November 28, 2010

The Prophecy Candle - Nov 28, 2010

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This sermon is kinda a sermon and a worship service put together. It's only available in audio format. I've pared it down to readings and the "sermon bites" in between. Next week a manuscript will again be available on the blog.

Blessings in Christ,
-Pastor Caleb Schaller

November 25, 2010

Accurate Thankfulness - Nov 25, 2010

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May God’s love cover you like a warm blanket, and may the peace of God, given through Jesus, fill your hearts with contentment.

Today’s sermon reading comes from the book of Luke, and has to do with leprosy.

Leprosy isn’t something that most of us have any experience with. In the United States there are only about 100 cases of leprosy diagnosed every year. Cases of leprosy in the Bible probably cover a variety of skin diseases. But in preparation for today’s sermon reading, I’d like to tell you about the condition most commonly known as leprosy.

To begin with, leprosy causes sores to appear on the skin that don’t like to heal. Eventually all forms of leprosy cause damage to the nerves of the body. This means that people with leprosy can easily injure themselves without knowing it. Hands and feet can even be lost due to repeated injuries that happen because you simply can’t feel the pain of a burn or a cut or an infection. (

In Jesus’ day, people with leprosy were required to communicate to others that they had leprosy by doing a number of things. They were to wear torn clothing. They were to cover the hair of their head. If you approached them on the road they were to cover their mouth and say, “Unclean, Unclean”.

Leprosy was seen as symbolic of the way sin infects and destroys people. Leprosy has a long incubation period. You can’t tell it’s there at first. But then the symptoms appear, and it grows steadily worse. Lepers were the walking dead. There was no hope for them. They were also considered ceremonially unclean, and were therefore not permitted to enter the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem.

Leprosy didn’t mean a person couldn’t worship the God of the Bible, just that you couldn’t worship Him in the assembly of believers.

Though leprosy is actually very difficult to transmit to others, lepers generally lived in colonies, apart from the rest of the world. They lived away from their families, away from their friends. For who could endure giving this disease to the people they cared for? No. It was better to live apart.

I suppose it was also easier to live with others who were disfigured and understood, than to endure the stares and the judging of those who were “clean”. You see, in Jesus’ day, many believed that leprosy was a specific judgment from God because of some sin the leper had committed.

Now that we have some feeling for what a leper experienced back then, let’s read our sermon text.

Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)

11Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

There are a number of reasons Jesus healed these ten lepers. First of all, He wanted to help them. They had a horrible disease. It caused them a lot of pain. Jesus wanted to restore their health, so He did.

But there were other reasons. Jesus also wanted to restore their relationships. He wanted them to be able to go back to their families, their spouses, their children, their friends.

There was still another reason Jesus healed these lepers. He wanted God to be praised. And that leads us to the main point of our sermon today. It’s about thankfulness. Just what is thankfulness? Maybe that sounds like a stupid question, or at least a very easy question to answer.

But, when Thanksgiving Day rolls around in this country I think we are shown that the world doesn’t really understand thankfulness.

If you watch television today or visit Facebook, you’ll probably see a lot of people talking about things they’re thankful for. But, when they say “thankful” what they really mean is they’re “glad”. They’re glad they live in a free country. They’re glad they have a home. They’re glad they’re not starving. They’re glad that they have families and loved ones and friends and cars and jobs and so many other things.

And it’s good to be glad. It’s good to recognize, “Hey! I’ve got food, and shelter and all these good things.” But I would suggest to you today that thankfulness is MORE than gladness. Thankfulness is recognizing the source of the blessing, not just the fact that you have the blessing.

Maybe you disagree. Ah, pastor, you’re being a little too picky. Thankfulness can be just being glad. But how about this. What if you knew someone who was just getting back on their feet. They’ve been homeless for quite some time. But now, they’ve got a place of their own. They’ve secured a job that will enable them to keep that place. But the one thing they really need is a car to get to work.

You happen to have some money set aside in the bank, and you decide – I’m going to gift them a car. That’s a pretty big gift, right? And they are really happy when they get your gift. They go right out in that car, to the store, to buy a thank-you note. They write it up, and pop it in the mail – to your brother. Or to your sister. Or someone else who had nothing to do with the gift.

Are they thankful? Not to you. Are they happy to have something? Yeah. But are they accurately thankful? No they’re not.

Or take this example from the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus we hear about the people of Israel. They were slaves in Egypt, and called on God to rescue them. So God did. God sent Moses and his brother Aaron down to Egypt as his representatives. God did miracles through Moses and Aaron and the people were freed from their slavery.

You remember the story. God led them out of Egypt, parting the Red Sea so they could walk through. God sent those same walls of water down on the Egyptian army that was coming after them. God led the people of Israel through the desert to the base of a mountain called Mt. Sinai.

At Sinai, Moses went up on the mountain because God told him to. There he received the Ten Commandments and listened to all the future blessings that God had in store for the people of Israel.

But meanwhile, down at the bottom of the mountain the Israelites were getting bored. They said to Aaron, Aaron, that Moses guy who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know where he went. So, we’d like you to make us a god to follow and worship.

Who knows why, but Aaron actually did it. He said, Bring me your golden earrings. And he took that gold and melted it down and made a golden calf for the people to worship. Aaron even told the people that the golden calf was the LORD who had brought them out of Egypt. And they held a big celebration feast to thank the golden calf.

Was that thankfulness? God didn’t think so. God kinda figures that He should get the credit for the stuff He does.

That’s what accurate thankfulness is: recognizing the true source of the blessing. Praising the SOURCE of the blessing. Thankfulness is not JUST gladness.

Here at Redemption Church, God has enabled us to be accurately thankful because God has shown us who He is through the words of the Bible. He has shown us that He accepts us even though we are sinners, everyday sinners who don’t deserve His love. He has shown us that He accepts us because His Son, Jesus, died in our place. His righteousness has become ours. We know our sins have been completely forgiven already. And because we know this, we have the power to turn away sin and live God’s way. We can fill our new lives with accurate thankfulness. Praising God and thanking HIM continually as we walk toward the gates of Heaven that He was opened to us.

You know, there was at least one more reason that Jesus healed the ten lepers. He healed them to restore their health. He healed them to restore their relationships. He healed them so God would be praised. But there was one other reason Jesus blessed these people.

If those lepers recognized that it was God who had taken their leprosy, then perhaps they would trust His promise to take away their sins as well.

It’s such a great parallel. Leprosy was a disease that they could do nothing about. They couldn’t heal themselves. No doctor could cure their leprosy. They were as good as dead, until Jesus came along.

If they realized this, then perhaps they’d realize that it was the same deal with their sins. They couldn’t erase their past. They couldn’t fix their future. But God could, and did.

God had promised He would sent a Savior for the human race, and in Jesus He did. He cleansed them of their leprosy, and on the cross, He did the same with their sins, and ours.

This Thanksgiving Day we have a lot in common with those ten lepers. We’re going to have some health restored today aren’t we? We’re certainly not going to go hungry. We’re going to be filled with many good things. Today many of us will be reunited with family again. Many of us are going to get a chance to just sit down and be with people we love, and who love us.

But on this Thanksgiving Day I hope we have the most in common with that tenth leper, the one that came back. I hope we also can lay our hearts at Jesus’ feet and say, Praise God, and thank you, Jesus.

And above all, I hope that we can learn to view all the blessings we have in this way: If God can be depended upon to provide all we need for body and life, then He can certainly also be depended upon to provide eternal life, through the forgiveness of sins that came by Jesus.


Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

November 21, 2010

How is Christ a King? - Nov 21, 2010

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Sermon Bites:

During His short ministry, Jesus shook the world up like no one before, or since. He made many claims about Himself that were absolutely astounding. For example, Jesus claimed that He was the Son of God, who had existed even before being born as a human being. More than that, Jesus claimed He had always existed, even before the creation of the universe. Jesus also claimed that He was so important and valuable that any sinner who put their trust in Him, could then stand before God Himself without fear of punishment. In fact, Jesus claimed that God the Father had given the authority to judge the world on the last day, to Him, and to Him alone. He claimed that any who rejected Him, rejected God and would forfeit the place in heaven He had earned for them by doing so.

Considering these claims, we must admit that Jesus was one of three things: He as either 1) A lunatic, 2) A liar, or 3) He was truly the Son of God, and all He claimed to be.

C.S. Lewis put it like this:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (C.S. Lewis).
Here at Redemption Church, we believe Jesus truly is the Son of God, the Savior of all sinners (including us). In short, He is our great God, the King of Creation, the King of Salvation, and by His inexhaustible mercy, the King of our Hearts.

Today is the last Sunday of the traditional church year. We call it, Christ the King Sunday. Today we’ll be examining the question: How is Christ a King? For the answer, we look to God’s own Word, the Bible.

LETTER: Colossians 1:13-20 (NIV)

13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christ is King over all the universe, because He created it in the beginning.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that Christ exists, or whether you trust in Him as your own Savior, Christ Jesus stands over the whole human race as King, because we were created by Him and for Him.

The power of Christ is showcased in this first reading from Colossians. Not only does it say that Christ is the creator of all that is, it also says that He is the one who holds the atoms of reality together. He is the glue which holds the universe together.

If this is true, this must lead us to fear Him. For the One who wrote the rules of physics which govern the universe, has also written the rules of human conduct, which we have failed to obey. With lies, and gossip, with careless words, and loveless actions we have sinned against our Creator. We have refused to be content with what God has given us, and have stolen what was not ours. We have hurt others in body and mind, instead of helping and building them up. We have been self-centered instead of God centered, and have constructed elaborate structures of self-justification to make it alright in our own minds.

But alright in our own minds does not mean alright in God’s eyes. If Christ is the King, than we are accountable to Him, our all-powerful Creator, for every loveless word, action and thought.

But this reading from Colossians has another message to impress upon us. Christ is not only our almighty Creator, He is also our rescuer. Verse 19 says…
“19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20 NIV).
Sinners we are, but we have been reconciled, brought back together with God because of the blood of Jesus that was poured out on the cross.

When the eternal Son of God because human and died a horrific death on a cross, He did so in our place. And all our failures to obey God were lost in the flood His willing, chosen death.

Our Gospel reading takes us to that cross.

GOSPEL: Luke 23:35-43 (NASB)
35And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” 36The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
39One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41“And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Christ is King over all human beings, because He became human, and died on the cross to open paradise to all sinners.

The fact that Christ is gracious is emphasized in this reading from Luke. If Jesus is truly the eternal and powerful Son of God, the patience and love that He displays here nothing short of astounding. The King has stepped down from heaven to because one of us! And at the end of His life, instead of being lifted up on the shoulders of the people He created, He is lifted up and nailed to a Roman cross.

And there, His patience endures. The crowds of people look on, doing nothing to save Him. The religious rulers of the day sneer and make fun of Him, challenging Him to prove His power to them. Even the inscription above His head is meant as a joke – “This is the King of the Jews” it says. But what it means is, “Ha! What a pathetic king this guy is! Condemned to such an undignified death, who would follow this king?”

The criminal nailed beside Him even taunts Jesus, asking Him to save him if he can.

And there, His love endures. For that is exactly what Jesus is doing at the moment, suffering the wrath of God in the place of sinners like that thief. Suffering the wrath of God in the place of sinners like you and me.

And even in the middle of all this mockery and hatred, one man saw the glimmer of Christ’s crown. The thief to the one side of Jesus was sorry for his life of sin, and humbly asked the King to remember Him in love. And for a moment the cross became a throne, as Jesus assured the man that He would be in paradise, in the place where God is, on that very day.

On that day, Jesus became King over that man’s heart. And through his faith in Christ, His dark life was covered over with the righteousness of God’s Son.

Ever since the first two human beings pushed God away with their sins, God had been promising a King who would save them and all sinners. Our reading from Jeremiah speaks of this Shepherd King.

OLD TESTAMENT: Jeremiah 23:2-6 (NIV)
2Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD. 3“I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.
5“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
6In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.

Verse 5 says, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up to David a righteous Branch…” If you look back in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7), you’ll find God making a promise to one of the Kings of Israel. To King David. The promise He made to David was this: that one day, one of David’s descendants would ascend His throne to begin a reign that would never end.

That descendant of David, was Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t become the political leader of Israel. He didn’t come to be that kind of king. He wasn’t groomed to be a self-serving politician. He didn’t come to lay around in palaces where servants could wait on Him hand and foot. He didn’t come to be a rich and lazy king.

Instead, Jesus was a man of the people. And He served them by teaching them the way to Heaven. He served them by earning and opening the way to God for all sinners. He served us like no politician or president or king ever has. He gave us His all, even His life, and in doing so, He offers us His righteousness.

In this reading from Jeremiah Christ is called, “The LORD our Righteousness”. Do you get it? Do you really get what He’s given to us? He’s given us a life we couldn’t live. He’s given us a future we didn’t deserve. He has made us sinless in the sight of God, through simple trust in Him.

Earthly kings and presidents ask for our time and money. But we can’t give Christ those piddly things alone. If He’s our Savior King, those gifts are far to little.

Earthly politicians ask for our support and our words. But we can’t just give that to the Man who saved us from Hell. Instead, let us give Him our hearts.

Pretty words, pastor, but what in the world are you talking about? I’m talking about giving Christ the greatest thing we have. I’m talking about being honest with our Savior King by confessing our darkest sins to Him openly in a shamefully honest way. I’m talking about giving our King our inner, truest devotion. I’m talking about sharing our struggles, our thoughts and our dreams with Him in prayer.

He has bought us back from the brink of eternity apart from God and all God’s goodness. We are His. And He is ours. Our eternal God. Our gracious and patient Savior. Our great King. Let’s treat Him as His is, the King whose greatest work was to reclaim us for His eternal Kingdom.

Let’s sing a new song with the new life we’ve been given today because of Christ. And let’s make that song’s refrain be, “Christ is the King, the King of Creation, the King of Salvation, and the King of my Heart.”

Our Psalm for today encourages us to do just that (read Psalm 98).

November 14, 2010

Heaven is Being with God - Nov 14, 2010

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Today is the second to last Sunday in the church year. We call it “Saints Triumphant” Sunday. Today we look forward to future home which Jesus bought for us by His suffering and death on the cross. Today we look forward to Heaven.


The text that helps us springboard into the topic of Heaven is from the Gospel of Luke. It takes place in the last week of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover one last time before His crucifixion and death. It’s a busy week for Jesus, and for Jerusalem. Thousands are there for the Passover.

During this week Jesus is being watched. His enemies are looking for an opportunity to kidnap and murder Him. In addition to this, they are also watching for opportunities to make Jesus sound like a fool to the crowds of people. So far, whenever Jesus has been confronted, He has always won the argument. To their great annoyance, Jesus’ enemies have discovered that He has both a quick wit, and a deep understanding of God’s Word.

In our reading from Luke, Jesus is approached by men who belong to a seldom mentioned Jewish sect called the Sadducees. At this time in history, the Sadducees controlled the Jewish Supreme Court (the Sanhedrin). The High Priest himself was a Sadducee. Although the Sadducees held religious positions, they themselves were not actually followers of the God of the Bible. The Bible tells us that the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels, or in the resurrection of the dead.

On this occasion, the Sadducees tried to make Jesus look foolish by mocking His belief in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. They couched their mockery in a “question” about Heaven.

Luke 20:27-38 (NKJV)

27Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 28saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children. 30And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. 31Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died. 32Last of all the woman died also. 33Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.”
34Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.”

Prayer: Father above, send your Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding about what is yet to come. Help us to build our conception of Heaven on your words, and on your words alone. Sweep away our misconceptions and mistaken conclusions. Paint in our hearts and minds as clear a picture as is possible of the glory of being with You. Amen.

To begin with, it helps to understand this whole thing about marrying your brother’s widow. In the Jewish culture, the firstborn son was considered special. He was seen as the first and greatest representation of his father’s strength. The firstborn received a double portion of the inheritance. If his father died early, the firstborn son became the head of the household.

In Deuteronomy, God set up a special rule for the Jews called the Levirate Law. Here’s how it worked.

Deuteronomy 25:5…
“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5 NIV).
The Sadducees thought they really had Jesus here. What would happen in this situation, eh? Would this woman have seven husbands in Heaven? Ha! Answer this one Jesus!

But here was the problem: the Sadducees didn’t believe in Heaven in the first place. If you don’t believe in Heaven, how can your perception of it possibly be correct? The Sadducees understanding of Heaven was doomed to fall short of the reality. In fact, Heaven is so beyond our current ability to understand, that even people who trust in God don’t come close to comprehending it.

In 1 Corinthians 13, verse 12, Paul writes...
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).
Basically, Jesus says to the Sadducees: You guys. You think you know so much. With your mocking imagination you paint Heaven to look like this life, but it’s much different than that. All who reach that place will be like the angels of God in this way: they will not marry, they can no longer die.

The first thing we need to do if we’re going to picture Heaven correctly is to recognize what Heaven isn’t.

Last Sunday we talked about Hell, and how our culture has altered and redefined Hell to such a degree that the popular perception of Hell no longer matches what the Bible says. The same is true when it comes to Heaven. The world around us has painted Heaven in so many different ways, and all of those images are flawed when their source is the imagination of man.

For example, the world likes to describe Heaven as a boring place in the clouds. Gary Larson did a great “Farside” cartoon depicting this. In the cartoon there two people sitting on their own individual “heaven clouds”. One guy is looking at the other guy from his own empty cloud and thinking, “Man, I wish I brought a Frisbee”.

Other cartoons I’ve seen actually depict Hell as the place where all the fun happens. There you’re free to do all sorts of “fun” sinful things. Heaven is the place full of signs telling you all the stuff you’re not allowed to do.

The idea that heave could be a boring place, is about the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard. God is the one who made all the stuff we enjoy. You know, the stuff that we enjoy that doesn’t mess us up or hurt us. Yeah, God made those things. The grand mountain views we marvel at – they’re painted with the colors that God authored. The foods that “oooh” and “aaah” over – they taste different and delicious because God designed them that way. Oh yeah, and then He went ahead and designed an organic machine in our mouth that has the ability to taste them. God’s the one who made cool air refreshing, crackling fires inviting and sex fun. I’m not going to make a huge list of all the good stuff that God gives us, I think you get the idea. God makes good stuff.

James wasn’t kidding when he wrote:
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 NIV).
I don’t know where this idea came from, that the God who made our breathtaking current universe, is somehow going to really drop the ball when it comes to Heaven – but don’t believe it for a second. God is way to creative, and has far too many resources for that.

Sometimes Christians try to help their children understand how great Heaven is going to be, that it’s not going to be boring, by telling them that Heaven is a place that has everything that makes you happy. This way of envisioning Heaven is useful, but only to a point. Envisioning Heaven as your own personal fantasy land can morph Heaven into a place that is all about US. As if it were a great Carnival in the sky where we have unlimited tokens to play games and ride rides. A place where all we have to do is think of what we want, and POOF! It will be ours. Maybe we’ll be able to do that in Heaven, I don’t know. But the flaw that can work it’s way into this thinking is that Heaven is all about STUFF and ME. The truth is, Heaven is all about GOD and ME. United. Together. Nothing between us anymore.

The Bible uses a lot of different images and metaphors to help us understand what living with God will be like. When we take ONE of these metaphors and run with it, that’s how we end up with a skewed image of Heaven. For example, the Bible talks about Heaven as being UP. Not because it’s up on the other side of the moon, or in some other galaxy. God is all-powerful. (that’s up) We’re weak. (that’s down) God is sinless. (up) We’re sinful. (down) God watches over His people. (up) God’s followers look to Him for blessings. (down) God is above us in many different ways.

If you take this idea of “Heaven being up” and run with it, then you start getting off track. Hmmmm, where in the universe would God put Heaven? It must be physically located up there somewhere, right?

The single most defining characteristic of Heaven is this: Heaven is being with God. If we’re going to have a clear picture of Heaven in our hearts and minds, that’s where we have to start. Heaven is being with God.

Don’t take my word for it though. Listen to how God describes Heaven in the Bible.

Jesus told to His followers…
“1Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3 NIV).
The apostle John wrote…
“2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 NIV).
The apostle Paul wrote…
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).
Heaven is a place where there will no longer be anything separating us from our holy, powerful, sinless Creator. No sin of ours will separate us from Him then because His Son has taken our sin away already. Did it on the cross. Rose from the dead to prove it to us. God will no longer veil His visible presence from us either, but will shine out in glory before our very own eyes.

Job understood this. It was his confidence in the middle of his suffering. In Job 19, verse 25 he says…
“25I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
26And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25 NIV).
In Revelation 7, God gave John a vision of the Saints in Heaven. In the vision there was a huge, uncountable crowd of people standing in front of God’s throne and praising Him. Then someone turned and spoke to John. From Revelation 7, verse 13…
“…These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:13-17 NIV).
The crowd in John’s vision are the Saints Triumphant that this Sunday is named for. They are Saints (Greek: Holy Ones) because the blood of Jesus has washed their sins away. They can stand in the presence of the almighty and sinless God ONLY because the Lamb of God was sacrificed in their place. And now that Lamb is their eternal Shepherd.

They are called TRIUMPHANT because they are no longer on the earth where the Devil could turn them away from God and extinguish their faith in His Son. They’ve triumphed over sin and hell, over Satan and all the wicked, over disease and darkness, over sadness and pain – all because of the Champion that the Father sent to win the battle for them – Jesus Christ.

You and I aren’t Saints Triumphant yet. We ARE Saints through faith in Christ Jesus. God considers us sinless because we stand behind Jesus by Faith. But we’re not saints TRIUMPHANT now, because we’re still in enemy territory. We’re still walking the narrow path of faith in Christ. Still turning to God daily for forgiveness, and knowing we have it in His Son.

Our source of peace and confidence in this world, is Jesus. He is with us. He will never leave us. He has forgiven us by His cross. When we think about heaven, let’s remember – that’s what will give us peace there too. God will be with us, never to leave us, our Savior. And we’ll know Him better than we have here in this life. We’ll know HIM like He knows us. That’s what heaven is.

Prayer: Father, as a child I didn’t think I wanted to go to heaven yet. There were so many things I wanted to do. When we think like that, remind us of your glory. Remind us of your amazing creation. Remind us of your love. Teach us all to understand what being in Your presence will really be like. Bind us to Your Son in faith, until faith becomes sight, and prayer becomes praise. Amen.

November 7, 2010

The Hard Topic of Hell - Nov 7, 2010

To LISTEN to the sermon online click here. To DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as".


What I’m holding here is a reading schedule for the Sundays of the Church Year. For each Sunday it has a selected reading from Old Testament, a Psalm, a New Testament Letter reading and a reading from the life of Christ - a Gospel reading.

I usually don’t select what we’re going to read on a given Sunday. I rely on this structure that others have taken the time, study and effort to arrange. With a schedule like this, the idea is to expose us to 52 of the Bible’s most important teachings - every year.

On this schedule we’re almost to the end. There are three Sundays left in the Church Year: Last Judgment Sunday, Saints Triumphant Sunday and Christ the King Sunday.

Today is “Last Judgment Sunday”. One of the topics you can’t really get away from in connection with the Last Judgment is “Hell”. That’s what we’ll be talking about today.


Hell is one of those sticky subjects that we Christians like to avoid. We feel uncomfortable dealing with it. It’s a topic that is easily misunderstood. It’s a topic that is seen as unfairly judgmental.

Perhaps you’ve had a loved one come to you and say, maybe with tears in their eyes, “So you think I’m going to Hell?” Talking about Hell can be extremely difficult, uncomfortable and awkward.

David Brickner is the head of an organization called “Jews for Jesus”. This group is made up of Jewish born people who have come to believe that Jesus is the Savior promised in the Old Testament. On Larry King Live, Brickner took part in a debate with a Jewish Rabbi who doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Savior.

Brickner got put on the spot on the topic of hell. Here’s how it went down:
Larry King: Do you believe that Rabbi Boteach is going to heaven?

David Brickner: I believe that all of us are going to hell, but God is in the business of saving us, and that’s why He sent Jesus the Messiah.

Larry King: So you’re saved and he’s not.

Brickner: I’ve got my sins forgiven. I don’t know how Rabbi Boteach is having his sins forgiven. That’s between him and God, and I’m not the one who judges Rabbi Boteach.

Larry King: But you’re making a judgment here, you’re telling us that if he doesn’t accept Christ that he’s in trouble.

Brickner: Well, Jesus made that judgment and that’s the point. I believe that the teachings of the New Testament are clear, Jesus is the way to have our sins forgiven.
If you go on “You Tube”, you can watch the highlights of this conversation. It’s pretty intense. The ideas of judgment and Hell are not pleasant. They stir up our emotions. God Himself even says He doesn’t like it. In Ezekiel 33, verse 11 God says,
“…As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV).
I think that Brickner answered well. He pointed out the truth that “Hell” isn’t an “I’m better than you” thing. All of us have sinned against God, over and over. We’re all headed to hell because of that fact. But God is in the business of saving us. That’s why Jesus was born, why He lived, why He died, and why the Father raised Him from the dead. His sacrifice was accepted, and through Him we are saved from the otherwise inescapable fate of Hell.

The part of the Bible that we’re going to read as our sermon reading is from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian Christians. Right at the beginning of that letter Paul emphasizes the fact that God’s grace is the only thing that saves us from trundling off into an eternity of hell.

Our sermon reading is 2 Thessalonians 1, verses 5-10. Paul opens up this letter by writing in verse 1
“1Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2 NIV).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “Grace” means “undeserved love”. We don’t escape Hell because of what’s inside us, we escape Hell because God loved sinners who didn’t deserve His love. He sent His Son to suffer Hell in our place thus rescuing us. This said, let’s read our sermon reading.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 (NIV)

5All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Do you really think that Hell exists? Isn’t the whole idea of Hell a little cruel and mean? I mean, a loving God would never consign people to an eternity of suffering, would He? These are some of the questions that Christians get asked about Hell.

One reason people find Hell a hard idea to accept is because our culture has colored and modified the concept of Hell to be something other than what the Bible describes.

Horror movies depict hell as a place where grotesque monsters torture people in horrific ways. Books like “Dante’s Inferno” describe Hell in detail, as having descending rings, or levels, where sinners are tortured in various dark ways depending on how wicker their lives were. This ISN’T the Bible’s description of Hell. The Bible certainly describes Hell as a horrible place where you don’t want to be, but it doesn’t describe it as an underground torture chamber run by wickedly cheerful demons happy to cause pain.

The Biblical concept of Hell circles around one major idea. Separation from God and all His goodness. Verse 9 of our reading expresses this when it says,
“9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV).
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a series of parables which deal with the Final Judgment. At the close of these parables, the wicked are cast out into the “darkness”, where there is “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth”. The last of these parables ends with Jesus saying…
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46 NIV).
In Mark 9, Jesus warns against taking sin lightly when He says,
“43If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—44where
‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43-44 NIV).
Jesus pictures Hell as a place where the fire never stops burning, and the maggots never die. A place of perpetual rotting, decomposition and disintegration.

Now, some are quick to point out that these are metaphors. They’re picture language. Some would say that because the Bible uses metaphors to describe Hell, it must not be a real place. They might say, how can Hell be a place of utter darkness AND a place filled with fire? Or how can worms exist in a place that’s always burning?

But they miss the point of metaphors. Metaphors are language tools that help us to communicate. We might say, “The White House announced Friday that __________.” We don’t mean that there’s a building in Washington D.C. that has a mouth. We mean the administration of the President. Duh. Metaphors make communication simpler.

Metaphors become especially helpful when someone is talking about something outside of our own personal experience. Something we’ve never seen anything like. A real thing, but one that is beyond our comprehension.

The Bible doesn’t just use metaphors to describe Hell, it also uses them to describe Heaven. In Revelation 21, John sees a vision of heaven in which the streets were made of gold. Is God trying to communicate to use what type of paving material He prefers, or is this a metaphor meant to describe the unbelievable richness of Heaven? Heaven, the place where God dwells, is so unbelievably glorious that gold is as common as dirt. Something like this is what the image of golden streets is meant to express.

The metaphors that the Bible uses to describe Hell depict a reality beyond our greatest fears. An existence where there is no light. An existence where the worst kind of pain - is constant. A place where there is no relief, no healing. No escape from deterioration. A place where the overwhelming emotion is gnashing of teeth – rage, anger and sorrow.

Why? Why did God make this place? Why does it exist?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 25, verse 41.
“41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 NIV).
Hell was not part of God’s original creation. That creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). There was no sin or evil in it. But in the beginning, God created a universe in which there was real freedom. It was perfect, but the highest creatures that God created, the angels and the humans, they were free. Perfect and sinless, but free. They could of their own choice step away from God. And when the angel named Satan did, and when other angels followed him into sin, Hell was prepared FOR THEM.

Look at our sermon reading again. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6. It says that God is JUST. Justice means sin must be punished. The angels who chose to rebel against God, to oppose Him and separate themselves from Him, will find themselves separated from God in eternity. The same is true of human beings. By disobeying God, we rebel against Him. We choose to separate ourselves from God in life, and He will honor this choice in eternity. What a horrible thought.

God does not want this to be our fate. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 says,
“…God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Timothy 2:3-6 NIV).
I said at the beginning of our meditation today that we’re all on the road to Hell because we’re all sinners. If God is just God, sin must be punished. Jesus knew this was the case. And God’s eternal Son stepped down from His throne and became one of us. He lived a sinless life, and prepared Himself to experience Hell in our place.

Jesus understood that if sinners were to be released from their fate, someone would have to pay the price for sin. Someone would have to suffer Hell in their place.

Less than twenty for hours before His crucifixion, Jesus went to garden outside of Jerusalem. Matthew 26, verse 36
“36Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39 NIV).
It was not merely physical pain that brought deep sorrow and trouble into the heart of Jesus. It was the reality of the Hell that He was just hours from facing. But there was no other way to prevent sinners from their fate but this. So, He went to the cross. And when darkness covered the land from 12-3 on that Friday afternoon, Jesus knew Hell in a way that we cannot understand. Mark 15:34
“34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 NIV).
But those weren’t His final words. Before He gave His spirit into the hands of the Father, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Our Hell became His. His suffering for us is finished. His righteousness in now His gift, to us. It comes to us by simple trust in who He is, and what He has done for us.

Last week we read from the book of Romans for our sermon meditation. I’d like to read those words again today.

Romans 3:21-26 (NIV)

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Prayer: Father, sometimes we lose sight of how serious sin is. We’ve all grown up in world that winks at sin. Some of us have grown up in a church that proclaims our sin is completely forgiven because of Christ. We haven’t lived under the fear of Hell. Help us to comprehend the horrible truth of Hell. That it is our destiny, apart from Jesus. You stepped in and rescued us, Lord, it was not our doing, but yours. Help us not soften the reality of Hell as we interact with people who don’t know your grace. Help us instead to speak the truth of sin and Hell in an appropriate way. Help us also to have the opportunity joyfully follow that truth with the message of Christ, who freed us from that destiny. Amen.

The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.