Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

podcastWelcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (podcast). Below find the audio from last Sunday’s sermon (May 3) from the Acts 4:5-12 Lesson. The manuscript and study notes can be found elsewhere at this blog. The sermon takes about 35 minutes.

Be blessed. You can download the sermon at No Other Name or use the convenient inline player below.


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Soli Deo Gloria!

New Testament Lesson: Acts 4:5-12
No Other Name**

Introduction

The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone.’”

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

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“Salvation is literally inconceivable apart from Christ: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). […] Peter’s statement does represent what the church has always and everywhere believed about the name of Jesus. If Jesus is, as we believe him to be, as much of God as we ever hope to see, the one who uniquely brought about our at-one-ment with the Father, then we can’t also say that Jesus is only a way, one truth among man, and just another life. Jesus is not simply a great moral example; he is the salvation of God, God’s peculiar, unsubstitutable fullness. Jesus’ distinctive way of suffering, sacrificial love, outrageous invitation, and boundary-breaking, government-enraging, relentless-seeking—vindicated by surprising, unexpected resurrection—cannot be merged with other means or definitions of salvation.(William Willimon, Who Will be Saved?)

Everyone gathered—rulers, elders, teachers of the law; Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, others of the high priest’s family. They surrounded the disciples just as they had surrounded Jesus on the night he was betrayed. Perhaps there is strength in numbers; perhaps they could bully the disciples into submission; perhaps…just perhaps if they nip this in the bud now they could halt this ‘Jesus movement’ before it gains too much more steam.

There is strength in numbers. There is power in people. It is probably not insignificant that Luke uses the word ‘rulers’, which I don’t think is a technical term, but I do believe is at least metaphorical. Jacques Ellul counts six evil powers in the Bible: Mammon, the prince of this world, the prince of lies, Satan, the devil, and death. These may be too vague and overlapping, but they get at the point well enough—and there must be some intimately involved in their perpetuation. He further spells it out for his readers: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. And someone must perpetuate such things—I call the perpetuators, Rulers. What does Ellul say about these things:

They select as their primary target those whom God elects and sets apart (saints), those to whom God reveals his love in Jesus Christ (Christians), and the fellowship of such people (the church). The efforts of evil powers (I call them such for convenience, although I repeat that they are not powers in themselves nor evil as the antithesis of the good God) focus on the place where God’s grace and love are best expressed. They deploy their full strength on Jesus Christ. They concentrate all the forces of evil on Christians. […] [The Devil] brings all his efforts to bear against those who carry grace and love in the world. For his problem is not to bring people to eternal loss or to carry them off to hell, but to prevent God’s love from being present in the world. (Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, 176ff)

And they do well enough. Constantly destroying. Constantly baiting. Constantly threatening the church into complacency. Ellul continues:

What the vanquished powers can always do is dramatize the situation on earth, make human life intolerable, destroy faith and mutual trust, make people suffer, kill off love, and prevent the birth of hope. In other words, what seems to me to be biblically certain is that the evil powers make earth a hell, and that there is no hell but this earth of ours that is said to be a delightful garden. What they do is precisely this: they destroy all that Jesus came to bring. In so doing, they disrupt our relations with God and others, especially the relation created by Jesus Christ. Misery, no perdition, is the issue. Their grand work is to produced in those who have received the mark of the Lord the opposite of what God expects. We should not be surprised, then, at what has happened in the church. It is the normal outcome of this ongoing revolt.”

I believe we see such powers at work in the lesson for today from Acts. This issue, of course, is the exclusivity of Jesus. Ellul is right: The enemy deploys his full strength against Jesus Christ. That is what the ‘rulers’ did that day when they arrested the apostles. Look what Luke tells us:

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.

I love how Luke continues to point out how all the rulers just piled on and on and on the apostles for ‘teaching’ and for ‘acts of kindness.’ Sadducees, Priests, guards, and others—all of them ganging up on the apostles for teaching. Peter turns it on them, ‘If we are being called to account for an act of kindness…’ And I think this is Peter’s way of saying something like this: What’s the real reason you are calling us to account today? How can you possibly find fault with the healing of a crippled man? Show your cards! What’s the real motivation here? Well, we already know what the real reason was: They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching people, and ‘proclaiming in Jesus’ the resurrection from the dead.

That was the problem. The world’s problem is not with you and me per se but with Jesus and this is why when Peter mounts his ‘defense’ to their charges, he doesn’t defend himself. Did you get that? Their problem was with Jesus—the very one they had killed, but whom God had vindicated. So, Mark Driscoll notes:

“Jesus’ exclusivity as the only possible means of salvation. Oprah Winfrey expressed the thoughts of many in our age of spiritual pluralism, saying, ‘One of the biggest mistakes humans make is to believe there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call God.’ While the view seems kind and generously open to all faiths, the belief is as foolish as saying that every road one might travel in this life ultimately leads to the same destination.

“Because the superiority, glory, exclusivity, preeminence, and singularity of Jesus as both God and Savior are at stake, we must contend for Jesus as the only God and the only possible means of salvation, as both Jesus [John 14:6] and the early church [Acts 4:12] did.” (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 137-138)

So Peter contends for Jesus—not for himself. He knows they have a problem with Jesus because no one in their right mind has a problem with someone healing a crippled man. I sense in Peter not a little sarcasm: Well, OK. If we are being called to account because of kindness, then know this, even the very kindness we are doing is done because of Jesus. We do nothing apart from Jesus. Not teaching. Not preaching. Not kindness. Not anything. The Person of Jesus motivates and amplifies our actions.
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But why is Peter so intent on proclaiming Jesus? Why is Peter so intent on not defending himself and on only pointing to Jesus? I think there are a couple of important reasons.

The first is this: Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. The rulers gave Peter the opportunity for defense and Peter took it upon himself to instead utter proclamation. His defense is the Gospel. He frames his answer inside the confines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and resurrected. But Peter doesn’t say these things of his own accord either.

Sometimes we are confronted and we defend, but Peter here doesn’t defend; he contends. And not for himself, but for Jesus. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and then he spoke. It indicates that Peter was did not speak on his own, but as the prophets of old he spoke as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. I love what William Willimon says about preaching, “The Risen Christ is always a more fit subject for conversation in the church than us. To be a preacher is to relinquish all homiletical assistance other than that give, or not given, by the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit must empower the preaching. Interestingly enough, after this short sermon, Luke notes, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” Perhaps being with Jesus and empowered by the Spirit is of far more consequence when preaching than is any other consideration. But the Holy Spirit, we can see, inspires far more than mere courage, he also inspires content. Peter simply got up and declared what they asked: “It was the name of Jesus.” So this is not merely about courage to talk. This is about confidence to say only what is given at the moment.

I don’t think we preachers, and by that I mean every person who has been given the testimony of Christ, rely enough on this Holy Spirit. “What are we attempting with which could not be accomplished without the Holy Spirit? What is there about our lives which demands an explanation? We will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ when we dare to do what could never be accomplished on our own strength and insight” (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Acts Communicator’s Commentary, 1983 as quoted by William J Larkin Junior, Acts IVP NT Commentary Series, 73).

Seriously, if all we do can be explained away as the mere byproducts of human ingenuity—eh, where is the Spirit of God in all that?

But look what the Holy Spirit filled Peter did. Look where the Holy Spirit pointed Peter to: Jesus.
_______________________

A second consideration is that Peter proclaimed the Word of God: “The stone you builders rejected, which has become the Cornerstone.” Peter didn’t have to look far or point far to show the people he preached to that nothing that was happening should surprise them because it is what God had been saying all along. If they had only paid closer attention to the Word they would have noticed, they would have seen.

We can try all day to outwit the rulers of the world using all sorts of worldly weapons and powers and reasons, but there is only one answer for all the world’s accusations. One writer noted, “Today as well the Spirit’s witness to the truth through Christ’s messengers will be unanswerable, though still unacceptable, for many people” (Larkin). Preach the word, Paul wrote, “be prepared in season and out of season.” Preach the Word. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Isaiah said it is the Word of God that will not return to God void. And Jesus said the sower went out to sow and the seed he sowed was the Word of God.

Another noted a similar point, “Luke is thus describing effective ministry in the New Testament era: speaking out of the fullness of the Spirit and out of a knowledge of Scripture. The apostles have a boldness that comes from confidence about their message and empowerment by the Spirit” (Aijith Fernando, NIV Application Commentary). Too easy is it to follow the way of the world and preach out of the fullness of ourselves or out of the wisdom of the world. We learned during our Lenten sermons that what we preach is foolishness, but it is God’s foolishness we preach and in that foolishness is power.

I think there is a time and a place for what we call testimony. But testimony is not necessarily Gospel. Testimony is our history—what happened in the past. Witness is the telling of what God has done and is doing and will do in Jesus. What Peter quoted that day is—simply, nothing short of what Jesus himself had said in Luke 20:17: “Then what is the meaning of that which is written, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” This is yet another reason why it is imperative that we, as a people, continue to involve ourselves together in the Scripture.

Peter had listened to Jesus, Peter was listening to the Spirit thus it follows that Peter would preach the Word of God and let the Word of God be his defense and witness. Later Luke says that they ‘saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, and were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” We learned last week that after Jesus resurrected and met his disciples on Emmaus and in the locked room, he redirected all their attention to all of the Scripture. So John and Peter do the same. They redirect the people’s attention to the Scripture.

Look where the Word of God pointed: To Jesus. Just as the Holy Spirit directed Peter’s words to Jesus; so too the Holy Scripture directed Peter witness to Jesus.
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Look where the Holy Spirit and the Word of God pointed: To Jesus.

And so we must continue to talk about Jesus. He must continue to be the subject of our conversations, the pillar of all our preaching. Why? Peter says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.”

How can we possibly preach anything or anyone else? Peter earlier said that ‘all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Now he says that ‘salvation is found only in Jesus.’ But I don’t want to talk about salvation because even Peter did not talk about it. He mentions it merely to talk about Jesus. Jesus is the subject. Peter starts working into some terribly exclusive language here. He says, ‘no-one else,’ and ‘no other name,’ and it is at this point that the rulers just lose it.

Remember, the rulers and the powers and the principalities can get along well enough in this world so long as the church is just another social services office or another psychologist’s couch or another soup kitchen. Seriously: those places are never attacked by the rulers and powers. In fact, it is the rulers and powers who set up such places in the first place. And if that is all the church is—fine, but let the church start talking about Jesus and watch the rulers and powers kick it into a different gear altogether.

Do you think our church has suffered the way it has suffered merely because of personality differences among us? But there is something about that Name! There is something about Jesus that irks the powers and the rulers of this world. So look what the rulers say and don’t say to Peter and John before letting them go: They don’t say: Don’t go around healing people or feeding them or clothing them. That’s all fine and good and the implication is that these are harmless things. The powers of this world couldn’t care less if I stand here on Sunday mornings and tell you all about the things I refuse to tell you. But let us dare to stand and preach that Jesus alone is the exclusive way of salvation that God has given us—and what them boil over with rage and hate.

What they do say is this: “But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone is this name. Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach all in the name of Jesus.” Ah-ha!! There it is. It’s the Name that the World fears. Think about it. When God called Moses out in the desert and told him to go back to Pharaoh and preach he armed him with what? The Name: God said to Moses, “I am Who I am. This is what you are to tell the Israelites. I AM has sent me to you.”

Do you hear this? And this is what the Holy Spirit is attempting to wake up in you and me. The rulers of this world are not stupid. The leaders seemed to think that the church was no threat until the church started to preach in Jesus’ name. We can be safely ignored until we start making exclusive claims about this person Named Jesus. The church is a faithful ally in the world’s attempt at Utopian dreams until the church starts talking about Jesus as superior to the gods the world loves. The church can talk all day long about whatever the church wants until the church wants to talk about Jesus. The church is beside the point until the church starts talking about Jesus.

It’s that pesky Jesus every time. You see the world pronounced it’s verdict on Jesus: They crucified him. They nailed him to the tree.. They buried him. They ‘conspired against God and against his anointed one.’

But God also had a verdict on Jesus. The one enthroned in heaven scoffs. He laughs at the world’s attempt to rule and control and overthrow Him and to throw off their fetters. God’s verdict on Jesus: He resurrected Him!!! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!

There is no place in this world for two gods, and Jesus is the competition for every other god that has been erected on this planet: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. These gods rule; but these are the very gods over which Christ has triumphed in the cross. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Peter and John were bold and courageous that day precisely because they preached in the Spirit of God, from the Word of God, and about the Son of God. They were bold because they had been with Jesus. They were courageous because they were empty vessels whom the Holy Spirit could fill. They were full of wisdom because they relied on the Word of God and not their own theological prowess.

So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?

There is no other Name given by which men must be saved. What else on earth could possibly be of interest to the church but the Name of Jesus? Have we lost our nerve? Have we grown weary of the Name? Have we lost interest in the Name above all Names? Have we tired of the Name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess? Do we think that people will be more interested in us if we preach something different or something softer or something more compelling or something more interesting?

But I also wonder what power we give up, what significance we lose, what authority we surrender when we, in fact, speak in names that are other than the Name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us to preach only in the Name of Jesus because that is the only Name given by which men must be saved.
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You see a fine example in these verses of a church that refused to cooperate or compromise with the world’s powers and rulers and authorities. They threaten the church and hope that they can silence the church with violence and accusations and threats and bully tactics. Not the church, though! “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to him? You be the judges. As for us, we cannot help but speaking of what we have seen and heard.”
Those are the words of a church convinced that the world is no ally. Those are the words of a church convinced that being obedience to God renders obedience to any earthly ruler a moot point. Those are the words of a church that will not allow the Name of Jesus to be rendered impotent in this world through compromise with the defeated powers of the world. Those are the words of a church that is sure and certain of God’s verdict on Jesus. Those are the words of a church empowered by the Holy Spirit, convicted by the Word of God, and saved by the One and Only Jesus. And it seems to me that it is far, far better for the world to fear us because we refuse to preach in any other name than it is for them to fear us for any other reason.

So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?

There is only one answer the true church of Christ can give.

Jesus.

He is our King.
He is our Love.
He is our God whose come,
To bring us back to Him.
He is the one.
He is Jesus.
He is Jesus.
(David Crowder)

**(All of the references in this sermon manuscript can be found by accessing the sermon notes here.)

The God of Our Expectations

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”

5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” 10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

There is something wrong with this story and it’s not what you think. Well, maybe it is; I don’t know what you are thinking. From where I sit the problem appears to be Jonah, though, again, perhaps not how we think. In an ironic twist, the only person in the story of Jonah to remain unconverted was Jonah. I believe that this story is told from a point of view that means for us to see that Jonah was the real target of God’s advances. Everywhere Jonah goes in the story, someone gets religion. It doesn’t matter if it is men on a ship headed for Tarshish or the 100,000 people living in Ninevah or the animals: God does weird, wild, amazing things in spite of Jonah. Yet Jonah, for all his theological profundity, remains steadfast in his anger.

But there’s a problem with the story. The problem should be obvious, but in case it is not, let me point it out to you. It’s in verse 2 and I think it is worth repeating: “He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

The problem is not this verse per se, but Jonah’s application of it. I think what it demonstrates is that Jonah had a profoundly orthodox view of God. He had dotted all the theological ‘i’s’ and crossed all the theological ‘t’s’. He had it all together and to prove it he quoted from the Torah. Jonah knew his Bible; Jonah knew his God. Look what Jonah says, “I knew this is what you would do…” and it was precisely because Jonah knew that he fled and ran and ran and fled. That is, Jonah’s theological orthodoxy is the very problem of this story. It got in the way of Jonah’s discipleship and it got in the way of Jonah’s vocation. It was precisely because Jonah knew something about God that Jonah refused to be obedient to God or care about the people God cared about.

You see, Jonah did not want God to be gracious, and compassionate, and slow to anger, and abounding in love, and relenting from calamity towards the Ninevites. Jonah wanted God to act in a way contrary to God’s revealed character, the character Jonah knew and believed. He wanted God to, well, not be God or do God things. That is, Jonah wanted God, I think this is clearly the implication, to wipe out the Ninevites because of their wickedness. Clearly, if any one deserved the wrath of God, it was the Ninevites. But Jonah knew what kind of a God he served and prophesied for and so Jonah did what any self-respecting, theologically orthodox Christian would do: He ran and refused to offer that God to the Ninevites. He would rather have been dead than to offer the God of grace to the people of Ninevah (that is why he asked to be thrown overboard; he hoped to die.)

Jonah must have figured if he ran and ran and ran then perhaps the Ninevites would get what was coming to them.

I might go so far as to make this claim: Jonah had reduced God to an idol. That’s right: An idol. You know why? Because Jonah knew God, he knew God’s character, he knew how God would act and he, Jonah, challenged God on this point. Jonah wanted God to act like Jonah wanted God to act which is contrary to what Jonah knew about God. Jonah had no desire for God to demonstrate grace to Ninevah. Ninevah deserved wrath and judgment. When we reduce God to our expectations and demand that he act in accordance with our expectations we have made him an idol. God did not act in accordance with Jonah’s wishes but in accordance with his own character: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” And that is how God acted: Perfectly orthodox.

What I’m suggesting is that God is not bound to our conceptions of theological orthodoxy even if he is bound to his own revealed character. Here, in Jonah’s short book, I think that is abundantly on display. And I suppose when God does do things that run contrary to our conceptions of theological orthodoxy or our expectations of God,  we act just like…Jonah. Theological orthodoxy, while not wrong, can be among the most dangerous weapons wielded by the church because it breeds the sort of pride and privilege we see in Jonah the man. The worst thing we christians can do is try to hold wind in a bottle, but the wind blows where the wind blows and who among us can stop the wind? And if we cannot stop the wind, what makes us think we can stop the Spirit of God?

Let’s see if this economy of grace plays itself out in the New Testament too. We already know that Jesus preferred hanging around with the sinners of the world, but he also taught about these things. Consider this parable of the workers in the field (which is a sad misnomer) in Matthew 20:

1″For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3″About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7″ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8″When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9″The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12′These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13″But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16″So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Here we see a profound example of God acting contra the expectations of people and doing something no one could explain, even though it is perfectly in keeping with his revealed character: Paying everyone equally for unequal work. Thus this isn’t a parable about workers in a field or about eleventh hour salvations as much as it is a parable about the crazy economy of God’s grace. Someone wisely pointed out to me this morning that those who expected to get more because they ‘bore the labor in the heat of the day’ are, actually, those who are bound up in a system of works righteousness. They believe they deserve more because they worked longer and harder and at the most inconvenient times of the day. They did not recognize that they were being paid according to the owner’s gracious will. At the end of the day, all the workers go away baffled at God’s grace. Grace makes no sense. Grace is the great equalizer. (It is likely, though, that those at the end of the day went away far more thankful than did those who began working at the beginning of the day and this for reasons that should be fairly obvious. The whole ‘those who have been forgiven much…’.)

This parable should turn our conceptions of God upside down because in it we see a great, profound reversal of all our expectations about God: He is not fair. Grace is not fair. We need to get used to it. This is what Jonah could not get in his head, and since the story of Jonah is left open-ended, we have no idea how he answered God. (Just like we have no idea if the older brother went in and joined the party in Luke 15.) Grace makes no sense because it is so wasteful. Grace makes no sense because…well, because it is grace. Who can understand it?

The great thing about Jonah and this parable in Matthew 20 is that they both end with questions the readers are supposed answer. In Jonah, God asks whether or not he has a right, as God, to be concerned about those whom he has created and to demonstrate grace to them as he wills. In the parable, God asks the people if they are envious because he is generous and spreads around his grace freely to all equally. (Another parable that fits well here, and also ends with a question, is Luke 15’s parable of the two lost sons.) All of these stories are pointing in one direction with these questions: Have we so bound God to a theological system that we actually prevent God from being God? Or, negatively, we cannot bind God to, or in, a theological system. Hear it well: We cannot control, bind, predict or anticipate this God and his grace.

Just about the minute we do, he tells us this parable (or the story of Jonah or the story of the two lost sons.)

Have we so demanded God act according to our expectations that we have actually reduced him to a mere idol?

Do we have a right to be angry with God when he acts outside our expectations, outside our theological constructs (no matter how orthodox), and against our will? (And doesn’t it infuriate some of us when he does?)

Are we so bound to a theological orthodoxy about God that we actually hope God sends calamity, that we get angry when he doesn’t, against those whom we deem to be the worst of the worst? What if…what if…those that we think are the worst, the ones most deserving of God’s wrath and judgment in our expectation…what if God actually does care about them more than we do and is in the process of saving them quite apart from our efforts, pride, and prejudice?

What if…what if…at the renewal of all things….what if God raised everyone up and in his grace had mercy on…everyone…without exception paid everyone the same price? I don’t know if he will; I don’t know if he won’t. I do know that if he does, which he could since he is a God who delights to act outside and contrary to our expectations, it will be christians who will complain the loudest and the longest and who will, most likely, bear a grudge against God, sit outside the party, pouting and refusing to join in an celebrate that the lost have been found, the blind have received sight, the lame dance, and the sinners forgiven, or will grumble because others have unfairly received the same as we have. Do you think we will rejoice that the lost have been found?

The God of our expectations is not necessarily the God of the Scripture or the God who saves. The God of our theological orthodoxy, is not necessarily the God who saves and reveals and redeems. The God of grace is.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

There has always been, at least for a great many years, in the history of mankind, a terribly large and unhealthy debate about creation. One the one hand, there are some who are absolutely convinced beyond doubt that we have, gradually, over time, evolved from or at least share common ancestry with other species of life on earth. On the other hand, there are some who dismiss all of these sorts of mechanisms and accept by faith that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. It’s a fun debate and one that I am certain will not find any resolution this side of divide.

There’s another debate, however, that we rarely hear anything about at all. Well, ‘debate’ is not really the right word, but it seems that Christians, in their zeal to defend a literal 6, twenty-four hour day, creation cycle get caught up in a debate that prevents them entering into a discussion concerning creation that carries far more weight and as infinitely more important. Frankly, even though I happen to believe Genesis is true, I’m not so much interested in the old creation as I am the new creation. Paul wrote as much in Galatians 6: What matters is the new creation.

I mean, the old creation is fine and fun and to an extent theological necessary, but even that creation is going to prove futile. NT Wright wrote, “When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’s own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed.” (Surprised by Hope, 294)
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The next seven Sundays are considered Easter, meaning Resurrection. Thus seven Sundays between Resurrection and Pentecost. Today is the second.

John began his Gospel with words that recall the book of Genesis and that initial act of creation by God: “In the beginning…” In Genesis we are told “In the beginning God created…” John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word…” Clearly he wants us, at the beginning of his Gospel, to think about what happened at the very beginning.

We stroll through chapter 1 and we see John continuing to recount the Genesis narrative: The next day John was there again…The next day Jesus decided to leave…On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding…and the days keep on rolling. John picks up this theme again in John 20, except that it’s a little different.

In John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week…” Then again in John 20:19: “On the evening of the first day of the week…” Again in John 20:26: “A week later…” which a week earlier was, clearly, the first day of the week.

The point is simple: The Resurrection of Jesus has ushered in a new day, a new beginning, a new creation. And he has invited us to participate in this new day, this new creation. His resurrection marks a new ‘in the beginning.’ New life. New hope. Again, as NT Wright notes, “The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.” (Surprised by Hope, 67).
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So the first new day draws to a close. “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said.”

Jesus stood among them. John also told his readers, in the Revelation, that there were seven lampstands and that ‘among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…’ Jesus is not afraid to stand among the churches, he is is not afraid to stand among his people…even in his gloriousness…he is not afraid to stand among us and dispel whatever fears we have.

Fears of people! Then he said ‘Peace be with you.’ Then John tells us this interesting little note, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” In other words, peace because he triumphed. Peace because he resurrected. Peace because he was victorious. Oh, be certain of this: the world conquered for a little while—see the hands? See the side? Yes. For a little while the world has its way. But the disciples were overjoyed because ‘they saw the Lord.’

This resurrection of Jesus ushers in a life of vindication. Out with the old peaceless, fearful, comes the new resurrection, peaceful, fearless overwhelmed with joy life of the new creation. Yes there are wounds. Yes there are scars. But the other side of Good Friday is Easter; the other side of death is life; the other side of fear of humans is the peace of Christ; the other side of defeat by the world is vindication by God!
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Then Jesus said to them again: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We go out in peace. We go out without fear. We go out by order of Christ. We go out…with orders by Christ.

So we look at what Jesus did while he was out. What did he accomplish? What did he do? He gives them, in other words, a new purpose, a new responsibility, a new reason to live and exist and work and serve.

Our work in Christ, our work in obedience to Christ, is no longer futile. But you will recall the old creation and what God said to Adam just before Adam was cast out of the new creation and into the wilderness, and barrenness that is not Eden: “Cursed is the ground because of you: through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

But here Jesus removes the essence of futility by giving us work that is not bound up in the flesh even if it is done in the flesh. This is not merely to spiritualize all the work we do; not at all. It is, however, to transform the nature of that work. We serve a risen Savior who’s in the World today.

This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. After telling all about the defeat of the cursed world, and the flesh, and death, he merely writes, “Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Go out and be agents of peace, and forgiveness, and hope, and new creation, and love, and mercy, and grace, and forgiveness. Go out and bear fruit…not the fruit of cursed, dead soil, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of new creation, the fruit of Resurrection. By his resurrection, on this new day, we have new work to do in Him and because of Him; and He himself continues this new work through us.

In Genesis he said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” Now Jesus says, “I am sending you.” He sent us.
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And then Jesus did something that I wonder if the disciples weren’t a little shaken by. Jesus continued his re-enactment of Genesis by imitating the actions of God himself, “He breathed on them” and he spoke. “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

This is Jesus, after His resurrection, not only recreating our purpose, triumphing over the old creation, but recreating humanity and breathing into them his own Holy Spirit. He himself has empowered us to go about doing what he has called and commanded us to do. He himself has empowered us to continue his work. He himself prepares us to be people through whom he can continue his work.

And to the world, and to us, what Jesus has empowered his people to do is simply out of control. Frankly, what he has empowered us to do is the last thing we want to do and the last thing we are capable of doing. But the new creation is marked by this: Go and forgive. Jesus makes perfectly clear the point of being in possession of the Holy Spirit: Go and forgive.

In a different book, Tom Wright notes, “The point [of receiving the Holy Spirit] is so that they can do, in and for the whole world, what Jesus had been doing in Israel.” (John For Everyone, 149) He has sent us out into the harsh and terribly world, recreated, repurposed, and in the new day free to forgive in the Name of Christ.

So I don’t know that this is entirely personal. I don’t know that this is only about learning how to forgive those people who personally crush and bruise you. It could be that Jesus is concerned that we spread the fragrance of forgiveness is spread far and wide and to as many people as possible in as quick a time as possible. I think we should be as generous with forgiveness towards people as he was with us. Grace freely received and grace freely given.

“But,” you might say, “I cannot forgive. Some people are too consumed in their flesh. I must make all sorts of demands upon them before they can be forgiven.” But Jesus thinks you can forgive and he has made certain that you are able to by giving you His Holy Spirit. When he breathed new life into you, as he did the apostles, he gave you power to forgive.

So if we find ourselves in a situation where we say something silly like, “I cannot forgive…” well, there might be a couple of things in play in our lives. First, we might simply be disobeying the commands of Christ. Being unforgiving is simply not an option when it comes to Christians. Second, we might simply be denying the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That is, we might be saying that we don’t want the Holy Spirit to work in our lives—we are quenching the Spirit.

Or third, we might be, shudder the thought, un-regenerate. That is, if we can muster up the nerve to say that someone has done something in the world that we cannot forgive…shudder the thought…we might not even have the Holy Spirit to begin with. I shudder to think that the words ‘I cannot forgive’ can come out of the mouths of people who claim to be empowered by the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Disobedience. Indifference. Or unregeneration. Yet I suspect that since Jesus empowers us to be forgiving by the power of his spirit, I don’t suppose it matters all that much if it is disobedience, indifferent, or unregenerate: It is all wrong and a denial of the work of Christ in our lives.
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This is the morning of resurrection. This is the new day. This is the ushering in of all newness and hope and grace. This is the end of law and the beginning of freedom. This is Christ remaking each of us and thus remaking the world. This is Christ the firstfruits of resurrection resurrecting each of us now.

I don’t know if those disciples, locked behind doors as they were—because of fear—had any idea what the first day held for them. As they slept off the failures and unforgiveness of the days before, as they limped along in the old creation, as they went about under their power…who knows what was going through their minds. But it wasn’t resurrection: Jesus’s or their own.

Jesus arose, resurrected, cracked the stone table of death and resurrected, bringing with him the dawn of the True First Day, opening our eyes to the beginnings of the New Creation: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

Frederick Buechner wrote, in his book The Alphabet of Grace,

To wake up is to be given back your life again. To wake up—and I suspect that you have a choice always, to wake or not to wake—is to be given back the world again and of all possible worlds this world, this earth rich with the bodies of the dead as our drams are rich with their ghosts, this earth that we have seen hanging in space, our toy, our tomb, our precious jewel, our hope and our despair and our heart’s delight. Waking into the new day, we are all of us Adam on the morning of creation, and the world is ours to name. Out of many fragments we are called to put back together a self again. (Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace, 22)

The problem is that some get stuck between Good Friday and Easter and never wake up. The problem is that some are so concerned about the Old Creation that we are thoroughly unconcerned about the New. The problem is that some are so concerned about their own resurrection that they have no interest whatsoever in waking others by offering them the same forgiveness.

Resurrection is a call to wake up and taste the day. Resurrection is a call to live now on the way to then. Resurrection is the first day of the rest of your life. Resurrection is not just something we hope for, it is something that defines us: We are a live now and Christ has given us peace, power, and purpose to show the world a new creation, and be a new creation, and not just talk about it.

Soli Deo Gloria!!

Friends,

Since it is the holiday season of Resurrection, I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in or might benefit from some Resurrection sermons. I  preached these sermons about 3 years ago shortly after I preached a series called The Crucifixion Driven Life.

These sermons were inspired by a book that I read by Eugene Peterson called Living the Resurrection. It is a short book, but a fantastic book.peterson I think you will appreciate this book a great deal. I know how much it helped me to focus my attention on the Resurrection of Jesus and actually live out the implications of my own resurrection.

Here is the audio for the first sermon, Now is the Time to Fast and Pray.

Below you will find the manuscripts and the power point presentations. Later I will add a MS Publisher study guide to go along with the series. Thanks for stopping by. jerry

Here it is, then, The Resurrection Driven Life.

1. Now is the Time to Fast and Pray: Various Scripture:  PPT

2. The Fellowship of the Resurrection or Leaving the Garbage in the Can: Philippians 3:1-11: PPT

3. The Dust of Heaven & The Dust of Earth: 1 Corinthians 15:1-58: PPT

4. United with Christ in Death and Life: In my End is my Beginning: Romans 6:1-4: PPT

5. A Better Resurrection or the Mad Farmer Liberation Front: Hebrews 11:1-40: PPT

The Love of God in Christ

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

“But Paul’s vision of God’s love, rising here like the sun on a clear summer’s morning, shines through all the detail that has gone before…God’s love has done everything we could need, everything we shall need. As Paul continued to explore the meaning of the reconciliation that has taken place between God and human beings, he delves down deep into the depths of what God had to do to bring it about….When we look at Jesus, the Messiah, we are looking at the one who embodies God’s own love, God’s love-in-action.” (NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, pt 1 chapters 1-8, 86)

Paul has spent a great deal of space telling the world, telling the church at Rome, telling anyone who would listen exactly how terrible is the predicament of man. It is bad. One might say that if it was bad in Paul’s day, it might be worse now. I doubt it. All bad such as Paul is speaking of is relative to the age. That’s not to say bad is relative, it is to say that the nature of the depravity is relative to the age. I agree with many who think that there is something terribly amiss in this world, in our culture, and in the church in general. I am not so pessimistic to think it is beyond redemption-in fact, I think that might have something to do with Jesus and why he came in the first place.

That’s what I love about Romans 5:6-11. If one were to read Romans and suddenly stop at the end of Romans 4, one might be left despairing and hopeless although, to be sure, Paul has dropped hints and given us glimpses of the beauty of what God has been planning for humanity such as chapter 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And perhaps also this in chapter 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” But these hints in these places are hints. Here in Romans 5:6-11, Paul blows the lid off the whole thing: Here’s what God did despite all that I have written about in the previous paragraphs! And we are stunned. We are stupefied. We are knocked down; thrown for a loop. Our entire world is shattered by these few sentences concerning God and his actions.

How can we not be bowled over by such statements? How can any single one of us, any of us, read such passages of Scripture as this and think that it means anything but what it says at face value? In the midst of all the wrath, in the midst of all the sin, in the midst of all the hate we have for God, in the midst of all the pride and boasting, in the midst of all the immorality, lying tongues, open grave throats, in the midst of all the convoluted ways we have chosen to live precisely because of our free-will-there is God. There is God! Standing at the dawn with his arms opened wide welcoming home all those who lived in the manner Paul described in chapter 1 is the God who loves. There is God! I don’t know about you, but when I read how God demonstrates his love (which leads me to understand how he really, truly feels about me) I am stunned into silence, humbled, humiliated; wrecked.

At just the right time God did the most inconceivable thing: No eye had seen, no ear had heard, no one could even imagine what God had planned for us; many still find it impossible to believe. Yet God was not even willing just to say ‘I love you.’ For God it was not enough to give lip-service to his great love for us: He demonstrated it. He made it visible. He made it concrete. He put his love on display for all to see. He so loved the world that he didn’t bother to ask anything of us. He so loved the world that he sent, essentially, himself. Paul will later express this love as such: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:31-32)

Have any of us plumbed the depths of love this God has for his rebellious children?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians)

Is it possible to read Romans 5:6-11 and be anything but overwhelmed? Is it possible to read these verses and be anything but destroyed, thrown down, overwhelmed, unraveled, and undone? Is it possible to consider that God loves us quite in spite of ourselves and be anything but humiliated and humbled? And so Paul can rightly ask in these verses: If God loved us this much while we were yet sinners, then ‘how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?’ Or if God demonstrated his love for us while we were yet rebellious, then how much more ‘having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’

I’ve been thinking about these verses because it seems to me that this God is rather amazing. Paul hasn’t written, in these particular verses, about the pride of men. He has written about how utterly confounding is this God who loves and forgives and heals and justifies and resurrects despite the worst man has to offer. “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

So there it is again: Hope! Forgiveness! Healing! The love of God towards a people who are decidedly against him. He continues, time and time again, to astound us and reverse all our conceptions of himself. We hate, and he loves us. We run away, he chases after us. We curse, he blesses us. We sin, he forgives us. We deny he exists, he shows Himself in Jesus. We kill him, he Resurrects! We can’t really make out this God can we? We cannot really, truly comprehend a God who goes out of his way to make himself real to us, who so desires that we be his people and that he be our God that he will be crucified to make the point and to make it possible, who is so wildly in love with us that he himself will deal with our sins instead of asking us to. He makes a way where no way exists. He creates a people where none is. He extends mercy where there is none.

I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us quite in spite of ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us. I’ve been thinking about this God who thought it necessary to demonstrate his love to us, and did so in the flesh; in Jesus. If there is anything that dispels pride in humans, it is this amazing God who loves; the God of grace. This is the God we need to preach and share and adore. This is the God who saved us in Christ.

The best irony there is is that God loves us. In spite of all the worst that Paul wrote we are, in spite of all the devastation we manage to conjure up because of sin, in spite of our creative habit of inventing new ways to die and kill and run away from God-in spite of it all: He still loves us. The Hound of Heaven dogs our every step and won’t relent; pressing in on every side.

Dare we imagine a God, dare we submit to a God-this God of the Bible, fully come in Jesus Christ? Dare we love such a God who dared to love us?

Soli Deo Gloria!

“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid. (I’m sorry if you had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of reading it. I wish I didn’t have to link to it, but you may need context for my words.)

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)

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I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of this blog. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at Life Under the Blue Sky, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be arrogant.
  • It is wrong to be prideful.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to gossip.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.

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Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?

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Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

Friends,

I have been noticing for a while that a series of sermons I posted here, The Church in Exile: The Book of Daniel, has been getting a lot of hits and downloads at my box.net account. This inspired me to share with you a lengthy series of sermons I did (18 in total, but I’m missing one) that coincided with a series of devotionals I posted here (90 Days with Jesus: John). I have also posted the Bible school lessons that went with this series as well. Here, then, are the sermons linked to my box.net account and free for download. Thanks for stopping by. jerry

The Sermon Schedule: John’s Gospel

1. The Word Became Flesh, and Dwelt Among us, John 1:1-18

2. Behold Jesus, John 1:19-51

3. The One From Above, John 3:22-36

4. Difficulty of Believing in Jesus, John 6:1-71

5. From Whence Comes a Prophet?, John 7:1-52

6.  The Children of Abraham, John 8:31-59

7.  On Restoring and Taking Sight, John 9:1-41

8.   Jesus, the Good Shepherd, John 10:1-42

9. The Death of Jesus in His Own Words, John 12:20-36

10. A New Command He Gave Us, John 13:1-38

11. While We Anticipate His Return, John 14:1-31

12. Very Simply Put: Stay There, John 15:1-16:4

13. Resting in His Victory, John 16:5-33

14. The Priorities of Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer, John 17:1-26

15. Not Him! Give us Barabbas! John 18:1-40

16. Jesus is Crucified, John 19:1-42

17. Jesus is Resurrected, John 20:1-31

18.  Jesus’ Mission Clarified, John 21:1-25

(I am currently missing the sermon on John 20. Once it has been retyped and saved, I will add it.)

If the links stop working or are wrong, please tell me via email or as a comment in the comment thread. These are here to help with illustrative material, exegetical points, and homiletical ideas. I don’t care how you use them, short of publishing them as your own, and you should do your own exegetical work. I wrote these three years ago so some illustrations might be dated and some of the exegesis I might disown now–I have learned quite a lot since I originally preached these. :) Nevertheless, I think they might help you and if they do, I praise God alone. Please, however, these are not meant to replace your own diligence in the study.

I have posted new prayer thoughts and homiletical points at A Pastor’s Prayer Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

I have studied through Mark in depth five or six times and taught it in various situations at least four or five times. It is my favorite Gospel of the four perhaps because of it’s quick pace, literary value, and brutal honesty. The Gospel itself is marked (no pun) by the constant use of a small Greek phrase ‘kai euthus’, which means something like ‘and then’ or ‘immediately’ or ‘at once.’ The NIV, as do most translations, I noticed translates it differently so as to give the Gospel ‘flavor’ (although it appears that the NASB is fairly consistent in its use of ‘immediately’). This creates a sense of urgency in the Gospel as if Mark were always in a hurry to get us from one point to the next, never content to leave us lingering too long at one scene. In the overall picture, we know where Mark is in a hurry to get us and by the time we get to the crucifixion the pace has slowed (in my judgment) considerably. He wants us to drink deeply at this point.

The thoughts are from Mark 1 and 2.

“Let me say one last word. The scandal of Christianity exists as a scandal only so long as we are full of ourselves. To believe in the cross of Christ no scandal for those who have seen how perverted is their own wisdom, the wisdom of natural man. It is the very corrective for this perversion of our sight, it makes us look straight again, who by sin have become cross-eyed. The foolishness of the gospel is divine wisdom to all those who have been healed of the perversion which consists in making man’s reason and goodness the judge of all truth, that perversion which places man instead of God in the centre of the universe. The gospel is identical with the healing of this perversion, which in its depth and real significance is diabolical. It is the victory of God’s light over the powers of darkness.”

Emil Brunner, The Scandal of Christianity, p 115 (4th printing, 1978)

Friends,

There are several new posts at Pastor’s Prayer Thoughts. Stop by and check them out for good devotional thoughts and prayer thoughts.

My own newest addition is here: A Few Thoughts on Matthew 24-25. Here’s a glimpse:

The disciples had specifically asked: What will be the signs of the end of the age? I assume it is fair to suggest that they were referring, first and foremost, to the age in which they lived. Thus Jesus’ words would make a lot more sense to them then they would say to us. But this does not mean that these words have no meaning to us or value to us or message to us. Part of what makes Scripture scripture is that it has meaning and is revelatory to every generation that reads it and accepts it as God’s Word to humanity. That’s not all that makes it Scripture, but that is part. So these words must mean something to us too: “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” (24:35) said Jesus. At minimum this must mean something like, “Things will never change and my prophecy about man will always be true regardless of which generation hears it.”

Stop by and give it read. Share with your friends. There’s much more available for you to read at A Pastor’s Prayer Journal. Grace and Peace.

jerry

There’s been a lot of hubbub lately because one of the most successful and popular and theologically proper bands of our generation released a new record. That band is, of course, U2. I confess that I haven’t listened to the new record yet, but I hope at some point to listen to it. Frankly, I’m still listening to the last record (How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb) and discovering some of the pictures Bono created on it.

Anyhow, all the hoopla caused me to break out some old-school U2 the other day and rock out a little bit. Honestly, I enjoy the listening experience and even more the unraveling Bono’s lyrics. One of my favorite records of all U2′s work is the Zooropa project. I heard a story once, perhaps it is a bit apocryphal, that the music was written so quickly (I believe during the Achtung Baby! tour) that in concerts they at times had the lyrics written on paper. I don’t know if its true or not, but it sounds kind of U2ish.

In particular, I like the song The Wanderer which was written by Bono and sung by Johnny Cash. Here’s part of the lyrics:

zooropa

I went drifting
Through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it.

Well, that makes pretty good sense, doesn’t it? I got to thinking: What sort of Kingdom have I hoped for? Do you ever really consider the Kingdom? When you think of Kingdom it is impossible to not think of Jesus, so when you think of Kingdom do you include a New Testament picture of Jesus? Have you ever thought about the things Jesus said and did? I mean, have you ever really thought about the manner in which God in the Flesh participated in this life, waged war against the power-brokers, and began the process of redemption?

We cannot have the Kingdom apart from the God who inhabits and creates the Kingdom. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrated” (1 Corinthians 1:19). That’s the substance of the Kingdom. And this Jesus? He went around upsetting people, calling them names (like ‘whitewashed tombs’ and ‘dogs’ or ‘rocky’ or ‘boanerges’), and throwing people into mass hysteria (“Hosanna!” one day; “Crucify!” the next). He didn’t seem to care too much about the sanctity of holy days (like Sabbath) or the holiness of sanctified places (like the temple).

He wrecked the pig-economy of the people in the Decapolis in order to save one man who had been written off as dead by the entire community. He slept during a storm while his followers worked at the oars. He made a whole bunch of wine at the very outset of his ministry (!). He even went so far as to defy Roman law by resurrecting from the dead. He hung around with ruffians and hookers. “The whores all seem to love him, and the drunks propose a toast” (Rich Mullins). And what’s worse than all this? Well, read the Sermon on the Mount. This Kingdom we are called to is one that will not survive apart from God. At the same time, we are not free to create a Kingdom in the image of any other God than the one who created it. Jesus is not for wimps. Mark Buchanan wrote the book: Your God is too Safe. He’s right.

Anyone who hung around Jesus was, at any moment, in mortal danger. He is the one who said ‘the Spirit blows wherever it wants to blow and you cannot control it.’ Jesus chose to demonstrate a reckless abandon for the things we hold so precious. “I thank you God I am not like that fellow over there. I do all the right things, at the times, and in the right ways.” “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Do you remember which one went home justified that day? We like rules because they help us control others; we enforce them because they give us power over others. Jesus poured out grace on all rule-breakers. We are not fond of grace. He had the nerve to forgive a man hanging on the cross next to him and, as many are fond of pointing out, that man had not even been baptized. Jesus–who can hold on to the Jesus of the New Testament?

They say they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it.

Of course we don’t want God in it. If God acts anything like Jesus (*smile*), then we would be thoroughly uncomfortable, totally out of sorts, totally beside ourselves with anger that such a God would act so undignified, so gracious towards those who flout the rules, so loving towards those whom we despise. Of course we want the kingdom. Of course we don’t want God in it.

“Don’t things get dangerous only if and because God is?”–Karl Barth, in a letter to his brother Peter, 1932 as quoted by William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 197

Of course we don’t want God in the kingdom.

dg

Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There are quarrels among you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, March 8, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 2
The Book of Hebrews

[These sermons are also available for download at my box.net account.--jerry]

1. Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
2. Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith

Last week [here], we began some preliminary explorations of the book of Hebrews, in preparation for the 90 Days with Jesus which will start in May. Our preparation for the 90 Days comes in the form of exploring what I have dubbed the ‘imperatives’ of Hebrews. They are imperatives I think only to the extent that we are willing and ready to listen to the God who spoke. (1:1-2) These imperatives come at fairly regularly placed intervals in the book of Hebrews as if to remind us constantly to be looking back, opening our ears, softening our hearts. “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

So these imperatives are God’s word to us. They are his promises. They are his voice speaking to us and we have to learn how to quiet ourselves and listen. We must pay attention to what he is saying. William Willimon notes:

Contrary to [the] contemporary stress on spiritual practices, [we] are reminded that the church is created and sustained through the proclamation of the Word, not through practices or the formation of allegedly Christian character. The church must rise anew, in each generation, among those who have head, not simply among those who have been inculcated and indoctrinated. The Word is forever tearing down and rebuilding the church, disrupting, confusing, killing in order to raise us from the dead. (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 230)

So we listen. And the Word does its work inside of us. We don’t know exactly how it works just as we don’t know exactly where the seed will land once it is scattered. Yet we continue to listen for God’s voice. Sometimes it is clear, audible and majestic. Other times we have to discern it. But there it is, speaking to us in Christ.

So last week, we tuned into the first of these several imperative gestures. The first being that we need to ‘pay close attention to what we have heard so that we don’t drift away.’ I note, not in mere passing, that these imperatives are always spoken out of and to a community. ‘We’ and ‘us’ dominate these sentences. I also note that they are given to us with an intention. That is, we do not just ‘pay attention’ for the sake of paying attention. Nor, I might add, do we pay attention to just old thing we like. On the contrary, we ‘pay attention’ in order that we will not drift away. Paying attention serves a purpose in our lives. And we pay attention in this case to ‘what we heard’. What have we heard? We have heard the God who spoke to us and speaks to us in Jesus. It is probably also not insignificant that he says ‘what you heard.’ There is an emphasis on the importance of the proclaimed, spoken, audible word.

Second, we were concerned with ‘keeping our thoughts fixed on Jesus our apostle and high priest.’ What we hear is the Christ speaking to us and instructing us, praying for us, leading us and directing us. What we fix our thoughts on corresponds to what we have heard with our ears and with our eyes. We fix our thoughts on the one sent to us, the sacrifice, and the High priest, the one who offers the sacrifice. When we fix our thoughts on Christ our mind clears and is refreshed. And his person is so dominant and attractive that we can scarcely find room within for competing lords and gods. In other words, if your thoughts are fixed on Christ, how can there be room for any other thinking?

So, let’s examine a couple more of these ‘imperatives’ this evening. The first is found at the head of chapter 4, verse 1:

3. The third marker along this journey is found in 4:1: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”

This is explained thus:

“The author argues that the purposes of God are not frustrated because Israel of old disobeyed him and failed to enter the rest he had promised his people. The promise remains. If the ancient Israel did not enter God’s rest, then someone else will, namely the Christians. But this should not lead to complacency. If the Israelites of an earlier day, with all their advantages, failed to enter the rest, Christians ought not to think there will be automatic acceptance for them. They must take care lest they, too, fail to enter the blessing.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, online source)

The promise still stands. That is, it is hasn’t been fulfilled completely yet. This means we have to press on. The Promise itself still holds, which suggests that its fulfillment might be a time off yet: There is still room for entry by those outside, and there is still room for failure for those inside.

But what does the author here mean by ‘rest’? Does the author here mean long lazy days of relaxation and peace and tranquility by the lake? Or perhaps does he have something a bit more expansive in mind? Three specific ideas come to mind as we reflect on the Old Testament promises of Rest. There is certainly the idea of Sabbath rest which we learned about early on in the history of Israel. God himself took Sabbath and commanded his people to do so as well. Sabbath is a powerful idea and practice in Scripture. There might also be the idea of ‘rest from enemies’ that God promised to Israel. But the author in Hebrews is building on Psalm 95 and the idea of rest found there. The Psalm reads:

1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the desert,
9 where your fathers tested and tried me,
though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
“They shall never enter my rest.”

Now the author of Hebrews brings this into a new generation. First it was spoken to Joshua and Caleb’s generation as Israel wandered in the desert. Then the author of Psalm 95 recites it for his own generation. The author of Hebrews quotes it for his own generation. And now you and I are hearing it in our time: If you, the flock under his care, today, hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. And it was their hardness of heart that prevented them from entering into the rest of God: “They shall never enter my rest.” The rest he is speaking of his rest. These are people who did not know God’s ways, whose hearts went astray, who tested God, who hardened their hearts and quarreled, who tried God-even though they had seen what he did-these are the ones prevented from entering his rest. The author of Hebrews brings this into his own situation. What we wonder is this: Will our generation be the generation who will finally enter his rest? Will we listen to his voice or will we harden our hearts?

“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.” The author of Hebrews is saying to us: Don’t fall short of it. Don’t fall short of the rest of God because you have all the advantages, everything is in your favor, all the cards are stacked for you and there is no reason why you should fall short. Whatever this ‘rest’ is, it is God’s rest, and I don’t happen to believe that God desires to say to this generation, ‘you shall never enter my rest.’ He’s talking about obedience as if there is a sort of disobedience that will prevent us from partaking of his rest. This rest is not from Moses, David, or Joshua-it is a far more comprehensive and less mundane promise of Rest that still stands. And he concludes with what would be a fourth marker: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (v 11). He thus comes full circle. The promise of rest is somewhat contingent upon our perseverance in towards it. Stopping short because of disobedience will not nullify the Promise, but it will prevent our participation.

He says three times: Don’t harden your hearts if you hear his voice. He also says three times, “they shall never enter my rest” (11, 4:3, 5). Again, listen and obey so that you can enter.

4. The fourth marker is found in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

I think a new section was started in verse 12 of the previous chapter. There, after a short exposition of the rest we hope to inherit, the author of Hebrews breaks out with this even shorter doxological type of statement concerning the Word of God and God’s judgment:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Therefore, he writes, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. What is the connection between the ‘there’ and the ‘fore’ in this marker? Andrew Murray chose to emphasize the word ‘have’. We ‘have’ a great high priest. He notes, we ‘have a great high priest. You own Him; He is yours, your very own, wholly yours. You may use Him with all He is and has. You can trust Him for all you need, know and claim Him as indeed your great High Priest, to bring you to God.” (184) Well, I don’t like the word ‘you’ and ‘yours’ because the author of Hebrews uses the word ‘we.’ But Murray’s point is taken. We are not so much in possession of Christ as he is in possession of us and we have access to Him.

Twice previously the author has also used the words ‘hold firmly.’ In 3:6 he wrote, “But Christ is faithful as the Son of God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed, we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” And in 3:14 he has also written, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction.” Now, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” It’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ we hold firmly, but a command: Hold Firmly.

The short and long of it is this: He has gone through the heavens, he has finished the work, nothing escapes his eye of judgment, everything is laid bare-why give up? No one can take away from what Christ has already accomplished. He knows the struggles, he knows the weaknesses, he knows those who cause trouble-why give up? Why turn your back on what you know to be a finished work? And here again we are confronted by this living Word of God-this God who speaks. He has spoken his word into our lives, into our community, into our world. It cuts deep and rips us in two. It causes a schism within ourselves. There’s part of us that wars against his judgment and there’s part of us that struggles onward. We are quite divided beings.

And he says: Press on! Don’t be so quick to let go of what you know inside is true.

So what is the confession we made? Back in 3:1 he uses the same word, “…fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we confess as our apostle and high priest.” Now here, “…hold firmly to the faith we confess.” What we are confessing is a high priest who has finished the work that needed to be finished. We confess Jesus who gives us the promised rest that Joshua could not. He softens hearts that Moses could not. We confess Jesus who is God’s Word to us. We confess Jesus, our high priest, who is able to understand our weaknesses. So again, we are not confessing some wimp. We have confessed this Jesus, this Son of God who is faithful over God’s house (3:5).

This is a call, if you will, to consider deeply who it is who calls us into being. This is a call to consider wisely if we will follow and consider carefully before bailing out on such a confession. The confession we make is no small thing in light of who we are confessing. Frankly, I don’t think we make enough emphasis on this confession. Our confessions are cheaply constructed and probably not carefully thought out. Perhaps if we put a little more thought into whom we have confessed we would not be so quick to jump ship or to fail when we struggle or when things get rough. We have confessed one who is ‘able to help those who are being tempted.’ Since he can, perhaps we should.
_____________________

It seems to me that these markers we have focused on this evening are about persevering in the right way. Much of the effort that we make when it comes to persevering is silly because it has as its focus or goal something elusive and primitive. But we in Christ are not called to something primitive and elusive, nor something mundane and trivial. We are called to faith in the living Son of God who understands us too well because he has been made like us.

So there is a right kind of perseverance that will not fall short and there is a kind of perseverance that will miserably fail. I think if we are persevering for merely earthly objectives then we are certainly bound over to failure. Earthly objectives can be met, often without much struggle at all. But the true objective, who is living, is Christ Jesus. He is our goal. Indeed, the writer says, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly to the end our original convictions.”

Before us will be all sorts of stumbling blocks and hazards and chicanes. But these things I have said to you tonight are book-ended. In 2:18: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And again in 4:16: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Here we see the great objective. Persevere! Cling to the faith confessed! Cling to Jesus! He is not about to fail you because he has already succeeded and won where the world has already and continually fails. Don’t give up. Stay the course!

If we are being torn down, ripped apart, it is only that He might put us back together, that He might Resurrect us according to his own will. This is God’s word to us.

My current reading project is Willimon’s Conversations with Barth on Preaching. It is a fascinating book for any number of reasons, but it is especially helpful if you happen to be, ahem, a preacher. I was warned as a young college student to be afraid of Barth and his strange version of unorthodox orthodoxy, and I’ll confess that even now I am only a very wet behind the ears sort of student of Barth. What I appreciate about Willimon’s reading of Barth is that he is so evenhanded: Critical when criticism is warranted; effusive with praise when it is praiseworthy. What I have learned about Barth from this reading so far is that a) he has a terrifically high view of Scripture; everything he wrote and preached is dependent upon, and infused with, and drawn out of Scripture and b) he has a remarkably, equally high view of the act and work of preaching. I commend this book to you.

In my brief period of reading this morning, I was in chapter 5, Word Makes World. Barth’s understanding of what happens in preaching is simply astounding. I don’t confess to understanding all of the epistemological and philosophical or even theological underpinnings of his ideas, but I did understand what Willimon was saying on page 120. I’d like to share several paragraphs with you followed by a couple of thoughts of my own.

“Christianity is born in an assertion that it is virtually impossible not to see God. Whereas Israel’s story is a long record of an attempt to be faithful to the first commandment, the church’s story is a long story of attempting to be faithful to the first commandment (the prohibition against images) by saying that we are not to make an image for God because we already have the supreme image for God—Jesus Christ.

“Yet Lash also notes that such statements do not do justice to the nuances of our claim of God in Christ. There is, amid Christian claims of unveiling, a strong claim of veiling that is tied, not to God’s inherent obscurity, but rather to the identity of the God revealed in it—the crucified, suffering servant, the weak and poor one from Galilee. In both the person and the work of Christ, we are struck by our unknowing. God came to us, in the flesh, and the way God came to us led us to say, in the words of the Spiritual, ‘We didn’t know who you was.’

“The Jewish challenge to Christian claims of knowledge rests not only in the unique and surprising person of Christ but also in his work. To put it bluntly, if Jesus is the Redeemer, the faithful Jew wants to know, then why does the world not look more redeemed? Why don’t we as Jesus’ followers look more redeemed? This is a serious question for the Christian. Undoubtedly, to persecuted Israel, our claims of the ‘now and the not yet’ quality of the kingdom of God seem a bit limp, and our pointing to the church as the foretaste of Jesus’ complete redemption seems, at best comical.

“Yet, while Christian theology must confess its uncertainty, the constant contestableness of its most cherished concepts, its inherently unstable affirmations, it would do better to admit to its dependency, to receive with thanksgiving the revelation it has, to dare, despite all we do not know, to testify to what we know. It is the nature of the Crucified Messiah to be veiled and unveiled at the same time.” (120)

I like Willimon’s point about the ‘Jewish challenge.’ However, and I don’t think he means to limit it, I’d like to expand that thought a little. I think that challenge is one we face from all people. As a preacher, I honestly have to spend quite a lot of my time convincing people who are redeemed that they are redeemed and that, as such, they ought to live that way. It’s no wonder we are challenged by others in this way who make no claim to faith in Christ. Could it be that we simply or profoundly do not understand the redemption life? Do preachers not do enough to, in the words of Paul, ‘portray Christ crucified clearly’?

It comes from everywhere. I think sometimes I ask myself the same question of the people in the pew (but only, please read this well, only after I have asked that question of myself first!!): Why don’t they (indeed, we) act and talk and treat one another in a redeemed sort of way? Why all the ‘past living’? Is it enough to answer that question with a mere ‘now and not yet’ sort of answer? No. If that answer isn’t good enough for Willimon’s Jewish challengers, I think it is, at times, even less sufficient for the preachers’ congregational challenges. I think it is comical to preachers as well, and I think we are doomed to failure if we don’t laugh. No one can take the church that seriously, and yet we must. Which leads into my second thought.

I love this idea of Barth’s paradoxical tension in the Christian faith and I think Willimon appropriately highlights it for us in Barth. But is this just Barth’s idea? No. This is a Scriptural idea that is only forgotten or misused or paid lip-service to. That is, preachers talk about paradox, but don’t really grasp it or live it or preach it. This does damage to the church because preachers are then held to a level of academic achievement that simply cannot be maintained: “What do you mean I am saved and will be saved? What do you mean the Kingdom is here and we pray the Kingdom to come? What do you mean God is seen and unseen?” But instead of always trying to answer those questions, perhaps it is best to let those questions simmer in the hearts of those asking the questions. Perhaps the answer is not an answer. Silence?

The Scripture is full of this radical, paradoxical tension and it is delightful to behold. Why? Because it destroys pretense and legalism. The greatest threat to the church is the idea that any one idea of any one person is THE idea. Willimon had written on the previous page (119): “Barth fulminates against taking the gospel, which ought to be ‘truth that is new every morning,’ and attempting to ossify it ‘into a sacred reality.’” I think what he means there is just this: The gospel must not be reduced to mere principle or idea or law. When Gospel is ossified, when it is no longer alive, we are doomed. There in that ossification is the death of all that creates life and sustains life because there is the death of grace. (Perhaps I carry this a bit far.)

So Barth rightly fulminated against the idea. Living in this paradoxical idea is one thing. Preaching it quite another, but there it is. It is the story of a God who takes things that are not and makes them into things that are. It is the yes and the no. It is the veiling and unveiling. It is the seeing and blinding. It is the Christus Victor and the Crucified Lord. It is the knowing and the unknowing. It is the glory and the travail. It is crucifixion and resurrection. This paradox is captured beautifully in the Revelation, “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center before the throne…” (5:5-6) That scarcely makes sense: A Lion who is a Lamb? A triumphant Lion who is a Slain Lamb?

There at once is the tension, the paradox; the Triumph and the Travail. But we have to live in this tension because it prevents us from becoming (too) dependent upon ideas and structures as opposed to being dependent upon God’s grace through faith. That is, it (paradox) enables, nay, demands that we live only in and by faith. It is only those who cannot live in this paradoxical divine economy who find themselves living opposed to God’s grace. These are the ones who must construct all sorts of rules, laws, and opinions and live by them strictly and force others into the same mold. They miss the new mercies each day. They miss the freedom of being set free. They have traded one form of law for another and become slaves all over again.

The paradox also keeps us alert and searching. There is nothing worse, in my mind, than people who refuse to grow and learn and seek and search. These are the ones who have all the answers, who know what the Scripture says and are, by God, going to let us know. These are the ones who have abandoned any idea of paradox and live only in the world of the black and white where there is no ambiguity—where ambiguity means ‘less than fully saved.’ These are the ones who have ossified God’s grace into another code of law where now there are numerous and multiple conditions placed upon the reception and practice and distribution of God’s grace. They are in heaven by themselves.

Paradox keeps us humble.

This is, then, a serious aspect of the preaching of the Gospel: not to avoid the tension nor to avoid the paradox; not to eschew the mystery nor vacate the majesty, but to preach them both, together, at once and with urgency. It is ours to proclaim, to announce the Kingdom in all of its mystery and majesty, crucifixion and resurrection, turmoil and triumph, slavery and salvation, loss and gain, death and life. It is rather strange, isn’t it, how the same Gospel both opens and closes eyes, unveils and veils God, creates and destroys, saves and condemns. And yet this is the Gospel we preach—Jesus Christ crucified and triumphant. The Triumphant Lion who is the Slain Lamb.
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“It must be so solely the truth and miracle of God if his Logos, as he does not regard the lowliness of his handmaiden…or view the unclean lips of Isaiah as an obstacle…does not think it impossible to pitch his tent in what is at best our poor and insignificant and stammering talk about God.” (Willimon, quoting Barth, 121)





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