December 12, 2019- Advent 12, Luke 12- The Fear of the Lord, Heads Up on the Eschaton, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning

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Read Luke 12.

Jesus taught:

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. Luke 12:2-3 (ESV)

This is some scary business.  All of us have plenty of dirty laundry that we would be mortified to have aired in public.  All us have those things in our history that we would rather keep secret.  Jesus knew the Pharisees (like the rest of us) had plenty of dark secrets and dirty laundry they would rather not have exposed.  The error of the Pharisees, which is often our error as well, is that we think we can cover up and gloss over our sins instead of knowing that Jesus will forgive our sins if we humble ourselves and confess them to Him.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 15:33, Isaiah 11:2, Isaiah 33:6 and Micah 6:9) as we are taught in many places in Scripture. Jesus takes this truth further when he reminds us that God knows all and God has the authority to both give and take life, and to consign the unrepentant one- the fool who in his heart says there is no God- (Psalm 14:1) to eternal punishment in hell. God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  There is nothing we can hide from Him.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Luke 12:8-12 (ESV)

Do we fear and love God enough to talk about Jesus even in times and places when it’s highly discouraged or even forbidden outright? Many of us find it hard to muster the courage to testify of Jesus because we fear the reactions that other people may have.  Yet He is the One who holds the power of life and death.

If we reject the work of the Holy Spirit in us we reject Jesus.

Jesus teaches us that He provides for us, so we shouldn’t be obsessed with gathering up stuff for ourselves.  We should seek God and His kingdom, because He is the Source of all things.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Luke 12:29-31 (ESV)

Where our treasure is, our heart will be there also.  Where are our hearts?

Jesus reminds us that He is going to return.  No one knows when that day or hour will come, but He tells us to be ready for His return.  Many believers don’t like to hear talk about the eschaton (the end of days) but for those who are in Christ, the eschaton is an occasion of great joy- when Jesus returns and remakes the heavens and earth.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 2 Peter 3:6-8 (ESV)

In this Advent season we await the return of the Bridegroom. We are living with one foot on this flawed and broken earth, and another in the heavenly kingdom.  When Jesus returns, He will remake the heavens and earth by fire.  If He were to return tonight, would He find us to be good stewards of what we have been given?

Jesus warns us that He comes to this earth not to bring peace, but to bring division. Families are divided because of faith in Him.  There are households in which one spouse believes and the other does not, or a child of unbelieving parents comes to faith- pitting their love for their family against their faith in Christ.

Jesus closes this chapter admonishing us to settle up with those to whom we owe, before it gets dragged into court and gets dirty.  The overwhelming theme here is, “fear God, repent and be forgiven.”

There is good news in this chapter, even though we have been warned about both hell fire and the eschaton.  The good news is that, by faith, we hear God’s Word and see the severity of our sins.  By faith, we pray for a healthy fear of the Lord.  We confess all of our sins to God and He brings them into the light, and forgives our sins. We repent and confess not simply to avoid hell fire, but in response and thankfulness to God for providing for all our needs, most especially our desperate need for our Savior who died on the cross to save us from all our sins.  For those who are in Christ, the eschaton will be a day of joy, when tears and death and sorrow will all be wiped away forever.

As the old spiritual goes, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.” We await Jesus’ Second Advent with anticipation and joy.

March 27, 2019- Who is the Greatest? Mark 9:33-50

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And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:33-50 (ESV)

So who is the greatest? It’s a very human question. If we were to answer that question from our own perspective, would we look to historical “greats” such as Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi?  We like to categorize people and things- the top 40 pop songs, the 10 greatest visual artists, the 5 top movies of the season.  It seems silly that the disciples argued over who was the greatest among them, but we do the same thing to each other all the time.  We speculate over who has the most prestige, the most money, the best car, etc. and so on.

Jesus has different categories than we do. Who is greatest in the kingdom of God?  The helpless child, the one who quietly and humbly serves, the person suffering from dementia who doesn’t remember who he is, or the mentally challenged person whose only real ability is to smile- these are normally people considered among the “least.”  Yet in Jesus’ economy, these are the greatest, the ones to be considered first.

Jesus takes educating children in the faith (catechesis) very seriously.  As parents, grandparents and concerned people of God, we should care about our children’s Christian education.  Public schools are not permitted to teach anything regarding Christian faith.  Kids will NOT hear the Word of God or be taught about Jesus in public school.  If our children are going to know Jesus they need to learn about Him at home from parents and grandparents.  If children aren’t learning about Jesus from parents and grandparents then we as the church need to offer a safe place for kids to come to learn with solid resources.  Kids’ Worship, VBS, Day Camp, Scouts and Catechism all are ministries designed to bring the Word of God to our children. (Romans 10:17- So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.)

Jesus uses some very harsh language to describe the plight of those who mislead or mistreat children or who take advantage of people who are ignorant about Him. He also uses harsh language to remind us just how ugly our sin is, and to underscore how it separates us from Him.

He does not mean for us to literally put our eyes out or cut our limbs off, but to avoid those things that lead us to sin. The wages of sin is death, death that manifests itself in so many ways.  Therefore we should work together with other Christians and we should strive to help each other live in a way that is pleasing to God.

We are not able to live perfectly without sin. We live with one foot in an imperfect world and the other in the kingdom of God. Jesus has made us perfect in God’s sight- by faith.  By faith we respond by sharing the Good News with our children.

 

July 19, 2017 – Do Not Fear, or Be Afraid- Isaiah 44:6-8, Matthew 10-28

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Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before Me. Who has announced from of old the things to come?  Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are My witnesses! Is there any god besides Me? There is no other rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6-8 (NRSV)

Fear is a word that can be taken in a few different ways in Scripture, but the only “fear” that we are told to hold onto is “fear of the Lord.”  The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears 134 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible, so it is an important theme.  However, the English translation, “fear of the Lord” can more accurately and completely be taken as meaning, “an obedient reverence and awe of the Lord.”

God doesn’t want us to be afraid of people or afraid of what people think they can do to us. As much power as some individuals may hold- even up to the power of physical life and death- all power ultimately comes from God.

Jesus tells us-

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NRSV)

The fear of hell never brought salvation to anyone, and that’s not what Jesus is emphasizing here.  He is underscoring the point that there is a limit to what power other people and earthly circumstances actually have over us.  Life in the physical body is only for a limited time.  The worst thing any human or any condition can do to us is to extinguish the life of our bodies.   That is eventually going to happen anyway. Bodies are temporary.  But our souls live on, and they belong to God.

So God’s the one we need to be concerned with. Not with the fear of other people’s wrath, or the pursuit of stuff, or the fear of scarcity, or the fear of pain, or the fear of anything else.

God isn’t a big fan of people being bullies, or of people living to be trendy, or of people striving to “have it all.” God is a big fan of people living according to His love- bringing mercy and kindness to others, standing up to injustice, and being His hands and feet here on earth.  It’s His opinion of us that matters, because it is life with Him that will last.

What are we afraid of? What (or who) is holding us back?