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 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.

March 27, 2020 This Little Light, the Forever Party, and Jesus, Fulfillment of the Law

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Luke 8:16-18 (ESV)

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:13-20 (ESV)

In these “interesting times” it seems as if nothing is constant. Regulations change, activities change, essential functions are modified or limited, and it’s easy to get a feeling of “free fall” – that either nothing is permitted- or everything goes. We who believe in Jesus do have a constant in this ever-more bizarre world. We have Jesus, the Living Word, to cling to as our solid Rock and Foundation.

Jesus did not come into the world to make it a free for all. Jesus did not come into the world to create a locked down totalitarian state either. The Law that was handed down to Moses from God always remains the same.

The difference between Christians and those who do not yet believe in Jesus, is that Jesus fulfills that Law for us because we cannot live up to its demands.We need the Law to tell us what a good work is, and we need the Law to tell us just how broken (and to use my favorite Calvinist descriptive, depraved) we really are. We need the Law to point out the fact that we need Jesus. We need the Gospel, the precious, saving truth that Jesus has rescued us from the penalty of our sins.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

It is important for us to confess our sins to God. He already knows them, but in our confession (whether it be directly to Jesus in prayer, or in a confession with another believer standing with us) we admit that we are sorry for our sins and that we ask that the Holy Spirit give us the ability to avoid sin in the future.We are not going to be free of sinning in this life (simul Justus et peccator, or “sinner and saint at the same time” is always in play) but we trust Jesus to forgive our sins and for the Holy Spirit to let His light shine through us and our lives.

In our baptisms we have that tangible reminder- water and the Word. We have been given that mark of the cross of Christ forever, and God will not forsake His children.  So what does it mean to let our lights shine?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 is often used at baptisms, when the baptismal candle is lit. Martin Luther said that Christians are called to be “little Christs.” We are made to be as Christ out in the world, acting as His hands and feet and voice.To be emphatically clear, in God’s economy there are no brownie points, there is no extra credit, there is no quid pro quo, none of that. We are justified and made children of God by faith alone, grace alone, and by Christ alone.

Jesus does tell us that faith has active results. We are called to be light and salt, not because we are earning our way up the ladder, but because in Christ we are already forgiven, saved, set free, set apart to live with Him forever. We are free to start the “forever party” now- to do the good works that God made us for, to serve each other in whatever capacity we may have, to love each other without holding back.

Jesus wasn’t teaching that people need to be better at rule-keeping. The Pharisees were really big on obeying the fine points of the Law, like tithing their mint and spices, (Matthew 23:23) but not so hot at the Great Commandment, to love God and love others as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)Jesus was teaching the generosity that comes from freedom- the freedom of knowing that our omnipotent, sovereign and holy God is in control.

In law enforcement terms, He always “has our six” and then some. Because we know that God does provide for us and will provide for us, we can be confident in our Foundation and our Rock, Jesus, no matter how dark the times may get or how scary the world may seem.

March 23, 2020 Healing the Land? Trust Jesus- 2 Chronicles 7:11-22, Luke 7:1-10, 2 Timothy 2:11-13

Solomon

Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’
“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (ESV)

 

After he (Jesus) had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:1-10 (ESV)

2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse we often see taken out of its context. The first rule of studying the Bible and learning from God’s Word is that it’s all about context. The second is that Scripture is informed by Scripture. What is the context that surrounds this verse?

On first glance, God’s pronouncement in 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 when Solomon had completed building the temple that God had commanded him to build, appears to be a sort of cosmic quid pro quo. It almost appears that God is telling the people, If you are good little children and do what I say, then I will reward you. 

On closer reading one sees that it is God who does the choosing- God chooses the site of the Temple.  God chooses the way in which people return to Him- not through their own efforts, but by realizing that God is the one in control and that God is the one doing the healing, restoring and returning people and nations to Him.

Human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins (we learn that in Ephesians 2:1-10) and we can’t be good little children and do what God says apart from His grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even then we fail miserably, pointing out our desperate need for God’s grace in Christ. The history of the nation of Israel bears that out, documented in Scripture for all of us to learn. The history of humanity as a whole bears that out.

God doesn’t work on the quid pro quo system, thankfully for us, so what does this mean for us, and why is it errant theology to simply proclaim, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” without telling the rest of the story?

Yes, God hears our prayers, as imperfect and selfish as they can be at times. He answers our prayers, but not just with our short-term interests in mind. Sometimes the answer is no because He has a better plan for us, or because there are lessons He needs for us to learn.

The First Commandment teaches us that we should have no other gods beside God. Because we are by nature sinful and weak, we can’t will ourselves to follow God’s Law. We can’t even be aware of what God’s Law is -or the fact that we break it- apart from His grace.

We can’t humble ourselves and repent of our sinfulness without God in His grace and mercy, making us aware of our need to repent (to turn back to Him.) Anything that we do that could be considered a “good work” is only made good because of Jesus- because faith and trust in Him is the only good thing about any of us.

God doesn’t owe us anything. He is the Creator and Master of everything.

The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (ESV)

Because creation is fallen, until Jesus returns, we will have famines, wars, pandemics, and natural disasters. If anything, in this world, crisis is the status quo. It’s only in the end that by the grace of God in Christ that His people who have been baptized and crucified with Him (who trust in Him by the gift of faith) will come in to the fullness of His resurrection, to a world that will be completely healed and remade. God does this for us, not because we are good, but because God is good and keeps His word even when we don’t and can’t.

The centurion from Luke 7:1-10 understood that there was nothing good about him that would heal his servant. He did (by the grace of God) believe that Jesus could heal his servant. The servant wasn’t healed because the centurion built the synagogue and had a love for the Jewish people. The centurion’s good works were the result of his faith in the God of Israel. He was no more or no less deserving of God’s favor and healing than anyone else.

There will be a day when God does heal and remake every land and nation, but that day has not arrived yet. On this side of eternity, until Jesus returns we can count on what He warns us of in Matthew 24. Human governments cannot and will not ever create a utopia on earth.  We do, however, realize that God made good on His promise of keeping a man on David’s throne.  Jesus came to earth to break the curse of the Garden by dying our death in our place, to be our King forever.

We can and should pray for the healing of our nation and for relief for those who are hurting. We should work toward healing, and do what we are able to help those in need. Even as we do what we can by the grace of God, we remember that God is the One in control even when everything is out of control. He gives us the gift of faith so that we will take comfort in Him and trust Him.

We can trust that God does hear our prayers and that in His way and time, He will heal our land. It’s not our prayers that effect these changes, (though we are told and taught to pray) but the faithfulness of God. God is the “motive engine,” not us. Solomon understood that human beings are going to screw up and that we need to repent of our sins. Only God gives us the grace to realize our need for Him. The centurion had faith that was firmly placed on Jesus, yet it was Jesus who gave him the gift of that faith.
Lord, in these uncertain times, turn our hearts toward You. Give us saving faith and grant us Your peace. Teach us to love as You first loved us.

March 12, 2020- On the Death of Precious Servants in Christ, and the Hope We Share- Philippians 2:17-18, Matthew 16:24-25, Romans 10:5-17

drink offering

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18 (ESV)

Jesus never promised us “our best life now.” Jesus called us to take up our crosses and follow Him.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

Suffering and cross-carrying are part of this life. It is no small coincidence that all three of the Synoptic Gospel writers- Matthew, Mark and Luke- tell us of Simon of Cyrene, a man that was randomly plucked from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross to Calvary.  Simon was taken by surprise by the compulsion to carry the cross.

It certainly wasn’t Simon’s idea when he woke up that morning, that a Roman soldier would demand him to carry a heavy beam for a condemned man he did not know. For us who know Jesus, it should not be a surprise to us that Jesus enters into our suffering as we share in His.

One of the implications of sharing in the life of Christ is that even as we are baptized, even as through the preaching of the Word we are made new and brought into eternal life, we must also share the cup of suffering and daily drown the old Adam and his sinful ways. We still have to deal with the consequences of sin and death in this world. We still suffer. Our bodies still die.

There are people who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” in our lives, who like the apostle Paul, sacrificially pour themselves out for the sake of their faith in Jesus. We thank God for them.

Many of these dear saints of God do not see their life is one of sacrifice, but one of joy. We benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them that radiates from them just as light gives off heat.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:5-17 (ESV)

By faith we trust Jesus. We can’t trust in how well we follow the rules, because we don’t, and we can’t. The Ten Commandments are God’s Laws. If we are honest about how well we follow God’s Laws, (see Exodus 20,) we understand that we break every single one of them on a daily basis. We cannot trust in ourselves or what we do. We trust Jesus and by faith we know that He took God’s punishment for our sins in our place.

Our life here in the now, but not yet world contains a lot of suffering. But it also contains the grace of God in Christ. It also contains people with “beautiful feet” who preach and live out the Good News of Christ. People who are precious to us because they share that saving message.

It’s easy to get angry with God for taking those we love away, or to be sad because one who is precious to us is no longer there.

This life is not the end, though. God has plans for us that are so much more than we can hope for or imagine. Those of us who trust in Christ will see Him and be with Him in just a little while.

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at that awesome day- All Praise to Thee, Thy God This Night – Thomas Tallis

Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

The saints that have gone before us are glad. They are rejoicing. We will be with Jesus- and with everyone we love- soon.

February 20, 2020- Justice, Truth, and Jesus, the Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior- Isaiah 59:14-21, Acts 4:11-12, Isaiah 55:10-11 and Acts 10:39-43

transfiguration

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.

Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment.

So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives.

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. 

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:14-21 (ESV)

There is no mortal man who can intercede for the sins of humanity. Since the day of the Fall the whole creation has been crying out for healing and redemption.  The forerunners of Jesus in Scripture- Moses, Boaz, David, Solomon, and so forth, all pointed to Jesus, but they were fallible people who could not save themselves or anyone else from the curse of the Fall.

We deceive ourselves if we think we can save ourselves. As the apostle Paul taught,

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12 (ESV)

Isaiah also tells us of the real Intercessor, Redeemer and Savior- Jesus, the God Man Himself.

Though Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel 700 years before Jesus came to earth as a man, the truth that he spoke to them is full of hope for us even today.

The Holy Spirit that lit upon Jesus at His baptism, the Spirit that came down as tongues of fire on the first believers at Pentecost is alive and among us.  The words of God always fulfill their intent and do what God intends for them to do.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)

We can have great confidence and comfort knowing that God is faithful and that when He says He has sent a Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior, He has done it.

The Lord Jesus stands as the Cornerstone, the Suffering Servant, Who is coming again to judge the living and the dead as we confess today in the Apostle’s Creed, as the apostle Paul preached:

God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:39-43 (ESV)

 

December 10, 2019 Advent 10, Luke 10- The Primacy of Christ

Mary-and-Martha

Read Luke 10.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Luke 10:1-3 (ESV)

It almost seems as if Jesus is setting up His disciples for failure, warning them in advance that they are being sent as lambs in the midst of wolves.

It’s still true today that God’s people are few and far between at times, and we are often treated badly by the world.  Jesus knew that His message was not always going to be received with joy, especially by those who were strong and powerful in the temporal world.

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:13-20 (ESV)

How do we treat those who bring us the Good News of Jesus?  Are we listening and are we heeding their directions that point us to Christ?  May we by the grace of God in Christ have ears to hear the message, and to receive God’s messengers and teachers with joy and thankfulness.  Jesus tells us that receiving His teachers and gladly listening to sound teaching is the same as receiving Him.

In that same hour he (Jesus) rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:21-22 (ESV)

Faith is a gift given to us by God.  Like little children all we can do is receive the good gifts that are given to us.  It’s no small coincidence that many people who try to seek God via their own knowledge or by trying to find God with science often fail. Many (otherwise) great minds are far more likely to be atheist or agnostic, and find it very difficult, if not impossible to trust in Christ for their salvation and provision.

Often we see that the people with the most tenacious faith in Jesus are children and those who due to a mental infirmity or other disabilities see their complete and total dependence on Jesus more clearly.  Jesus is the defender and champion of the weak. As the apostle Paul taught us, His strength is found in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him (Jesus) to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Luke 10:25-28 (ESV).

Surely the young lawyer knew the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-6. But there is a disconnect between knowing the Shema and being able to live it out.  Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan precisely to point out that none of us are justified by the tradition we are born into. What we know in our heads doesn’t do us much good if we don’t believe it, internalize it and live accordingly. Apart from the grace of God we are completely unable to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.  Samaritans were reviled and considered as heretics and worse, but the Samaritan in the parable, in spite of his religious unorthodoxy, was living out the Shema in the way he cared for the stranger along the road.

Jesus writes the Law on our hearts, but we cannot live it out aside from His grace.  Even then we still deal with that paradox of being sinners and saints at the same time.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

Jesus does want us to love and serve our neighbor.  But that love and service is a result, a fruit that is brought forth from loving and seeking God.  It’s easy to be busy, and we should be productive and helpful to our neighbors… but… when “busy” becomes our god we simply become tired, burned out and not of much use to anyone, ourselves included.  In order for us to live out the vocations we are given, we desperately need to take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet.  We need to read the Bible.  We need to listen to and take in sound teaching.  How can we have strength for the journey if we fail to take the time to let God feed us?

During this time of year we can get bogged down into the “holiday have-tos.” There are a whole lot of “shoulds” out there that “should” get done.  Most of those “shoulds” are not nearly as important as we want to make them out to be.

Mary understood the most important thing: to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him.

In today’s chapter of Luke the emphasis is on Jesus first, the primacy of Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  By the grace of God, in this Advent season, may we step back and take the time to sit at His feet, to listen to Him, and to praise and adore Him.

 

 

 

 

November 27, 2019- To the Glory of God – 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

prayer-sinner

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 

For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”  If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—  I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?   

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 (ESV)

There is a fine line between seeking to live a sanctified life, a life that reflects one’s faith in Christ, and full blown pietism, which hearkens back to the holier-than-thou position of the Pharisee in the temple that Jesus speaks of in Luke 18:9-14.

Paul reminds us that our focus needs to stay on Jesus.  Our faith and trust need to be in Jesus rather than on whether or not we follow specific rituals or eat certain foods or hang out with certain people.

Our culture, our dinner plates, and even our habits and friends do not determine our status in the sight of God. We have no righteousness in and of ourselves, and nothing we can do (or fail to do) can justify us in the sight of God.

Our righteousness- our standing and validation before God – is outside of us.  Our Redeemer- Jesus- stands in our place.  He gives us all we need to stand. (see Romans 14:3-14)

We are reminded in the classic hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”   that Christian freedom is trusting in Christ alone- not in how good we appear to be on the outside or by what we do or don’t do.

Our freedom doesn’t mean we just do whatever we want, but that we act based upon what is best for those around us and on what brings glory to God.

When we pray do we make a display for others to see how holy we are, or because we know how much we need Jesus and that He listens to our prayers?

Do we do devotions and study so we can prove how much we know, or do we study so that through hearing and consuming God’s word we are transformed by the Gospel and filled with the Holy Spirit?

When our trust is in Jesus He purifies our motives.  The Holy Spirit gives us the discernment and the concern for others so that we can love and care for others in a way that glorifies God.

There is freedom in knowing that as imperfect as we are that Jesus stands in our places.  As we confess our sins to God, we know that our sins- every single one of them- was paid for by Jesus on the cross of Calvary.  He has done it all.  All we can do is respond to Him.

Lord, Jesus we are poor tools in your hands, but by your grace you hold us up and we stand in You.  Thank you for your sacrifice to save us from our sins, so that we can live in freedom, to your glory.

November 20, 2019- The Conditions in Which We Are Called, Joy in Our Vocations- 1 Corinthians 7:17-27

Jesus on the water

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.  Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.  1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (ESV)

There is a popular misconception in some Christian traditions that we are only serving God if we have a call to formal ministry or to service in the church.  Yet our vocations (note the plural here) have a far deeper reach than simply dropping a check in the collection plate, serving as an usher, or donating to the food drive.  Our service in and for the local church is important- yes, people and resources are always needed, wanted and appreciated in the life and ministry of the church- but our service to the church is only one of our vocations.

Vocation is not about glorifying ourselves or climbing the corporate ladder. Vocations are ways in which we serve others for the glory of God.   How do we serve others and glorify God in and through our vocations?

Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

Thankfully it is not a requirement for Christians to inflict outward signs on their person to verify or establish their faith.  The circumcision argument- are Gentile men who become Christian obligated to be circumcised like Jewish men? – is the motivation behind the entire book of Galatians.  The Galatians were engaging in a false teaching that in order to be Christian you need to first become a Jew.  Paul teaches us that Jesus is the New Covenant, the fulfillment of everything that the Mosaic Covenant (the Laws given to Moses) foreshadowed.

Time and time again, Paul instructs the churches that our faith, our hope, our life itself, is found in Christ alone, not in outward signs, not in rituals, not in man-made rules.  Our foundation is Christ. Therefore we aren’t concerned with sacrifices and rituals and what things look like on the outside, but we are concerned with being the people that Jesus made us to be.

Moms serve God by loving their children and doing the mundane and thankless things that are part of being a mother. Even changing dirty diapers, wiping snotty noses, retrieving the cat from the bathtub, and scraping used mac and cheese off the kitchen table (yet again) are acts that Moms do for their children and household, to the glory of God.

Employees who are conscientious, ethical and are good workers for their employers bring glory to God.  Employers who are fair and reward employees for work well done bring glory to God through that vocation.

Husbands and wives bring glory to God in those vocations by loving and serving each other.

So what do we do when our vocations get difficult?  What do we do when we live with a terminally ill spouse, and caring for them and serving them becomes thankless and a burden?  What do we do when our circumstances at work are unfair, or we are compelled to do things in the course of our employment that are unethical or even unsafe?

We trust God.  We acknowledge that He is our strength. Jesus walks with us in every challenge and brings us through our trials. When we fail, when we fall, when we are at the end of ourselves, Jesus is there. He will not forsake us.

The apostle Paul does not give us easy answers about our vocations, but he does teach us that our focus in our vocations should not be on our own status or benefits, but for the benefit of those we serve through our vocations.  God can and does work in and through every situation.

Looking at who we are and what we do gives us a bit of a renewed perspective as we consider our identity- who we ARE in Christ- and how it corresponds with our vocations.

Jesus has bought us with the price of His precious blood.  Our value is in Him- not because we are such “special snowflakes”- but because He has given us value.  Any time one is tempted to think that what they do lacks value or that his or her life is worthless, one must remember that we have been bought with the blood of Christ and in that we have worth and value. Even the most lowly and mundane and difficult vocation has worth as we live and breathe and have our being rooted in the foundation of Christ.

In light of our value and as a response to the one who has bought us, how can we think about our vocations in a different way?

Lord, be our strength when our vocations become burdens.  Help us remember that you have bought us with the price of your precious blood, and that in you we have our value. Give us what we need not only to lead the life you have assigned us, in the places where you have landed us, but to find peace and strength and joy with you along the way.

 

September 11, 2019- The Unholy Trinity, the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Jesus Breaks the Curse

adam and eve2
Who or what stands against Christian people in this fallen world of “not yet?”

Sin
Death
The Accuser (Satan, the serpent)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV)

“Did God really say?”

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” It can be said that God does not tempt us or cause us evil. We’re good enough at finding temptation and walking into evil all by ourselves. We may know the difference between good and evil, but we don’t always choose what is good, and we don’t always reject evil.

The unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil are all against us and are all around us. The question behind the Fall of humanity, “Did God really say?,” echoes all around us.

Did God really say… I AM God, the Author and Creator of all things?
Did God really say…You will not bow down to the gods you make?
Did God really say…that He is the only One you will worship?
Did God really say…that you will honor your parents and those in authority over you?
Did God really say…that you will not murder or maliciously inflict harm on others?
Did God really say…that human beings were created male and female, and men and women are meant to be faithful to each other in marriage?
Did God really say…that you are not to steal money or possessions or anything that is your neighbor’s?
Did God really say…that you are not to falsely represent your neighbor or spread falsehoods?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s spouse, employees or livestock?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s inanimate material things?

God really did say all of those things. Most of us can agree that the Ten Commandments–See Exodus 20– are good and that we would all have a lot less trouble if we could just follow the rules.

The problem is we can’t just follow the rules, no matter how hard we try. Every human being alive today has inherited the curse of Adam- call it original sin, or to borrow from another Reformed theologian, John Calvin, the total depravity of man, but human beings are born sinners. We cannot fix ourselves.

To make the sin problem even more acute, we learn from Scripture (James 2:10) that if we break one tiny little part of the Law, in God’s eyes we broke all of the laws. Salvation by our own obedience requires perfection.  No human being is capable of perfection.

The apostle Paul makes us aware of our dilemma in Romans 7:7-25.
The Law makes us aware that we fall short and don’t live up to God’s standards. The unholy trinity of our own sin, the curse of death that we and the world around us are under, and the Accuser himself all stand against us and assail us with all sorts of suffering, temptations and trials.

It’s just not possible for us in our own strength and will to live the way that God wants. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

But God so loved the world, and fallen humanity, that He sent Jesus- the perfect God-Man- to break Adam’s curse, to suffer the penalty of death and become the perfect sacrifice for fallen humanity once and for all. The Law was not God’s final word to humanity.

Did God really say…?

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

 
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 33:14 (ESV)

 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

 
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6b (ESV)

 
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”- John 6:35 (ESV)

 
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17b (ESV)

 
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 (ESV)

 
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

 
Jesus has the final word. For we who believe in Him, there is no more death. We will pass from this life to eternal life with Him. The unholy trinity who would condemn us and lead us into unbelief does not have the upper hand. Jesus has broken Adam’s curse and Jesus paid the penalty of death for us.