Sermons

7/5

Romans 7:14-25a

 

A Short Walk along Romans Road – The Dark Part

Did you ever have of those days that started kind of rough and then started going steadily downhill and then, somehow, got worse? 

It was the summer of the sophomore year of college which meant I was back in my parents’ place and working whatever job could find which meant that none of them were particularly fun.  That year I think it was the furniture factory and it was perhaps the worst job I ever had and to make a terrible job even worse I was the new guy and to make that situation worse I was the smallest new guy so that meant I got the worst of worst jobs which in the case of the furniture factory meant crawling around on a giant table saw machine stomping wood down to make sure it laid flat.  To this day I’m not sure if doing that followed all the safety guidelines.  Anyway, I needed the job so it’s what I did day after day for most of that summer.  And to make the whole job better by the end of the day I was covered in sawdust from head to toe, which you might imagine is not terribly comfortable. 

Then on one particular day I was driving back home and I’d say my mood was not the best.  I was itchy and tired and irritable. So I stop at a traffic light and WHAM! I get rear-ended. I pull over and so does the other guy. He gets out of his car and I see it’s a young teen, but at that point in time I was only just out of my teens, so no problem.

He looks nervous which made me nervous.  He tells me he has no insurance and my bad day was complete.  He asked me to not to call the cops and I didn’t know what to do. Then he gave me $200 in cash.  That wasn’t enough to cover the repairs but strangely made my day end well because he at least tried to right thing, by bribing me I guess.  Anyway, it made me see working at furniture factory is not the worst way to spend your time as I found there were far more unpleasant ways of making money.

What we read of out Romans today is something like having a bad day that only gets worse as it goes on.  Paul leads us further down the Romans road but this time it is not a pleasant one. The words of Paul that we read today are frightening not only because they reveal just how powerful sin is and that we Christians must face this battle daily, but that we so often lose that fight. 

Indeed, some of what Paul wrote here contains the most depressing, soul-crushing truths ever written.  In essence Paul seems to say we are bound to give into sin even if we fight with all that is within us.    But, of course, Paul doesn’t leave us there for he shows us there is a light at the end and that light even has a name.   

So with that let’s continue our sermon series, or journey if you will, A Short Walk along Romans Road.  Be warned though that this one is the Dark Part.

Paul starts off by saying that no matter what we know that God’s law is spiritual, meaning that the law is from God and shows us how to live a life for God. And truly God’s law is not complicated. Jesus said, ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

I’d say for the most part we all know what should and shouldn’t do, so do people that don’t follow Jesus.  Usually, the reason we doubt is because we want an excuse when we fail to love one another.  And, tragically, we often fail to love each other just as Paul is going to tell us.

Paul said he was of the flesh.  He meant that there was a part of him was opposed to God’s law.  He was flesh the law is spiritual.  It is literally the difference between life and death.  He also said that he was sold under sin. 

Paul seemed to be implying that he was not in total control because sin kept having its way in his life no matter what Paul’s intentions were.  But perhaps the situation is worse than that for in his day being sold meant to be sold as a slave. It is a powerful way to describe the state of our souls, we don’t belong to ourselves.  If we belonged to ourselves we would always be in perfect control of all we think, say and do. 

While we can all likely identify with that, when you stop on think about the fact that Paul wrote it, it is confusing.  Paul was without a doubt saved, but he said he was still of the flesh and sold under sin.  How can this be? 

It looks like Paul was being very specific in what he said.  It seems like he meant his flesh was sold under sin, meaning that his old sin nature, the person he was before Jesus saved him, still wanted to sin and reject God.  While that may not be an uplifting thought, it is exactly where we shall all want to be because it shows that we have an awareness of reality.

Martin Luther explained it like this, “That is the proof of the spiritual and wise man. He knows that he is carnal, and he is displeased with himself; indeed, he hates himself and praises the Law of God, which he recognizes because he is spiritual.”

However, the whole situation is still confusing because as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” But if that’s true, then how could Paul still be under sin’s control?  Paul spoke honestly when he said he did not understand his own actions.

It almost seems like Paul was two people, a good person and an evil person and, in a sense, he was.  On one hand, Paul was a dead man brought to new life in Jesus and forever beyond sin’s influence and he loved doing good works for God.  But on the other hand, Paul most certainly saw that he still often sinned and wanted to rebel against God. 

And we find ourselves in the same quandary.  We love Jesus with all that is in us and want to obey Him perfectly and we would never desire to do anything that would rob Him of all the glory that He is due.  But then we do the very things Jesus commanded we not do which makes it seems as if we think He is not really God, but we ourselves are the ones in control and, even worse, it makes look like we think the sacrifice Jesus won for us the cross is less than worthless.  How can this be?  How can we say we love Jesus and then act as if we don’t?

Paul gives us an explanation.  His true self, the one that was justified by the free gift Jesus won for him through His blood, does indeed want nothing more than to love God with all of their their heart, soul and mind and love their neighbor as their self. Of course, Paul did not always do that as he still sinned, but when Paul did sin he did so under protest. 

And, again, we find ourselves in the circumstance.  If we could do as we really wanted, that is as our true selves want to do, I’m not sure if we would ever sin again even if would suffer for staying true to Jesus. One day that is how we will live.  Once we go to Jesus or He comes to us, we will forever be free from sin. 

While that might seem obvious, consider that desiring to perfectly obey God is not universal. Many in our community would willingly reject some of the commands in the Bible if they disagree with them.  While we, as Christians, struggle against our flesh, the rest of the world doesn’t always do so.  They want to decide for their selves what is right and wrong, regardless of God has commanded.

But we know what God has told us to do and we know that obeying God leads to joy just like we know that sinning leads to guilt and misery.  Yet, we still struggle to consistently do the righteous thing and find ourselves doing what we hate.   

Perhaps, we think of it in terms of power or control.  We want to love as Jesus loved but so often just don’t have it in us to do it, but that makes sense because the law gives no power to fulfill its demands.  If perfectly followed, the law can indeed save, but no one, other than Jesus, can obey the law fully and so the law only condemns.    But that’s where the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes in.  It is entirely different because the Gospel not only shows us the means by which we can be saved, faith in Jesus, but gives us the power to receive and maintain our faith, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So, in the end, some who has faith in Jesus as their Savior, has two powers at war within themselves, the power of the law which points out sin which can only lead to death and the power of cross by which we have been saved which leads to life. Without a doubt the power of Jesus can save us from the power of sin, but even with that assured victory, the struggle remains.  We still have two forces in us vying for dominance.

So, in that sense, what Paul said about breaking the law makes sense, “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”  At one point, mostly before Jesus saved me, this was my most hated verse in the Bible.  Back then to me it sounded like Paul was saying he was not responsible for the evil things he did.

But just reading about his depth of guilt and maybe even shame about his sin shows that to be false.  Paul was saying that his desire to sin, which was very much alive and seemingly overwhelmingly powerful, was not a part of his true self because what he really wanted was to obey Jesus and love God’s people with his whole being. 

And we find ourselves in the same place.  We do not want to sin in that if we had our way we would never disobey Jesus again, but we also know that we will never live up to that because try as we might we will sin again and at times we will do so purposefully. 

It makes for an odd and even scary position, but it is one of which we need to be aware.  Sin is both a part of us and forever removed from us.  We have sin in our lives because our old self though dead in terms of salvation still has the ability to overwhelm at times, but, due to the blood of Jesus, we have been cleansed of all sin fully and forever. 

So our sins do not define us, Jesus does.  We are forgiven because Jesus forgave us.  We are God’s adopted children because made us His through the cross. We belong to Jesus because He is all powerful and nothing can snatch us away from Him. 

It is why we can do as Paul did.  We cry out to Jesus to deliver us and know that He already has and will continue to do so for all eternity. 

And so my beloved I leave you with this: Our true identity is in Jesus and it is Jesus that we love. 

6/28

A Short Walk along Romans Road – Are We Free?

I can still remember the day my parents dropped me off at college.  It was an exhilarating time; I was finally on my own.  Or as on my own as I could be considering my education was being paid for by the legacy my grandfather left behind.  I suppose I was bit anxious too, but not too much because I had already spent a year in Japan as an exchange student and was used to being in unfamiliar places.

Still while I was in Japan I was under the care of host families and leaders at the high school I attended, but now I was in college and was pretty much free to live life as I saw fit.  My first semester went well enough, but then my second semester hit me like a runaway train. Some of my classes were far, far more intense as they were all new information to me, unlike my first semester which was largely a lot of review.     

Specifically, Calculus 2 and Fortran were beyond what my brain could handle. The teachers were brilliant but seemed determined to not a let a bit of their brilliance spill out onto their students by making their classes as incomprehensible as possible.  And so, lost and frustrated, I came up with a plan. Don’t go to class!  Only do the homework you understand and forget about the rest!  That would show them!  And because I was free to do as I choose, there was no one to try to convince me to not go through with my clever plan.

And I have to say, my plan worked splendidly.  I was never again bothered by either of those two classes because I failed both of them and used my two free drops so my grades were unaffected. 

But the whole ordeal showed me that freedom is all it’s cracked up to be. When we are set free it doesn’t mean we are only free to succeed, but also free to pick a path that leads to failure.   

The part we read out of Romans today deals with freedom.  So with that let’s continue our sermon series, A Short Walk along Romans Road and find out what Paul has to tell us about freedom.

Let’s start off with a question and, unlike so many of my other questions, it is not a trick question.  Or at least it’s not if you understand the question in way that I mean.

So then the question, “Are we a free from God’s law?” I guess it is a trick question after all.

Paul has two things to say about it. First, he says that we are released from the law, but then, just after that he says we serve in the new way of the Spirit. So we are released but we are still servants?  It seems as if Paul presents us with a paradox.  We are free slaves.  What is going on? 

Paul starts out by saying he is speaking to those who know the law. While he could have been specifically referring to the Jews, as they knew God’s Word as revealed in the Old Testament, in another sense he could have been addressing all people because everyone has a conscience and everyone has gone against their conscience by willingly doing what they is wrong.  So whatever Paul has to say, it applies to us too, which is really good for us, even if it doesn’t look that way in the beginning.   

Indeed, Paul says that the law is only for the living.  In other words, we should want to die because by dying we are released from the penalty of the law.  And here is where we encounter one of the more challenging parts of Romans, words can mean more than one thing.  While it is sometimes clear which meaning Paul intends, sometimes it is not. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to help us. 

It is clear that Paul is not talking about physical death.  To begin with Paul tells his readers that they have already died and dead people don’t tend to read very well and, more importantly, it can’t be physical death because when a person dies in that sense the state of their salvation is forever set.  As it says in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…”

So if it’s not physical death, what is Paul talking about?  Oddly, it isn’t even our own death, at least not originally or primarily for because it is all about the death of Jesus because Paul says we died to the law through the body of Jesus but that might not exactly make Paul’s point any clearer. 

What it looks like Paul meant was that the penalty for breaking the law is ultimately death.  That is disobeying God is sin and sin inevitably leads to death just as it says earlier in Romans, “The wages of sin is death…” [Rom 6:23]  But God, loving us perfectly an unconditionally, was not willing to leave us in such a state and so rescued us in the only way possible, In 1 Peter, Peter said it like this, “Jesus himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”  [1 Peter 2:24]  So while we did die, the only reason why it released us from the law is that Jesus took our punishment for us and we freely received the blessings He earned. 

And that brings us back to our original question, “Are we a free from God’s law?”  The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”  Our salvation is set and nothing and no one can separate us from Jesus.  Does that mean we can break God’s law and still be saved? Essentially, yes we can.  For us to say otherwise make the gospel law and ruins everything.  There is no sin we could commit that would cause God to permanently cast us away from Him. We do not, cannot, seek to make our relationship with God right by obeying the law because Jesus already made it right. 

This seems both too good to be true and dangerous in that it seems to encourage people to sin or at least make disobeying the law irrelevant.  Well, it is indeed too good to be true and thank God it is!  But it will not lead us to sin because we are new creations living new lives freed from sin’s tyrannical grip. 

Because we died and were raised in Jesus, it means we belong to Him and He is our Lord and Master.  As we will learn later, we are the slaves of Jesus.  While we have been fully set free from the law, we were not set free without a purpose.  Paul says that we set free in order that we bear fruit for God. 

This revelation seems to give us the opposite answer to our question, “Are we a free from God’s law?”  If Jesus is God then aren’t His commands God’s laws?  If so then how could we be free from them?  Is this a paradox?    

Perhaps it might help us to try to get an understanding of what Paul meant by bearing fruit.  Jesus spoke about it during the Sermon on the Mount as reported in Matthew 7.  Jesus said, “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”  I ask you to note the absolutes in Jesus’ teaching. There don’t appear to be any exceptions.  If we are saved we will do good works for God. 

How then are we free from the law?  Paul’s says that we are released from living in our flesh and having our old selves being aroused by the law.  He means that we no longer live like people who have not been brought to life in Jesus for they are controlled by their sinful natures to want the very things God has forbidden in His law and, sadly, cannot do otherwise.  The people Jesus has set free, however, willingly give up control of their selves to Jesus their master.

We are also set free form yet another danger the law brings.  Merely being aware of the law can make us think we can obey it due to our pride.  We might even be tempted to think while we know we can’t perfectly obey the law, we can obey it good enough and certainly more all those other people who are clearly worse than ourselves. 

So given that law seems to lead us to death and temptation, does the problem lay with the law itself?  Given that the law was given to us by God Himself, the answer is an obvious, “No.” The law is holy and righteous and good because it is God’s and it is by the law we were all forced to see how desperately we needed Jesus to forgive us.  And the law continues to have a purpose for even for those that Jesus has saved because it shows us how God expects us to live. 

And living for God is the answer to solving the paradox we have talking about, as we will hopefully come to see but before we get there Paul tells us that now that we have been freed from the law, we serve in the new way of the Spirit. We were not freed so we could stop obeying God and just look out for our own pleasure, but freed so that we could serve God in whole new way, a way to is superior to the ways of the law in all possible ways.  We are free to serve out of love for the righteous fear of the law has been forever banished. 

We can see this in what else Paul tells about the law.  He said that the law made him aware of his sin, in Paul’s case it was covetousness, but it could be anything.  Simply looking to our community provides any number of examples. Many people think it is a good thing to have sexual relations before marriage and without the Word of God clearly defining it as a sin it would be hard to convince them otherwise because they are being told that which they deeply desire is wrong even if it looks like no one is getting hurt and it brings pleasure. 

One thing that is important for us to realize is that it is possible, even very probable, that many people are simply unaware of their sin.  If it can happen to Paul, who was ignorant of the true intent of God’s law even though he nearly perfectly knew the letter of the law, it can happen to anyone.

Upon being confronted by our sin, there is only one way to deal with it righteously, die to it in Jesus.   When we see that our sin is exceedingly sinful, we also see there’s no other choice than Jesus because left on our own we end up in the same place, sinning and being drawn to yet more sin no matter how hard we might try to get away from it. 

But for those that Jesus has freed from the law have received the ultimate gift because it answers our question, “Are we a free from God’s law?”  Yes we are free because the law has done its purpose, it killed us.  We died in Jesus.

Now anything that Jesus commands us to do, we do not from a desire to obey God so as to avoid the penalty of death but out of faith to our master.  We bear fruit for God and serve the Spirit by living a life free from fear of judgment because Jesus already bore our sins for us. While there are likely times we might look to our lives to see how well we are serving God, we don’t want that to ever lead us to fear we have done too little to be saved because if we died with Jesus we are saved.   

And so my beloved I leave you with this: Have no fear for we are free in Jesus.

6/21

Romans 6:12-23
A Short Walk along the Romans Road – Who Is My Master?

If these past few months have taught us anything, they have taught us we are not as in control as we might wish to be.  Who could have guessed our very own church would tell us not come and worship together?  And yet we choose to do it because we felt that the consequences of not doing so could harm our loved ones, showing that we do have at least some control over our actions if nothing else.

The part we read out of Romans seems to talk about this. Paul makes some pretty bold statements about whom or what has authority over our lives and while some of it is uplifting, not all of it is.

We are going to start a new sermon series called, “A Short Walk along Romans Road.”  The Romans Road is a saying you might have heard of before.  It is way to explain the Good News of salvation using verses from the Book of Romans. It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation. 

The section we exploring today is about control.  Indeed, it forces us to ask ourselves a hard but vital question, “Who Is My Master?”  It is a hard question because they are exactly two answers and it is a vital question because how we answer it determines our eternity.

Paul starts us off with a command that seems impossible, “Do not sin.” Simply living one day shows we cannot do this.  Jesus’ teaching about murder and lust shows us that when we are told not to sin it includes our thoughts, not only our physical actions.  Who here has gone a whole day without judging someone unfairly? Or who here can love everyone to greatest extent possible every waking moment?

Reflecting on things like that might make us lose hope, but this command carries with it some Good News, but first, the bad news.  The unsaved have no choice to disobey Paul’s command.  Sin is their master and there’s no escaping it.

Such doomed state is rarely obvious and is in truth rather confusing.  Most people, Christians and non-Christians alike, live at least a relatively good life.  They love their friends and family and try to treat others with respect so long as it is not too costly.  Some even dedicate their lives to causes without much gain to themselves. 

But such shows the power of the deception of sin.  Many times it doesn’t look wrong.  Sometimes it can even look good and, to a person under sin’s dominion, sin can even look more moral than God’s law because God’s law can look harshly judgmental to outsiders.

But the people that have been saved by Jesus are not under sin’s control no matter how it may look.  We are not bound to our old sin nature.  We can choose to not sin.  Sometimes making that choice seems beyond our abilities, but we are never forced to disobey God.  When we received the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross, we became new creations and so started a new life, a life that was free from being under sin’s tyranny.

However, if that’s true, and it is true, then why or why do keep on sinning? Paul explains this dilemma by telling us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies.  By mortal bodies Paul is acknowledging we still live in on this sin corrupted world in a sin corrupted bodies.  While we are free from being a slave to sin, we are not free from its influence. We are weak.  Sometimes we just let sin have its way in our lives.

And while our sin is never justified it is always forgiven. Actually any sin you commit in the future has already been forgiven.  We are children of God.  We have eternal life.  Our bouts of momentary weakness do not negate that at all.  We must always keep that truth in our heart and minds, especially given what Paul is about to say.

He tells us to not to present our members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but to use them for God.  In other words, we are not to sin with any part of our body.  Our tongues should offer up words of love to God and all other people.  Our hands and arms should be clasped in prayer and used to embrace and help others. Our feet should bring us to whoever needs encouragement or salvation.  Our eyes and ears should be taking in the Word of God and the rest of His blessings at every opportunity. 

Now upon hearing such a command, we might be tempted to despair, for who could ever life a life like that consistently?  But Paul is there for us.  He said two things.  First, sin will not have dominion over you and, second, we are not under law but under grace.  These of some of the sweetest words we will ever hear.

As for the first part, sin has no control over us, it helps to not think of it as a command, but a promise.  Jesus is our Lord, not sin.  He bought us with His blood and nothing can snatch us away from Him.  Note that Paul did not say that sin would be absent from our lives, only that it would not be our master. 

And second part, we are under grace not law, shows how we were saved in the first place.  God’s law cannot save us. The wonderful thing about the Good News is that we do not have to try to obey God’s law to earn anything from God because He has already given us all we need due solely to His overflowing grace.     

However, even with all those uplifting truths, there is another side. Can other people, especially people that are not saved, see that sin has no control over our lives?  Do we react to stress with love or hostility?  Do we complain when things don’t go our way or do we keep thanking God and remain content?  Do we live our lives for God and His glory or do we live to ensure our comfort?

And, likewise, while we might easily accept we are under grace, do we treat others similarly?  Do we see them as loved by God every bit as much as we are?  Do we forgive as easily as God has forgiven us or do we want them to pay for the wrong things that they did if only a little bit?

These struggles a very real and ongoing problem in our lives, but even in our struggles we stand forgiven.  But given that that forgiveness is absolutely assured, why is sin even a problem?  We sin and God forgives.  Problem solved. 

Paul already dealt with a side to this early in this same chapter.  There he said we must not continue to in sin, meaning, as people saved and made new by Jesus we will not sin without repentance. Really, that’s no shocking news. If you willing and continually live like Jesus isn’t your Lord without even trying to change, then maybe Jesus isn’t really your Lord.

But Paul speaks about another kind of sinning here.  It is not the continual and directly purposeful sinful lifestyle like Paul talked about before, but the occasional and regretful sins that all Christians commit.  While these sins can still be deliberate, they are more committed due to weakness than a strong desire to do what you want despite what God commands.       

While that might make it seems like these types of sins are therefore less evil, Paul rids us of that dangerous notion because he says that all sin, even the supposedly minor ones, can lead us away from righteousness and to death. Of course we need to be careful how we understand this.  Committing just one sin will not automatically bring an end to our salvation.  But nonetheless, we can only obey one master and there’s only two to chose from.  We can obey our sinful appetites or we can obey Jesus.

In one sense there is a choice here because we can choose to disobey Jesus, but in another sense we have no choice because we will be slaves to one master or another.  In our lives this might look like committing ourselves to doing what Jesus told us to do no matter how we personally feel about it, whereas in the life of someone who is not saved, this slavery can be seen in different ways. 

Sometimes people live obviously destructive lifestyles but just can’t seem to stop doing the things that are clearly hurting them.  But other times, the slavery is harder to see.  Maybe it is someone doing what they think is the loving thing and which doesn’t seem to harming anyone, but is against the Word of God. When someone does that they are declaring their self to be God because they are acting as if they know more than Him and that inevitably leads to death.  We do not need to understand God to obey Him.

After telling us the harsh news that we are all slaves to one master or another, Paul again tells us some Good News, our master is not sin for now Jesus is our master.  All those warnings about death and sin bring no fear because we belong to God.  We do not obey Jesus out of a fear of him leaving us or us losing our forgiveness.  We obey Jesus from our hearts.  We love Jesus and do what He told us to do because of that.  It is an act or worship and thanks. 

And also see that Paul mentioned that the people he was writing to were obeying the teaching they had learned.  That is something we cannot forget.  The commands of Jesus are not always ones we would think of on our own or be led to by society.  People must be taught the commands of God. 

Whenever we have the blessed opportunity to help lead someone to Jesus, our work has just begun for there is lifetime of teaching left.  And note the order there.  Salvation comes first and then, and only then, can teaching people about Jesus lead to righteousness.  Teaching people about Jesus before they are saved is good necessary but knowledge alone cannot save anyone.  Once a person has faith in Jesus, then His teachings can help them become more and more righteous.  If we teach the unsaved about Jesus and expected righteousness to come about it would be as if we told a slave to not act like a slave.     

And the teachings of Jesus go well beyond just leading someone to salvation because no matter how long you have been following Jesus, there is always more to learn and plenty of room to grow into being more like Jesus and there’s no source other about the teaching of God than the Bible as only it can make us complete, equipped for every good work.

Paul then gives one more warning and encouragement about the master we choose to follow.  He said that if we choose lawlessness it will lead to more lawlessness.  This can be clearly seen in our lives.  The first time you do something wrong, it might lay you low with guilt, but the hundredth time you do it your conscience might not even notice it.  Indeed, you might even come to desire doing it again. 

However there is an opposite side to this progression.  There ingrained you are in God, the more your life will reflect it. When we know the Word of God well, it will be guide in times of suffering and temptation.  When we continually act out of love, then we will tend to do so as our first response even in times of stress. 

And perhaps the best way to ensure this is never doubt what Paul said multiple times in different ways in the section.  Sin will have no dominion over you.  You who were once slaves of sin.  You have become slaves of God.  Note the tenses in those promises. We were slave to sin but now we are slaves of God. The reality is that we are saved right here and now.

And so my beloved I leave you with this: Jesus has saved us and so He made Himself our master.

6/14

Ephesians 2:8-22

Jesus and the World – The Same Problem

6/7

Acts 2:14, 22-41

Jesus and the World – God’s Plan

Sometimes it seems like making plans for our lives is like trying to nail jello to a tree.  We carefully think things out and try to ensure we will have what we need and then, all of the sudden, life happens.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying the all the unplanned things that we experience are bad, because many times they are quite wonderful. Other times, though, they are devastating. 

Think about my life about eight or so years ago.  I was pretty satisfied with where my life was going.  I was busy doing what enjoyed, teaching and hanging out with the people I loved.  Because I was a bachelor, people took pity on me and fed me.  My ministries at church, mostly drama and prayer, took a lot of time, but I had a lot of free time too.  I was almost done with seminary and was really looking forward to becoming a pastor. 

If you would have asked me back then what the next five or ten years would look like, I think I would have definitely said being a pastor in the area and maybe, just maybe, being married.  And then I met a stunningly beautiful woman named Juli who had three wonderful children and I saw, once again, God’s plan are not my plans, but I also saw that it was all the better for me.  My marriage and children have brought me more blessings than I thought possible.

And then just two months ago all that changed. Juli, my beloved wife, died. I am still at a loss at what to do or what my life is going to look like in the future. 

My plans for my life were not God had in store for me.  While God’s plans for our lives will ultimately be better than anything we could ever imagine, they do not come without cost and we might not see the good in this life.

We are going to continue with our sermon series called Jesus and the World where will be exploring what happens when Jesus comes into the world and into our lives.  That is what happens when people’s plans and God’s come together.  Our story comes from the Book of Acts.  Well, it sorta does.  You might also say it comes from two of the Psalms of David.  You’ll see.

Out story begins in the midst of speech that was given by Peter to a group of thousands of people at the great temple during Pentecost just moments after he received the Holy Spirit.  Just before Peter begin to speak the people had heard a great noise, like the rushing of a mighty wind so that their attention was immediately and forcefully drawn to him and the people hearing Peter speak heard him in their native language. Clearly something miraculous was coming to pass in their very midst…

When I read Peter’s words, the direct and confrontational nature shocks me. It seems in our age we talk a lot about the love of Jesus, but how odd is it that Peter never mentions that that love? I am not at all saying we ought not to talk frequently about the love of Jesus because we are told that Jesus came to us because He loved us to the greatest extent possible in that He gave His life for us, but I am asking you to mediate on the nature of what Peter talks about. Everything he says is centered on Jesus and what Jesus did and what the Father did for Jesus and what very people Peter was speaking to did to Jesus.  However, we dare not miss what happens after Peter’s speech because that is about love, even if that word is not used. 

Peter began by saying he was talking to the men of Judea and anyone else in Judea.  In other words Peter was telling his listeners that Jesus was for everyone, Jews and gentiles alike.  It seems like Peter was beginning to understand the all encompassing nature of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus died and rose again so that all may die and rise again in Him.

And Peter firmly, yet respectfully, told the people that what he was about to say was true and there was not a reasonable doubt it was not so because there was no other logical conclusion. 

Peter said that God had given ample evidence of just who Jesus through the means of miracles done in the presence of multitudes.  Jesus had fed thousands more than once with food that should have only been enough for one.  He healed so many people so often and so flawlessly that He had to come to towns in secret so that He would not be mobbed by people.  He raised Lazarus from the dead.  There was no doubt about these events, not even from the enemies of Jesus. 

While mentioning those acts might have brought fond memories to the crowd, what Peter said next would break their hearts and Peter knew it would, but that did not stop him from speaking for it was the truth and the people need to hear it for their souls were at stake.

Peter said that Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God and this is where we begin to get our first glimpse of what happens when our plans and God’s plans come together.   

While the people had a hand in Jesus’ death, something that Paul will soon confront them with, from the beginning the death of Jesus was first and foremost God’s plan.  It was mentioned in the Garden of Eden during the Fall.  Jesus repetitively told His disciples He going to die and rise again. And, as we will see, God’s prophets spoke of it long before it occurred and the people would have seen it if only they had been open to God’s truth.  In a sense, the death and resurrection of Jesus was resolved by God before it ever took place.  It was perfectly certain to occur, just as certain as God Himself. 

However, Jesus’ death did not come from inaction.  He was intentionally killed by the people.  This is where we see the other half of what happens when our plans and God’s plans meet. 

Peter had already showed us that God’s plans will always come true and there is no stopping them, but now he is saying that God’s plans come sometimes come true through the hands of people, even people that want nothing to do with helping God.

Peter confronted the people he was talking to with the fact that they were guilty of the death of Jesus.  They were a part reason Jesus was crucified.  Yet, because Peter said it was all God’s plan for Jesus to die first and the people listening to him kill Jesus second, it shows that the people were under God’s power the entire time. 

While Peter’s words are clear, the ramifications of them are staggering.  It is exceedingly likely that none of the people in that crowd were the people that actually drove the nails in Jesus hand and it was not likely that many of them that had been the people cried “Crucify Him!” to Pilate at the urging of the Pharisees, but they were still guilty of Jesus death.  How can then could they be responsible?

The people listening to Peter, and you and me and everyone else, have broken God’s law and cannot pay the penalty for those violations on our own. However, God still loves us and wants us to be with Him for all eternity and so sent His Son to die for us so that cost we incurred might be paid in full.  Had we obeyed God, there would not have been a reason for Jesus to die.  So while most of the people in the crowd were not guilty of crucifying Jesus in a direct sense, they, like all of us, were guilty in a spiritual sense.

There also another possible problem.  If God is in control and His plan can never be derailed, the how could the people Paul was speaking to be held accountable for their actions?  Here Peter unmistakably tells people are guilty even though God’s will cannot be thwarted.  People can freely choose to disobey God and when they do so they are not being compelled by God to do so.  Even if the terrible things that people do can be used for the glory of God, it will never make those evil acts good.  While the meeting of God’s and people’s plans might be confusing when it comes to guilt, Peter leaves no room for excuses.

After forcing the people to come face to face with their crime against God, Paul begins to bring in the Good News by telling them that was impossible for Jesus to stay dead.  Indeed, Paul tells us God Himself raised Jesus from the dead. 

Peter proves this by referring to the Scriptures the people had at the time, the Old Testament.  Peter quotes a psalm of David, Psalm 16.  Peter says David was speaking about Jesus in that psalm which shows us once again the depth and the power of God’s Word.  When David wrote this about 1000 years before Jesus became a man he was writing it about somewhat himself, but by power of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David was speaking a truth he did not know would one day come to pass.

Peter, through the words of David, tells us more about Jesus.  Through the words of the Psalm Jesus said the Lord was before Him and at His right hand, meaning the Jesus knew that His Father was with Him always and would empower Him to do all that was necessary for God’s plan to be done and given what Peter has been concentrating on so far, it seems Jesus had these things in mind even in regards to His crucifixion.  Jesus even said He rejoiced in it.

That might seem incomprehensible, to find joy in such a brutal, unjust ordeal but it was so both because Jesus knew it was necessary if God’s plan for people to be saved were to come true and He knew that His death was temporary because He knew His Father would not let Him stay dead.  Jesus’ body would not see corruption meaning that it wouldn’t even have time to begin to rot. 

Peter then said that all the people listening to Him knew this was true because though the psalm was written by and somewhat about David, the psalm never found its ultimate fulfillment in David because David did die and was buried and, far more importantly, the people listening to Peter were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. In some cases, as with Peter and the other disciples, people had actually seen and interacted with the risen Lord. 

In other cases, as with the people in the crown and us, the evidence was strong enough that no one could rightly deny it.  Too many people had seen the resurrected Jesus too many times to have it be a hallucination.  There was nothing for the disciples to gain from lying except persecution and even death. 

Peter then quotes another of David’s psalms, Psalm 110, bringing his teaching to a glorious conclusion.  Peter kept building his case about God’s ultimate plan.  Jesus did miracles to prove that He was sent by God to fulfill the Father’s plans.  Jesus was killed by evil men according to God’s plan.  Jesus came back from the dead because it was never God’s plan for Him to stay dead.  And now the final part that shows why Jesus was able to do all these things.

Peter, quoting David who was speaking about Jesus in the Psalm, said “The Lord said to my Lord…”  David is saying that God spoke to one who was superior to David himself.  Who could be superior to David who was the king?  None but God.  To put it another way David said that God spoke to another being as though that person were God. 

And to crowd’s dismay Peter said Jesus was that man.  Jesus was God.       

Peter’s sermon ends there, but thankfully the account of this story doesn’t. The people were cut to the heart and asked Peter want they could do and Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus and they did, about 3,000 of them.

And that final part is part of God plan and is the God’s ultimate desire for all men.  When our plans meet God’s plans we know that God’s plan will come to pass but that doesn’t mean our plans are irrelevant for our plan can be for God to be glorified. God has given us the honor to participate in His plans.

We can read and meditate on His Word.  We can pray.  We can help others.  We can teach other about Jesus.  Whatever talents God has blessed you with can be used in God’s plan.

And so my beloved I leave you with this: God’s plan is for all us to be saved in Jesus.

5/31

John 7:37-43

Jesus and the World: Division

Have you ever had a disagreement with someone where you discovered that you were wrong but still didn’t give in and instead kept up the argument and looked for a loophole that would prove that you were right after all?

When Juli, my family and I moved to St Louis for my seminary education we met many generous people, one of whom gave us a washer and dryer.  One of my professors said we could borrow his truck to pick them up so Juli and I drove to his house in our little black car to get the truck.

I figured the best way to go and get the washer and dryer would be to have Juli put the address in her phone and drive there our car while I would follow her in the truck, though Juli convinced me to put the address in phone just in case. 

If you’re paying attention you might see a flaw in my thinking.  Anyway, I followed Juli for a bit and we came to a stop light with two lanes and suddenly Juli shot off into the other lane and went through the green light, leaving me stuck in the other lane.  By the time I made to the stop light it turned red. 

At that point I began to get upset.  I could not figure out why she did that.  But I figured she’d stop and let me catch up.  But I never saw her and so getting angrier by the minute, I started the directions on my phone and followed those.  Some of you might now more fully see my initial mistake.

I was so mad that she left me that I very seriously considered just going home and leaving her to figure out the problem on her own.  Never mind if I actually did that I would basically be stealing my professor’s truck. 

I eventually got to where we were to get the washer and dryer and saw Juli. She saw my face and told me she thought I had been behind her and only saw that I wasn’t after quite a while.  I told her I obviously wasn’t behind her. Then she said she never understood why we drove two vehicles in the first place.

The logical part of my mind knew she was right on all counts.  Juli would never have ditched me on purpose and she was correct that it would have been far easier for her just join me in the truck, but my anger would not let me see that.  Somehow I thought that was right, but I just couldn’t see how to prove it. 

I once heard a marriage counselor say “The hardest things to forgive your spouse for is forgiving them for being right.”  I found the truth of that statement that day.

However, arguing over what seem to be obvious is something that has been happening for a very long time.  Indeed Jesus would experience it over and over again as seen the people He encountered. So with that in mind we will start a new sermon series about some of the things Jesus saw as He interacted with the world.  It’s called, Jesus and the World.  This morning we will see how Jesus had a tendency to cause division.

It all started when Jesus stood up and spoke.  He was very likely speaking these words in the Great Temple and so would have been seen and heard by the many thousands of people attending the great feast, some of whom wanted to kill Him.  Indeed, some of the people had tried to kill Him during the feats just a few days earlier but failed, only because Jesus’ hour had not yet come. 

Jesus, knowing what it would one day cost Him, cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

While Jesus was superficially only talking about water, he was really trying to teach about salvation and was doing so in a way that would have shocked all that heard Him.  Jesus directly said that people should come to Him.  He did not tell them to go to God and the significance of that cannot be overstated.

Imagine if you were listening to a pastor you thought to be wise and knowledgeable about God at a church service and during prayer time he said, “Bring all of your worries to me personally and I will personally see that all of them are met.” At best such a person would be deluded and worst they would be trying to make their self like God.  Jesus’ statement here is no less shocking. 

But there’s even more to what Jesus said.  When He said “If anyone thirsts...” Jesus did not put any restrictions on who could come to Him.  To the Jews listening to Him that meant that even gentiles, who the Jews thought were all a bunch of godless idolaters, could come to Jesus and be accepted. 

While that gentile thing might not mean much to us, think about it this way. Think of the worst most evil people that ever been, those people that viciously hurt all those around without remorse.  They too are included in this invitation.

Or to make it more personal, think of the person that hurt you the most. Jesus is calling them to Himself so that their thirst might be satisfied.  Jesus’ invitation is unlike anything the world offers. 

But there is something else here too.  Jesus said that a person has to thirst in order to come to Him and drink.  That is a person must acknowledge their need. Jesus was not going to force people to satisfy their thirst so in that sense it is a rather narrow invitation. While everyone is thirsty for the water Jesus freely offers, few will admit it to God or their selves their desperate state. 

Then, seemingly to remove any doubt that Jesus was not really talking about water but instead teaching about faith, and, more crucially, His vital role in salvation.

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

By telling them to believe in Him Jesus was commanding the people to have faith in Him. Jesus was unmistakably, yet one more time, directly revealing that He was God because no good, sane person other than God could command such a thing. 

For the Jews, the First Commandment completely rejected such a possibility, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  To have faith in anything other than God would violate this law yet here Jesus was telling them to do that very thing.

And while that whole “rivers of living water” thing might be hard for us to understand, don’t worry because, John, as lead by the Holy Spirit, directly tells us what Jesus meant.  Those who believed in Jesus were to receive the Holy Spirit in time.  Upon our salvation God Himself, the Holy Spirit, comes to us just as Jesus would later say, “We will come and make our home with each of them.“ [John 14:23]  Such a truth is one we mediate on for 10,000 years and still never fully realize the extent we have been blessed.

But what Jesus said here goes beyond even that because He also said all those that have the Holy Spirit, meaning every saved person without exception, will have living water flow out of them.  So here Jesus is not talking about God coming into a person, but God’s truth and love and grace flowing out of them.  So we not only receive a blessing, the Holy Spirit, but we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become a blessing to others. 

This seems to say that if we are saved we will spread the Good News that saved us.  Of course we do not so on our own because at the same time we have the Holy Spirit compelling us to tell others about the forgiveness He won for us on the cross the Holy Spirit is there working on the hearts of the people to whom we speak.   

While this might make our salvation seem like it is dependent on works, nothing could be further from the truth.  After we are saved we become new creations and new creations, by definition, lead new lives.  When Jesus purchased us with His blood, we became His forever.  Just a moment ago I said that Jesus told us that God will dwell in us but at the same time Jesus said such thing would happen to those who obey His teaching. 

Don’t get me wrong here.  I am not saying that we obey and then God dwells in us.  God dwells in and then, and only then, can we obey and that is because the Gospel supplies it own needs.  In other words, Jesus commands us what to do and then gives us the power to do it.

The people who heard Jesus began to talk among themselves.  Some said He was the Prophet, meaning they thought He was the person who would come just before the Christ announcing the coming of the Lord. Others said Jesus was the Christ Himself, the one sent by God to save them.  But others though Jesus couldn’t be the Christ because that man had to come from Galilee apparently ignorant that Jesus was from city of Nazareth which is in the land of Galilee.

While the exact arguments the people were making for and against Jesus are worthy of study, note two things.  One, the people didn’t seem to discussing what Jesus said and, two, there was a division and Jesus was at the heart of it. 

The things people were rejecting Jesus for were of less importance than what Jesus was revealing.  Jesus was talking about salvation and the people were talking about birth places. It shows that sometimes people will reject Jesus for reasons that have nothing to do with what Jesus said. 

It’s like when I got upset with Juli.  She didn’t do anything wrong, but I still found fault even though all the problems were on me. 

Some people say that Christianity is wrong because Christians are terrible people.  Let’s say the Christians are terrible, what does that have do with Jesus?  Jesus is the One who saves and the One who claimed to be God so it is to Him that people should come.  While we Christians should certainly try to be as like Jesus as possible we will fail, but Jesus never will. 

But we should always expect such problems when it comes to Jesus just as it happened in the story we read.  There was a division and it wasn’t a minor or peaceful one.  Some of the people wanted to lay hands on Jesus to arrest or even kill Him.

Jesus could hardly have spoken more clearly nor could what He revealed been more wonderful nor could it have been easier for anyone to receive, so the division was in the hearts of the people.  Jesus once said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matt 10:34]

That sounds dire, and it is, but the division was between people and other people and not between people and God.  Jesus came to bridge the division between God and people and He perfectly did that by taking away our sins through His death on the cross.  Without Jesus there would have always have been an insurmountable division between us and God but now that division is forever gone because we are forgiven. 

And knowing just how weak we are, Jesus went even further.  He even sent the Holy Spirit to live in us so that by the Spirit we may be the fountains of living water He told us to be and so that we might live in a holy relationship with God now and forever.

And so my beloved I leave you with this: We are united with God.

5/24

1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11

 

How to Live for God Even if You’re Not Perfect.  Remember Your End!

I’m sure most of you have heard the saying, “The ends justify the means.”  Do you think that is true?  Do the ends justify the mean?  I’d say that just thinking about it for a moment shows it to be false because the manner in which we do things is just as important as the outcome of what we do.

Any number of people have done bad things and tried to justify them by saying the end result would be better for themselves or the country.  For example, providing for your family is a respectable goal but would not justify lying and stealing to do so.

So let’s change the focus a bit.  Instead let’s try this one, “Does the end make the means tolerable for the individual?”  That makes more sense.  We have all done things and continue to do things we don’t exactly enjoy but do them anyway because the result justifies the unpleasantness.

For a very current example, take baby Susie.  I don’t relish changing her what sometimes seems like hundreds of times a day nor does being woken up by her cries fill me with glee, but I love her and so, in a sense, joyfully do what needs to be done because in the end I will hopefully end up with a happy baby. 

Anyway, what we read from 1 Peter this morning seems to have something like what we have been talking about in mind.  You could even say Peter presents a solution to suffering, but for us to fully live it out we would have to be perfect, but, alas, most of us aren’t. So let’s go on with our sermon series, How to Live for God Even if You’re Not Perfect.  Remember Your End!

Here in 1 Peter, Peter, rather bluntly, speaks about the inevitability of suffering and how it can be made more tolerable when we view it with our eternity in mind.  But that is only one part of his revelation on suffering.  He also talks about one of the primary causes of our suffering and about what happens when ungodly people suffer. 

Peter starts us off by saying something we already know, we will go through fiery trials.  Here, Paul is speaking about righteous suffering.  That is the difficult circumstances we go through because we stand up for the truth that Jesus and the Bible reveal even when the world tries to coerce us to just do as they are doing.  Certainly we live through other hard conditions, but I don’t think that’s what Peter is talking about here.

However, Peter also reveals something we might not have considered, when we experience these ordeals, we are sharing in Christ’s suffering.  Think about that for a moment.  It means so much!

To start with, it means Jesus Himself suffered.  Our God suffered and He did so that we, his children, might be forgiven and live forever with Him.  And because of that, we can know that our God knows what it is like to be like one of us. And just like none of the sufferings Jesus went through were meaningless, nothing that hurts us is without purpose, though we might not always come to know why we experience pain in this life.

Oddly, Peter even tells us to rejoice and be glad when we undergo trials for Jesus’ sake.  Be happy when we are in pain?  Given none of us have perfect faith, it seems like a hard request for us to fulfill.  And improperly understood it is.  We do not rejoice when we suffer because the pain doesn’t somehow actually hurt, but we rejoice because by suffering we are becoming more like Jesus by living a life like His.  And, again like it says of Jesus in Hebrews 5:8, we can learn obedience through what we suffer. 

Peter then gives us an ominous promise, but at the same time is comforting one.  Peter tells us that it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.  This judgment can take more than one form.  It could refer to being judged by the world. Now, to be sure, some of the ways in which the world judges us are not righteous.  They might think it is wrong for us to say Jesus is the only way to be saved, but we will not change to so earn their approval for that.

However, there are times we are rightly judged by the world.  As Christians, we claim God has commanded us to live in certain ways, such as we must help others, and if the world sees us living selfishly and rebukes us for it, we must accept that because they are right. 

There is another side to this judgment and that is God’s.  To be judged by God can be a terrifying ordeal for He knows everything in out hearts.  Every single thing.  Like it says in Hebrews, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Yet for us Christians, we will not be judged for what is our hearts or our works.  We will be judged through the blood of Jesus.  The life He gave for us on the cross brought our salvation.  Our eternal life with Him is as sure as the fact that He died and rose again. 

That eternal life also helps give us perspective on this life because this life is the last and only suffering we will ever know.  In the life to come God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.   

However, Peter shows something else we already know, the ungodly will experience something far different.  And I would say that is true both in this life and the next.  When someone that doesn’t know Jesus as their Lord suffers in this life, what can they think?  They could see their pain as purposeless and there’d be no denying that. If there is no God in control of everything, then there either there is no reason for anything. Or you can make up whatever reason you want, but both of those are really the same thing, meaninglessness.    

But there is something coming for the ungodly that is far worse than suffering without purpose in this life and that is suffering in hell in the life to come. Whatever hell is, it would seem that Peter is saying that it is worse than the worst thing we have ever gone through here in this life and that alone is too terrible to truly comprehend.   

And yet it is true and that Jesus compels us to go to these people.  Like Peter goes on to say, we are to be humble. We see and know that we not saved for anything we did or will do but only because Jesus cares for us.  That helps us to see that we are no better than any of those ungodly people.  Indeed without the Holy Spirit bringing us to faith in Jesus we would be no different. They have no defense against the spiritual attack of the enemy.

Peter gives the adversary a name, the Devil, and that he is seeking to devour us. And while the devil is vastly more powerful and wiser than us, we never need have anxiety about him what so ever because do not face him on our own.  Peter tells us all we have to do is resist him and be firm in our faith and the battle is won because the Devil doesn’t fight us but Jesus.  And that’s not even a fight.  Jesus and the Devil are not in any way two persons locked in a titanic struggle.  Jesus already beat the devil through the cross.  And one day Jesus is going to squash him like a bug.

Also, when you read about the Devil in the Scriptures, you might notice something peculiar.  Over and over again we told flee from sin and temptation, but when it comes to the enemy we are told to stand our ground and to never flee.  Peter tells about our part, be firm in our faith, James [4:7], however, tells us what the Devil does when we do that, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” 

It reminds me of a story about a preacher with the supremely awesome name of Smith Wigglesworth.  He once told this story about him and his wife, Polly.  "We were sleeping one night, when the manifestation of evil filled the room and the spirit of fear gripped both of us. Polly was so frightened she could not open her eyes. I suddenly sat up, in the bed, and saw the devil. I rubbed my eyes to be sure, it was him. I said, ‘Oh! It's only you.' I then turned to Polly and told her to go back to sleep, it was nothing of consequence, and I laid my head back down. Suddenly an overwhelming sense of peace and love filled the room and we had the most blessed sleep ever."

We might be tempted to think that we might not be able to do the things we have been talking.  Like we might find our fiery trials too painful to rejoice in or we might be at least a tiny bit fearful to face the Devil himself.  In short, we might see we are nowhere near perfect enough to do such wonderful works.

But before you think that way, look at what Peter said “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  That means that while people like Peter clearly did some glorious works for God and had great faith, none of the people in the Bible are somehow inherently better than anyone else.  We are all the same.  We are cared for by the God of all grace.  We have all been called to eternal glory in Christ. 

And it is in speaking about that glory that Peter ends his letter but he does so in manner that is both realistic and sobering.  Peter says we will suffer and he never holds back when it comes to telling us what to expect about suffering.  We will suffer and there is no way of getting out of it. That is truth we all need to know because if we somehow had in our heads being a Christian means we were supposed to suffer less we would be at a loss when we do suffer.  Maybe we’d think we weren’t really saved or God is punishing us or God’s not really in control.  But when know what Peter knew, that we must suffer, we can face it knowing we are still loved and God is still almighty even given our pain.

Recall the question I asked way back in the beginning, “Does the end make the means tolerable for the individual?”  For us Christian, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Peter says after have suffered a little while God Himself will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us.  While these things have happened in part now, the day is coming when they will happen in full. 

We have been restored.  We are now sinless because Jesus took our sins onto Himself.  And one day we will made perfect.  We will be like Adam and Eve in the garden having a perfect life and perfect relationship with God. 

We have been confirmed, meaning that our salvation is fixed on God and therefore unshakable and unmovable and perfectly guaranteed.  And when our eternal glorious lives begin we know that they are just as perfectly sure to last forever.   

We have been strengthened, meaning that the Almighty God of the universe has empowered us by His strength and nothing and no one else comes even close to Him.  We are strong now and one day will be perfectly strong forever able to rise above fear and doubt and sin.   

We have been established, meaning that our foundation is in Jesus and Him crucified and resurrected.  The Devil and the world can rage and storm at us with all their strength for they powerless to Jesus.  We will stand in Him perfectly and forever.  And one day all that evil will be gone never to bother us again. 

So my beloved, I leave you with this: God will always strengthen us in the 

5/17

1 Peter 3:13-22

How to Live for God Even if You’re Not Perfect. I Don’t Understand.

Before Jesus saved me I was, to put it kindly, somewhat prone to being argumentative.  Finding the flaws with anyone who disagreed with me was something I enjoyed and I disagreed with lots and lots of people. 

For the most part I figured that if something didn’t make sense to me, then it was simply false.  I am not saying that even at the height of my arrogance I thought that I knew everything because I was well aware that there plenty of people who knew more than I did about various subjects.  For example, I was willing to trust doctors and mechanics about my body and car because they knew far more about those things than I did.

But when it come to more philosophical concepts, such as the nature of truth and reality, I thought that if ran across someone that thought fundamentally different than me the fault lie with their understanding and not with mine.

So when I first started going to church back in 2004 or so, I had a lot of questions.  Is the story about Adam and Eve really true?  Did the whole Noah and the ark thing really happen?  Did Jesus really do all those miraculous things the Bible says He did?

Back then I was more of a materialist.  That is for the most part I believed only in what could be proven by science.  So when I read about all the events in the Bible, I rejected them as impossible because I thought they violated the laws of reality.

The stories about Jesus raising people from the dead were made up and the stories about demon possession only showed that the people back then didn’t have our understanding of psychiatry.  Even as I began to see just how right Jesus was about the way the world truly was and even I saw just as clearly how I saw that I was unable to live like Jesus told us to, those stories about miracles ate away at me. If they were false, then how could I believe in Jesus?  The authors of the Bible certainly didn’t treat all those stories as if they were mere fairy tales.

It was at that point God, being ever gracious to me and knowing me better than I knew myself, put a man named John into my life.  As it turned out, years ago John had had many of the same questions I did.  But when he asked his pastor those questions, he was told to just have faith and believe. He was not given explanations or evidence of how what the Word of God says is true.   At that point John stopped going to church and his life started falling apart.

Years later he started to read books and watch DVDs that had answers to his questions.  During that time he also started going back to church and dedicated his life to God more fervently than ever before.  He continued to read and collect books about the Bible and God for years.  It was at this point I met him.  Upon hearing my questions, he made a defense of Christianity, meaning he talked to me length and generously let me borrow his books and DVDs.  I had never heard of most of things I learned about.  I was overwhelmed with evidence for the truth of the Bible.     

To be sure, what I learned during that time was never what saved me.  Jesus Christ and Him crucified is how I was saved. But having my questions answered undoubtedly demolished strongholds that were negatively impacting my faith.  And that is the first part of what we are talking about today.  But we are going to get there is some roundabout manner.

We are going to continue on with our sermon series, How to Live for God Even if You’re Not Perfect.  This morning we will be looking at what we might do when we encounter things about God and His word and His ways that we do not understand.

One of the times we might be most tempted to doubt God or fail to understand His ways is when we suffer especially when we suffer precisely for following Jesus. For all of us there will be times that doing things the Jesus told us to do them will make life harder. 

Maybe you will be called upon to stand up for truth in a way that could make you the object of scorn.  Maybe you will be led to an opportunity to better your life if you only act against God’s law this one time.  Maybe you will have to forgive someone that hurt on you on purpose and is not even looking for your forgiveness.   

Peter, who lived through all those things, had something to say about suffering. What he says at first is rather welcome, but what he says next is not so uplifting.  Paul starts off by basically telling us that we will not suffer when we do good and, for the most part, he is correct. 

When we live life God’s way our lives are typically more joyful and content. We can and should trust God to protect us.  This might seem like a contradiction to what I just said, but think about it like this...  When we treat people with love and grace like Jesus did, they will not normally hurt us in return.  When you look at the life Jesus lived you’ll see that most of the people He encountered treated Him well, especially the common people.  It was mostly only the people in power, people like the Pharisees, that were cruel to Him.  Jesus treated people with love and the people tended to love Him for it. 

However in the very next sentence Peter seems to abruptly change his mind and say that people will suffer if they act rightly.  Why the change?

Peter may have been trying to help us examine the manner in which we try to live lives full of joy.  If we seek to have lives a free of suffering as is possible by obeying God that is good, but if we seek to rid our lives of suffering by just doing what is easiest it is not good.     

We always should be seeking to do as God commanded us to do.  Usually that will result in a life more free from suffering, but it will not always do so.  Sometimes, as followers of Jesus, we must choose the path of suffering.

And we must expect to actually suffer during those times.  Peter said that we are blessed when we suffer for God, but that doesn’t mean that we will feel blessed or actually be happy at those times. Instead, Peter uses the word blessed to indicate that suffering for righteousness is good for our salvation and our relationship to God.  So while we should be, as Peter says, zealous about desiring to suffer for God we do so not because we want to suffer but because we know that it will ultimately lead to something that is for the glory of God and even, in time, our own good.

Peter also tells us not be afraid and, properly understood, this makes sense and Jesus tells us why.  At one point Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Jesus understood that sometimes putting God first will be hard, but doing so is logical because it will result in perfect victory every time.  We might have to wait until Jesus comes back to see that victory but because Jesus already won it on the cross and we know it is true because He came back from the grave to prove it.

Furthermore, Jesus, when speaking about His children once said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  So even when your suffering threatens to overwhelm you and it looks like evil is winning, remember Jesus said it was impossible for anyone or anything to take you away from Him. 

After say such reassuring things, Peter turns a corner.  He tells us to always, and note that word, always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. So far he had been speaking about our relationship with God and our lives and our salvation, but now he brings up other people, specifically the people that do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior that come to us with questions. 

Before we get to just what that means for us, we have to look at what else Peter said about this command.  First He said that before we even begin to start answering people’s questions about our faith we need to honor Christ as Lord in our hearts.

This means, among other things, that before we start trying to teach other people we need to believe that is Jesus is God and thus Him alone that saves. Nothing we say, however brilliant or persuasive, can save anyone.  Knowing God is in control helps relieve us of fear.  If other people’s salvation is not up to me that means I can do my best and trust that God will do the rest. 

 You could say that there are three parts in our interactions with people who are not saved, our part, God’s part and their part.  We can do our part, talking to people about God and His truth as revealed in the Bible, and over time we can learn how to do it better, but after we do that, everything else is God’s part and their part.  God will always do His part; He draws all people to Himself and we have nothing to do with that.  But all the people out there have their part because they can reject Jesus if they so choose and there’s nothing we can do about it.  The Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and turns them to Jesus not us.  Also, never forget that before we were saved we were no different than even the worst person out there.  Everyone desperately needs Jesus as we do even now after have been saved. 

But then, even if we believe all that, we are left with Peter’s command, “Make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” In other words, we should always be willing to talk about how we were saved and who saved us. 

If this seems intimidating don’t forget something.  Christians do not have a blind faith because our belief is based on evidence.  The Christian worldview makes the most sense out of reality.  It best answers the all the circumstances we see and experience both the physical and the spiritual. 

There is evidence for Christianity and as we grow in knowledge, we will come to know more of it.  The more time we spend in the Bible, the better we will be equipped to deal with people’s questions.  Likewise, the more effort we spend in reading and listening to Godly scholars.  While people can definitely be saved apart from this knowledge, as we are not saved by Jesus by how much we know about His truth, knowing more can strengthen our faith and help more people come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. 

However, there is one ever-present fear.  What if we are asked a question we don’t know the answer to?  Actually such a circumstance is in some ways welcome because saying “I don’t know” can be very powerful because it proves that Christians are no better than anyone else.

So let’s say we actually answer people’s questions about God.  What then?  Why do we even do it?  The answer is right there in today’s text.  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. 

We want Christ to bring everyone to God.  We want Him to be thought of as holy by everyone.  In other words, we want people to be saved.  That is God’s desire and thus our too. 

We do our part and answer people’s questions to demolish strongholds much like John did for me years ago.  We want other’s people’s part in salvation to be as easy as possible.  Of course, no one can save their self or anyone else; it is God alone that saves through the blood of His Son.  Still, God has graciously given us a part do in His work.     

So my beloved I leave you with this: We have been saved so that we may spread the Word to others. 

5/10

1 Peter 2:2-10

How to Live for God Even if You’re Not Perfect.  Royal Priesthood

Let’s start off with a question.  At first it might seem to be easy to answer, but once you think about it, maybe it’s not.  But upon further reflection, maybe it is easy to answer, may even absurdly easy. 

The question is, “Who are you?”

How would you answer that?  You could simply say your name, either just first name or maybe first and last, or just say the name you typically go by.

“I’m Joshua.”  “I’m Joshua Wiley.”

Maybe you could say you what you do, like “I’m a pastor.”

Possibly talk about what you like to do.  “I’m boardgamer.”  “I’m a hiker.”   

You might even answer “Who are you?” by mentioning the relationships in your life that you consider to be the most important.  “I’m a husband.”  “I’m a father, son, brother.”

Perhaps you, given some trust, you might get personal.  “I’m not the person I want to be.”  “I’m impatient with those I love the most.” 

You might even get clever.  “I’m me.” “I’m a collection of atoms.” 

Or maybe get confrontational.  “Who are you?”  “Why do you want to know?”

Maybe talk about God.  “I’m a Christian.”  “I’m a Christ follower.”  “I’m a forgiven sinner.” 

Of course, the Bible offers us some help.  Sometimes, what we are called can lift our hearts.  Jesus tells us, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” So we can answer “Who are you?” by saying, “God’s beloved.”  But other times the things we are called are not so uplifting.  Jesus also once said, “I am the vine; you are the branches… apart from me you can do nothing.”  So we could say, “Without Jesus I am nothing.”

In the end I suppose we are all of these things and many more, some good, some bad. 

We are going to go on with the book of 1 Peter and our sermon series How to Live for God Even if You’re Not Perfect.  This morning Peter is going to show us yet one more thing that we are, we are Holy Priests. 

Like just being you consists of several things, being a holy priest mean we are actually multiple things, but before we get to that let’s look at what else Peter said we were just before called us that.    

Peter said we were like newborn infants.  While that might not seem like a something we would want to be, after all being called a baby rarely a compliment, in a sense it is something quite wonderful and can be source of comfort when we learn of the extreme demands of being a holy priest.

Peter said that like infants we should desire spiritual milk so that we can grow into salvation.  Like infants do with their parents, our relationship with Jesus is one that grows over time.  Jesus did not expect us to behave and think like mature and learned Christians from the beginning.  Like babies get smarter and stronger as they age, we, as children of Jesus, get stronger and wiser in Him the more we learn about Him and the more do for Him. 

Likewise, Peter says we are like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.  One thing that means is that living with Jesus as our Lord is a process.  We are being built up; we have not already been fully built.  So if, as we talk about being holy priests, we find ourselves coming up short, and we will come up short, remember we are done yet.  When we fail, not if we fail, we turn to Jesus for guaranteed forgiveness and try again, knowing He never left us and never will.

So then, we are holy priests, but what does that even mean?  For the most part, the holy priesthood is defined by four things.  Members of this holy priesthood are people chosen by God who make spiritual sacrifices, believe in Jesus and are different than the other people in the world. 

Let’s start off with “chosen by God.”  We did not chose God, He chose us.  Or like it says in 1 John, “We love because he first loved us.”  This is a blessed part of being a holy priest, may be even the most blessed part, because it means it’s not on us to be good enough or smart enough or loving enough.  Look back to the infant thing.  Like a baby was born to their parents without their choice, we are totally dependent on God choosing us.   

And that’s a blessed thing.    As baby doesn’t try to meet their own needs, we shouldn’t act as if we should take on at least a little bit of being holy priest on our own to show God we are worthy of Him choosing us.  He already chose us. 

And because He chose us, God has already given us all we need to be able to be His holy priests.  We have the gospel.  All we really need is Jesus and Him crucified.  That’s why we proclaim it again and again. 

So we have been chosen.  Given that what are we, as holy priests, to do?  We make spiritual sacrifices.  To Jesus’ original hearers such a thing made sense.  One of the primary responsibilities of the priests in their day was to sacrifice animals to God for the many reasons listed in Scripture so that people could be forgiven.  Of course, we are not to do that because as it says in Hebrews, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins so Jesus by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

What then is our spiritual sacrifice?  It is what, as a royal priesthood, we offer to God in response to what he has done for us.  In other words it is how we live our lives in obedience to Jesus.  It is putting Jesus and His kingdom first.  It is putting other’s needs above our own.

Yet, our sacrifices, however difficult, don’t earn us anything because we already received everything when we were saved.  We, as people chosen by God, have already been blessed by Him beyond anything we could ever imagine.  Our sins have been forgiven!  We get to spend eternity with God on the New Earth.  We are co-heirs with Jesus!  We don’t need to offer up anything to God because the blood of Jesus is enough for all people for all time.  The only reason living out our lives as a sacrifice is acceptable to God is because of Jesus.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is what makes our spiritual sacrifices possible.   

Nonetheless the sacrifices we make can be almost unimaginably difficult. Indeed, they could be the hardest part of being a holy priest because it is about what you do.  Jesus made many seeming unreasonable demands to people, like, “Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”  And, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” 

While Jesus may not have been speaking in absolutes that must always be fully obeyed without exception, He did mean for us to live a life like His, one of total sacrifice, holding nothing back.  We are to live with reckless generosity truly believing that our treasure is in heaven and anything we give up here, time, money, whatever, is but a small price to pay.              

When we see things from the cross it is easier to understand.  We were rescued from sin, death and the devil so that we might bring glory to Jesus.  Our salvation is all about Him and His purpose.   We do all that we can for Him because, as the royal priesthood, we are His unworthy servants.  To sacrifice our lives to Him is our duty.  We are only doing as we ought to do. 

That leads us to the next part of our definition of being a holy priesthood, we believe in Jesus.  Everything about our holy priesthood revolves around Him.  Quoting the Old Testament, Peter said that Jesus is our cornerstone, meaning that He is central to everything.  Without a cornerstone, a building would collapse.  So to without Jesus, the priesthood would be worth nothing and able to do nothing.  We who are in the holy priesthood need Jesus more than we need air or food.  He is our all in all. 

Yet our text goes even further, for Jesus is no ordinary cornerstone.  He is the precious and chosen cornerstone.  He is precious because He has done the most good; He sacrificed Himself on the cross for His enemies.  Or as Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  When He gave His life for us were not His people, but now, because of His shed blood, we are His people.  We became His at our baptism. 

All of these things lead us to last part of being a holy priest, we are different than the rest of the world.

For us Jesus saves, but for all others it is tragically the opposite. For those that reject Jesus will come to see Him as a righteous judge whom they could have received as a savior. One day every knee will bow to Jesus. Those in the royal priesthood will do so to everlasting life, all other to everlasting damnation. 

People say they reject Jesus for a variety of reasons.  Some say that His teachings don’t make sense because they could never work in the real world.  All societies can find something offensive in Jesus.  When culture and Jesus conflict, most pick culture.  If the Bible says something is a sin and society says it is not, many will choose to side with society.  Either they don’t want to stand up and be different or they have been blinded by the father of lies.   

These people stumble time and time again over Jesus.  They want to make their own decisions.  They do not want to admit they are wrong or weak.  They do not want to have to give up the pleasures they feel in committing sin. 

In the end though the reason people reject Jesus is found right in the First Commandment.  They want to be God.  They want to be sovereign over their own lives. 

And yet these are very people Jesus has sent His holy priesthood to.  Peter said we should proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  We are to go to these people and talk to them about Jesus and Him crucified.  But how do we do that? 

The first step is to read the Scriptures.  The problems we face in our culture are no more complicated than the ones people long ago faced and God’s wisdom for them is for us too. 

But really, just like at some point we just go ahead make our spiritual sacrifices by putting others first, at some point we just talk about Jesus to people. The essential truth is not complicated. Even a child can understand the gospel. Jesus died to save us because we can’t save ourselves. 

To be sure we will encounter questions for which we might not have answers. Indeed, there will be times we ourselves are struggling with something we read from the Word of God.  But that’s why Jesus gave us each other.  We can pray together.  We can give one another council. 

And, remember, we don’t save anyone.  Salvation is all on God.  We can only bring the Good News with love and maybe skill.       

Every single Christian is in the holy priesthood.  It is both an honor and a blessing but is can also be intimidating and though we may worry if we can do it, we do not need to because it is Jesus in us that makes us the holy priesthood.  Indeed, we do not choose to be a part of it.  Jesus chose us and because He is God, He is choices are always perfectly right.

So my beloved I leave you with this:  We have been chosen by Jesus to be the royal priesthood and so we are.

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