May 27, 2020 – The Tower of Babel, a World Divided- Pentecost, God’s People United- Genesis 9:1-6, 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-24

tower of babel

 

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Genesis 9:1-6 (ESV)

When God made the covenant with Noah when the flood waters had cleared, God had intended for Noah’s descendants to multiply and scatter all over the earth.  However, humans, in their disobedience, had other plans.  Rather than glorify God and do what He wanted, humans decided to build a monument to themselves and their own power. Instead of spreading out, people decided that they would build a tower and a city.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.  Genesis 11:1-9 (ESV)

God did not want all of human society concentrated into one big city with one language and one culture.  God wanted people to be diverse, to have variety, to have different languages and customs. There is a saying that, “good fences make good neighbors.”  While it is good to acknowledge our common humanity, and to respect each other, as God’s children and as inhabitants of the earth, it is also good that humanity has variety and boundaries.  When governance and culture becomes too centralized and too many people are crowded into a limited space, scarcity, famine and diseases take up residence, and infighting and chaos rule.   So God intervened so that people would spread out and live in smaller tribes.

When Jesus came to earth, He did not come as a political or military leader, but as the Author of life, the King of creation.  He did not come to unite nations, or to bring families together (if anything, as He said, He came to bring division- see Luke 12:51-53.) He comes to judge the living and the dead- those who belong to Him and those who do not.

There is unity among those who have their life in Christ, regardless of biological family connections, regardless of culture, color, language or citizenship in a worldly nation. The appearance of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost illustrates that Jesus came to earth for all of humanity regardless of the earthly boundaries that separate us.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. Acts 2:1-24 (ESV)

Throughout world history – from the building of the Tower of Babel, and God’s scattering of the builders, forward- there have been multitudes of cultures and languages and nations. While we share common heritage with the entire human family, we only have true unity in the Body of Christ.  Jesus paid the penalty for the reckoning we deserve in His life blood.  No matter our language, or our nationality, or our color, or our culture, life and salvation are gifts to us.  By the grace of God, by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross alone, we have life in His name.

 

May 21, 2020- Jesus Ascends to Heaven-Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11

jesus-ascends

 

Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:44-53 (ESV)

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)

He ascended in to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father- as we confess in the Apostle’s Creed.  But why did Jesus have to ascend to the Father?  What does this mean for what we believe?

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension give us the confidence that He is who He says He is, that we will be given immortal bodies  and that we will be with Him at the end of days.

Jesus gives his disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit (who will descend upon them at Pentecost.)

Jesus does not give the disciples an answer regarding restoring the kingdom of Israel.  Many of Jesus’ followers still saw Him as being a military or political leader, so it seemed logical for them to ask if He was going to free Israel from the Roman occupation.

Jesus did not come to free us from oppressive temporal governments.  He did not come to display military might or political power.  He came to ransom the human race from the curse of the garden, the curse of death that hangs over all of humanity.  He came to earth to live among us, and to pay the penalty of death that we deserved.

There were witnesses who saw Jesus ascend to heaven, witnesses who saw and believed because they saw Jesus being brought back to His Father.

Jesus is the first fruits of those who sleep. He put death to death.  He is faithful, and He is coming back for us.

May 20, 2020 God Has Done It, Boasting Is Excluded, Isaiah 48:1-11, Romans 3:21-28

 

redeemer

Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel,and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right.

For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel; the Lord of hosts is his name.

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them;then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass,I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

“You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.
They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened.
For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another. Isaiah 48:1-11 (ESV)

When God sent the Old Testament prophets, He did so because His people were getting off track.  God never sent prophets to tell people how fantastic they were, or to have a nice day. God sent prophets to warn people of the consequences of continuing to break His Law.

It’s human nature for us to take credit for things that aren’t necessarily due to our own merit or effort.  A beautiful child is a gift from God rather than an achievement of her parents. Even our efforts to pass a class or earn a living are gifts from God.  It is only in and through Him that we can accomplish anything at all. (Acts 17:28)

Isaiah tells the people of Israel that their redeemer was coming- God Himself was coming to redeem them, so they couldn’t take credit for it or attribute salvation to themselves or to their idols.

We break God’s Law just as the people of Israel did.  We may call ourselves Christian, but how often do we call ourselves God’s people without acting like God’s people?

The truth is that behavior modification is not sanctification.  To a degree we can control what we say or do, but we cannot control the condition of our own minds and hearts.  The Holy Spirit must transform our hearts and minds to conform to God’s will, even as we are continually subject to the temptation of Satan, the world, and our own sinful natures.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:21-28 (ESV)

The apostle Paul expands upon the teaching of Isaiah.  Paul is talking to the greater Kingdom of God – Jews and Gentiles- and he reminds us that regardless of our heritage we are justified by faith in Jesus alone.

We are continually faced with trials and suffering and the process of being refined.  Some may say that the reason we suffer is so we learn to trust God more fully.  Perhaps it is only God’s prerogative to decide what sort of training and refining we need to prepare us for our roles in His kingdom.

Paul reminds us boasting is excluded- that we cannot take credit for the gifts of God.  Rather we thank Him for His grace, His mercy, His kindness toward us, that He would grant us the gift of faith and that by His wounds, we are healed.

Lord, help us to trust You, to thank You, and to love You.

May 13, 2020- Joy In What God Has Given Us to Do- Ecclesiastes 3:9-15

various colorful threads hanging on rail in workshop

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 (ESV)

The book of Ecclesiastes has traditionally been attributed to Solomon, the son of King David.  Upon ascending David’s throne, Solomon asked God for wisdom, and God granted him wisdom, more so than any man (save Jesus) who has lived before or since.  At the end of his life it is said he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes (which means “one who speaks openly to the congregation.” )

The work of life can be joyful as well as it can be exhausting or downright vexing. We are given different tasks during different seasons of life as well.  Teens and students may work exhausting schedules doing dirty or menial work for low pay, along with keeping up with classes and friends.  Young mothers may feel strapped between work and the demands of children and chores and schedules.  The middle aged and elderly may have to struggle to keep up with the demands of work within the context of personal health limitations and the needs of aging parents and loved ones.

We can’t admit to loving our vocations all of the time.  Sometimes we feel as if life is just one giant ratwheel spinning out of control with no way to get off of it or to change course. The Teacher (Solomon) of Ecclesiastes points this futility we see in life out quite often- “all is vanity, vanity and chasing after wind,” is a phrase repeated throughout this book.

Even amidst all his talk about vanity, the Teacher still points us back to God. He has made everything beautiful in His time. Even our vanity and seeming futility serves God’s purpose, even if we never understand it.

Everything is beautiful? Really?  Even all the evil that surrounds us? Even our own fatigue and apathy and rage? Is there anything beyond our hopelessness, frustration, and despair?

Burnout is a very real thing.  It can result from indulging in the very human tendency to believe we are the ones in charge (vanity and chasing after wind, anyone?) or from our own arrogance in thinking that the world will fall apart without our contribution to it. The sin of the Garden, after all, was the temptation and the desire to be as God.  Burnout is a wake up call to remind us that no matter what we do we are not God.

What God does lasts forever.  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Faith is trusting God’s plan even when we are exhausted, burned out, and at the end of ourselves.  Perhaps that is where God wants us to be, so that He can set our priorities, that He can lead us to rest and to joy in who we are, where we are and what we do.

Lord, help us to trust You that we are in the circumstances where You need us to be.  Forgive us for our doubt and relieve us of our fears.  Our times are in Your hands, let us be joyful and do good, and find pleasure in the work of our hands.

May 12, 2020 – The One Who Serves- Luke 22:24-30, Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Isaiah 53:4-6

one who serves

A dispute also arose among them, (Jesus’ disciples) as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he (Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,  and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,  that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30 (ESV)

Even today we are conditioned to see those in authority- the ones who make decisions and rule from the safe distance of their ivory towers as being “greater” than the people who do the physical work that makes the world function.  Jesus turns that idea on its head.

The leader is one who serves.  Sometimes a leader serves in a very public capacity, but often a leader serves in ways that aren’t glamorous or even readily visible.

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (ESV)

Jesus became what we once were- condemned to death. He took our punishment. He came down to earth to live among us, to be one of us, and ultimately to be cursed by God and hung on a tree.

Jesus, in whom all things were made, became the Suffering Servant, and lifted the curse of death for us, because we are not able to redeem ourselves.

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (ESV)

The idea of comparing ourselves to other people to determine who is “the greatest” is rather silly.  While competition is human nature, Jesus has done it all for us.  We are free to serve our neighbors through our vocations- the good work that God created for us to do.

In Christ we all have value, because He redeemed us.  The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22.)

So what does this say for the humility of humanity? It is a beautiful thing and pleasing to God when we do our daily work, when we regard others as better than ourselves, and when we aren’t afraid to come down from our ivory towers and get dirty.  We don’t earn brownie points or anything like that, it’s just that we are doing what God created us to do.

Jesus is the ultimate Servant. He is our King and our Redeemer.  We do fall into the temptation of categorizing ourselves and others based upon what we do (or what “they don’t do”) and we forget that Jesus has done it all for us.  There is nothing to earn and nothing to deserve.  There is no reason to compare and compete.

Lord, help us to follow you by serving others, and not concerning ourselves with “who is the greatest,” because we know You are.  Help us to live life in a way that brings glory to You as we live out our vocations and serve with joy.

May 10, 2020 – We Shall Be Changed, and the Death of Death- 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4

changed

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?” “O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.             1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (ESV)

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:8 (ESV)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

We shall be changed.  Into what?

Jesus has brought us from death to life. This is why we celebrate Easter. We trust in Jesus, that He has put death to death and that we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with Him.

There are times in our lives when it’s easy to forget the Easter hope and we forget that we have been changed when we were baptized into Christ, and that we will be changed yet again when He transforms us and gives us bodies that will never die. Either we get distracted by the cares and sorrows of this world, or we get preoccupied with the all the things we think are important (much as Jesus’ friend Martha did) and we miss the one thing – the One Who should be primary above all.

The implication to believing God’s promise of eternal life and transformation that were given to the prophet Isaiah, and again to the apostles Paul and John, and that Jesus Himself also promised, is that we have nothing to hold back, nothing to fear, nothing to put in a higher priority than God.  We belong to Him.  He cares for us and provides for us in this life as well as the next.

Both Isaiah and John remind us that God will take away our shame and mourning, and will dry our tears.  This is a wonderful encouragement for all of us, because we are all held captive to our own sin, shame and sorrow.  We have been changed, and we will be changed. Not because we earn it, not because we deserve it, but because Jesus gave His life so that we may be a part of His resurrection and His life.

The sting of death has been taken away. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing holding us back from the life that Jesus has already won for us.

Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You and to know that You will wipe away our tears and take away our sin and sorrow.  Forgive us when we forget that we belong to You and that through You we are forever changed.

 

May 7, 2020- The Resurrection of the Body- 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

triumph-of-christianity-detail-gustave-dore

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (ESV)

As we profess in the last two “I believe” statements of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The images we see in popular culture, such as in cartoons, when a character dies and its ethereal spirit rises to heaven, are not quite accurate.   We are both body and spirit, not just one or the other. When Jesus returns for His people we will be changed from an earthly, mortal creature with a disease and decay prone body,  to a heavenly, eternal creature with an eternal incorruptible body.  The old Adam, who was born of the dust, will die and be buried, but the new Adam will bear the image of the second Man- Jesus.

The apostle Paul uses the analogy of planting.  We plant a kernel of corn knowing that individual kernel will die, but that’s not the end of it.  It will be transformed and will become a corn plant that will have many ears full of kernels of corn.  Just one kernel of corn won’t feed a family or even one person, but many corn plants can feed many people.

When we look at the death of Jesus we understand that in His death, He sacrificed His body so that many would be freed from their sins.  Without His death our deaths are simply our physical bodies returning to the $8 and some change worth of essential elements they were comprised of.  But we who are baptized into Christ, and buried with Him will rise and be transformed.

There has to be death before life.  It seems sad that it must be that way.  But when we look at it from the standpoint that Jesus has conquered death for us, and that we share in resurrection life with Him, then it is no longer something to be afraid of.

Lord, help us to rely upon you alone, and keep us from being captive to fear.  Forgive us when we doubt You or we trust in mortal men or other things that cannot give life or save us.  You have defeated death and the grave for us.  You are here with us now, through the valleys of shadow, and You are returning for all of Your people soon.  Help us to live with the confidence that we belong to You.