City to its state of purity and righteousness and glory; a place where He can put His Name.

You see this was about God’s glory too. The people suffered mightily, yes, but also I think God suffered. The city on the hill, the people of God, the light of the world had become little better than Sodom and Gomorrah, little better than a prostitute, less than barnyard animals, the scorn of the nations, a habit for murderers and disgrace and idolatry. The people to whom God had revealed himself did not know God and, as a result, no one else did either. There are mighty consequences that ripple throughout the land when those who should know God fail to do that very first, primary thing.

I’m glad Isaiah began where he did, that is, by pointing out that what he said had an historical context during the reigns of four different kings. What this tells me is very simple: These kings who were supposed to be the guardians of God’s Name among the people had failed. They had allowed the nation to slide, run headlong, into this decrepit state. What this tells me is that we cannot count on kings and leaders to do what must be done; it also tells me that these men could do very little to revive Israel and get them out of the funk they were in. This is exactly why the end of the chapter says, over and over again, “I will…I will…I will…I will…I will…” and all of the ‘I’s’ refer to God.

You see we have this problem: We don’t know the God who has made himself known. And it is going to take nothing short of his intervention, again, to get us fixed. And he did just that: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son. How did God do all these things spoken of by Isaiah? He sent Jesus of Nazareth who announced the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, with power. He began to turn people’s hearts back to God. It was through Jesus that God began to undo all the stupidity of man.

On the other hand, we learn what the church is to be like also. We are people who are to know God. When we know God-when we truly, deeply, know God-when He is our daily pursuit-then everything else will fall into place. Suffering minimized. Faithfulness accentuated. Worship made meaningful because we know whom we are worshiping. Sin cleansed because there is no sin among us. Not tolerating corrupted leadership. A place of righteousness. You see, when we learn about who God is, and what God expects, then we begin to understand who and what God expects us to be.

So the question I leave you with today is this: What is your daily pursuit? What is your daily ambition? Are you seeking first God? If God called court right now: Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! What would God say about us? Would he say we are people who know Him? Or would he say we are people who do not understand? I guess a lot of that has to do with what we want Him to say, doesn’t it?

Soli Deo Gloria!