July 8, 2019- Left Out? Or Invited In?Clean or Unclean? Acts 11:1-18, John 4:21-26, Matthew 27:51-54

clean and unclean

Clean and Unclean Foods in Mosaic Law: Leviticus 11

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:1-18 (ESV)

It is human nature for people to congregate in communities that share similar ethnic heritage, language and customs. It is also human nature to go beyond appreciating one’s own heritage and culture and language to assume that people belonging to different ethnicities, who are of a different culture, and who speak a different language are somehow “less than” those of us who share the same common ground.
In the early church many of the first Christian believers were ethnic and religious Jews. They followed the purity and dietary laws outlined in the first five books of the Bible- including circumcision, observing certain days and festivals, and avoiding forbidden or “unclean” foods.  An observant Jew would have no dealings with Gentiles, or people outside of the faith.

The laws of Moses were given by God to set His people apart from the rest of the world around them.  The Law also shows God’s people that it is impossible to keep the Law, and that in the end every person is completely reliant upon God’s grace.

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” John 4:21-26 (ESV)

In Jesus’ day the Samaritans were considered to be “unclean” and faithful Jews had no discourse with them.  It was also not typical for Jewish men to speak with women, especially non-Jewish women.  But Jesus changes everything!

In Jesus we are given God’s grace.  When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn, giving access to the Holy of Holies to all people.

At that moment (when Jesus gave up His spirit) the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54 (NIV)

Peter was having some struggle with the new reality that in Jesus it’s not about being an observant Jew (or anything else that we do) but about having faith in Jesus- in knowing that God comes to us and is with us.

God comes to humanity and redeems us.  Even people we might think to be “culturally inferior.”  Jesus’ love extends to even the “unlovable-”  the drug addicted, those who have committed crimes, those who society has written off.  Jesus came to the apostle Peter in this graphic vision to show him that no one is beyond the love of God.  The lesson is the same lesson God’s people need to hear today.  The person we might see as beyond help or a basket case is still a person that Jesus loved all the way to the cross.  May we extend His mercy and love to even the “unclean,” the “basket case,” and the “beyond hope,” for these are also people for whom Jesus died to save.  No one is beyond the love of God.

August 14, 2018 Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ-2 Peter 3:14-18

I am the way

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  2 Peter 3:14-18 (ESV)

We are traveling through the Sunday sermon series on Galatians, where the apostle Paul spells out what the good news of the Gospel is and what it isn’t. We learn through today’s text that the apostle Peter had similar conundrums with the people to whom he was teaching and writing.  They were hearing all kinds of silly things and they were getting confused by what some people were teaching. People are really good at getting the Gospel message wrong, especially in adding conditions to it.

Peter is leading us back to hold fast to the basic premises of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. This is the Gospel in its impossible, blessed, life-saving simplicity.

When we get away from the clear teaching of Scripture we depart from the Gospel. On one side of the road we can get into strict legalism in which we try to earn our way to God by keeping the Law and by having all sorts of regulations imposed upon us.  On the other we can fall into antinomianism (anti = against, nomian=law) and pretend there is no law at all and we just do whatever we want.  Both errors are dangerous because they lead us away from the truth.  Legalism takes our love of others away and makes us self-righteous, which never works out well.  No law at all leads to no discipline, no boundaries and nothing but self-indulgence, which also does not work out well.  Legalism and antinomianism are ditches on the opposite sides of the same road, but both errors lead us to take our focus off of Jesus and the saving Gospel truth and put our focus squarely on ourselves.

The best way for us to stay in the truth is to keep studying the Bible. What does the Bible say about our life in Christ?  What does the Bible say about this or that teaching? Peter exhorts us: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is important for us as Christians to pay attention to what we believe.  Jesus is always at the center of everything.  Our life is found in Him. The more that we read, study, pray and know the truth set out in Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the better equipped we are to hold fast to the truth when people try to teach us things in the name of God that aren’t the Gospel.

July 16, 2018 – Setting Our Minds on God-Mark 8:31-38

crucifix5And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:31-38 (ESV)

The apostle Peter gets it so right (Mark 8:27-30) then he slips up and gets it so wrong. He goes from rightly naming Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, to having Jesus call him Satan- all in less than a chapter of Scripture. Even the apostle Peter was a saint and a sinner at the same time.  No one wants to hear about persecution or suffering, especially when it comes to one who doesn’t deserve it. No one wants to contemplate losing his or her closest friend, especially in the way that Jesus had to die.  On the surface the thought of the Lord of Life having to die a cruel death seems counterintuitive. How can the Messiah save His people if he is rotting in a tomb?  And what is this business about rising again after three days?  No wonder Peter protested.

The necessity of and the reality of the crucifixion is hard to put one’s mind around. The closest we can get to understand the barbarity and sheer repugnance of crucifixion was historically accurately depicted in the movie The Passion of the Christ. The truth of the resurrection, which was not shown in that film, is even more difficult for us to get.  How can the dead be raised?  Better yet, how can death lead to life?

It is really easy to get tied up in the pursuit of things in this world. It is easy for us to get comfortable and to take confidence in our physical or mental ability, in our relationships with other humans, or in our possessions.  The reality is that while those are good gifts from God, they are not our reason for living.  All of those things, as good as they may be, are only temporary.  Only God is forever.

Taking up one’s cross is not a popular thing to do. It may cost us friends or family. It may cause others to think we are silly or uneducated. Our confession of Christ may cost us material wealth or temporal security.  It may cause us to go to prison or even be killed, which happens routinely in countries ruled by governments that are hostile to Christianity. For the sake of the Gospel we might be called to sacrifice for others in ways that have a heavy cost- materially, physically or emotionally.   Yet we know our life is with Jesus, no matter what our circumstances in this life might attest.  We cannot be ashamed of the Author of life.

We don’t take up our crosses to earn brownie points or add currency to a merit account. Nothing we do- or don’t do- can earn us salvation. It’s all on Jesus.  Even our faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We follow Jesus – by faith- because we were created for the good works He planned for us (Ephesians 2:10).

Are we setting our minds and hearts on the things of God? Do we have peace knowing God is in control? The Holy Spirit is always with us and in us. We can always pray for God to give us faith, strength, hope and His peace no matter what our circumstances.