“The Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:11-5:3)

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11 So let us move forward to enter this rest, so that none of us fall into the kind of faithless disobedience that prevented them from entering. 12 The word of God, you see, is alive and moving; sharper than a double-edged sword; piercing the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow; able to judge the thoughts and will of the heart. 13 No creature can hide from God: God sees all. Everyone and everything is laid bare, opened for His inspection; and He’s the One we will have to explain ourselves to.

For the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about entering into God’s rest, and what that looks like. That’s followed by a couple verses about the Word of God being like a sword in our lives. It seems like an odd transition. But…..it’s not.

In the previous section on rest, the writer of Hebrews notes several times that rest is tied to obedience. No obedience, no rest. Look what happened to the Israelites who had to wander…look at Moses being able to see but not enter the Promised Land. Embracing obedience and entering into rest are intertwined.

We talked about several kinds of rest in the Bible: the rest that we find in salvation, the rest we find in this life following Christ, and eternal rest in the life to come. While the Bible talks about all three, I noted that I think this passage is specifically about the rest we can experience in this life while following Jesus.

So, our obedience to Jesus is tied to the kind of rest we are offered in Jesus in this life: rest from guilt, shame, hiddenness, self-justification…..

This is where the sword of the Word of God comes into play. What does it do? It exposes everything that is keeping you from rest. If you want to rest, you have to let the Word of God do its work in you. It will lay you bare. Keep in mind this was a world where short sword fighting had been made famous by the Romans. People knew what a sword could do. This is not a gentle image.

Adam Clarke has some great commentary on this. The verb means to have your neck bent back so as to expose the face to full view. This was done with criminals so they could be better recognized. Pliny, a historian, wrote about how pleasing it was to see " the supine faces and reverted necks of the informers” (I think traitors) as they looked up at the judge.

The term was also used to describe the action of wrestlers who bent the head and neck of an opponent, taking them down, or even dragging opponents by the neck. One writer (Diogenes) criticized a victor in the Games who kept looking at a woman in the audience: "See how this mighty champion is drawn by the neck by a common girl."

This is the image the biblical writer uses to describe what the Word of God will do to us. It will expose us. It will take us down; it will drag us around. This is good news and bad news.

The good news? The Word of God reveals our disobedience so that we can surrender in repentance, receive God’s forgiveness, and rest in Him.

The bad news? We are going to need to give an account of ourselves to God, and if we are the ones giving an account, it is not going to go well.

We need someone who can defend us.

14 Since we have a great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God who has passed through the heavens from death into new life with God, let us hold tightly to our faith. 15 For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws. He has already been tested in every way that we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God. 16 So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most.

1) The Jewish high priest would pass through the veil of the temple and go into the holy of holies, carrying the blood of temporary sacrifices; Jesus went through the heavens with his own blood as the permanent sacrifice, not into the symbolic holy place but into the holiest of places.

2) Jesus is not a cold, aloof high priest; he has sympathy for us. Literally, according to Strong’s Concordance, he is “touched with feelings of compassion.” Why? He knows what it is like to be us. Until I had kids, I was pretty judgmental of other people’s parenting. How hard can it be, right? Now I know what it’s like. Until I was a coach, I didn’t have sympathy for coaches. Now I know what it’s like. I remember reading one of my dad’s books when I was a kid. It was called Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. From Wikipedia:

Black Like Me, first published in 1961, is a nonfiction book by white journalist John Howard Griffin recounting his journey in the Deep South of the United States, at a time when African-Americans lived under racial segregation. Griffin…  his skin temporarily darkened to pass as a black man. He traveled for six weeks throughout the racially segregated states of LouisianaMississippiAlabamaArkansas, and Georgiato explore life from the other side of the color line.

It was a powerful story that stamped my young mind pretty firmly with the injustice of racism. Why did it have power? Because Griffin understood in ways he had not before what it meant to be black and live in the south in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

This isn’t a perfect analogy to what Jesus did, because Jesus didn’t simply present as if he was one of us. Jesus became fully human without compromising the fullness of his deity.  He knows what it is like to walk this world.

3) But he emerged victorious and pure from this life, the only person in the history of the world to do so. He withstood every trial and temptation. And into His perfect life Jesus accepted the weight and the penalty of all of our sins, so that His death once and for all paid our debt.

4) So let us step boldly to the throne of grace,[1]because we have a compassionate and great High Priest who is full of mercy and grace. This is good news, especially after that daunting verse about the word of God exposing everything to God’s inspection.  A throne of judgment should cause us to fear, because God’s justice will be served. A throne of grace should cause us to rejoice, because justice has already been served in Jesus.

Remember what I said earlier about the role of the high priest, even the ones chosen by human beings? The job of every high priest is reconciliation: approaching God on behalf of others and offering Him gifts and sacrifices to repair the damage caused by our sins against God and each other. The high priest should have compassion for (reasonably bear with) those who are ignorant of the faith and those who wander (wayward; misguided; easily deceived)[2]because he also has wrestled withhuman weakness, and so the priest must offer sacrifices both for his sins and for those of the people.

If you read the next few verses, you will see Aaron and Melchizadek referenced (they also come up later). They were deeply admired priests to the Jewish people. The writer of Hebrews says, just like he did with angels and Moses and the Sabbath, “Those are all amazing, but they are nothing compared to Jesus. For starters, Jesus didn’t have to make a sacrifice for his own sins.” This passage in its entirety is meant to assure us of the true and everlasting greatness of the High Priest who took upon himself the death we deserved and who intercedes for us so that we can have peace with and rest in God.

With this background in place, I want to talk about the implications for us and others. The Bible says that we are all priests and kings now (Revelation 1:6).[3]So, we better take our role of priest seriously, and it should be modeled after Jesus’ high priestly role.

  • Do we approach God on behalf of others in prayer, even the most sinful people?Who are you angry with right now? Disappointed? Hurt by? Bitter? Do you approach God on their behalf in prayer, longing for their salvation, sanctification and glorification, and longing for the restoration of their relationship with God and you?
  • Do we sacrifice to repair the damage caused by our sins and the sins of others?Genuine repentance is a sacrifice. So is genuine forgiveness. Do we go out of the way to make things right?
  • Do we reasonably bear with Christians who sin in ignorance or from error?The Bible seems to make a distinction between two types of sinners in the church: those who sin boldly and defiantly, and those who sin in ignorance or from error.The first is an attitude of rebellious predetermination that deserves really firm discipline within the church (1 Corinthians 5); the second is from weakness of some sort, and demands a different response. From Vincent’s Word Studies: “moderate or tender in judgment toward another's errors…a state of feeling toward the ignorant and erring which is neither too severe nor too tolerant. The high priest must not be betrayed into irritation at sin and ignorance, neither must he be weakly indulgent.”
  • Do we empathize with or have sympathy for those who are weak because we recognize our weakness? In this verse, the priest’s ‘weaknesses’ is literally, “has infirmity lying around him.” It’s the same word used later in Hebrews when we are told we are encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses.[4]We are encompassed by a great cloud of our weakness.[5]

As for empathizing, Adam Clarke notes:

“The word signifies, not merely to have compassion, but to act with moderation, and to bear with each in proportion to his ignorance, weakness, and untoward circumstances, all taken into consideration with the offenses he has committed: in a word, to pity, feel for, and excuse, as far as possible; and, when the provocation is at the highest, to moderate one's passion towards the culprit, and be ready to pardon; and when punishment must be administered, to do it in the gentlest manner.”

 I will close with a comment from a sermon by Spurgeon, whom I have found myself quoting a lot in this series:

Think much of the Son of God, the Lord of heaven and earth, who for our salvation loved and lived and served and suffered. He that made man was made man. As a suppliant, with cries and tears He pleaded with God, even He before whom the hosts of heaven bow adoringly. He has still that tenderness to which He was trained by His suffering; He bids you now come to Him.

 You that love Him approach Him now, and read the love which is engraved on His heart. You who have not hitherto known Him, come boldly to Him and trust Him who has come so near to you. The Man is very near akin to us. Behold how He loves us! He bends to us with eternal salvation in His hands. Believe in Him and live. God grant it! Amen.

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[1]“Confident access to God is a priestly privilege reserved for those who have been purified from sin’s pollution by Jesus’ sacrifice (7:1910:1922), and so can offer sacrifices of thanksgiving pleasing to God (12:2813:1516). On the priestly privilege of Christian believers see Rom. 5:12Eph. 2:13–221 Pet. 2:4–10.” (Reformation Study Bible)

[2]on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way] Highhanded sinners, willing sinners, those who, in the Hebrew phrase, sin “with upraised hand” (Numbers 15:30Deuteronomy 17:12), cannot always be treated with compassionate tenderness (Hebrews 10:26); but the ignorant and the erring (1 Timothy 1:13)—those who sin “inadvertently,” “involuntarily” (Leviticus 4:2Leviticus 4:13, &c.)—and even those who under sudden stress of passion and temptation sin willfully—need pity (Leviticus 5:1Leviticus 19:20-22), and Christ’s prayer on the cross was for those “who know not what they do.”  (Cambridge Bible For Schools And Colleges)

[3]“Every believer is a priest, having access in the name of Christ, the great High Priest, to the presence of God (Heb. 4:14-16). Believers, then, have the priestly work of daily offering themselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2) and of offering the sacrifices of deeds of mercy and adoring worship to God (Hen. 13:15-16). The priesthood of all believers means not only that all are now active participants in joyful public worship (1 Cor. 14:26) but also that they have the priestly calling to “do good and to share with others” (Heb. 13:16). As prophets, Christians call neighbors to repent, but as priests they do so with sympathy and loving service  to address their needs. This is why Jesus calls us to live such lives of goodness and service that outsiders will glorify God (Matt. 5;16).” http://timmybrister.com/2012/11/tim-keller-on-every-believer-as-prophet-priest-and-king/

[4]See Vincent’s Word Studies at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/hebrews/5-2.htm

[5]“The priest must be one with men. He must have gone through men's experiences and his sympathy must be with them. At this point the writer to the Hebrews stops to point out--he will later show that this is one of the ways in which Jesus Christ is superior to any earthly priest--that the earthly priest is so one with men that he is under the necessity of offering sacrifice for his own sin before he offers it for the sins of others. The priest must be bound up with men in the bundle of life. In connection with this he used a wonderful word--metriopathein (Greek #3356). We have translated it "to feel gently"; but it is really untranslatable.

The Greeks defined a virtue as the mean between two extremes. On either hand there was an extreme into which a man might fall; in between there was the right way. So the Greeks defined metriopatheia (the corresponding noun) as the mean between extravagant grief and utter indifference. It was feeling about men in the right way. W. M. Macgregor defined it as "the mid-course between explosions of anger and lazy indulgence." Plutarch spoke of that patience which was the child of metriopatheia. He spoke of it as that sympathetic feeling which enabled a man to raise up and to save, to spare and to hear. Another Greek blames a man for having no metriopatheia and for therefore refusing to be reconciled with someone who had differed from him. It is a wonderful word. It means the ability to bear with people without getting irritated; it means the ability not to lose one's temper with people when they are foolish and will not learn and do the same thing over and over again. It describes the attitude to others which does not issue in anger at their fault and which does not condone it, but which to the end of the day spends itself in a gentle yet powerful sympathy which by its very patience directs a man back to the right way. No man can ever deal with his fellow-men unless he has this strong and patient, God-given metriopatheia.” (William Barclay)

 

The Sabbath, The Lord's Day, And Rest

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After some really good discussion and questions in Message Plus and side conversations last week, I decided it might be worth our time to spend a little more time on this topic of rest and honoring the Sabbath. Let’s begin with the passages in the Old Testament that talk about the command to the Israelites to honor the Sabbath. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11) 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you….The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. (Exodus 31: 12-16) 

“The seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a day of sacred assembly. You shall do no work on it, wherever you live (in all your dwellings)…” (Leviticus 23:3)."Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." (“Deuteronomy 5:12-15) 

The Old Testament commanded that the Israelites keep this day holy (“set aside”) by doing one think in particular: Resting.The word “Sabbath” is related to the Hebrew word for “rest,” and the primary duty for observant Jews was to stop working on the Sabbath: Rest by not creating or building or harvesting, but instead enjoying the fruit of their labor and God’s work on their behalf.

Since this is tied in with remembering how God freed them from slavery, they also understood this to mean they must take time to remember how God had freed them from bondage.[1]Leviticus adds that it is a time of sacred assembly.

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There are some interesting things about the Sabbath command.

It is the only commandment given as a covenant sign.We see elsewhere in the Old Testament that covenants have signs, so that the sign of the Noahic covenant is the rainbow (Gen. 9:8–17) and the sign of the Abrahamic covenant is circumcision (Gen. 17).[2]The observance of Sabbath was a constant re-honoring of the covenant between God and Israel.

It is the only commandment that is referred to as a type pointing toward the True Form (the True Sabbath).Many of the early church fathers compared Sabbath to the other covenant sign, circumcision: both were physical ways of enacting a covenant with God; both were now enacted spiritually in Christ.

"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (Colossians 2:16-18 )

There still remains a place of rest, a true Sabbath, for the people of God because those who enter into salvation’s rest lay down their labors in the same way that God entered into a Sabbath rest from His.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Whatever circumcision did now, it did not bring or confirm salvation. There was a circumcision of the heart that did that.  Whatever Sabbath observance did now, it did not bring or confirm salvation. There was a Sabbath of the heart that did that.

However, I don’t know if it’s an entirely fair comparison. The other covenant signs were not part of the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments are the 10 foundational commands on which all the other Old Testament laws are basically commentary  - “This is how it looks in practice in this community”.  We don’t argue that the other 9 no longer apply to God’s people.

I am not sure the Bible frees me to think of the Sabbath as ONLY a type. Sabbath is not less than a type, but its placement in Scripture sure seems to argue that it’s more than that. There is something timelessly important about its observance by God’s people.

So, let’s talk about how the early church, which was initially filled with people moving from Judaism to Christianity, handled this.

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First, let’s look at how Jesus handled the Sabbath.He pointed out that so many of the Pharisee’s laws were missing the point of Sabbath. Sabbath is for us.It had become a burden to keep, and it should not have been a burden. It should have been a blessing. So he didn’t re-command it… but he also didn’t un-command it. He clarified what keeping it does and doesn’t look like: specifically, what kind of freedom do we have in rest. It should not be governed rigidly by narrow definitions of what is work and what is not. Sabbath rest should not be yet another legalistic burden on Christians.

“The God who made the Sabbath is not a cranky schoolmaster, always forbidding, coercing obedience, and watching sniveling subjects slinking about in cowardly compliance. The Sabbath commandment comes from a kind, wise teacher who does not like to see us suffer. Let me make it easier for you, God says….Forgetting the Sabbath is like forgetting to unwrap the most beautiful gift under the tree... “Excerpt from Sabbath by Wayne Muller

Many Jewish converts observed Saturday as Sabbath and Sunday as the Lord’s Day (which Gentiles treated as the Sabbath).Sabbath was such an important part of life to Jewish converts that it was unthinkable not to keep it. The mostly Jewish early church believed Jesus had come to redeem Judaism and the Jews, not to set up another religion. They assumed they would continue to meet in the Temple. So when they converted to following Jesus, they continued to observe the Sabbath in the Temple even as they focused on Jesus.

  • The first Christians were all together with one accord in the Temple at the time they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). 
  • In Acts 2:46,“And they, continuingdaily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”
  • Acts 5:12 “The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.”
  • Acts 18: 4 “Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

But… they also began to talk a LOT about the importance of setting apart the day after the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, the day on which Jesus rose from the tomb (Mark 16:2; cf. Matt. 28:1; Luke 24:1). The argument was that Jesus was dead (“resting”) on the rest day of the Sabbath, so that kind of observance was still good. But on Sunday Jesus rose, and that’s a day of celebration, so Sunday was the Risen Lord’s Day.[3]Many Jewish converts to Christianity observed both days because they saw the Lord’s Day as separate from Sabbath rather than a fulfillment of it.

A major split between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews took place before the Bible was even done being written. John 9:29 describes how "the Jews had agreed that if anyone confessed Jesus as the Christ or messiah they were to be excluded from the synagogue."In the Eighteen Benedictions that Jews recited daily and in every synagogue service, Christians were singled out as heretics and given a curse:

“For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the [Nazoreans] and the minim [which at least includes Jewish Christians] perish as in a moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant.”

Since no Christians were going to go say that about themselves, their Sabbath synagogue attendance stopped.

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Since, as the writer of Hebrews points out, True Rest and the True Sabbath are found in Christ, it sure seems on the one hand that Sabbath Rest points toward the spiritual rest in Christ and the salvation he offers us.

On the other hand, the seriousness with which the Old Testament treats the observance of Sabbath rest and the assumed continuance of it by the early converts sure seems to at least strongly suggest there is a timeless to the Sabbath command that ought to carry significant weight in our lives.

As I’ve been reading a LOT of Christian perspectives this past two weeks about whether or not Christians HAVE to observe a Day of Rest, and if it should be Saturday or Sunday, and what we should and shouldn’t do, I’ve found people whom I respect have a lot of different and at times conflicting opinions about all of this. I’m not going to resolve that tension for you. That’s your homework.

I want to finish by talking a little bit about some principles for observing and experiencing rest in Jesus.

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30

Come to Jesus and take His yoke. “Take my yoke” was a common saying of rabbis. It meant, “If you are going to be a disciple, you must obey my teachings and follow my example.” If you want rest – deep, spiritual rest of the heart and soul - don’t pursue rest. Pursue Jesus.

Learn about Jesus.  Rest is connected to trust.My cat sleeps on me without a care in the world because she trusts me. If you trust the driver, you can rest on a trip. I can bare my soul to my wife because I trust her. Rest is connected with trust. If you can’t seem to rest in Christ, learn more about a Savior you can trust.

And you will find rest for your souls.  Is there a formula for how we can practically experience this rest (and I’m talking about soul rest that permeates every aspect of our life)? I don’t think there is a formula, but some ideas are probably better than others. I am going to offer a couple ideas built from a list taken from some of Tim Keller’s writing on the Sabbath.

  1. Consciously Enjoy[4]God and His good gifts. Appreciate what you have achieved through God’s help. Remember the freedom salvation brings (past, present and future tense); celebrate the freedom Jesus offers from all kinds of slavery: slavery to achieve, slavery to impress, slavery to earn, slavery to addictions of all kinds… I think this can look really different depending who you are. I’m not interested in being legalistic. I am interested if you are enjoying God and His good gifts.
  2. Do something that frees you from the slavery of being amazing. (Controlling, building, creating, accomplishing, making a mark on the world, being noticed).The world turns even when you take time off! (I know, right?) Israelites had to let their fields lie fallow every seventh year. (Leviticus 25:1–7). This stopped them from over farming.  They could enjoy whatever grew on its own.  You need time to make sure you don’t “overfarm” your life or your schedule; just let stuff come up that is the good fruit of your life, and enjoy it.
  3. Plan some contemplative rest (prayer, singing, reading the Scripture, listening to God.) I like to do this until I fall asleep on my bed, honestly. It’s really refreshing. Seriously. Listen, if you are going to ”lie down in green pastures,” you are going to go to sleep. Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as success. Unless it’s during this sermon.
  4. Do something that refreshes you.Be careful that recreation really refreshes. Enjoy that which you find beautiful, and thank God for it. Also, don’t feel the need to imitate each other’s Sabbath rhythms if what someone else does is not refreshing to you. [5]
  5. Make the True Sabbath a part of your daily lifestyle
  • Creating moments in the day to rest and pray
  • Consciously giving up fear/anxiety/worry
  • Interrupting conflict with love
  • Surrendering the Last Word in your arguments J

 

I am going to finish with a quote from Spurgeon, who wrote and preached a lot about the Sabbath. It feels like a great summary of a whole bunch of ideas.

“I am no preacher of the old legal Sabbath… I am a preacher of the Gospel, and rejoice that Believers are not “under the Law, but under Grace…” therefore I keep this day [Sunday, for Spurgeon]…  not as a slavish bondage, not as a day on which I am chained and hampered with restraints against my will, but… as a day in which I may take holy pleasure in serving God, and in adoring before His Throne… the Lord’s Day of the Christian… is a joy, a day of rest, of peace and of thanksgiving….

This day is Care’s balm and cure, the couch of time, the haven of Divine calms. Come, my Soul, throw yourself upon this couch —rest and take your ease—for you have come unto Jesus, to a finished Sacrifice, to a completed Righteousness, and your soul may be satisfied in the Lord, and your spirit may rejoice in the Lord your God. This is to keep Sabbath…!

In vain do you keep the day, unless, your hearts keep it too. Oh, may your hearts know how to find in Christ a perfect rest…! May God give you Divine Grace to know your sin, and enable you to fly to the Savior, and find in Him all your soul needs! May He enable you to rest in Christ today, and then you shall keep Sabbaths on earth till you keep the eternal Sabbath before the Throne… Trust Him, and so shall you be saved, and your spirit shall be at ease.

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[1]“Anyone who cannot obey God's command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you… Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. It means you are not a slave—not to your culture's expectations, your family's hopes, your medical school's demands, not even to your own insecurities. It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph...” - Tim Keller

[2]Circumcision was not unique to the Israelites, but the type of circumcision may have been. The Egyptians, for example, appear to have used circumcision as an act of initiation or rite of passage for boys entering ‘manhood.’ Circumcision was an act of initiation; the style of circumcision showed what you had been initiated into. This may seem odd to us, but it made sense to everyone in the Ancient Near East. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/55911658.pdf

[3]Acts 20:7 - "And upon the first dav of the week when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, and continued his speech until midnight. "

[4]https://tifwe.org/the-sabbath-and-your-work/

[5]http://qideas.org/articles/wisdom-and-sabbath-rest/

“There Remains A Place Of Rest” (Hebrew 3:7 - 4:1-11)  

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Many of the Jewish readers of this letter were afraid that there was no rest for them. The Promised Land was long gone, so they seemed to have missed that. They left captivity but were now in subjugation to Rome. The writer of Hebrews is about to assure them that they have not missed the opportunity to enter into a Promised Land and find a place of rest.

Listen now, to the voice of the Holy Spirit through what the psalmist wrote:Today, if you listen to His voice, 8 Don’t harden your hearts the way they did in the bitter uprising at Meribah9 Where your ancestors tested Me though they had seen My marvelous power. 10 For the 40 years they traveled on to the land that I had promised them, That generation broke My heart.Grieving and angry, I said, “Their hearts are unfaithful; they don’t know what I want from them.”11 That is why I swore in anger they would never enter salvation’s rest.

Brothers and sisters, pay close attention so you won’t develop an evil and unbelieving heart that causes you to abandon the living God. 13 Encourage each other every day—for as long as we still have the “today” God gives us to listen to his voice — so none of you let the deceitfulness of sin harden your hearts. 14 For we have become partners with the Anointed One—if we can just hold on to our confidence until the end.

15 Look at the lines from the psalm again: “Today, if you listen to His voice, Don’t harden your hearts the way they did  in the bitter uprising at Meribah.”16 Now who, exactly, was God talking to then? Who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it all of those whom Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And who made God angry for an entire generation? Wasn’t it those who sinned against Him, those whose bodies are still buried in the wilderness, the site of that uprising?

18 It was those disobedient ones who God swore would never enter into salvation’s rest. 19 And we can see that they couldn’t enter because they did not believe. [4] That’s why, as long as that promise of entering God’s rest remains open to us, we should beware (be alarmed; fear; have caution and care) that none of us seem to fall short ourselves.[1]

Those people in the wilderness heard God’s good news, just as we have heard it, but the message they heard didn’t do them any good since what they heard wasn’t combined with faith.  We who believe are entering into salvation’s rest… For didn’t God say that on the seventh day of creation He rested from all His works?]And doesn’t God say in the psalm that [the Israelites] would never enter into salvation’s rest? (which means His rest must be ongoing – AW)

So if God prepared a place of rest, and those who were given the good news didn’t enter because they chose disobedience over faith,then it remains open for us to enter. Once again, God has fixed a day for us to respond; and that day is “today…”

There still remains a place of rest, a true Sabbath[2], for the people of God 10 because those who enter into salvation’s rest lay down their labors in the same way that God entered into a Sabbath rest from His. 11 So let us move forward to enter this rest, so that none of us fall into the kind of faithless disobedience that prevented them from entering.

* * * * * *

Key points:

  • We are on a journey in which there is a danger of become hard and bitter.
  • There is a place of rest, a true Sabbath, where we can lay down our burdens.
  • That place is open for the people of God.
  • Those who harden their hearts (disobedience) will not enter that rest.
  • Hold fast to faith and obedience so that you don’t fall short before the end.

Today, I want to talk about rest.

WHAT IS THIS PROMISED REST?

Option A: This is about salvation.Unbelief separates us from the presence of God and the rest He offers in this life and the next.  The rest that they rejected was the rest that comes from the freedom from guilt, shame, hiddenness and the eternal penalty of sin.This is the rest of justification and the peace of conscience.

This includes resting from using obedience to the Law to save ourselves. We can’t do it. It’s exhausting to try to be good enough to earn God’s salvation. Salvation is a gift from God to us. The eternal penalty of our sins is covered. Be at peace; through Jesus, you are now at peace with God.

Option B: This is about the rest of entering into the fullness of the Christian life after salvation. Canaan, or the Promised Land, is for us the spiritual promised land of the Spirit-filled life. Blessings were there for the Israelites– it was “flowing with milk and honey” which is a colorful way of saying the land was awesome.[3]These physical realities in the Old Testament foreshadow spiritual realities for us.

This is the refining “rest” of sanctification, during which a work is being done in us while we live in the land of plenty.[4]

When we give our lives to Jesus, we become one of His people, and he opens the gate to the Promised Land of “life more abundant”[5]already on this side of Heaven. This is freedom from:

  • Working to earn God’s love
  • Hiding ourselves from others
  • Being overcome by fear/worry
  • Needing control of our life and the lives of others
  • Showing unrighteous judgment (as opposed to righteous)[6]
  • Harboring unforgiveness/nursing unrepentance
  • Being controlled by jealousy, bitterness, envy, anger, lust

The “milk and honey” now looks like this:

  • Righteousness (walking in the right way)
  • Love (total commitment to seeking the best for others no matter how they may respond)
  • Peace (specifically, between God and us through Jesus)
  • Patience (enduring or continuing through God’s grace)
  • Kindness (inclining ourselves toward others with grace and mercy)
  • Gentleness (sensitivity and kindness given by the stronger to the weaker)
  • Self-control (physical and emotional self-mastery empowered by God)
  • Purity (guiltless or innocent behavior; uprightness)

In this land, we now have true freedom to begin to thrive as image bearers, children of God, and brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Now, this isn’t a promise of ease. This is a promise of living in a land primed for spiritual flourishing.God’s people had to wade through giants to enjoy the land, and while God empowered them, they had to fight. It was a fertile land of plenty, but they would have to protect their goats from predators and chase them down to milk them, and they would have to find wild honey and harvest figs. I think, once again, that their physical reality is instructive for our spiritual reality.

We will not be missing anything we need in the Kingdom of God.  If we feel like this is happening, it’s not because the provision is lacking. The Bible is full of commands to seek God, and these verses seem to point toward the seeking that first leads to salvation, and then takes us deeper into the blessings of Jesus and His Kingdom. [7]

Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia end with all those in True Narnia (think ‘heaven’) starting an everlasting adventure of “onward and upward” deeper into Narnia. I like that image, and I think moving onward and upward into the kingdom NOW is meant to give us a glimpse into what’s in store for us in the life to come.[8]

Option C: We rest forever in the life to come.This is the rest of glorification. One day, we will never be weary; we will never know pain and sorrow; we will see Jesus in all of His glory; we will live the life we were made to live in all its perfection and beauty.

If we were to create a timeline for what it means for us to be saved and find rest in Jesus, it would look something like this:

  • past tense salvation(“For you were justified,” 1 Corinthians 6:11) in which we are offered rest from the eternal penalty of sinand in thejustificationgiven to us by Jesus
  • present tense salvation( “those of us who are being saved,” 1 Corinthians 1:18) in which we are offered rest from the controlling power of sinand rest in the plentiful land of the Kingdom
  • future tense salvation( “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2) in which we move into our eternal rest from the presence of sin and in the glorificationthat is promised God’s people.

THE RHYTHM OF REST THAT REMINDS OF GOD’S REST: SABBATH[9]

We talked a couple weeks ago about spiritual disciplines that we can do to order/structure/focus our lives. Sabbath rest is a great one. First, God commands it. Second, the Sabbath is for us[10]– that is, for our good.  It does more than give us much needed physical rest; it orients our life and points us toward the true rest that God offers His people.

  • We rest to remember the world does not revolve around what we have to offer. Our identity is in Christ.
  • We rest to remember God’s faithfulness in providing for us in HIS strength, not ours. Our security is in Christ.
  • We rest physically to remind us that we can rest spiritually.Our restoration is in Christ.
  • We rest for a glimpse of the True Sabbath. Our hope is in Christ.

* * * * * * * * * *

The happiness of heaven is the constant keeping of the Sabbath. Heaven is called a Sabbath, to make those who have Sabbaths long for heaven, and those who long for heaven love Sabbaths.—Philip Henry

Sabbath ceasing means to cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and, finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all. —Marva J. Dawn

“We meet dozens of people, have so many conversations. We do not feel how much energy we spend on each activity, because we imagine we will always have more energy at our disposal. This one little conversation. This one little extra phone call, this one quick meeting, what can it cost?…..But it does cost…..it drains yet another drop of our life. Then, at the end of days, weeks, months, years, we collapse, we burn out, and cannot see where it happened. It happened in a thousand unconscious events, tasks and responsibilities that seemed easy and harmless on the surface, but that each one after the other used a small portion of our precious life. And so, we are given a commandment, which is actually a gift: ‘Remember the Sabbath’”. —Wayne Muller

Money gained on Sabbath-day is a loss, I dare to say. No blessing can come with that which comes to us, on the devil’s back, by our willful disobedience of God’s law. The loss of health by neglect of rest, and the loss of soul by neglect of hearing the gospel, soon turn all seeming profit into real loss. —Charles Spurgeon

In place of our exhaustion and spiritual fatigue, He will give us rest. All He asks is that we come to Him . . . that we spend a while thinking about Him, meditating on him, talking to Him, listening in silence, occupying ourselves with Him totally and thoroughly lost in the hiding place of His presence.—Chuck Swindoll

At least one day in every seven, pull off the road and park the car in the garage. Close the door to the toolshed and turn off the computer. Stay home, not because you are sick but because you are well. Talk someone you love into being well with you. Take a nap, a walk, and hour for lunch. Test the premise that you are worth more than you can produce – that even if you spent one whole day of being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight. And when you get anxious because you are convinced that this is not so – remember that your own conviction is not required. This is a commandment. Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working. The purpose of the commandment is to woo you to the same truth. —Barbara Brown Taylor

But on the seventh day God stops not only to bless but to “hallow” or set apart the sabbath. The holiness of God is revealed not just in what he does but how he rests. —Andy Crouch

“After creating the world, God looked around and saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God did not just cease from his labor; he stopped and enjoyed what he had made. What does this mean for us? We need to stop to enjoy God, to enjoy his creation, to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The whole point of Sabbath is joy in what God has done.”– Tim Keller

Spiritual practices don't justify us. They don't save us. Rather, they refine our Christianity; they make the inheritance Christ gives us on the Cross more fully our own... Practicing the spiritual disciplines does not make us Christians. Instead, the practicing teaches us what it means to live as Christians.” ― Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath

Recommended Songs:

David Crowder, “Come As You Are”

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2zhf2mqEMI[/embed]

Susan Ashton and Michael English, “All I Long For”

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOve9bWQ9Uk[/embed]

Kari Jobe, “Be Still My Soul”

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq59iE3MhXM[/embed]

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[1]“An allusion to the races in the Grecian games.  Will it avail any of us how near we get to heaven, if the door be shut before we arrive?” – Adam Clarke

[2]“In speaking of the Sabbath, as typifying a state of blessedness in the other world, the apostle follows the opinions of the Jews of his own and after times. The phrase “the sabbath above, and the sabbath below” is common among the Jewish writers; and they think that where the pluralnumber is used, as in  Leviticus 19:30; : Ye shall keep my Sabbaths.” (Adam Clarke)

[3]Fun facts: the milk was probably mostly from goats, and the honey from both wild bees and figs/dates.

[4]I’m partial to this one as the primary sense of this particular passage, but all three of these ways of understanding ‘rest’ are found in the Bible.

[5]John 10:10

[6]“Bible Verses About Righteous Judgment” from the Forerunner Commentary. “https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/1560/Righteous-Judgment.htm

[7]“'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). The Lord is good to those who seek him (Lamentations 3:25). Those who seek him are blessed (Psalm 119:2-3). The one who seeks, finds (Matthew 7:8).

[8]That might not be a bad (albeit incomplete) way to think about eternity: that which we are committed to exploring now will be what we get to explore for eternity. If you want to explore what sin has to offer – if that is where your heart is – you get to keep diving into the pain, the shame, the frustration, the anger, the jealousy, the emptiness for eternity. If you want what evil can give you now, one day you will get evil in its fullness. But if your heart is to explore the righteousness of God in Jesus, and you want to experience all that righteousness can give you now, that’s what you get to move deeper into for eternity as well.

[9]Read “Wisdom and Sabbath Rest,” by Tim Keller. http://qideas.org/articles/wisdom-and-sabbath-rest/

[10]Mark 2:27

We Become That House (Hebrews 3:1-6)

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This past Wednesday, Pete Theil, Amy Gordon, Peg Pickard and I met in the morning for prayer. We started by reading Hebrews 3:1-6, meditating on it for several minutes in silence, then offering something that really stood out to us from the text. We did this twice. And though I had been prepping for one topic, I realized I have at least 6 sermons to preach out of just this paragraph.

That’s not going to happen :) What I would like to do, though, is walk through this passage with you the way our small group did. This is going to break a lot of sermon rules because these are not necessarily related topics (though you will see at the end they tell one story). But I think it might be worth a break for the normal sermon approach to highlight a way to read and focus on the Bible that may be helpful for you in your reading of the Bible. Also, there are potentially 6 topics for you to pursue further on your own this week.  Here is the passage:

 So all of you who are holy partners in a heavenly calling, let’s turn our attention to Jesus, the Emissary of God and High Priest, who brought us the faith we profess; and compare Him to Moses, who also brought words from God to all God’s people (household). Both of them were faithful to their missions, to the One who called them. But we value Jesus more than Moses, in the same way that we value a builder more than the house he builds.  Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Moses brought healing and redemption to his people as a faithful servant in God’s house, and he was a witness to the things that would be spoken later. But Jesus the Anointed was faithful as a Son of that house. (We become that house, if we’re able to hold on to the confident hope we have in God until the end.)

  1. All of you who are holy partners in a heavenly calling.

If we are followers of Jesus, we are holy partners in a heavenly calling. That’s amazing. Also, that’s sobering.All of those who follow Jesus are holy partners. Do I treat them that way? Do I think, pray for, speak about, and speak to my fellow believers as if we are holy partners in a heavenly calling? The implications here are huge. We are fulfilling a heavenly calling as a team,and I should want this team to be as strong as it can be.

  • I must encourage, challenge, build up, and comfort.
  • I must be patient, kind, long-suffering, gentle, and bold.
  • I must love deeply, thoroughly, and exhaustively.

What would change in our lives if we filtered our attitudes, words and actions through this filter?  How would the power of the gospel be more clearly seen in us? How much more would Jesus be glorified if his people treated his people as holy partners in a heavenly calling?

  1. Let’s turn our attention/fix our thoughts on/focus on/consider Jesus, the Emissary of Godand High Priest, who brought us the faith we profess.

 This isn’t glance at Jesus; this is be riveted with Jesus.

  • When I met Sheila, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her when she was in the room. It didn’t matter what else was going on, my eyes always went to her.
  • The first several times I went to Costa Rica, they laughed at me because I couldn’t stop talking about the mountains and taking pictures. Everywhere we went, that’s what I kept looking at.
  • I have three papers at eye level in front of my desk in the office. The first is a list Delynn gave me years ago about Humility, and it lists the fruits of pride. The second is a note I wrote myself after talking with my spiritual mentor several years ago: “Trusting God to carry me = trusting God to carry others.” The third is my certificate of ordination. The first one grounds me. The second one comforts me. The third one motivates me.

What does it look like to focus on Jesus? How do I not take my eyes off of him? How do I “pin him” on the wall in front of me? What does it look like for my attention to be constantly drawn to Jesus? When we fix our eyes on something, two things happen:we are guided, and we are comforted.

  • I learned that in weightlifting, your body follows your eyes. If you are doing a squat, don’t look down or up. You will tend to fall forward or backward. Look straight ahead. If you want to plant a straight row in a field, find a landmark on the other side of the field and never look away. We are guidedby where we fix our eyes.
  • After my accident, I kept my gaze fixed on the road because I wanted that ambulance to get there. When it finally pulled into view, I relaxed. We are comfortedwhen what we have been longing for appears. (We are given hope; encouraged; we can endure).

What do I spend the majority of my time considering? What’s fixed right in front of me on the wall of my life? What guides me and comforts me? What orders my steps throughout the day, and what helps me rest?

  1. And compare Him to Moses, who also brought words from God to all of God’s people. Both of them were faithful to their missions, to the One who called them. But we value Jesus more than Moses, in the same way that we value a builder more than the house he builds. 

 The first thing I thought was that I’m not sure I tend to value the builder more than the house. Even if you build a multi-million dollar house, you want to the builder to be good, but do you really value the builder more than the house? I’ve been in and around construction for most of my adult life, and I’ve seen a loooooot of people who give their houses much more value than they do the builder. How do I know this? Because they treat the builder like crap, but they treat their house as if it were made of gold.

I think this is because we are consumers by default in our fallen nature. Our sinful nature values that things we are given more than the people who gives it. Our sinful nature values what people can do for us more than who they are. And dare I say that our sinful nature defaults toward valuing the things of God more than God. What do we think about more:

  • The healing God can give us vs. The Healer himself?
  • The friends we want God can give us vs. The Friend of Sinners?
  • The gifts of the Spirit vs. The Giver of the Gifts?
  • The comfort of God vs. the Comforter himself?
  • The way of God vs. the One who is The Way?
  • Life more abundant vs. the One who gives that life?

 There is something important about the spiritual discipline of fixing our eyes on the builder so that we never value what has been made or given more than the One who made it and gave it to us. 

  1. Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.

 First thing that stand out: God built everything.

Second thing that stands out: who is building the house of my life? Well, as a Christian, I know God is. After he begins a good work, he keeps on going. But what outside contractors am I hiring to help him build my house?  It’s one thing to have subcontractors that the Builder brings in and uses. I think of this as Christian friends and mentors, authors and preachers and theologians and musicians who love and honor God. But am I inviting competing builders to work on this one house? That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Isn’t the command to have no other gods kind of like saying no other builders in this context?

Another way of saying this: what or whom am I choosing for my formation? We talked a couple weeks ago about spiritual disciplines, pursuing purposeful formation in Christ. I wonder, though, for how many of us accidental formation is happening in us in ways we don’t see.

  • What builds our thoughts about politics? A particular news network or party line, or the Bible?
  • What builds our thoughts about sex and marriage? Culture or the Bible?
  • What builds our thoughts about parenting?
  • What builds our thoughts about what it means to be successful?
  • What builds our thoughts about immigrants and refugees?
  • What builds our thoughts about how to run a business, or be a good employee?
  • What builds our thoughts about money?
  • What builds our thoughts about church?
  • What builds our thoughts about how we should use our speech?
  • What builds our thoughts about what’s okay when it comes to how we treat others, especially those with whom we disagree?
  • What actually builds our thoughts about God? And Sin? And Salvation? And Forgiveness?

Bidden or unbidden, we all have builders. Who are we inviting to build?

5.Moses brought healing and redemption to his people as a faithful servant in God’s house, and he was a witness to the things that would be spoken later.  But Jesus the Anointed was faithful as a Son of that house.

He delivered the Word of God faithfully. He was faithful in all God appointed him to do (Exodus 40:16).” Is there any greater compliment in the Kingdom of God than to have it said we have been faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people?

  • If the questions is,“What do you want to do with your life?”the answer must be, “Be faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people.”
  • If the question is,“What is God’s plan for me?”The answer must me, “Be faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people.” “No, I meant like what job I should get or who I should marry or even if I should get married or….”I understood the question. You can be faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people in every circumstance.

Also, there is no room for hero worship in Christianity unless it’s Jesus. The writer of Hebrews already pointed out that, though angels are awesome, they are nothing compared to Jesus. Now he’s noting that Moses, a hero to the Jewish people, is a servant in the house of God. Jesus is the Son whom Moses serves. We can’t become infatuated with servants when we have access to the Master.

I read this and I wonder: do I have a tendency to elevate servants of God higher than I should? I can simultaneously say, “That person is a faithful servant of God,” and say, “But that house needs some cleaning.”

6. We become that house, if we’re able to hold on to the confident hope we have in God. 

What house do we become? The house of God’s people, the church. That’s what we are becoming. A house full of holy partners in a heavenly calling. What a tremendous privilege and responsibility.

If…. Is this conditional? Does this mean we might not become that house of we don’t hold on to the hope we have in God until the end? We can talk in Message Plus about whether or not we can lose our salvation. For our purposes, I just want to make this point: RighteousPerseveranceis the proof of the reality of salvation. Not ease, or comfort, or signs and wonders. Not size of ministry or greatness of reputations or good deeds. Not book deals or gold dust or radio shows or a theology degree or even a well worn Bible. Righteous Perseverance.

We can tell if we are really in the house of God because we stay in the house of God in a life of surrender, repentance, and a commitment to worshiping God with our imperfect lives while we hold fast to the hope we have in Christ; that is, his love and sacrifice will cover a multitude of my sins.

And once we “be,” we start to “become”:Think of a telescope unfolding one stage at a time until it functions at full strength. Our salvation unfolds until we experience its fullest expression at the return of Jesus and in the life to come (Romans 8:24-25; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; 1 Peter 1:6-9; Revelation 2:26-28) (preceptaustin.org)

These 6 different lines of thought give us one narrative: Fix our eyes on Jesus, the Master and Builder of our house, whose plan is to work in us until we die as he builds us and builds his church into the fullness of salvation and righteousness.

Hebrews 2: 10-18  “Perfected Through Suffering”

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10 It only makes sense that God, by whom and for whom everything exists, would choose to bring many of us to His side by using suffering to perfect Jesus, the founder of our faith, the pioneer of our salvation. 11 As I will show you, it’s important that the One who brings us to God and those who are brought to God become one, since we are all from one Father. This is why Jesus was not ashamed to call us His family… 14 Since we, the children, are all creatures of flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood, so that by dying He could destroy the one who held power over death[i]—the devil— 15 and destroy the fear of death that has always held people captive.

16 So notice—His concern here is not for the welfare of the heavenly messengers, but for the children of Abraham. 17 He had to become as human as His sisters and brothers so that when the time came, He could become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, called to reconcile a sinful people. 18 Since He has also been tested by suffering, He can help us when we are tested.

 

I want to address two things this morning. 1) What did suffering accomplish in the life of Jesus? 2) What are implications about what suffering can accomplish in the life of a Christian?

Perfect through sufferings - This simply means that He had to die to make atonement for sin, and that was going to require suffering. It’s another way of saying his mission was completed or consummated. We see other places in Scripture that this same word was translated as “finished” or “accomplished.”

  •  ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’(Luke 13:32 ESV)
  • Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.(John 4:34 ESV)

Jesus’ death was the consummation of his life and purpose here on earth, and that death could not happen without suffering. It didn’t perfect Jesus’ nature; it perfected or completed God’s plan for Jesus to bring salvation and redemption.

And – this is amazing - we are the beneficiaries.

“And one great aim of God in salvation is that he have a great, unified family of children with Jesus Christ being both essentially different from, and yet deeply united to, his other human brothers and sisters, both really different and really like. But if all the brothers and sisters in the family have experienced suffering, except one, then the unity is jeopardized. And so, for the sake of a common spirit of unity and sympathy and camaraderie, even in suffering, Christ takes on human nature and he leads many sons to glory and into his brotherhood through suffering and death.” (John Piper)

SWAT or military personnel clearing houses use a term called the fatal funnel. It’s when you go through a narrow, confined area with no cover and you are exposed to the worst the enemy can throw at you. The first one through the door is at the most risk. We should all be the point in the spiritual fatal funnel of our lives, but Jesus moved us behind him, took the point, and took upon himself the death that we deserved.

This suffering is one reason Jesus is such a great High Priest, a concept that came up in this chapter but will come up later (and we will address it more then). Because God become one of us in the person of Jesus, we know that God understands what we are going through.

“Disease, sickness of body, poverty, need, friendlessness, hopelessness, desertion—he knows all these. You cannot cast human suffering into any shape that is new to Christ. "In all their afflictions he was afflicted." If you feel a thorn in your foot, remember that it once pierced his head. If you have a trouble or a difficulty, you may see there the mark of his hands, for he has climbed that way before. The whole path of sorrow has his blood-bedabbled footsteps all along, for the Man of Sorrows has been there, and he can now have sympathy with you. "Yes," I hear one say, "but my sorrows are the result of sin." So were his; though not his own, yet the result of sin they were. "Yes," you say, "but I am slandered, and I cannot bear it…" Drink thy little cup; see what a cup he drained. “ (Spurgeon)

If God allowed and in fact used suffering as a means for perfecting the ministry and purpose of Jesus on earth, we ought to consider that God will use suffering as a means of perfecting our ministry and purpose.

  • Remember the parable of the wise man who built his rock on the house vs. the sand? Something to note: they both went through the storm. It’s just that the one stood. The question wasn't ifthey were going to go through the storm; the question was
  • Even though God promised Jeremiah a fantastic ministry, he suffered, and ended up going into exile with the other Jews.Jeremiah claimed that God had tricked or seduced him into following God (Jeremiah 20:7-9).
  • Paul has a thorn in the flesh that God leaves with him (more on that later)

God seems to be content to let life be hard sometimes. So let’s talk about different kinds of suffering, and then how suffering can be used by God to perfect us. First, let’s clarify what we mean by suffering (“undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”).

  • Suffering for the sake of our faith.
  • Suffering because life is hard.
  • Suffering because Satan attacks us.
  • Suffering because we pursue sin.
  • Suffering because others sin against us.
  • Suffering as God prunes us.

I want us to at least wrestle with the idea that if suffering was necessary to consummate or perfect Jesus’ mission, suffering may be necessary to consummate or perfect our mission. So, what is our mission?

To glorify God. To exalt Jesus by our life and our words.

So how does our suffering play in to this?

1. It unifies us with Jesus.

“ For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God… the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:14-18)

I believe this passage is talking specifically about suffering for the sake of Christ. This could be literal persecution, but it can also be the hard work of surrendering our thoughts, loves, and desires.

“Conflict, not progress, is the word that defines man’s path from darkness into light. No holiness is won by any other means than this, that wickedness should be slain day by day, and hour by hour. In long lingering agony often, with the blood of the heart pouring out at every quivering vein, you are to cut right through the life and being of that sinful self; to do what the Word does, pierce to the dividing asunder of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and get rid by crucifying and slaying - a long process, a painful process - of your own sinful self. And not until you can stand up and say, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ have you accomplished that to which you are consecrated and vowed by your sonship - ’being conformed unto the likeness of His death,’ and ‘knowing the fellowship of His sufferings.’ (Maclaren’s Exposition)

2. It refines us.

  • "Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4) 
  • "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him...and when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 13:15; 23:10)
  • "The firing pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, so the Lord trieth the hearts" (17:3)
  • " I will turn My hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross and take away thy tin" (1:22, 25).
  • " He shall purify and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (3:3).
  • "Thou O God, hast proved us; thou hast tried us as silver is tried" ( 66:10
  • "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17).

I don’t think suffering in the life of the Christian is punative; that is, I don’t think God uses pain and suffering to punish His children in the New Covenant.[1] Jesus took that for us, his spiritual brothers and sisters, on the cross. Yet suffering has a role. Oswald Chambers once wrote: "Sorrow burns up a great amount of shallowness." A wise man once said, "I got theology in seminary, but I learned reality through trials. I got facts in Sunday School, but I learned faith through trusting God in difficult circumstances. I got truth from studying, but I got to know the Savior through suffering."[2]

3. It gives us the opportunity to display the sufficiency of grace.

“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12)

I read the following in an article by a Christian lady with polio:[3]

“Our culture disdains weakness, but our frailty is a sign of God's workmanship in us. It gets us closer to what we were created to be—completely dependent on God. Several years ago I realized that instead of despising the fact that polio had left me with a body that was weakened and compromised, susceptible to pain and fatigue, I could choose to rejoice in it. My weakness made me more like a fragile, easily broken window than a solid brick wall. But just as sunlight pours through a window but is blocked by a wall, I discovered that other people could see God's strength and beauty in me because of the window-like nature of my weakness!”

4. It unites us with others who suffer.

“The only way in which Christ could bring us to share in His glory was to submit to suffering and death. In no other way could He act as the Mediator of the Divine life to us who are His brethren. Similarly, if we would become the mediators of help and blessing to others, we also must be prepared to suffer…” (F.B. Meyer)

I suspect God uses our greatest trials and suffering to prepare us to minister more effectively to others who have gone through what we have gone through. Former addicts are best with addicts; former inmates are best with prisoners; people who have endured sickness are best with those who are enduring sickness. Be ready: God may well take your point of greatest suffering and use it for His greatest triumph in your life. And it won’t be for your sake, though you will benefit – it will be so you can comfort others.

2 Corinthians 1:4 (ASV) “He comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort by which we ourselves are comforted of God.

 

Some Recommended Songs

“The Perfect Wisdom of Our God” (Getty)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSnzYnOe6kI[/embed]

“If You Want Me To” (Ginny Owens)

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

“Be Still My Soul” (Kari Jobe)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq59iE3MhXM[/embed]

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[1]I think the closest we get is “you reap what you sow,” but that’s not God actively sending us suffering as punishment. That’s just us experiencing cause and effect in this life as sin impacts the world.

[2]https://probe.org/the-value-of-suffering/?print=print

[3]https://probe.org/the-value-of-suffering/?print=print

[i]Him that had the power of death – “This is spoken in conformity to an opinion prevalent among the Jews, that there was a certain fallen angel who was called המות מלאך malak hammaveth, the angel of death; i.e. one who had the power of separating the soul from the body, when God decreed that the person should die. There were two of these, according to some of the Jewish writers: one was the angel of death to the Gentiles; the other, to the Jews. Thus Tob haarets, fol. 31: "There are two angels which preside over death: one is over those who die out of the land of Israel, and his name is Sammael; the other is he who presides over those who die in the land of Israel, and this is Gabriel." Sammael is a common name for the devil among the Jews; and there is a tradition among them, delivered by the author of Pesikta rabbetha in Yalcut Simeoni, par. 2, f. 56, that the angel of death should be destroyed by the Messiah! "Satan said to the holy blessed God: Lord of the world, show me the Messiah. The Lord answered: Come and see him. And when he had seen him he was terrified, and his countenance fell, and he said: Most certainly this is the Messiah who shall cast me and all the nations into hell, as it is written  Isaiah 25:8, The Lord shall swallow up death for ever." This is a very remarkable saying, and the apostle shows that it is true, for the Messiah came to destroy him who had the power of death.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary)

 

“Not Ashamed To Call Us Family” (Hebrews 2: 10-18)

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Listen to audio here Watch the Facebook Live Stream here

 

It only makes sense that God, by whom and for whom everything exists, would choose to bring many of us to His side by using suffering to perfect Jesus, the founder of our faith, the pioneer of our salvation. As I will show you, it’s important that the One who brings us to God (the Sanctifier) and those who are brought to God (the sanctified) become one (or become of one nature – ‘partakers of flesh and blood’), since we are all from one Father.

 This is why Jesus was not ashamed to call us His family (brothers and sisters), saying, in the words of the psalmist, “I will speak Your Name to My brothers and sisters when I praise You in the midst of the community.”And in the words of Isaiah, “I will put my trust in the Eternal One.” And again, “Look, here I am with the children God has given Me.”

Since we, the children, are all creatures of flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood, so that by dying He could destroy the one who held power over death—the devil—  and destroy the fear of death that has always held people captive.

So notice—His concern here is not for the welfare of the heavenly messengers, but for the children of Abraham. He had to become as human as His sisters and brothers so that when the time came, He could become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, called to reconcile a sinful people. Since He has also been tested by suffering, He can help us when we are tested. I’m going to use this passage for two weeks, because there is a lot to unpack her. First, the claim that suffering perfected Jesus, and the implications for us. Second, the claim that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sister. This week, we are starting with the family issue.

Jesus was not ashamed to call us family. I’m going to come back to this later to look at how powerful this is, but first I want to look at the three quotes that follow, because they seem kind of odd. The bottom line: they are all tapping into Old Testament scriptures that simultaneously claim that Jesus is the Messiah, and that we are now family spiritually.

 “I will speak Your Name to My brothers and sisters when I praise You in the midst of the community.”

The author is citing Psalm 22:22. David was essentially telling God that once he delivers him, David will sing God's praises. The writer of Hebrews attributes that to Jesus. Now, in the middle of the congregation, Jesus sings God's praises and points to him as the deliverer of his brethren. That “deliverance from suffering” that David wanted? Jesus actually gave it to us.

The writer added that because we are flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood. He had to become as human as his sisters and brothers to be the High Priest we need. [1]

Notice that in this quote Jesus simply declares God’s ‘name’: that is, he displays God’s nature and character, and he speaks that to his brothers and sisters.One commentator I read used the imagery of the temple to describe what is happening here:

  • The outer court is the equivalent to the miracles God does. It’s part of the temple, but it’s only introductory. There are much deeper things to come. They might declare God’s presence,but not God’s
  • The holy place is the moral attributes of God’s righteousness and purity. This is the space where the name of God – the character and nature of God – begins to be understood .
  • Behind the veil in the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies is the Mercy Seat, the ultimate expression of which is Jesus, whose incarnation and sacrifice perfectly and completely show the love and mercy of God. (Maclaren’s Expositions)

“I will put my trust in the Eternal One.” This trust is best defined as “obedience as a result of God’s persuasion.”[2]This is a verse about attitude. Jesus is both the object of our faith because He is God, and he is the perfect examplefor our faith; that is, what it looks like for us to live out our faith. This is why Jesus is“…the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)

This ‘firstborn’ language carries with it the idea of preeminence and importance, “the highest of those born” (Psalm 89:27), but it also suggest he is the one to whom the rest of us look to know what to do and who to be.

“Look, here I am with the children God has given Me.” If you are a child of God, God gave that privilege to you. We don’t force our way or earn our way into his family. God adopts us because of His love and grace.

Though the writer of Hebrews does not finish the verse from Isaiah, I suspect his audience finished in their heads – “for signs and wonders in Israel.” What does that mean? Well, is it not a wonder that God chooses us, dead in our sins, to be His children? And is it not a wonder that his glory is displayed through the work He does in us? As one person told me last week, “I am God’s trophy.” They weren’t bragging about how awesome they were; they were just acknowledging that God’s great salvation had done a miraculous and glorious work in their life.

“He is not ashamed to call us His family.” We will read this idea later in Hebrews also: “They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16)

There are other places where Jesus talks about his followers as family:

  • “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:49-50)
  • (After the resurrection) “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17)

I think it’s worth the time to let the profoundness of this claim sink in with the help of some great theological giants on whose shoulders we stand:

“Considering him in the holiness of his Deity, and them in the filthiness of sin, he might have been ashamed of such a brotherhood; but by his effectual word he adopted them into a state of childship and heirship to God with himself; and in the flesh to give them that glory, that they might be one with God, as he and the Father are one (Matthew Poole’s Commentary) 

“He has so become partaker of our nature that now we are one family, and he is not ashamed to call us brothers. Am I addressing any who are ashamed of Christ, or who are ashamed of God's poor people, and who would not like to be known to be members of a poor church? Ah! how you ought to despise yourselves for having any such pride in your hearts, for Christ is not ashamed to call his people brethren! Oh, what wondrous condescension!”   (Charles Spurgeon)

They are poor, they are despised, they are persecuted; what is worse, they are imperfect and faulty, often sorrowful, cast down, condemning themselves, groaning at the mercy-seat; yet “he is not ashamed to call them brothers.” There is such a unity between the believer, be he in what sorrow he may, and the Christ, be he in what glory he may, that he is never ashamed to own the close relationship between them.”  (Charles Spurgeon)

There are a lot of things it could mean that Jesus was not ashamed (from Strong’s Concordance, 1870. Epaischunomai).However, perhaps the best way to understand this has to do with the language of condescension,of God coming down to our level and becoming one of us. When we talk with little kids, one of the best ways is to kneel – to come down to their level. That is what God did for His children.

Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of  a servant, and was found in the likeness of humankind, and humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:7)

  • Chapter One of Hebrews was all about how superior God is to us, the angels and everything else, so it seems like he would want nothing to do with us.
  • The Greeks and the Romans could not imagine that gods would want this, except to ravage and use us. And yet, Jesus wants to be with us as brothers and sisters. He stoops to save us and make sure we are adopted into His family.
  • Jesus was that bridge between God’s transcendence and his immanence. There is no concern that we will somehow soil God by His contact with the unclean. He is beyond us in every way, and yet, he is here. It is not below his dignity to save us.

Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, to call us family, to come down to our level and claim his relationship to us. I tried to find songs about Jesus not being ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters, and every song I found was about how we are not to be ashamed of Jesus. That’s true, but the foundation for that unashamedness on our part is because we have a remarkable God. And one of the things that makes God so remarkable is that God is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.

When Sheila and I were dating, I loved to fake banging my nose on doors that I walked through. It got so bad that when we went to the mall she would go through the entrance about 10-15 behind me, like “Who is that guy? What a moron.” And once we moved past that awkward moment, we were good again. Until the next door.

That’s obviously trivial. I thought it was hilarious. And Vincent is making me proud by starting to carry on that tradition. But what about more serious things?

What have I done that make is so people don’t want to be near me? They don’t want to condescend to be with me because the dirt of my life threatens to make them dirty too.

What have you done? What have others done to you?

We put people into categories, don’t we? Those of whom we are ashamed. Those we think will make us dirty if we are too close. Those we don’t want to publicly claim as either family or spiritual family. Dare I say there are people in our life of whom we think, “I just can’t go down to their level?”

Is it not amazing beyond belief that our savior and brother, Jesus, was not ashamed to come down to our level and call us – us, even us– his brothers and sisters.

I was thinking of the parable of the Two Brothers this week (or the Parable of The Faithful Father). When the Prodigal son left home, he humiliated his father and his family. When he lived a life of what to the Jewish community would have been unthinkable uncleanness and sin, he humiliated them. And yet when he stumbled home, smelling of pigs and sin, his father ran to him. His father broke all kinds of standard protocol for looking honorable and humbled himself as he ran to his son.

Not ashamed to condescend to love His son. How is that possible?

I know we can struggle a lot with feeling of inadequacy, with feelings of not living up to God’s expectations. We feel weak, inadequate, and stupid. Our life feels like one big mess. If you are a follower of Christ, know this: Jesus was not ashamed to condescend, to come down to your level and claim you as one of His own.

I remember a coach once telling me of one of my boys – and I am paraphrasing - “He is being an idiot.“ And I knew that, but he was MY idiot. I was not and am not ashamed to claim all of them, even in the midst of their imperfections. I love them. What price would I not pay for their good – and I’m a deeply flawed father, not the perfect Savior of the world.

Does that mean Jesus overlooks sin? No. Does that mean He is never angry, or the Holy Spirit is never grieved? No. God has shown that He has no problem holding his children accountable. He will prune what needs to be pruned, because He loves us.

Jesus was not ashamed to come down and claim his brothers and sisters He has saved, even in the midst of their imperfections.

Tony Campolo used to tell a story about something he witnessed at an airport. A mother and baby got off an airplane, and it must have been quite a ride. The baby was covered with vomit. The father didn’t hesitate. He ran up and smothered his child with hugs.

Jesus is not ashamed to save and claim his family.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6akq4DvTuog[/embed]

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[1]Augustine once wrote: "God makes of sons of men sons of God, because God hath made of the Son of God the Son of man."

[2]From Strongs’s Concordance, https://biblehub.com/greek/3982.htm

The One Who Has Been Given Dominion Over All Things (Hebrews 1)

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[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fNWTZZwgbs[/embed] You can listen to audio here.

You can watch the Facebook Livestream here. 

Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. 2 But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

In different times and in various ways is apparently any form of communication: prophets, angels, burning bushes, pillars of fire and smoke, talking donkeys – any way God communicated or revealed himself to the world. It was all telling the same story.

Some have pointed out this is kind of a musical image. Music has different parts that harmony to participate in the same song; so, too, the Old Testament writers, where “all the prophets testified about him.” (Acts 10:43).

It was also incomplete, and Jesus came to complete the revelation that began with the prophets. In the past God spoke in all these ways. For years the Hebrews got partial messages and saw through a glass very dimly. That’s over though. No need to watch and wait for the next cryptic message – everything we need for life and godliness has come. God spoke fully through Christ. He said everything we need to hear. Now, at a very particular time and in a very particular way, not only was God’s voice revealed fully, but God himself has stepped into world history in the person of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps because they were used to get revelation a piece at a time, they were enamored with the next messenger who would bring the next piece– as we are about to see, they were seriously excited about angels bringing messages. The rest of this chapter criticizes the pursuit of messengers, even the most amazing ones, because Christ has brought the message in its fullness. We already have the message – all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). There is no more waiting for something new. Jesus came and rolled out the whole story. Humans used to wonder what God meant or what God wanted. Jesus told them. Now we know.[1]

The Son, who is the radianceof God’s glory and the exact expression/image of His nature, sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. 4

This language can throw us because it’s the language of analogies. Analogies are almost always imperfect, and even more so when talking about God. When we think of the image or expression of his person, we think photo or painting: it’s not the real deal, it’s just a representation. That’s not what this language conveyed. The author is careful to say that the One who expresses God’s image created and sustained the world. That’s what God does. [2] Now the writer goes into a long discourse on angels. I will read the whole thing, then we will talk.

This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.5 For no heavenly messengers have ever heard God address them with these words of the psalms: “You are My Son. Today I have become Your Father (begotten you).” Or heard Him promise, “I will be to You a Father, and You will be My Son.”[3]

Now, when the Son, the firstborn of God, was brought into the world, God said, “Let all My heavenly messengers worship Him.7 Concerning them, God said, “I make My heavenly messengers like the winds, and My servants like a flame.”

But to the Son He said, God, Your throne is eternal; You will rule Your kingdom with the scepter of justice. 9 You have loved what is right and hated what is evil; That is why God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness and lifted You above Your companions.[e]

10 And God continues, In the beginning, You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth, and set the skies above us with Your own hands.11 But while they will someday pass away, You remain forever; when they wear out like old clothes,12 You will roll them up and change them into something new. But You will never change. Your years will never come to an end.[f]

13 Did God ever say to any of the heavenly messengers, “Sit here, at My right hand, in the seat of honor;and I’ll put all Your enemies under Your feet?”14 No, of course not. The heavenly messengers are only spirits and servants, sent out to minister to those who will certainly inherit salvation.

This seems like an odd sidebar with which to open the book, but it must have been a big enough deal that the author felt like he had to lead the book off with it.

Angels were very popular in the Jewish community from the second century B.C. through the first century A.D.  They didn’t usually worship them (though there is warning elsewhere in the NT), but a whole hierarchy of angels was developed along with some theological teachings that were not present in the Old Testament.

  • OT stories were often retold with angels performing acts that were attributed to God.
  • They would at times ask them for help (the Maccabeans invoked the unnamed angel to help them fight).
  • During the Second Temple period (which ended in AD 70, so this would be at the time the NT was written) it was assumed that mysteries of the end of days and of man's future could be discovered only through the intermediary of angels.
  • Enoch shows up in Jewish literature as the transmitter of heavenly wisdom; his authority is derived exclusively from his constant communication with angels.
  • Various Jewish sources attributed the wisdom of Noah and Abraham to their intimate knowledge of the world of angels.
  • There was one Jewish sect in Egypt during the first century (al-Maghārrīya) that claimed that it was angels who created the world and addressed the prophets.[4]

Of course, angels were an important part of the biblical narrative, and the part that stood out to the Jewish people at that time was the part about the Law.

  • Deuteronomy 33:2 mentions “holy ones” that accompanied God at Sinai during the giving of the Law to Moses.
  • Stephen said the Law was “delivered by angels” in Acts 7:53.
  • Even Paul, in Galatians 3:19, says the law was “put in place through angels”.[5]

Most commentators believe the best understanding is that angels were with God to observe and give glory. Since angels are literally “messengers,” could God have used them? Sure. That’s not required by the language used in the text. [6]

Considering the high regard the Jewish people had for angels, their presence added tremendous weight to the moment.[7]Think of how when we have a ribbon cutting for a new building or venture; we want lots of people, and the more important they are, the better. If the “ribbon cutting” for the Law was attended by a host of angels, how amazing and important even the Law – which had yet to be fulfilled by Jesus - must be.

So here’s what we have so far.

  1. Jesus is God. Like Jesus said, “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
  2. Through the offering of Jesus (his death), we are purified from our sins.Jesus Christ is the means of salvation.
  3. We only worship Jesus.If you think a myriad of angels is amazing, they are nothing in light of God’s glory, majesty and power.“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.  Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions”  (Colossians 2:18). Angels are God’s servants, created by him do his will.  In fact, they are so amazing we are easily tempted to elevate them too high, even to the point of worship.  Even John was tempted.  “And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.  But he said to me, ‘Do not do it!  I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book.  Worship God!’”(Revelation 22:8-9).
  4. Angels are here to minister at God’s command to those who have or will experience salvation.

So, the writer of Hebrews begins by stressing that nothing is more important than Jesus. Nothing is more glorious, nothing is more powerful, nothing else is deserving of our worship. Plain and simple, this is a warning against idolatry. We must never gaze upon or pursue the gift (even if it is an angel) above the giver. This is sin.

To the early Jewish audience, one of their big distractions  - idols? - was angels.  They were so enamored with angels that they were losing sight of Jesus. I asked our leadership team this week what our equivalent is now. What distracts us? What runs the risk of overshadows Jesus or diverting our eyes from the Creator to the creation? These things may be just fine, but we’ve in some sense elevated the creature over the creator (to quote Romans 1). They assured me I could make everyone uncomfortable – and then gave me examples to prove it. So let’s try it.

  • Angels once again–There is a resurgence in Christian books that do more than simply explain what the Bible says. They increasingly encourage a pursuit of the angelic. That’s dangerous territory. That’s not a biblical command. God deploys angels to us as He wills and as we need them. We don’t need to practice to see them; if God wants them seen, they will be seen. We don’t need to practice to hear them; if God has a message, it will be heard. We certainly don’t need to and would be wrong to pray to them. Let’s thank God for his supernatural ministers – and then refocus on Jesus.
  • Politics –do we think more about politicians than we do about Jesus? Are we more invested in the Kingdom of America than we are with the Kingdom of God?Which do we study most? Which one captures our imagination and thoughts more of the time? Which one are we the most publicly bold and passionate about standing for or pledging our allegiance to? Where is our hope? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20).That’s a warning against trusting power and wealth over God.
  • Christian “Royalty”.Famous Christian preacher or singers, for example. To be clear, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We do ourselves a great disservice when we ignore the rich insights into God’s truth from those who have gone before. The danger is when we elevate the author or the opinion above the Creator. Just remember that our pursuit is Christ and our measuring rod is scripture. I love certain writers and pastors like Timothy Keller and Shane Wood and Matt Chandler. But they are just men. They are winds and flame. I dare not put weight on them that should only be put on Christ. I dare not turn to their words before God’s word. I dare not leave their words untested.
  • The Things Of The Kingdom– Can God heal us? Absolutely God can – physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. Can God provide us with money and a good job? Sure, if He so desires. Can God make us happy? It is in His power. Are there times when God provides sweet experiences of His presence and blessing? Absolutely. Is that why I’m a Christian? Am I seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, or am I seeking first all of the things that are found in various times and in various ways in the Kingdom? If, like Job, all of them are taken from me, will I yet praise God? Is the fact of His grace sufficient?  The things of the Kingdom are also servants of God, which He gives as He will. May we never forget that the glory of the things in the Kingdom are nothing, nothing in light of the glory of God.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vg5qDljEw7Q[/embed]

[1]Even today, we want our prophets. We want our new books with new words, but we forget all that we need for life and godliness was fully delivered 2000 years ago. To live as if that is not enough reveals, I fear, a lack of trust in what God revealed in Christ.

[2]“It is a metaphor taken from sealing; the… seal leaving the full impression of its every part on the wax to which it is applied. From these words it is evident that the apostle states Jesus Christ to be of the same essence with the Father. “ (Adam Clarke)

[3]Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee - These words are quoted from  Psalm 2:7, a psalm about Messiah;  this is also quoted by Paul (Acts 13:33; Romans 1:4) as referring to the resurrection of Christ.  Others speculate this is a reference to the incarnation, when Jesus was literally born as a son.

[4]https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/angels-and-angelology-2

[5]A lot of my information here came from an article entitled “Why Does Hebrews Start with Angels?” from readingacts.com

[6]By the disposition of angels - Εις διαταγας αγγελων . After all that has been said on this difficult passage, perhaps the simple meaning is, that there were ranks, διαταγαι, of angels attending on the Divine Majesty when he gave the law: a circumstance which must have added greatly to the grandeur and solemnity of the occasion; and to this  Psalm 68:17; seems to me most evidently to allude: The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even many thousands of angels: the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the holy place. It was not then by the mouths nor by the hands of angels, as prime agents, that Moses, and through him the people, received the law; but God himself gave it, accompanied with many thousands of those glorious beings. As it is probable they might be assisting in this most glorious solemnity, therefore St. Paul might say,  Galatians 3:19, that it was ordained by angels, διαταγεις δι 'αγγελων, in the hand of a Mediator. And as they were the only persons that could appear, for no man hath seen God at any time, therefore the apostle might say farther, (if indeed he refers to the same transaction, see the note there), the word spoken by angels was steadfast,  Hebrews 2:2. But the circumstances of this case are not sufficiently plain to lead to the knowledge of what was done by the angels in this most wonderful transaction; only we learn, from the use made of this circumstance by St. Stephen, that it added much to the enormity of their transgression, that they did not keep a law, in dispensing of which the ministry of angels had been employed. (Adam Clarke’s commentary)

[7]Think of how Paul notes how the Galatian church welcomed him as if he were “an angel of God” in Galatians 4:14. He legit was bearing the message of God.

Why We Do What We Do: Missions

Listen to audio here Watch the Facebook Lifestream here (the picture recenters before too long)

We often hear about the Great Commission: Go into all the world and preaching the gospel, baptize, and make disciples. This is what we typically associate with “doing missions.” I want to talk today about three commissions God gives in the Bible (there may be more, but there are at least these three). If we are going to serve God by being on mission for Him, I believe we need to take all three into consideration. I will go through them, and then show you how CLG is seeking to be a part of these commissions, with the ultimate focus being on preaching the gospel, baptizing, and making disciples.

The First Commission: Stewardship

“ On the sixth day, humanity was commissioned by God to fill and subdue the earth, and to rule over the creatures (Genesis 1:27). Accordingly, one might justly define the Great Commission as [stewarding] the earth and its creatures.” (“The Great Commission in the Old Testament,” Ligonier Ministries)

Stewarding means, “Take care of it.” If we are to care of plants and animals, how much more the rest of humanity.

The Second Commission: Sanctification

“Israel was brought into covenant fellowship with God at Sinai in order to live as a priestly kingdom and holy nation (Ex. 19:6)—that is, to be a light unto the Gentiles… set apart unto the Lord God for the sake of the nations… Israel needed to be consecrated and sanctified - transformed into the servant of God for the sake of the world - to glorify God before the nations. Psalm 67, one of many psalms calling the Gentiles to praise God, declares plainly that Israel had received mercy and even the priestly blessing so that God’s way would be known on earth, and so that His salvation would encompass the nations.” (“The Great Commission in the Old Testament,” Ligonier Ministries)

 A couple examples of how this sanctification would point people toward God:

“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6)

 This isn’t yet, “Go!” but it makes clear that the presence of God’s people in the world is supposed to be so full of wisdom and understanding (associated with keeping God’s commands) that the world is amazed. 

I am the Eternal One. By righteousness I have called you. I will take you by the hand and keep you safe. You are given as a covenant between Me and the people: a light for the nations, a shining beacon to the world.  You will open blind eyes so they will see again. You will lead prisoners, blinking, out from caverns of captivity, from cells pitch black with despair. I am the Eternal One. I Am is My name.(Isaiah 42:6-8)

 “Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. …Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.Then your light will shine out from the darkness,and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.( Isaiah 58: 6-10, excerpted)

Before Jesus gave the final commission, he referenced this Old Testament commission:

You are the salt of the earth.But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. And you, beloved, are the light of the world.  A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.”(Matthew 5:12-16)

  • The first commission is to everyone: steward the world.
  • The second commission is to God’s people: be holy, and be a light. Nations will come to you!
  • The final commission is to God’s people once again, but this one is proactive: now you must also go to them.

The Great Commission (NT Style):Proclamation

“Therefore go (and do what?): proclaim the good news - repentance and forgiveness of sins - and make disciples of all nations, (do this how?) baptizingthem in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  andteaching them to obeyeverything I have commanded you…”  (Mark 16; Matthew 28; Luke 24)

 Now they were making disciples of ALL nations instead of just ONE nation.

…With Great Compassion

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:35-40)

 We are still called to do all three Commissions:

  • First, steward the world (think salt and light in every possible way: the gospel, our lives, culture, politics, social justice - all of it is stewardship).
  • Second, embrace sanctification and holiness. The witness of our life and character matters.
  • Third, preach the good news of the gospel everywhere we go and make disciples.

“God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation.He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God.  As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.”  (Charles Colson)

If you have been in the church a long time, you are probably used to isolating proclamation when you think of commission, but I believe that’s too small of a vision of our commission to the world. We are on a mission that has multiple parts, all important, all pointing toward Christ. Since this might be a new way of thinking about this, I will offer two more quotes on the commission of service and the commission of justice. 

MORE ON THE COMMISSION TO DO BE SERVANTS

“If we take the Bible seriously then justice should be a big deal for us. God does not suggest, He commands that we “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed” (Jer. 22:3). Jesus declared his mission to “proclaim good news to the poor… liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, quoting Isa. 61:1, 2). “Seek justice” (Isa. 1:17) is a clarion call of Scripture, and those who box their ears to that call are simply not living by the Book.” - Thaddeus Williams 

MORE ON THE COMMISSION TO DO JUSTICE

“We see it as a matter of the church rolling up its sleeves and becoming the hands and feet of Jesus. As Christians, we have a responsibility to redress those social factors that conspire to keep entire segments of our population mired in hopelessness and despair. What's more, we need to approach this task primarily from a relational perspective. As we understand it, "social justice" means nothing more than "doing right by one's neighbor." As you know, that's an idea that figures significantly in the words of Jesus.”  Focus On The Family

Why We Do What We Do: What's The Deal With Offerings?

Listen to the audio of the sermon here. Watch the Facebook Live stream of the sermon here. 

Why do we take an offering? The obvious answer is, “To keep the lights on.” We take an offering here at the church to pay the bills, invest in our church family (a portion is set aside for that reason) and promote missional living in the community and the world, but there is so much more to it than that. I’m going to talk this morning about a biblical call stewardship and generosity, particularly when it comes to money. First, some context of how the Bible handles this issue:

  • Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions.
  • 10% of the Gospels deal directly with the subject of money.
  • There are approximately 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
  • A LOT more addressing poverty/the poor

Why does the Bible make such a big deal about money? Because money is powerful. Matthew 6 records Jesus reminding us that we will find our hearts next to our treasure. In other words, what do you love? Then he gets specific: we cannot serve God and money. In fact, the Bible treats two areas of life as exceptionally important: money (by volume of mentions) and sex (by noting how it uniquely impacts us – see 1 Corinthians 6 - I suspect because it’s the only act meant to initiate and affirm a covenant between a man and a woman.)

Both of these things can be beautiful and life-giving and be used to build the kingdom of God, and both of them can mess us up and leave a trail of destruction behind us. Because they are so powerful, we must handle them with exceptional care.

We’ve got to get money right. We must put it in its place in such a way that we are not mastered by it. How do we do this? Let’s focus first on some biblical principles, then we will talk about what God accomplishes in us through our obedience.

Money Is From God

Ecclesiastes 5:19:  Every man  to whom God has given richesand wealth,and has given him power to use it, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.

We Are Meant To Be Stewards

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then the one with the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And the one with two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money....... To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. (Matthew 25)

Notice: the man had money; he gave his servants money. There is no suggestion money was the problem. The question is how we steward what we have been given. Do we “use it well?”

We Must Never Forget Money’s Destructive Nature

Mark 10:24 “Children, how hard is it for those who trust in richesto enter into the kingdom of God!”

Matthew 13:22The seed among the thorns is like those that hear the word; but the love of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word of God, and he becomes unfruitful.

1 Timothy 6:10For the love of moneyis a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith...

Hebrews 13:5:  Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for Jesus said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU…”

Proverbs 11:28He that trusts in his richeswill fall: but the righteous will flourish...

Psalms 62:10...If richesincrease, don’t set your heart upon them.

Proverbs 22:1  A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

I get nervous when I see polls where Christians rank the economy as one of their most important issues come election time. If by that we mean those 3,000 verses about the poor have sunk in and we are wanting a society where the poor can rise out of poverty, or so we have more money to give those in need, awesome. If it means we want bigger and better things, that makes me really nervous. Be wary of money. Some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith. The deceitfullness of riches will choke the Word out of our lives. Don’t set your heart on them.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1zoX2J8s6w[/embed]

We Must Also Remember Its Potential For Good

Now, my brothers, we must tell you about the grace[1]that God had given to the Macedonian churches. Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else.

In fact they simply begged us to accept their gift of supporting their brothers in Christ. Nor was their gift, as I must confess I had expected, a mere cash payment. Instead they made a complete dedication of themselves first to the Lord and then to us, as God’s appointed ministers...

 I don’t want you to read this as an order. It is only my suggestion, prompted by what I have seen in others of eagerness to help, and here is a way to prove the reality of your love. Do you remember the generous grace of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he generously became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich." (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)

Generosity is a gift of grace: a blessing from God to others through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and a way to show the reality of our love for Christ and appreciation for his generous grace. 

In the Bible, power and resources are always meant to be used for the good of those who are weak and powerless. The Macedonians could have said, "Don't talk to us about the problems in Jerusalem. We’ve got our own problems."  Paul says that their lack of resources became a motivation for giving. They understood poverty. And because they understood, they had to do something. The sense is that they determined what they could comfortably contribute -  and then went beyond this figure.

Charles Spurgeon once received an invitation to preach at his rural church as a fundraiser to pay off some church debt. The man who contacted him told Spurgeon that he could use one of the man’s three homes (he had one in the country, the town, and by the sea). Spurgeon wrote back, "Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself."

When we realize that others are in need, and we have the resources to alleviate that need, we should generously and joyfully do so. It is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. God does not prosper us so we can indulge ourselves; He prospers us so we can extend the gift of generous grace to others.

This is not where I guilt you into giving more to CLG or any other cause in the Kingdom of God. First, God wants us to give joyfully, and guilt does not lead to joy. Second, the tithe is not a New Testament teaching. The tithe in the Old Testament functioned much like a tax on the Jewish people (as much as 20% tithe some years, and perhaps higher). There is no tax in the New Testament.

This does not mean our money is ours.The opposite is true. God is no longer laying claim to 10% (which is what tithe literally means – a tenth); He is laying claim to all of it. We are stewards of what we have, not owners. 10% is too simple. It allows us to pay our tax to God and then do whatever we want with the rest. When we do that, we miss the point.

See, the Macedonians gave entirely on their own, by a free choice. They were not pressured into giving. They gave willingly – they begged for the privilege of being involved. Paul did not use guilt to motivate them.

Generosity is meant to be genuine expression of our financial commitment to God as an act of worship, not a legalistic transaction followed by angry, begrudging givers. The actual amount they gave not mentioned. That’s because it wasn’t about the amount; it was about the heart. God cares about motives more than amount (though the amount might speak to your motives).

God does not want you to be generous out of guilt or fear. You can’t buy favor with God, and you shouldn’t try to buy favor with others. These Macedonians gave because their hearts were moved by the generous grace of God.  If I don’t have a generous mindset or a generous heart, what do I have yet to learn about the grace of God?

The question isn’t, “How much do I get to keep after I give God his tax?”  The question is, “How much am I able to give back into the service of the Kingdom of God?[2]

A 10% tithe lets us off the hook.There is no need to analyze the thoughts and intents of our heart, to see if money is an idol, to be honest about if we have placed our trust in material things rather than God.

A 10% tithe lets us avoid how we think about money in our souls.  Jesus constantly moved The Law inside. It’s not just, “Do you kill people or cheat on your spouse?”  It’s, “What do you desire in your heart? What do you want to have happen? What are you really thinking?”

God cares about motives.

We are to give generously and voluntarily as we understand and are moved by the grace and generosity of God

So how can we get to that point? I think Paul tells us: the Macedonians gave themselvesfirst to the Lordand then gave their thingsto the cause of Paul (on behalf of the Kingdom of God).

Jesus was once asked whether people should pay taxes or not. He held up a coin and said:

"Whose image is on this coin?" They answered, "Caesar's." Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that have Caesar's picture on them, but give to God the things that have the image of God upon them..." (Matthew 22:20-21, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25).

What has the image of God? We do. God wants us. When we truly give ourselves to Christ, everything else will follow, and that includes our money.  The trail of our things will lead us to our god. The testimony of our checkbook will do the same. [3]

I don’t just mean money. Paul said that the Macedonians did not give “a mere cash payment.”I mean time, resources, energy, friendship, free time, priorities… Many people are impoverished in many different ways. Who gets what you have to give?

So what happens in us when we do this? What is God’s plan for how giving an offering to him of what He has given to us is meant to do a work in us?

  1. In giving back to God, we are reminded that our trust is in God.When we give away our financial cushion, we are going to hit hard against life. Aren’t those places of lack and need where trust in God is built? An offering is an opportunity to build trust in God.
  2. In giving back to God, we are reminded that we are part of a community that needs our contribution.“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were all his own, but they shared everything they had...it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:32-35) An offering gives the opportunity to participate in the community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. In giving back to God, we reorient our hearts.When we give our treasure to God, our heart follows, right? Where our treasure is, there is our heart. This can happen in a lot of ways: Money; Time (pro bono work, volunteerism): Resources (lending): Presence (listening, investing relationally)

An offering, then, is the opportunity to worship God, to realign our heart, soul, mind and strength so that we think God’s thoughts first, not ours.

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[1]It’s worth noting that the word for "grace" or “gift” (charis) is also found in 1 Corinthians in the classic passage on spiritual gifts. Maybe the ability to use money generously should be added to our list of spiritual gifts?

[2]Some passages on generosity: Acts 2:43–47; 4:32–37; 11:27–30; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8:1–9:15

[3]This must be biblically balanced with the responsibilities God has given to us for the people and things entrusted to our care. Proverbs is full of advice about how to handle money wisely; that includes saving, taking care of your family, etc. Don’t neglect the necessities of life unless God has clearly called you to a radical lifestyle of poverty. I’m talking more about where our heart is. Do we desire to be generous and constantly look for opportunities within the framework of the other obligations God has given us? Do we hold our money loosely or tightly?

Why We Do What We Do: Baptism and Communion

8-12-SERMON.jpg

Listen to the audio here. Watch the Facebook Live stream here

NOTE: Scott Smith filled in for Anthony Weber this Sunday at the last minute. The audio and FB stream feature Scott; the notes posted here are Anthony's. They take a slightly different focus, so the two resources together offer bonus material this week :)

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There are at least two things that Christians do that can be confusing: baptism and communion.

In Bible times, everyone understood the role of baptism. It was a known way of showing one’s initiation and allegiance of a god. If Christians ran into the marketplace and told followers of Zeus that they had been baptized, they wouldn’t respond, “What are you talking about?” They got it; they had been baptized too.

As for communion, the Jewish people already practiced a form of it during Passover, where they drank wine and ate unleavened bread every year.

Living in the United States in the 21stcentury, both of these acts are…different. They are not only not normal, they can be so disconnected from our religious past that they seem unimportant or insignificant.

So, let’s talk about that :)

WHAT IS A SACRAMENT?

Baptism and communion are two things that are often referred to as sacraments. The English word sacrament is from the Latin sacramentum, which means to make holy, or to consecrate. A sacrament is meant to be something that sets us apart, that consecrates or dedicates us to God in some fashion.  If I combine a whole bunch of definitions,

“A sacrament is avisible sign, rite or ceremony ordained of God, instituted by Jesus, confirmed by the command or practice of the apostles, and observed by the church that is the means of or a form of God’s grace.”

In the Roman Catholic Church, there are seven sacraments:

  • Baptism
  • Confirmation
  • Eucharist (or Communion)
  • Matrimony
  • Holy Orders (Ordination)
  • Penance, Confession, and/or Reconciliation
  • Anointing of the Sick (or Extreme Unction, Last Rites)

When the Protestant Reformation began, Protestants pared the sacraments down to two: baptism and communion. As stated in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:

"The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace… Although they are means of grace, they are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and the Eucharist are."

To the early Reformers like Calvin and Luther, only Baptism and Eucharist were sacraments; they were the only two in which God actively communicated his grace to us as a result of our obedience.

Eventually, Arminians[1](named after Jacob Arminius, a student of John Calvin’s successor) made a difference between an ordinance(something commanded or ordained by God in observance of a spiritual reality) and a sacrament.

In the sacramental view, the rite is done so that God can give something promised to us. In the ordinance view, the rite is done so that God and others can see our actions, or possibly see something God has previously done in us.

HOW DOES A SACRAMENT WORK?

To sacramentalists like the Roman Catholics, there is power in the physical element. So communion is the taking of the actual body and blood of Christ; “the host” hosts the real presence of God.  The waters of baptism are the vehicle of saving grace. If baptism is an instrument of grace, as Catholics believe, we should baptize babies so they are under grace. They don’t need to understand or even make a choice to benefit from baptism, because the act itself carries God’s grace to them.  We receive grace through the physical object.

The sacramental view held by Martin Luther and John Calvinbroke away from the Catholic perspective. They said that God gives spiritual blessings to us when we participate in the sacraments.God conveys grace through our act of obedience, not through the object.For example, Martin Luther said that the elements of communion don’t literally become the body and blood of Jesus, but that God is  truly present “in, with, and under” the elements in a spiritual way. The grace we receive is because of our obedient participation, not because the symbol itself  (water, bread, wine) has power..

Other Protestants, such as Zwingli, were memorialists.They viewed the sacraments as an ongoing profession of faith, a reminder of the grace that has already been given but not an actual vehicle of grace. In contrast with both Rome and Luther, Zwingli did not believe that the Lord’s Supper was the literal presence of God or that obedience brought fresh grace. The rite is done so that God and others can see our actions, or possibly see something God has previously done in us, not because God is imparting something to us. Baptism is a memorial for those who consciously surrender their lives to Christ. Communion is a memorial to what Christ did for us. [2]We remember what we have already fully received. 

* * * * *

We are a church in the memorialist tradition. We have always taken the approach that we are reminded of what God has done in us through our participation in communion and baptism.

So, does God honor these rites by revealing Himself  or imparting grace in some way that he reserves for these moments? Personally, I can’t rule that out.  I have been raised all my life as a memorialist, but I see some biblical wisdom in considering there may be more to it.  After all, God often imparts his grace to us through instruments: friends, evangelists, doctors, family, pastors, etc. Why not through the rituals and symbols he has ordained? So,  even as I reaffirm our memorialist heritage, I find I am taking Luther and Calvin’s stance on sacraments more seriously.

If nothing else, I know that if we take baptism and communion more seriously, they are opportunities to sense the reality and presence of Christ, His sacrifice, and His live in ways that we often overlook in our busy lives. Perhaps that is a conveyance of grace in it’s own way. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Stop. Focus. Remember. Be still. God is here.

As I was studying this, a couple quotes stood out to me the captured the solemnity of these things.

LUTHER, in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), wrote,

According to its substance, therefore, the mass is nothing but the aforesaid words of Christ: “Take and eat, etc” [Matt 26:26], as if he were saying: “Behold, O sinful and condemned man, out of the pure and unmerited love with which I love you, and by the will of the Father of mercies [II Cor. 1:3], apart from any merit or desire of yours, I promise you in these words the forgiveness of all your sins and life everlasting. And that you may be absolutely certain of this irrevocable promise of mine, I shall give my body and pour out my blood, confirming this promise by my very death, and leaving you my body and blood as a sign and memorial of this same promise. As often as you partake of them, remember me, proclaim and praise my love and bounty toward you, and give thanks...

From this you will see that nothing else is needed for a worthy holding of the mass than a faith that relies confidently on this promise, believes Christ to be true in these words of his, and does not doubt that these infinite blessings have been bestowed upon it. . . . Who would not shed tears of gladness, indeed, almost faint for joy in Christ, if he believed with unshaken faith that this inestimable promise of Christ belonged to him

CALVIN 

“Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness…

A FEW KEY TAKEAWAYS

  1. Theologians have noted that together, baptism and communion symbolize the whole of our Christian life.  
  • In baptism, we are reminded that we are entering into God’s covenant. It happens once as a rite of initiation into God’s family.
  • In communion, we are reminded of our ongoing life within that covenant. It happens over and over as an act of covenant renewal.

On the memorialist view,they remind us that in Him we live, move and have our being. Without Him we are nothing and have nothing and can do nothing of lasting, eternal worth.

  1. Baptism and Communion remind us that salvation comes from the outside. Ourhope in Christ does not come from us, our feeling, our experiences; it comes from Christ, who gave Himself for us as an act of grace. Our hope is in that and nothing else. We are part of an ongoing story, and that we have a part in the unfolding of God’s history, but they are not the foundation of our assurance that God, in Christ, gave His life so that we could live.

3.Baptism and Communion are community events. Because salvation comes from the outside, our observance of baptism and communion  involve something outside ourselves. You notice we don’t self-baptize here, or serve communion to ourselves. Someone else initiates it; someone else makes it happen for you; someone else gives that gift to you. Those offering those services are not the instruments of grace; they are the reminders, as is the water, the bread, and the juice, that we are not self-made or self-sufficient. We need others: God first, and God’s people second.

These moments, then, are meant to remind us of the congregation’s unity in Christ, as we are all drawn together. These are not activities meant to do alone. In a smaller congregation, it would be easier to visualize this having one loaf for an entire congregation, and we would tear off a piece for each of us. We would have on pitcher to our juice. We are nourished by a common source. Our salvation is from Christ, and that we have been saved into a community of Christ-followers.

“Through the interchange of his blessings and our misfortunes, we become one loaf, one body, one drink, and have all things in common.”(Luther, in his 1519 Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy)

Now, since he has only one body, of which he makes us all partakers, it is necessary that all of us also be made one body by such participation. The bread shown in the Sacrament represents this unity….We shall benefit very much from the Sacrament if this thought is impressed and engraved upon our minds: that none of the brethren can be injured, despised, rejected, abused, or in any way offended by us, without at the same time, injuring, despising, and abusing Christ by the wrongs we do; that we cannot disagree with our brethren without at this same time disagreeing with Christ; that we cannot love Christ without loving him in the brethren; that we ought to take the same care of our brethren’s bodies as we take of our own; for they are members of our body; and that, as no part of our body is touched by any feeling of pain which is not spread among all the rest, so we ought not to allow a brother to be affected by any evil, without being touched with compassion for him. (John Calvin)

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[1]The language of “sacraments” was used by Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed, though they differed on the number. The language of “ordinances,”  was used by denominations leaning in the Anabaptist, Arminian tradition , such as “Methodists, Free Will Baptists, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, General Baptists, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, The Salvation Army, Conservative Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, and Amish and charismatics.” (thanks, Wikipedia)

[2]Worth noting: the New Testament never explicitly mentions the baptism of an infant in a way that signifies the infant received salvation as a result. In fact, the New Testament never explicitly mentions the baptism of any person prior to a confession of faith.

Why We Do What We Do: Prayer (Part 1)

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Actual prayers from kids:

  1. Dear God,
please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there now. 
Amanda
  2. Dear God,
Thank you for the baby brother but what I asked for was a puppy. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up.
Joyce
  3. Dear Mr. God, 
I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart I had to have 3 stitches and a shot. 
Janet
  4. God,
I read the bible. What does beget mean? Nobody will tell me.
Love Alison

Two actual prayer requests I prayed as an adult:

  • DEAR GOD, please heal my father of this cancer.
  • DEAR GOD, let all of my sister’s triplets live (the doctors had told my sister twice to prepare to lose the smallest one after the umbilical cord has virtually stopped sending nourishment.)

The first one God did not answer in the way I had asked. The second one he did.From my vantage point, my father died when – for the sake of his family and for the kingdom of God - he should have lived, and my sister’s baby lived when – according to the doctors - she should have died.And I prayed for them both. Fervently. How can this be?

There are two ends to a spectrum of belief about prayer within Christian circles.

The first end focuses solely on the sovereignty of God. In this view, my prayers really have no impact on God or the world around me. If a verse talks about effective prayer, it can always be interpreted to say that prayer changes me and my outlook on life, but certainly it doesn’t change God and may not even change circumstances around me.

  • David prayed for the life of his son. The son died anyway because of David's sin with Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12:13-23.(In fact, a lot of the Psalms David wrote express frustration that God is not answering his prayers.)
  • Elijah prayed that he might die. Not only did God not grant his requestimmediately, but in the end Elijah didn't die but was caught up into heaven by a whirlwind. 1 Kings 19:4; 2 Kings 2:11.
  • John The Baptist’s disciples prayed he would be freed from prison, and he was beheaded.
  • Jesus asked that “this cup” could pass from Him. It didn’t.
  • Paul asks three times that a “thorn in the flesh” be removed from him, and God said no.
  • The early church certainly prayed of Stephen and James, who were both martyred. In fact, all but one of the disciples were martyred, and an awful lot of early Christians were slaughtered quite horribly.

In this view, we pray to refine our character or align our priorities. My prayers for my dad and my niece were futile exercises when it came to their futures. God already had a plan. Those prayers were meant for my edification and sanctification. Prayer is for the pray-er. Prayer changes us as we pray.

If the first end focuses on God’s sovereignty and power, the opposite end focuses on our agency and my power. In this view, God has put a tremendous amount of power in our hands.

  • God answered Abraham's prayer by sending His angels to remove righteous Lot and his family before the judgment fell.
  • God miraculously answered many of Moses' prayers including the parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13-22) and giving the Israelites good water in the wilderness (Exodus 15:25).
  • God miraculously answered Elijah's prayer on Mt. Carmel when he rained fire from heaven in the showdown between God and the false god Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40 especially 37-38).
  • Daniel prayed to be shown the king's undisclosed dream and God answered him (Daniel 2:17-18). Daniel was thrown to the lions because he continually prayed to God and God spared him (Daniel 6:4-24).
  • The early church in Jerusalem prayed for Peter after his arrest by Herod and God miraculously answered their prayer by sending an angel to free Peter from prison (Acts 12:5-10)
  • All the miracles recorded in Acts.

On this end, prayer is for the prayed for.If we have enough faith, if we say the right words, God has to do what we ask. In this view, if we pray effectively and fervently, God must show up. In fact, God is waiting to move until we do that. If we don’t, everything bad that happens is our fault.  The right quantity and quality of prayer is what matters…. And by this thinking, my dad would have lived if I he or I could have prayed better, harder, longer, more intensely.  God really wanted to heal dad, but He couldn’t because I or someone else held him back.

There is a tension between these two ends. “On the one hand, “You have not because you ask not”; on the other hand, God gives us what we ask for according to his will.We pray knowing God allows our prayers to have power; on the other hand, our prayers have a divine safety valve on them: specifically, God’s will.

In Star Trek, “The City On The Edge Of Forever,” the world’s fate hinges on whether a social worker dies. She has to die; if she doesn’t, she goes on to lead a peace movement that keeps America out of WW2 and the Nazis win. And because they win, the world moves toward brutality and totalitarianism. Bones goes back and saves her life; Spock and Kirk have to go back and make sure she dies. Sometimes, what we want - would looks obviously good to us - is not the for the best. Even our best wisdom simply can't understand life with the wisdom God has.

I like how Tim Keller puts it: God gives us what we would have prayed for if we knew what He knows.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_rViLK1vG4[/embed]

So when we look at what all of the Scriptural record of acts of prayer and teachings on prayer, we see the following variety:

  • Sometimes, God waits to move until we pray. Sometimes, God moves before we even think to pray.
  • Sometimes, God requires fasting and confident, faith-filled prayer. Sometimes He accepts doubt-haunted requests.Sometimes He just does things.
  • Sometimes, He doesn’t answer like we expect Him too. Sometimes He does.
  • Sometimes, God allows prayer to impact the things for which we pray. Sometimes, prayer just aligns us with the will of God.Sometimes it does both.

I don’t believe we are meant to be able to reduce prayer to an understandable formula. If we could, we would be Christian magicians, manipulating reality as we forced God to jump at our whims. We might not even be meant to fully understand prayer.  Prayers, as portrayed in the Bible, happen somewhere between God’s sovereignty and our agency. In that huge area between, God moves in mysterious ways.

But in spite of the mysteriousness, there are important things the Bible teaches that we do know.

Prayer is an act of faith.  When we pray - not knowing how God will answer, but praying anyway because we know He is the only One who can answer – that is an act of faith.  If we knew He had to answer like we wanted—that’s not faith, that’s manipulation.

Prayer is an act of obedience.  When we pray, we are showing our submission to a God who asked us to pray.As a parent, my boys show respect for me when they do what I ask, but they show their greatest respect for me when they do things I ask even if they don’t understand.  We demonstrate our faith in and our respect of God when we do what He asks, even if the reasons are a mystery to us.

Prayer is an act of humility.  Every time I pray, I am acknowledging that there is a God, and I am not Him. Every time I praise him, I elevate him far above me. Every time I petition him, I am approaching him as someone who cannot handle life on his own.  Every time I pray for others, I am addressing the Messiah Complex in me that thinks I can fix other people.

A few final thoughts based on prayer being an act of faith, obedience, and humility.

  1. Our faith in God’s power to answer prayer is not negated by acknowledging His sovereignty.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, theGod we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not,we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  (Daniel 3:16-18)

You don’t have to feel apologetic for not knowing what God will do in response to your prayer. God’s plans are not undone when we say, ‘God can move, but even if he does not...” It is a prayer that shows both a faith in His power and a submission to His will. [1]

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6fA35Ved-Y[/embed]

2. Our obedience to God’s command to pray is not negated when our emotions have a hard time catching up.

“And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”…. “‘I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.”" Matthew 11:11-15(NIV)

God is honored when we boldly approach Him without any doubts or fears or questions. He might be even more honored when we approach him full of those things.  Don’t be afraid to speak to God when you are at your lowest or at you worst. Sometimes we take ourselves out of the race when we think, “God won’t want to hear from me in this condition.”  Oh, but He does.

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

3. Our humility in acknowledging our need for God is not necessarily negated by doubt.

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this? "From childhood," he answered. "It [ an evil spirit] has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes. Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  (Mark 9)“I entrust myself to you; help my disbelief and disobedience.”

You don’t have to be a faith superstar to pray. God is not scared away by “if you can” prayers. “If you can heal my marriage… If you can bring my child back to you…if you can find me a job…if you can heal me.” God is not handcuffed when we pray with doubtful passion.God hears the prayers of the timid, the prayers of those who have burned before, the prayers of those who aren’t really sure how things are going to work out.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qZOQO82y4U[/embed]

Ultimately, prayer is a connection between us and God.  We pray, we talk with God, because that is the way God has chosen to allow us to connect with Him. Everyone can show faith, obedience, and humility through their prayer. One final thought connecting us to last week’s discussion of the Bible and next week’s continuation on this focus:

“We speak only to the degree we are spoken to[ in the same way children learn to speak by being spoken to].  It is therefore essential to the practice of prayer to recognize… the “overwhelming previousness of God’s speech to our prayers...” It means that our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. We should “plunge ourselves into the sea” of God’s language, the Bible.  We should listen, study, think, reflect, and ponder the Scriptures until there is an answering response in our hearts and minds…. that response to God’s speech is then truly prayer and should be given to God. If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak.”  ― Timothy J. KellerPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

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[1]“Prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable "success" in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something more like magic -- a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.”  C.S. Lewis

 

Why We Do What We Do: Read The Bible

Listen to the podcast here Watch the Facebook Live Stream here.

 

"To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries."  - Richard Dawkins(The God Delusion)

If that is true, well, that is problematic for those of us who claim that the Bible is full of a message from God. I want to talk today about why this is not a fair assessment of the Bible, why we can have confidence in it, and why that matters.

THE BIBLE IS INSPIRED

Inspiration means that when God expressed himself through human authors, he made sure that in the process of their writing they wrote what he intended to communicate.  Christians have continually affirmed what the Bible says about itself:

OLD TESTAMENT

“….the Jews were entrusted with the words of God.”(Romans 3:2)

"No prophecy (prophets – inspired speakers of God’s will) of Scripture ... was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Pet 1:20–21)

2 Tim3.16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God,  and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

NEW TESTAMENT

Jesus said inJohn 14:26, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

1 Cor. 14:37Paul said, "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual person, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment."  

In 2 Pet. 3:16Peter said, “in all [Paul's] letters… are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."

So here you have the disciples, who had been raised all their lives to believe in the inspiration and sacredness of the word of God, and who already affirming that God is continuing His revelation through the written word in what we now call the New Testament.

We also use words like infallible and inerrant to describe the Bible.What the church has historically affirmed about the Bible is that because of the inspiration of Scripture, God has made sure that what is communicated in the Bible is true.  The Bible does not transmit falsehood.

“Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, and life sciences.” - Dr. Paul Feinberg, professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

“When all the facts are known” and “properly interpreted” is a really important part of this definition. Part of the hard work of understanding the Bible well involves recognizing that God’s timeless truths are sometimes expressed in timely ways that might look different at different times and places.

  • Genre (history, poetry, songs, letters, apocalyptic, parables, etc)
  • Language (word meanings, imagery, style, audience)
  • Context (placing parts into the whole of the message)

A couple examples:

  • We don’t associate tattoos with pagan idolatry like they did in the Old Testament. We don’t worry that women who just gave birth shouldn’t come to church, because we aren’t worried about being mistaken for a fertility cult. We do, however, worry about holiness – being called out and separate in our culture. (Read a series on Old Testament Law at TC Apologetics, beginning with “Old Testament Law: An Introduction.” http://tcapologetics.org/old-testament-law-an-introduction/)
  • Genesis 1 and 2 are LOADED with images and messages that the original audience would have understood in ways that we wouldn’t just because our reference point is so different(see John Walton’s The Lost World Of Genesis One). But one timeless message is that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
  • The section on warfare in the Old Testament requires a context to fully understand what was happening. (see Paul Copan’sIs God A Moral Monster, Walton’s The Lost World Of The Israelite Conquest, or a series of posts I have done based on his book at TC Apologetics, beginning with “God Of War.” http://tcapologetics.org/god-of-war/)
  • The Corinthian women covered their heads during church services and men uncovered theirs. In the first century, covered and uncovered heads were causing division and judgment in the church in both men and women. The timeless command is to love, honor, and not judge. The timely expression in that church meant women covered and men uncovered their heads. (read “Hair, Head Coverings, and Hope”. https://clgonline.org/1-corinthians-11-hair-head-coverings-and-hope/)
  • We don’t have “love feasts” like the church did in the NT, which might have had something to do with making sure the poor and undernourished were getting at least one solid meal a week,[1]and certainly conveyed acceptance and community in far more significant ways that meals together do now.[2]This doesn’t mean we don’t still have a command to love each other.
  • Paul did not hate women. He offered a message of hope and redemption that was deeply compelling to women (see Sarah Rudan’s Paul Among The People,or Matthew Rueger’s Sexual Morality In A Christless World.[3]
  • If you want to understand Revelation, you need to understand what apocalyptic literature is as a genre (see Shane Wood’s series on the book of Revelation. http://www.shanejwood.com/the-book-of-revelation/

This is work, but being committed to knowing the facts and understanding proper interpretation is crucial.[4]

We refer to the books in the Bible as the canon of Scripture.The word “canon” means “ruler, or guide.” These books are the guide by which everything else is measured.

  • Shortly after Malachi was written (B.C. 430), the Jews closed the Old Testament canon, because “ the succession of prophets ceased” (Josephus) and “the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.” (Talmud) In the years between 430 B.C. and the life of Christ, the Old Testament as we have it today became universally accepted within Judaism as revelation from God
  • Josephus mentions that there were copies of Scripture in the Temple itself before its destruction in AD 70. This collection was considered by the Jewish community to be canon, for the main test of the canonical reception of a book must have been whether or not it was one of those stored in the Temple.
  • In addition to the over 300 quotes from the Old Testament in the New Testament, the Old Testament was repeatedly quoted by Jesus as Scripture.  He referred to the OT writings as "scripture" (Jn. 10:35); "law and prophets" (Mt. 7:12; 22:40); and "Law of Moses . . . Prophets . . . Psalms" (Lk. 24:44).

What was the criteria for the New Testament canon?

After Jesus left, people start writing again. Now, the Holy Spirit is back in the mix; we have a renewed claim that those who are writing are revealing God’s inspired message. The early church had a careful method of making sure that those they were trusting as spokespeople of God really were spokespeople of God.

  1. Apostolicity and Antiquity:Was it authored by a first-generation (contemporary of Jesus) apostle or apostolic associate? There is no book in the Bible that was written after the first century. [i]
  2. Authenticity: Are the writings’ authorship and authority certain?
  3. Ubiquity: The NT books were all written between 45-95. Once a writing was accepted, the ones that followed had to cohere to it. The books had to have a history of "continuous and widespread approval amongst Christians" (J. W. Wenham, Christ And The Bible).[5]
  4. Universality: Is it consistent with existing canon? This would have been the Old Testament initially, but then the New Testament as well as writing were accepted into the canon.
  5. Effect: Does the book change lives? (is there a spiritual and moral effect).

Dr. F. F. Bruce, the late Ryland’s Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, asserts of the New Testament:"There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament… if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”

So here are the three main claims Christians make: God inspired the writing; the Holy Spirit guided the Jewish community and then the early church in the process of canonization; God preserved the message as it has been transmitted through generations.[6]

I have lots of reasons why I believe the divine inspiration is clear, and why we have good reason to believe that what is written in the Bible is true and has been preserved well. That's broader than the scope of this sermon, but you are welcome to ask me for more detail.

Why is this all a big deal?  Because that inspiration contains unchanging truth that is timeless and relevant to all people, at all places, at all times. God speaks to us as loudly today through His word as He always has.

Legal scholar J. N. D. Anderson observes in Christianity: The Witness of History:“Here is a faith firmly rooted in certain allegedly historical events, a faith which would be false and misleading if those events had not actually taken place, but which, if they did take place, is unique in its relevance and exclusive in its demands on our allegiance. For these events did not merely set a "process in motion and then themselves sink back into the past. The unique historical origin of Christianity is ascribed permanent, authoritative, absolute significance; what happened once is said to have happened once for all…”

If the Bible is true, if it is really from God, and has permanent, authoritative, absolute significance for all people, at all places at all times, then it has permanent, authoritative, absolute significance for you. We either believe that and become disciples of Jesus, or we don’t. 

The Bible in its entirety establishes foundational truth that is meant to save us, sustain us, and establish us in the abundant life offered by Christ. [7]

Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, wrote about a seminar he did for about 80 pastors, where he played the role of an atheist challenging their faith. At one point it became clear that one of the young men was really struggling with his faith. So, Mr. Koukl talked with him afterward, and describes what happened this way:

“His objections boiled down to this:  ‘I’ve been taught that Christianity’s truthfulness is confirmed by my experience.  I am no longer having powerful Christian experiences.  In addition, I’m reading arguments against Christianity.  I now wonder if it’s rational for me to remain a Christian’…. the truth of Christianity needs to be built on a foundation more solid than personal experience.”  (www.str.org)

The emotional intensity of a relationship with God can ebb and flow in its intensity, just like in a marriage, or a friendship.  Thank God that the reality of God and the reality of our relationship with Him are not dependent solely on how we feel at the moment.  There is a foundation “more solid that personal experience” on which the truthfulness of our faith is built.

So it establishes truth that is meant to save us, sustain us, and establish us.It also gives us the means for finding God’s direction, meaning and purpose in our lives.  

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”  Psalm 119:105

There is life in following the path that God has laid out for us in Scripture. Have you ever heard the following conversations? 

  • “You know, I give money to the church regularly, and I’ve discovered that money has lost its hold over me. What should I do?”
  • “I could have looked at porn and found some way to justify it, but I remembered what the Bible said about honoring my wife and guarding my heart, so I didn’t. How do I tell my wife and kids?”
  • “So I heard this really juicy story about Bob, and I just didn’t have the heart to tell anyone because I didn’t want to shame Bob. Will people ever trust me again?”
  • “In spite of some past mistakes, I have committed to remaining sexually pure, and I am finding there is real relational and emotional reward in this. How do I get back to where I was?”
  • “Sally was telling me about a pretty embarrassing personal struggle, and rather than keeping her at arm’s length and feeling good about how holy I was, I found that God gave me the ability to pass on to her the grace and hope that was passed on to me. Do you think she’ll ever talk to me again?”
  • “My wife and I had this argument, and I remembered that I am supposed to love her like Christ loved the church, and we both were reading passages like “let each esteem the other more than themselves”…. And since then we have been doing really well as we are both honest before God about our need for him to help us love each other sacrificially. Now what do we do? Can you counsel with us?”

You know why we don’t have those conversations? Because when we let God’s word guide our path in life, it turns out that He has given the gift of His own wisdom to a world that cries out for Him.

  “He has shown you what is good…”

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[1]The Protestant International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes this about the agape: “In the opinion of the great majority of scholars, the agape was a meal at which not only bread and wine, but all kinds of viands were used, a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood.

[2]“In the Greco-Roman or Jewish household of that day sharing in a meal signified acceptance and fellowship, and the love feast in the church was to be a living example of unity.” https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/love-feast.html

[3]“Defending Paul.” http://tcapologetics.org/defending-paul/

[4]Some recommendations:

  • Adam Clarke’s Commentary (google his name and a bible passage)
  • Biblehub’s commentaries
  • Bible Gateway’s resources (the best ones you have to pay for, but it’s cheap)
  • org has an EXHAUSTIVE list of sermons, commentaries, etc.
  • The Bible Project. thebibleproject.com

[5]Paul considered Luke’s writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (1 Timothy 5:18; see also Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Papias, a student of the Apostle John16and Bishop of Hierapolis observed that the Apostle John himself noted that the Apostle Mark in writing his Gospel "wrote down accurately... whatsoever he [Peter] remembered of the things said or done by Christ. Mark committed no error... for he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things he [Peter] had heard, and not to state any of them falsely."From A.D. 100 - 300, there are 36,000 early quotations of the New Testament in the existing documents from the early church fathers, from which all but a few verses of the NT can be reconstructed.

[6]Some recommended resources

[7]Some Bible Study tools: Treasury of Scripture Knowledge https://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/treasury-of-scripture-knowledge/; Through the Bible Podcast  https://pca.st/kk3l

[i]From Bible Gateway, “When Was Each Book of the Bible Written?

Why We Do What We Do: Church

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Listen to audio here Watch the Facebook Live stream here

 

“Church” could mean several different things.

  • the universal body of believers (the “catholic” church)
  • the local church community (“My church really gathered around.”)
  • The building and the services in it (“Let’s go to church.”)

When I ask, “Why Church?” I am asking, “Why does the local church exist?” I am going to focus  for our purposes today, I am talking about the local church as a community. The Bible has no vision of someone who is in the church without being in a local church body.  It would be like my cut-off toes claiming to still be a part of my body. Well, yeah, sort of, but not in any way that meaningfully matters.

Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. Would it seem right for the foot to cry, “I am not a hand, so I couldn’t be part of this body”? Even if it did, it wouldn’t be any less joined to the body. And what about an ear? If an ear started to whine, “I am not an eye; I shouldn’t be attached to this body,” in all its pouting, it is still part of the body. Imagine the entire body as an eye. How would a giant eye be able to hear? And if the entire body were an ear, how would an ear be able to smell? This is where God comes in. God has meticulously put this body together; He placed each part in the exact place to perform the exact function He wanted. If all members were a single part, where would the body be? So now, many members function within the one body. The eye cannot wail at the hand, “I have no need for you,” nor could the head bellow at the feet, “I won’t go one more step with you.” It’s actually the opposite. The members who seem to have the weaker functions are necessary to keep the body moving; the body parts that seem less important we treat as some of the most valuable; and those unfit, untamed, unpresentable members we treat with an even greater modesty. That’s something the more presentable members don’t need. But God designed the body in such a way that greater significance is given to the seemingly insignificant part. That way there should be no division in the body; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another. If one part is suffering, then all the members suffer alongside it. If one member is honored, then all the members celebrate alongside it. You are the body of the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member.  (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

 

For in the same way that one body has so many different parts, each with different functions; we, too—the many—are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone. Since our gifts vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, it is important that we exercise the gifts we have been given. If prophecy is your gift, then speak as a prophet according to your proportion of faith. If service is your gift, then serve well. If teaching is your gift, then teach well. If you have been given a voice of encouragement, then use it often. If giving is your gift, then be generous. If leading, then be eager to get started. If sharing God’s mercy, then be cheerful in sharing it.

Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner. Hold up through the hard times that are coming, and devote yourselves to prayer. Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and home to others.  If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people. Again, my loved ones, do not seek revenge; instead, allow God’s wrath to make sure justice is served. Turn it over to Him. For the Scriptures say, “Revenge is Mine. I will settle all scores.” But consider this bit of wisdom: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink; because if you treat him kindly, it will be like heaping hot coals on top of his head.” Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good. (Romans 12:4-21)

So, why is the local church part of God’s plan for his people? There are a LOT of definitions for church, but here is what I am running with today: The local church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ

  1. FOCUSING ON CHRIST

In gathering as a local church, we corporately remind ourselves and each other who is at the center of this community we are building.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (start with right understanding of God) and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (move to righteous community).” Acts 2:42

C.S. Lewis wrote:

“We don’t come to church, to be a church. We come to Christ, and then we are built up as a church. If we come to church just to be with one another, one another is all we’ll get. And it isn’t enough. Inevitably, our hearts will grow empty, and then angry. If we put community first, we will destroy community. But if we come to Christ first and submit ourselves to Him and draw life from Him, community gets traction.”

It’s too easy to forget about the author and finisher of our faith in the rat race of ever day life. Every Sunday, we all turn our eyes on Jesus, because without Christ, there is no church and there will be no community, at least not the kind the Bible envisions.   

  1. SERVING ONE ANOTHER

The word translated one another is used 100 times in the New Testament. About 1/3 focus on unity, 1/3 on love, 1/6 on humility an deference, and the rest are a smorgasbord (kiss each other, pray, teach, be hospitable, bear burdens, etc.) Here’s a brief list of only 59:[1]

  • “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
  • “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
  • “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
  • “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
  • “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
  • “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
  • “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
  • “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
  • “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
  • “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
  • “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
  • “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
  • “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
  • “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
  • “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
  • “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
  • “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
  • “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.”
  • (Galatians 5:15)
  • “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Gal. 5:26)
  • “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
  • “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  • “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  • “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
  • “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
  • “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
  • “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
  • “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
  • “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
  • “T each…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
  • “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
  • “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
  • “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
  • “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
  • “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
  • “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
  • “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
  • “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
  • “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
  • “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
  • “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
  • “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
  • “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
  • “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
  • “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
  • “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
  • “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
  • “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
  • “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
  • “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
  • “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
  • “…Love one another.” (II John 5)

We can’t “one another” if we are not around others. To not be involved in a local church is to reject the role that you are expected to play in serving the family of God, and to deny others the opportunity to use their gifts to serve you on behalf of God. In church community, we are meant to minister and be ministered to.

If you are…

Hospitable

Encouraging

Admonishing

A unifier or peacemaker

Can work nursery

A cleaner

Can fix or cook stuff

Listen well

Are kind

Think well

Sing

Build stuff

…we need you.  The church needs you to serve and be served.

Are you the kind of person who offers all kinds of caretaking challenges to those around you (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually)? These are all kinds of opportunities to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

We need you.  It’s part of God’s plan for his church to mature well by learning to love and serve well.

If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you are part of God’s body and thus this body, andyou bring something into our midst that the church needs. You might just be a big toe, but as some of us know, it’s really, really nice to have all your toes.

  1. MTURING IN CHRIST

If you reject life in a church community, you are rejecting the plan that Jesus has for your growth and discipleship. I don’t say that to pressure you to stay in this church in particular; I’m talking in a much broader sense. It is crucial that we commit to ongoing, purposeful, engaged life with a local church.

“Henri Nouwen defines "community" as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.

As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed. For whatever reason, God now reveals himself in the world not through a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of his Son in Galilee, but through the mongrel collection that comprises my local church and every other such gathering in God’s name.  ― Philip YanceyChurch: Why Bother?: My Personal Pilgrimage

We don’t mature through ease. We mature through pressure, conflict and tension. One person sharpens another like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).  There are no shortcuts to maturity. We must go through the things that God uses to make us mature.  Think of how Jesus brought a zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew) together into his disciples.  This is marriage, too. If you ever hear someone who is married say, “We never have any conflict,” they aren’t maturing as God intended. They are avoiding things. I promise you that they have work to do in every possible way, and God has placed their spouse in the life to love them well, and one of those ways is by helping them mature.  If there is no conflict in your life, you aren’t growing. If you aren’t growing, you are simply existing at best and dying at worst.

In the same way, there is plenty of opportunity in the local church.

"Yes, the church fails in its mission and makes serious blunders precisely because the church comprises human beings who will always fall short of the glory of God. That is the risk God took. Anyone who enters the church expecting perfection does not understand the nature of that risk or the nature of humanity. Just as every romantic eventually learns that marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work, every Christian must learn that church is also only a beginning.

The composer Igor Stravinsky once wrote a new piece that contained a difficult violin passage. After several weeks of rehearsal the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said that he could not play it. He had given it his best effort but found the passage too difficult, even unplayable. Stravinsky replied, "I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it."  - Phillip Yancey in Church, Why Bother?

4. MISSIONAL LIVING

17 Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! 18 All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through the Anointed. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him. 19 It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.20 So we are now representatives of the Anointed One, the Liberating King; God has given us a charge to carry through our lives—urging all people on behalf of the Anointed to become reconciled to the Creator God21 He orchestrated this: the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5)

God’s plan for the spread of the Gospel is for us to embody the very righteousness of God. For us to be a representative of reconciliation for broken relationships with God and with each other.

  • Does your spouse know this and experience this through you?
  • Do your kids (or your parents) know this?
  • Do your friends see this?
  • Those with whom you work?
  • When you post online, does the Facebook world see you as an agent of reconciliation in a broken world?

The Church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ. May God give His church the wisdom, grace and strength to do this for the good of the world, and for His glory.

* * * * * * * **

[1]From Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Tarrytown: Revell, 1991), 129-131.