John

The Counselor Has Come To You (John 16:7-14)

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (or Advocate) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince (or convict) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-14)

This is part of the last recorded teaching of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John, which was the last of the gospels to be written.[1] If there was ever a time to look for Jesus to bring home the most important things, it’s during this teaching. This passage is not long, but it’s loaded.

“It is to your advantage that I go away.”

So this is a big deal. Here’s Jesus, the one and only incarnation of God in the flesh – and he’s telling his disciples it’s to their advantage that He leave so that the Holy Spirit’s presence will now be a part of their life in some way that it was not before. That’s huge. It’s not that the Holy Spirit is more important that Jesus; it’s just that Jesus had done Jesus’ work, and it’s time for the Holy Spirit to do the Holy Spirit’s  work. So what is this work?

  • Bringing conviction or convincing to the world of humanity’s sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and the coming judgment
  • Giving the inspiration for what would become known as the New Testament[i]
  • Pointing toward the glory of Jesus, which seems to be a direct reference to how the written Scripture will glorify Jesus – something which John explicitly claims to be doing at the end of his gospel.[ii] (John 20:31)

I have some extra explanation for the second two points at the end of this post. My main focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do for the world.

The conviction of our sin, because we do not believe in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit convicts of sin in a way that drives us to the only one who can forgive us and save us. This requires a conviction about who Jesus is, obviously, but it also requires a conviction about the reality of sin. How can we appreciate a Savior when we have no idea we need saving?

It’s the lead here in Jesus’ teaching. If you want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work in you, you will know this because God will put the reality of your sins in front of you. We can walk away from the work of the Holy Spirit with a lot results – hope, peace, encouragement, conviction -  but no one walks away from a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit proud. “Godly sorrow brings repentance.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Before the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we might think we’re not that bad. We might think, “I’m doing pretty good on my own; my sin is not that big of a deal.” Not when the Holy Spirit is working in us. Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon:

The Holy Spirit does not come to make sinners comfortable in their sins, but to cause them to grieve over their sins. He does not help them to forget their sin, or think little of it, but He comes to convince them of the horrible enormity of their iniquity. It is no work of the Spirit to pipe to men’s dancing. He does not bring forth flute, harp, dulcimer and all kinds of music to charm the unbelieving into a good opinion of themselves, but He comes to make sin appear sin, and to let us see its fearful consequences. He comes to wound so that no human balm can heal, to kill so that no earthly power can make us live.

The flowers bedeck the meadows when the grass is green, but lo, a burning wind comes from the desert and the grass withers and the flowers fall away. What is it that makes the beauty and excellence of human righteousness to wither as the green herb? Isaiah says it is “because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it.” There is a withering work of the Spirit of God which we must experience or we shall never know His quickening and restoring power.

The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are not just mistake-prone; we are rebels at war with a holy and righteous God. The Holy Spirit shines a light on our sins and then makes us look at them in all their ugliness. If you pray for the Holy Spirit to get to work in your life, buckle up, because you are going to end up on your knees at the foot of the cross.That’s a daunting but beautiful thing. As several testimonies highlighted the past several weeks, repentance is a gift. In the great awakening of 1860-61 in Great Britain, a high-ranking army officer described the conviction of sin in his Scottish town:

"Those of you who are ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man's eyes to see the real state of heart. Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people . . . have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven." (J. Edwin Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain) https://enduringword.com/commentary/john-16/

Godly sorrow brings repentance, and repentance is crucial not just to entering into the Kingdom of God but experiencing life within it to the fullness.

I want to be careful here. If we are crushed into hopeless despair by our sin, that’s a different thing. Satan can distort our awareness of our guilt  (the debt we incur because of our sin) so that it drives us to self-destructive despair.  When that happens we increasingly see us and our sin, and we just spiral downward into self-loathing.

Godly sorrow always points us to God, which means we will always have hope in the midst of our conviction. God will make us kneel before He raises us up, but he will never make us grovel and then kick us while we are down. If that’s what you are experiencing, that’s not the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Holy Spirit will free you from.

Repentance is a gift. So is the conviction that brings us the initial awareness of our guilt. This godly awareness is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. It is a gift of love. It’s in our awareness of our guilt that we know God has not given up on us; he is pursuing us like ‘the hound of heaven’ - relentless, close, involved. He’s not an Orwellian Big Brother, waiting to stomp a holy boot in our face and grind us under his tyranny. He’s a loving Father who wants spiritual boys and girls to grow into righteous men and women; he’s a Master Builder who never stops turning the shack of our lives into a mansion.

In our peace we feel God’s presence; in our hope and joy we feel His presence. We can’t forget that in our awareness of our guilt we feel His presence too. It’s a sign that God is at work in us. Spurgeon again:

“A sinner is a sacred thing: the Holy Ghost hath made him so… a man truly convinced of sin by the Spirit of God is a being to be sought after as a jewel that will adorn the crown of the Redeemer.”  http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols28-30/chs1708.pdf

 

The conviction of Jesus’ righteousness

Righteousness is another way of saying ‘being right with God.’ We have what the Bible calls a Counselor or Advocate in Jesus. This is a legal term; we have someone who defends us in God’s court. He is the attorney for the accused – us – and on our own, we have only plea: “Guilty.” Jesus is not there to excuse or explain away what we have done; he’s not there not to argue for our awesomeness. He’s there to display His.

Jesus makes it so that His intrinsic righteousness – that is, the holy perfection of his nature in which there is not even a smudge of sin or evil – is given to us through his forgiveness and by his grace.  In Jesus, we see how a God whose holiness demands that He judge sin and evil is also a God whose holiness demands that He provide a way of escape. So God did not turn a blind eye to our sin; instead, He satisfied His own demand for justice.

  • “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  •  “So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)
  • “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
  • “There is, therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • “God has united you with Christ Jesus… Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

When we are convicted of sin, we will feel the daunting weight of justice. We will be convicted of the impossibility of paying for our own sins. But this godly conviction will turn our eyes to Jesus, and we will be amazed by the goodness, holiness, and righteousness of the perfect savior who took our sins upon himself, who died that we could live.

One way you know the Holy Spirit is at work in you is that you are convicted of sin. The next way is that in the midst of that conviction there is a growing appreciation for the righteous love and provision of Jesus.

 

The conviction of a final judgment of evil

First, God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world (Act 17:31). Jesus singles out the  ‘ruler of this world,’ another way of referring to Satan, but this includes all that has plagued the world because of Satan’s destructive work.  It’s not just Satan; it’s the havoc he has unleashed on the world.[2]  All injustice, pain and suffering will one day have their reckoning.

Tim Keller likes to say that in the day of final judgment ‘all that is bad will be undone.’ The answer to the question, “What will God do about evil?” is that He will judge it.  Why He waits as long as He does is not necessarily ours to know. But what He will one day do is known. God will have the final word. God wins.

 

So how does this impact our life today?

First, if you are not aware of your sinfulness, pray to God that the Holy Spirit convicts you. You need to be at the foot of the cross.

Second if you are aware of your sinfulness, don’t be discouraged by it. Remember that God loves you enough to convict you. If you are retreating into shame and despair, pray that the Holy Spirit’s conviction brings about a godly sorrow, one that leads you to repentance and takes your eyes off of your sin and onto Christ.

Third, pray that God uses His Spirit to increase your appreciation of Jesus. Pray that you can truly appreciate the goodness, holiness and majesty of Christ.

Finally, don’t forget that one day evil will be judged. Satan’s power will be obliterated. One day there will be a New Heaven and New Earth where God will wipe away all tears and all sorrow, and we will live in its fullness with our Savor.

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[1] https://carm.org/when-were-gospels-written-and-by-whom

[2] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/revelation/20-14.htm

[i] In verses 7-11 Jesus talked about what the Holy Spirit will do for the world; in versed 12-14, Jesus appears to shift and talk specifically now to the disciples about how the Holy Spirit will help them in their writing of Scripture (John 16: 12-14; John 15:26). As I have been studying commentaries on these verses, almost everyone is in agreement that, considering the context, this is about God’s role within the writers of Scripture so that they get the sacred text right. This particular passage was a promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be present and faithful in the apostolic founding of the church so that they could record and teach all that Jesus had taught, and even inspire them on issues that Jesus had not directly addressed. Lots of good commentaries that further explain this are available at biblehub.com.

The Holy Spirit would even instruct them on “things to come,” which most likely includes two things: insight into the future as we look toward the judgment followed by the rebuilding of the New Heaven and Earth, as well as guiding the founders of the church by helping them understand how the Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and teaching will impact the newly formed church that is now inhabiting God’s spiritual kingdom here on earth.

Some commentators note two potential implications of this passage: First, an ongoing sense that the Holy Spirit leads us into truth as we study that same Scripture. In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to record truth, and the Holy Spirit also works within us so that we understand it. Second, an implication that the Holy Spirit will work from then on in all believers to lead them into truth, which typically means giving personal guidance or insight.

Both of those inferences offer truth about how the Holy Spirit works within believers. If I look at this teaching in this context, it's hard for me to see that was what Jesus intended to convey in this particular passage. However, I believe support is found elsewhere in the Bible.

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[ii]He will glorify me.” The Holy Spirit always points toward Christ. There are different ways this happens – through the convictions I mentioned earlier, through the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, or through the fruit of the Holy Spirit displayed in our lives. But in all these things, we know the Holy Spirit is at work if Jesus is glorified.

If people are glorified, or churches, or ministries obscure the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If events overshadow the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If the gifts and their manifestation point toward the people using them, or if people are inclined to seek the gifts and not the giver, that’s a problem. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is not at work, but if anything or anyone increases while Christ decreases, something has gone wrong.

Making Things Right With God

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(If you would prefer to listen, you can find the audio here)

Intro

Wslide2e’ve recently spent five months covering some of the bigger topics recorded for us by the apostle John. John spent almost half of his book telling us about Jesus’ last days of life on earth. Why did he do this? Of course Jesus’ life and teachings were important, but John knew that Jesus’ final acts on earth were the primary reason he came. From day one, the cross was the point of the whole story. He even told us as much right at the beginning. In chapter one, he records John the Baptist saying of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world![1] These men both knew that Jesus was the one who would fix humanity’s biggest problem. The alienation from God that they were all too familiar with was now something that could be dealt with because of what Jesus would do.

The big picture of scripture is that Jesus is God. That we must place our trust in him because he takes away sin[2]. If we don’t, we will die in our sins.[3] And dying in our sins isn’t merely losing our earthly life; it’s also an eternal death, or separation from God, as well[4]. Sin is a big deal, and there’s only one way to escape its consequences. Blood must be shed for there to be any forgiveness of our sins[5]. For the Israelites in the Old Testament, sacrificing animals was a temporary fix[6], but even that did not solve the problem. Our life will ultimately be required as penalty for our sins[7], unless we can find an acceptable substitute. The gospel was such good news because the alternative is very bad news.

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Understanding Sin

Before we can understand the gospel, we need to fully appreciate sin for what it is. Sin is an affront to God. We don’t realize how offensive it is. We’ve heard that one act of rebellion damned the devil and his angels, that one single sin caused Adam and Eve to fall from grace, and yet we … I continually sin throughout the day.

slide5Missing the gravity of sin will inevitably mean missing the gospel. If sin is not lethal, why would the death of Jesus be good news? The only way the gospel is good news is if we fully appreciate the bad news. We are born sinners, alienated from God. From the moment we are able to make choices, we run towards sin. The penalty for sin is death, but that’s not popular to believe any more. The Jews who believed heard about what Jesus had done and called it good news because they already knew the bad news. They knew they were required to follow the law but could not. And they knew that no number of animals sacrificed would wash them fully clean[8]. Hearing that the lamb of God would take away all their sin was very good news.

 

In Search of Absolution

But what does God do with our sin? How does that work? One theory is that God simply absolves us of our sin. He sees what we have done, and simply wipes the slate clean. All the penalty for all our sin is simply erased and we are released from all guilt, obligation, and punishment. That sounds similar to what the bible says, but it’s missing something. If he could have just wiped it away, then why did Jesus have to die? Why were all the rams and bulls and other critters sacrificed in the Old Testament? The bible treats all these deaths as payment for sin, so this view must be incorrect. God absolutely can free us from the penalty of sin, but he doesn’t just pretend it never happened.

slide7Consider the first sin. Knowing they were guilty, Adam and Eve attempted to “cover things up” with fig leaves and make like nothing had happened. In a bit of foreshadowing, God stepped in and pointed out that things were not ok. He saw them and he saw their sin. He saw that their attempts to cover it over were pathetic failures, and he made for them adequate coverings from animal skins[9]. Even after the first sin, a life was required as a covering. As we saw before in Hebrews, someone must die to make payment for sins committed. So, while God can absolve us from sin, that’s far from the whole picture. Absolution comes after payment. And in this case, the payment is a life. Either Jesus’ death pays for our sins or our own death does.

 

Isn’t There Another Way?

This may seem extreme to us. Have you ever thought that God could have chosen another way? And seriously – if there was any way that didn’t involve Jesus dying, wouldn’t that be better?

If God is all-powerful, couldn’t he just wave his hand and wipe our slates clean? Or, if it requires something of us, maybe we should go through some sort of ritual to become righteous. Maybe circumcision? Or shaving our heads? Sackcloth and ashes for 40 days to prove we’re sorry? Maybe something harder like 100 push-ups or climbing a mountain?

You get the point, right? Doesn’t it seem like there could have been many other ways? And if so, shouldn’t God feel bad for requiring Jesus to die?

 

What is Atonement?

The dictionary defines atonement as essentially setting things right. Not just forgiving the offending party, but actually paying the tab for the damages. Let’s say you wreck a friend’s car and you pay to have it repaired. In that case, you are offering atonement. You caused a problem and you made things right.

Let’s complicate the situation a bit and introduce another term. Let’s say you damage my car in an accident and your insurance company pays to fix it. This is a case of substitutionary atonement, meaning that another party who was not responsible for the accident stepped in to foot the bill.

This gets us part of the way to understanding what Jesus did. He laid down his life[10] to pay our debt[11]. In this transaction, he is seen as the guilty party (which he does not deserve!) and we are seen as righteous (which we do not deserve!)[12]

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The doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement is a core doctrine of Christianity. In other words, rejecting this doctrine means misunderstanding Christianity altogether. In fact, the refusal to accept this teaching of scripture is one of the key causes for the movement called “liberal Christianity” (which I might add, is not Christianity at all). This word liberal has nothing to do with political affiliations. It has to do with how carefully you deal with scripture. Liberal churches are the ones you see in the news affirming everything, and refusing to see any behavior or belief as un-Christian because it would sound judgmental. This is the predominant brand of church in America these days. In 1934, Richard Niebuhr summed up the beliefs of liberal Christianity by saying “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.[13] When the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer visited America in the 1930s, he accurately described our liberal form of Christianity as “Protestantism without the Reformation.” I could go on, but I won’t. The main takeaway here is that we must understand Substitutionary Atonement in order to understand the gospel, and missing Substitutionary Atonement means missing the heart of Christianity.

 

Some Failed Explanations

Many people have tried to explain atonement in other ways that just don’t work. We must use our discernment to evaluate the options. The preacher Charles Spurgeon famously said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”

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All of these errors will have a seed of truth to them, so their popularity is understandable. Doing proper theology often comes down to making distinctions that may seem like nit-picking to some, but in reality can make a world of difference.

Absolution

I already mentioned absolution. This idea is that God could have just wiped away our sin without any payment. The truth here is that God can wipe away our sin. The problem comes when we say no payment is required. If that’s the case, then Jesus for no good reason, and we must ignore all of the talk in the bible about wrath and justice. Not a good idea.

Ransom Theory

The Ransom Theory was first popularized by a guy named Origen[14]. The idea here was that at the fall, God lost control of humanity and it was won by Satan. From that point on, Satan called the shots – until Jesus came, that is. This belief says that Jesus made a deal with Satan that he would die and take the place of man kind of like how a police negotiator might offer himself to a kidnapper in exchange for the innocent hostages. But Jesus had a trick up his sleeve. He didn’t let on that he would later rise from the dead, leaving Satan without any hostages at all. Therefore, Jesus’ death on the cross was just a big trick played on the devil.

Again, we can see some truth here. The fall did shift mankind’s allegiance from good to evil. Jesus did suffer and die in our place. He did bear the penalty for our sins. But that’s where the similarities end. God has always been in control. He has never owed Satan anything. Mankind does owe a debt for sin, but it is due to God, not Satan. This view turns reality upside down and makes Satan an equal with God, if not having the upper hand in some way. This is heresy. And don’t think this is just an archaic view. I could name a dozen popular preachers today, primarily in the Word of Faith movement, who teach that Jesus did not finish his work on the cross, but went to hell to suffer under Satan’s control. This is messed up.

Moral Influence Theory

In the 12th century, Peter Abelard said that God’s love was his most important attribute, and that it was so strong that it overwhelmed his need for justice. He rejected the idea that Jesus had to die as payment, and instead said that Jesus was as an example for people to follow. We should model our lives after him, even to the point of death for our friends if necessary.

This too is still popular today. Many Open Theists see the cross as a first step that God took in our direction so that we would follow suit and step toward him. The cross was a good example, and little more. There was no wrath, no payment, no purchase.

Here too, we see nuggets of truth. God does love. And Jesus does call us to follow his example. But that’s it. When Abelard was declared a heretic, it was pointed out[15] that if Christ’s death was merely an example, then the actual work of salvation is still the sinner’s task to perform. That means we’re on the hook to pay for our sins. This is not the biblical view[16].

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There are many other views that people have taken on the atonement. We don’t have time to pursue them all, but I wanted you to have a few prominent examples in mind for comparison.

 

God’s Least Popular Attribute

Before I explain the proper view of atonement, we need to talk about God’s wrath for a moment. It’s not popular to talk about God’s wrath. Most people these days prefer to talk about God’s love. The phrase “Love Wins” has become incredibly popular, but it is a shallow and inaccurate representation of God. When it comes to love and wrath, the truth is that you cannot have one without the other. Timothy George explained it well.

"God's love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy. It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure … but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.[17]

God’s wrath is not like an angry outburst or childish tantrum. God’s wrath is a measured and controlled response to God’s sovereignty being violated. When God’s law is broken, his justice demands a response.

Thousands of years ago, God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.[18] His response was to destroy all of mankind except for Noah and his family. Later, he saw the rebellion against him at the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and wiped them out[19]. He is known to call for the destruction of entire nations in payment for their horrendous offenses[20].

Many Christians deal with these uncomfortable passages by saying that God was cranky back in the Old Testament, but he has mellowed over time. This is actually an ancient heresy[21]. God is the same forever; he does not change. He demands obedience, and the penalty for violation is death. These Old Testament examples I mentioned all had their root back in the garden. Adam and Eve doubted God and did what he told them not to do. The penalty for breaking God’s law was death[22]. Why should we think that God takes our sin any less seriously today?

 

Satisfaction

Now we’re ready to look at the Satisfaction View, also called Penal Substitutionary Atonement. And the best way to do that is to look at Anselm.  But first, let’s define the words.

A couple years ago, this view got some national attention when a major denomination pulled a popular hymn from their hymnals. The song, “In Christ Alone” contains the following lines:

Til on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

Not surprisingly, the hymnal committee was uncomfortable with the mention of God’s wrath. But even worse for them was the word “satisfied”. They recoiled at the idea that God could be satisfied in Jesus’ death[23].

The concept of satisfaction doesn’t mean pleasure. God’s justice requires death as payment[24], but he takes no pleasure in death[25]. When used as a legal term, satisfaction means that a debt has been paid. When you make your last car payment, you have satisfied the terms of your loan, and only then do you truly own your car. Theologically speaking, satisfaction means that the requirements of God’s justice have been fulfilled, and no further sin debt remains. The lyrics of “In Christ Alone” were spot on.

Russell Moore says[26] that “those who treat the wrath of God as taboo, whether in sermons or hymns, stand in a long lineage” of heresy. He quoted the church father Tertullian who said these people believe “a better god has been discovered, one who is neither offended nor angry nor inflicts punishment, who has no fire warming up in hell, and no outer darkness wherein there is shuddering and gnashing of teeth: he is merely kind.” But this is not the God of the bible.

 

Penal Substitutionary Atonement

The even more intimidating phrase, “penal substitutionary atonement” is easier to break down than it sounds. Let’s go backward. We already talked about atonement as meaning, “making things right”. The substitutionary part means that someone else is making things right. Someone is substituting themselves in our place. And penal just means punishment. Putting it all together, penal substitutionary atonement means that someone is stepping in to receive a legal punishment that we deserve in order to pay off a debt that we owe[27].

 

Cur Deus Homo

But I still haven’t explained why Jesus had to die. Why didn’t God do it another way?

One thousand years ago there was a theologian named Anselm of Canterbury, and he wrote a book called “Cur Deus Homo”[28]. Since we don’t know much Latin, we’ll refer to it as “Why the God-Man”. His book is written as a dialog between a questioner and himself. It’s not a terribly long book, but the last time I taught on this it took 2 hours, so I’ll just hit the high points. Keep in mind that Anselm wrote this during the Middle Ages. So it may help to imagine the setting of King Arthur, or Robin Hood, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Anything that gets you thinking in terms of things like kings and subjects, and honor and dishonor.

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God Requires Obedience

God, as ruler of the universe, demands that his creatures submit to him and obey[29]. Everything we think and do is subject to the will of the king.

We Prefer Sin

Since the fall, all humans have chosen to follow their own will instead of God’s. We sugar coat it[30] by saying we “messed up”, or had a “moral failing” or “poor judgment”, but the bible calls it sin   against a holy God. And every time we sin, we dishonor God.

We Can’t Reverse Dishonor

The honor we have deprived from God by sinning is not something we are able to restore. The toothpaste is out of the tube. You can’t unring a bell. We have dishonored God, but we cannot give that honor back.

Necessity of Satisfaction

If everyone were given warnings rather than tickets, would anyone drive the speed limit? Would speed limits have any meaning? Where would the justice be? Every sin against God must be paid for. His justice demands it. If sinning brought no consequences, what would be the difference between a sinner and a non-sinner? If sin is not paid for or punished, then why does the law even exist? Justice requires that offenses to God’s honor must have consequences.

God’s Inability to Forgive

God can forgive if he chooses, but he cannot forgive someone who remains in opposition to him. Forgiveness cannot be granted until the debt has been satisfied.

Acceptable Forms of Payment

Think about a debt you owe – maybe to a credit card, a bank, a hospital, the IRS… They are able to forgive your debt, but only once it has been satisfied. It can be satisfied in cash, by seizing other assets you own, or by sending you to prison – Possibly all of the above! But it cannot simply be dismissed without satisfaction. If God has not been compensated for being dishonored, it is actually unjust for him to grant forgiveness. And his compensation must be either repayment of the debt or punishment of the sinner.

Our Inability to Pay

Humans are completely unable to fix the situation they find themselves in. It’s popular to say that we need to “make things right with God”, but the reality is we cannot. There is no payment we are able to offer that would compensate God for the debt we owe.

Consider you’re being tried in court for creating a website that slanders and threatens your boss. There is nothing you can do to “unslander” or “unthreaten” him. The deed has been done. The judge could certainly require you to take down the website, but that wouldn’t undo the damage it had already caused. You are required to do what is within your power, but true restoration is impossible.

So it is with God. You can give back something you stole, but you can’t change the fact that you are still a thief. You can try to make amends, but you are still a subject considered hostile to the kingdom.

Let’s go back to my hypothetical website. Now consider the slander and threats were against the governor. Or the president. Don’t think for a second that the Secret Service would not get involved. The higher the rank of the person offended, the higher the penalty will be. When it comes to sin, the issue is not only what you did wrong, but who was harmed. The greater the person harmed, the greater the penalty. An offense against God is infinitely more offensive than one against a human, so the penalty will be infinitely higher. There is no hope of payment. You can look forward to spending your life in prison, at best. We cannot make things right with God.

We’ve Completely Blown It

Let’s go back to my medieval scenario.

I’m a peasant. It is my duty to honor the king in everything I do. It comes to the king’s attention that I have betrayed him and brought dishonor. He calls me to his chamber and announces my crime. “You’ve committed treason against the crown! You’re a traitor! How do you answer this charge?”

Here’s my one shot to fix things. I approach him and say, “You’re right, good king. I’ve brought you shame. I’m a miserable toad. I promise from here on, I’ll never do it again!”

What is the king going to say to that? I suspect he’ll be unimpressed. “So, you’re telling me that from now on you’ll do what you were always supposed to do, and I should be impressed by that?”

“Well, yes”, I say.

This is the point where someone says “Off with his head”

You see, even if we could live without sinning, that wouldn’t matter. We were supposed to live without sinning in the first place. Promising to do what we were supposed to do is nothing at all. That’s our duty. If we want to fix the situation, we need to live perfectly, AND make some form of payment for our past mistakes. The trouble is, there is no payment we can make, and we’ve proven that we can’t go more than a few minutes without sinning. We’re in a pickle.

Only One Can Fix This

We’ve seen that satisfaction can sometimes be made by another. An insurance company can step in and clean up our mess. A benefactor can pay off our financial debt when we are unable. So, is there anyone out there who (a) has lived a sinless life[31], and (b) can make restitution[32]? Well, the only sinless person is God, so that fits the first part. But how could God make restitution? We’ll come back to that.

Man Must Pay

God cannot provide satisfaction, because that would amount to absolution. It would be the same as if he just ignored the sin like it never happened. But God is just. He cannot overlook sin. Man has sinned, and man must pay.

Enter the God-Man

We saw a moment ago that God is the only sinless one, and therefore only he can pay this debt. But forgiveness requires death. God cannot die, and God cannot shed blood. Besides, man is the one who sinned. Therefore, God must become man. In doing so, he didn’t become any less God – he added humanity to himself. At the incarnation, Jesus – who was already fully God – became fully man as well[33]. But this God-man’s life only fulfills part one of the equation. He lived a sinless life. His life only meets what was required in the first place. Therefore, the God-man’s death is what is necessary for satisfaction[34].

In the God-man, for the first time there existed someone who fulfilled both criteria: a sinless life and the ability to die. Jesus’ crucifixion was not an accident. It was not a bad turn of events. It was the very purpose for which he came. That’s why Christmas carols like “What Child is This?” can speak not only of his peaceful birth, but also his violent death. He came to purchase us. His death was a payment[35] – the satisfaction of our debt – not to Satan, but to God.

 

Closing

This may be a new topic for some of you. I have an appreciation for theology and a love of old books, and this is where they converge.  I’m also a question asker, so pat answers usually are not enough for me. The phrase “Jesus died for your sins” is a nice saying, but for me it brought up more questions than answers. Why did Jesus die? Couldn’t God choose another way? Because if there was another way, this seems like a monstrous thing for a good God to require. That’s a God I would have a difficult time understanding or worshiping.

On the other hand, if there was no way for man to be redeemed and Jesus stepped forward to give his life voluntarily, that seems fundamentally different to me. This can no longer be framed as a tyrannical God abusing his only son for no good reason. Rather, it must be seen as the highest form of love that anyone could express. We were destined for eternal separation from God without any hope – and that is what we deserved – but Jesus stepped in and did what no one required of him with absolutely nothing to gain. In studying the various theories and ultimately reading Anselm, my curiosity was finally satisfied – and hopefully someone here can be helped the same way. And perhaps, with me, you will see our only reasonable response to his sacrifice is worship.

So… can we make things right with God? Strictly speaking, no we cannot. However, Jesus made a way. He was (and is) the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are no longer left to pay for our sin with our own death. If we belong to him, he has given us his righteousness in exchange for our filthy rags[36]. He has taken our sin debt and paid it in full. Those of us who believe should be incredibly grateful! This truly is good news! But those who do not believe should be grateful too, because the invitation is open to you as well. Place your trust in Christ. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins[37].

On that note, I invite you to come back next week, when Scott Norris will be speaking on repentance. Also, we regularly offer baptism for those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus. Speak to Anthony or Scott if you are interested in learning more.

 

 

“…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.” – Romans 3:23-26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] John 1:29

 

 

 

 

[2] John 1:29

 

 

 

 

[3] John 8:24

 

 

 

 

[4] 2 Thessalonians 1:9

 

 

 

 

[5] Hebrews 9:22

 

 

 

 

[6] Leviticus 5:10; Hebrews 10:4

 

 

 

 

[7] Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 6:23

 

 

 

 

[8] Isaiah 1:11

 

 

 

 

[9] Genesis 3:21

 

 

 

 

[10] John 10:18

 

 

 

 

[11] Isaiah 53:5-6

 

 

 

 

[12] This is called “double imputation”. My sins are imputed to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to me. Check out 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:12-21, and this article:  http://www.ligonier.org/blog/doctrine-imputation-ligonier-statement-christology/

 

 

 

 

[13] The Kingdom of God in America – H. Richard Niebuhr

 

 

 

 

[14] Origen lived from ±185 – ±253 AD

 

 

 

 

[15] By Bernard of Clairvaux, a contemporary of Abelard

 

 

 

 

[16] Galatians 3:13

 

 

 

 

[18] Genesis 6:5

 

 

 

 

[19] Genesis 19

 

 

 

 

[20] Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Zephaniah 2; Jonah 1:2;  among many others

 

 

 

 

[21] Marcionism, named after Marcion, pits the angry OT God against the loving NT Jesus.

 

 

 

 

[22] Genesis 2:17; 3:19

 

 

 

 

[23] Isaiah 53:10 raises some problems for this view

 

 

 

 

[24] Hebrews 9:22

 

 

 

 

[25] Ezekiel 18:32; Isaiah 1:11

 

 

 

 

[27] Isaiah 53:8-9,11

 

 

 

 

[29] 1 Samuel 15:22; Luke 6:46; Luke 11:28; 1 Peter 4:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and many, many more

 

 

 

 

[30] 1 John 1:8

 

 

 

 

[31] 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 2:22

 

 

 

 

[32] 1 Peter 1:18-19

 

 

 

 

[33] The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) set out to establish this understanding. It’s worth reading to help understand what “fully God and fully man” means.  – Find it here:  http://www.theopedia.com/chalcedonian-creed

 

 

 

 

[34] Colossians 1:20, 22

 

 

 

 

[35] 1 John 2:2

 

 

 

 

[36] 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18

 

 

 

 

[37] Acts 2:38

 

 

 

 

 

The Why Question (John 9)

Today we are going to take a look a topic that has great personal meaning to me (Karl Meszaros).The problem of pain, or as we like to say, “Why does bad things happen to good people?” I find the way Jesus deals with those dealing with pain and suffering to be highly useful.  John 9 dives headlong into the problem of pain and how Jesus views it. While I understand that the problem of pain isn’t the primary focus of this passage, I do believe there are some instructive things here that Jesus says about pain and suffering. John 9: 1-11 reads as follows:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

When we read a passage of scripture like this, there are several things we can take from it.

  • We could talk about the importance of faith in healing.
  • We could talk about the Jesus being the light of the world.
  • We could discuss the how the Pharisees viewed the healing.

For me what stands out is the disciples' question: “Who sinned?” In other words, whose fault is this? There has to be an explanation, right? Stuff like this doesn’t just happen. We live in a world where a night club is shot up and many people die, where a 2-year-old is attacked by an alligator in what is supposed to be the happiest place on earth for children. Behind their question is that has haunted many a theologian and philosopher.  Why does a loving God allow so much pain in this world?

For me, the son of a stripper, this question has special significance. I’ve spent almost my entire Christian life on this question. Answers aren’t always forthcoming. As I’ve been around this church over the years and I’ve gotten to know many people in the congregation, I’ve realized how many struggle with pain and loss. There have been several members who have had struggles with cancer. People who have dealt with extremely sick children.  In Children’s Church, we had two of our kids lose their mom to a car crash. For me personally, my world was shaken when my best friend suffered a widowmaker heart attack.

Let firstt set some ground rules. When I’m talking about pain and suffering, I’m not merely talking about just physical ailments. Rather, my topic is more on the whole scope of undeserved human suffering - things like disease or illness, wrecked personal relationships, or discrimination. What I’m not discussing are the consequences of sinful decisions.

Growing up, one of my big influences was Stephen King. I read him voraciously. King is a guy, who like me, struggles with the why question. Several of his books are built around it: The Stand, Desperation, 11.22.63, and especially the Green Mile. The Green Mile has for me been a haunting book. It discusses the murder of two young girls. A man blessed by God with healing abilities, John Coffey, tries to heal them and ends up going to the electric chair for a crime he didn’t commit.  The Green Mile ends with this passage.

I look back over these pages, leafing through them with my trembling, spotted hands, and I wonder if there is some meaning here, as in those books which are supposed to be uplifting and ennobling. I think back to the sermons of my childhood, booming affirmations in the church of Praise Jesus, The Lord Mighty, and I recall how the preachers used to say that God’s eye is on the sparrow, that He sees and marks even the least of His creations. When I think of Mr. Jingles, and the tiny scraps of wood in that hole in the beam, I think that is so. Yet this same God sacrificed John Coffey, who tried only to do good in his blind way, as savagely as any Old Testament prophet ever sacrificed a defenseless lamb...as Abraham would have sacrificed his own son if actually called upon to do so. I think of John saying that Wharton killed the Detterick twins with their love for each other, and that it happens every day, all over the world. If it happens, God lets it happen, and when we say ‘I don’t understand,’ God replies, ‘I don’t care.’

It’s that last part that gets me.  The thought that God doesn’t care if I understand or not. I think that sometimes that’s my fear - that he doesn’t care at all. When Job complains to God about the unfairness of his treatment, God replies with a three chapter response that does not answer the question. God simply points out how God is the creator of the universe.  There are no words of comfort, nothing to reassure, nothing to tell Job that everything is going to be all right.  God speaks like a deistic God.

There are more times than I care to admit to that I begin to think that God doesn’t care. That we are all just being used as chess pieces on some cosmic chess board.  I fear that God only cares about me to further his goals. Let me be clear: I don’t think this is the final answer.  However, I want to state the problem in both the logical and personal sense. Let’s keep that in mind and I’ll come back to it.

The Theology of Pain

What we think of pain and suffering really matters. I’m not sure that any other part of theology has more practical implications than how we view suffering. It’s often very hard how to tell what faith people believe in from their lifestyle.  On the other hand, what we think of pleasure and pain has a direct effect on our lives.

There are those who will say that because we are sinners we deserve are lot in life and it’s just the way things are.  I do think there is some truth to that. Our sinful actions do have consequences.  However, generally speaking, Jesus doesn’t lecture those who are suffering or are in pain. Instead, if they had a sin issue, he would first heal. Then he would correct their behavior. When Job complains to God that he didn’t deserve his suffering, God acknowledges that Job spoke correctly. He never plays the, “You are a sinner. You’re getting what’s coming to you, and I don’t owe you a thing” card. It’s also something you don’t hear Jesus say when he comes across someone in pain.

There is the other end of the theological spectrum that says that we can control the amount of pain we deal with.  With enough faith, we can eliminate pain in our lives. My wife’s mom died of lung cancer when Kimmie was 19.  I was discussing this with someone once who said that she didn’t die of lung cancer.  She died of a lack of faith.  Either her, or someone around her lacked saving faith. In effect, we had an unknown murderer in our midst. That's not helpful, and it's certainly not biblical.

When I think of theology of pain, I often think of C.S. Lewis.  He wrote one of the great theological volumes on the subject called the Problem of Pain.  When his wife died of bone cancer, Lewis re-thought all of his theology.  He wrote a second book called A Grief Observed, and in it he noted, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”  

What Lewis observed is it doesn’t really matter what you believe when things are going well.  What really matters is what you do when the chips are down. When things were going well for Job, he may have had a very pleasant view of God.  It’s when he lost his wealth, family, and wealth that we learn who Job was and what he really believed.  So given all that, let’s take closer look at why we aren’t pieces on a chess board.

Pain has great value

Pain gives us a standard of accomplishment. Many of us who enjoy sports realize that some of greatest sports successes come on heels of crushing defeats.  Without the agony of defeat, there can be no thrill of victory. When I water ski or sail, there is always pain involved. The pain allows me to sense the growth and achievement. As I’ve listened to sailors talk about some of their experiences crossing oceans, they will often talk about being tested and coming through.  Often times, they call these some of the greatest moments in their lives.

It’s one of the things that the movie Inside Out got right about emotions.  Most of our happy emotions are tinged with sadness. There is a part where Joy realizes that one her most cherished memories, being surrounded by her hockey teammates and parents came after she lost a big game.

Sadness: "It was the day the Prairie Dogs lost the big playoff game. Riley missed the winning shot, she felt awful. She wanted to quit."

Joy: Sadness: "Mom and Dad... the team. They came to help... because of Sadness."

Pain also tells us that something is wrong. Leprosy is a disease that causes it’s victims to not feel pain.  They hurt themselves doing every tasks like cooking or opening a door. Some of the worst types of cancer are those that don’t cause pain.  They are silent killers. I would think that had Kimmie’s mom suffered debilitating pain, the moment the first cancer cells formed, she might still be alive. The pain of a heart attack is what allowed Anthony to get to the hospital in time.

Without pain, we wouldn’t fix the problems with ourselves and our world. Some of my biggest growing moments in my friendships and marriage have been when I’ve been told my flaws. Could you imagine being able to watch video clips of starving children and not responding?

Pain has value, but pain also gives us meaning. Without pain, without loss, the important things in our lives wouldn’t have meaning. The pain that we experience when we lose someone or something, shows that they had value to us.

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation. It remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.” Dietrich Bonhoffer

Why do we suffer?

So pain can be valuable, and pain can remind us what is meaningful in life, but it still doesn’t answer the question, “Why do we suffer?” In Batman V Superman, Lex Luthor makes an observation:

"God takes sides! No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from daddy's fist and abominations. I figured out way back if God is all-powerful, He cannot be all good. And if He is all good, then He cannot be all-powerful."

You might not expect a comic book movie use a theological argument that is centuries old.  I would argue that Lex has an improper view of God and suffering. There are several reasons why we suffer.

“There will be two things we must cope: evil in our hearts and death” – Nicholas Woltstorff

The most obvious is the Fall.  When Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin enters the world.  With sin, comes death. From that point, just like Adam and Eve, we continue to sin.

The second big cause of pain is free will. God allows us to love and choose him.  He wants us of our own free will, to engage him in a relationship on his terms. To allow us to do so he must also, by necessity, allows us to NOT choose him and to try to relate to him in our own terms. With free will, we have to deal with the evil in our hearts.

There’s no getting away from these two things (evil in our hearts and death). I think of the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew.  Both experienced the storm. There is no escaping the storm. We can only build on God’s word, that by his grace, we survive it.

Does God Care?

So let’s go back to my original Stephen King quote and question: Does God care?  Are we just pieces on a chess board? There have been times in my life where I’ve been tempted to conclude that he doesn’t care. I think about the children in Bethlehem who Herod killed. I think how the disciples were executed one by one. And I think of poor Job who was used by God as an example. These are hard for me to process emotionally, even if I understand them theologically.

In my better moments, I understand that Stephen King is mistaken. God may not give all the information that I want, but I think he gives me all the information that I need and can handle. We will never know on this side of eternity why my wife’s mom was taken so early. The truth is that even if we knew why, it wouldn’t ease the loss. The world and its problems are just too big and I’m merely a finite man. I have to trust that God knows what he’s doing.

I also think about Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb. I think about Jesus weeping ("roaring" is probably the best translation. Jesus was both sad and angry at the devestation of death). In that moment we know that God cares.

I also think about God given up his only son.  God didn’t keep himself separate from this world’s troubles and pain; he through his son right into the mix.  He did it to one day ultimately end pain and suffering.

Phillip Yancey is often asked to speak at places where great tragedies have taken place.  He was once asked to speak to parents of children from Sandy Hook elementary school.  This where a gunman walked in and killed 20 children ages 6 -7.  Yancey had this to say about the meeting:

One more, final question came from the audience on my last night in Newtown, and it was the one I most did not want to hear: “Will God protect my child?” I stayed silent for what seemed like minutes. More than anything I wanted to answer with authority, “Yes! Of course God will protect you. Let me read you some promises from the Bible.” I knew, though, that behind me on the same platform twenty-six candles were flickering in memory of victims, proof that we have no immunity from the effects of a broken planet. My mind raced back to Japan, where I heard from parents who had lost their children to a tsunami in a middle school, and forward to that very morning when I heard from parents who had lost theirs to a shooter in an elementary school. At last I said, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t promise that.” None of us is exempt. We all die, some old, some tragically young. God provides support and solidarity, yes, but not protection—at least not the kind of protection we desperately long for. On this cursed planet, even God suffered the loss of a Son.

Sometimes I wish for more answers. Sometimes, like Job, I want to question God face to face. But, let’s revisit why Jesus says the blind man suffered. Jesus says that “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Jesus really doesn’t tells us what that means. What Jesus does is refocuses the question from “Why?” to “What now?” When asked about Galileans killed by Pilate, Jesus doesn’t answer why it happened. Instead he points them towards repentance.

Like Job, I think I’ve learned that rather than asking “Why?” I now ask, “Given the situation, how should I respond?” I don’t know why I was given the childhood I was given. What I can control is how I live my life. I can learn and grow from it. I can also make sure that my children are given a better childhood. Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada will never know why she became disabled after diving into a rock, but she could control her life afterward.

However, I’m thankful to be able to worship a God who doesn’t place a wall between him and his creation. I’m thankful that I serve a God who is loves us enough to send his son in our place. I’m thankful that one day the groaning of creation will be replaced by new Earth and a new Heaven. Frankly, I’m glad that he’s in control and I’m not.

For me, when push comes to shove, I echo the words of Joshua: "Choose this day whom you will serve…but, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

The Life God Grants In His Name (John 20:30-31)

The Apostle John concludes his gospel in this fashion:

Jesus performed many other wondrous signs that are not written in this book.[1] These accounts are recorded so that you, too, might believe that Jesus is the Anointed, the Liberating King, the Son of God, because believing grants you life in His name.” John 20: 30-31

John had one goal: to convince his readers that Jesus was God in the flesh so that they would believe, because believing grants life in Jesus’ name. A couple questions come to mind: What life did he come to share? How do we know we are living in it? 

That life’s ultimate and eternal expression will be life in the New Heaven and New Earth.[2] Throughout the New Testament, the writers cling to the promise of a heavenly reality where we see Jesus fully and we experience life fully. But that life also starts now. When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven, he gave earthy examples about how life looks when God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Life granted “in his name” [3] happens now. I don’t want to re-preach last week’s sermon (https://clgonline.org/prayer-john-14-16/), but that means we can participate now in a life in line with the character, nature and will of God. That’s a huge claim, so let's look at what Jesus said and did to get an idea of what that looks like.

  • preached peace, hope, love, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness.
  • taught respect for authority even as he taught how to respond properly to corrupt or oppressive power.
  • taught generosity over greed.
  • argued that justice was important, but so was mercy.
  • preached repentance and modeled forgiveness.
  • claimed we could know God and know the truth about how He wants us to live in holiness.
  • said that knowing this could set us free from bondage to sin and from eternal punishment for our sins.
  • demonstrated that God loves the world, not just one race, class, or sex.
  • treated even the most marginalized people with value, worth and dignity.
  • said the world was broken by sin, but He could fix it – at great cost.
  • explained that we were dead in our sins, but he could bring us back to life.
  • proclaimed we could be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven now and for eternity.[4]

The word got out relatively quickly. In AD 100, there were about 25,000 Christians. In AD 300, there were about 20 million. As best I can piece together what historians have to say, the number of Christians went from about ½% of the populations they were in in AD 100 to 15% of the populations they were in by AD 300. Jesus was compelling; something about who He was and the life that He promised was motivating people to commit in spite of intense persecution.

In about 130 AD, Justin Martyr formalized what the early church was already noticing.  He noted that the Kingdom of God was exploding because followers of Christ were dong three very specific things: they were believing, belonging, and behaving.[5]  I want to revisit this today not as a formula that promises specific results, but as a model (just as the Lord’s Prayer is a model) for how God intends to mold us into the image of Christ so that our life is truly ‘life in His name.

BELIEVE

As Scott Smith noted when this series began, when we see ‘belief’ in scripture, it might be helpful to substitute trust, reliance, or dependence. They are talking about placing our trust in Christ, about relying on him so much that we’re holding nothing back, and about a dependence that proves we’ve given up control. So when we see John or Jesus talking about belief, they aren’t looking for us to merely agree with what they’re saying. However, belief only matters if we believe correct things. In the years following Christ’s departure the early church revisited the teachings of Jesus and the writing of the apostles and agreed upon a number of things were crucial for Jesus’ followers to know.

  • God is the personal Creator of the World
  • The Bible is God’s Word to the world
  • The Trinity reveals the relational nature of God
  • God became human in Jesus Christ (the ‘incarnation’)
  • Christ’s death saves us from the penalty of our sin
  • We experience salvation by His grace, not our works
  • Jesus rose from the dead physically
  • Because of His resurrection, we can be raised to new spiritual life now and an eternal, embodied life in the New Heaven and Earth
  • The Kingdom of God begins now, and it is spiritual and crucial
  • The Church is God’s vehicle of presenting His Kingdom
  • One day, Christ will establish an eternal Kingdom

Here’s why believing these things to be true is so important: It is hard for our hearts to embrace what our minds reject. We may love someone or something we don’t fully understand, but it’s hard to emotionally commit to a person or idea that we mentally reject.

  • If I don’t think the company I work for is a good company, it will be hard to really give my job my all. 
  • If my mind harbors angry or resentful thoughts toward my wife, it will be hard for my heart to be for her.
  • If I don’t think a presidential candidate is good option, it’s going to be really hard to invest emotionally in them.
  • And if I don’t think that what the Bible says about Jesus is true, why would my heart experience this situation differently than the others I just mentioned?

Perhaps that is why Paul was so adamant when he wrote:

“I know (perceived; been made aware) whom I have believed (placed my faith in; trusted) and am persuaded (convinced; confident) that he is able to keep that which I have committed (entrusted; deposited) unto him...” (2 Timothy 1:12)

If Truth is only some distant, abstract idea, it can become very cold and lifeless. Same with God. But God contextualized himself through Jesus Christ. He made himself accessible and knowable by taking on a form we could understand. We obviously don’t experience him like Jesus’ contemporaries did, but John recorded all that he did so that his readers throughout the rest of history would be able to learn about Jesus so that they would but their trust and reliance on Him.

Belong

Step one to experience the life Jesus offers is true belief. Step Two is a relational step.  I talked last week about how the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that God is “our” Father, not “my” Father. We are raised from spiritual death to life into a family. It’s easy to think of salvation as an act that pulls us into a vague spiritual family, but that was not God’s intent. We are drawn into a very physical, messy, and beautiful family of other people. A church building is where we meet, but the church – the real church – is composed of a community of Christ followers who commit to doing life together through thick and thin.

I believe God instilled this need for community deep within us. Dartmouth Medical School and the YMCA did a study called “Hardwired to Connect.”  Their conclusion was that “from the moment a baby is born, their brain is physically, biologically, and chemically hardwired to connect with others in relationship.”[6]

Communities matter. Belonging somewhere matters. This is why Cheers, Friends and Big Bang Theory resonate with so many people. In the Walking Dead, one of the greatest horrors is being alone. I was watching the Angry Birds movie last night, and you are meant to feel bad for the really angry bird because everybody rejects him. We are wired for community.

During adolescence, the brain seems most primed to address fundamental questions about life.  There seems to be a strong correlation between young people connecting with God and connecting with others.  One of their fascinating conclusions is that the healthier the human relationships, the healthier the God relationship.One Christian college teacher noted:

‘Some of my students were incredibly intelligent and even showed an interest in Christ, but they never seemed to make a breakthrough. I was trying to convince them of the evidence of Christ, and they just couldn’t get it. Looking back, I realize many of these students were emotionally wounded (or even abandoned) individuals who simply could not connect with what I was saying.”[7]

We are rational and relational beings – we think and we feel. Truth was meant to be given in the context of relationship so it sinks in not just intellectually but also emotionally. Paul noted in one of his letters: “We cared so deeply for you that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

This does not mean we are forced into a decision about God by how others interact with us; we have free will, and we will answer to God for our choices, not the choices of those around us.  Nevertheless, people in our communities can have a profound impact on our spiritual formation.

It’s often noted that people associate God with their Dad. Sheila and I have both found this to be true. For me, my dad was calm, strong, and smart. His love for me was not very expressive physically or verbally, but I never questioned it. Perhaps that’s why I don’t question God’s love for me even when I don’t feel emotionally engaged. Perhaps that’s also why I don’t put more emphasis on the experiential side of the Christian faith.

But that doesn’t mean I should settle for that (“Were settlers, son!”) Just because my view of God the Father is influenced by Leon my father doesn’t mean that my view is correct or complete. One of the important things about Christian community is that we are surrounded by others who help, through their relationship with us, to give us a broader, deeper, more complete understanding of God.

This relational aspect isn’t just for our formation. It’s for the sake of the spread of the Kingdom of God. Our call to relationship is broader than just the church family. We grow in church so the church will grow. We have a mandate to spread the good news of “life in His name” so that others are drawn to belonging to Christ and His Kingdom. One historian noted how this has looked practically throughout church history:

“Christianity revitalized life in Greek and Roman cities by providing relationships able to cope with urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.” ( Rodney Stark, “The Rise of Christianity”)

Justin Martyr, whom I mentioned at the beginning, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described how the new Christian believers offered a spiritually and relationally compelling home:

"We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause."

So we begin with belief – trusting and relying on God -  and we add to it belonging – becoming embedded in a community of Christ followers who are not perfect, but who are being transformed into the image of Christ so that we increasingly “make real” to those within and without outside the church the abundant life that Jesus offers us by His grace.

Behave

“As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him and reflect (“mirror”) His glory even more.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is not “Behave!” like I would say to my kids (over and over). This is my shorthand for saying that just as Jesus embodied and lived the Truth, we should embody and live the truth. Our behavior will mirror what our mind and our hearts have embraced. It is in the work of our hands that we see what we believe in our head and love in our heart.Our lives will mirror what our mind and our hearts have embraced.

This is not to suggest we will reach perfection, or that the better we behave the more God is obligated to us. This also does not suggest that God’s love for us hinges upon our ability to be good. However, the Bible is pretty clear that our true beliefs and our true sense of where we belong are revealed in our commitment to embracing His plan for how we ought to live as a representative of Christ. This is not an easy task. We can too easily sabotage our experience of “life in his name.”

  • We believe - but we don’t belong, so we come across as proud, aloof or distant, and we will remain baffled about why other people find their church family so meaningful. We never fully dive into a church because there’s always something wrong with it. We never let “iron sharpen iron” because we bail when someone challenges anything in our lives, so our maturity and character-building stalls. We never allow ourselves to be fully known and loved by others; our relationship muscle is never developed, and it impacts our understanding of and relationship with God. We decide that we don’t need a community of Christians to help grow our faith since we have the internet and our own thoughts. As a result, we get lost in our own interpretations of Scripture because we aren’t participating in the ebb and flow of community church life.
  • We say we believe, and we belong -  but our behavior does not consistently reflect God’s will for our lives. Let’s be clear - good behavior won’t earn us salvation or merit badges with God (because all that we accomplish is by His power and grace and not ours).  We will, however, harvest a practical reality in our life from what we have spiritually planted. If we plant holy living, we will harvest “life in his name.” But if we plant sin, we will harvest life in our name, and that’s a terrible thing. We will continue to be damaged by our sin even as we harm those around us – because that’s the way sin always works. It’s never just you and your sin. It’s us and your sin.
  • We belong (we embed ourselves in a church community), and our behavior aligns with God’s path so that we are reaping the practical benefits of wise living and we are enabling those around us to flourish - but we have no beliefs that ground our faith. We don’t actually believe Jesus is who he claims, or we dismiss the Bible’s teaching on our sin and our need for salvation. Then church just becomes a self-help club. You might feel good – you might embrace life principles that work (the Bible is full of them) – but there is no saving faith; there is no transformation by the Holy Spirit  into the image of Christ. There is just ordering your life to live well so you are happy, and that will crumble – not because God failed, but because God was never embraced.

But… when these three things work together, the glory of God and the goodness of a life lived “in his name” becomes clear to a world in desperate need of a Savior.

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved perfection (“I have not reached the final phase”). But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all the Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be." (Philippians 3:12)

It’s work, but Paul doesn’t seem put off by it. He seems excited about the fact that God has a particular goal in mind for who he wants Paul to be: in this context, God wants Paul to be transformed into the image of Christ, so that his mind thinks God’s thoughts, his heart loves what God loves, and his hands do the things God would have him to do.  And to Paul, that “final phase” is well worth the spiritual fight. If you read about who Paul was before his life was transformed by Christ, you know why he is excited about this.

If you have experienced spiritual transformation in your life, you know the hard work is worth it.  True spiritual progress and healing builds its own momentum.

  • If you were hooked on pornography and God freed you, you know there was a period of recovery time that was really, really difficult. But you believed that Jesus had the answer; you trusted him; you confessed and repented in a church community where you belonged, and you committed to behavior that aligned with God’s will for your life. And you tasted freedom, and it was beautiful, and you hallowed the name of a God whose Kingdom was on earth as it was in Heaven.  
  • Maybe you were always angry, or resentful, or greedy. But you believed that Jesus had the answer; you trusted him; you confessed and repented in a church community where you belonged, and you committed to behavior that aligned with God’s will for your life. As God worked in you, you began to see what life was like on the other side of the chains of sins, and the sweeter that life looked, and the true glory and trustworthiness of Christ emerged from behind the cloud of doubt and sin.
  • Maybe your life was a series of heartbreaks because you kept repeating patterns of sinful behavior that looked so appealing in the moment but always brought you crashing down in the end. But then with God’s help you committed to truly dedicating your life to His will and His path, and as hard as it was to break those old patterns, a peace and freedom opened up in your life that you had not experienced before.

Experiencing this changes us. We taste the freedom that comes with surrender, and our behavior increasingly mirrors what our mind and our hearts have embraced. That once again is not just for us; it’s a profound opportunity to spread the gospel.

"According to the early Christians, the church doesn't exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential. Nor does it exist in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an otherworldly destination... The purpose is clearly stated in various places in the New Testament: that through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator: that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it." ~ N.T. Wright

In a world in desperate need of a Savior, where community and relationships are shallow and fleeting or destructive, and hypocrisy splashes across the headlines, our best witness for Christ will be full of true belief, genuine community, and a passionate commitment to livng with holy integrity. And when this happens, we experience and we proclaim “life in his name.”

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[1] Look at the synopsis of the miracles which exhibit the omniscience and omnipotence of Jesus Christ in the Harmony of the Gospels… He gave proofs of His omnipotence when He converted the water into wine, John 2:6, etc.: Purified the temple, ch. John 2:13, etc.; Mark 11:15, etc.: Removed fever, ch. John 4:47, with which comp John 4:52; Matthew 8:14-15 : Cleansed the leper (Matthew 8:2-3), nay, even ten lepers at the same time, Luke 17:12, etc.: Healed those sick of the palsy, Matthew 8:5, etc., Matthew 9:2, etc.: Restrained and cast out demons, Mark 1:23-24; Matthew 8:28-29; Matthew 9:32-33; Matthew 12:22; Matthew 15:22, etc.; Mark 9:17, etc.; Luke 11:14 : Applied His healing power to diseases of years’ continuance, John 12:18; John 12:38; Matthew 9:20, etc.; Luke 13:11, etc.; John 5:5, etc.: Bestowed sight on the blind (Matthew 9:27-28; Mark 8:22-23; Matthew 20:30-31), nay, even on one born blind (John 9:1, etc.): Restored the withered hand, Matthew 12:10-11 : Commanded the wind and sea (Matthew 8:26; Mark 6:51), also the fishes, Luke 5:4-5; Matthew 17:27; John 21:6 : Fed abundantly at one time five, at another time four, thousand with a few loaves, Matthew 14:18-21; Matthew 15:34-38 : Raised the dead, Matthew 9:18, etc.; Luke 7:11, etc.: John 11:1, etc.: Gave to the disciples also power to perform miracles, Matthew 10:1; Matthew 14:28-29; Luke 10:9; Luke 10:17; Luke 10:19; Mark 16:20. To these are to be added, the cursing of the fig-tree, Matthew 21:18 : The efficacy of His word, I am He—let these go their way (His enemies fell to the ground, John 20:6), John 18:4, etc.: The healing of Malchus, Luke 22:51 : The miraculous feast, John 21:9. Very often crowds of sick persons were healed, Matthew 4:23; Luke 5:17; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 12:15; Mark 6:5  Bengel’s Gnomen, biblehub.com

[2] Check out the Eternal Destiny” portion of our Pillars of Faith series. https://clgonline.org/eternal-destiny-pillars-faith-series/

[3] I don’t want to re-preach what the phrase “in his name” means, but we noted last week it’s more than syllables. It’s literally the reputation of God – his character and nature. When we experience life “in his name,” we are being formed by God into increasingly accurate representatives through our submission, obedience and worship.

[4] “And that believing ye might have life through his name: believers have their spiritual and eternal life through Christ; their life of grace, of justification on him, of sanctification from him, and communion with him; the support and maintenance of their spiritual life, and all the comforts of it: and also their life of glory, or eternal life, they have through, or in his name; it lies in his person, it comes to them through him as the procuring cause of it; it is for his sake bestowed upon them, yea, it is in his hands to give it, and who does give it to all that believe: not that believing is the cause of their enjoyment of this life, or is their title to it, which is the name, person, blood, and righteousness of Christ; but faith is the way and means in which they enjoy it; and therefore these signs are written by the evangelist for the encouragement of this faith in Christ, which is of such use in the enjoyment of life, in, through, and from him.” – Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible, biblehub.com

[5] I believe I first read about this in Josh McDowell’s book, The Unshakable Truth

[6] You can read a brief overview here: http://dartmed.dartmouth.edu/winter03/html/vs_connect.shtml

[7] This is recounted in Josh McDowell’s book, The Unshakable Truth

Prayer (John 14-16)

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”  John 14:13-14

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16

“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:23,24

Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples on prayer is pretty eye-catching: five times he says,  “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” I see three question begging to be answered: What does it mean to ask in God’s name; do Christians get anything and everything they ask for; and ultimately, how should we pray?

I am going to address this by walking us through what’s commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer. After my dad died, I really struggled with the concept of prayer. Lots of people had prayed – and felt really confident that God’s plan was healing – and yet he died. I spent years reading about prayer, talking with others, and regaining my footing in this area. The Lord’s Prayer was huge to me during this time. I didn’t know what I was supposed to pray or how prayer worked, but I knew Jesus said, “Pray like this.” So I did.

Jesus offered this prayer to his disciples as sort of a model. There’s nothing magical in the recitation of it, but in it we see foundational principles in how to pray, and why. Some have claimed we see the whole of the gospel message revealed in this prayer. Perhaps that is so. At the very least, this prayer offers some answers to the questions I raised earlier.

Our Father, Who Is In Heaven…[1]

“Our Father” starts us off with good theology. God is not a deistic God, aloof and uncaring. God is not a pantheistic God that is just part of nature. God is not the Force. God is person[2] who is relational, immediate, accessible God.[3]  

“Our Father” reminds us that he’s our father. Not mine; ours. We cannot forget when we pray this that we are raised from death into new life in a family, a Christian community. In this, we are recognizing that while God is for us, He is for all of us. I cannot be content to simply think of God in terms of “me and God.” It must be “us and God.”

“Our Father” reminds us of our status as Christians. We are meant to  approach God as a child approaches his father. “Abba” is often described as ‘daddy,’ but it’s more than that. It’s conveys the idea of a nickname, the word that children say before they can fully pronounce the word.[4] It’s the best, unquenchable expression of a deep, gut-level, unrestrained cry of joy when daddy walks into the room; it’s the instinctive wail of his title when a child in pain believes only daddy will make it better. It’s a word that is used only in a relationship of safety, trust, and love.

“Our Father” reminds us that God cares for us. God will guide and discipline us for our growth into maturity, but he does so because of His love. Charles Spurgeon wrote,

“A father who is a father indeed, is very dear! Do we not remember how we climbed his knee? Do we not recollect the kisses we imprinted on his cheeks? Do we not recall today with gratitude the chidings of his wisdom and the gentle encouragements of his affection? Who shall tell how much we owe to our fathers according to the flesh, and when they are taken from us we lament their loss, and feel that a great gap is made in our family circle. Listen, then, to these words, "Our Father, Who is in heaven." Consider the grace contained in the Lord's deigning to take us into the relationship of children, and giving us with the relationship the nature and the spirit of children, so that we say, "Abba, Father."

So just in this opening, we establish a theology of God, our status with Him, and our place within the Christian community.

Hallowed be Thy Name

In the Bible, God’s name has to do with his character, nature and reputation. Doing something “in his name’ meant acting as a representative on his behalf, trusting in the character and nature of God while doing one’s best to faithfully represent him in thoughts, words and deeds.[5]

Praying in God’s name is not a magical incantation of the name of Jesus. The Bible clearly models over and over that we pray and invoke the literal name of Jesus, but the power is not in the syllables (Acts 19 records what happens when some Jews tried to cast out demons by invoking the name of Jesus). They broke one of the commandments and “took God’s name in vain” – that is, they took  him lightly or casually.

The power of the name of Jesus comes from 1) the character and nature of the one who is being called, and 2) the submission and allegiance of the one who is calling. So when Jesus says, “Whosever prays in my name” he is not saying anyone can grab the name of Jesus and wait for fireworks. He is saying, “If you are my disciples – if you have taken my name seriously enough to endure persecution and even death for me – and you pray, I will answer.”

“Hallowed be thy name” is a plea, not a statement of fact. It’s saying, “Please, make your name revered or holy.” It’s asking for God to start the process in a world full of people – including the one praying – who takes the name of Jesus too casually. It’s asking that God’s character and nature be recognized as great by all who dismiss, insult or ignore it. This should humble us, because that includes us.[6]

It’s also a plea of both humility and hope. “Help me not to take your name lightly or casually. Help me to appreciate the majesty of God. I want the entirety of my life reflect that great weight and value I give to you; with your help, all I think, say and do will offer an accurate representation of you. ”  

May Your Kingdom Come And Your Will be Done, On Earth As It Is In Heaven.

It’s hopeful in that we are reminded that one day, all the kingdoms of the earth will come under the Lordship of Christ. This reflects a longing for future reality of heaven – and the hope that here, in this life, we will catch glimpses of the glory that awaits us. Robert Law writes , "Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done.” Whenever we pray for justice, mercy, hope, and love, truth, and holiness, we are praying with hope that these heavenly realities will actually manifest here and let us see in part now what we will see fully in the life to come.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaXxwFpavj4[/embed]

It’s humbling in that we are asking God to reign in our lives in ways He does not now - emotions, desires, thoughts and commitments. We want His desire to be our desires; His will to be our will; His loves to be our loves; His holiness to be ours. It’s also a reminder that, at the end of the day, we want God’s will to be done, not ours.

It’s not always easy to tell if what we are praying is within God’s will, or if it is selfishly motivated. It’s not possible for us to see all that God sees, so in many situations our best prayer is one where we ask God for life to unfold in a way that makes complete sense to us – but it might not be in the will of a God who has faultless wisdom, live and power. Even Jesus prayed 22: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22)

This is another part of praying in God’s name, and brings us back to the question of whether or not we get everything we pray for. Praying in his name means praying in tune with and in trust of God’s nature and character, and therefore praying for something to happen as God would have it happen.

The phrase “in my name” is not a talisman for the command of supernatural energy. He did not wish it to be used as a magical charm like an Aladdin’s lamp. It was both a guarantee, like the endorsement on a check, and a limitation on the petition; for he would grant only such petitions as could be presented consistently with his character and purpose. In prayer we call on him to work out his purpose, not simply to gratify our whims. (Tenney, M. C. (1981). John. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (146). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)[7]

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread…

Literally, “that which is sufficient for our life.”  This word is only found in the Bible in ancient literature and is used only twice, so there is a lot of uncertainty about how to translate it correctly. It can convey everything from  bread today, to bread tomorrow, to the bread of heaven that will sustain us for eternity.[8] I’m leaving in the ‘daily’  for now because, well, #KingJames.

The main idea is this: trusting God to provide what we need.[9] We can take for granted that we can take care of ourselves. If that fails, our family, church or government will provide. This part of the prayer a reminder that everything happens under the sovereignty of God; all our blessings find their source in him. For that reason, we thank God ultimately for supplying for our needs. It’s a constant reminder that life is saturated with the presence and work of God, and even in our greatest accomplishments or in the most generous deeds of others it is God who sustains and provides. There is a future hope here as well. We are trusting that God will sustain us into and through eternity, which will require the true “bread of life,” Jesus Christ.

Forgive Our Transgressions As We Have Forgiven Those Who Transgress Against Us.

Apollonius of Tyana was a Greek philosopher, a contemporary of Jesus whom a number of scholars have compared with Jesus. They shouldn’t. He once prayed,  “Give me that which is my due—pay me, ye gods, the debts ye owe to me.”   This is not the prayer of one who understands Jesus or the Christian faith.

Here is the first acknowledgment: We have all sinned against God, broken His law and harmed others, and we are in desperate need of forgiveness of an unpayable debt we owe. This is a plea for God, in HIs mercy, to cover the cost of our sins.

The second acknowledgment is that we must forgive those who sin against us. This is much tougher than praying that God forgives us of our sins. We must forgive those who have sinned against us: our spouse, our parents, cruel people at work or school. This list includes users and abusers, manipulators and liars. We all have sinned; we all are in desperate needs of God’s forgiveness. We want God to forgive us; as representatives bearing His name, we must offer forgiveness as well.

This portion of the prayer is what Augustine called “a terrible petition.” If we pray these words this while harboring unforgiveness, we are actually asking God not to forgive us. Ponder that for a moment. We would be saying, “I haven’t forgiven my friend/spouse/neighbor yet, so please don’t forgive me.”  John and Charles Wesley wrote of this passage that, if we pray this while harboring unforgiveness, it is as if we were saying, “Do not forgive us at all…We pray that you will keep our sins in remembrance, and that your wrath may abide upon us.”

We know that God forgives even when we don’t deserve it (Psalm 103:12Micah7:18, 19, Isaiah 38:17, 43:25). This is not about the repentance and forgiveness of sins that initially brings us into the family of God. This is about a crucial spiritual marker that says something about the sincerity of our ongoing surrender and discipleship. John Piper says it this way:[10]

“If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone… we are not saved. We don’t cherish this forgiveness. We don’t trust in this forgiveness. We don’t embrace and treasure this forgiveness. We are hypocrites. We are just mouthing… Struggling to forgive is not what destroys us. As long as we are in the flesh, we will do our good deeds imperfectly, including forgiving and loving others. Jesus died to cover those imperfections. What destroys us is the settled position that we are not going to forgive and we have no intention to forgive.”

There does not seem to be any wiggle room here: if we claim to love God and hate our brother, we are liars (1 John 4:20). If we claim to love God and have a settled position of intentional unforgiveness, we are liars then as well.

“After what has been said… it will not be thought that our Lord here teaches that our exercise of forgiveness towards our offending fellow men absolutely precedes and is the proper ground of God's forgiveness of us. His whole teaching, indeed—as of all Scripture—is the reverse of this. But no one can reasonably imagine himself to be the object of divine forgiveness who is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow men.… God sees His own image reflected in His forgiving children; but to ask God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him.” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

If we want to be forgiven, we must be committed to being deliberately and habitually forgiving.[11]

Lead Us Not into Trials, And Deliver Us From The Temptations Of The Evil One.

Last week, I noted that persecution is not the same as trials and temptations. A trial is “trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one's faith, holiness, character.”  Temptation is “an enticement to sin, arising from  outward circumstances, within, or from Satan” (Luke 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12; 1 Timothy 6:9; Luke 4:13). Both these words use the same root word; translations will differ on the usage at times. (http://biblehub.com/greek/3986.htm).  In this case, the commentaries I have been reading are noting that “lead us not into temptation” is better understood as “lead us not into trials”; the second part of the phrase focuses on temptation. Once again, #KingJames. Wuest’s Translation says: “Do not bring us into the place of testing where the circumstances in which we are tested lead us on to the place where we are solicited to do evil.”

So this is once again humble and hopeful. It’s humbling in that we acknowledge we are a proud and rebellious people whom God in his love will need to send trials to refine us. This prayer does not ask God to stop transforming us into the image of Christ this way; it asks that God keeps us from giving into the temptation from the Evil One (Luke 4:13; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8) or from the lusts within ourselves that undermine us (James 1:14; 4:1-4). It’s a prayer to save us from moral failure within and the ravages of moral evil all around.[12]

But there is the hopeful part of the request: we don’t have to be broken by trials. With God’s help, we can grow from them. Jesus said, “Ask God for this kind of help.” So we do, and He does.

For Thine Is The Kingdom, And The Power, And The Glory Forever, Amen.[13]

This phrase is not in the earliest manuscripts, but it was written in the margins beside this prayer so often that the early church added  it relatively quickly – think of it as a doxology, a short closing song. After focusing on our needs, our troubles, our frailty, we return to the glory of God. All kingdoms answer to God. All power comes from God. All glory belongs to God.  In a world where kingdoms rise and fall, and power corrupts, and glory is tarnished and fleeting, it’s a reminder that God is uncorrupted, lasting, powerful and good, and true glory is found only in him.[14]

* * * * * * * * * *

What does it mean to ask in God’s name? It means we petition God in alignment with His character, nature and purpose. We want our desires to mirror his will. It means we have taken His name seriously – our commitment and His Spirit are forming and transforming our lives. It means that as we pray, we are actually praying that His will and not ours be done. This requires a lot of trust, especially when life unfolds in a ways that are painful or baffling. This is when we cry out to God like a child: “Abba: hear my prayer.”

Do Christians get anything and everything they ask for? No. God is in the business of giving us what we need, not just what we want. That distinction is not always clear to us, but it is to Him. The more our heart, soul, mind and strength are transformed into the image of Christ, the more our wants reflect God’s will, and the “prayers of the righteous will be powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Perhaps that effectiveness is seen in how a circumstance changes; perhaps it is seen in what God does in our hearts in spite of our circumstances.

How should we pray? With hope and humility, trusting that a Father who loves His children will give us what we need for life and godliness.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES (that also helped to form this sermon)

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[1] Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’ ” Romans 8:15, 16: “You received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

[2] http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/god-is-a-person-but-what-does-this-mean

[3] “In the word Father — that you are my Father — is the gospel in miniature. If God is my boss or my employer, then even though he might be a good boss or a good employer; nevertheless, in the end, he is not unconditionally committed to me. If I act up, he may give me a break or two, but eventually my boss will terminate me…to say that God is my Father and I can always know that he will hear me and I can rest and I can adore him, that doesn’t mean I can sin away. And the reason is, of course, that if you break your boss’s rules, that doesn’t hurt your boss as much as if you break your father’s rules, because that is trampling on your father’s heart.” – Tim Keller

[4] I first heard this point made by Tim Keller in a sermon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqxXABgRhVo

[5] “Whoever receives one such child in my name (because you belong to me) receives me.” (Matthew 18:5)  “For where two or three are gathered in my name (under the mantle of my authority), there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)  “Many will come in my name (as a representative), saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray.” (Mark 13:6) http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/18-5.htm

[6] I pulled some ideas about the radical nature of the Lord’s Prayer from this excellent article: “The Lord’s Prayer Advert Has Been Banned For Being Offensive - Which It Is.” http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/the_lords_prayer_advert_has_been_banned_for_being_offensive_which_it_is\

[7] “The prayer of Gethsemane—“If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done,” should teach what prayer in the name and spirit of Christ means. We commonly attach to our prayers, “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We do not always bear in mind that this implies an absolute self-sacrifice, and is a prayer that our very prayers may not be answered except in so far as they are in accordance with the divine will.” Elliot’s Commentary

“Anything that can rightly be asked in His name will be granted; there is no other limit. By ‘in My name’ is not of course meant the mere using the formula ‘through Jesus Christ.’ Rather, it means praying and working as Christ’s representatives in the same spirit in which Christ prayed and worked,—‘Not My will, but Thine be done.” Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges

“These are not “blank checks”—promises to supply everything anyone requests. “In My name” corresponds to “according to My character” and thus is parallel to other texts that require us to leave room for God’s will to overrule ours.” (e.g., Mt 6:10; Jms 4:15). (Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1601). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.)

[8] From Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers: “The word translated “daily” is found nowhere else, with the one exception of the parallel passage in Luke 11:3, and so far as we can judge must have been coined for the purpose, as the best equivalent for the unknown Aramaic word which our Lord actually used… The form of the word (see Note in Excursus) admits of the meanings, (1) bread sufficient for the day now coming; (2) sufficient for the morrow; (3) sufficient for existence; (4) over and above material substance… I find myself constrained to say that the last meaning seems to me the truest. Let us remember (1) the words with which our Lord had answered the Tempter, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4); (2) His application of those words in “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” (John 4:32); (3) His own use of bread as the symbol of that which sustains the spiritual life (John 6:27-58); (4) the warnings in Matthew 6:25-31 not only against anxiety about what we shall eat and drink, but against seeking these things instead of seeking simply the kingdom of God and His righteousness—and we can scarcely fail, I think, to see that He meant His disciples, in this pattern Prayer, to seek for the nourishment of the higher and not the lower life... So when we ask for “daily bread,” we mean not common food, but the “Bread from heaven, which giveth life unto the world.”

[9] Tim Keller suggest that it’s also a prayer for justice. If one does not have bread, particularly in Jesus’ day, it wasn’t because of a lack of resources. There was either oppression from the Romans or disdain from the Jews, whom the Law required to take care of the poor. It’s a plea for justice to be done to yourself; it’s a prayer for society; it’s a reminder to the one praying that he or she can, as a representative of God, fulfill this prayer request for those around them. It’s not just that I need bread; so does my neighbor. And the manna that God gave his people supernaturally He now gives to His children through the hands of His people.

[10]  http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/if-i-fail-to-forgive-others-will-god-not-forgive-me

[11] “Yet not as though human forgiveness can be supposed to merit the divine pardon, but the former is the necessary moral “requisitum subjecti” (Calovius) in him who seeks forgiveness from God.” – Meyers NT Commentary

“The parables of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41) and of the Unforgiving Creditor whose own debt had been forgiven (Matthew 18:23-35) were but expansions of the thought which we find in its germ in this clause of the Lord’s Prayer. In striking contrast with that clause is the claim of merit which insinuates itself so readily into the hearts of those who worship without the consciousness that they need forgiveness, and which uttered itself in the daring prayer attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, “Give me that which is my due—pay me, ye gods, the debts ye owe to me.”  - Elliot’s Commentary For English Readers

[12] How does God  answer this prayer and deliver us?  His Word. (Psalm 119:11; Proverbs 6:20-24); Prayer (Matthew 26:41; Luke 22:40); The Armor of God (Ephesians 6) Salvation, Faith, Truth, The Holy Spirit, the Gospel message – in other words, dedicated discipleship in which our heart, soul, mind and strength are surrendered to God as His Holy Spirit works within us.; Wise Boundaries ( 1 Corinthians 7:5; Proverbs 5-7); Resistance and flight (1 Timothy 6; James 4:7; Matthew 18:8-9; Proverbs 1:10-15; Genesis 39:7-10; Daniel 1:8)

[13] http://www.pinevillefumc.org/clientimages/45029/forthineisthekingdom.pdf

[14] N.T. Wright says, “If the church isn't prepared to subvert the kingdoms of the world with the kingdom of God, the only honest thing would be to give up praying this prayer altogether, especially its final doxology.”

In This World You Will Have Trouble: The Reality Of Persecution (John 15-17)

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STORIES OF PERSECUTION: SUSAN IN UGANDA

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John 15:18 – 16:3 “If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason. Don’t forget what I have spoken to you: ‘A servant is not greater than the master.’ If they persecute me, they will persecute you… The time will come when they will kick you out of the synagogue because some believe God desires them to execute you as an act of faithful service.”

John 16:32-33  “Be aware that a time is coming when you will be scattered like seeds…In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.”

John 17:14-14  “I have given them Your word; and the world has despised them because they are not products of the world, in the same way that I am not a product of the corrupt world order. Do not take them out of this world; protect them from the evil one.”

                                            _____________________________________

Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the night of his arrest. Basically he was telling them, “Expect persecution.” He was right. Hebrews 11 gives quite a list of what happened to not only these disciples but many who claimed allegiance to Jesus: wandered in deserts and mountains, lived in caves, tortured, sawn in two, jailed, flogged, chained, put to death by the sword and stoned. They all were killed but John, who was terribly tortured and imprisoned.

In this specific warning to his disciples we see a broader warning to all who will be his disciples. We may not all experience the exact persecution the disciples or the early church did, but because the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to the Kingdoms of the World, those who love the world will despise followers of Jesus; the church can expect to be despised, broken apart, scattered and persecuted. Though Jesus has overcome the world, “in this world you will have trouble.”  “Trouble” of some sort is clearly a reality that has haunted followers of Christ throughout history, including what is happening to the global church today.

The main word translated as ‘persecution’ in the New Testament means “the hunt to bring someone down like an animal.” It is used in ancient and biblical Greek in reference to leaders such as the Roman Emperor Decius (ad 250-251), who killed thousands of Christians who refused to offer sacrifices in his name. (http://biblehub.com/greek/1375.htm)[1]

Persecution is oppression or harassment resulting in punishment for the sake of Christ (Matthew 13:21; Mark 4:17; Mark 10:30; Acts 8:1; Acts 13:50; Romans 8:35; plural, 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:11). This could take several forms.

This graph from Open Doors shows how this is happening all over the world right now; here’s a good summary from Relevant magazine:[2]

“In Northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has waged a years-long campaign of violence, mass abductions, rapes and village raids against local communities. In many cases, they’ve targeted Christians, as well as more moderate Muslims. Schoolgirls who have been captured have been forced to convert to Islam before being made to become child brides and even suicide bombers.

In parts of the Middle East, where Christianity was first born, faith communities are being eradicated by ISIS and their radical brand of Islam. Even countless peaceful Muslims who do not maintain the same radical ideology of ISIS militants have come under attack…. There have been reports of Christian aid workers being publicly beaten and even made to watch their own children being tortured in an effort to get them to renounce their faith, before being publicly crucified.

There have been some estimates that Christianity could be completely eradicated in Iraq—once home to more than 1 million Christ followers—in just the next five years. This week, Christian churches in an area of Indonesia under Sharia law have been burned and destroyed. In North Korea, people of faiths that the official government does not recognize face imprisonment and even death. According to some estimates, global violence against Christians has never been higher.”

Did you notice a particular nation that was missing in the Open Doors chart and in Relevant's summary?  The United States. We have been fortunate in that we don’t even get noticed at all from organizations that keep track of persecution around the world. However, there is a valid concern about a growing hostility against Christianity here in the United States, so let’s take a moment to clarify what persecution is not, and then we will talk about the trouble we as Christians do face in the United States, and how we should respond.

We are not persecuted when we are stopped from saying “Merry Christmas” at Wal-Mart or forced to endure Starbucks’ changing cups. It’s a sign that our culture is shifting in its understanding of the importance of and accommodation for Christianity, but no one is oppressing us. Nobody in the Middle East is praying that our latte comes in a more Christian container.

We are not persecuted when we are held to a common standard of expected conduct.  If you spend all your time at work preaching instead of working, you might lose your job, and that won’t be persecution. You are failing to do the job you were hired to do.  If you want to wear a T-shirt to school or work with a message about Jesus and your employers don’t let you because they have a “no messages on T-shirts” policy, you aren’t being persecuted. No one in Iraq is praying that Christians in America can wear T-shirts with words on them wherever they want. They are praying that they won’t be decapitated for their faith.

We are not persecuted when we have to defend our faith to skeptics. That’s to be expected, and nowhere does the Bible talk of that as persecution. By the way – it’s important that we do this with grace, or we will think that people are responding with hostility because we are Christians when they are actually responding that way because we are jerks.

There are some popular Christian bloggers and Youtube personalities who post really inflammatory things. It’s no surprise they get a lot of hateful push back. It’s hard to tell how much of that is because they are abrasive and mean vs. how much is because people simply disagree. Disagreement is not persecution. No one in Saudi Arabia is praying that atheists stop trolling your message board. They are praying that their children won’t be beaten to death for attending church.

We are not persecuted when we are offended by anti-Christian messages. The early church lived in cultures that were pagan in ways that are hard for us to imagine, yet the Bible does not claim that the presence of sin and/or gleeful sinners is persecution. It was a source of trials and temptations, but that’s different. We are not persecuted because Hollywood is more corrupt and more powerful than ever. We are not persecuted because advertisements constantly undermine our moral view of the world or because pop music glorifies just about everything but the Kingdom of God. That’s just called a mission field, and we are called to weep for those who are lost and then go to them and preach the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. No one in the Sudan is praying that Bill Maher stop making silly documentaries about religion or that we be spared from obnoxious Hardees commercials. They are praying that, if they make it to a refugee camp, they aren’t killed in front of their children.

By God’s grace, the hostility we can currently expect in the United States is nothing compared to what is happening in the Middle East. At this point, there is no one in the West who can look our Christian brothers and sisters from the Middle East in the eyes and even come close to being able to say honesty, “I feel your pain.”

And yet…

The First Liberty Institute issued a report this year called ““Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America” that “documents more than 1,200 legal cases involving persons who believe they have been discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.” [3]  I’ve been saying “hostility” because a) they use it, and b) it’s a good word for the growing opposition in the West.

  • Christians in the West are increasingly denied promotions or jobs because of their committed walk with Christ;[4]
  • Christians in the West are increasingly sued or jailed for taking a principled, conscientious stand for biblical morality[5]
  • Christians in the West are increasingly paying an academic cost for their Christian principles[6]
  • Christians in the West are increasingly portrayed as dangerous .[7] 

So how does the Bible tell us to respond?

I am going to offer four principles that apply no matter what level of ‘trouble’ we face for our commitment to Christ. Though we don’t face the persecution in the nations highlighted by Voice of the Martyrs, we are increasingly facing trouble, and we have the opportunity to learn how to respond well so that, if and when the more radical forms of persecution come, we have been training ourselves on what to do. So let’s talk about living like Jesus so that we can prepare ourselves to suffer and die for Him if we are ever called to do so. This will be brief, because I want to let some voices of those who are persecuted bring this home.

  • Love our enemies. There is no getting around the biblical demand to forgive and even pray for those who are hostile to or persecute you (Matthew 5:44). If you can’t forgive someone for the emotional pain you felt from that confrontational Facebook quote about how silly you are for being a Christian, it’s going to be really hard to forgive someone when financial or physical pain is inflicted on you or your family. We need to identity those around us we see as being against us and practice loving them as Christ would love them.
  • Don’t seek revenge.  God wants us to surrender the desire for revenge in our hearts, but at minimum we must surrender the desire to revenge with out hands.  We must practice not lashing out and making sure a person or company “gets what they deserve” when there is hostility targeting Christian beliefs of moral stances. It’s one thing to take a principled stand and boycott organizations whose moral offense finally reaches a level where we believe we must take a stand.  It’s also perfectly appropriate to use everything within our legal reach to fight for our rights (I’m thinking of how Paul constantly used his status as a Roman to get out of persecution).  So I’m not talking about  taking a principled social stand or using the protection our legal system provides. If you can write well, write. If you can speak well, speak out. If you can vote, vote. If you can repost and article, repost. Be present and be heard. But we can’t do this out of revenge and bitterness. Do we pray for the salvation and healing of the world even as we boycott? Do we long for their redemption even as we wrestle in the courts for our freedoms? We are going to have more and more opportunities to bold in our defense of justice and truth; we must be equally passionate about doing so with grace, love and humility. [8]
  • Show mercy: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head" ( Romans 12:20 ).  Most commentators agree this was a way of saying that repaying hostility with love is the only response allowed by Christians; in so doing, their righteous response will pierce the conscience of their enemy. Somebody needs to point the way; somebody must break the cycle of hostility or persecution. It should be us. We must learn now what it means to care for those who don’t care for us. Once again, we must figure this out while all that’s coming our way is harsh words and hateful attitudes,
  • Look to Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith" ( Hebrews 12:2 ).  Rather than explain this last point, I will let some who have gone through persecution explain it.

 “The Nine: Overcoming ISIS” 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuv393P2Ns0[/embed]

FOOTNOTES AND ENDNOTES

[1] Persecution is not a trial or temptation. A trial is “trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one's faith, holiness, character,”  Temptation is “an enticement to sin, arising from  outward circumstances, within, or from Satan. (Luke 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12; 1 Timothy 6:9; Luke 4:13).  (http://biblehub.com/greek/3986.htm

[2] http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/lets-be-clear-about-what-real-christian-persecution-looks

[3] http://dailysignal.com/2016/02/25/hostility-toward-religion-in-america-is-undeniable-report-says/

[4]  Hostility related to jobs

[5] Hostility against a principled, conscientious stand

[6] Hostility in academia

[7] Christians are dangerous

[8] Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek, walk an extra mile and give up one’s cloak is an interesting one (Matthew 5:38-42 ). If you read carefully, a Roman needed to backhand the Jewish person, a form of violence that also involved contempt since they backhanded someone inferior. The Jews were to ask for a punch on the other cheek, asking, in effect, to be struck as an equal. They are subverting the assumptions of their oppressors. By giving them the cloak with the coat, they were stripping themselves of everything, giving a visual to what the oppressor was doing. By going the extra mile, they were getting the Roman who conscripted their service into trouble, because Romans were severely punished for exceeding one mile. They did not lash out, but they did not give up. They responded in a way meant to open the eyes of their oppressors so they could see the hostility and oppression in which they engaged. And if that failed, and they just got beat more and lost all their clothes, James told them to count it as joy (James 1:2); Paul said, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Am I a Friend of God? (John 15:15)

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Pre-Intro

Have you ever heard the phrase, “I am a friend of God”?

Have you ever thought about what it means?

Am I the only one who has ever wondered about that?

We all have had friends, so we know what a friend is, right? Think of some things you might do with a friend? (movie, fish, golf, hike, shop, bonfire, eat…) Which of those can you do with God? Now, I know that God is always with us in a very real sense. And I know that we can and should talk to him regularly. But there is a difference, right? You can’t hug God like you hug a friend. Even though we may say Jesus is our copilot, I wouldn’t make a sandwich while driving believing that Jesus would take the wheel. You can’t golf or fish with God, because he doesn’t do those things. So being a friend of God has to be fundamentally different from being a friend of Scott … right?

We usually think of friends as peers, or people we have something in common with. Anyone here see God as a peer? I hope not! The bible says there is none like God, and that includes us. We are not like him. If you doubt that, read Job[1]. God makes the differences quite clear. How about the idea of having something in common? Anyone here share things in common with God? Anyone sinless? Omnipotent? Eternal? Yeah… he’s kind of in a category by himself. Again, being a friend of God can’t be identical to what we usually mean when we say, “I am a friend of X”.

Intro

This summer we’ve been working our way through the book of John by examining the major themes of the book.

In John 15:15, Jesus tells his disciples, “Now, I call you friends”.

People have done different things with that statement. One response is to see this as an anthem. “I am a friend of God!”, some shout. It’s a cheerful refrain. A slogan. Even a chant, perhaps. It’s all about us and who we are. This is not completely false, but it’s not completely true, either. It’s just not complete.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Now, I call you friends”. This raises some questions – for me at least. If “now”, then why now? If “now”, then what were we before? Who is the “you”? And even if I identify the specific “you” he was speaking to, can we equally apply it to the “you” that is here today? In other words, was it just them or are we friends too? And what does he mean by friends? As we’ve just seen, that seems like unusual language for God to use. As you can see, I ask a lot of questions. Hopefully, we will answer those and more before we are done today.

 

Slaves or Friends?

Let’s expand the reading a bit. You know I’m a big fan of context. That’s the only way to properly approach scripture.

“No longer do I call you servants (…) but I have called you friends,”

You can see how context helps here. He’s using the word friend in contrast to the word servant[2].

On the surface, it sounds like Jesus is saying we are no longer servants/slaves. But if that’s true, when I read the rest of the bible, it adds some confusion for me. For instance, later in the same discussion, Jesus says a servant isn’t greater than his master[3].

In fact, Jesus’ closest followers – some of whom were there when he called them friends and no longer servants – said some confusing things:

  1. James calls himself a servant of God – James 1:1
  2. So does Peter – 2 Peter 1:1
  3. And Jude – Jude 1:1
  4. And John – Rev 1:1

And notice the references. Chapter one, verse one. These writers, and many more, introduced themselves as servants of God. But didn’t Jesus say they were no longer servants?

I think Paul helps us understand the issue. He tells us that “having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness”[4]. Paul’s point is that we are all slaves. We have always been slaves. We were born as slaves to sin, but we are now slaves to Christ. In fact, this is the testimony of the bible. Our story begins with our rebellion and rejection of God, but after what the bible calls “regeneration”, our minds and our affections are turned to Christ. No longer do we seek after the pleasures and approval of the world. Instead we seek to please God. This is the transition from being friends of the world to friends of God. Slaves before, and slaves after. What has changed is the direction of our heart.

History

I think this is helpful, but we can do more. Let’s look at some history.

Ancient slavery

In ancient times, slavery was very common as a means of repaying debt. This wasn’t antebellum slavery like we saw in the South, so don’t think in those terms. We’re talking about relatively free people who chose to become slaves.

I don’t think it should be that hard to relate to. Imagine having a dozen credit cards maxed out. You are upside down on two car loans and you can’t make your mortgage payment. Not to mention the medical bills you are ignoring because they’re too much to deal with. For a whole bunch of people, this is not difficult to imagine. Now add this. What if you could walk into Wal-Mart and fill out some paperwork giving up your freedom to them in exchange for all your debt being wiped clean. No more payments, no more bad credit, no more harassing calls. You’re in the clear. The only tradeoff is now someone else controls your resources. You’re not in charge of your time. You don’t get a paycheck, but they give you what you need. Your family is provided things like food, shelter, and clothing, and you do whatever the company needs you to do. For people in desperate circumstances, this was pretty appealing.

In Jesus’ time, living in essence as property of another person was often a much better life than the slaves could have otherwise had. No matter what we might think of that concept, it was the norm for over half the population.

Bondservants

Sometimes a slave would be so appreciative of how his master treated him and his family that he would pledge himself to his master for life. He would signify his choice by driving an awl through his ear, essentially pinning him to his master’s wall. It was a graphic way of saying, “I want to be your slave for life. I am committing myself and everything I have to you.” I’m not going anywhere.

Again, I want to reiterate this is not cotton-picking slavery. These people were not abducted from their homes. They did not live in inhumane conditions. In most cases, this was not the dehumanizing oppression of the weak, though that did happen in some cases. For the most part, slaves were employees, but more. They worked for their master, lived on his land, ate his food, and did his bidding.

And don’t picture them as just laborers in the field. Slaves filled every conceivable role that employees could. Worker, supervisor, scribe, doctor, manager, cook, purchaser…  This was the case throughout the Roman empire.  Many worked their way to freedom. Sometimes, even those who were doing just fine would become slaves of someone very wealthy so they could move up the social ladder.

Friends of the King

Some slaves naturally became closer to their masters than others. By “closer”, I don’t mean chummy. I mean closer in proximity. Closer in trust. They would end up being business advisers, financial overseers, personnel managers, emissaries, cup bearers, food tasters, and everything else. Naturally, their master (who might even be a king) would grow to trust them and even build friendship with them. The master would have a special bond with some that he did not have with others. Some would be privy to information that others would not be. They were friends of their master, but they were not peers. They were slaves and also friends. By becoming one whom the king loved, or a “friend of the king”, you did not stop being subject to him. You were both at the same time.

In Jesus’ time, this was common knowledge throughout the empire. The slaves closest to the king would know what was important to him. They would know where he would go and where he would not. Who he would do business with and who he would not. They knew his motivations, his thoughts, his desires, and his plans. They were slaves that the king loved.

We can think of a few biblical examples to back this up. Joseph was sold into slavery as a boy, yet he rose to become the second most powerful man in Egypt[5]. Daniel was taken into captivity[6] by a conquering enemy, but eventually rose to a become the king’s trusted advisor[7]. Onesimus had been a slave to Philemon, but through Paul’s intervention he became a slave to the gospel[8].

Jesus was drawing on this common knowledge of how Roman society was built. No commentary was needed, because the disciples understood him to be saying, “You are friends of the king. I am your master, but you are slaves that I love. You are the servants who know me and my will most intimately.”

The American Difficulty

As Americans, this concept can be tough to relate to, but I think we can get close.

First of all, we don’t live in a monarchy. Honestly, I’ve often wished we did. We would certainly have a different understanding of many stories and lessons in scripture if that way of life was engrained in us.

You don’t get to vote for a king. You don’t have the right to disagree with a king. For all the wonderful benefits of American life, growing up in this country means being alienated from the underlying worldview that is present in the storyline of the bible.

Our personal declaration of independence

The American dream tells us we can make it on our own. The idea of independence, self-determination, and freedom led people to start this country on their own terms. It has inspired countless entrepreneurs (myself included) to leave the traditional workforce and start their own businesses. It drove us to shake off oppression and follow our dreams. By shedding the tyranny of kings, we were free to choose the rulers that best represented our ideals. Independence has brought us many benefits, whether perceived or real, and these have been formative in what it is to be American.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all rosy. On a personal level, our private declaration of independence means that no one is the boss of me. At the faintest sign of oppression, we are ready to rise up and fight against the man. Having tasted independence, we can’t get enough of it. Every cycle, we rally around candidates who we think will bring us more freedom – and who will most likely disappoint us as much as the last one.

We know what will happen if children are raised without respect for authority, but we seem to ignore the fact that in all our cries for freedom and independence, we adults easily fall prey to the same thing.

Our personal bill of rights

However, just as independence has a dark side, so does the notion of rights. It’s impossible to miss the abuses of this concept today. Now it seems everyone has the inalienable right to be and to do whatever they want. In effect, we have all decided that we can dictate our own personal bill of rights on our own terms.

Advertisers have encouraged us by telling us to “Just Do It” and to “Have it Your Way”. They say that “You Deserve a Break Today”. Why? "Because I'm worth it."    

We are all narcissists. Time’s person of the year in 2006 was “YOU”. We see everything in terms of how it can serve us or how it affects us. Is it any surprise that we have such a strong entitlement mentality?

I’m not suggesting we ought to return to Britain. I’m pointing out that the drive to be independent is a very close cousin to rebellion. We would do well to recognize that a rebellious streak exists in the American genes.  If we aren’t careful, a healthy sense of independence can become a very unhealthy rebellion. And we would be naïve to presume that it does not affect our theology.

And just like the rebellious streak of independence, the self-centered streak of individual rights affects our theology. We tend to read scripture as if it is about us. We look for promises rather than requirements. All of this has the effect of removing any sense of accountability to God. We end up focusing on grace and ignoring the law. We are quick to say, “Jesus loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life”, and rarely pause to consider that he might require anything of us.

The Perfect Storm

We proclaim, “I’m a friend of God!” This is true, of course, but it’s incomplete. This insufficient and Americanized view of theology leaves us desiring a Savior, but not a Lord. We want someone who will help us, but not someone who will rule over us. This is a narcissistic view of Christianity, and not what Jesus was talking about.

Masters and Slaves in the USA

In our context, the closest we can probably come to this master/servant idea is probably in our vocation. If you have ever had a job, you know that the employer and the employee have a particular relationship. The boss chooses the people he thinks will best fill the positions required. Some workers will naturally have more proximity to the boss than others. Often, the positions closest to the boss are filled by those who rise through the ranks. The people in roles like managers or personal assistant will naturally be closest to the boss. They will have more access to him than the average worker does. This is not because they are entitled to the access. This access is earned in part, and granted in part. You have to be loyal, a good worker, trustworthy, etc. That is what is required to be in a place where you will even be considered to be included in his inner circle. A trustworthy and exceptional worker is not entitled to be the boss’s assistant, but he is in a position where it’s a possibility. Think of it like a prerequisite. Taking pre-med does not get you accepted into med school, but you definitely won’t be if you haven’t done pre-med. Even those in the boss’ inner circle know their place. They know not to treat their boss too casually, because though there is a degree of friendship, he’s still in charge. The bottom line in this flawed analogy is this: there are special roles within companies, but they are still subordinates.

Examining the text

With this historical framework regarding masters and servants in view, let’s look a little deeper at Jesus’ discussion with the apostles.

Hermeneutics

The fancy word for what we’re about to do is “hermeneutics”. That’s the name for how we go about understanding the bible. And it’s usually easy once you know how. We’re going to want to look at things like who were the players, where did it happen, and what happened before and after.

The Players

First of all, the speaker is easy to identify. It was Jesus. The person recording this exchange was John the Apostle. He was there as an eyewitness. Keep in mind that his motivation for writing this book was to let us know that Jesus was God made man, and that this belief ought to transform our lives.

The audience was Jesus’ closest followers, called his apostles. As citizens of Rome, they were well familiar with the idea of “friends of the king” we explored.

Setting: A Big Day

Let’s look at the chronological layout of the book of John. Chapters 1-12 covered approximately three years. Chapters 13-18 cover Thursday. John recorded a whole lot more detail about Jesus’ final day before his crucifixion than he did any other day of his life. So let’s examine the setting of this day a bit more.

Jesus had what we call the “Last Supper” with the disciples. The apostles argued over which one of them was the highest in command. Jesus then washed their feet to show that servanthood was better than greatness. When Jesus explained the practice of communion, he said that Judas was going to betray him. He then told the remaining eleven that he will soon be leaving for good and they can’t follow.

Hold on, Jesus. You’re not done here. What about Israel conquering our oppressors? Their conception of the Messiah and his goals was being upended and they were confused.

Then they left the Upper Room and began walking. It was probably well after dark. They were walking toward the Mount of Olives where Jesus would be arrested that same night. This was not a celebratory march. Jesus knew his death was imminent. This was a somber review of what Jesus wanted them to remember.

After all this teaching, Jesus predicted that every one of them would fall away from him that night. Peter said, “Well, everyone but me, Lord.” Jesus said, “Actually, tonight alone you’ll deny me three times, Pete”.

Jesus continued. He compared them to a branches on a fruit vine. He said that God is in the business of “cutting away” people who claim to be part of the vine (that is Christ) but who bear no fruit. He then admonishes them to love one another, just like he had loved them. In fact, they should love one another to the point of death, just as he was about to do, though they didn’t know it yet. And then he said this:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” – John 15:14-17

Jesus was about to die. He repeated his summary of the law: love God and love one another. Love God by obeying his commandments[9], and love one another[10] by caring for one another. If you do this, then you are my friend, and the fruit you show in your life will prove it.

Finding the Friends

Jesus’ apostles had been with him. They had learned from him. Their affections were changed. They were changed to the point of giving up their own ambitions and making their lives about spreading the good news of Jesus. Every one of them suffered and died in this pursuit. Not because they merely liked what Jesus had to say, or found him to be a wise man with good advice for living. They put their trust in him as God and believed him to the point of obedience. They were his friends.

So, are we his friends?

That’s something he left up to us. Jesus was not friends with every person in the world. He was not even friends with all who considered themselves to be Christians[11]. Far from it. His friends were those who followed his commands. We can choose to obey him or not, and in that choice we determine whether we are his friends.

Jesus sacrificed his life, and we must sacrifice our lives. Our will must submit to his. In a very real sense, we must “die”. We must give up our autonomy, our independence, our right to set our own path. And to reference last week’s message, this obedience to Christ is one significant way that we glorify God.

I want to clarify something, because I don’t want this to be a discouraging message. Please don’t take from this the idea that we must be perfect in order to be friends of God. That is not the case at all. There is a requirement. Jesus does call us to perfect obedience, but our fallen humanity causes us to stumble in sin repeatedly. Still, however, there is a distinct difference between one who stumbles into sin and one who embraces sin. There is a difference between a transgression of sin and a lifestyle of sin. This is not to excuse our sins, but there is an important distinction: a friend of God is broken and repentant when he sins, a friend of the world is not.

You don’t need to look any farther than the disciples to gain some reassurance. They were hardly role models all the time. Just in the passages we’ve discussed today, we’ve seen them petty, self-centered, vengeful, and cowardly. And yet, they were friends of God because their hearts were turned to Christ. They sought Christ first, and their lives showed it. They also showed some character defects we would call sin, but that did not define them. They sought to put that behavior to death for the sake of Christ.

"[A lot of people] think that Christianity is you doing all the righteous things you hate and avoiding all the wicked things you love in order to go to Heaven. No, that's a lost man with religion. A Christian is a person whose heart has been changed; they have new affections." – Paul Washer

So… Do you have new affections since your conversion to Christ? Do you “bear fruit” that is consistent with being attached to the vine? As time goes on, do you look increasingly more like Christ rather than the world? If so, then you are a friend of God. Still a slave! But a slave who is a friend. A worker with proximity to the master. A bondservant with a special closeness with the king.

Closing

In the whole scope of scripture, I think we can say something like this:  We are all born as slaves to sin. When we submit to Christ, we remain slaves but we serve another master. We are no longer in bondage to sin, but now in bondage to Christ. And if we obey his commands, we are no longer merely slaves, but he friends as well. We are people to whom God’s heart is revealed. We no longer have just rote commands, but we are able to see – however dimly – where and how God is working.

Do you want to be close to God? Then be like the king’s cupbearer or messenger. Do what he says. Know what he wants. Make his business your business, his will your will. What troubles him should trouble you. Obey the king and you will be closer to the king. Obey God and you will be closer to God. It’s as simple as that.

In glory, we will be more than friends. There is an inheritance promised to believers. But that comes in eternity[12]. We will rule with Christ. We will see God more plainly than we do now. I’m not sure exactly what that means because I don’t think it’s something our minds are able to comprehend now. But I know that it must be amazing.

For now, to be a slave is enough. Being a bondservant who is anchored to Christ rather than to sin is amazing. We really have no right to hope for more. And yet, he has called us friends if we follow him. What a profound and unparalleled privilege.

“You are a slave who became a son; He is a son who became a slave. You are a slave who will receive all the glories of heaven when your sonship is realized. He was a son who possessed all the glories of heaven and emptied Himself of them to become a slave.” – John MacArthur

This is favor being granted to us by a God who owes us nothing. In demanding obedience, God is not expecting more than he ought. However, he is giving more than we deserve. His friendship is not to give us something to gloat about. Rather, it is to put us in a position to see as he sees, to love what he loves, to despise what he despises, and through it all to become a little more like him.

Jesus’ disciples were called his friends after spending a significant amount of time with him. And I can pull some application from that. Do I spend time in his word so I can hear what they heard? Am I aware of Jesus when I’m at work? Do I think of his commands when I’m at home? Do I love what he loves when I’m talking with others? Do I hate what he hates when I’m on online or on Netflix?

This message is not intended as a guilt trip. Far from it! Jesus Christ – God himself – wants to be our friend! We are not saved by keeping laws. Salvation is a remarkable act of grace. It’s true that we don’t earn our salvation, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t conditional. To be Jesus’ friend, I must first be his disciple. Properly understood, I must be his slave. For me, this is simultaneously an outstanding honor and a sobering reminder.

Saying “I am a friend of God” should not make us proud or brash. Being a friend of God does not mean we’re on the winning team, so we get to rub everyone’s noses in it. Far too many people say they are “friends of God” as if it entitles them to something. The status of being God’s friend ought to humble us.

 

 


[1] Specifically, Job chapters 38-42

 

[2] Or “slave”, depending upon your translation. For our purposes, these terms may be used interchangeably.

 

[3] John 15:20

 

[4] Romans 6:18

 

[5] Genesis 41:40

 

[6] Daniel 1:1-6

 

[7] Daniel 2:48

 

[8] Philemon v8-16

 

[9] John 14:15; 14:31; 15:10

 

[10] John 15:12; 15:13

 

[11] Matthew 7:21-23

 

[12] Matt 19:28; Luke 22:29-30; Romans 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12; 1 Peter 4:13

 

The Glory Of God (John 13-17)

When we think of someone having glory, we tend to think of some who is either wildly over-promoted or who is an egomaniac. Children say, “Look at me!” and we think it’s cute, but when adults do this we think they are narcissists. If you are a Brian Regan fan, you are familiar with his Me Monster, the person who constantly turns every conversation back to himself. There’s this great line in Gladiator when he says to the monstrously proud emperor: “The time for honoring yourself is at an end.”

In the book of John, Jesus is constantly telling people to glorify God, and He is glad that through the salvation of people He himself is glorified. And then he says God will glorify those whom he has chosen, called and justified.[1]  So, if you are a Christian, you believe God is glorious; you believe He knows it and wants others to know it; and you believe that God wants to make you glorious. The language of glory and the reality of glorification is directly connected with God and with us. I don’t know about you, but I think that all sounds exciting even as I feel a little – maybe a lot -  uncomfortable.

Why? Because I don’t think we have a great understanding of glory. That’s not the Bible’s fault. I suspect it has a lot to do with how we see our fallen world distort or ruin our perspective on what makes something or someone glorious, and how we should respond.

So let’s talk about glory and glorificiation, because we are going to need a biblically grounded view of this if we are going to have a true view of God and of ourselves as followers of Christ. We will begin with a small sample of verses from the book of John that capture the biblical use of the word ‘glory’ as it relates to God, people, shame, suffering and hair.

  • John 8:54: “Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory (doksa) is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies (doksazo) me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’”
  • John 11:4  “His [Lazarus] sickness will not end in his death but will bring great glory (doksa) to God. As these events unfold, the Son of God will be glorified (doksa).””
  • John 12:23 “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (in reference to his crucifixion)
  • John 12:42- 43 “…the Pharisees continued their threats to expel all His followers from the synagogue. Here’s why: they loved the glory (doksa) of men more than they desired to glorify (doksa) God.”
  • John 14:13 “Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory (doksazo) from the Son.”
  • John 15:8 “I am the vine, and you are the branches…. Your abundant growth and your faithfulness as My followers will bring glory (doksazo) to the Father.”
  • John 17:9-10 “This request is not for the entire world; it is for those whom You have given to Me because they are Yours… Through them I have been glorified (doksazo).”
  • John 21:19  Peter would glorify God by his death.

A couple other examples not found in the book of John:

  • 1 Corinthians 11:15 “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory (doksa) to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”
  • Philippians 3:19: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory (doksa) is in their shame.”
  • Ephesians 3:13 “So I ask you not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory (doksa).”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20 “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify (doksa) God in your body.”
  • Matthew 5:16  “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify (doksazo) your Father in heaven.”
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18  “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious (doksa) image.”

Paul even writes in 1 Corinthians 15 how there are different levels of glory for stars and moons as well as for the physical body and the resurrected body. Add them all up, and that’s a lot of glory, and over some seemingly odd things. So, let’s dig.

Dóksa is the Greek word that means "that which evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth." Doksazo is related, and it means “to ascribe weight by recognizing real substance (value).” It acknowledges the true character of someone or the essence of something, exalts a glorious rank or position, and seeks to increase renown.[2]  

So it is praise-worthy; it’s inherently weighted with value; it’s something good in its essence or nature; it’s achieves a good goal or fulfills purpose; it’s something that brings renown or honor; it’s the majesty associated with perfection.[3] Understanding how this one word is used for all kinds of things can help us make sense of some of the puzzling Bible verses.

  • Paul said long hair was a woman’s glory because in the city of Corinth, it was praise-worthy or evoked good opinion. The women whom the culture admired all had long hair; it was considered a sign of inherent or intrinsic worth. Long hair exalted them and increased their renown.
  • Shame can be our glory when a sinful, destructive lifestyle is something we exalt in to make us famous.
  • Suffering is for the glory of others because it shows the intrinsic value of other people. The Christians in Ephesus had a very real ‘weight and substance’ (they mattered!), so much so that Paul considered suffering for them to be a privilege.
  • We can glorify God with our body through sexual purity because in so doing we are acknowledging the real value of our sexuality, and then directing it toward God’s designed way, thus protecting the intrinsic worth and true essence of our sexual nature – which in turn evokes the “good opinion” not just of God but of others.
  • Jesus said he would be glorified in His death (John 13:31). That act of sacrifice was loaded with value; it would bring renown or a reputation of an event and God who could forgive the sins of the world, and it was the perfect way in which He fulfilled His purpose on earth (John 18:37).

With all this in mind, I will attempt a condensed definition of glory: “That which is present in someone or something whose nature, character and/or actions are worthy of honor.”  

TYPES OF GLORY (ways in which someone’s nature, character and/or actions are worthy of honor)

  • Intrinsic:  Because God is the Creator, there is a type of glory embedded in everything.[4] It’s embedded in the very nature of things crafted by the Master Designer. There are different levels of this, of course.  A tree has its own kind of glory. A horse is glorious as a horse. You, however, are far more glorious because you are created in God’s image.  That is the greatest glory God grants to any part of His creation.  There is nothing the Hubble telescope captures that compares to your glory. This could also include the idea that there is a design and purpose for your life in a deeply spiritual sense (to glorify God and be transformed into the image of Christ) and on a practical level (you have a unique set of personality traits, character, skills, and opportunities).[5]
  • Inherited: Everyone is born with a citizenship in a country, which may or may not be glorious.  You have a racial or ethnic glory – there is a biological history of who you are. You have a family glory  - or at least that’s God design for the family. IN all these cases, sinners in a fallen world can turn this potential glory into shame.
  • Granted: Knighthood. Honorary degrees. Perhaps even adoption fits into this category. In fact, adoption may be the best example because knighthood and honorary degrees, while given as a gift, are both earned to some degree. The Bible portrays adoption into the family of God as one of the most glorious things that can happen to us. That is a granted glory: we weren’t born into his family biologically; we didn’t inherit it; and we can’t earn it (which is our next category). It was given to us in an act of grace and love. Perhaps we should add suffering.
  • Earned: We are rewarded for completing task (“Well done!”) Real degrees. Awards of all kinds. NBA champs. Fittest Man/Woman in the world; promotions; elections. Earned glory fall into the category of what the Bible calls “the glory of men.” This is not necessarily a bad thing; some things we have received or that we do are worthy of being applauded.  I was watching the Crossfit Games this past week, and let me tell you, those athletes deserve huge props for what they accomplished. They have earned a moment of glory from the crowd. But then there’s next year. If they don’t win again, their name fades. In ten years, only true fans know who they are, and in 50 years, nobody cares. The Bible is very clear that the ‘praise of men” ought not be a goal that drives our lives. It withers like cut grass (1 Peter 1:24); it’s s crown that fades (1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Peter 5:4).  The glory of people will fade; the glory of God remains for eternity.  (Perhaps we should add suffering here; God will glorify us as we suffer for him, and that’s a glory that we earn by our suffering for the sake of the Gospel. That glory is not temporary and will not fade.)

GOD’S GLORY IS INTRINSIC

It is not inherited, granted or earned. Christian philosophers like to say that God is a maximal being – he has no room to grow; he is perfectly full of all his attributes.  When we say that God is love, truth, life; that he is full of kindness and anger; that he is just and merciful; we mean He is perfectly and completely these things, and they all intertwine and balance in ways we cannot possibly conceive. His will is the best will possible. His acts are the absolute best acts that can be conceived or done.

God does not need our attention to build His glory. He’s just fine on his own. When we see and acknowledge God for who he is, we are not giving temporary applause to a fleeting, imperfect person. We see True Glory in  God’s perfect nature; the eternal, profound weightiness of His existence: his real, indescribably valuable substance; His perfect (albeit mysterious) work in the world.

GOD’S GLORY IS OVERWHELMING

The Bible tells us that we can’t handle seeing the glory of God’s nature. Exodus 33 records that when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God allows Moses to see His back but not His face.  God clarifies what this means: “ You can see my goodness and my acts of mercy and compassion, but you can’t see me directly.” In the next chapter, when God does pass before Moses, here’s what He says:

“The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished...” (Exodus 34:6-7)

It’s all actions. On this side of Heaven, we see God’s glory by His work in the world, which reveals his nature in a way that has to be hidden to some degree (Revelation 22:4). It won’t be until we get to Heaven that we will see God as He is (1 John 3:2).

(Worth noting: When John records in Revelations that he had just a vision of God, he fell down as if he were dead (Revelation 1). We cannot handle ‘seeing the face of God’ on this side of Heaven. I hear more and more popular church teachers talk about being caught up into Heaven and personally talking with Jesus or talking with God face-to-face. If I look to the Bible, I have to believe this is not happening literally or they would be dead. Even if it’s a claimed vision of God, look to the testimony of John again. If they have a legitimate vision of God, I would expect that either they can’t talk about (which was Paul’s experience – 2 Corinthians 12:2) or and they would fall down as if dead and be totally undone. I have yet to hear this in modern reports, so based on the record of Scripture, I must conclude they are not visiting or having visions of God.)

GOD SHARES HIS GLORY WITH HIS CHILDREN

We need to make a distinction between some language in the Old Testament vs. New Testament on this issue. Isaiah 42:8 says that God will not yield His glory or praise to another. What does this mean?

  • First, there is no other God like him. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords (Revelations 19:16).
  • Second, He is Israel’s covenant-making God who protects, leads, and delivers them, and Israel had better not give the credit to anyone else.

That’s the Old Testament context for God saying he will not share his glory. I’m talking about a different kind of sharing to which the New Testament refers. So let’s go back to my opening remarks about people who are egomaniacs when they demand attention.  We must see the stark contrast between a person who says “Look at me!” and a God who says the same.

We try to get people’s attention to fan the flames of our fading, temporary glory. It’s why we get so obnoxious. It’s why, for example, our cultural conversation is getting worse. People get attention like never before because of social media. They are also competing with more people than ever before. So they say or do something - and it fades. So they do something more controversial. It fades too. Building and sustaining a glory that relies on the attention and praise of others is exhausting and destructive.

And as we give glory to God, He doesn’t just absorb it like a person would. God does something very different: He gives His glory to us, and as we are transformed miraculously into the image of Christ with ever increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), that glorious transformation points toward the glory of a God who can work that kind of miraculous transformation. Here’s how Romans 8:28-30 describes it:

“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.”

Egomaniacs absorb your time and attention because they want to be the only ones who matter. They want you to disappear, to lose your value in the light of their glory. God demands our time and attention so He can in turn transform us by the light of His glory into the kind of people God intended for us to be.

When we commit to Jesus there is not a diminishing of our value or a disappearance of our self; it’s a transformation into the fullness of whom God intended us to be. His glorious nature is revealed when He brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life in a way that testifies to the world that it is only Christ in us that gives us the hope of true and lasting glory (Colossians 1:27).

So that’s glory. But we are called to glorify. That’s a verb, not a noun. We are supposed to do something on behalf of that which is glorious. Glorification can be defined this way: “Acknowledging, honoring and promoting someone with glory.”

Affirm Intrinsic Glory

This can be done with people by acknowledging the image of God in them, and by seeing the character traits/gifts/skills/opportunities that make them uniquely them. Proverbs admonishes parents, “Raise up children in the way they should go…” Josh McDowell has made the point that this isn’t about the paths of righteousness; it’s about seeing the strengths in your children and helping them to flourish in the way they are built to go. There is a glory that God imparts to us by letting us bear His image, and that shows up not just in our intrinsic value, but in our unique creation.

Be in awe of the intrinsic glory of God. It is supreme. It is flawless. We don’t have to hedge our bets like we do with people. With people, we say: “I know you are image bearer and all, but I think the image of a jerk got mixed up in there somehow. You might be a special snowflake, but you’re melting.” There are no qualifications when it comes to God. God is the only one who deserves unreserved affirmation of the intrinsic glory of His very nature.

Applaud Glorious Actions

We do this with people all the time. Masons build fireplaces; firemen put out fires; cooks make meals. When their work is done with excellence, properly displayed and clearly seen, people applaud and nobody objects. Applause and appreciation is what is supposed to follow from work well done.  Our leaders are supposed to “praise those who do well” (1 Peter 2:14). Jesus will say to those in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). It’s a good thing to give proper applause for glorious actions.

Worship God for what He has done (which is a revelation of His character). If we think it’s good to praise other people for what they do well, how much more should we be praising God? God is the Creator of all things. He saves us from the spiritual death that follows sin; He has the power to heal us on every level (and He does so at times in this life and for good in the next). He judges rightly; He punishes fairly; He shows mercy generously; He loves profoundly and relentlessly. And when the perfect work of God in properly seen and understood, praise is the natural and necessary response.[6]

Reflect/Emulate That Which Is Glorious

On a person-to-person level, we see this all the time. It’s what kids do to parents, purposefully when they are young and unwittingly when they are older. There’s a country song: “I’ve been watching you, Dad, ain’t that cool. I’m your buckaroo I want to be like you.”  For better or worse, kids reflect their parents to some degree.

It’s how protégés honor their teachers. It’s how coaches pay homage to the coaches who coached them.  We reflect others when songs or books change us or we begin to talk like the people around us (if we were in the South, I would say that ‘all ya’ll do that’). We are always reflecting. I’m not sure we have a choice – which is why it is so important to be aware of whose image we are reflecting.

When we see something that we believe is glorious (go back to my earlier definition), we don’t just copy it, we spread it around. We want what we love or admire to go viral. We tell others and try to get them excited about the one to whom we believe glory is due.

This principle is at work spiritually between us and God. Moses’ face reflected God’s glory (Exodus 34:29); followers of Christ will increasingly be transformed into His image and in so doing will reflect His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is our glorification of a glorious God by living a life in which our attitudes, words, and actions reflect His glory. I will let Andrew Murray, a Dutch Reformed missionary to South Africa in the late 1800’s, have the last word:

“This is the glory of God, that He is the alone and ever-flowing fountain of all life and goodness and happiness, and that His creatures can have all this only as He gives it and works it in them. His working all in all, this is His glory. And the only glory His creature, His child, can give Him is this -- receiving all He is willing to give, yielding to Him to let Him work, and then acknowledging that He has done it. Thus God Himself shows forth His glory in us; in our willing surrender to Him, and our joyful acknowledgment that He does all, we glorify Him. And so our life and work is glorified, as it has one purpose with all God's own work, that in all things God may be glorified, whose is the glory for ever and ever.'

The glory of God as Creator was seen in His making man in His own image. The glory of God as Redeemer is seen in the work He carries on for saving men, and bringing them to Himself. This glory is the glory of His holy love, casting sin out of the heart, and dwelling there. The only glory we can bring to God is to yield ourselves to His redeeming love to take possession of us, to fill us with love to others, and so through us to show forth His glory. Let this be the one end of our lives -- to glorify God; in living to work for Him, as of the strength which God supplieth'; and winning souls to know and live for His glory.Lord! teach us to serve in the strength which God supplieth, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Andrew Murray, “Working For God”

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Recommend Resources

https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=2322

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/glory/

http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-to-do-good-so-that-god-gets-the-glory

http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson5.htm

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2010/10/05/how-can-i-glorify-god/

https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/blog/glorifying-god-all-things-all-times

FOOTNOTES

[1] Paul tells us in Romans, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (doksazo). “

[2] http://biblehub.com/greek/1391.htm

[3] http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/doxa.html

[4] 1 Corinthians 15: 39-44  For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is 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 physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.”

[5] “Don’t Neglect Your Gift”

[6] I don’t have the time to delve into the problem of pain and suffering. How is God glorified through that? It’s an important question. For now, I will point you toward an article at TC Apologetics, “The Problem Of Pain,” which is the first in a series. http://tcapologetics.org/the-problem-of-pain/?print=pdf

 

Jesus' New Command (John 13,15)

After the Lord’s Supper in John 13, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples that goes on for several chapters (13-17). He revisits multiple themes which will build on life in the Kingdom of God. This is John's last lengthy recorded conversation of Jesus talkining to his disciples. Judas has left to betray him; time is short. These chapters give us a condensed focus: “Remember this.” Jesus highlight a number of different themes from these chapters; my focus here is on what he had to say about loving other people in a way that does justice to the Kingdom of God and brings honor and glory to Jesus.

One of Jesus’ most famous teachings is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This was a brilliant distillation of all 600+ Old Testament laws. If you do the first properly, the second should follow naturally. If you don’t do the second, it’s a pretty good indication that you aren’t doing the first well either.[1] This summary of the law raises two immediate questions.

  • “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everybody is your neighbor, even those you most dislike for religious and cultural reasons.[2]
  • What does it mean to love your neighbor “as yourself”?  Didn’t Jesus just say we have to die to ourselves? How does this work? And there may be an even more haunting question that comes with this: “What if I don’t love myself? Does this mean I can’t love other people?”

So let’s talk about what it means to love ourselves. We all love ourselves in the sense that we consistently desire and strive for our own self-interested fulfillment or goals. It is the conscious or unconscious motive of all of us. We are the primary focus in our lives. We are the one to whom we are most committed. In people with an inordinate amount of pride, this is obvious. In people who lack a sense of self-esteem or self-worth, this is not so obvious even though it is still present. The one wallowing in self-debasement and self-rejection still has the self as the focus of their attention, time and emotion as much as those who glories in themself. For both the self-satisfied and the self-loathing, their focus on themselves betrays their deepest level of commitment. In this sense all people love themselves.

With that very brief introduction the love of self in mind (and I know it's a complex topic), it's worth noting that the ‘love of self’ is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • God created us in Him image, and there is a value, worth and dignity to all of us. If we don't have some measure of appreciation or recognition of this, and we don't think and act in ways that promote our flourisning and that honor this reality, then we are not seeing ourselves biblically.
  • We see the love of self assumed and accepted in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19, God gives a list of actions that his people should and should not do: don’t lie, steal or cheat; take care of the poor; don’t show favoritism; pay good wages; don’t mock the deaf and blind; take care of immigrants, etc). Twice God summarizes: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (verses 18 and 34). In other words, you would want others to do this for you. Why? You think you are important, and that you matter, and that you deserve justice and mercy.You love yourself. As you would have done to you (because you think you matter), do to others - they matter too.
  • We see this in the New Testament as well. Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself" assumes that we clearly already love ourselves, and he doesn't say to stop. Paul argued in Ephesians 5 that each husband should love his wife as himself (5:33), "for no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it" (5:29).

So, biblically speaking, a love of self is assumed and not condemned. Emotional and spiritual health will include a proper understanding of our value, worth and dignity as image bearers of God; how we view ourselves is important, because how we love others is intertwined with how we love ourselves.

The problem is the degree and the manner in which we love ourselves. Paul warned in 2 Timothy 3:1-2 that "...in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves" (“someone preoccupied with their own selfish desires”[3]).  He was not giving new biblical insight into human psyche. He was warning about an inordinate love of self that sacrifices everyone else. [4]

In his condensed version of the Law, Jesus was not commanding us to learn how to love ourselves so we could better love others. Achieving self-love was not the point in God’s Law or in Jesus’ command: it was the assumed default. He was commanding that people who obviously are self-centered and self-interested act in a way that promotes and supports the interests and good of those around them. Greg Laurie provides a great summary:

“When Scripture says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ it is not saying, ‘First learn to love yourself, and then love your neighbor.’ Rather, it is saying, ‘It is obvious you already love yourself. Love your neighbor in the same way.’”[5]

This raises a new dilemma. Perhaps our idea of what it means to love ourselves is terribly flawed. Matt Chandler likes to say that we don’t lie to anyone more than we lie to ourselves. Similarly, it may well be true that of all the people who love us, we are the worst - not because we hate ourselves but because we don’t actually know how to love ourselves well.

  • Have you ever pampered yourself when you should have been more disciplined, and as a result what felt good and rewarding in the moment bogged you down in the long run?
  • Have you ever followed your heart when you should have followed your head, and what you thought would make you happy blew up and hurt you?
  • Have you ever ignored good advice because it was hard and the boundaries would rob you of freedom – only to find out later that those boundaries were exactly what you needed to keep you from becoming enslaved to sinful habits?
  • Have you ever surround yourself with friends who only told you what you wanted to hear about how to live your life, and that echo chamber was so nice - until the shame and guilt of what they encouraged caught up with you?

In all these cases, we were convinced that we knew the best way to love ourselves and our lives, but our understanding of what it meant to love was terribly flawed. Is it any wonder we have a hard time loving others well if the standard is “as you love yourself”?    

Lest you think Jesus messed something up here by giving a bad teaching, see the context. When Jesus condensed the Law into “Love God and love others as you love yourself,” he was honoring the Law as the Law : “This is how you can understand what God has revealed to you so far”.  And as I pointed out, Jesus is calling them out of self-centeredness.

But Jesus was constantly making statements of contrast: “You have heard the Law say this…but I say.”  The Law was good but incomplete; Jesus showed the fulfillment. There was a greater, deeper way of understanding almost everything in the law – and that included love.  In his final teaching to his disciples, Jesus completes His revelation by giving them what he calls a “new law” of what it means to fully love well in the Kingdom of God.

John 13:33-35. “33 My children, My time here is brief. You will be searching for Me; and as I told the Jews, “You cannot go where I am going.” 34 So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. 35 Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others…”

John 15:12-13. “12 My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. 13 There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends.”

________________________________________________

So the Law insisted that you can’t just love yourself; you have to love others. That was step one. Jesus fulfills or completes this teaching by revealing that it is the way Jesus loved us, not the way we love ourselves, that is meant to guide us. So, what does that look like? I am going to highlight four ways this happens; this is not a complete list, but I believe these are foundational principles.

1. Christ-like love is sacrificial.

This is, I believe, the most profound aspect of the love of Jesus. After writing this gospel, John wrote several letters to the early church. We read in 1 John:

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him." (1 John 4:7-9 NIV)

In Jesus we see the ultimate (and unique) expression of the reality that the one who loves must die either physically or metaphorically.  Jesus did what no one else could in dying to atone for our sin and offer eternal salvation, but if we want to live with others in genuine, loving relationship, we are going to have to lay down our lives for them in some fashion. No one truly loves if they refuse to sacrifice for the one they love. We may not lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel or for others, but we are called to do it all the time in smaller ways. That’s hard enough, but it gets harder:

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. " (Luke 6:27- 36 NIV)

Do you want to live as children of God? You must love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you, give of yourself without an expectation of a return, and be merciful and kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

You may have heard that there is a heated presidential race taking place this year in a nation where religious liberties are eroding and many of our cities are on the boiling point of civil unrest. Perhaps more than ever there is a sense of “us vs. them” permeating our culture, and Christians are increasingly perceived or portrayed – fairly or unfairly - as being on the side of anger, injustice and meanness.

Can you imagine how the national conversation might be going right now if Christians were known for their love? If we held each other accountable and said, “Brother/sister, are you loving the ones who you believe are your enemies?  Are you doing good to those who hate you? Are you offering prayers of blessing for those who curse you?”

The early church upended Roman culture by living radically self-sacrificial lives of love and service to each other and to the Romans. [6] They preached the gospel (at great cost), but they cared for the poor, the sick, the slaves, and the outcasts to such a degree that the Roman anger and contempt shows up in their historian’s writing. And they first permeated and then transformed the Roman world with a love that embodied the love of Christ.

Christians have never brought about positive and lasting cultural change through anger and despair. It’s always been through hope, grace and love.[7] When we love others as God loves us, His name is glorified; His reputation is made great; the true beauty of His spiritual Kingdom is shown to a world in need of hope and redemption.

2. Christ-like love is not conditional.

No one had to be good enough to come to Jesus. While they were dead in our sins, Christ died for them as he does for us (Ephesians 2). He took tax collectors who were pawns of the Romans, soldiers who were part of the oppressors, prostitutes, Samaritans who were of Jewish heritage but worshipped idols, fishermen, carpenters, the religiously arrogant, the humble and sincere… he offered the Kingdom of Heaven to them all.

If we are to love others like Christ loves us, we must offer the kind of love that does not require someone to be good enough before we love them.  This is not a naïve love that overlooks the reality of people’s lives. We all have baggage, and wisdom requires that the love we offer is guided by boundaries for their sake and ours. This is not a love that compromises on truth and holiness; love doesn’t enable sin.

When we offer unconditional love, we cannot merely commit to the good of other people only when they reach a condition we deem acceptable.  It must be offered while they are, in some sense, still deeply unacceptable.  If you have ever been the recipient of this kind of love, you know how beautiful it is.  There is a freedom in being able to say, “I’m not good enough,” and having someone say in return, “I know. And yet I love you.“ There is peace; there is safety; there is hope.

3. Christ-like love is tangible.

I like this quote from Teresa of Avila that captures a biblical principle of the role of Christians as “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12)

“Christ has no body on earth but yours. no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”

Words of love are often necessary, but they are not sufficient. Love must be shown.  Jesus did not spend his time talking about how compassionate he was. Jesus embodied it.  You can post articles and change your Facebook profile picture or march in solidarity for a cause, but if that’s all you do, what’s the point? Nobody benefits. Nobody’s life is changed. I’m not saying you should stop doing that, but it’s what you do in the ordinary moments of every day life that matter the most.

I can tell my son Vincent that I care about him until I’m blue in the face, but if I don’t play Munchkins with him or take him the Boardman or watch a movie with him, my words will be hollow. It’ s that tangible investment in his life that lights him up. That’s a reality that translates everywhere. We must be faithfully present, living out the principles to which we claim to adhere. It will be costly; it will be hard. It is also a crucial way in which God brings about transformation in and through you. 

4. Christ-like love desires both justice and mercy.

Recently there has been a lot of coverage of shooting by and of police, as well as the shootings at the nightclub in Orlando and now Munich this past week. Those who love rightly desire that justice be done. If there is evil embedded in individual hearts, groups or systems, those who love cannot be silent or complacent.

And those who love are full of a hope that the presence and power of Jesus is strong enough to root out evil and injustice from the hearts and minds of everybody. The hope of the transformative power of the gospel includes the belief that victims can find justice, healing and peace - and that the perpetrators can be brought to repentance, forgiveness and holiness.

As Jesus was dying on a cross, he prayed for his killers: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34) Jesus didn’t mean they were unintelligent. He said they didn’t understand. And this did not make Jesus rage – it made him grieve.

When is the last time you watched the news and prayed, “Oh, dear God, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing”? When is the last time the news made us grieve instead of rage?

We cannot isolate justice and mercy. If the only thing for which we pray and fight is justice, we will become heartless and vindictive. If the only thing for which we pray and strive is mercy, we will enable the very thing that breaks this world and our hearts.  We must pray for God’s righteous justice to roll down lest the world be overtaken by evil; we must simultaneously pray for Christ’s sweet mercy to rise in and through us for the same reason.[8]

And as we love like Christ, we begin to see the answer to the prayer Jesus told us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There is hope that even on this side of heaven the reality of the Kingdom of God can impact the world. The more we appreciate and understand the love Jesus has for us, the more our ability to love is transformed, and the more we love other like Christ loved us. And in all this we will see how God has ordered His Kingdom for our good and His glory.

__________________________________________________________________________

[1] “If you say you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

[2] See Karl’s sermon for more info on why the Jews and Samaritans hated each other (“Faith, Like Water, Flows Downhill”. https://clgonline.org/grace-like-water-flows-downhill/

[3] http://biblehub.com/greek/5367.htm

[4] Remember: when we love, somebody dies. (“Dying To Live.” https://clgonline.org/dying-live-john-12/

[5] http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-problem-with-self-esteem-130595/

[6] Read “A Love Without Condition,” http://www.earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php

[7] “Lessons for Today’s Church from the Life of the Early Church,” http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/lessons-for-todays-church-from-the-life-of-the-early-church/

[8] Check out a two-part series from Matt Chandler, “Justice and Racial Reconciliation” and “Justice and Law Enforcement.” You can read them at http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/.

Freedom From Slavery (John 8)

As part of the series we are in on the Gospel of John, I (Jeff Martin) will be speaking from John 8:31-59. This passage in John 8 continues to focus on Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem.

It describes an encounter in the Jerusalem Temple between Jesus and a group of Jews from Judea, which included a number of Pharisees. Recall the context from last Sunday – this is right after the incident with the Woman Caught In Adultery. The Pharisees were very publicly reminded of their sinfulness.

There is quite a bit of back and forth in this encounter with Jesus. The Pharisees rarely concede an inch to Jesus on any of His points. Almost every time Jesus makes a proclamation, the Judeans, led by the Pharisees immediately make a rebuttal or negation of Jesus’ statement. At one point, Jesus just unloads. It’s quite stunning, and shows the passion that Jesus has for the truth, specifically how He defines it. Let’s read this passage together.[1]

John 8:31-59

31b So Jesus said to the Judeans who had trusted him, “If you obey what I say, then you are really my disciples, 32 you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered, “We are the seed of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone; so what do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin. 35 Now a slave does not remain with a family forever, but a son does remain with it forever. 36 So if the Son frees you, you will really be free! 37 I know you are the seed of Abraham. Yet you are out to kill me, because what I am saying makes no headway in you. 38 I say what my Father has shown me; you do what your father has told you!”

39 They answered him, “Our father is Abraham.”

Jesus replied, “If you are children of Abraham, then do the things Abraham did! 40 As it is, you are out to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did nothing like that!  41 You are doing the things your father does.”

“We’re not illegitimate children!” they said to him. “We have only one Father — God!”

42 Jesus replied to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me; because I came out from God; and now I have arrived here. I did not come on my own; he sent me.  43 Why don’t you understand what I’m saying? Because you can’t bear to listen to my message. 44 You belong to your father, Satan, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. From the start he was a murderer, and he has never stood by the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is speaking in character; because he is a liar — indeed, the inventor of the lie!  45 But as for me, because I tell the truth you don’t believe me. 46 Which one of you can show me where I’m wrong? If I’m telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  47 Whoever belongs to God listens to what God says; the reason you don’t listen is that you don’t belong to God.”

48 The Judeans answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying you are from Samaria and have a demon?”

49 Jesus replied, “Me? I have no demon. I am honoring my Father. But you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking praise for myself. There is One who is seeking it, and he is the judge.

51 Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever obeys my teaching will never see death.”

52 The Judeans said to him, “Now we know for sure that you have a demon! Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever obeys my teaching will never taste death.’ 53 Our father Abraham died; you aren’t greater than he, are you? And the prophets also died. Who do you think you are?”

54 Jesus answered, “If I praise myself, my praise counts for nothing. The One who is praising me is my Father, the very one about whom you keep saying, ‘He is our God.’ 55 Now you have not known him, but I do know him; indeed, if I were to say that I don’t know him, I would be a liar like you! But I do know him, and I obey his word.  56 Abraham, your father, was glad that he would see my day; then he saw it and was overjoyed.”

57 “Why, you’re not yet fifty years old,” the Judeans replied, “and you have seen Abraham?”

58 Jesus said to them, “Yes, indeed! Before Abraham came into being, I AM!”

59 At this, they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus was hidden and left the Temple grounds.

In verses 31 through 59 of John chapter 8, I believe Jesus is offering a way to freedom from slavery to sin.  The Jews reject Jesus promise for freedom. Instead, they make a claim to freedom via their inheritance as the seed of Abraham. Jesus assures the Jews that His way is the only way to true freedom in this life and eternally, and that they would do well to “do the things Abraham did!”, if they want to make the claim to his inheritance.

We will look at why would we want this freedom Jesus offers, what this freedom looks like, Jesus’ promise ( You Will Know The Truth and The Truth Will Set You Free!), and where we begin.

WHY WOULD WE WANT THIS FREEDOM JESUS OFFERS?

So we can be free from sin (v.34).  One of the effects of sin is shame. Our shame ultimately causes us to withdraw from those we love, including Jesus, our family and friends.

  • To honor God as our father (v.42)
  • To gain eternal life (v.51)
  • To carry out God’s desires (v. 43), which will help us grow deeper in love with Him and strengthen our faith and trust in Him.

As our love, faith and trust in Him grows, we will look to Him no matter the circumstances of our lives. Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 [2], which states that He was sent to:

  • heal the brokenhearted;
  • proclaim freedom to the captives;
  • let out into light those bound in the dark;
  • comfort all who mourn.

We see Jesus doing this all throughout the gospel of John (the Samaritan woman, the lame man, the woman caught in adultery), and I have clearly seen him do this in my life (more on this later). The love we experience as we move deeper in relationship with Him, enables us to do these things for others as well.

As I grow into deeper faith in Jesus, I understand one major difference between the old me and the new me, and that is:   My faith was shallow and weak. I did not trust in the leadership of Christ Jesus then, as I more fully do now. 

WHAT DOES THIS FREEDOM LOOK LIKE?

Maybe this is best described by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians in that all of us, who have turned to Jesus as Lord, will see, as in a mirror, that we are slowly being changed into His very image. Not into Him, but someone that we, and others, would begin to recognize as reflecting Jesus, in our thoughts, words and deeds. [3]

So, from the time we begin to place our trust in Jesus as Lord, until the time of His return, or until our last breath, we should see progress in the transformation of our lives, to be more like Him.  From the old to the new, we are reborn!]

JESUS’ PROMISE - YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!

In verses 31 and 32 below, we see how Jesus calls into obedience, those Jews who have placed their trust in Him, with freedom as the outcome. Please note the logic or sequence in verses 31 and 32: first trust and obey, then freedom follows.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had trusted him: “If you obey what I say, then you are really my disciples, 32 you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Immediately thereafter, in verse 33, the Jews make the appeal to their inheritance.

33 They answered, “We are the seed of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone; so what do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?”

What does Jesus mean?

34 Jesus answered them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.  35Now a slave does not remain with a family forever, but a son does remain with it forever.

Paul explains in Romans 6:16, when we present ourselves as obedient slaves, then to the one we obey, we are slaves. Either we are a slave to sin, which leads to death. Or we are enslaved to obedience to God, which leads to our being made righteous. Jesus then reinforces that He is the source of freedom from slavery to sin.

36“So if the Son frees you, you will really be free!”

There is a kind of natural deconstruction of verses 31, 32 and 34. What do we need to do? Be a disciple. How do we become a disciple? By obeying Jesus. What do we need to know?  The truth. Why do we need to know the truth? To be set free from slavery to sin. So, obeying Jesus by being His disciple leads us to the truth, and the truth leads to freedom from slavery to sin.

WHERE DO WE BEGIN? Be a Disciple!

In Jesus’ era, there were many rabbis (which means scholar or teacher). Rabbis had disciples who were their students or followers. The use of this word “disciple” by Jesus is intended to describe this relationship. The relationship between a disciple and their rabbi is very close:

  • not only did the disciple learn facts,
  • reasoning processes and
  • how to perform religious practices from their rabbi,
  • the disciple also regarded their rabbi as an example to be imitated in conduct and character.

The rabbi, in turn, was considered responsible for their disciples. [2]

You can see from Jesus’ use of this word disciple that He expects us to go deep in our respective relationships with Him:

  • By learning truth from Him, through reading the Word and in prayer,
  • Understanding His reasoning processes,
  • Participating in His religious practices, and
  • Imitating Him.

This requires us to engage in more than just a head level knowledge of who He is and what He is about. He in turn has a responsibility to us! Which He fulfills via His Holy Spirit who is the comforting Counselor who convicts us of sin, leading us to righteousness and the Spirit of Truth, guiding us into all truth – primarily through the study of His word and by prayer.

CONCLUSION

The Lord encounters us every day, in His creation, and most importantly in His word and through prayer. He has sent His Spirit, the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. To bring revelation of scripture, to guide us into His truth. The Lord loves us. He desires us, to be in relationship with us. He wants our hearts. To this there can be no doubt. Just consider what He did for us on the cross. He wants to free us from bondage to sin and usher us into an ever deeper understanding of what it means to be children of the Living God.

I can’t escape this sense that I am to share my story, about the sin in my life and the goodness of the Lord in setting me free from the bondage of sin bit by bit as we move deeper together in relationship.

I am a modern example of the prodigal son. That is, I spent about 35 years of my life, living life my way, which was away from the Lord and deep into sin. I was knee deep in the “miry clay” of sin and it is Jesus who has lifted me out of the clay and set me on the rock of His salvation.

I grew up in a Christian home. We went to Church nearly every Sunday. We attended Bible Camp in the summer, attended missions in the inner city of Detroit with my Grandmother, and I read my Bible regularly. But, as a teenager, I engaged in activities that were in rebellion, otherwise known as sin, toward God. These activities included a fair amount of partying with various drugs and alcohol.

More critically I entered into a very intimate emotional and physical relationship with my first girlfriend, which, given our ages, neither one of us was prepared for. This relationship resulted in her pregnancy, which was terminated. I have not interacted with her since that time, but given how this impacted me, I can only venture that she was impacted far more deeply than I can imagine. This was a pivotal experience that shook the foundation of my life, and rather than repenting and turning to the Lord, I turned away and I decided I could “fix” the emotional mess I was in, on my own.

This was a bad decision.

What started out as an attempt to resolve the emotional issues I was facing as part of my losing a child and the inadequacy I felt about not being able to live up to my responsibilities – due to my age, I lived my life by going deeper and deeper into behavior that was in clear rebellion against God, resulting in my having multiple marriages, and my not walking in the light of the Lord’s Word for nearly 35 years.

Fortunately for me, God is gracious and merciful and He never stopped pursuing me.

I finally began to respond to the Lord’s pursuit of my heart. And the best way I knew how to respond was to start going to church. This was in 2009. We attended church in the typical Sunday morning manner. But there was a problem for me. You see, I can get pretty uptight about being late. Adriana, in contrast, doesn’t. We are, thankfully meeting somewhere in the middle on this issue. So, we frequently arrived late to church, where we were ushered right up to the only empty seats – in the front row. To say the least, my heart was not postured in a way that allowed the Lord to penetrate it.

I think by providence, my sister and her family were attending a church here in town that met at 5:00pm on Sunday. Ahh, now I had plenty of time to get to church on time.

We started to attend this church at 5:00. Many of the times in worship were spent by me on my knees weeping as I began to turn my eyes away from me and toward Him. The Word of the Lord that our Pastor, Pastor Jim Roe shared, went straight to my heart. I can recall many times sitting in the pew just weeping over the Lord working me over – about the way I lived my life, calling me into repentance and more importantly about how much He loves me. Through continued worship, time in His Word and in prayer, I have been in Jesus’ school of character development ever since, as He sets me free from my sin.

Here’s the big question: What are we to do? We are to be obedient, obedient to Jesus as His disciple, by:

  • Worshipping Him.
  • Serving Him
  • Learning the truth about Him and what He taught by studying the scriptures.
  • Understanding His reasoning processes – thinking like He does.
  • Participate in His religious practices  (communing with Him and receiving truth of and from Him, through study of His Word and by prayer)
  • Imitating Him, by being gracious and loving others as He does.
  • Trusting in His promises.
  • Interceding via prayer with Him on our behalf and on behalf of others.

The questions are - how will you respond? Will you go deeper? Do you desire the freedom from sin Jesus held out to us in His promise?  Imagine your life becoming freed from those chains that bind us.

In closing, I would like to read a couple of stanzas from an old hymn.

In 1887, at a revival meeting hosted by Dwight Moody, a young man stood to speak, and it soon be­came clear he knew lit­tle Christ­ian doc­trine. But he fin­ished by say­ing, “I’m not quite sure—but I’m go­ing to trust, and I’m go­ing to obey.” These words were jotted down and turned into the hymnal, “Trust and Obey”.[3]

 

When we walk with the Lord In the light of His word

What a glory He sheds on our way

While we do His good will He abides with us still

And with all who will trust and obey

 

But we never can prove the delights of His love

Until all on the altar we lay

For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows

Are for them who will trust and obey

 

Trust and obey For there's no other way To be happy in Jesus But to trust and obey

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[1] Stern, David H.. Complete Jewish Bible: An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B’rit Hadashah (New Testament). Messianic Jewish Communications. Kindle Edition.

[2] Luke 4:18-19.

[3] http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/r/trstobey.htm

Taking Off Grave Clothes (John 11)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. [Mary and Martha, his sisters] sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.”

 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him...”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you…”   Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.[1]

 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

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The physical revival of Lazarus was yet another of the seven miracles that John included in his gospel[2] to fulfill his stated goal: so we would believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Jesus himself says this happened “so the Son of Man will be glorified…so that you may believe…you will see the glory of God…for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe you sent me.” In this miracle, we see Jesus establishing that he has has the power to raise the dead. This is important, because the Bible teaches us two key principles that follow from this fact.

First, death cannot stop God from raising us into eternal life. One chapter earlier, John quotes Jesus as saying: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) Martha affirms this. She believes it will happen on the last day. Jesus basically says, “Yes, because of me.”

Second, God can raise us from spiritual death to life in this life. Paul wrote in Romans 8:

“If Christ lives within you, even though the body is as good as dead because of the effects of sin, the Spirit is infusing you with life now that you are right with God. If the Spirit of the One who resurrected Jesus from the dead lives inside of you, then you can be sure that He who raised Him will cast the light of life into your mortal bodies through the life-giving power of the Spirit residing in you.” (Romans 8:10-11)

Jesus infuses us with new spiritual life through His Holy Spirit even before he raises us up to the ultimate glory of eternal life in bodies that are incorruptible and free of the ravages of sin and death.

Matthew records that Jesus healed a lame man so people would know he had the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9). In other words, he did something miraculous they could see in order to prove he could to miraculous things they couldn’t see. Here again, Martha believed in an unseen world of resurrection; Jesus raises Lazarus in the seen world so that people would believe the entirety of his claims. 

But there’s another portion of this story that lingers with me, an odd and even gross detail that was important enough to include. In this midst of this celebration is a sobering reality: even though Lazarus had been raised into new life, he had spent some time in the corrupting power of death, and he stank. And now those who loved him were going to need to hold their noses and get their hands dirty as they unwrapped him.[3]

I realize that this is not the main point of the story. That fact that Jesus has the power to bring the dead to life is the main point of the story. Next week, I am going to focus on the implications that has for our lives. But today I want to focus on a small detail I believe offers something for our spiritual instruction. Remember: Jesus used a physical miracle to prove a spiritual reality. In this case, I think we see a physical analogy that acknowledges an important part of the spiritual reality of what it will look like when we are raised into a new spiritual life in Christ.

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When we move from death to life, it’s glorious but it’s not always pretty.  Let’s start with the glorious part. Our resurrection with Christ saves us from spiritual death. It frees us from the legacy of our sin eating away at us and corrupting us. This is fantastic news.

“You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

So it’s glorious. If you have a testimony that includes freedom from bondage to sin, you know this. When Jeff shared his story a couple weeks ago, the glorious power of God at work in his life was made clear. Our new life is glorious. It’s just not always pretty. Zombie stories give us a decent analogy for what sin does to us. It kills us and we don’t know it. We stumble around, falling apart, consuming others, wasting away in ways that are both heart breaking and terrifying.

And Jesus heals us from that.

I was watching a special on the History Channel about Halloween, and in their segment on the history of the zombie in world literature they noted that Jesus was the only ‘zombie’ (person who was dead and came back to life) that came back to give life to others rather than take it away.  The History Channel was not promoting the divinity of Christ, but even they recognized that there is something different and important about Jesus.

But even though we have been brought to life, we spent time dead in sin experiencing spiritual corruption, and there is a legacy that lingers. It’s going to be a process. There’s some cleaning up to do. Can we just be honest about that? Here’s Lazarus celebrating – “Woo hoo! No way! I’m alive!” and his friends are like, “You need to take a bath.”

In heaven, the corruptible will put on the incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:54). We are not there yet. New life on this side of heaven is glorious but it does not yet equal perfection. We are freed from the controlling power and the eternal penalty of our sin because of Christ, but God made a world in which we reap a temporal penalty for what we have sown (Galatians 6:7).

This is why, if you were dead in greed, or gossip, or sexual sin, you likely won’t walk away from a new commitment to Jesus suddenly freed of the habits and patterns you have formed over the years. We are “being renewed” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and “being transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) Those are progressive verbs. We still have to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).

This is not one momentous moment where you announce “Old self out!” drop the mic and walk away with no connection whatsoever to anything you have done before. We walk away from who we were, but when we first start out we are still pretty close to where we started. Distance takes time. Addicts will long for their addiction even as they conquer their old habits. Criminals might spend time in jail even if those they wronged forgive them. Gossips have wounded friendships that need time to heal. 

I often hear people say, “I’ve changed. Why can’t we just move on and forget about who I was?” Well, because you have grave clothes on. They will come off, but it will take some time, and you still stink. You’ve trained yourself to think about people and situations in a land of corruption. You have spent years building a whole system on how you gauge your value and worth in a land of corruption.  

God promises to transform you if you surrender your life to Him, but it’s a process (what we call sanctification).[4] Be patient. You need some unwrapping, and right now you don’t smell new yet.

We must be honest. The church is full of forgiven people who have been given new life in Christ and who stink. I know I do. I might clean up good on a Sunday morning and look fine (theoretically), and I have been raised from death to life by the power of Jesus Christ, but if you know we me at all, you know that there are still some clothes from my time spent in the grave that still need some unwinding.

Back to Romans 8. After Paul talks about new life in Christ, he writes that all of creation groans in anticipation of God’s New Creation in the world to come but has not yet arrived – and that includes those who are children of God:

“Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete—  for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.” (23-25)

We celebrate new life, we take great hope in the total future redemption we can experience because of Jesus – and we recognize that the reason we are full of expectation and hope is that Heaven has not yet arrived. We live in a church community full of people who have walked out of their spiritual graves (yay!) and are trailing grave clothes behind them (yikes). I hope this gives us a realistic expectation of church community.

  • It’s why we celebrate together - and then struggle with each other.
  • It’s why we praise God for redemption – and then beg him to help us be better at forgiving the redeemed around us who wound us.  
  • It’s why we can feel torn between loving Jesus and loving the people who claim to love Jesus.
  • It’s why we can’t hide from others in our walk with Christ. We need others to help us move into the life God has given us.

It’s beautiful and messy on this side of heaven. And it’s in these times that the community of the Church has an opportunity to shine.

God expects the church to move stones and unwrap grave clothes.

Jesus could have enlisted angels or moved the stone himself; Jesus could have knocked those grave clothes off with a word. He didn’t; he let Lazarus’ friends and family do it. This physical reality points toward an important spiritual one:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. In the end, you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

For whatever reasons, Jesus enlists us in His service.

“In the commands for the bystanders to roll away the stone and unwrap Lazarus we learn that although only God can raise the dead, He still uses men to do the things they are capable of doing. That's how the Lord always operates. He does what He does, but we do what we can do. There's no greater joy in the world than … taking off grave clothes for the Lord! We play a part in what He does.”  – John McArthur

I don’t think “joy” is a word that comes to mind, frankly, when I think of helping others get rid of the lingering reminders of their spiritual corruption. I’d like everyone around me cleaned up, thank you very much. I don’t want the hassle of high-maintenance friends or needy family members or other people in church who offend me or make me angry because their words, attitudes or actions still stink. But that’s a crucial reason we do life together. There are 59 “One Another Verses” in the Bible.[5] Why are there so many? Because it’s hard to do life together, but it’s crucial.

I have two tips to offer today on this aspect of ‘life together’: be humble and be wise.

1. Be humble. Get over yourself. For every person you help become free from their grave clothes, someone else is helping you. You might think the lingering effects of someone else’s sin is overwhelming…but I’m telling you, somebody close to you has is rubbing Vicks under their nose when they help you out. There is never room for arrogance or meanness in the church.

2. Be wise.

  • Seek God’s wisdom and truth. Sin is subtle. You can enable someone rather than help them if you aren’t careful. You can shame those you are trying to help if you aren’t careful. You can get pulled into the very sin you are trying to help others be free from. We are to be people of grace and truth, and that balance can be tricky. You will need to pray and read Scripture. You may need to read books on a particular subject or listen to sermons/podcasts. If you can do this without betraying someone’s confidence, you may need to ask an expert you know. Seek wisdom beyond your own feelings and thoughts.
  • Know your boundaries. Do you have a relationship with this person? Will you be meddling or helping? Do you have good reason to believe they will value what you have to say? Are there others around them already doing the unwrapping? Maybe you can help, but maybe you will be in the way. This is part of the things for which you should be praying, and, if appropriate, seeking counsel.
  • If you are helping someone and it feels messy, use your words. Here are four examples for different situations.
  1. “I feel like I need to be honest about you, but I don’t know if what comes out of my mouth will reflect what’s in my heart.”
  2. “I am not your enemy; I am your friend, and because I am your friend we’ve got to talk about this thing in your life.”
  3. “I’m glad you have confided in me, but I don’t know what to do or say right now. Can we just hang out?”
  4. “I think I offended you. I’m sorry.”

So be humble, and be wise.

Jesus does what only he can do: bring the dead to life.

We do what he asks us to do: welcome those who were dead back into the community of the living. And in the process of God raising and we, the church, unwrapping, the glory of God will be revealed so that the world might believe.

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[1] Why did Jesus weep when he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead? The Bible is not clear, but I suspect it had to do with a) Jesus’ grief over the calamitous reality of the devastating consequence of what sin does in the world. See “Why Jesus Wept,” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-jesus-wept

[2]  This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water. 
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death .

[3] Whenever the Bible takes the time to point out that something stinks, this is never a good thing. In Genesis 19, the angels said of Sodom and Gomorrah that “the stench of the place has reached the Lord…”  “And I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (Amos 4:10). Isaiah 65 talks about God gagging on the stench of rebelliousness and pride and hypocrisy.

[4] See Theopedia’s definition: http://www.theopedia.com/sanctification

[5]http://storage.cloversites.com/wakarusamissionarychurch/documents/59one_another_scriptures.pdf

Dying To Live (John 12)

You may have heard of an autobiographical book (and eventually a  movie) called Eat Pray Love written by Liz Gilbert in 2006. Here’s a brief synopsis thanks to Google:

“Liz Gilbert thought she had everything she wanted in life: a home, a husband and a successful career. Now newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds that she is confused about what is important to her. Daring to step out of her comfort zone, Liz embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India and Bali.”

A quest for self-discovery. Sounds fantastic!  But this was not the first time Gilbert had discovered something about herself. In 2015, Gilbert wrote an article in the New York Times in entitled “Confessions Of A Seduction Addict.”[1] In it she describes what she found out about herself in the years before the events Eat Pray Love.

"It started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband. In between, I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances. You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.… If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different…

Soon enough, and sure enough, I might begin to see that man’s gaze toward me change from indifference, to friendship, to open desire. That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always…

In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down. Predictably, I grew restless and lonely. Soon enough I seduced someone new; the marriage collapsed. But it was worse than just that. Before my divorce agreement was even signed, I was already breaking up with the guy I had broken up my marriage for… If you asked me what I was up to, I might have claimed that I was a helpless romantic — and how can you judge that? If really cornered, I might have argued that I was a revolutionary feminist, taking brazen agency over my own sexuality…

For the first time, I forced myself to admit that I had a problem — indeed, that I was a problem. Tinkering with other people’s most vulnerable emotions didn’t make me a romantic; it just made me a swindler. Lying and cheating didn’t make me brazen; it just made me a needy coward. Stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make me a revolutionary feminist; it just made me a menace. I hated that it took me almost 20 years to realize this. There are 16-year-old kids who know better than to behave this way. It felt shameful. But once I got it, I really got it: There is no way to stop a destructive behavior, except to stop…"

She then tells a story about meeting a man to whom she was really attracted but whom she resisted. She stopped her pattern of destructive behavior. As far as one can tell when the article ends, all is well. It’s heart-breaking to read, but there’s an apparently happy ending. Then she traveled on her quest for self-discovery as chronicled in Eat Pray Love, which culminated in her marrying someone new. Then, one year after her perhaps too hasty article about her move into maturity, this appeared in the New York Times[2]:

"Ms. Gilbert, speaking directly to her readers in a Facebook post, said that after 12 years she was separating from José Nunes, the Brazilian importer whom she met during her travels and later married, and who was a central character in the book… In April, Ms. Gilbert said that she missed travel: “I’ve never been to Japan, Iceland, South Africa and other places that it would be a pity to come to this earth and miss.”

So there was no happy ending. In her journey of self-discovery she discovered things about herself, but to what end? To what purpose? The act of discovery is not enough. One needs to discover not just things but true and good things – and then allow those things to transform you.

Mrs. Gilbert’s self-discovery didn’t solve an apparently returning restlessness, what some would call an existential void that she has had all her life. It might manifest in different ways at different times, but what she was seeking at the deepest level simply won’t be found - and can’t be found - with the things she is pursuing. They offer her moments and times that are strong and even feel overwhelmingly good in the moment – but they don’t last. They can’t. They are only glimpse of what she’s looking for, like seeing a snapshot of the Grand Canyon and thinking it’s the same thing as being there.

Sadly, her story has a lot of fans who are apparently convinced that her approach is the way to a good life. The Daily Mail wrote just this week:

“Eat Pray Love had struck a chord with an entire generation of women who, Gilbert feels, didn’t ‘get the memo that they are in charge of their own lives.’”[3]

Frankly, as much as she used the language of choice, self-empowerment and self-discovery, I didn’t get the impression that she has been in charge of her life.

We all serve something to which we give our allegiance. To use biblical language, we will all be servants or slaves to something. We all give our lives to something that we believe will ultimately satisfy our deepest longings, and that thing we first intrigues us, then it molds us, then leads us, and then defines us. You don’t have to be a Christian to see this. I am fascinated with the insight by a novelist named David Foster Wallace. He was not a Christian by any stretch, but he noted the following:

“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”

He finished his 2005 speech[4] by saying,

 “It is about making it to thirty, or maybe fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”

David Foster Wallace did not make it to 50. Four years after he gave this speech, he committed suicide. I am reminded of what the always quotable C.S. Lewis had to say:

"Thomas More said... 'If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.' Will it really make no difference if it was women [or men] or patriotism, cocaine or art, whiskey or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have all missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in the desert, by which choice of route he missed the only well?"

Everybody worships. And we will either worship something that always leaves us unsatisfied – “wells that run dry or leave us thirsty,” (Isaiah 58) and leads us to disillusionment, unhappiness or despair, or we will draw our refreshment from a well that will never run dry and will lead to hope and satisfaction as we worship a God who meets us in the deepest and most profound levels of our longing (John 4).

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Jesus’ final public teaching is recorded in John 12. It is an exhortation, and appeal to the people to respond to a God of life. He had just raised Lazarus, and he had quite a crowd following him. In this teaching he makes the turn from physical resurrection to spiritual resurrection. I told you last week we will talk about how to experience the fullness of life in Christ on this side of heaven, so here we go with a quick review: It will be glorious but messy.

It won’t yet be perfection – even God’s people wait in anticipation for the final renewal of all things. But there is a fullness that God offers through Christ in this life in anticipation of the life to come.  Jesus comes back to a theme again and again.  If we pursue Christ, he will mold us an eventually define us. In the process, the glory of Jesus will be seen by us and in us.I’m condensing all of the teaching in this chapter to one paragraph that focuses on what I believe is the main topic.

 I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest. The one who loves this life will lose it, and the one who despises it in this world will have life forevermore. Anyone who serves Me must follow My path; anyone who serves Me will want to be where I am, and he will be honored by the Father… (v.23-26)

How do we experience the fullness of this beautiful, messy life on this side of heaven?

  • We must love Christ more than ourselves.
  • We must love the Kingdom of Heaven more than the Kingdoms of Earth.
  • We must ‘die’ to self and follow the teaching and the path of Jesus.  

This ‘call to die” sounds unusual, but the reality is that everybody dies to something so they can live for something else.  Everybody eventually enslaves themselves to something that they believe will bring them the greatest freedom.  The radical part of this call is not the call to die: the radical part is the call to die to self and for someone else – in this case, Jesus.

But this dying to self is not simply the way to bring life to ourselves.  It’s how we bring life to everyone around us. Everybody worships , right? And whenever we worship, somebody dies, and it will be either us or others.

  • If I worship my comfort, I will sacrifice my wife and kids. They will pay the cost of my comfort. “Stop bothering me. We will talk when I’m good and ready. No, you adjust your hopes and dreams and priorities because they don’t match mine.”  I will sacrifice my friends. “You upset or hurt me. Clearly you are the problem. I need a better class of friends.” I remain dead in my selfishness and sin, and I drag down those close to me.
  • If I worship my reputation, I will sacrifice any of you who don’t make me look good. “You think I’m wrong? You’re an idiot. You don’t like how I pastor? You clearly have a heart issue. You are winning an argument with me? I will lash out and try to humiliate you or keep beating this argument to death because I can’t be wrong.”  And I will remain dead in myself selfishness and sin and drag down those around me.
  • If I worship money, I will choose work time over relationship time and I will choose profit over people.  If I worship my health, I will make everyone else take second place to my diet and workout schedule. If I worship sex, all that will matter is my fulfillment and my happiness, and I will sacrifice the dignity and autonomy of people around me as I manipulate and pressure and use… And I will remain dead in my selfishness and sin and drag down those around me.

You want to know what you worship? Ask yourself whom you sacrifice; then ask yourself why.

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So what do we do if we are caught in this trap? To use language from last week, how do we turn from being dead to being fully alive? What does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices, wholly acceptable unto God? (Romans 12:1)This is going to take several weeks, and John conveniently gives us more insight in the next several chapters in which Jesus is teaching his disciples about life in the Kingdome. But we are going to stay focused today on the first crucial step: dying to self.

 In the same way you gave your bodily members away as slaves to corrupt and lawless living and found yourselves deeper in your unruly lives, now devote your members as slaves to right and reconciled lives so you will find yourselves deeper in holy living. In the days when you lived as slaves to sin, you had no obligation to do the right thing. In that regard, you were free. But what do you have to show from your former lives besides shame? The outcome of that life is death, guaranteed. But now that you have been emancipated from the death grip of sin and are God’s slave, you have a different sort of life, a growing holiness. The outcome of that life is eternal life. The payoff for a life of sin is death, but God is offering us a free gift—eternal life through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. (Romans 6: 19-23)

It begins with a commitment to Jesus. Acknowledge the reality of who Jesus is; surrender your life to Him; commit to following his path.  This is the biblical idea of ‘dying’ so that we can be raised to life. We must commit to learning what it means to love Jesus and others more than ourselves, to valuing the kingdom of God over the Kingdom of the earth. And part of that re-ordering of our loves and priorities is learning where to place our focus: specifically, how to sacrifice ourselves. We turn to C.S. Lewis again for a great summary:

“The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.

Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

I remember thinking as a young man that I wanted to make a difference in the Kingdom of God. I really wanted my life to count. I saw some older folks who were godly and whose presence had really impacted my life. I knew it was because of Jesus at work in them, and I wanted that! It took me years to realize I couldn't just want that. I had to be willing to die. If I wanted to live, I had to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). If I wanted the power of the resurrection, I needed to participate in the fellowship of His suffering (Philippians 3:10).

  • If I wanted to become wise, I had to die prioritize certain things in my life that would lead to wisdom.
  • If I wanted to self-controlled, I had to practice self-control.
  • If I wanted to overcome anger, I had to address my anger and the issues fueling my anger.
  • If I wanted to move from lustful thoughts to pure thoughts, I had to change my habits and my focus and bring in something new. 

There was no amount of wishful thinking that was going to change me in those areas.  There was prayer, and study of the Bible, and seeking Christian counsel both casual and professional that would help to guide me in the path of righteousness.  There was accountability to others. There was reading and studying, then putting into practice what I learned.  

Lest I sound like I am suggesting I have arrived, I am not saying that at all. Ask anyone around me.  The need for new life is ongoing. The problem with a ‘living sacrifice’ is that it can crawl off the altar and put somebody else up there instead. Every day, we surrender our pride, our time, our desires for comfort and fun.

But what we find on the other side of death is resurrection, and when we finally get up on that altar so that we die instead of others and the life of Jesus begins to work in us and through us – then we begin to truly see how the Kingdom of God is meant for our good and God’s glory.

This is the pattern. This is how God accomplishes his work of bringing us to life, then growing us in a new life. Our lives become characterized by self-sacrifice rather than self-indulgence. That sacrifice is not just a vague practice of denial: it’s a purposeful commitment to living for Jesus by living like Jesus. And in that process, that seed of our life that ‘dies’ comes to life and bears a crop in which the goodness of God is multiplied for the good of others and the glory of God.

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[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/confessions-of-a-seduction-addict.html?src=recg&_r=0

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/style/elizabeth-gilbert-separation-eat-pray-love.html?_r=0

[3] Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3683437/What-happens-romance-inspired-thousands-happy-comes-bubble-popping-end.html#ixzz4ECYoi98w

[4] “This Is Water.” http://bulletin.kenyon.edu/x4280.html

The Meeting of Misery and Mercy (John 7 - 8:12)

In the story of the Woman Caught In Adultery, we see Jesus embody God’s perspective on how to balance judgment and mercy.[1] We will first look at the context of the story, then at the person of Jesus, and finally why this story matters to us. Let’s start with some background.

  • This happened on the day after the eight day celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacle/ Feast of Booths. The Jews lived in huts during this time to commemorate how the Israelites lived in tents during the Exodus.
  • Moses had commanded that during the days of this Feast the law be read, so this was an annual, purposeful focus on the Law of God.
  • The main purpose was to thank God for his provision during the past in the wilderness wanderings (Lev 23:39-43) and in the present as seen in the harvest just completed (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).
  • The people were reminded of their profound dependence upon God for provision. They would recite Psalm 118:25 every day: “O Lord, defend/rescue/deliver us, and prosper us.”
  • They had a ceremony in which four different types of plants were brought to the altar. These four plants symbolized four different kinds of Jews. One plant had a good fragrance and a good taste, symbolizing knowledge of the Torah and good deeds. One only had fragrance (only good deeds); one only had taste (only knowledge of the Torah), and one had neither.
  • There was a series of water offerings each morning in the temple, commemorating the provision of water in the wilderness. When Jesus tells them to come to him to drink (7:37-38), he is linking himself to God’s provision in the Exodus.
  • Menorahs would be lit in the House of Water Drawing, which was in the Court of Women in the temple. People would dance and sing, “Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who sinned and repented, he is forgiven.”[2]
  • Jesus' proclamation that he is the light of the world (8:12) linked him to the feast's lamp-lighting ceremonies that commemorated the pillar of fire during the Exodus. The morning that Jesus is challenged is the morning that four festival lamps in the court in the Temple ("The light of the world") were put out.
  • Jesus had been teaching from, among other things, the book of Isaiah, and he quoted a prophecy about the Messiah and used it to refer to himself.

So Jesus has been claiming to be the Water and the Light and quoting a revered Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, all to show that he is the Messiah for whom they have been longing. The good news was that the God whom they worshipped during this feast was with them. Many of the people were starting to believe.

The Pharisees want to kill him; they think he was blaspheming. But to kill him they need a formal trial and a Rome-sanctioned execution. So the next morning, on the Sabbath, they meet Jesus in the temple. The temple area was about 35 acres, and in the middle was a courtyard surrounded on three sides by a large, covered walkway that connected the temple court to Herod’s garrison. His soldiers patrolled the courtyard by walking on top of the covered walkways in case anything bad developed. Josephus noted that during feast days, an entire legion (over 4,000 men) would patrol the temple area.

Into this venue, the Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery for judgment. They most likely bring her into the Court of Women. If all went well, they might be able to trick him into ordering capital punishment, and then Rome would take care of their problem. If that didn’t happen, they figured they could show how much more they knew about the law with the hope that this crowd of simpletons would finally reject him as Law Breaker and so reject him as the Messiah. Augustine puts it succinctly:

So the Jews said to themselves, “If he says, ‘Let her be stoned,’ we shall say to him, ‘What has become of your forgiving sins? Aren’t you the one who says, “Your sins are forgiven you?’” But if he says, ‘Let her go,’ we shall say, ‘What has become of your coming to fulfill the law and not to destroy it?’”

This seems like a win/win for the Pharisees. Jesus gets arrested or his lack of knowledge of the Law gets him rejected. Things do not go as planned.

  • First, as has often been noted, they only brought the woman. That’s unusual to say the least. Even then, I took two to tango, and the Law demanded that both be brought to the trial.
  • Second, a formal accusation required two eyewitnesses. There was no circumstantial evidence allowed in a case like this. The eyewitnesses would have warned couple ahead of time about the consequences of their action, the couple had to acknowledge this, and then the witnesses had to watch them do it. Odds are really good those standards were not met. I suspect Jesus (and perhaps the whole crowd) realized this.
  • Third, the death penalty was virtually obsolete in Jewish culture by the time of Jesus[3] (in fact, that sentence was highly unusual ever since the time of Moses). Over the centuries, the Sanhedrin had increasingly made the standards incredibly high because they believed the Law was meant to teach, not kill.[4]
  • Fourth, a kosher (?) trial had to happen in front of a duly constituted court, which included over twenty Sanhedrin leaders who sat in a semicircle so they could be sure they were all paying attention. If capital punishment happened outside of a court ruling, those who administered the punishment were considered murderers.
  • Fifth, the Talmudic Sanhedrin trecate (treatise), written before the time of Christ, clarified Deuteronomy’s command that the eyewitnesses should start the stoning (thus the “cast the first stone”).[5] There apparently aren't any eyewitnesses – or at least the text does not record their presence.
  • Sixth, capital punishment could not be carried out on a day sacred to religion – and this was a Sabbath.

So, following a celebration in which the people prayed for God to save them, and in which they celebrated the combination of Law and Good Deeds, Jesus will show what it looks like when their longings are fulfilled. He begins by honoring the Law.

When an accusation was brought, a priest was required to write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused, somewhere where the marks were not permanent – which was usually the dust on the floor of the temple. Early Armenian translations of this passage claim that is the proper understanding of this passage[6] - that Jesus wrote first the name and crime of the woman in the dust on the temple courtyard floor.

After Jesus writes, he says, “Let the sinless one cast the first stone.” It’s a brilliant response. First, I suspect it reminded the crowd of the song that had been sung in that very court - “Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who sinned and repented, he is forgiven”. If so, Jesus’ comment reminded them of their sin and chastised them for wanting to do something that is at odds with what they just celebrated. Second, it reveals what the heart of a Savior looks like. I like how St. Augustine puts it:

He did not say, “Do not stone her,” otherwise he would seem to speak contrary to the law. But God forbid that he should say, “Stone her,” for he came not to lose what he found, but to seek what was lost.”

After Jesus says this, He begins writing again; considering the Armenian texts as well as the fact that everyone will eventually leave, it seems reasonable to speculate that he wrote the names and crimes of the Pharisees who broke the law, which was all of them.

 As if exposing their hypocrisy wasn’t bad enough, the very act of writing in the dirt likely made clear they had turned aside from the ways of the Lord. Every year on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the High Priest would immerse himself in a baptismal tank to be ceremonially cleansed. At the end of Yom Kippur, the people rejoiced that everyone’s sins had been rolled forward another year until Messiah comes. The High Priest would quote the following:

"'Oh YAHWEH, the Mikve (purifying bath) of Israel...' just as the mikveh cleansed me on this day, may the Holy One (Messiah), blessed be his name, cleanse all Israel when He comes."

The priest was referencing Jeremiah 17:13:

"Oh Lord, the Immerser (BAPTIZER ) of Israel, all those who leave your way shall be put to shame (publicly embarrassed), those who turn aside from my ways will have their names written in the dust and blotted out, for they have departed from YHVH, the fountain of the waters of life."

By writing, he points to himself as the Baptizer of Israel, and to the Pharisees as those whose name will be blotted out.[7]

And that was that. The crowd melts away. Jesus asks, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” Jesus responds, “I don’t condemn you either [that is, I am not an eyewitness against you], but stop you sin.” Back to St. Augustine for some thoughts:

Neither will I condemn you." What is this, 0 Lord? Do you therefore favor sins? Not so, evidently. Mark what follows: "Go and sin no more." Therefore the Lord did also condemn, but condemned sins, not the sinner. For if he was a patron of sin, he would say, ‘Neither will I condemn you; go, live as you will; be secure in my deliverance, however much you will to sin. I will deliver you from all punishment even of hell, and from the tormentors of the infernal world.’ He did not say this. Let them pay attention, then, who love his gentleness in the Lord, and let them fear his truth.... The Lord is gentle, the Lord is long suffering, the Lord is full of pity; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true.” Augustine, Tracates on the Gospel of John)

No one could say Jesus was a Lawbreaker, but He refused to use the Law as a tool of oppression and shame. Going back to the symbols of the previous week: He had the fragrance of the Law and the taste of good deeds. And then, just in case the crowd was missing all the ways Jesus was proclaiming himself to be the Messiah, the Savior they longed for, he immediately says, in a courtyard in which the menorahs and the “light of the world” festival lamps had been lit and then put out,

“I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

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How do we balance judgment and mercy? How should we treat sin – and sinners – in our midst of our church community?[8] This question ought to matter to all of us, because no one in this room is exempt. You will sin; you will have to deal with the sin of others. We are all going to be in the place of either the Pharisees or the woman who sinned at some point in our life. So what do we do? How do we learn from this story? We look to Jesus for our example.

We must exercise righteous judgment of sin and show mercy and grace to sinners. We must love the sinner even as we condemn the sin. This is not always easy.

If we aren't careful we can get so caught up in condemning the sin that we forget to love the sinner. Religious Pharisees think mercy is a sign of moral weakness. They think people get what’s coming to them – especially people whose sins are so visibly public. They appoint themselves as moral watchdogs in the church trained not simply to be truthful and challenging but to tear the sinner to pieces. Their goal is not to point people who deserve judgment toward the mercy found only in Christ. They might never say that out loud, but they condemn the sinner as much as they condemn the sin. Their goal is punishment, not restoration.

When we look to Jesus, we see that our goal should be not to shame, humiliate, or drive to despair those around us who are caught in sin; our goal should be to bring to repentance and restoration those who have fallen. We may need to start by calling sin what it is in the lives of those who refuse to see it in themselves (as Jesus did with the Pharisees). But even if we do that so the self-righteous and proud are humbled – even if we are the self-righteous and proud who are humbled by our honest brothers and sisters in Christ - we must never lose sight of the goal of the Great Physician: to heal the sin-sick soul. The great commentator Matthew Henry wrote,

“In this matter Christ attended to the great work about which he came into the world, that was, to bring sinners to repentance; not to destroy, but to save. He aimed to bring, not only the accused to repentance, by showing her his mercy, but the prosecutors also, by showing them their sins; they thought to ensnare him, he sought to convince and convert them.”

If we are to learn from the example of Jesus, our goal must not be to destroy sinners, but to point them toward a Christ who saves. We must speak the truth about sin, and then show the kind of mercy that leads to a “godly sorrow that brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

If the first thing we have to be careful of is too much judgment of sin, the second thing is becoming so focused on extending mercy to the sinner that we forgot there is a righteous anger towards and a just judgment for sin. This story if often cited as an example of why we shouldn’t exercise judgment, That badly misses the point. Jesus absolutely judges. When Jesus wrote in the dust, he (presumably) wrote that they were all lawbreakers. He didn't let the Pharisees off the hook. He didn’t say to the woman, “Hey, it’s no problem. Go do what you want.” He said, “No one hear can formally accuse you, but…Stop sinning.” He didn’t try to contextualize her situation. He didn’t say, “You’re perfect just the way you are.” In his mercy, he gave her the same kind of truth he gave the Pharisees: she had sinned, and she needed to repent.

Telling the truth about sin is not a bad thing. Offering sincere, honest, biblically sound judgment about sinful actions is not a sign that you are mean; it is a sign that you are wise. If we aren’t careful, we will think that in order to love sinners, we must overlook or minimize sin – and then in the process of loving the sinner we enable the sin. And that is neither loving nor merciful.

Love actually requires honest judgment. Why? Because sin destroys. It eats away at your peace with God, with others, and within ourselves. It corrodes relationships, it distorts love, it puts us squarely on the road to the judgment of God who will make sure that someone gives an answer for sin. If that’s what sin does, what kind of God would not hate sin and judge those who do it? A holy, loving God must use judgment in the service of justice so that evil does not have the last word. For all of us who have experienced the sin of others crush our lives, it is heaven’s promise that someone will answer for the evil done to us.[9]

But we have to be careful. If we don’t confront sin in love, we will be abrasive and mean (see 1 Corinthians 13). And if we don’t do this with an eye on the sin in our own lives, we will do this with a kind of pride that God despises.

Here’s the reality: all of us have hurt others with our words, our attitudes, our choices, our violence. A holy, loving God must judge the evil we do too. We long for judgment when it’ meant for people who have done us wrong, but if God’s judgment were to rain down on us all and give us the justice we deserve right now, we would all beg for mercy. There is no one righteous (Romans 3:10). There is no sin that can be hidden from God, even if you can hide it from your neighbor. If Jesus were here, and we all demanded that judgment for sin be rendered, we would all walk away as our names and our sins were written in the dust on the floor of this church.

We must embrace this tension between justice and mercy. We should love God’s justice (as we see the devastation of sin and the need for someone to hold people to account) but we should also crave God’s mercy (as we see our own sin, condemnation and need for a Savior).

The Law reveals the condition and drives us to grace. No one in the Law was saved by keeping the Law because no one could satisfy the requirements of the Law. Instead, the Law drove them to grace. That is why David, in his marvelously repentant Psalm 51, says of his sin: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness. According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” The superscription of the Psalm says, “For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone to Bathsheba.” (https://bible.org/seriespage/john-chapter-8)

When justice and mercy work together, just judgment drives us to our knees at the foot of the Cross; mercy reaches down from that cross and pulls us to our feet. This is where we look back to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the embodiment of God’s justice and mercy.

It is on the cross that God’s holy justice was perfectly satisfied while His holy mercy was perfectly displayed.[10] Someone has to pay the price for sin, and God in his mercy said, “Let it be me.” There would be a day when Jesus would take upon himself the sins of the world – and that included the woman and her accusers. And all of us. The Israelite prayer, “O Lord, rescue us, deliver us, save us,” has come true because Jesus has come so that the world through him might be saved.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6VAy9y_iQ]

 

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[1] Your Bible may note, “Many early manuscripts omit 7:53–8:11.” Eusebius, the first historian of the Church, claimed to have learned the story from Papias, who lived from about 60 AD to about 130 AD.[1] The picture is from the earliest known manuscript of John, an Egyptian copy from around 180. Augustine thought the early church removed the story out of fear that adultery would be encouraged by Jesus’ display of mercy. Whatever the reasons, the event is alluded to very early, it appears to have been widely known and accepted in the early church, and it soon appears in the canon.

[2] http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/john_gospel/Chapter%208.htm

[3] (Mishnah Makkot 1:10): “A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death. Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says: they would have multiplied shedders of blood in Israel.” Read a good article here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-death-penalty-in-jewish-tradition/2/

[4] http://www.reformjudaismmag.net/02summer/focus.shtml

[5] “With reference to two offenders subject to this penalty, the Pentateuch says, "Thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people" (Deut. xiii. 10 [A. V. 9]), and again (ib. xvii. 7), "The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people." (Sanh. vi. 4; 45a et seq.; Sifra, Emor, xix.; Sifre, Num. 114; ib. Deut. 89, 90, 149, 151). “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_and_corporal_punishment_in_Judaism#In_Rabbinic_Law

[6] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-8.html

[7] The Bible does not connect those dots, but considering the audience and the context, it seems like a reasonable connection.

[8] I realize the ‘church’ had not started yet, but the religious Jewish community is probably the closest comparison we have before the NT church community began.

[9] So is there any place for judgment and justice when God extends mercy? First, the Bible clearly teaches that there will be practical consequences to our actions. Forgiveness does not necessarily negate the fact that we will reap what we sow. The woman’s adultery may still have ruined her marriage even thought the forgiveness of Christ was available to her. Second, there are consequences to our actions within God ordained systems of government. Those harmed by rape may extend forgiveness, but the rapist will still go to jail – and rightly so. Finally, there is an ultimate day of judgment when we will all give an answer to God for what we have done. It’s possible to the first two forms of judgment can be avoided depending on the nature of the sin, but no one will escape the final accounting.

[10] Read “The Only Thing That Counts” for a better understanding of why Jesus needed to die in order for God’s justice to be satisfied. https://clgonline.org/the-only-thing-that-counts-galatians-51-8/