Archive for the ‘sermon’ 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,

Here is part 3 of my current sermon series that coincides with The Bible in 90 Days reading program. In this sermon, which I divided into two parts, we begin looking at the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. In my estimation, the Exodus is one probably the single most significant historical event in the history of earth. In the event we see the complete work of God in miniature as he confronts the godless Egypt and the idols of Egypt as represented by Pharaoh. There are four main points that I will eventually make, and in this first part I made the first two points. First, I deal with prophets (Moses and Aaron). Here we see a discovery of who speaks for God. Ultimately, this works itself out in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). Second, I deal with the plagues where we see a declaration of who is God as YHWH systematically dismantles the the religious hierarchy of Egypt. Ultimately, I conclude this sermon by noting that what matters most here is that YHWH is known. Tune in next week for part 2 where I will deal with Pharaoh and Passover. jerry

You can listen here: Exodus 7-12, Freedom for God’s People.

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Print version available here: Exodus 7-12, Freedom For God’s People (or at Box.net)

Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People

Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.

Always for His glory!

Friends,

Sermon 2 in the Dangerous God series. This sermon exposes the battle of David and Goliath as more than a small person overcoming some giant in his life. David and Goliath was a battle of a righteous God versus the pagan gods of the Philistines. This is the seed of the woman versus the seed of the serpent, righteousness versus unrighteousness. There are a few places where the audio drops out, but I’m sure you can fill in those spots by following my reasoning. This was no mere military battle as is shown by the fact that David did not go out prepared for a military battle. This was a theological battle and David went out and fought a battle ‘in the Name of the Lord.’ David went out as a shepherd and fought a battle against a warrior. Irony. David believed that the battle was already won before he stepped onto the battle field because David knew that Goliath’s main weakness was the very unrighteousness that he stood for. The sermon is about 35 minutes long.

Listen here: The God who Does Bigger with Smaller, 1 Samuel 17

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Always for His glory!

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.

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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,

Sadly, much of the church has become inundated with all sorts of idolatry. I think this idolatry is perhaps even more insidious than the sort of idolatry recognized by small statues in our front yards or shrines on the mantlepiece. This sermon is about Trusting God. This is what Isaiah was imploring the people to do when he said to them, “Stop trusting in human beings, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” (verse 22). That is the question I ask over and over in this sermon in one way or another. The audio is about 25 minutes and the print will be in a separate post. jerry

You can listen here: Trusting God.

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Always for His glory!

Friends, here is part three of my series from Isaiah’s Gospel. In this sermon I discuss the inevitability of people being drawn up the moutain of God. What I noticed, and what is ironic, is that the ‘people’ of the nations say, ‘Let us go to the house of the God of Jacob…’ but the ‘house of Jacob’ has to be implored by the prophet (in verse 5) to even walk in His light. This is extreme irony. Why do the people of God seem to miss so abundantly what the ‘peoples’ do not? I will post the audio later in a Skycast. Thanks for stopping by. jerry

1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

 2 In the last days
       the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
       as chief among the mountains;
       it will be raised above the hills,
       and all nations will stream to it.

 3 Many peoples will come and say,
       “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
       to the house of the God of Jacob.
       He will teach us his ways,
       so that we may walk in his paths.”
       The law will go out from Zion,
       the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

 4 He will judge between the nations
       and will settle disputes for many peoples.
       They will beat their swords into plowshares
       and their spears into pruning hooks.
       Nation will not take up sword against nation,
       nor will they train for war anymore.

 5 Come, O house of Jacob,
       let us walk in the light of the LORD.

I think the problem here is that people simply did not believe the prophet. I think the problem we have in our day is that people still do not believe the prophet. He begins chapter 2 the same way he began chapter 1 which leads me to believe that chapters 1 & 2 are somehow intimately linked together. Chapter 1 told us about all the syncretism and idolatry and wasted worship of the people of Israel-the children God had reared, tells us of their soon destruction and rebuke at the hand of God. Hear the Word. Hear the Word. Listen to God. But no. Chapter 2 tells us of the same people, the same prophet, the same God but it doesn’t tell us of the people’s victory, or their redemption, or their restoration. It tells us instead of God’s victory and the establishment of God over and above all idols, gods, and rulers. God will destroy all those hindrances and establish Himself as the only rightful Person to be worshipped. Isaiah 1 tells us of the wayward Israel; Isaiah 2 tells us of the Victorious God. Isaiah 1 tells us of the way things are; Isaiah 2 tells us of the way things will be. The question is, when is the ‘will be’?

In his book Above All Earthly Pow’rs David Wells writes, “The conquest of sin, death, and the devil and the establishment of the Rule of God do not await some future, cataclysmic realization. It has, in fact, already been inaugurated although its presence is quite unobtrusive…Thus it is that, in the period between Christ’s two comings, ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ coexist. As a result, eschatology, or the penetration of God’s future into the current time of sin and death, is light that floods across a number of New Testament doctrines. Certainly in [doctrines of salvation], everywhere there is the ‘already/not yet’ tension that the present of eternity in time creates-or, more accurately, that the presence of Christ’s victory that is already present amidst fallen human life creates.” (208)

Isaiah said, “In the last days…” By this I am fairly certain he is saying that the establishment of the Lord’s Mountain will not conclude the last days, it will not be the dénouement of the last days, but it will happen in the midst of the last days. Could be that a large part of our problem, a significant reason why we have to be called to ‘walk in the light of the Lord,’ is because we are looking to far away, not close enough, for God’s established mountain. Perhaps when we least expected it the Kingdom came upon us. Isaiah here is saying: In the last Days God will break in and establish his rule. In the last days God’s rule will take effect. In the last days-and there will be many or few days after the establishment-in the last days God will make himself fully known when His mountain is raised above all other mountains and thus renders them insignificant.

I think that time is now. I think that we are living in the last days. I think that the Mountain of God has already been raised up. I think all nations are already streaming to that mountain. It may not seem to be so, as Wells says, it may be unobtrusive. We may not see it fully or completely or realize all of its powerful effect, but it is. Jesus said:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

This Mountain will be established by God. It will render all other mountains insignificant, meaningless. They will appear at once for what they already are: small and lackluster. But if God’s Mountain has been established in these last days, then why is it people don’t see it for what it is? You know what I mean? We humans are strange like that. We settle. God’s mountain is grand, massive, magnificent and we settle for hills and mounds. And why don’t God’s people acknowledge this mountain’s grandeur? Mostly it is the people of God who miss the greatness of the mountain God established.

Why aren’t people streaming to it the way the prophet says they will? I think it is because people don’t like the rather upside down nature of it. People will stream up to the mountain-well, how do we stream up? I think this is God’s way of saying that this Kingdom of heaven will mark a complete reversal of the way things are and of what people expect. People expect ease. People expect gravity and the least resistance. People expect a grand city-and what do they get instead? They get narrow paths. They get against the grain. They get not a city, but an ugly old tree covered dirt and rock mountain. This is a reversal. This is not what people expect. People expect a Kingdom with pomp and glory and sparkles. Instead we have to climb the mountain. But whether we get there or not, the temple of the Lord is there. And his mountain will be established as the only place where worship can rightfully, joyfully, and significantly take place. All other worship, worship on any of the lesser mountains is idolatry and meaningless and, I believe, justly punished.

And this will be for the people too. This is a vision Isaiah had concerning Judah and Jerusalem but he does not stop there. He says this will be for the nations, the people of the world. In other words, worship at the mountain of God is the past, present, and future of all humanity not just of a particular nation. At his Name every knee will bow and every tongue confess. The invitation is extended to all: Come up the mountain, worship the Lord. And it is the people who will respond: Come, let us go the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.

There will be no other gods to speak of. There will be no other mountains of interest. There will be no other places to go.

But Zion, Jerusalem, will have an appeal that is not based on any national identity. The appeal of Zion will be for other reasons. People will be going up to the house of the Lord not because a particular nation has subdued and subjected all of God’s enemies or because they have been exalted by God. Look what the prophet says will be the magnet that draws people to Zion: The Mountain of the LORD, the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us. We may walk in His ways. The Word of the Lord. He will judge. He will settle disputes. He will bring peace. The attraction of Zion is not political or anything particularly appealing about a national identity.

The appeal of Zion is YHWH himself! The appeal of Jerusalem is not Jerusalem, but God! The appeal of the Mountain of the Lord is the Lord. The appeal of Law and Word is that it is God’s Law and Word. The appeal of the peace is that it is God’s peace. The appeal of the justice is that it is God’s justice. You see we are not looking forward to that day or place or that way because of anything inherently wonderful about all that goes along with it. We look forward to that day, to that place, to that mountain because we look forward to God. The people were not going up to enjoy the view, they were going up to meet God. Something tells me that would be enough.

You understand, the reward here is God. Even eternal life, whatever that means, is not so much about eternal or life. It is about God who gives eternal and life and inhabits them both. It is about God being our God and us being his people. It is about the dwelling place of God being among men. Even now, if we take the last days in the temporal sense of their meaning, even now our reward is not eternal life, or blessings now, or hope, but Christ. He is our reward because honestly, what is eternal life if there is no God? What is life now if there is no Christ? Do you understand?

I noted a couple of things here about this going up to the mountain of the Lord. The first thing I noted is that this will be a place or a time or among a people who will honor his Word. It is the Word of the Lord that will prevail in matters of justice and dispute for people. It is the word of the Lord that will govern and dictate the terms of peace we seek. It is the word of the Lord that will end all wars. I wish that we were that people now. Look again. The people who are going up the mountain are hungry for God’s Word, for God’s law, for God’s teaching, for God’s ways. These are people who are no longer content with the unfaithful words and laws of people. These are people who desire something more, something lasting, something real, something permanent. Would that we had such a hunger now.

I also noticed that Isaiah had something to say about war and peace. We live in a world that is full of war and violence. And we have people working around the clock and on every side saying, Peace, Peace. End the War. End violence. Rebuke politicians who start them and send unfortunate sons to fight them. What we don’t realize is the enmity that exists and that because of this enmity wars will be fought and continue to be fought because people are trying to forge peace upon a world that is simply incapable of having peace. Terry Briley noted, “Rather than disarmament resulting in peace, God’s peace will result in disarmament.” But you see war is simply a symptom of enmity. It reveals the real conflict going on in the world.

If the world really, really, really wanted peace, well, here’s the solution: To the Mountain of the Lord. But I think a case can be made that since the world doesn’t seek God the world probably doesn’t really want peace.

So the prophet ends on a rather strange note: Come, house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Why end here? Well, I think it is because Israel wasn’t currently doing that very thing. Consider this from Deuteronomy 4:5-8:

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Israel had a special obligation to lead the way. But I also sense here the prophet’s frustration with his people. Come house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. In other words, what are you waiting for? The same goes for us. What we learn in these verses is that even now the Worship of God prevails, even now the Word of God prevails, even now the rule of God prevails. So what are you waiting on? What are you waiting for? Why are we lagging behind? Why are we content to linger in the darkness? Why are we content to disregard the light of the Lord for some other false illumination?

If this is how the kingdom of God works, unobtrusively, and this is the current and the future of things-what are we waiting for? Why do we lag behind while others move on ahead of us? Come let us walk in the light of the Lord. He has already given us the light what are we waiting for? Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself….Then Jesus said, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Those who walk in the dark do not know where they are going. Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here is the latest Skycast. This audio is about 25 minutes long and is the second sermon in a series I am preaching from Isaiah. I published the print version on this blog last week and it is below. (The print version of the current will be available at my box.net widget on the side bar.) This sermon looks at four ‘words’ that the Lord had for his people Israel (Judah) before they were to be taken into captivity. I believe the hope was that perhaps they would get the hint and take action. Obviously, they didn’t. Well, what would he say to the church today? Better, what has he already said to the church in the person of Jesus of Nazareth? That is what I am exploring in this Skycast.

Listen here: Isaiah’s Call for Spiritual Reformation: Hearing God.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here is text from a sermon I preached in July 2005. I see a lot of themes in this sermon that I am only just beginning to understand. In particular, this series of sermons was titled “ALL THINGS NEW.” I had no idea at the time where this would eventually lead, but now I am beginning to see how it all ties together. Anyhow, thanks for stopping by. Any feedback is always appreciated.

Jesus Explains Why Things Must be Made New
Matthew 9:14-17

Introduction

A little later John’s followers approached, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?” Jesus told them, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” He went on, “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.” (Matthew 9:14-17)

____________________

“This is standard practice for you, a perpetual ordinance. On the tenth day of the seventh month, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you are to enter into a solemn fast and refrain from all work, because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. In the presence of GOD you will be made clean of all your sins. It is a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. You must fast. It is a perpetual ordinance. “The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father is to make the atonement: He puts on the sacred linen garments; He purges the Holy of Holies by making atonement; He purges the Tent of Meeting and the Altar by making atonement; He makes atonement for the priests and all the congregation. “This is a perpetual ordinance for you: Once a year atonement is to be made for all the sins of the People of Israel.” And Aaron did it, just as GOD commanded Moses.” (Lev 16:29-34)

_________________________

There was a little old church out in the countryside: painted white and with a high steeple. One Sunday, the pastor noticed that his church needed painting. He checked out the Sunday ads and found a paint sale. The next day, he went into town and bought a gallon of white paint. He went back out to the church and began the job. He got done with the first side. It was looking great. But he noticed he had already used a half gallon. He didn’t want to run back in town and being the creative person that he was, he found a gallon of thinner in the shed out back, and began to thin his paint. It worked out great. He finished the remaining three sides with that last half gallon of paint. That night, it rained: it rained hard. The next morning when he stepped outside of the parsonage to admire his work, he saw that the first side was looking great, but that the paint on the other three sides had washed away. The pastor looked up in sky in anguish and cried out, “What shall I do?” A voice came back from the heavens saying, “Repaint, and thin no more!”

___________________

If we consider this account of Jesus’ life here in Matthew to be a strictly chronological undertaking, then chapter 9 follows closely on the heels of Jesus’ greatest sermon ever, The Sermon on the Mount. It also serves as one of two narrative chapters that sit between two large teaching sections in Matthew’s Gospel, 5-7 and 10-13. Chapter 8 is a powerful chapter that clearly defines the power of Jesus: he heals a leper, he heals a man from a long distance, he calms the raging waters of the Galilee, and he casts a legion of demons from a man possessed by them. Crowds love Jesus, he is popular. And they are questioning: Who is this? But things are changing.

By the time we get to chapter 9 we see that Jesus is starting to rankle the so-called authorities. In the first 8 verses Jesus confounds them by declaring that a certain paralytic’s sins are forgiven. He then makes matters even worse by daring to go into the house of a well-known sinner and eat dinner with him and a few of his rowdy friends who were certainly not making preparations for the advent of Messiah.

“Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” Yes, Jesus, why did you eat with tax-collectors?

Then we arrive at our selected text for today. Jesus has just been accused of eating with the wrong company, now he and his disciples are accused of not not eating.

It makes little difference what Jesus did: eat, not fast, eat with the wrong people, not fast enough-whatever he did people found a way to criticize him. I suspect in a lot of ways Jesus still takes the brunt of such criticism today. If a house falls over in a hurricane or a child starves it is all God’s fault. If peace breaks out in the world it’s because we have super-wonderful ambassadors who struck a powerful peace treaty-give them a Nobel. He either too busy or too lazy or sleeping or impotent or indifferent. Everyone has something to blame Jesus for and often we hear their complaints.

We should get used to it. Jesus will always be criticized for not getting it right. And if the Master is criticized for not getting it right, do you think his disciples, his students, are going to fair any better? In fact, they were criticizing Jesus’ disciples here which was merely a way of criticizing Jesus.

________________

But the problem did not lie with Jesus and his disciples. Look closer at verse 14. Listen to the King James Version: “Then came to him the disciple of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” The disciples of John and the Pharisees did not even know why they were fasting! It does make one wonder, indeed, why they were fasting. Did they not read the signs of the times correctly? Were they looking for something they missed? Was their fasting merely an ascetic practice that mattered little to anyone but themselves? But Jesus declared later that those in Jerusalem did miss their appointment with God, the day of His visitation.

I am a firm believer that whatever we determine about fasting, or praying, or giving, or whatever-it is not to ever be done with ourselves in mind. The consensus among different authors is that the fasts they were referring to here occurred twice a week and that, by this point, were little more than ritual tradition. Jesus did have words for them in chapter 6, “When you fast, do not look somber like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Now, for John’s disciples it may have been a little more or a little less the same, but even John spent plenty of time announcing to those who listened that the Lamb of God was already among them: They too were fasting for the wrong reasons. They were fasting in anticipation of someone who was coming and didn’t listen to their leader John when he announced that the one they were waiting for had already arrived.

Jesus is not opposed to fasting, but I think he is at least concerned that we do it for the right reasons. And his point in this context is simple: It’s not the time for fasting. How can you expect someone to fast when it is not time to fast? So not only is there a right reason to fast, there is a right time. And these disciples and the Pharisees got it all wrong. Jesus certainly expects that there will be a time to fast-but it was not now. He is at least saying that fasting has something to do with Him and that His presence or absence determines the appropriateness of the fast. Jesus is essentially saying: Now that I am here, even something like fasting takes on a new meaning, a new importance. He establishes the rules of our religious ritual and the meaning of our religious piety. Apart from Jesus our fasting and praying and preaching and singing and breaking bread mean absolutely nothing. Apart from Jesus they are merely empty rituals.

Jesus says, There is a time to fast.

__________________

Jesus uses two further illustrations to make his point that it is not the time or the season for fasting-when he was originally asked the question. You see, we live in the time when the bridegroom has been taken away. He is not here, and we are awaiting his return. We are in the time when fasting should be happening. Then he goes on to criticize the disciples of John and the Pharisees on two points.

The first point he criticizes them on is this: It was time for something new. I sense him saying: Here’s the problem, and what is your solution? To fast? Well, that will no longer cut it. We need new solutions to these problems that the old way of doing things cannot handle.

I sense him saying, “Look around. What do you see? You see people like Matthew here, whose house I am at, these so-called sinners that you despise me for eating with, and your response is to abstain from food?! How does that solve the problem of hopelessness among sinners? How does that solve the problem of their being considered outcasts? Fasting when people are starving for grace is just a patch that will not work. I did not come to be a patch for people; I am not a patch for the system you Pharisees have worked out, I came to be an entirely new garment. The old tear remains the same, a simple new patch will not do. I’m not here to fix the rip with a patch; I’m here to provide a new garment.”

He was saying that there are times when things need to be completely overhauled, abandoned and something New must take it’s place. Jesus was that Something New.

The second story he tells, or illustration he uses, is that of new wineskins. And the gist here is this: If I tried to cram this Newness that is breaking out all over the place into the old ways of doing things, such as your weekly tradition of fasting without even knowing why you are fasting, then fasting would become completely worthless, it would lose all meaning altogether, it would, in short, simply burst all over the place. But I will transform even the meaning of fasting. Don Carson gives a vivid description of the imagery contained here:

Skin bottles for carrying various fluids were made by killing the chosen animal, cutting off its head and feet, skinning the carcass, and sewing up the skin, fur side out, to seal off all orifices but one (usually the neck). The skin was tanned with special care to minimize disagreeable taste. In time the skin became hard and brittle. If new wine, still fermenting, were put into such an old skin, the buildup of fermenting gases would split the brittle container and ruin both bottle and wine. New wine was placed only in new wineskins still pliable and elastic enough to accommodate the pressure.” -227

You cannot put new wine into old wineskins. But, if you put new wine in new wineskins then the new wine and the new wineskins will both be preserved. He is not suggesting that it was necessary to preserve the old way of doing things-why preserve the old when He was the New? He was suggesting that it was necessary for there to be newness all around. So, if Jesus is a not just a patch for a broken old, threadbare way of doing things, what is called a ‘shadow of things to come’, and if Jesus is new wine that old wineskins cannot manage-then what is the point? The point is that Jesus was bringing and has brought a newness that could not be confined. And, to that end, everything had to be made new. I submit to you that he was not just talking about the broken tradition of fasting-fasting at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons-but he was, as Don Carson suggests, claiming the entire system of Judaism was defunct. In other words, he was claiming to be able to do what the religious system of the Jews could not do: Save people.

______________________

 Now, let’s draw out some application to this small paragraph.

First, if Jesus was not compatible with Judaism, Judaism from whence sprung the roots of Christianity, then Jesus is not compatible with anything. That is, there is no such thing as Jesus and…, or Jesus plus…. Jesus is saying here that He is sufficient for the needs of people like Matthew, the sinner, in whose house he sat.

But I think frankly there is a lot of this very thing going around in modern Christianity. We are told we need Jesus and purpose, we are told we need Jesus and strict discipline, we are told we need Jesus and a whole host of things. Jesus is saying: I am sufficient. There is one Mediator between God and men the Man Christ Jesus. And this is new because it used to be the sacrifice of bulls and goats. Jesus says: I am sufficient.

His grace is sufficient. We don’t need Jesus plus anything. But, too, you cannot pour Jesus into people who insists that they need more than Jesus.

Second, when we do fast or pray or worship or preach it is not because of us. Jesus is the reason not only for Christmas but for everything. Jesus is the reason why we do or do not fast. He is the reason why we pray and worship. The Bible says that we should do all things as if we were serving Christ.

Frankly, too much of our Christianity is about experiencing life to the fullest or living our best life now or living the life we’ve always dreamed of. And there are a lot of important people making a lot of important money trying to convince us that this life is about satisfying our personal ambition and potential. It’s too bad many of them are Christians. Look, the bottom line is that if we are doing these things merely for ourselves then we are getting gypped because they are not about us. Jesus said, “they cannot fast while I am here…they will when I am gone.” So if he’s gone now, and we fast, we do so because he’s gone; not because we stayed.

Third, I don’t think it is fair or necessary or even biblical to determine a person’s devotion to Christ or the level of their spirituality based entirely upon whether or not they are devoted to certain rituals or practices-especially when it is clear that some practices are clearly, merely a patch to cover some old threadbare, ripped up garment. This was Paul’s argument in the letter to the Galatians where some people said, You need Jesus plus circumcision. Only then can your true spiritual state be determined. There is simply no room, no point, in going around rattling off to everyone how much of this or that we did then and there. Why boast? Why brag?

The Bible plainly says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 326-27) And in Romans 13:14: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…” Jesus is no mere patch-He is not here to just fix rips and tears-He is an entirely new garment. He’s did not come simply to fix up a broken system; he came to give a new Way. And a person’s level of devotion cannot be determined based upon how often or not they take communion or how often or not they pray or go on mission trips or how many Christian novels they read in a year. Honestly, we would probably do well, mind you, to worry about our own spiritual devotion and worry less about the level of devotion in others. It’s not a competition and Jesus makes it clear that those who make it a competition are those who are doing it for all the wrong reasons in the first place.

Finally, and this is the most difficult aspect of these verses to come to grips with, especially as it relates to our present situation. But I noticed that only those who refused to acknowledge Jesus as the bridegroom had issues with his particular religious customs. It’s not that they were offended that he forgave sins, but that he forgave sins. It’s not that he ate dinner with sinners, but that he ate dinner with sinners. And it is not that he did not fast-he did fast 40 days!-it’s what he was saying about their particular fasts that offended them. For them, Jesus was not righteous enough!

These people ate dinner. They wanted their sins forgiven. And they fasted. They were upset that Jesus was not giving their particular sins, or dinners, or fasts any special attention. I go back to my original point: People don’t like Jesus. And it is the same way now. Certain people in the world will always be offended at Jesus because Jesus does not come down and stand at their side and say: Here’s the Guy! People get offended now because we Christians understand that even now there is a reason to be joyful and celebrate. And certain people cannot stand that even in the midst of persecution and terrible times and tornadoes Christians find a reason to be joyful-and neglect those things that they hold so dear-as if those things they hold so dear will make us better Christians, more saved, or better prepared to meet the Lord.

The bottom line is that people do not like Jesus. That’s why they were angry. They were jealous. And sometimes when people get angry or jealous the only way they can satisfy themselves is by lashing out and criticizing every little thing that is done or not done by those they are angry at and jealous of. Today, in today’s world, Jesus is too righteous. And those who call upon His Name hear about it every single day.

* * * *

But I’m gonna stay with Jesus.

The Bible makes this point, and to be sure, Jesus is not advocating spiritual anarchy. Fasting mattered to him, and to the church he created. But here’s the point that the Bible makes: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts [and here’s the thrilling part]…what counts, is a new creation.

Jesus is all about Newness. Neither fasting nor not fasting means anything. What counts is a new creation.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I published the manuscript for this sermon last night. This sermon is about 28 minutes long. I am preaching from Mark 5:1-43. You can see from the manuscript version of this sermon that I am trying to work out what it means to be involved in the re-creation of the heavens and the earth now. What does it mean to live the resurrection life now? What is the church doing now to promote the advance of the Kingdom of God, God’s rule, God’s reign begun in the Resurrection of Jesus? I am here not providing concrete answers as much as I am looking in a direction, trying to understand how the church is involved in what Jesus says in Revelation 21: “Behold, I am making all things news.” That is, I don’t have all the answers and probably conclude with more questions than answers. Nevertheless, I am learning and thinking in that direction. Perhaps you might listen and help me understand a little more of what God is doing in your life and in the world. –jerrry

Listen here: The Advancing Kingdom of God.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is a new adventure for Life Under the Blue Sky: Podcasting of sunday’s sermons.  This is a trial run from a sermon I preached about 2 years ago. The sermon is called Now is the Time to Fast and Pray and is part 1 of a 5 part series called The Resurrection Driven Life. The sermon is based on Isaiah, Matthew, John and Acts. Let me know what you think.

Soli Deo Gloria!

ps–There is a manuscript download available in the box.net widget to your right. You can download the entire manuscript for this podcast. It is a word.doc file and fairly generic so as to be accessible to most readers. jerry

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Friends,

I am currently preaching through the Epistle to the Colossians. The series of sermons is called The Supremacy of Christ. Here is the third in the series. I may well post the other two, but they are rather long so I’m trying to decide if I want to scale them back first. (The first sermon ended up being about 58 minutes long, the second was 43.) Anyhow, here’s the third in the series based on Colossians 1:24-2:5. I welcome all feedback. jerry

The Supremacy of Christ
Colossians 1:24-2:5: The Supremacy of the Riches of Christ
Sermon #3: March 30, 2008

Introduction

To introduce today’s sermon, I would like to read the text of our selected verses from three different translations. But I have factored this into our time, and it will not add to our allotted 78 minutes we have reserved for the sermon by one second! Anyhow, to the work!

New International Version

24Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

1I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

The Message

24-25I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth. 26-29This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.

1 I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone. 2-4I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.” 5I’m a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I’m on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ.

New American Standard Version

24Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

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We are in danger on every side. Here’s a press announcement from a popular book and video that has been touted by everyone—including Oprah. According to a biographical sketch at the website, the book alone has sold 7.5 million copies. It’s author, Rhonda Byrne, was one of last year’s 100 most influential people in the May issue of Time magazine. Maybe you have heard of…The Secret:

The Secret reveals the most powerful law in the universe. The knowledge of this law has run like a golden thread through the lives and the teachings of all the prophets, seers, sages and saviors in the world’s history, and through the lives of all truly great men and women. All that they have ever accomplished or attained has been done in full accordance with this most powerful law.

Without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance.

Rhonda Byrne’s discovery of The Secret began with a glimpse of the truth through a 100 year old book. She went back through centuries, tracing and uncovering a common truth that lay at the core of the most powerful philosophies, teachings and religions in the world.

What Rhonda discovered is now captured in The Secret, a film that has been viewed by millions around the world. The Secret has also been released as an audio-book and printed book with more than six million copies in print.

The Secret explains with simplicity the law that is governing all lives, and offers the knowledge of how to create – intentionally and effortlessly – a joyful life. This is the secret to everything – the secret to unlimited happiness, love, health and prosperity.

This is the secret to life.

Well, that sounds impressive doesn’t it? Sadly, many Christiansbuy into this sort of malarkey and in the process they shipwreck their faith or deny it altogether. Secrets abound in our world and everyone has them. The Secret is just one example and I’m sure if time permitted I could give you 10 or 15 more. We are in danger on every side from this sort of stuff. We have to be cautious (because a lot of these so-called versions of the Gospel purport to give you better life, better goals, peace, happiness, and much wealth.)

So what did the apostle do? Well, his times were no different from ours. There were teachers and preachers who sought the easy way of doing things: Mystery religions abounded, secret philosophies made the day, gnostic Christianity was most likely, at least, in its beginning stages. It was all around. Even Jesus warned that in the last days there would be all sorts of false prophets rising up to take us hostage, or worse, rising up to kill us: “…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But my sheep will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Paul said it this way elsewhere in his Corinthian correspondence:

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Paul begins by noting that it is his responsibility, a charge and commission given to him by the Stewardship of God, to proclaim the fullness of God’s mystery: “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” Well, he doesn’t leave it at that. He gives several reasons why it is necessary to preach the fullness of God’s word, the mystery, which Paul says is Christ. God has revealed in the Gospel that it has been his intention all along to include you and me in the plan of salvation. Let’s examine the reasons why Paul says he must preach the Gospel in it’s fullness.

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First, Paul preaches the fullness of the Gospel so that we might know the glorious riches of this mystery which is Christ in us, our hope of glory.

But how can we get along without Christ in us? Is He not our strength, our hope, our glory? Is His presence a mere good feeling or His presence the very hope that we cling to? And is His image not showing through in our lives? Christ in us is our hope. It means that we have been invaded. It means that not only have we been transferred from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the Son he loves, but it also means that the reign of darkness in us has ended and is being overtaken by Christ. He is taking back the ground that was given up to sin. Christ is reclaiming that which is His. It means that we are consumed outwardly (‘in his kingdom’) and inwardly (‘Christ in us’). It means that we are surrounded on all sides, and in all dimensions. It means that we are defined by Christ and not he by us. Christ in us! Imagine, he lives in us!

Second, Paul preaches the fullness of the Gospel so that we might be presented to Him perfect. Here is true wisdom and knowledge. Here is the goal of the proclamation of Christ, here is the goal of correction and teaching: That we might be presented perfect in Christ. Proclamation of Christ has this as it’s goal. Perfection here means ‘complete’ but it also can mean ‘without blemish.’ But again how is this accomplished? Paul says it in a word: We proclaim Him. Him! We preach Christ! Do you want to be perfect in Christ, ready for your presentation to him? Learn Christ. And he says it in Greek very uniquely by repeating the phrase ‘everyone’ three times so that verse 28 actually reads this way: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” What else can we preach that will perfect us? I hear it all the time that we need to learn about this or that or study this teaching or that and Paul says: We proclaim Him! We proclaim Christ. I want you to be perfect in Christ on the day you stand before Him so I will not shortchange you or give you anything less than Him who is able to enable you to stand before him: Christ!

And Paul labors at this with the energy of Christ. He struggles not only for the church at Colossae, and the church at Laodicea, but also the all who have not met him: This includes us. This is why we teach, preach, study, learn, and proclaim Christ: So that even we will be able to stand before Christ in perfection.

Third, his purpose is stated again: That we may be encourage in our hearts and united in love. United in love here is poetically stated: Knitted together in love. We are like a fine fabric, carefully knit together in love. Well, how else can we have this unity of love? How else can we be knit together if not in Christ? So Paul preaches Christ, the fullness of the mystery of God’s Gospel so that you and I will be completely one in Him. He proclaims Christ so that we will be encouraged in our hearts to persevere in the midst of all sorts of destructive forces that still encroach upon the kingdom of God, hoping to take captives. But we will stay encouraged in our love for one another, and the unity we have in Christ.

Fourth, he preaches the fullness of the Gospel of Christ so that they will know the mystery of God, namely Christ. Paul wants us to know Christ! Dare I say that he wants to know Christ to the exclusion of all else? Here’s what Paul wrote elsewhere:

2Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

John Calvin said this: “Knowledge of the sciences is so much smoke apart from the heavenly science of Christ.” Paul also wrote to the Corinthians: “I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ…” We have to seriously ask ourselves this question: Why do we study, learn, preach, teach? What is the ambition of our listening to sermon after sermon after sermon? To know Christ! Why do we keep on keeping on? To know Christ! What is the goal and ambition of life: To know Christ! What else could possibly be of value in this world save for knowing Christ? John Piper said it this way:

Therefore, all knowledge and all wisdom and all riches originate in him, and are held in existence by him, and are for the purpose of making him known. Therefore, Christ is the final and ultimate meaning of all reality. Which means that nothing can be fully or rightly known that is not known in relation to Jesus Christ.

I think this is yet another failure of the church and of much of the preaching that goes on in churches: People do not teach or learn for the sake of knowing Christ. Christ is not our ambition and I’m not talking any Christ, but the complete message of Christ contained in, and exemplified by, chapter 1:15-20. We should want to know nothing more or less than the full picture of Christ Paul writes of in those verse. One writer said it this way: “It is not surprising, therefore, that Christ embodies allGod’s wisdom and knowledge as well. There is no need for the Colossians to look beyond Christ; there is no purpose in pursuing other systems of thought; there is no value in secret initiations. Christ is all and in him are all things.”—47

Fifth, Paul preaches the fullness of the Gospel so that we will not be deceived by fine sounding arguments. Everything that we study must conform to the image of God in Christ. That is, he talked about Christ. Keep fixed on Jesus. Stay focused on Jesus. It is only when we keep ourselves fixed on Jesus that we are truly going to remain undeceived. The words matter, and the content matters. We must be careful people who weigh each and every syllable that comes from our teachers. We must be careful not to merely surround ourselves with teachers who have only their own interests in mind. This is why we preach the Gospel even to people who are saved. It is terribly easy for the word of God to be distorted to serve the ends and purposes of people.

But the Word of God does not serve our interests, but those of God. There are many, many dangerous teachers in the world now, and in the church, and we have to be careful of them. Scripture serves one end: To make known Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus said in John 5, and Luke 24. This is the point of the book of the Revelation, to make known Christ. This is the clear point of the Gospel: To teach us about Jesus Christ, the Mystery of God now revealed. And I do not mean: 15 helpful tips from Jesus the Great teacher of morality. I don’t mean that we study the stories of David or Moses in order to learn fine tips for a better psychological profile: I mean we study Christ Jesus and him Crucified.

Paul means this: We are only kidding ourselves if we think we need something more than Jesus or some teaching more than Christ. Paul here is pointing out the supremacy of the Riches and wealth that are found in Christ Jesus alone. I have argued this point with others at my blog. They tell me about the beauty of math, to symmetry of biology, the grandiose nature of chemistry. They tell me how wonderful people like Einstein and Darwin and Jefferson were. They tell me about all the great teachers of the world: And I laugh because apart from Christ Jesus those men and their teachings are worthless dead-ends unto themselves.

I’m telling you that if you want to succeed in life, if you really want to have a go at what matters: Learn Christ. Learn what was hidden from generations, and angels, and prophets. Learn the mystery of God which is Christ in you. Learn Christ! The full wealth of our Gospel, the completeness of the Gospel is Jesus Christ. Here’s what Lucas wrote:

“Here then Paul answers the demand for the richest experience of God that is permissible for human beings to have. When we have begun to grasp the greatness of Christ, and then grasp the closeness of the union we may have with him, he in us and we in him, we can ask of God no more.”—75 (Lucas)

Because what more could possibly be needed? You want to be sure? Learn Christ, live Him, breath him, commune with him. You want to understand the mysteries of this world, understand Christ in you, and you in Christ. You want to remain clear-minded, sober, in touch, relevant—free from the deception of false teachers whose only ambition is your harm: Stay with Christ Jesus and Him Crucified.

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I think it is safe to say that because of this insistence on the proclamation of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ the church at Colossae remained steadfast in their faith. Their faith was orderly and it was firm. I read a sermon and the author said this:

“The resources of the Christian life, my friends, are simply—Jesus Christ.” Quoted in Greathouse.

Yet another author expresses it with a few more words than this:

“Obviously, if less than the Christ of 1:15-20 is believed among the churches, there will be no gospel to preach, no good news to offer. What is not quite so obvious, but is equally important, is that the united front so essential for convincing evangelism will be threatened when there are those in the churches teaching more than this Christ. We need to take very seriously Paul’s claim that all our spiritual treasures are found in Christ alone if the powerful witness of a united band of Christian churches is to be exercised in the world.”—85 (Lucas)

This is the richness and wealth we seek: Christ Jesus. Maybe you tire of hearing it, but what else do we have? What other claim can we make on this world? We are strangers, sojourners, pilgrims Peter said in his letter. We have no claim here, not stake. So there are hundreds of preachers who are going about saying things like, “God wants you to be rich! God wants you to have! God is not interested in his people living in poverty!” And you know what, I agree with them.

Mark this day on your calendars: Jerry preached the health and wealth Gospel. It is there, or here, in the Scripture I agree. The only difference there is is this: The nature of the riches and wealth He wants us to own and be owned by. Paul wrote:

2My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Here is your health and wealth Gospel! Paul wants you to be rich in Christ. And to make certain you are, he labors and toils and struggles, literally, he agonizes over this work of the Gospel. He agonizes over the church he serves. He said to the Galatian Church: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!”

Paul says this mystery of Christ has been revealed to us! TO us! TO us! We are the recipients of the greatest riches and wealth imaginable—and do we settle for less? Worldly treasures are less! Paul says the greatest treasure is Christ in Us, the hope of glory. The hope that we shall not remain unchanged, the hope that we shall not remain defeated, the hope that Christ indeed is our hope—the goal of all history, and creation, and life. The riches of Christ are far supreme over anything this world can offer—and do we settle for less? It think many preachers miss the mark on this very point: Why settle for paper and chains and things that break, when God has given us the fullness of his wealth in Jesus Christ?

So Paul says we can rejoice. He begins 1:24 with rejoicing and he ends 2:5 this way: Rejoicing. We can rejoice in sufferings, we can rejoice that the church is strong in faith even if the church is weak other areas. We can rejoice because we know that what we possess, and what (who) possesses us is beyond compare. We rejoice because of Christ! We rejoice in Christ! We rejoice because whatever else the world tells us we don’t have matters little to us: We have Christ, and Christ has us. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us: The Hope of Glory! The hope that this world will not have the last Word. The hope that our treasure is Christ and there will our hearts be.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends, here is part three of what was a planned four week series of sermons on Servanthood in the Church. This sermon comes from Matthew 20:20-28. It discusses the seeming absurdity of what Jesus calls us to as Christians: Serving for nothing else but the glory of God. Jesus models this in His own life, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” –jerry PS–All Scripture references in this message are from the ASV.

The Cross of Christ and the Root of All Service or The Imitation of Christ
Matthew 20:20-28
Spiritual Disciplines 1.3

Prayer

Our Father,

You created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. You created the sky and the seas and all that is in them. We thank you O God for blessing upon blessing that you have released upon us in and through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sovereign Lord, the world has risen up against you in all their fury. But You, O Lord, sit enthroned in heaven—you scoff at the petty and meaningless rattling of the sabers of men.

Holy God, it is because of your providence that we live and move and have our being. It is because you send the rain and the snow on the righteous and the unrighteous alike that we can continue enjoying the blessings you also send.

You are righteous in all your judgments, perfect in all your ways, you are just in all your decisions. What is left for us to do but surrender to your will, to cry out for mercy, to serve you with gladness, joy, and humility. We, the Body of Christ, your saints, your saved ones, surrender ourselves to the scrutiny and judgment of your Word.

May you be exalted and glorified in all that we say and do here this day. Amen.

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Matthew 20:20-28 Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, worshipping and asking a certain thing of him. (21)And he said unto her, What wouldest thou? She saith unto him, Command that these my two sons may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I am about to drink? They say unto him, We are able. He saith unto them, My cup indeed ye shall drink: but to sit on my right hand, and on myleft hand, is not mine to give; but for whom it hath been prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation concerning the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

“There were thirteen men in an upper room—how many servants and how many Lords? ‘One Lord and twelve servants’ sounds like the right answer, but is it? The truth is, there were twelve lords and one Servant! Only one man in the room knew anything about service.”—Jim McQuiggan, God of the Towel, 127

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I can probably think of more jobs I would rather not do than do. I would probably rather not be a preacher. I know how that sounds, but it doesn’t sound quite like it is meant. Preaching is the easy part, and I have consistently said through the years that I love preaching and teaching, but all the other stuff gets in the way.

I have to confess that lately church has been getting in the way of service. Lately, church has been getting in the way of ministry, of faith, of Christianity. What James and John found so easy in this episode I understand well. Don’t you?

Jesus said, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

And James and John confidently answered, “We can.”

Who of us would have answered differently? Frankly, you have to admit, it is a lot easier to think of going down in a blaze of glory than it is to imagine laboring away for many, many years and seeing no real achievement or accomplishment. Serving in obscurity is a lot more difficult than dying for a cause.

Then Jesus confirms for them, “You will drink the cup I will drink. But you won’t get out of it what you want.”

Jesus turns this whole ‘dying for a cause’ thing upside down. Thus I suppose it is a lot more difficult to die for a cause when you won’t get out of it what you want than it is to die for a cause and get everything you want. James and John wanted fame, power, the right and the left. Jesus said they would drink the cup and still remain in relative obscurity.

In other words, their death’s wouldn’t gain them anything in Jesus’ Name.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think James and John were sincere. This is why Matthew tells us, “When the other disciples heard…they were indignant.” I read this like, “They were jealous that they hadn’t thought of it first.”

This just leads me to think that the opening quote is correct: there were 12 lords, and one servant.

And so Jesus says that their lives are not to be conducted like that of the ‘gentiles.’ Jesus said that if they wanted to achieve the sort of power and fame and ambition they were seeking by sitting at his right and left then were going to have to do things that did not involve his right and left, did not involve even drinking the cup that Jesus was drinking.

So I don’t think Jesus is saying anything like, ‘Don’t have ambition,’ or ‘Don’t seek greatness.’ No on the contrary, Jesus has no problem with his people seeking greatness or having ambition. He says as much doesn’t he, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

Nothing wrong with ambition. Nothing wrong with greatness. Nothing wrong with wanting to be noticed. But the way to go about getting noticed is to get unnoticed, to get hidden, to be least. If you want to be first, you must be last. If you want to be the master, you must be the slave. But even within this I sense that Jesus is not saying, “Seek greatness by being least.” It’s not like we are to use selflessness merely as a means to an end.

No I sense in his statements here not ambition, but simply the humility of a life that is so consumed with care and compassion and justice for others that it matters little if anything at all what place we come in or how great of a name we end up having for ourselves. We don’t serve so that when we are dead and gone people will continue to serve in our name or continue to revere our name or continue to honor our name or ever start doing those sorts of things.

We serve with only one ambition and that is the ambition of Christ. There is not a more backward way of looking at things that I can imagine. And how does Scripture, let alone simply preachers like me, convince people in this generation, in this culture, in this country—born and bred as we are on the standard of ‘get all I can while I can get it’—that the way to first is by the last, the way to great is by the way to least, the way to ambition is through an ambitionless service to the least of all people’s on this planet—many of whom, more often than not, will take advantage of your kindness and generosity, and continue to sap your strength until you have nothing more to give?

How, just how does that work in our culture? And what sort of God demands such impossibilities from people like you and me who are the very ones who want to ‘get all we can while we can get it’? And how do you suppose that this God who demands such things is going to convince us?

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So Jesus says, in order to demonstrate his justification for demanding such an attitude from us, the following, “Just as the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”

Huh?

Philippians 2:1-11If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doingnothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; (4) not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. (5) Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Oh, so it’s just that easy is it? We are to simply have an ‘attitude’ like that of Jesus. I have to be honest with you: I’m not thoroughly persuaded by such an argument. Are we merely to read this statement and accept it and live it? Is it enough?

“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew tells us that the very path Jesus himself took to exaltation went through Calvary. It went through the cross Jesus said that the very ‘model’ his disciples had to follow to greatness went through the cross; went through death. The disciples are strangely quiet after this episode.

And everything inside of me wants to rage and kick against it. I say, “I don’t mind death if it gets me something.” Jesus says my death will not be about me. He told Peter that in John 21:

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Everything inside me says: this is not the way. Everything inside of me says: You can go your own way. Everything inside of me says: It’s your life and you can live it your way, for yourself, for no one else. You don’t have to serve. Look I’m not talking about merely making breakfast for someone although I’m not excluding that. I’m not talking about merely buffing someone’s dirty shoes although I’m not excluding that. I’m not talking about merelystacking folding chairs. Jesus defined service, Jesus defined servanthood, Jesus defined being last: “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” The sort of service Jesus is talking about isthe sort of service that involves the loss of life. I don’t know that you and I are going to give our lives as ransoms in the sense that Jesus gave his life as a ransom. Surely we cannot save the world from sin. But our servanthood is no less a life giving action than was that of Jesus the Son of God.

“Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me.” This is the essence of servanthood in the Kingdom of God. This is the attitude we are to have in ourselves. This is the manner in which we demonstrate our allegiance to Christ, our understanding of His commands, and our complete submission to His will. It doesn’t get much clearer than this.

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Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. (14) If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them. (John 13:13-16)

I know you are familiar with these Scriptures. I have read them to you a hundred times. You have read them to yourselves a thousand times. But ask yourself, even as I ask myself: Have I really, actually, truly surrendered my life to Jesus Christ? Have I really given my life for many? Have we drank the cup that Jesus drank.

I’m not trying to guilt you into anything. Remember, this is an attitude Paul says we are to have within us. I cannot guilt you into an attitude that you don’t want. But the Holy Spirit will.

All I am asking you to do this morning is evaluate the nature of your relationship with Christ. The sacrificial life won’t save you. It won’t gain you heaven, it won’t neglect you hell. All you are is all you are because of the grace of Jesus. What I am asking in this short series of sermons on Servanthood is simply this: What are you doing with what Jesus gave you?

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I’m preaching a short, four-week series on the Spiritual Discipline of Worship. This sermon on Romans 12:1-2 is part three in the series. Thanks for stopping by.–jerry

Let’s begin this sermon with a brief review of Romans up to the twelfth chapter:

  • Paul begins by asserting that all of us are sinners in need of salvation.
  • He makes the case that there is no one who has any excuses before God. All have sinned and fallen short.
  • He asserts that if all are sinners, and there is no difference, then all are also ‘justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’
  • For those of us who ‘believe in him who raised him from the dead’ our faith is ‘credited to us as righteousness.’ (4:23-24)
  • We have been given a gift of immense proportions—totally undeserved, totally outweighing the offense and totally from God’s grace.
  • For those who believe, there is a death: We die to sin in baptism and are united with Christ in his death. So then if we are we will also be united with him in resurrection. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” It is the same for us. Risen to walk in newness of life.
  • So then, we also become slaves to righteousness: set free from sin, offering the parts of our bodies to righteousness, so that we may increase in holiness. We have received this gift of eternal life from God.
  • So there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ. We are not to live by the flesh, but by the Spirit. We have an obligation to the Spirit. We are more than conquerors.
  • We are the ones who have believed in our hearts and confessed with our mouths: Jesus is Lord.
  • We are the ones who will be saved by God’s great power and mercy.
  • ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.’

And chapter 12 begins: Therefore

“Therefore, I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

I’d like to make four observations about these verses this morning.

Worship: Surrendering the Body

At the root of all that we have said about worship is a single thought. It is this: The God who saves us in his mercy also is the God who makes demands on our lives. The question we ask is this: Does God have a right to make any demand, let alone this demand? I think part of the problem with the way we do church is precisely at this point. When we do evangelism, for example, we are happy to let people know that Jesus died for their sins, that he wants to set them free, that he will help them in their difficulties—maybe even heal them of illness and disease, and that he will be a great pal through the many changes that occur in life.

What we frequently fail to tell people, while we are telling them to ‘give their hearts to Jesus,’ is that God has made demands not just on our heart, but on our very lives as represented here by the apostle in these words: “…offer your bodies…” Now this is representative, but it is far more than metaphor. No, I happen to think that the apostle is not mincing words at all. Offer your bodies is Paul’s way of saying: Your entire being now belongs to God in light of His mercy.

I think we do a great disservice to the people we share the Gospel with when we tell them that salvation is only about salvation as if redemption had nothing to do with sanctification or making us holy creatures. I think the demand that God places on our lives is best said here by the Apostle: “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices…” We are fond of salvation, but worship as a sacrificial lifestyle is probably abhorrent to us.

True worship demands our entire being: Heart, mind, body. It means our flesh. Worship is complete surrender, utter devotion, absolute, unconditional relinquishing of our autonomy.

“To sanctify something means to separate and prepare it that it may be presented and offered to God. This is more precisely defined in the conception of sacrifice. The exhortation which is grounded upon the mercies of God and is directed towards men is summed up in the demand that men should present their bodies—that is, their concrete, observable, historical existence—as a sacrifice. Now, sacrifice means surrender; it means an unconditional gift; it means the renunciation of men in favour of God. If men are themselves the object to be surrendered, renounced, and given up, their sacrifice can mean nothing less than the relentless acknowledgement of that questionableness and confiscation which occurs when they are confronted by the unfathomable God; the sacrifice which they have to offer by means of an ever-renewed, but never completed, return to His mercy and freedom…”—431, Barth, Romans

There is always the temptation to think that we can give Christ our spirit and keep our bodies for ourselves. Our Bodies too belong to Him.

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Worship: The Living Sacrifice I happen to have an advance copy of next week’s Christian Standard. As I looked through it I happened upon an article that I was certain I was going to reject out of hand before even reading it. Then I did something silly: I read it. And I liked it. The article in question is by a woman named Mandy Smith. I’d like to share some of her thoughts with you.

‘Paul doesn’t talk a lot about worship, but when he does it’s usually in the context of the Jewish tradition, in discussions about circumcision and sacrifices. That is understandable, since the Old Testament sense of worship had a good deal to do with sacrifice. As worshipers brought sacrifices from their fields and flocks, they brought together everyday life and spiritual practices, the products of daily work into sacred space.

‘Unfortunately, in our contemporary setting, we have separated worship from daily life. In Romans 12:1, however, Paul provides a new pattern for worship (new for first-century believers and new for us): “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Instead of offering dead animals, we are now to offer up our very lives, which are more valuable to God because they allow us to offer ongoing acts of sacrifice. [My emphasis.]

‘Paul goes on, in Romans 12, to describe the various gifts and functions of the members of the body, putting a very practical spin on worship. For him it is not just bowing and singing weekly, but serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing financially, leading, and showing daily mercy (12:6-8). In fact, the word used for worship in this passage is related to work and is often translated ‘service.’ If worship in the OT was largely synonymous with sacrifice, worship in the NT is synonymous with service (living sacrifice), inside and outside of the service.’

‘If worship is supposed to be unceasing, a way of life, then the weekly service is one of many occasions to worship. The Sunday service is special and significant, not because it’s our opportunity to worship, but because it is a joint celebration of the worship that has been going on all week long, an occasion to remember the reason for the work, and a time of preparation for the Monday-to-Saturday service in the week to come.’

‘But that’s what living sacrifice feels like. This is not about changing what we’re doing, but acknowledging that what we’re already doing is worship, if we devote it to God. There’s music and euphoria at times, but there’s also small daily choices of service, simply acts of selfless love, and perseverance, lots of perseverance. It’s the kind of worship that makes you sweat, the kind that means you’ll need a nap in the afternoon.’—Mandy Smith, Christian Standard, January 27, 2008 [When the link becomes available on-line I will link to it.]

The only problem I have here is that for some reason the author thinks that the New Testament descriptions of worship are devoid of sacrificial imagery and that the Old Testament is only about sacrifice. In my estimation, one cannot really see such a clear cut dichotomy—especially as it relates to the New Testament.

The New Testament imagery is, perhaps, equally about sacrifice except that in the New Testament sacrifice is defined not as dead animal sacrifice but as living human sacrifice. I got to thinking that perhaps the reason why the Old Testament people killed the animals before offering them on the fiery altar is this: Dead animals could not crawl off the altar once the heat was applied. But God makes demands of us: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This means that we must, and have to, make a conscious decision to offer everything to Christ as an offering. Gareth Reese wrote it this way: “The idea would be that the Christian’s sacrifice was to be constant; there was to be a dedication about his life-style, with all his living energies and powers directed consciously to God’s service..”—500-501

Perhaps we might think we can live a day without making this offering to Jesus. Living sacrifices—so long as we are living. Daily—so long as it is day. Day after day. Take up your cross.

There is always this terrible danger that we will crawl off the altar when the heat is applied.

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