Posts Tagged ‘the Church’
Here is episode #2 of the Rain and Snow Skycast. In this episode, I finish my exploration of Revelation 1 by studying with you verses 9-21. I also included a book review of NT Wright’s book Surprised By Hope. I close the Skycast by talking about God’s grace and how the modern manifestation of the church seems to be lacking in grace to one another and those who are not like us. This is a serious, serious problem. The podcast opens with a quote from the book The Justification of God (or free here). by PT Forsyth which I believe serves as a great segue into my discussion of the contents of Revelation 1:9-21. This episode is about 34 minutes long. Thanks for stopping by. Tell your friends about the Rain and Snow Skycast. Thanks, and may God bless you as you search His Scripture, jerry
Listen here: Resurrected Jesus among the Churches
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You can listen to the previous episode of the Rain and Snow Skycast, The unveiling of Jesus to the Church, here:
Jesus Describes the Ideal Church
Genesis 6, Luke 7
I’d like to focus on Luke 7 today, but I will begin by pointing you to a great commentary on Genesis 6. Genesis 6 twice describes how God saw the earth and what it had become and what man had made it. Not only does the curse in Genesis 3 lead us to chapter 5 where death becomes the standard bearer for all of life, but it also leads us to chapter 6 where twice we read some variation of this: The earth was a wicked, terrible, horrifying place to be. Man didn’t learn from all the death he saw in chapter 5 and change his ways. Instead, he grew more and more sinful, more and more wicked, more and more vile. (See verses 5 & 11-12). For a superb commentary on this chapter, I suggest you watch the movie The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s Joker is, beyond doubt, the personification of Genesis 6. Genesis 6 is a story demonstrating that man is the problem. His heart has grown dark. If death is the King of an empire, sin has become his vassal; man has become his serf.
“Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Luke 7:22)
Jesus said, and it is recorded in what we call Luke 5:31, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In this verse Jesus tells us what an ideal church looks like. In chapter 7 he begins to show us what an ideal church looks like. It is certainly not what we think an ideal church looks like. I imagine it is not anything like what those who heard him preach thought it looked like either. Who wants a church full of the outcasts and the devil’s rejects? You know how it is, people are used and abused by the devil, he promises to be their friend and when he is done destroying their lives—well, he is done with them. Then whatever is left of them is on display for all the world to see.
I think the reason Jesus doesn’t say something like, “I came to save everyone,” (even if it is implied) is twofold. First, the powerful, rich, and righteous really need no saving, do they? They are self-sufficient, self-reliant. They can save themselves and don’t need any help even if they do need help. Second, the poor, the sick, the weak, the broken—well, these are the ones who know they need help. I like William Willimon’s words…well, I’ll just let him tell you in his own words as he comments on Luke 10 and the parable of the good Samaritan:
“Like most of Scripture, the story of the man in the ditch is a story about God before it is a story about us, about the oddness of our salvation in Christ. I’ve used this interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan before, and I can tell you that my congregation didn’t like it. They like stories about themselves more than they like to hear stories about God. They are resourceful, educated, gifted people who don’t like to be cast in the role of the beaten poor man in the ditch. They would rather be the anything-but-poor Samaritan who does something nice for the less fortunate among us. In other words, they don’t like to admit that just possibly they need to be saved.
“I’m saying that more difficult even than reaching out to the victim in the ditch (which is hard enough for us) is coming to conceive of yourself as the victim, learning to live as if your one last hope is the Savior whom you tend to despise.
“When Jesus was criticized for the company he kept at table, he was clear that he saves only the abandoned and the dying…Jesus reacts to our situation in the ditch, not with more rules and regulations, not with harsh condemnation, but with a sort of love that can only be called reckless, extravagant, prodigal. There is, dare I say it, a kind of promiscuous love in his extroverted love.” (Who Will Be Saved?, 10-11)
Do we recognize ourselves as the people in the ditch? Those are the ones Jesus came to save.
So Jesus shows us what a church looks like, at least an ideal church. It consists of centurions—those powerful soldiers, Gentiles—who have faith; it’s full of grieving widows whose tears only Jesus has the courage to wipe away and the authority to command a halt to; it’s full of doubters like John the Baptizer who sometimes have second thoughts but won’t stumble; and it’s full of ‘sinful’ women who weep and are thought with no better words than ‘if he knew what kind of woman that was.’ These people Jesus can command to halt their tears (widow) and encourage their tears to flow freely (‘sinful woman’). He can pronounce the doubters (John) blessed who do not stumble and the faith-full (centurion) as models for the rest of us. (Oh, and don’t forget about the children Jesus has singing and dancing. I wonder if there is room for them?)
I think they recognized it too. Consider what they said, “A great prophet has appeared among us. God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:16). Oh, I have heard this before haven’t I? “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hands of Egyptians and to bring them up…” (Exodus 3:7-8).
This Jesus—I have asked before—what sort of person is he who welcomes in such riff-raff? Won’t they mess up our church? Won’t they break things and get stains on the carpet? What of these blind who see, what if they try to get us seeing the way Jesus has them seeing? What if the deaf try to get us hearing the way Jesus has them hearing? What if the lame try to get us walking the way Jesus has them walking? What if the poor try to make us as rich as Jesus made them? What if the dead try to get us living the way Jesus has them living? “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumbled on account of me.” And stumbling over Jesus, this Jesus who welcomes into his embrace these kind of people, is quite the possibility and rather simple to do.
But blessed! This is his ideal church. A motley collection of people whom God came down to rescue, whom he brought up out of Egypt, whom he has set free. The ideal church; one that even I can belong to.
This sermon is part 12 in the 14 part series tracing the grand story of God’s redemptive work through Christ. In this sermon, I look at the phenomenon called the church. In a very broad survey of Acts 2 I sketch three ideas about the church: the Church as God’s gift to us, the Church as Spirit driven and inhabited, and the Church as focused on Jesus alone. I emphasize the multi-cultural aspect of the church and conclude with an invitation.
Download here: The Church, Acts 2
Or listen online using the inline player below
Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People
Part 3: Exodus 7-12 (a), Freedom For God’s People
Part 4: Exodus 7-12 (b), Freedom For God’s People, b
Part 5: 2 Samuel 5-7, The King
Part 6: Isaiah 60-66, The New Heavens and New Earth
Part 7: Jeremiah 31, The New Covenant
Part 8: Matthew 1, Jesus pt 1
Part 9: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 2
Part 10: Mark 15, Jesus, pt 3
Part 11: John 20, Jesus, pt 4
Part 12: Acts 2, The Church
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
Here’s a lengthy, but necessary quote from my friend PT Forsyth. Every time I read something of his, I am astounded at his prescience (not to mention his depth of thought!) Here he is lamenting the church not only losing focus on the centrality of Christ’s cross and its vital connection to our salvation, but also I believe he is chiding those who purposely misrepresent the work of Christ at Calvary as a mere afterthought or aside. Instead, Forsyth rightly notes that the work of Christ is central, crucial, and second to nothing else he did.
“It has been asked concerning Christ, Was His will to die one with His will to save? Is there any doubt about the answer the Church has given to that question from first to last? The salvation has always been attached to Christ’s death, from New Testament days downward…If Christ’s atoning death is not the central effect of His person, and the central thing to our faith, if that notion of atonement has overlaid Christ’s real gospel, how has the whole Church come totally to misread its creator, and to miss what for Him was central? There has surely been some gigantic bungling on the Church’s part, some almost fatuous misconception of its Lord, a blunder whose long life and immense moral effect is quite unintelligible. An error of that kind is no misprint but a flaw. It is not mistake but heresy. And, as it concerns the centre and nature of faith, it must destroy any belief in the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit—which, however, is not a very lively faith among those whose challenge here occupies us….The church has done its Lord many a wrong, but none so grave as this, to have determinedly perverted His legacy, and grieved His spirit in regard to the central object of His mission on earth. It has often travestied His methods, misconstrued points of His teaching, and even compromised His principles; but these things have been done against its best conscience and its holiest spirits. These errors have passed, and been reformed, and renounced. But this perversion I speak of, if perversion it be, is greater than these, less culpable possibly, but even greater as perversion. For it has been the misrepresentation of Christ’s central gospel by the Church’s best and wisest. It has been a more total and venerable perversion than even the papacy. For even had all such passing ills and historic abuses been cured, this travesty of Christ’s central intent would still have gone on, and gone on with all the force lent by a purified Church, and all the spell of saintliness to wing the central lie. If the cross was but little to Christ in comparison with His real work, if it was a mere by-produced of His mission, a mere appendix to it and not its purpose, a mere calamity that befell it and not its consummation; and if His church has yet made it central, seminal, creative, and submersive of all else, then the enemies who swore Christ’s life away did Him no such bad turn as the train of disciples whose stupidity has belied Him over the whole world for all time. And those browbeaters who would let Him say nothing did His cause less harm than those apostles who made Him say what He did not mean.” –PT Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, 94-98
Soli Deo Gloria!
Isaiah 3:1-4:1 For, behold, the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; (2) the mighty man, and the man of war; the judge, and the prophet, and the diviner, and the elder; (3) the captain of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counsellor, and the expert artificer, and the skilful enchanter. (4) And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. (5) And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor: the child shall behave himself proudly against the old man, and the base against the honorable. (6) When a man shall take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand; (7) in that day shall he lift up his voice, saying, I will not be a healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: ye shall not make me ruler of the people. (8) For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen; because their tongue and their doings are against Jehovah, to provoke the eyes of his glory. (9) The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have done evil unto themselves. (10) Say ye of the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. (11) Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for what his hands have done shall be done unto him. (12) As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they that lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. (13) Jehovah standeth up to contend, and standeth to judge the peoples. (14) Jehovah will enter into judgment with the elders of his people, and the princes thereof: It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses: (15) what mean ye that ye crush my people, and grind the face of the poor? saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts. (16) Moreover Jehovah said, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet; (17) therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Jehovah will lay bare their secret parts. (18) In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, and the cauls, and the crescents; (19) the pendants, and the bracelets, and the mufflers; (20) the headtires, and the ankle chains, and the sashes, and the perfume-boxes, and the amulets; (21) the rings, and the nose-jewels; (22) the festival robes, and the mantles, and the shawls, and the satchels; (23) the hand-mirrors, and the fine linen, and the turbans, and the veils. (24) And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a robe, a girding of sackcloth; branding instead of beauty. (25) Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. (26) And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she shall be desolate and sit upon the ground. (4:1) And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name; take thou away our reproach.
When I finished last week, the challenge was: In whom are you placing your trust? Those were the words the prophet ended with, and I thought it was appropriate not to stray too far from his point: In whom have we placed our trust? I am fairly confident that the prophet now intends to draw out some meaning from that as he sort of stretches us out and shows us a little more of what is coming, what is happening, what God is planning for his people.
A while back I read a short book by a Catholic priest who had served time in a Soviet work camp. The book is called He Leadeth Me. It is a fabulous little book. In the book, he asks his readers to consider deeply the implications of our faith in the rather fragile things of this earth:
That same lesson each of us must learn, difficult or not. How easy it is, in times of ease, for us to become dependent on our routines, on the established order of our day-to-day existence, to carry us along. We begin to take things for granted, to rely on ourselves and on our own resources, to ‘settle in’ in this world and look to it for our support. We all too easily come to equate being comfortable with a sense of our well-being, to see our comfort solely in the sense of being comfortable. Friends and possessions surround us, one day is followed by the next, good health and happiness for the most part are ours. We don’t have to desire much of the things of this world-to be enamored of the riches, for example, or greedy or avaricious-in order to have gained this sense of comfort and well-being, to trust in them as our support-and to take God for granted. It is the status quo that we rely on, that carries us from day to day, and somehow we begin to lose sight of the fact that under all these things and behind all these things it is God who supports and sustains us. We go along, taking for granted that tomorrow will be very much like today, comfortable in the world we have created for ourselves, secure in the established order we have learned to live with, however imperfect it may be, and give little thought to God at all.-He Leadeth Me, Walter Ciszek, 21
What are we to do? Here the Lord God made it perfectly clear to the people of Judah that he was going to remove every last vestige of strength from among them. There would be nothing left: A complete reversal of all human wisdom, strength, power, and wealth. All of it would be removed.
All those people so typically counted on to lead and provide and guide and direct and encourage and strengthen and reveal: Gone. No more supplies. No more support. No more food. No more water. No more heroes. No more warriors. No more judges. No more prophets. No more elders. No more captains. Not one. They would all be removed. What will become of you and me when the Lord removes all visible means of support? What will we do? How will we survive?
Consider this passage from Matthew 26:
47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
50Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
55At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
I suppose there are not a few things we could say about these verse. I am sure that commentators and scholars have done their best to foul it up by dissecting paragraphs, deconstructing sentences, and parsing verbs and declining nouns. Aside from all that, there’s one thing that has caught my eye over and over again every time I read this paragraph. It’s that verse 55. I’ll quote it again:
55At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me.
At the heart of this sentence by Jesus is this implication: “I was at my most dangerous when I sat in the temple courts teaching and there you didn’t arrest me. Now, here I am in a garden, at night, praying and you arrest me?”
Sure, it probably means other things too. But in that short statement is what drives me crazy: The most dangerous thing Jesus did was teach people openly in the temple courts, and yet those in authority were too simple to arrest him there because they didn’t see the danger of his words. They didn’t need torches, clubs and swords. Maybe a muzzle, but certainly not swords.
Isn’t that amazing, that the greatest weapon Jesus wielded was his voice; his teaching? Isn’t it sad that the church thinks it needs something more than His voice?
Soli Deo Gloria!
For quite a while now I have been reading a book by Mark Labberton called The Dangerous Act of Worship. It has been a hard read because I had a few other projects going at the same time. I am just about finished wit it now and I came across this section that I found particularly insightful.
The poverty of imagination in the body of Christ causes many to continue suffering in the world. That poverty is not just in others, but also in me.
The aspect of the ‘problem of evil’ that I struggle with most is not the generalized suffering of the innocent, as big as that issue is. Rather, for me it is this conundrum: if God is all-powerful and all-good, why are God’s people so unchanged? This issue is worthy of far longer treatment than I can give it here, but I mention it to express the seriousness and difficulty of the church being God’s agent of justice and mercy in the world when we show need of such transformation ourselves.
Perhaps that is the point. God’s work of re-creating all things, especially the church, is a necessary and difficult work. It’s beyond my imagination. Scripture tells us that God in Christ has done on the cross what is the most decisive action necessary to secure that transformation. However, it is a work that goes on in God’s people–and we see just how virulent, resistant and free we are in rejecting God’s work in our lives. If this is true among those in whom Christ dwells by the power of the Holy Spirit and who now dwell in Christ in God, then let’s abandon any naivete about what it will take to live and do the work of justice in this world.
We are not called to be idealists about the church. That’s fantasy, not sanctified imagination. That’s a false, distorted, immature imagination. Instead we are to practice hope for the church. We cannot say, ‘Look at Christ, not the church,” when Jesus says, “I want people to look at you and see me. The family of God’s people is neither a utopian society nor a negligible witness. Again, this is what makes the church a living school within the heart of God: a place to vigorously, profoundly and slowly grow into the likeness of Jesus as we seek (and don’t seek) God, as we love (and don’t love) each other, as we do (and don’t do) justice in the world. God is in the mess that is the church, and the mess that is the church is in God.” –156-157
This is probably the best four paragraphs I have read in the entire book. I think these paragraphs alone make the price of the book worthwhile. You might not agree with everything Labberton writes, but it is hard to escape the truth of what he is saying here. The church is not place of pristine fairy tales or utopian fantasy. The church is real. And loved. And it is the church that God calls to be His witness in this broken world. Within this witness is evidence of God’s grace: If God can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt church then surely he can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt world.
I appreciate these words from Labberton very much.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I have been noting in some of these posts that there is an assault being mounted by the unrighteous of this world against Christ. But it’s more than a mere assault (which I’m certain Christ will withstand) and more like an evangelistic crusade. Atheists are doing it, consider this quote by Richard Dawkins which I nipped from another website:
“If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down… Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature. Among the more effective immunological devices is a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan.” (From The God Delusion at http://michaelkrahn.com/blog/richard-dawkins/)
Even atheists are recruiting.
Well, homosexuals are recruiting too. This is from a website called Out of Context (http://www.outofcontext.us/index.htm). The author, John Rumple, wrote this in a devotional he titled “God Made Me Gay.”
- Right now, gay people know what it’s like to live as the “unclean” and unlovable outsiders, and can therefore reach out to others in society who are also in this position.
- Two people of the same sex share a unique and special bond, often living as equals in Christ in a way that counters the patriarchal, domineering relationships still fostered by some versions of Christianity.
- Gay people often have gifts and sensitivities that others do not (this may stereotype to some extent, but stereotypes usually contain some truth!).
- Gay people appreciate the ironies of life, the irreconcilable complexities, and thus learn to appreciate God’s mysterious greatness and the constant need for a humble faith.
- Gay people live as counters to the idolization of one type of person (has your church ever made you feel that you weren’t “acceptable” until you looked, talked, and acted like a straight person living in the 1950s?).
- Gay people possess perspectives, insights, and wisdom that can only come from their unique experience of life in this world.
Is this last sentence for real? So, the gist of this is simple: If you want to have special insights, perspectives, live outside the 1950’s (I would counter that homsexuals are living in the pre-dawn days of Sodom and Gomorrah), and all this other stuff, then all one has to do is become gay. And, certainly, none of us non-gay people have any idea what it’s like to be ‘unclean’ because Christ came down and saved us while we were pristine and none of us have any idea what it means to struggle with sin in our lives because we have already been made perfect! The best way, he seems to be saying, to understand the things of this world and of God, is by living in a wholly sinful, physically relationship with another man. And those who do not, or object, are abusers, malcontents, and serious misusers of the Scripture! Really? Is this meant to be taken as credible scholarship and insight into the Holy Word of God??
I’ll take my risks that that perspective is one I don’t need or desire.
So he’s recruting too. He wants, like so many other homosexuals, full inclusion in all aspects of life and, worse, the church and will be profoundly unhappy until all churches follow the likes of certain other denominations that have made homosexuality a part of their creed.
Is it really necessary to become a homsexual in order to be a sensitive man (or do we want that sort of sensitivity?)? But even so, it’s that last sentence that really got to me: Gay people possess perspectives, insights, and wisdom that can only come from their unique experience of life in this world. If that is not a recruiting phrase, nothing is, because who wants to be known as un-insightful, unwise (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom), and un-perspectivized (I made that word up)?
But, so that no one thinks I invented this, let’s hear from the apostle:
9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The only way this verse does not mean what it says is if it is relativized to be applicable to only those Paul wrote to in Corinth.
I don’t personally know anyone who says that homsexuals should be beaten or abused or ridiculed or taunted or treated as second class citizens. And the States of this United States will, sadly, continue to take rights away from folks in order to make new rights for others. I can vote to change it but not much else.
But the Church? The Scripture? The Scripture is not ours to manipulate to our ends and the church, the Body of Christ, of which Christ Jesus Himself is the Head, is not ours to contaminate. And, worse, using Scripture to justify something God has explicitely decreed sinful, is, well, sinful. This is wrong, and this fella who is trying desparately to bring about, in his own words, ‘the full inclusion of gay people into the Body of Christ, is wrong for suggesting it. He wants to ‘. . . to end the abuse of gay people by conservative Christians though education, dialogue, and building community in Christ.’ But what he does not understand from the Scripture he claims to adore is that there is no fellowship between righteousness and unrighteousness, light and darkness, good and evil. He mistakes protecting and maintaining the purity of the church for ‘abuse’.
I’ll say it this way: There can be no community of Christ where Scripture is distorted and taken, by their own admission, ‘out of context’, where sin is tolerated, advocated, and practiced, and where such unrepentant folks seek to do away with Christ’s Cross by refusing to repent of sin and bring their lives into full submission to Christ Jesus.
Paul said it: There is no fellowship between Christ and Belial. Now, if the apostle would not allow Christians to marry pagans in a heterosexual context, what on earth would possess someone to think Paul would tolerate homsexual marriage or even relationships? (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) No. There can be no fellowship, no Christian community, where this sort of activity is tolerated and promoted as something from God. There will be no ‘community of Christ’ consisting of the righteous and the unrighteous. And if it does happen: It will not be of God’s ordaining, nor will it have his blessing. It’s Christ’s church. Dare we challenge Him?
This is a matter Scripture and it’s sufficiency and interpretation. My issue here is not with the author of ‘out of context’ as a person, but with his attempt to use Scripture to justify a wholly unjustifiable position. This is not bashing, or abuse. This is the maintaining and protecting of the Church, the Word of God, and the sanctity of Marriage.
30So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34″Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” 35Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Michael Horton wrote in his essay Christless Christianity, “The Greeks love wisdom, so show them a Jesus who is smarter at solving the conundrums of daily living and the church will throng with supporters. Jews love signs and wonders, so tell people that Jesus can help them having their best life now, or bring in the kingdom of glory, or drive out the Romans and prove their integrity before the pagans, and Jesus will be laureled with praise. But proclaim Christ as the Suffering Servant who laid down his life and took it back up again, and everybody wonders who changed the subject. The Church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various ‘missions’ to save the world to Christ’s mission that has already accomplished redemption.”
He also wrote, “If the message that the church proclaims makes sense without conversion; if it does not offend even lifelong believers from time to time, so that they too need to die more to themselves and life more to Christ, then it is not the gospel. When Christ is talked about, a lot of things can happen, none of which necessarily has anything to do with his doing, dying, rising, reigning, and return. When Christ is proclaimed is in His saving office, the church becomes a theater of death and resurrection, leading to genuine lives of witness, love, fellowship, community, and service—yet always requiring forgiveness and therefore always coming back to the good news concerning Christ.” (Issue: “Christless Christianity” May/June Vol. 16 No. 3 2007 Page, 14)
They want signs. Many today want signs too. I have been writing about such folks for a few days now. Church buildings are filled with people who are astounded at the fancy building where they sings songs and go to McD— in the front lobby after the worship. Card sliders collect the offering on Sundays as if people were standing in line at Giant E—. Before you know it, we will be able to have virtual communion where we only imagine eating the loaf and drinking the cup. It’s a funny thing, in an ironic, terrifying sort of way, what the church has become. It’s not that all these modernizations are necessarily evil. It is that they signify a greater change in the church which is the lack of theological depth and appreciation for the things of God. I happen to be familiar with a congregation that is currently in the process of what appears to be a major expansion of their building. I also happen to know that this congregation does not have a baptistery and does not serve communion except in a private out of-the-view-of-everyone-room. I don’t know if there are any crosses inside or not. A new building is not evil; a shortened Gospel is. And in my estimation there is a correlation between the two.
Realistically speaking, we are much like the people in this story. They forgot that it was God who provided bread (manna) for them, not Moses; we have forgotten that is was Jesus who died for us, not some super preacher.
Jesus here says that these people did not recognize one very important aspect of life: It was God who provided for them and not Moses. They placed far too much value on Moses because they did not know the ultimate source of their own sustenance. If they knew where the manna came from, or rather who it came from, they would not be so hung up on Moses. As it was, however, they were hung up on Moses. Notice what else Jesus says: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. There is a better source of nourishment that gives life not just to a few people scattered around Israel, but to the entire world. I wonder if we have such a grand conception of the Messiah?
Look, people today are no different: “Sir, from now on give us this bread.” Just like the woman at the well, “Sir, from now on give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming back here to draw water.” The difference is that she got it and these ones did not. She won’t go thirsty; they won’t go hungry. It’s all the same meaning: Jesus provides what this world cannot which is a satisfaction beyond this earthly life. Believing in Jesus results in hunger pangs abated, thirst slaked, and the death sentence rescinded. And what can stop Jesus’ work? Nothing. He says, all that the Father gives him he will never drive away. He will lose none of those whom God has given him. He will raise them up at the last day. I know that not too many Restoration Church type of people believe in the doctrine of eternal security, but here in John 6 a pretty good case can be made that one you are saved, there is nothing anyone or anything can do to snatch you from Jesus. I like that idea much better than the idea that somehow I can be lost after being saved.
Finally Jesus says that it is the Father’s will that everyone who looks to the sun and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. Sadly, not everyone will look to him, even fewer will believe in him, and I image that what Jesus said about the way being straight and narrow is true: Even fewer will be raised up at the last day. But for all those who hope and believe and put their faith in Jesus, there is this promise: Eternal life. It is a sad, sad reality that some will never look to Jesus. There is security with him, unrest without him. So what I cannot figure out is why more churches are not preaching this Jesus who saves. Why are so many preaching things that are bound not to last, things that cannot save, things that are simply, irredeemably, meaningless for the human condition? Jesus said that the will of God is that everyone look to Jesus for salvation. The work of God (v 29) is to believe in the One God has sent; to recognize who gives life and who does not. Jesus said: Even the mighty Moses is not the giver of something so simply as daily bread. Now if Moses could not do that, how can any other human give bread for eternity?
My hope is that those who read these words will look to Jesus. We who preach the Gospel must stay on task and preach Jesus. The church must stay on task and demand that their preachers preach Jesus Christ Crucified. There is no excuse for not doing so; and there is no substitute for Jesus. God has given one Loaf to all of humanity. His Name is Jesus.
I hope this 2 day of 90 is Blessed for you and yours in Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
31″The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
Ours is a world that is dominated by many gods. Ours is a world that is filled to the brim with theologies of these gods. These gods have their apologists, their theologians, their exegetes. These gods have their preachers and teachers and singers and dancers. These gods have their bibles and their bible colleges and their PhD professors. These gods have their own churches. The difference between our world and the world of, say, the apostle Paul is that he had to walk through Athens to get a glimpse of all these gods. The Athenians had them stacked and erected and perched all around for people to see; all they had to do was walk. Our world is much, much easier. I’d say, to an extent, that we are much closer to Laban from Jacob’s day whose daughter Rachel stole some of his ‘household gods.’ I don’t know really what that means: ‘household gods.’ But I’m guess it’s not as far removed from us as we might think. Laban kept them in the house; the Athenians perched them all around town; we do both.
Our gods are all over: we perch them in town squares and call them memorials or nativities. We line them up on shelves in our living rooms so that visitors can see, smell, and touch them. We have their sermons preached to us nightly as we watch the television or listen to the radio or surf the internet. Sometimes we go out to the park and hold a collective worship service with others: cheering, clapping, hooting, participating in responsive readings, and singing their songs of praise and adoration. The gods have come down among us, we say. We invite them in for dinner or we share with them, or make an offering to them, through Visa and Master Card or Amex or Discover. Truly we are a remarkably religious society. And yet, we are profoundly empty, hollow, and virtually meaningless.
We can make a religion (or a god) out of anything. It really doesn’t even require much thought or effort. I visited a web page yesterday and listened to an old man prattle on for about 15 minutes (the entire video was nearly 60 minutes long!) about the joys, benefits, intellectually satisfying, and benevolent nature of secular humanism. His stated purpose is to prove that one can live this way, with joy, intelligence, benevolence, quite apart from any religion. The clear point he is making, however, is that these can be had quite apart from Christianity. As I watched, I actually felt sorry for that man. He who deigned to feel sorry for us, who obfuscated the reality of Christian faith and human centered religion, and who set-up himself and his ilk as the martyrs in this nation—‘the poor, persecuted, secular humanists’—was a actually a pathetic lump of flesh with no hope beyond his secular, humanist, fleshly life. He was hopeless despite his efforts to remain hopeful. His means would be his end. For him, there was no sacrifice left. God have mercy.
But John here makes the point that we needed outside help. His point is that we cannot for a moment save ourselves by or in our flesh. That is why Someone was sent ‘from above.’ And John further demonstrates this One’s superiority by stating that He is Above All. This leaves no room for any other. The One (and this is more than a neuter marker of identity; it is also a singular marker as in ‘One and Only’) from above is above all. David Wells notes, “There is nothing in the modern world that is a match for the power of God and nothing in the modern culture which diminishes our understanding of the greatness of Christ” (Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 11).
But it’s worse. Wells also notes that the place once held by God in this world has been replaced by human beings: “Meaning and morality, which only God could give, were taken to be purely human accomplishments; but in promising what only God could do, the Enlightenment sowed the seeds of its own downfall. It promised too much. It promised, in fact, that all human problems could be solved by purely natural means—and that, plainly, rested on false assumptions. It both underestimated the magnitude of the problems and overestimated the capacity of human nature to remedy them” (Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 31). Sadly, there are prophets of human nature still convinced that we no longer need outside interference or intervention. We don’t need God, God the Holy and True, to do anything—if He even exists—or intervene in any way. We have created gods in our own image, they are at our beck and call, we worship them, they serve us; it’s a very convenient relationship.
But the fact that God did in fact intervene in history proves to us that this premise is fallacious. In fact, we cannot solve our own problems. Indeed, the gods we have created are indifferent and incapable of solving our problems. And, ironically, we have identified not the problems which need solved, but the symptoms of the problem. The problem is that we are sinners, corrupt, degenerate, depraved. We are in a condition unsuited for saving anything because everything we touch falls to pieces. God knows this and thus He sent His One and Only Son. And this One from above, who is above all (31 two times), also testifies as to what He has seen and heard—and no one accepts him. We are told later the reason we don’t accept him is that we don’t want to hear the truth; we’d rather believe the lie. But the One from Above, who is above all, who testifies to what He has seen and heard, speaks, John tells us, ‘the very words of God.’ That is, we have God’s testimony about us, to us, for us. God informs us of our position and our needs. Apart from His opinion and testimony we can only rely upon ourselves and history has shown that man is thoroughly incapable of making sound judgments about anything.
So we learn: The Father Loves the Son and has placed all things in His hands. This means all things and nothing is outside of his control. This means that secular humanism cannot save us. The enlightenment cannot save us. Politicians cannot save us—no matter how many promises they make. Money and technology cannot save us. (As a sidenote, Wells insightfully notes, “Along the way, however, we have come to think that happiness is unattainable and unimaginable in the absence of comfort and affluence. The means to reach this end—capitalism and technology—have, in the absence of serious engagement with the truth of God and the God of that truth, become themselves the final ends of life”, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 47.) It also also means that this world is still under the Sovereign control of the Son. Paul said later, “All things hold together in Him.” We need this continued Providence. We need this continued guidance. We need His constant intervention. We need the ‘whole world in his hands.’ As John writes, “The one who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” We certify God’s truthfulness because we accept his assessment of our situation and His remedy.
The final end? There is only One Savior: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” I need not say anything about this because it says all that needs to be said. There is simply no hope outside of Christ. I am here today, in this meditation, making the appeal to all who read these words: Return to Christ. Surrender to Him. Don’t you understand that apart from Christ there is only death, decay and decadence? Don’t you understand that those outside of Christ are already succumbing to the wrath of God which ‘remains on’ them? I make this appeal to the church and to the Christians who claim Christ: Return to the Way of Christ. Banish from your midst all the buying and selling and living and pursuing the empty gods of this world. If Jesus is in fact Above All Things, and in fact Everything has been placed in His hands, and in fact there is no other way to eternal life but through the Son, then isn’t it time for the church to start believing it?
I heard someone say recently, in a sermon, that the church has always been good at orthodoxy and poor at orthopraxy. In other words, we believe the right things but do not do the right things. I disagree. I think the reason we don’t do the right things is precisely because don’t know and believe the right things. It seems to me, I say so humbly, that it is high time for the Church to renounce its ways and one again Lift Jesus High. In my humble opinion, when Jesus has again been elevated in the church, then the church will do the right things. Until then, I submit, the church will continue to be inundated and overwhelmed by wrong things—things that do not have the least bit to do with salvation through Christ alone and everything to do with exalting the god we call ‘the American Christian.’ Jesus is the Way. The Only Way. He is Above All.