Posts Tagged ‘sermon manuscript’
I preached a couple of weeks ago (again!) and I decided to use Matthew 13 as my text. I had been doing some light research on the chapter and taught a little of it in my Sunday school class so I took the next logical step and went ahead with a full blown manuscript. It preached fairly well although I would agree with anyone who said it's a bit long. It preached long too. Anyhow, here's the text of the sermon. Enjoy.
The Kingdom of God
Sermon Text: Matthew 13
One of the things we understand from Jesus, that is, things explicitly taught by Him, to us–about how to do something–is how to pray.
So, when Jesus, for example, said “I will make you fishers of men,” it’s not like he explicitly told you and me–and I assume the majority of us are not fishermen in the sense that Jesus’ first disciples were–how it is that we are to go about doing such a thing. For that matter, what does it mean to be a ‘fisher of men’?
But some will argue that he did in fact teach us how to make disciples at the end of Matthew 28 and thus we do, in actuality, have our blueprints for how to be fishers of men.
We might also take the idea of worshiping in Spirit and truth. We do not really gather from his conversation in John 4 what that means or exactly how such worship might look–and I assume it would look profoundly different in our culture than it would in Samaria in the first century, or in Africa in the 21st century.
But whatever else we may decide about such things as these, and they may be radically different from person to person while remaining profoundly orthodox, is that at the end of the day, Jesus did teach us how to pray. We know the sort of things he taught us to pray–things that are typically quite different from the things we pray for, safe travel, sunshine and safe travel–not that there’s anything wrong with these things but that they are different from what he specifically said to pray for.
And, to put a fine point on this, Jesus told us specifically to pray, “Your kingdom come.” I have heard a lot of people pray before that the Lord provide us with daily bread, and forgiveness of sins, and that his will be done. But I have heard few, very few, people–elders, deacons, preachers, prophets, or little old faithful ladies–pray that God’s kingdom come.
And why? What is it about this kingdom that prevents us from praying ‘your kingdom come’?
It seems that even in this context of Matthew 6, it’s not as odd as it might seem to find Jesus talking to his disciples about the Kingdom. Matthew has had the kingdom in mind from the beginning of his Gospel when he started with a genealogy of ‘Jesus Messiah, the son of King David, the son of Abraham.’ When you start a book by talking about kings, the reign of kings, and the sons of kings well, then I suppose we ought to assume that perhaps the idea is going to be featured in the rest of the book.
And so it is and so it goes. Over and over again in Matthew we see a clash of kingdoms: Jesus collides with Herod near his birth, he collides with the satan after his baptism and many other times too, at times he collides with his own disciples, and other times with the leadership of Israel. Finally, he collides with the kings of Rome.
Matthew’s Gospel is one telling you and me not so much about how to be saved–in some strange sense of going to heaven when we die–but about how God was once again becoming the King of this earth and thus bringing about to fulfillment his plan which he announced in creation–if He created this heavens and the earth, then the heavens and the earth and everything in them are his and he will rule them–and specified in the person of Abraham in Genesis 12–that is, his plan to bless all nations through Abraham and the promised Seed who would crush this earth’s kingdoms which are so masterfully under the control and direction of the serpent.
And in some way we see God becoming King in Jesus and we see Jesus reclaiming the heavens and the earth for God through his death and his resurrection: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, he said, now you go and tell this story and make disciples.
Scott McKnight writes, “I lay down an observation that alters the landscape if we embrace it–namely, we need to learn to tell the story that makes sense of Jesus. Not a story that we ask Jesus to fit into. No, we need to find the story that Jesus himself and the apostles told. To us common idiom, If Jesus was the answer, what was the question?’ Or, better, ‘If Jesus was the answer, and the answer was that Jesus was the Messiah/King, what was the question?’ (22) McKnight goes on to state, quite bluntly: “What is the kingdom story of the Bible? Until we can articulate the Bible’s kingdom story, we can’t do kingdom mission.’ (23)
Welcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (podcast). In this episode, you will hear a sermon from Ezekiel 37:1-4. I preached this sermon to my congregation on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009. Be blessed.
Access the sermon manuscript from box.net: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Waking the Dead
Prophesy to the Bones. And the Lord put words in his mouth: Say to them, ‘I will make breath enter you, and you will come to live. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’
And what does the Bible say? “I prophesied as I was commanded.” I think this means that he did as he was told, and he told as he was told. Then he says, “While I was prophesying, there was a rattling…” You see, here a beautiful thing: Nothing happened until Ezekiel started preaching. Nothing happens apart from the proclamation of the Word of God. If Ezekiel had just stood there, silent, disobedient, nothing would have happened. The bones would not have rattled. The tendons would not have appeared. Flesh would not have appeared. Skin would not have covered the flesh.
Nothing would have happened if the prophet hadn’t spoke. But see the Word of God creating worlds out of nothing. See the Word of God calling Lazarus forth. See the Word of God do it’s work. And why? “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” This is the revealing God—He speaks and dead, dry, very dry bones are recreated.
Still Ezekiel saw there was a problem: “There was no breath in them.” I think we want something to happen. We want some sort of hope. We want sort of revival. We say, “Our coffers are dried up. We are pews are empty. We have not a lot of youth.”
And God doesn’t send us anything but his Word. And what is His Word to us: I will make these dry bones live. Preach, son of man. “So I prophesied as I was commanded. That’s all. He just spoke aloud with ordinary words. No magic. No secret incantations. No conjuring tricks with bones. Just the living power of the word of the living God invading the valley of the shadow of death.” (Wright, 306)
You can access the audio here: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Waking the Dead
Or use the convenient inline player below.
As always, subscription options are available by clicking the link below.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This is a sermon I preached from John 17:6-19 on May 24, 2009. My congregation has been going through some tough times lately and this sermon was a great way to put those issues in perspective. The battle we wage is not against the flesh; Jesus prayed for and prepared us for the battle that is being waged against us.
You can access the sermon manuscript from box.net in MS Word format. Below is an excerpt.
John 17:6-19: Jesus, the World, and Us
An important evening was about to conclude. The disciples had been introduced to the real Jesus. This was Jesus in the raw…the hardcore Jesus who takes off his clothes and washes feet. This was uncontrollable Jesus who quietly announces that his betrayer is among his throng. This is Jesus who says that his people will be defined by nothing less than their love for one another. This is Jesus who sat and listened and patiently, confidently answered all the questions the disciples put forth that evening.
This was the Jesus who decided that the conversation was over because the ‘hour had come’ and that it was time to close the evening’s conversation. So how else would Jesus conclude a conversation, but in prayer. So Eugene Peterson writes:
“The disciples are in the room, but they are no longer asking questions and making comments. They are listening to Jesus speaking with the Father. As Jesus’ followers, we are most definitely included as listening participants.” (Tell it Slant, 217)
Remember, this prayer became Scripture for us. We are not just reading a prayer or even listening to a prayer, but we are listening to the Very Word of God, prayed on and remembered from the night of his betrayal, the eve of his crucifixion. The very night before his death Jesus prayed. It is necessary, then, for us to hear and listen to this prayer—this prayer turned Scripture.
When we take the time to listen to the words of Jesus then we start to hear the voice of Jesus—praying for us, praying with us, praying to the Father. The book of Hebrews says he always lives to make intercession for us. We hear the voice of Jesus in the upper room, on the night he was betrayed, some two-thousand years ago praying a mighty prayer for his people. I want you to hear that prayer this morning.
Be blessed in the Lord.
Welcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (Podcast). In this installment, I will explore Psalm 22. You can access the sermon manuscript and lectionary notes here. Here’s an excerpt from the sermon:
The Psalm doesn’t end with all the wavering and tossing to and fro. It doesn’t end with the ups and downs. It ends with worship! It ends in Praise! It ends in the assembly declaring the greatness of God. Why? Well, I think the reason it ends the way it does is because David was vindicated. David survived God’s silence.
Abraham survived God’s silence. Job survived God’s silence. Elijah survived God’s silence. Joseph survived God’s silence.
Jesus survived God’s silence. Resurrection was the vindication. Resurrection is the vindication.
God is being silent for some of you, but your psalm does not end the way it begins. Mourning lasts for an evening, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Jesus’ vindication, his victory, is the promise of your vindication and your victory. God is probably very silent for some of you right now. But he has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He has promised to raise you up. Be encouraged today in the hope that you have been given in Christ.
You can access the audio here: Psalm 22, On the Journey With and Without God
Or use the convenient inline player below.
As always, subscription options are available by clicking the link below.
Soli Deo Gloria!
New Testament Lesson: Acts 4:5-12
No Other Name**
The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone.’”
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
“Salvation is literally inconceivable apart from Christ: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). […] Peter’s statement does represent what the church has always and everywhere believed about the name of Jesus. If Jesus is, as we believe him to be, as much of God as we ever hope to see, the one who uniquely brought about our at-one-ment with the Father, then we can’t also say that Jesus is only a way, one truth among man, and just another life. Jesus is not simply a great moral example; he is the salvation of God, God’s peculiar, unsubstitutable fullness. Jesus’ distinctive way of suffering, sacrificial love, outrageous invitation, and boundary-breaking, government-enraging, relentless-seeking—vindicated by surprising, unexpected resurrection—cannot be merged with other means or definitions of salvation.(William Willimon, Who Will be Saved?)
Everyone gathered—rulers, elders, teachers of the law; Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, others of the high priest’s family. They surrounded the disciples just as they had surrounded Jesus on the night he was betrayed. Perhaps there is strength in numbers; perhaps they could bully the disciples into submission; perhaps…just perhaps if they nip this in the bud now they could halt this ‘Jesus movement’ before it gains too much more steam.
There is strength in numbers. There is power in people. It is probably not insignificant that Luke uses the word ‘rulers’, which I don’t think is a technical term, but I do believe is at least metaphorical. Jacques Ellul counts six evil powers in the Bible: Mammon, the prince of this world, the prince of lies, Satan, the devil, and death. These may be too vague and overlapping, but they get at the point well enough—and there must be some intimately involved in their perpetuation. He further spells it out for his readers: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. And someone must perpetuate such things—I call the perpetuators, Rulers. What does Ellul say about these things:
They select as their primary target those whom God elects and sets apart (saints), those to whom God reveals his love in Jesus Christ (Christians), and the fellowship of such people (the church). The efforts of evil powers (I call them such for convenience, although I repeat that they are not powers in themselves nor evil as the antithesis of the good God) focus on the place where God’s grace and love are best expressed. They deploy their full strength on Jesus Christ. They concentrate all the forces of evil on Christians. […] [The Devil] brings all his efforts to bear against those who carry grace and love in the world. For his problem is not to bring people to eternal loss or to carry them off to hell, but to prevent God’s love from being present in the world. (Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, 176ff)
And they do well enough. Constantly destroying. Constantly baiting. Constantly threatening the church into complacency. Ellul continues:
What the vanquished powers can always do is dramatize the situation on earth, make human life intolerable, destroy faith and mutual trust, make people suffer, kill off love, and prevent the birth of hope. In other words, what seems to me to be biblically certain is that the evil powers make earth a hell, and that there is no hell but this earth of ours that is said to be a delightful garden. What they do is precisely this: they destroy all that Jesus came to bring. In so doing, they disrupt our relations with God and others, especially the relation created by Jesus Christ. Misery, no perdition, is the issue. Their grand work is to produced in those who have received the mark of the Lord the opposite of what God expects. We should not be surprised, then, at what has happened in the church. It is the normal outcome of this ongoing revolt.”
I believe we see such powers at work in the lesson for today from Acts. This issue, of course, is the exclusivity of Jesus. Ellul is right: The enemy deploys his full strength against Jesus Christ. That is what the ‘rulers’ did that day when they arrested the apostles. Look what Luke tells us:
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
I love how Luke continues to point out how all the rulers just piled on and on and on the apostles for ‘teaching’ and for ‘acts of kindness.’ Sadducees, Priests, guards, and others—all of them ganging up on the apostles for teaching. Peter turns it on them, ‘If we are being called to account for an act of kindness…’ And I think this is Peter’s way of saying something like this: What’s the real reason you are calling us to account today? How can you possibly find fault with the healing of a crippled man? Show your cards! What’s the real motivation here? Well, we already know what the real reason was: They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching people, and ‘proclaiming in Jesus’ the resurrection from the dead.
That was the problem. The world’s problem is not with you and me per se but with Jesus and this is why when Peter mounts his ‘defense’ to their charges, he doesn’t defend himself. Did you get that? Their problem was with Jesus—the very one they had killed, but whom God had vindicated. So, Mark Driscoll notes:
“Jesus’ exclusivity as the only possible means of salvation. Oprah Winfrey expressed the thoughts of many in our age of spiritual pluralism, saying, ‘One of the biggest mistakes humans make is to believe there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call God.’ While the view seems kind and generously open to all faiths, the belief is as foolish as saying that every road one might travel in this life ultimately leads to the same destination.
“Because the superiority, glory, exclusivity, preeminence, and singularity of Jesus as both God and Savior are at stake, we must contend for Jesus as the only God and the only possible means of salvation, as both Jesus [John 14:6] and the early church [Acts 4:12] did.” (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 137-138)
So Peter contends for Jesus—not for himself. He knows they have a problem with Jesus because no one in their right mind has a problem with someone healing a crippled man. I sense in Peter not a little sarcasm: Well, OK. If we are being called to account because of kindness, then know this, even the very kindness we are doing is done because of Jesus. We do nothing apart from Jesus. Not teaching. Not preaching. Not kindness. Not anything. The Person of Jesus motivates and amplifies our actions.
But why is Peter so intent on proclaiming Jesus? Why is Peter so intent on not defending himself and on only pointing to Jesus? I think there are a couple of important reasons.
The first is this: Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. The rulers gave Peter the opportunity for defense and Peter took it upon himself to instead utter proclamation. His defense is the Gospel. He frames his answer inside the confines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and resurrected. But Peter doesn’t say these things of his own accord either.
Sometimes we are confronted and we defend, but Peter here doesn’t defend; he contends. And not for himself, but for Jesus. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and then he spoke. It indicates that Peter was did not speak on his own, but as the prophets of old he spoke as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. I love what William Willimon says about preaching, “The Risen Christ is always a more fit subject for conversation in the church than us. To be a preacher is to relinquish all homiletical assistance other than that give, or not given, by the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit must empower the preaching. Interestingly enough, after this short sermon, Luke notes, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” Perhaps being with Jesus and empowered by the Spirit is of far more consequence when preaching than is any other consideration. But the Holy Spirit, we can see, inspires far more than mere courage, he also inspires content. Peter simply got up and declared what they asked: “It was the name of Jesus.” So this is not merely about courage to talk. This is about confidence to say only what is given at the moment.
I don’t think we preachers, and by that I mean every person who has been given the testimony of Christ, rely enough on this Holy Spirit. “What are we attempting with which could not be accomplished without the Holy Spirit? What is there about our lives which demands an explanation? We will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ when we dare to do what could never be accomplished on our own strength and insight” (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Acts Communicator’s Commentary, 1983 as quoted by William J Larkin Junior, Acts IVP NT Commentary Series, 73).
Seriously, if all we do can be explained away as the mere byproducts of human ingenuity—eh, where is the Spirit of God in all that?
But look what the Holy Spirit filled Peter did. Look where the Holy Spirit pointed Peter to: Jesus.
A second consideration is that Peter proclaimed the Word of God: “The stone you builders rejected, which has become the Cornerstone.” Peter didn’t have to look far or point far to show the people he preached to that nothing that was happening should surprise them because it is what God had been saying all along. If they had only paid closer attention to the Word they would have noticed, they would have seen.
We can try all day to outwit the rulers of the world using all sorts of worldly weapons and powers and reasons, but there is only one answer for all the world’s accusations. One writer noted, “Today as well the Spirit’s witness to the truth through Christ’s messengers will be unanswerable, though still unacceptable, for many people” (Larkin). Preach the word, Paul wrote, “be prepared in season and out of season.” Preach the Word. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Isaiah said it is the Word of God that will not return to God void. And Jesus said the sower went out to sow and the seed he sowed was the Word of God.
Another noted a similar point, “Luke is thus describing effective ministry in the New Testament era: speaking out of the fullness of the Spirit and out of a knowledge of Scripture. The apostles have a boldness that comes from confidence about their message and empowerment by the Spirit” (Aijith Fernando, NIV Application Commentary). Too easy is it to follow the way of the world and preach out of the fullness of ourselves or out of the wisdom of the world. We learned during our Lenten sermons that what we preach is foolishness, but it is God’s foolishness we preach and in that foolishness is power.
I think there is a time and a place for what we call testimony. But testimony is not necessarily Gospel. Testimony is our history—what happened in the past. Witness is the telling of what God has done and is doing and will do in Jesus. What Peter quoted that day is—simply, nothing short of what Jesus himself had said in Luke 20:17: “Then what is the meaning of that which is written, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” This is yet another reason why it is imperative that we, as a people, continue to involve ourselves together in the Scripture.
Peter had listened to Jesus, Peter was listening to the Spirit thus it follows that Peter would preach the Word of God and let the Word of God be his defense and witness. Later Luke says that they ‘saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, and were astonished and took note that they had been with Jesus.” We learned last week that after Jesus resurrected and met his disciples on Emmaus and in the locked room, he redirected all their attention to all of the Scripture. So John and Peter do the same. They redirect the people’s attention to the Scripture.
Look where the Word of God pointed: To Jesus. Just as the Holy Spirit directed Peter’s words to Jesus; so too the Holy Scripture directed Peter witness to Jesus.
Look where the Holy Spirit and the Word of God pointed: To Jesus.
And so we must continue to talk about Jesus. He must continue to be the subject of our conversations, the pillar of all our preaching. Why? Peter says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.”
How can we possibly preach anything or anyone else? Peter earlier said that ‘all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Now he says that ‘salvation is found only in Jesus.’ But I don’t want to talk about salvation because even Peter did not talk about it. He mentions it merely to talk about Jesus. Jesus is the subject. Peter starts working into some terribly exclusive language here. He says, ‘no-one else,’ and ‘no other name,’ and it is at this point that the rulers just lose it.
Remember, the rulers and the powers and the principalities can get along well enough in this world so long as the church is just another social services office or another psychologist’s couch or another soup kitchen. Seriously: those places are never attacked by the rulers and powers. In fact, it is the rulers and powers who set up such places in the first place. And if that is all the church is—fine, but let the church start talking about Jesus and watch the rulers and powers kick it into a different gear altogether.
Do you think our church has suffered the way it has suffered merely because of personality differences among us? But there is something about that Name! There is something about Jesus that irks the powers and the rulers of this world. So look what the rulers say and don’t say to Peter and John before letting them go: They don’t say: Don’t go around healing people or feeding them or clothing them. That’s all fine and good and the implication is that these are harmless things. The powers of this world couldn’t care less if I stand here on Sunday mornings and tell you all about the things I refuse to tell you. But let us dare to stand and preach that Jesus alone is the exclusive way of salvation that God has given us—and what them boil over with rage and hate.
What they do say is this: “But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone is this name. Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach all in the name of Jesus.” Ah-ha!! There it is. It’s the Name that the World fears. Think about it. When God called Moses out in the desert and told him to go back to Pharaoh and preach he armed him with what? The Name: God said to Moses, “I am Who I am. This is what you are to tell the Israelites. I AM has sent me to you.”
Do you hear this? And this is what the Holy Spirit is attempting to wake up in you and me. The rulers of this world are not stupid. The leaders seemed to think that the church was no threat until the church started to preach in Jesus’ name. We can be safely ignored until we start making exclusive claims about this person Named Jesus. The church is a faithful ally in the world’s attempt at Utopian dreams until the church starts talking about Jesus as superior to the gods the world loves. The church can talk all day long about whatever the church wants until the church wants to talk about Jesus. The church is beside the point until the church starts talking about Jesus.
It’s that pesky Jesus every time. You see the world pronounced it’s verdict on Jesus: They crucified him. They nailed him to the tree.. They buried him. They ‘conspired against God and against his anointed one.’
But God also had a verdict on Jesus. The one enthroned in heaven scoffs. He laughs at the world’s attempt to rule and control and overthrow Him and to throw off their fetters. God’s verdict on Jesus: He resurrected Him!!! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!
There is no place in this world for two gods, and Jesus is the competition for every other god that has been erected on this planet: money, power, deception, accusation, division and destruction. These gods rule; but these are the very gods over which Christ has triumphed in the cross. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Peter and John were bold and courageous that day precisely because they preached in the Spirit of God, from the Word of God, and about the Son of God. They were bold because they had been with Jesus. They were courageous because they were empty vessels whom the Holy Spirit could fill. They were full of wisdom because they relied on the Word of God and not their own theological prowess.
So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?
There is no other Name given by which men must be saved. What else on earth could possibly be of interest to the church but the Name of Jesus? Have we lost our nerve? Have we grown weary of the Name? Have we lost interest in the Name above all Names? Have we tired of the Name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess? Do we think that people will be more interested in us if we preach something different or something softer or something more compelling or something more interesting?
But I also wonder what power we give up, what significance we lose, what authority we surrender when we, in fact, speak in names that are other than the Name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us to preach only in the Name of Jesus because that is the only Name given by which men must be saved.
You see a fine example in these verses of a church that refused to cooperate or compromise with the world’s powers and rulers and authorities. They threaten the church and hope that they can silence the church with violence and accusations and threats and bully tactics. Not the church, though! “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to him? You be the judges. As for us, we cannot help but speaking of what we have seen and heard.”
Those are the words of a church convinced that the world is no ally. Those are the words of a church convinced that being obedience to God renders obedience to any earthly ruler a moot point. Those are the words of a church that will not allow the Name of Jesus to be rendered impotent in this world through compromise with the defeated powers of the world. Those are the words of a church that is sure and certain of God’s verdict on Jesus. Those are the words of a church empowered by the Holy Spirit, convicted by the Word of God, and saved by the One and Only Jesus. And it seems to me that it is far, far better for the world to fear us because we refuse to preach in any other name than it is for them to fear us for any other reason.
So if the world’s rulers ask us, “By what power or what name did you do this?” What response can we give?
There is only one answer the true church of Christ can give.
He is our King.
He is our Love.
He is our God whose come,
To bring us back to Him.
He is the one.
He is Jesus.
He is Jesus.
**(All of the references in this sermon manuscript can be found by accessing the sermon notes here.)
Here is my second installment of study notes for this week’s lectionary readings. This one focuses on Acts 4:5-12. The study focuses on the Spirit’s role, the Name, and the Exclusivity. Quotes from William Willimon, Richard Philips, John Stott, Robert Tannehill, LJ Olgivie, DA Carson, Eugene Peterson, Aijith Fernando, Mark Driscoll, and more. There are 13 pages worth of notes, quotes, and commentary. There is Here’s an excerpt:
The leaders seemed to think that the church was no threat until the church started preaching in Jesus’ name. The world can safely ignore the church until we start making such exclusive claims about Jesus. The church is beside the point until Jesus is brought into the conversation. That is when the world begins to act in opposition. As long as the church is merely a glorified, so to speak, social services or dr phil, the world has no problem with us. It’s that pesky Name; that pesky Jesus whom the world crucified—But God resurrected! God issued his verdict on Jesus and God’s verdict on Jesus ran and runs contrary to the world’s verdict on Jesus. Thus, the world is in opposition.
Acts 4:5-12, The Name of Jesus, May 3, 2009
UPDATE: Access complete sermon mansucipt: No Other Name
Or download the MS Word manuscript here from box.net; formatted for your convenience.
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?
This is the audio from the sermon I preached this morning, The Resurrection Changes Everything. It was based on the Gospel lesson from this week’s Lectionary reading in Luke 24:36-49. I hope you are blessed by this message. In the text for today, the Resurrected Jesus appears among his disciples–from there, things really heat up in the church.
You can download the audio at Luke 24:36-49 or listen to the audio using the inline player below.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Here is the link to the sermon I have written based on this week’s Gospel Lesson from Luke 24:36-49. I have attached a link to the notes too. Be blessed.
Resurrection Changes Everything, Luke 24:26-49
Gospel Lesson notes: Luke 24:36-49
Here’s an excerpt:
Resurrection changed everything. The resurrection of Jesus set the world on a course that could not be predicted or controlled. The resurrection of Jesus, if it doesn’t, ought to scare the daylights out of us. And yet it brings us peace. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. I said it last week, I’ll say it again: Your Christian faith, your belief in the Resurrected Jesus, your acceptance of his Spirit into your life is not defined by your appearance here once per week. And perhaps if we are too willing to persist in sin, we are actually denying his work in our lives.
Resurrection changes us. And if resurrection hasn’t changed us, doesn’t change us, then perhaps it is not the resurrected Jesus who stands among us. Resurrection means that nothing remains the same. Resurrection means that we cannot stay the same. Resurrection means that we cannot sit still, we cannot stay, we cannot be content.
[But whatever else we may say, we may say this: Jesus did not stand among them, resurrected as he was, and allow them stand slack-jawed in awe and amazement. He commissioned them. He told them they were getting power to do something. He opened their minds to the Word so they could do something. He gave them peace so they could do something. He challenged their doubts and unbelief so they could do something. Resurrection does not bade us to stand around in wonderment; it compels us to obey the Resurrected Christ. It compels us to go. And we will see, it compels us to worship.] (This is not a part of the manuscript you can download.)
Thanks for stopping by. Have a blessed Easter season Sunday. I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to Pentecost. The Lord be praised.
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
There has always been, at least for a great many years, in the history of mankind, a terribly large and unhealthy debate about creation. One the one hand, there are some who are absolutely convinced beyond doubt that we have, gradually, over time, evolved from or at least share common ancestry with other species of life on earth. On the other hand, there are some who dismiss all of these sorts of mechanisms and accept by faith that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. It’s a fun debate and one that I am certain will not find any resolution this side of divide.
There’s another debate, however, that we rarely hear anything about at all. Well, ‘debate’ is not really the right word, but it seems that Christians, in their zeal to defend a literal 6, twenty-four hour day, creation cycle get caught up in a debate that prevents them entering into a discussion concerning creation that carries far more weight and as infinitely more important. Frankly, even though I happen to believe Genesis is true, I’m not so much interested in the old creation as I am the new creation. Paul wrote as much in Galatians 6: What matters is the new creation.
I mean, the old creation is fine and fun and to an extent theological necessary, but even that creation is going to prove futile. NT Wright wrote, “When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’s own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed.” (Surprised by Hope, 294)
The next seven Sundays are considered Easter, meaning Resurrection. Thus seven Sundays between Resurrection and Pentecost. Today is the second.
John began his Gospel with words that recall the book of Genesis and that initial act of creation by God: “In the beginning…” In Genesis we are told “In the beginning God created…” John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word…” Clearly he wants us, at the beginning of his Gospel, to think about what happened at the very beginning.
We stroll through chapter 1 and we see John continuing to recount the Genesis narrative: The next day John was there again…The next day Jesus decided to leave…On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding…and the days keep on rolling. John picks up this theme again in John 20, except that it’s a little different.
In John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week…” Then again in John 20:19: “On the evening of the first day of the week…” Again in John 20:26: “A week later…” which a week earlier was, clearly, the first day of the week.
The point is simple: The Resurrection of Jesus has ushered in a new day, a new beginning, a new creation. And he has invited us to participate in this new day, this new creation. His resurrection marks a new ‘in the beginning.’ New life. New hope. Again, as NT Wright notes, “The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.” (Surprised by Hope, 67).
So the first new day draws to a close. “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said.”
Jesus stood among them. John also told his readers, in the Revelation, that there were seven lampstands and that ‘among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…’ Jesus is not afraid to stand among the churches, he is is not afraid to stand among his people…even in his gloriousness…he is not afraid to stand among us and dispel whatever fears we have.
Fears of people! Then he said ‘Peace be with you.’ Then John tells us this interesting little note, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” In other words, peace because he triumphed. Peace because he resurrected. Peace because he was victorious. Oh, be certain of this: the world conquered for a little while—see the hands? See the side? Yes. For a little while the world has its way. But the disciples were overjoyed because ‘they saw the Lord.’
This resurrection of Jesus ushers in a life of vindication. Out with the old peaceless, fearful, comes the new resurrection, peaceful, fearless overwhelmed with joy life of the new creation. Yes there are wounds. Yes there are scars. But the other side of Good Friday is Easter; the other side of death is life; the other side of fear of humans is the peace of Christ; the other side of defeat by the world is vindication by God!
Then Jesus said to them again: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We go out in peace. We go out without fear. We go out by order of Christ. We go out…with orders by Christ.
So we look at what Jesus did while he was out. What did he accomplish? What did he do? He gives them, in other words, a new purpose, a new responsibility, a new reason to live and exist and work and serve.
Our work in Christ, our work in obedience to Christ, is no longer futile. But you will recall the old creation and what God said to Adam just before Adam was cast out of the new creation and into the wilderness, and barrenness that is not Eden: “Cursed is the ground because of you: through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
But here Jesus removes the essence of futility by giving us work that is not bound up in the flesh even if it is done in the flesh. This is not merely to spiritualize all the work we do; not at all. It is, however, to transform the nature of that work. We serve a risen Savior who’s in the World today.
This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. After telling all about the defeat of the cursed world, and the flesh, and death, he merely writes, “Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Go out and be agents of peace, and forgiveness, and hope, and new creation, and love, and mercy, and grace, and forgiveness. Go out and bear fruit…not the fruit of cursed, dead soil, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of new creation, the fruit of Resurrection. By his resurrection, on this new day, we have new work to do in Him and because of Him; and He himself continues this new work through us.
In Genesis he said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” Now Jesus says, “I am sending you.” He sent us.
And then Jesus did something that I wonder if the disciples weren’t a little shaken by. Jesus continued his re-enactment of Genesis by imitating the actions of God himself, “He breathed on them” and he spoke. “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
This is Jesus, after His resurrection, not only recreating our purpose, triumphing over the old creation, but recreating humanity and breathing into them his own Holy Spirit. He himself has empowered us to go about doing what he has called and commanded us to do. He himself has empowered us to continue his work. He himself prepares us to be people through whom he can continue his work.
And to the world, and to us, what Jesus has empowered his people to do is simply out of control. Frankly, what he has empowered us to do is the last thing we want to do and the last thing we are capable of doing. But the new creation is marked by this: Go and forgive. Jesus makes perfectly clear the point of being in possession of the Holy Spirit: Go and forgive.
In a different book, Tom Wright notes, “The point [of receiving the Holy Spirit] is so that they can do, in and for the whole world, what Jesus had been doing in Israel.” (John For Everyone, 149) He has sent us out into the harsh and terribly world, recreated, repurposed, and in the new day free to forgive in the Name of Christ.
So I don’t know that this is entirely personal. I don’t know that this is only about learning how to forgive those people who personally crush and bruise you. It could be that Jesus is concerned that we spread the fragrance of forgiveness is spread far and wide and to as many people as possible in as quick a time as possible. I think we should be as generous with forgiveness towards people as he was with us. Grace freely received and grace freely given.
“But,” you might say, “I cannot forgive. Some people are too consumed in their flesh. I must make all sorts of demands upon them before they can be forgiven.” But Jesus thinks you can forgive and he has made certain that you are able to by giving you His Holy Spirit. When he breathed new life into you, as he did the apostles, he gave you power to forgive.
So if we find ourselves in a situation where we say something silly like, “I cannot forgive…” well, there might be a couple of things in play in our lives. First, we might simply be disobeying the commands of Christ. Being unforgiving is simply not an option when it comes to Christians. Second, we might simply be denying the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That is, we might be saying that we don’t want the Holy Spirit to work in our lives—we are quenching the Spirit.
Or third, we might be, shudder the thought, un-regenerate. That is, if we can muster up the nerve to say that someone has done something in the world that we cannot forgive…shudder the thought…we might not even have the Holy Spirit to begin with. I shudder to think that the words ‘I cannot forgive’ can come out of the mouths of people who claim to be empowered by the Holy Spirit of Christ.
Disobedience. Indifference. Or unregeneration. Yet I suspect that since Jesus empowers us to be forgiving by the power of his spirit, I don’t suppose it matters all that much if it is disobedience, indifferent, or unregenerate: It is all wrong and a denial of the work of Christ in our lives.
This is the morning of resurrection. This is the new day. This is the ushering in of all newness and hope and grace. This is the end of law and the beginning of freedom. This is Christ remaking each of us and thus remaking the world. This is Christ the firstfruits of resurrection resurrecting each of us now.
I don’t know if those disciples, locked behind doors as they were—because of fear—had any idea what the first day held for them. As they slept off the failures and unforgiveness of the days before, as they limped along in the old creation, as they went about under their power…who knows what was going through their minds. But it wasn’t resurrection: Jesus’s or their own.
Jesus arose, resurrected, cracked the stone table of death and resurrected, bringing with him the dawn of the True First Day, opening our eyes to the beginnings of the New Creation: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
Frederick Buechner wrote, in his book The Alphabet of Grace,
To wake up is to be given back your life again. To wake up—and I suspect that you have a choice always, to wake or not to wake—is to be given back the world again and of all possible worlds this world, this earth rich with the bodies of the dead as our drams are rich with their ghosts, this earth that we have seen hanging in space, our toy, our tomb, our precious jewel, our hope and our despair and our heart’s delight. Waking into the new day, we are all of us Adam on the morning of creation, and the world is ours to name. Out of many fragments we are called to put back together a self again. (Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace, 22)
The problem is that some get stuck between Good Friday and Easter and never wake up. The problem is that some are so concerned about the Old Creation that we are thoroughly unconcerned about the New. The problem is that some are so concerned about their own resurrection that they have no interest whatsoever in waking others by offering them the same forgiveness.
Resurrection is a call to wake up and taste the day. Resurrection is a call to live now on the way to then. Resurrection is the first day of the rest of your life. Resurrection is not just something we hope for, it is something that defines us: We are a live now and Christ has given us peace, power, and purpose to show the world a new creation, and be a new creation, and not just talk about it.
Soli Deo Gloria!!
This is a podcast of the sermon I preached this past Sunday evening from Hebrews 10:19-25. It is the fourth part of a series I am preaching through Hebrews. I have been posting the manuscript links here and I will publish this manuscript too and also upload it to my box.net. Here are the links to the first three sermons:
Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith
Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work
Sermon four is: Drawing, Holding, Considering Because of Jesus
Download Podcast here: Hebrews 10:19-25
Or us the inline player below:
Sunday, March 22, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 4
The Book of Hebrews
I suggested to you last week that chapter 5:11 through chapter 6:12 was a parenthesis. That is, the author interrupted his argument about the superiority of Jesus’ high priesthood which began in chapter 4:14 (which actually began in 2:17 & 3:1) and reminded us yet again about the need to persevere in the faith.
In last week’s imperative, he said that we need to grow up in the faith-we need to grow up in the Word of God. Paul said similar things to the Church in Corinth; things we looked at this morning. A little maturity will go a long way towards Christian unity. This was the interruption in the book of Hebrews 5:11ff. Grow up!
Now he brings it back around to his earlier discussion on the High Priesthood of Jesus. And this discussion is not a short discussion. And the author is not willing to spare a single detail of this conversation-however hard or complicated it might be for the babes on milk to understand. Thus there is a lull, so to speak, in his imperatives from 6:13-10:18. When the author is all done, we sense a deep breath before he finally utters, “Therefore…”
This high priesthood of Jesus carries with it powerful consequences to all who know of it and are blessed enough to participate in it. When we begin engaging in the 90 Days with Jesus in May, we will explore deeply this priesthood because I think it is probably one of the more unexplored aspects of the Christian faith. Still, we can say this much: Everything said in Hebrews 10:19-25 is predicated on the substantial idea of Jesus’ high priesthood being sufficient, and, what’s more, on the idea that he is not only He the High Priest over the House, but He is also the sacrifice that was offered. Both aspects are important when considering what he says in this sixth ‘therefore.’
As one commentator notes:
As Paul often does, the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers on the basis of the doctrine he has made so clear. Because the great teachings he has set forth are true, it follows that those who profess them should live in a manner befitting them. There are resemblances between the exhortation in this paragraph and that in 4:14-16. But we must not forget that the intervening discussion has made clear what Christ’s high priestly work has done for his people. On the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, the writer exhorts his readers to make the utmost use of the blessing that has been won for them.
So, again, the great teaching he has made clear is the High Priestly work of Christ and the perfection of the sacrifice He offered. So, imperative section number 6:
6. The sixth marker is found in Hebrews 10:19-25: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Now, as you heard, and as you can see, he actually includes within this ‘therefore’ three distinct imperatives that we should be concerned about because Christ has opened up a ‘new and living way for us’. I don’t think it would be unhelpful at this point to visit the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, and see exactly what all this entails-this ‘entrance’:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats-one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
23 “Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work-whether native-born or an alien living among you- 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community.
34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses.
So you can see what a terribly complicated situation this was. Jesus not only simplified this matter of entering in, but he also opened it up for people outside the priestly caste and people outside the Jewish population.
33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
This is what he is talking about: Jesus, at his death, opened things up for people. Those who enter the temple, the part opened up for us, enter in as priests (‘let us hold unswervingly to what we profess’), as companions (‘let us consider how’), and as people who have the right and authority to commune with the living God, that is, worshipers (‘let us draw near’). It is in this context then that the author of Hebrews offers up his imperatives in verses 19-25. Let’s look at each one briefly.
First, he says, “Therefore…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” This is the authority to commune with the living God. Jesus has opened up the way, and he has clothed us with the proper wedding clothes. I happen to think here he is talking about baptism in some way. We might debate over the issue of baptism a great deal, but the Scripture seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the important things that happen at baptism.
So we can draw near to God. The work of Jesus at the cross makes worshiping such a God even possible. There is a cost. Jesus paid it. So we should draw near. Get close. Get to know. Worship. Offer ourselves up to him. He is not for us to fear in the sense that we stay away. We come before him in sincerity because he knows we don’t have to fake it. We come before him with assurance. What I wonder, for those who have not experienced the outward sign of baptism is: Can they have the full assurance? If it is merely an outward symbol of an inward work, can we be certain of the inward work if we have not experienced the outward symbol?
Second, he says, “Therefore…let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised us is faithful.” We have hope. We have hope precisely because hope does not depend on us. Somewhere in all the mix is a mustard seed of faith that the story we have believed and the Messiah we have followed is true. Frankly, sometimes that’s all we have; sometimes less. But there it is: hope does not lie within us. If it did, it would be destroyed in a minute. Our hope, Peter says, is stored up for us in heaven; it is precious; it is resurrection hope in Christ; it can never perish, spoil, or fade; it is protected by God’s power (1 Peter 1:3-5). Praise God.
Our hope depends upon the one who is faithful and therein is our hope. Again, it is important to remember that our hope is not in a dream, or an idea, or a concept, or a religion or anything of the sort. The author of Hebrews says that we have hope because he who promised it is faithful. He is faithful. We hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. This is the same thing he said back in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Profess is also confess or announce to declare. As priests, we have a confession to make; we announce to others this hope. We must hold unswervingly to this hope.
Third, he says, “Therefore…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the day approaching.” The danger, of course, is in trying to hold on to this course alone. As I have been emphasizing in our Sunday morning messages from Corinthians, we are best served and best when we are together. So we must encourage one another which means that this is a responsibility for everyone in the body towards everyone in the body. These are words we ought to be sharing with one another constantly. But I think it is critically important that these words rest not on a single person, but that the responsibility falls to all of us.
If this is but the responsibility of one person the words can grow weak, the person can grow weary, the warning can be wasted. I think if I am reading this correctly and all of us have been invited into the priestly class, then all of us have a confession to make, a worship to offer, and encouragement to give. How can we do this? Well, it means we have to talk to one another, share with one another, be involved in one another’s lives. We have to love one another enough to care about them. We have to know enough about one another to do the spurring. Frankly, as I have said elsewhere, some people have more access to others than some others do. We all must share in this responsibility so that people know they are loved and cared about and that people are concerned for them. We are companions on this journey. We move at the rate of everyone, neither speeding ahead nor lagging behind. We journey together.
Let us draw near is an exhortation to worship, fellowship, communion, confidence, faith, and trust. We enter as worshipers.
Let us hold fast is an exhortation to our priestly responsibilities inside our confession. Our confession is not something we keep secret. We enter as priests.
Let us encourage one another is an exhortation to fellowship, communion, companionship, and love. We enter as companions.
The profoundest part of these verses is that they are even possible. But Jesus had made it so. We no longer exist in solitude, we no longer live in isolation, we no longer walk alone.
The profoundest part of these verses is surely that Jesus’ work does not compel us laziness and complacency, but rather to work and energy and fellowship. We are together.
We are called together in a fellowship in God’s presence. He has opened the way for us not to enter singly, on our own, but together; as one. We come before him together. We draw near together. We hold fast together. We encourage one another together. We. Together.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This is the third in a series of preliminary sermons I have preached from the book of Hebrews during Lent. You can download the manuscripts at my box.net (I have provided the links.) I will be preaching through the entire book starting in May 2009.
Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith
Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work
Sunday, March 15, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 3
The Book of Hebrews
This past Wednesday evening we talked for a few minutes about Matthew 24-25 and Jesus’ long answer to the disciples question, ‘when will it happen, what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’ So the disciples essentially asked three questions.
When will ‘it’ happen is the first question they ask. By this I assume the ‘it’ refers to the statement Jesus made ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’
The other two questions they ask seemingly come out of nowhere and yet, for some reason, the disciples must have associated the ‘it’ with the ‘coming’ and the ‘end.’ And it certainly appears that Jesus was not averse to answering all three questions as if they were related to one another even if we happen to be somewhat confused about why they would associate the ‘coming’ and the ‘end’ with the ‘it.’
Well, I’m revisiting that conversation from Wednesday evening so that I can bring up an article that I also made more than a passing reference to. In his essay The Coming Evangelical Collapse [you can find this by searching at Christian Science Monitor–jerry] blogger Michael Spencer wrote:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
I have a friend who is skeptical of Mr Spencer’s claims. I think I told you Wednesday that I don’t particularly care one way or another about the collapse of a major, in my opinion defunct and corrupt political institution; I do care about the local church.
Then yesterday I got a couple of books in the mail. I glanced through the first couple pages of one book because the forward is written by my hero Eugene Peterson. When he writes, I read. He wrote, then, in the book Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others, words very similar to those of Mr Spencer:
We live in a country that is becoming less and less Christian by the day. People who make a living compiling statistics on these kinds of things tell us that we have an epidemic of people leaving the church. Recently I was told that one of these pollsters has concluded that nonbelievers are the fastest growing ‘faith’ group in America. The alarm has been sounded and panic is widespread. There is considerable finger-pointing at the failure of the church to stanch the hemorrhage of membership. (9)
We can deduce, from these two readings, that there is a significant problem with the church in America. Frankly, I think the damage is done and there is very little that can be done to stop the bleeding on a national level. With some giving us ten years and others suggesting that it has already come upon us, who knows what the next step really is.
Here is where the book of Hebrews, I believe, makes strong inroads into the wound that we have undoubtedly been the cause of. I shudder to think what the church would be like if the Gospel hadn’t been so watered down in a previous generation. But the very thing that the church thought was its measure of success, was actually its very undoing. Thus it seems the church thought it could afford to scale back on the things that the Gospel seems to suggest we most certainly cannot afford to scale back on-such things as, Gospel content, the faith once delivered, core doctrines, and foundational beliefs.
But I submit to you that we have allowed certain aspects to become so watered down and we have paid such close attention to those who would undo the Gospel with skepticism and lies that we have no foundation upon which to stand. This is why I am fond of saying that once Genesis 1:1 is done away with, nothing else really matters. Genesis 1:1 is foundational. You can say, Genesis through Deuteronomy is the Bible and everything else is commentary. But you get my point, once we have reduced the stories to mere local myth, upon what will we stand?
Into this the author of Hebrews has insisted on an allegiance to those very stories ‘we have heard’ in order to prevent the very thing that Spencer and Peterson (among others) warn us of. If we fail to listen, fail to pay attention, fail to hold on to the faith we once confessed, we will drift away; slowly, but surely. Or we will ‘fall short’ of the intended and expected goal. And how, in chapter 6, as we encounter our 5th ‘imperative’, we see that the results might be even more disastrous.
5. The fifth marker found along the way is in chapter 6, verse 1: “Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…”
Well, the first thing that stands out to me about this passage is that if there are ‘elementary teachings’ there must be elementary teachers. It seems to me that there must have been teachers in the church who were content to continue wrangling over the same foundational teachings over and over again. Well, don’t misunderstand, I think it is terribly important for there to be foundational teachings in the church. I also believe we should revisit those teachings periodically in order that we don’t forget (‘listen to’) what we have been taught. But I also think it incredibly naïve to think we can stay in those places. Why? Because then we never mature.
And so the author here says something like this: You are babes. You are stuck on milk and cereal. You need to be teachers now, but in fact you are still itty-bittys when it comes to the faith. I can’t even begin to teach you about meat, and righteousness, and the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. You haven’t constantly trained yourselves in the Word so as to be able to sufficiently tell the difference between good and evil. Listen to The Message translation of chapter 5:11-6:3:
I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one-baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong.
1-3So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!
The gist of what the author of Hebrews is saying is this: We need to grow up in Christ and to do this we must progress in our learning and understanding of the work that He did. What happens if we don’t grow up? Look at verse 6: “…and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.:” Now I’m not going to unpack all that because for now it is enough to say that the person who refuses to grow up will eventually ‘fall away.’ This is no mere ‘drifting away.’ This could mean ‘to commit apostasy.’ It is, at minimum, a radical departure from the faith.
Sunday, March 8, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 2
The Book of Hebrews
[These sermons are also available for download at my box.net account.–jerry]
Last week [here], we began some preliminary explorations of the book of Hebrews, in preparation for the 90 Days with Jesus which will start in May. Our preparation for the 90 Days comes in the form of exploring what I have dubbed the ‘imperatives’ of Hebrews. They are imperatives I think only to the extent that we are willing and ready to listen to the God who spoke. (1:1-2) These imperatives come at fairly regularly placed intervals in the book of Hebrews as if to remind us constantly to be looking back, opening our ears, softening our hearts. “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
So these imperatives are God’s word to us. They are his promises. They are his voice speaking to us and we have to learn how to quiet ourselves and listen. We must pay attention to what he is saying. William Willimon notes:
Contrary to [the] contemporary stress on spiritual practices, [we] are reminded that the church is created and sustained through the proclamation of the Word, not through practices or the formation of allegedly Christian character. The church must rise anew, in each generation, among those who have head, not simply among those who have been inculcated and indoctrinated. The Word is forever tearing down and rebuilding the church, disrupting, confusing, killing in order to raise us from the dead. (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 230)
So we listen. And the Word does its work inside of us. We don’t know exactly how it works just as we don’t know exactly where the seed will land once it is scattered. Yet we continue to listen for God’s voice. Sometimes it is clear, audible and majestic. Other times we have to discern it. But there it is, speaking to us in Christ.
So last week, we tuned into the first of these several imperative gestures. The first being that we need to ‘pay close attention to what we have heard so that we don’t drift away.’ I note, not in mere passing, that these imperatives are always spoken out of and to a community. ‘We’ and ‘us’ dominate these sentences. I also note that they are given to us with an intention. That is, we do not just ‘pay attention’ for the sake of paying attention. Nor, I might add, do we pay attention to just old thing we like. On the contrary, we ‘pay attention’ in order that we will not drift away. Paying attention serves a purpose in our lives. And we pay attention in this case to ‘what we heard’. What have we heard? We have heard the God who spoke to us and speaks to us in Jesus. It is probably also not insignificant that he says ‘what you heard.’ There is an emphasis on the importance of the proclaimed, spoken, audible word.
Second, we were concerned with ‘keeping our thoughts fixed on Jesus our apostle and high priest.’ What we hear is the Christ speaking to us and instructing us, praying for us, leading us and directing us. What we fix our thoughts on corresponds to what we have heard with our ears and with our eyes. We fix our thoughts on the one sent to us, the sacrifice, and the High priest, the one who offers the sacrifice. When we fix our thoughts on Christ our mind clears and is refreshed. And his person is so dominant and attractive that we can scarcely find room within for competing lords and gods. In other words, if your thoughts are fixed on Christ, how can there be room for any other thinking?
So, let’s examine a couple more of these ‘imperatives’ this evening. The first is found at the head of chapter 4, verse 1:
3. The third marker along this journey is found in 4:1: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”
This is explained thus:
“The author argues that the purposes of God are not frustrated because Israel of old disobeyed him and failed to enter the rest he had promised his people. The promise remains. If the ancient Israel did not enter God’s rest, then someone else will, namely the Christians. But this should not lead to complacency. If the Israelites of an earlier day, with all their advantages, failed to enter the rest, Christians ought not to think there will be automatic acceptance for them. They must take care lest they, too, fail to enter the blessing.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, online source)
The promise still stands. That is, it is hasn’t been fulfilled completely yet. This means we have to press on. The Promise itself still holds, which suggests that its fulfillment might be a time off yet: There is still room for entry by those outside, and there is still room for failure for those inside.
But what does the author here mean by ‘rest’? Does the author here mean long lazy days of relaxation and peace and tranquility by the lake? Or perhaps does he have something a bit more expansive in mind? Three specific ideas come to mind as we reflect on the Old Testament promises of Rest. There is certainly the idea of Sabbath rest which we learned about early on in the history of Israel. God himself took Sabbath and commanded his people to do so as well. Sabbath is a powerful idea and practice in Scripture. There might also be the idea of ‘rest from enemies’ that God promised to Israel. But the author in Hebrews is building on Psalm 95 and the idea of rest found there. The Psalm reads:
1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the desert,
9 where your fathers tested and tried me,
though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
“They shall never enter my rest.”
Now the author of Hebrews brings this into a new generation. First it was spoken to Joshua and Caleb’s generation as Israel wandered in the desert. Then the author of Psalm 95 recites it for his own generation. The author of Hebrews quotes it for his own generation. And now you and I are hearing it in our time: If you, the flock under his care, today, hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. And it was their hardness of heart that prevented them from entering into the rest of God: “They shall never enter my rest.” The rest he is speaking of his rest. These are people who did not know God’s ways, whose hearts went astray, who tested God, who hardened their hearts and quarreled, who tried God-even though they had seen what he did-these are the ones prevented from entering his rest. The author of Hebrews brings this into his own situation. What we wonder is this: Will our generation be the generation who will finally enter his rest? Will we listen to his voice or will we harden our hearts?
“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.” The author of Hebrews is saying to us: Don’t fall short of it. Don’t fall short of the rest of God because you have all the advantages, everything is in your favor, all the cards are stacked for you and there is no reason why you should fall short. Whatever this ‘rest’ is, it is God’s rest, and I don’t happen to believe that God desires to say to this generation, ‘you shall never enter my rest.’ He’s talking about obedience as if there is a sort of disobedience that will prevent us from partaking of his rest. This rest is not from Moses, David, or Joshua-it is a far more comprehensive and less mundane promise of Rest that still stands. And he concludes with what would be a fourth marker: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (v 11). He thus comes full circle. The promise of rest is somewhat contingent upon our perseverance in towards it. Stopping short because of disobedience will not nullify the Promise, but it will prevent our participation.
He says three times: Don’t harden your hearts if you hear his voice. He also says three times, “they shall never enter my rest” (11, 4:3, 5). Again, listen and obey so that you can enter.
4. The fourth marker is found in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”
I think a new section was started in verse 12 of the previous chapter. There, after a short exposition of the rest we hope to inherit, the author of Hebrews breaks out with this even shorter doxological type of statement concerning the Word of God and God’s judgment:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Therefore, he writes, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. What is the connection between the ‘there’ and the ‘fore’ in this marker? Andrew Murray chose to emphasize the word ‘have’. We ‘have’ a great high priest. He notes, we ‘have a great high priest. You own Him; He is yours, your very own, wholly yours. You may use Him with all He is and has. You can trust Him for all you need, know and claim Him as indeed your great High Priest, to bring you to God.” (184) Well, I don’t like the word ‘you’ and ‘yours’ because the author of Hebrews uses the word ‘we.’ But Murray’s point is taken. We are not so much in possession of Christ as he is in possession of us and we have access to Him.
Twice previously the author has also used the words ‘hold firmly.’ In 3:6 he wrote, “But Christ is faithful as the Son of God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed, we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” And in 3:14 he has also written, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction.” Now, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” It’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ we hold firmly, but a command: Hold Firmly.
The short and long of it is this: He has gone through the heavens, he has finished the work, nothing escapes his eye of judgment, everything is laid bare-why give up? No one can take away from what Christ has already accomplished. He knows the struggles, he knows the weaknesses, he knows those who cause trouble-why give up? Why turn your back on what you know to be a finished work? And here again we are confronted by this living Word of God-this God who speaks. He has spoken his word into our lives, into our community, into our world. It cuts deep and rips us in two. It causes a schism within ourselves. There’s part of us that wars against his judgment and there’s part of us that struggles onward. We are quite divided beings.
And he says: Press on! Don’t be so quick to let go of what you know inside is true.
So what is the confession we made? Back in 3:1 he uses the same word, “…fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we confess as our apostle and high priest.” Now here, “…hold firmly to the faith we confess.” What we are confessing is a high priest who has finished the work that needed to be finished. We confess Jesus who gives us the promised rest that Joshua could not. He softens hearts that Moses could not. We confess Jesus who is God’s Word to us. We confess Jesus, our high priest, who is able to understand our weaknesses. So again, we are not confessing some wimp. We have confessed this Jesus, this Son of God who is faithful over God’s house (3:5).
This is a call, if you will, to consider deeply who it is who calls us into being. This is a call to consider wisely if we will follow and consider carefully before bailing out on such a confession. The confession we make is no small thing in light of who we are confessing. Frankly, I don’t think we make enough emphasis on this confession. Our confessions are cheaply constructed and probably not carefully thought out. Perhaps if we put a little more thought into whom we have confessed we would not be so quick to jump ship or to fail when we struggle or when things get rough. We have confessed one who is ‘able to help those who are being tempted.’ Since he can, perhaps we should.
It seems to me that these markers we have focused on this evening are about persevering in the right way. Much of the effort that we make when it comes to persevering is silly because it has as its focus or goal something elusive and primitive. But we in Christ are not called to something primitive and elusive, nor something mundane and trivial. We are called to faith in the living Son of God who understands us too well because he has been made like us.
So there is a right kind of perseverance that will not fall short and there is a kind of perseverance that will miserably fail. I think if we are persevering for merely earthly objectives then we are certainly bound over to failure. Earthly objectives can be met, often without much struggle at all. But the true objective, who is living, is Christ Jesus. He is our goal. Indeed, the writer says, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly to the end our original convictions.”
Before us will be all sorts of stumbling blocks and hazards and chicanes. But these things I have said to you tonight are book-ended. In 2:18: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And again in 4:16: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Here we see the great objective. Persevere! Cling to the faith confessed! Cling to Jesus! He is not about to fail you because he has already succeeded and won where the world has already and continually fails. Don’t give up. Stay the course!
If we are being torn down, ripped apart, it is only that He might put us back together, that He might Resurrect us according to his own will. This is God’s word to us.
Sunday, March 1, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews
The Book of Hebrews
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”
“The book of Hebrews offers us, quite simply, Jesus. It offers us the Jesus who is there to help because he’s one of us, and has trodden the path before us. It offers us the Jesus who has inaugurated the new covenant, bringing to its fulfillment the age-old plan of God. And it offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 10)
The book of Hebrews begins by reminding us that God spoke, both in the past in various ways and with various means, and in the present in Christ Jesus. This is not an odd way to begin a book that has so many things to say about the finality of God’s voice in Jesus. In these last days, God has spoken to us. He has raised his voice above the din and clutter of noise that is all the other voices so easily heard, and clamoring to be hear, and He spoke. To us.
I am here stuck in the same awe that renowned theologian Karl Barth was stuck in: God spoke to us. Us! He desired that we hear his voice. He desired, and desires, that we engage him in active listening and active speaking. God’s word to us is not mere monologue: we pray, and sing, and worship in any variety of ways. William Willimon notes, “Who is the human being? Someone who is ‘summoned by this Word.’ Our great, God-given dignity is that God wants to talk to us. God speaks to us and what God says is, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’” (166) The essence of our existence is that God took initiative and spoke to us!
But Willimon makes another point too, and perhaps an even more important point about what we hear, what our task is as hearers, and our role as speakers:
“Knowledge of God is always in Barth linked to the call of God, communication and disclosure are always linked to commission and call, and revelation divinely given is linked to obedient human response. Our challenge, as preachers, is not to master God’s word but rather to develop the skills to listen to God without despising God for speaking to us. The God of the Bible who speaks is the God who commands and one wonders if many of our hermeneutical and homiletical strategies are designed to manage that command. For Barth, every single verse of scripture is a potential act of vocation. The question to be put to any of God’s three forms of proclamation is never simply, ‘Do I understand?’ or certainly not, ‘Do I agree?’ but rather, ‘How am I being called to change and commit through this word?’” (165)
So the book of Hebrews, as we call it, begins here with “God spoke.” This is the most radical thing God can do and did. He spoke to us in Jesus, his Son. Everything else flows from here and everything else said in the book only makes sense when we accept that God has spoken, in these last days, through his son. We have to get into our heads first who spoke and and how (in the Son) then we can get into our heads what he spoke and then we can try to understand why he spoke it. I think at some level, though, we hear his commands (‘what he spoke’) merely for what they are. They are words with a certain emphasis placed on them, perhaps an imperative, but as a command we are to act out under his watch they are perhaps nonsensical.
Radical Christianity, radical Scripture, Radical God is not for anyone and everyone. It is for those called together by this Son who is the exact character of God in the flesh. And Hebrews offers no apologies for taking such a radical approach to lived out faith. I’m not suggesting that only a few are invited. I think the invitation is wide open to any and all who hear and obey. What I am suggesting is that as we read through the book of Hebrews we hear the voice of God saying to us: Buckle up. It’s not going to be an easy go of things. You will be challenged at every step to turn back and quit. That is where I would like to break into this letter tonight and show you several major stops along the path that is Hebrews.
This book is filled with some of the most profound theology and Old Testament biblical exegesis in the entire canon. However, along the way, the author periodically stops and looks back in order that he might point forward. The call is radical: radical indeed. He speaks for a moment or two on some important issue, and that issue is always the superiority of Jesus or the better nature of the Jesus work, and then he challenges the reader. He marks off these challenges with the word ‘therefore’. There are eleven of these markers found in Hebrews. Let’s begin.
1. The first marker is found in chapter 2:1: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”
What must we pay attention to? God spoke. We have to pay attention to what we hear from Christ who now speaks to us in these last days. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Fact is, we cannot afford to not pay attention. There are many, many voices clamoring for our attention. The basis of our listening and paying attention is that Jesus is ‘superior angels’ and has ‘inherited a name that is superior.’ Therefore, we must pay attention. He warns us here that if we do not pay attention we will ‘drift away.’ We will be like a boat that has lost its tether and floats off out into the ocean where it can be tossed about by every wind and wave and storm that comes up.
The Real Older Brother
1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4″Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
8″Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27’Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31″ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
Last year when I took Doctrine of Grace, we were required to read a book by David A Semands called Healing Grace. I’m sure I have quoted from it before, and I have actually given away a couple of copies to people. He states his case early on as to what one of our major problems is in the church:
I am convinced that the basic cause of some of the most disturbing emotional/spiritual problems which trouble evangelical Christians is the failure to receive and live out God’s unconditional grace, and the corresponding failure to offer that grace to others. I encounter this problem in the counseling room more than any other single hangup. (14)
I read the sermon of a friend this week. The sermon was about being a minister in the church. He wrote that it is about grace:
Indeed, here is grace’s way – of Israel’s birth through a barren womb. Here is grace’s way – of the champion from Gath killed by Jesse’s youngest son. Here is grace’s way – of the Word taking on fallen flesh and stubbornly refusing to be fallen in it. Here is grace’s way – of ostracised women being commissioned as proclaimers of God’s good news. Here is grace’s way – that the deepest revelations of God are not given to the wise and understanding but to infants. Here is grace’s way – that God has a deliberate policy of positive discrimination towards nobodies, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and that the earth will be inherited by the meek. Here is grace’s way – love your enemies and bless those who make life hell for you. Here is grace’s way – of God making foolish and weak the wisdom and power of the world. Here is grace’s way – of God putting his treasure into jars of clay in order to show that God’s all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. Here is grace’s way – that only in humiliation do we find God exalting us, only in dying do we find God making us alive, only in throwing our lives away do we find God giving life back to us. Here is grace’s way – of power being brought to an end in weakness. Here is grace’s way – that we might actually be more use to God with our thorns than without them. Only when I am weak, am I strong.
These are beautiful words, grace words.
Jesus told four stories that day.
He told these four stories to a particular group of people: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'”
They were concerned because Jesus was doing, in their eyes, the wrong thing. Jesus was paying attention to the weak, the poor, the less than famous, the less than righteous. They were concerned because Jesus wasn’t paying enough attention to those who kept the rules, did all the right things, and demonstrated their exclusive righteousness before the world. Jesus actually went to the sick people, the weak people, the unrighteous people and this offended those who were well, who were strong, who were righteous. So Jesus told these three stories to those who grumbled.
Eugene Peterson notes for us in his book Tell it Slant that Luke is the only author in the New Testament to use this word ‘grumble’ or ‘mutter.’ It is a word similar to words used in Exodus 15:24 and 16:2 to describe the manner in which the Israelites were expressing their frustration with Moses and Aaron. Luke also uses it again in 19:7: “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘he has gone to be the guest of a sinner.'” This after Jesus went to the house of Zacheus for dinner.
This, then, is the context. And Jesus tells four parables.
In the first, there are 100 sheep. One is lost. So the good shepherd goes out to look for the one sheep. He eventually finds it and brings it home. And what happens? He calls his neighbors together and they rejoice in the Lord over the one lost sheep that was found.
In the second, there are ten coins. One of them is lost. So the woman sweeps and cleans and turns over the cushions and tears up the planks and digs through the garbage until she finds it. Eventually, she finds it. What does she do when she finds it? Well, she spends it on a lavish party and invites all her friends to come over and celebrate the one lost coin that was found.
In the third, there are two sons. One of them is lost. So the father stays at home and does nothing. He waits and waits and waits and waits. No one goes to look for the younger son. Not the father. Not the older brother. The father waits. The older brother goes about on his own…why? Well, frankly, because he has his share of the inheritance. Why should he expose himself, his inheritance, what is rightfully his to go out and look for the younger brother who has squandered everything? Tim Keller in his book The Prodigal God writes:
In the first two parables someone ‘goes out’ and searches for that which is lost. The searchers let nothing distract them or stand in the way. By the time we get to the third story, and we hear about the plight of the lost son, we are fully prepared to expect that someone will set out to search for him. No one does. It is startling, and Jesus meant it to be so. By placing these three parables so closely together, he is inviting thoughtful listeners to ask: ‘Well, who should have gone out and searched for the lost son?’ Jesus knew the Bible thoroughly, and he knew that at its very beginning it tells another story of an elder and younger brother-Cain and Abel. In that story, God tells the resentful and proud older brother, ‘You are your brother’s keeper.’ (81)
And Keller’s point is that it should have been the older brother who went out to look for the younger brother. And he also points out that to bring the younger brother back would have cost the older brother considerably. Remember, the property had already been divided. Jesus said in verse 12, “So he divided the property between them.” Keller notes that “every penny that remained of the family estate belongs to the elder brother. Every robe, every ring, every fatted calf is his by right” (82). This is why the father says at the end of the parable, “…everything I have is yours.”
Yet the father takes a ring, a robe, and a fatted calf from the older brother and gave them to the younger brother. To bring the younger brother back in involved a cost to the older brother.
Thus there is a fourth parable. In this parable there is one lost son. He is the older brother who had remained behind and done everything right. In his own words, “‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Jesus certainly doesn’t argue with him. The father doesn’t argue with him. But that doesn’t mean, at any level, that the older brother isn’t lost. Jesus is ‘redefining lostness.’ He was pointing out to those who grumbled that the Son of Man came to seek and save what is lost and that the lost included them as well.
Keller goes on in his book to point out several characteristics of what he calls ‘elder-brother-lostness.’ I won’t list them all for you, but hear this one particular quote:
If such people [as the younger brother] wrong them, elder brothers feel their spotless record gives them the right to be highly offended and to perpetually remind the wrongdoer of his or her failure. […] When the younger brother comes out of his denial, and the father welcomes him, the elder brother realizes that the pattern is being broken, and his fury is white-hot. […] If the elder brother had known his own heart, he would have said, ‘I am just as self-centered and a grief to my father in my own way as my younger brother is in his. I have no right to feel superior.’ Then he would have had the freedom to give his brother the same forgiveness that his father did. But elder brothers do not see themselves this way. Their anger is a prison of their own making. (57)
It must be remembered to whom Jesus told this parable: It was to the Pharisees and those who grumbled that Jesus would dare go and look for the younger brother. They were angry because they knew Jesus was doing what they should have been doing-being their brother’s keeper, looking for the lost and the wayward. Jesus was the older brother. That’s why they were angry. They were angry that the father was so extravagant, gracious, and generous and forgiving. Keller nails it again:
The younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not. That’s why older-brother lostness is so dangerous. Elder brothers don’t go to God and beg for healing from their condition. They see nothing wrong with their condition, and that can be fatal. If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don’t know you are sick you won’t-you’ll just die. (66)
And this brings us back to the point of the sermon which is God’s grace. And I suppose it is fair to ask this question: If your life has not been changed, radically altered at the core, do you understand grace? Or, let me state it negatively: If your life has ‘remained unchanged by God’s grace’ can you really say you understand the costliness of that grace?
Can you say you even understand the Gospel? Keller states, such people “have a general idea of God’s universal love, but not a real grasp of the seriousness of sin and the meaning of Christ’s work on our behalf. […] If we say ‘I believe in Jesus’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” (123, 124)
That statement really made me step back, examine myself, and evaluate just exactly what I believe. That is a hard statement to accept. But the good news is that if the Father waited and waited for the younger brother to return, he went looking for the older brother, begging and pleading for him to come inside. In other words, he is not at all content that the older brother stay outside, missing the party. If the father made a fool of himself for running to the younger brother and robbing the older brother to welcome him home, he also made a fool of himself by begging and pleading for the older brother to come in.
The problem is that Luke 15, like the book of Jonah, does not have an ending. We don’t know if the older brother received the same grace from the father the younger received and went into the party. Did he go in and party and rejoice that the younger came home? Or did he stay outside unhappy and, frankly, unsaved?
Because those who are saved join the party. Those who have received God’s grace, join the party. Those who are join the party, are glad that the younger brother has come home.
Every single one of us, every single day, need to evaluate and re-evaluate and immerse and re-immerse ourselves in God’s grace. That God goes out of his way to search and welcome everyone home is an startling indication of the prodigal, spendthrift nature of God: he gives his grace away radically, freely, to everyone: To younger wayward brothers; to older self-sufficient brothers.
We are invited to examine ourselves. Three of the stories had happy endings. What of the fourth? How will the fourth story end? Did the Pharisees Jesus spoke to that day, the ones who grumbled and muttered, join the party? Did they go inside and rejoice and celebrate?
We are invited to stop and look at ourselves and ask a very important question: Which brother am I? And we are invited, before we too quickly associate ourselves with the younger brother, to stop and see if perhaps, just perhaps, we are the older brother.
Like Filling a Cup from a Waterfall
2 Samuel 9:1-12
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“Your servant,” he replied.
The king asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”
“Where is he?” the king asked.
Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”
So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.
When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!”
“Your servant,” he replied.
“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”
Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)
Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.
Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.
Two things absolutely basic to the Christian life are, unfortunately, counter to most things North American, which makes this intersection a confused place, clogged with accidents, snarled traffic, and short tempers. To begin with, the Christian life is not about us; it is about God. Christian spirituality is not a life-project for becoming a better person, it is not about developing a so-called ‘deeper life.’ We are in on it, to be sure. But we are not the subject. Nor are we the action. We get included by means of a few prepositions: God with us (Matthew 1:23), Christ in me (Galatians 2:20), God for us (Romans 8:31). With…in…for…: powerful, connecting, relation-forming words, but none of them making us either subject or predicate. We are the tag-end of a prepositional phrase.
The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God. -Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 335
Our story for today actually begins in chapter 4 of 2 Samuel. We read in verse 4 of that chapter that Jonathan son of Saul who had been king of Israel had also had a son who was lame in both feet. “He was five years old when the new about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.”
So this young man of five who had once know the pleasure and presence of dwelling in the kings’ court, with his father, Jonathan, heir to the throne, was now alone in the world. He was on his own. His father dead. His mother evidently dead. His grandfather dead. He was no longer the prince of Israel, but now just a crippled in the feet commoner.
But it was worse in that he was crippled. There was no, back then, any Society of/for the Handicapped, no Wheelchairs for America or anything of the sort. Never again would he enjoy working feet. Never again would his life be the same. He would be, forever, dependent upon everyone around him. He would be reduced from royalty to stock. He would be a societal outcast, barred from the presence of the king and reduced to an insignificant place in the temple worship.
By the standards of those days, he would be lucky to escape with his life.
But then one day something changed. In the midst of all the changes: David the New King, the Great military leader, God’s great promise to David in chapter 7, the ark returning to Jerusalem, David taking Jerusalem-in the midst of all this-David asks, “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
When it is found out that there was someone left, David again asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s Kindness?” And in the end it was this young man named Mephibosheth. He comes before the King to be questioned.
I’d like to make a couple of points just now. First, I find it most interesting that David sought out Mephibosheth and not the other way around. It was David who took it upon himself to seek out this crippled man and shower him with God’s Kindness. The crippled and destitute Mephibosheth had done nothing to earn this from the king, he had done nothing to deserve such unbelievable treatment at the hands of the one who was sitting on the throne that he himself would have inherited one day.
And yet that is what happened. Typically, in those ancient of days, when someone new ascended to the throne, all the members of the previous regime were put to death-Solomon follows this course when he becomes king. I don’t think David here is merely making political alliances to secure his throne. This is a different sort of kindness that he is bestowing upon Mephibosheth-it is an unmerited grace. All he had to do was open his hands and receive what was being offered to him; all he had to do was turn his back and limp away from Lo Debar and enjoy the king’s presence.
Second, I would like to note that the author of 2 Samuel goes quite out of their way to insure against any misunderstanding on our part. We are told that Mephibosheth was living in a land called Lo Debar-a place of ‘no pasture.’ He was living with a person named Makir, son of Ammiel, in a house that was not his. We are told that Mephibosheth thinks of himself as a dog-a dead dog. We are told twice that he was crippled in both feet. And we are told that the servant Ziba was better off than was Mephibosheth. We get the picture then that this young man was in quite difficult straits when David seeks him out.
Finally, I would point out to you what David did for him. He brought him from the land of no pasture and gave him quarters in Jerusalem. We are told a third time in verse 7 that David showed him kindness, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.” We are told that David restored all of the ancestral land of Saul, his servants in order to works the land a provide Mephibosheth with an income. We are told four times that Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table, ‘like one of the king’s sons.’ David simply overwhelmed Mephibosheth for no other reason than the kindness he desired to share with him, God’s kindness.
I don’t want to stress this too much. Seeing the tree with the lights in it was an experience vastly different in quality as well as in import from patting the puppy. On that cedar tree shone, however briefly, the steady, inward flames of eternity; across the mountain by the gas station raced the familiar flames of the falling sun. But on both occasions I though, with rising exultation, this is it; praise the Lord; praise the land. Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 81-82
It does make one wonder, though, why the story of Mephibosheth’s waterfall experience ends the way it does. “And Mephibosheth lived in Jersusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.” I wonder if that is what Mephibosheth remembered too each day as he limped to David’s table or as he was carried in to the king’s dining room by others. No matter how often he ate at the table of David, he was continually reminded that it was the kindness of David that invited him to be there in the first place.
It was a constant reminder that he had done nothing to merit the position the king had placed him in that day. I wonder if Mephibosheth ever thought to himself: I’d rather have two perfect legs than to be here right now. Or, I wonder if he had the courage to say, David is a gracious man. He wasn’t invited in because he was alive, or because David had sympathy for a cripple, or because he deserved it. He was invited in because of David’s kindness.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is make perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7ff)
You see, friends, you should quite understand by now that this story is not about the dead-dog named Mephibosheth. A careful reading shows that this story in 2 Samuel is about David, king of Israel. It is about showing the actions that David took-note how his kindness imitates God’s kindness-at the beginning of his reign as king. It was David who asked. It was David who sought. It was David’s table. It was David’s kindness. It was David who restored the land and servants. It was David who was king. It was David who adopted Mephibosheth as a son much like Saul had done to David early on in David’s life.
It is God who takes the initiative in our lives. It is God who invites us to His table. It is God who invites into His Royal presence. It is God who seeks us out. It is God who shows us kindness-But when the kindness and love of God our savior appeared, he saved us not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy-in the midst of our trouble. It is God who invites to dine at his table. It is God who is King and by his own prerogative makes us adopted children by his grace. It is God who has promised us a place in His Kingdom.
We too often focus on this idea that Christian life is about me. The Bible declares unequivocally that the Christian life is about God. It is about His power. His salvation. We live, and move and have our being in Him. It is not about becoming sound. It is about opening our hands under the waterfall and allowing his grace to be poured out in such abundance that we can scarcely stand under its weight. In other words, grace will always say far more about the gracious one than it does about the one receiving the grace.
Philip Yancey, in his book Rumors of Another World, brings out an intelligent point. He writes
…I found myself reflecting…on the sharp contrast between how Jesus treated moral failures and how the church often does. Jesus elevated sinners…He appointed a Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume…He restored Peter to leadership…
I reflected also on the greatest gift we have from the unseen world, the gift of grace. Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing. We live in a world that judges people by their behavior and requires criminals, debtors, and moral failures to live with the consequences…even the church finds it difficult to forgive those who fall short.
Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent. (222-223)
So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free. -Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa. When he was finally released he was elected president of South Africa. He appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But he also did something else: If a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Many grumbled. But, “Mandela insisted that the country need healing more than it needed justice.” Philip Yancey continues the story:
At one hearing, a policeman name van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an 18 year old boy and burned the body, turning it on the first like a piece of BBQ meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body and ignited it.
The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had first lost her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she want van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policemen nodded agreement.
Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors from Another World, 223-224)
Grace takes the focus away from the ugly, the heinous, the vicious. It turns our attention towards the lovely, the beautiful, the majestic. That is what God does for us, and what we must do for one another. “We can’t live a life more like Jesus by embracing a way of life less like Jesus.” (Peterson, 336) We must be people like David, like the unnamed old woman of two murdered loved ones-if grace is received like a waterfall filling our hands, then we certainly have more than enough to share. So let the grace you have received spill over, intentionally, to the lives of others.
This is but one way you can demonstrate that you do love.
David was reckless for inviting Mephibosheth into his palace to eat around his table, but it was the only hope Mephibosheth had. Tim Keller wrote a little book called The Prodigal God, in it he notes that the word ‘prodigal’ means not ‘wayward’ (as we have been taught to believe) but actually ‘recklessly spendthrift.’ He writes, ‘It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the Father in [the story Luke 15] as his younger son. The Father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to ‘reckon’ or count his sin against him or demand repayment…God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience…” (xiv-xv).