March 31, 2011

An Innocent Man - Mar 30, 2011

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In the early 90’s, Steven Spielberg directed a film about the holocaust called “Schindler’s List”. The film tells the story of a German business by the name of Oskar Schindler. During World War II, Schindler saved over a thousand Jews from being slaughtered by employing them in his factories.

For various reasons the film was shot in black and white with only a few instances of color. One such moment of color appears in the form of a red coat worn by a little Jewish girl. Later in the film, Schindler sees the same red coat, this time lying among the piles of the dead.

The horror of the holocaust and the stark redness of that coat blend together and make this an image that does not soon leave the memory.

Tonight I would flash burn another image in your minds. Not an image of brilliant red, but of gleaming whiteness.

We do not know what color Jesus’ actual garments were as He stood, hands bound, before the religious high court called the Sanhedrin. But in one sense He stood there in white. The gleaming white of a clean conscience.

The image I would burn on your memory tonight is of an innocent Jesus. He is on trial, accused of many dark things, but He stands innocent.

Mark 14:53-65 (NIV)

53They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. 54Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.
55The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.
57Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man–made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’” 59Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
63The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64“You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

Courtrooms do not make people innocent or guilty. Those on trial enter already innocent or guilty. It is simply the job of the court to try and discover which is the case.

This black, night-time trial was completely illegal according to the Sanhedrin’s rules of operation.

But that does not MAKE Jesus innocent.

The whole Sanhedrin had not gathered to try and discover whether Jesus was guilty of some crime or not. They had come there for the purpose of trying to quickly find some evidence that could be used to get Jesus put to death. Some evidence that they could point to in order to justify murdering Him.

But that does not MAKE Jesus innocent.

They had recruited men who were willing to lie for a price. And they had coached these witnesses to try and incriminate Jesus.

But that does not MAKE Jesus innocent.

We are told that many witnesses came forward to lay crimes at Jesus’ feet, but their testimony continually clashed in impossible ways. Their lies were obvious in their conflicting testimony.

But that does not MAKE Jesus innocent.

And then there was the silence. Through all the false testimony about Him, Jesus stood silent. He would not speak a word to correct their lies, defend His character or persuade them to let Him go.

But that does not MAKE Jesus innocent.

Many a guilty man has sat in the front of the court in utter silence. In fact, it sometimes seems that silence is more of an indicator of guilt than anything else. But just as Jesus’ silence did not make Him innocent, neither did it make Him guilty.

I suppose their repeated attempts to incriminate Him does at least suggest Jesus’ innocence. I mean, they were grasping at the wind when it came to finding something wrong that Jesus had done. As for finding something that would make him worthy of the death penalty, well, they had nothing anywhere near that.

And then there’s the abuse that Jesus suffered at their hands. We are told that they spit on Jesus and mocked Him. It was all darkly funny to them. But even the physical beating and the mockery that Jesus endured do not MAKE Him innocent.

Jesus was innocent when He walked in the courtroom that night, and He was innocent when He walked out. But the evidence of THAT truth is not found in the courtroom.

Any who truly desired to know what Jesus was like, could have simply asked those who knew Him. They could have asked the mother who raised Him. They could have asked the blind men and the lepers whom He had healed. They could have asked Mary and Martha, or their brother Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They could have asked any of the countless people who followed Jesus around if they had EVER heard a word from Jesus that was spoken in hatred. Who had EVER seen Jesus do something in carelessness, or with selfish intent, or with arrogant pride.

Today, we can also look to the testimony of Scripture to see the evidence of Jesus’ innocence. In 2 Corinthians 5 it says…
“21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
In Hebrews 4 we read…
“15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV).
In 1 Peter 2 it says it plainly,
“ He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22 NIV).
And for those who want more proof of Jesus’ purity, proof that He wasn’t just innocent of any great crimes, but that He was completely pure in EVERY way before God the Father, there is the empty tomb of Easter morning.

God would not have raised a lying prophet from the grave. God would not have accepted the sacrifice of a dirty sinner on behalf of all the sinners of the world. No! Only a pure lamb of immeasurable value could be offered to atone for sins like the human race has committed.

No, if Jesus had been even the slightest bit dirty with sin, He would have remained in the grave. The women would have found Him (as they expected to) in the early morning hours of that first Easter Sunday.

But they didn’t. He had risen.

I said earlier that the image I want to tattoo on your minds tonight is that of the gleaming white, innocent Jesus standing before the Sanhedrim.

Why this image? Not to prove the innocence of Jesus by the events that took place in that courtroom. No, the greater mass of evidence for Jesus’ purity is found outside that courtroom.

The fact that Jesus was silent in the face of all those false accusation didn’t prove His innocence, and neither did the abuse that was heaped on Him. But, all of this done to an innocent man DOES show us that Jesus CHOSE to go to the cross for us.

In a way He had to help the Sanhedrin overcome His innocence so that they would move Him along to the Romans who would eventually approve His execution.

Jesus was innocent to be sure, but He was no victim. He willingly went through this trial, on the way to our cross. He gave Himself to the wolves, in order to give us the gift of His innocence.

In the movie “Schindler’s List” the image of the red coat is so shocking because you see it on a precious little girl, walking along in the land of the living, and then the next place you see it is in a place of the dead, among bodies piled for the burning.

With Jesus, we see the opposite happen. We see Him in His gleaming white coat of innocence standing before the Sanhedrin, as good as dead, on the way to pain and suffering and death on the cross. But then, the next place we see this gleaming coat of sinlessness is on ourselves. It is Jesus’ innocence, but it’s on US, placed there by the Holy Spirit by the hands of faith!

Whenever you read about Jesus’ goodness in the Bible, remember, THAT PERFECT GOODNESS is now yours. Christ’s perfect purity is all that God sees when He sees YOU.

May that image warm your faith, your heart, your life. May that image give confidence and joy.

Let that image linger, and give you peace.


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

March 27, 2011

Sin Blinds Mankind - Mar 27, 2011

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Spiritual Father, and from our Leader and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture readings for this Sunday have a unifying element. God leading people out of darkness into the light.

It’s a simple metaphor, and we still use it today. “I was completely blind” means I didn’t know something. “I’ve seen the light” means now I understand.

The Bible says that all of us are born blind to spiritual truth. We don’t know who God is, or what He is like. We’re born sinners, and sin make us blind to the truth.

Think about Adam and Eve in the garden. We preached about Adam and Eve’s first sin just a few weeks ago. Of course you remember what the Devil promised – eat from this forbidden fruit and you’ll be as wise as God. But when they did, the opposite happened. They became blind to the obvious.

When they heard God walking through the garden, sinful Adam and Eve tried to hide from their all-knowing creator. You could say sin made them stupid, or blind. It amounts to the same thing.

Maybe you’ve done the same. I have. Done something that was wrong, and tried to hide it. Covered your tracks. Hid the evidence. Lied to people who suspected something. But God knew. Just like Adam and Eve, we can try to hide things from God. But He knows.

In the Bible God makes it clear that He knows what we’ve done. He wants us to know that He knows, not to rub it in our face, but to move us to come to Him openly. Holding up our sin for Him to see, and to forgive.

God is in the business of making the blind see. He leads us see our sins and abandon them. He leads us into the light of forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross of Calvary.

In today’s sermon reading we’re going to see examples of spiritual blindness. And we’ll see Jesus make a blind man see in more ways than one.

John 9:1-7 (ESV)

1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

This story gives us some insight into the way the Jewish people thought. The disciples asked why this man had been born blind. In their view, there were two possible answers: either the man had sinned, or his parents had sinned. They figured that a curse like blindness from birth had to be a specific judgment from God because of some “particularly bad” sin.

This wasn’t the only time Jesus came across this flawed way of thinking. Turn to Luke 13, verse 1.
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:1-5 NIV).
Preachers today level the same condemnation on others whenever some great calamity comes along. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans they said it was because of the horrible sins of Bourbon Street. Or more recently, I’m sure there have been accusations that the people of Japan were being judged by God when the ocean waves crashed over their shores and wreaked havoc.

It’s a good idea to let God tell you when He’s acting in judgment and when He’s not. And it’s a good idea to remember what Jesus said about local tragedies in His day – these people weren’t more guilty than all the others living. Not at all. We’re all guilty of falling short of God’s standards, and unless we realize that, we too will perish – eternally.

But back to the blind man and the disciples. They figured there were only two possible reasons this man had been born blind. Some sin of his, or some sin of his parents. But Jesus said “none of the above”. This man had been born blind so that Jesus could heal him, and bringing glory to God.

Again, remember the garden of Eden. Satan presented Eve with two possible options – don’t take the fruit and remain stupider than God and under his thumb. Or, take the fruit and be just as wise as God. Satan took care not to hint that there just might be a third option: Remain faithful to God and see what blessings He has in store.

Satan does the same thing to us today. He presents only the choices he wants us to see, colored the way he wants them to look. And in our sin we remain blind to the best way – God’s way. When it seems like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, pray that God would open your eyes to His way.

Before we move on, I’ve got to mention one more delightful detail that we find here. Jesus used spit-mud to convey His healing to the blind man. I like this detail because it’s just like God to use the worthless to accomplish miracles.

God’s word often teaches us to do what the sinful world say is worthless. He says to love our enemies. He says to lend without expecting to be repaid. He says to repay evil with good. He says to forgive others not once, or a few times, but unlimited times. Or think of what the Father told the Son to do. In order to defeat death, He was to die. In order to save sinners, He was to die at their own hands. When God calls you to be foolish in the eyes of the world, remember that God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s greatest wisdom.

And what do you know, it worked. The man washed Jesus’ spit-mud off in the pool of Siloam, and for the first time saw the world of color and light. That was a good day for him. And you can almost hear his happiness in our next reading.

John 9:13-17 (NIV)

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

It’s not hard to see the cataracts of sin covering the Pharisees eyes here. Jesus has healed a man who was blind from birth. That was utterly unheard of. And the man himself had told them how Jesus did it, with mud. Mud! Obviously this was no natural remedy. But in their spiritual blindness, all the Pharisees can see is Jesus failing to rest on the Sabbath.

Maybe they considered making mud to be “working”. Maybe they classified any kind of healing as “work” not fit for the day of rest. Really, it doesn’t matter. They missed the whole point. This miracle was a sign that Jesus was from God.

The light of this revelation was dimly glowing on the horizon for some of them. We’re told that there was a division among them. Some said Jesus couldn’t be from God because He was working on the day of rest. Others couldn’t get over the magnitude of this miracle. How could any man do this without God being with Him?

In an action very unlike the Pharisees they turned and asked the formerly blind man what he thought. His response glows with admiration. “He is a prophet”, he said.

Jesus had brought this blind man vision, and spiritual insight.

Now, let’s not move on before taking an important lesson from the Pharisees. Remember, they were the religious elite. They knew their Old Testament Bibles like the back of their hand. Their best friends were the Scribes, the people who painstakingly made copies of the Old Testament by hand, and who were the Bible scholars of their day. And yet, the Pharisees were as spiritually blind as everyone else because they didn’t accept Jesus.

There are Bible churches all over this city. All over this country. All over this world. But when the teachers and pastors from those churches don’t know sin and grace – they’re just as blind as everyone else. Is it remarkable that we find all sorts of strange teachings in churches that don’t focus on the message of free grace given through Jesus? Jesus Himself once said,
“22“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
23Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Luke 10:22-24 NIV).
Only through God’s Son can we know God. Only through tracing the Words of the Bible carefully can we truly learn spiritual truths in this world.

Our last little reading shows what it takes for a blind sinner to become a seeing saint.

We skip ahead to verse 34. The Pharisees have been interrogating the formerly blind man, and he’s gotten a little tired of their repeated questions. He’d already told them what they wanted to know, but they wouldn’t accept it. Finally he sarcastically asked them if they were asking all these questions because they wanted to become Jesus’ disciples. Well, that was too much for the Pharisees.

John 9:34-38 (NIV)

34They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
35Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

If you read the part we skipped over, you’ll find that the Pharisees interrogated the blind man’s parents before him. His parents played dumb because they knew that the Pharisees had decided that anyone who said Jesus was the Christ would be kicked out of the synagogue.

So, when it says that they “cast him out” it probably means two things. One, that they were done talking to him, and that they were kicking him out of the synagogue.

So, Jesus hears that he’s been kicked out, and He seeks him out to have a conversation. And in this conversation Jesus simply tells the man that He is the “Son of Man” from the Old Testament.

How crazy this must have sounded to the formerly blind man. The Son of Man?! Really? The passages in the Old Testament that talked about the “Son of Man” were all about glory and authority and grandeur, and here was Jesus talking to him, a guy that just got booted from the church by the big shots in the church!

Imagine how this man must have gone home and pondered over everything he had ever been taught by the Pharisees. Maybe they didn’t see everything quite so clearly as they let on. This Jesus was the Son of Man. The Christ from God.

Did you notice what had to take place before this man came to faith? Jesus had to tell Him the truth. That’s what it takes for a blind sinner to become a seeing saint. Jesus’ message is heard, and faith takes hold.

Like Paul later wrote…
“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:12-15 NIV).
Sin makes us blind to God and all His goodness. But the Gospel message makes us see again. Through the Bible we see God’s high standards clearly, and His higher grace in Christ Jesus our crucified and risen Savior.

You’ve heard this message before. You’ve believed. So take one more lesson from our text. Speak the message! You might mess it up. You might say the wrong thing. But this much is guaranteed, if you don’t say anything they won’t have a chance. Sinners are blind, just like you were.

But what should you say, you ask? Well, say something. Better yet, say something that speaks of Christ’s love that YOU have felt personally. Say something, and let Jesus make the blind see.


March 13, 2011

Consider the Source - Mar 13, 2011

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I think I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “consider the source”. I had returned to my dorm room with some bit of rumor that had been told to me by some underclassman. This underclassman didn’t have the best reputation for being truthful. But, I WANTED to believe what he had told me.

When I finished re-telling the details to my, he just looked at me with a knowing grin and said, “Yeah, but consider the source”.

That’s really all it took. Consider the source. The house of rumor cards that I had just built in my mind, fell down. I realized that there might be a BIT of truth in what I had been told, but it would be quite naïve to believe the whole thing. Consider the source. Wise words.

We all have to constantly do this, don’t we? Parents are told all sorts of conflicting stories by children. Teachers are told conflicting stories by students. Adults are told conflicting stories by co-workers. Even the various news sources that offer up our headlines can’t be trusted. Everyone is filtering reality through their own particular lens of perception. We MUST consider the source if we are to know the truth.

We even have to apply that phrase to ourselves, don’t we. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that WE TOO filter our experiences with others through our own preconceived ideas and prejudices.

Our sermon reading for today comes from the early chapters of Genesis. Here in the first few pages of human history, we find the source of all the lies that make it necessary for us to filter our reality carefully. Here we find the headwaters of all the sin and suffering that has since flowed into the life of man.

Genesis 2:7-9, 15-17, 3:1-7 (NKJV)

7And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

8The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

15Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

1Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

When we say, “consider the source” what we’re really saying is, what do you know about this person’s character? How trustworthy are they? What might their motives be? Can you take their word at face value?

When we examine the character of Jehovah God here in Genesis, we find nothing but good. For clarity sake, this is Jehovah God we’re talking about. The God of the Bible, not the gods of other religions. When you see the capital L-O-R-D in the Old Testament scriptures, that means that at that point in the text is found the Hebrew name for God. Sometimes pronounced Ya-weh or Je-ho-vah. This name is not like the word “god” which can be applied to the true God or to false ones. Jehovah is the proper name of the God of the Bible. It is never used of any other.

So what do we see Jehovah doing here? We see Him taking special care with mankind. Look at verse 7. Jehovah had formed the rest of the living creatures by simply speaking them into being. But when it comes to man, He takes a handful of earth and personally fashions it into the form of man. In this way God was subtly showing that mankind was on a different level than the animal kingdom.

For this most special of His living creations, God planted a garden. He called it Eden. In this garden paradise God placed everything that man would need, not only to live, but to fully enjoy living. We are told that Eden contained every tree that was pleasant to look at, and that produces fruit that is good to eat.

Jehovah even planted an education tree. There in the middle of Eden was a tree called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now, some would say that the reason God told man not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was because He never wanted man to know what evil was.

That’s possible. But, I disagree. I think the name of the Tree tells us what it was there for. Adam and Eve could learn what evil was through the simple command attached to this tree. Eating from it would be evil. It would bring death. Obeying God and not eating from this tree would be good, and their life of intimate communion with God would remain intact. They COULD learn these lessons without ever actually taking from the tree. Without ever experiencing evil for themselves.

That Jehovah wanted man to remain sinless is shown by God’s clear command concerning the tree. He didn’t mince words when it came to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil. He told man openly NOT to eat from it, and He told man exactly what the consequences would be if he did – DEATH. The rest of the Bible makes it clear that God was not just talking about physical death. He meant the whole package. Physical death, spiritual death and separation from Jehovah God forever.

God had good plans for man. There’s a tree in the garden that shows us that too. The Tree of Life. God had an eternal existence planned for man, an eternal existence of happiness and enjoyment.

So, let’s consider the source. Jehovah took special care of man. He provided everything needed and wanted for him. He gave him a living paradise as his home. He provided for his education and planned an eternity of joy for man and their descendants. Concerning the one danger in the garden, God gave clear and fully explained warning.

God is good.

Now, when we examine the character of Satan, we find nothing but evil and deception.

For clarity sake, Satan is a fallen angel. He was created good, but chose to betray Jehovah God and to lead a rebellion of angels against Him. Satan is not the embodiment of evil, no story-book personification, he is a real entity. A real, individual, spirit being.

Here in Eden, Satan has taken possession of a serpent. Like those demons during Jesus’ day that took control of human beings and controlled their words and actions, here Satan has chosen a serpent as his vehicle.

And we’re told why Satan chose this creature. It was the smartest of the land creatures that God had made. In this way, Satan borrowed the serpent’s reputation and used it to his own advantage.

Satan still does this today, when he uses the highly educated men and women of prestigious universities to raise doubt about the trustworthiness of God’s Word. The most deceptive and effective temptation never comes from the people we consider foolish, or our open enemies. The most deceptive temptation comes from those who appear smart. People who just want us to be free from the manipulative influences of organized religion, or of the sadly outdated and oppressive ideas of the Bible.

This story from Genesis is so precious for understanding Satan’s character and methods. It’s no wonder he’s done his best to make people consider it some sort of tribal fairy-tale. It we think that, we’ll miss the detailed description of Satan’s tactics that we find here. And when history is forgotten, it is bound to be repeated.

In this case, Satan starts by appearing wise. He took the form of the wisest creature next to man. Then he asks Eve a simple, innocent looking question. Verse 1
“…And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 NKJV).
It’s just a question, but in this question Satan has nestled the implication that God isn’t taking care of Adam and Eve. Here you are in the middle of all this goodness and God has told you NOT to eat from it?!

Eve quickly corrects Satan. No, they can eat from all the trees, there’s only ONE that is forbidden. And it’s forbidden for a good reason, it causes death.

And that’s when Satan moves in for the kill. You see, he can’t actually hurt Eve. She’s sinless and invincible to him right now. If he’s going to do anything to her, he’s got to separate her from God. He’s GOT to get her to sin. And so Satan leaves sneaky questions behind and moves on to DIRECTLY assault Jehovah’s character. Verse 4...
“4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5 NKJV).
Satan suggests two ideas to Eve. FIRST, that God is tricking you. He’s lied about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s REALLY a good tree to eat from. And SECOND, but you can rise above Jehovah God. You can defeat Him. The fruit that will make you AS WISE AS HIM is within your reach right now.

So, let’s consider the source here. So far Satan has borrowed the reputation of the serpent to make himself look wise. He’s used questions to make Eve question God’s goodness. He’s used lies to make the worst possible course of action seem like the only wise one.

Satan is evil.

Now, I want to take a second here to talk about Satan’s favorite tool – the lie. Lies distort reality. That’s what they do. Lies alter the way we see people around us. And the worst thing about lies is that they last. They continue to distort our view long after they’re told.

Look at the world from Eve’s perspective BEFORE Satan came along. She was happy. She had the world’s greatest husband. She lived in a perfect climate. Never had to fold clothes. When she was hungry, she just ate. Every once in a while God would stop by and they’d all go on a walk together. EVERYTHING was perfect.

Then Satan came along and offered a set of eye glasses to Eve. Glasses which distorted the way she saw the world around her, and most tragically – glasses which distorted the way she saw God.

For just a moment, assume that Satan’s words were true. See it from Eve’s perspective: God is tricking you. He actually wants to keep you under His thumb. But right here, hanging from this tree is fruit that will make you just as wise as God! Just as wise as the one who made everything good around you!

Viewed through the lens of Satan’s lies, Eve’s action of eating the fruit was not only SAFE, it was the best choice she could possibly make! She could even do a favor for her husband by sharing this great gift of God-wisdom with him.

The reality that Satan presented was a distorted reality. A lie. But once the deed was done, there was no going back. No way for Adam and Eve undo what they had done. All they could do was try to cover it up.

This is the same thing that Satan does today. He sets up a façade of lies to trick us into doing what God has clearly told us NOT to do. He still teaches the same lesson to humans that he taught our first mother – Disobedience to God leads to pleasure, knowledge and promotion. But when we finally do what Satan has led us to, we find the same thing. The distortion of reality falls away and we see that there is no going back. No way for us to undo what we have done.

How many times has that happened to you? It’s happened to me a billion times. There’s something that I know God doesn’t want me to do, but I begin to see it in a different light. This COULD be good for me. It could lead to pleasure, or popularity, or some kind of advantage. But when the deed is done, my conscience reveals the truth. It was wrong. Sin. And now it’s done, with no way of undoing it.

If only I would have considered the source. God is good. Satan is evil. What God tells me can only lead to my joy and benefit. What Satan suggests can only lead to my ruin.

So, who should we trust today? Well, when you consider the source, the answer is pretty obvious.

Satan’s leading has made our world into a world where mothers kill their own children. A world where pain and sorrow surround us instead of peace and happiness. A world where governments oppress the people they’re meant to serve. A world where earthquakes destroy, and tsunamis obliterate. Because of Satan’s lies, our lives will all terminate in frailty and death.

Some ask the question: If God is so loving, why is our world so messed up? It’s not a hard question to answer when you consider the source. God is good, Satan is evil. The headwaters of all our suffering is not God, but Satan’s lies, and our sin.

Thankfully, God remained good after Adam and Eve became evil. And in His goodness and mercy, Jehovah has provided a door through which we can escape the dead end that this world has become.

Shortly after man’s first sin, God found Adam and Eve and the Serpent. And He promised that one day a Man would be born who would face the temptations of the Serpent, and would not give in to his lies. The Bible tells us that this Man was Jesus. The Son of Mary, and the Son of God.

Instead of listening to Satan, He listened to God. Instead of seeking pleasure and knowledge and promotion through disobedience, He considered the source, and trusted in God. And by giving Himself to suffer hell and to die in man’s place, He defeated the serpent and re-opened the door to Eden for all mankind.

Romans 6:23 says…
“23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23 KJV).
In Isaiah 53:11 God talks about our Savior saying…
“ 11After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light ‹of life› and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11 NIV).

The season of Lent is forty days long, not counting Sundays. The ancient Christian church didn’t consider the Sundays during Lent part of that season. Lent was about seeing the sufferings of Christ that were done in our place. The SUNDAYS were viewed as “little Easter’s”. Little calms in the storm on which to see the final event in the story of sin and grace.

Today we’ve mostly seen the source of sin in Eden. But let’s close by thinking about the source of our salvation. Jesus. The Savior that didn’t sin. The Savior that died for us. The Savior that left the tomb on Easter, resurrected from the dead.

Satan led the human race into a world of sin and suffering and death. Jesus Christ gives the gift of forgiveness, and lead us out of sin and suffering and death – to be reunited with Jehovah God.

Disobedience leads to death, but faith in Christ to real pleasure, true knowledge and the ultimate promotion.


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

March 9, 2011

Lingering Images of His Love: A Real Struggle - Mar 9, 2011

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It was nearly 10 years ago now. I was just about to go and talk with our landlord. The television was on. It looked like the news had cut in to report something. And there it was, a video of a jetliner slamming into a skyscraper. Smoke billowing from the gaping hole. And then there was another.

Important events stick in our minds in the form of images.

Shock burns these images deep into our memory, and there they linger. All it takes is a familiar scent, a taste or a sound and they come flooding back.

This year we hope to burn a few good images into our minds. Images of Jesus on His way to the cross. Images which illustrate His dedication to us. Images of what He did to completely pay off our debt of sin.

The theme for our midweek worship this Lent is “Lingering Images of His Love”.


Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Master and Savior Jesus Christ.

The image I would burn on your memory tonight is this. Jesus on His knees. He is praying harder than ever before. Nothing in His life up to this point has been as difficult as what He is about to face. And nothing has been so difficult as this moment.

This is no mere play-acting by the Son of God. This is a real struggle. He is learning what true obedience is. He knows what debt must be paid if sinners are to be forgiven, and He knows that He is on course to pay it. We read…

Mark 14:32-42 (NIV)

32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
39Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
41Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Again, the image I would impress on your memory tonight is this. Jesus on His knees, praying hard.

Sweat is rolling off His brow. He is off praying in this solitary place because He is troubled. He is troubled because He is anticipating how close His greatest challenge is. His greatest suffering. We know this because of the words of His own prayer that are recorded for us here, “Take this cup from me”.

The “cup” that Jesus must drink is all the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual suffering that man’s sins have stored up. This “cup” of suffering was not filled by Jesus, but by every man, woman and child that has ever sinned against others and against God.

In the Bible, the punishment for sin is clear – it is separation from God and all His goodness, forever. Hell. And in just a few hours the sinless Jesus would experience an eternity of Hell condensed into just a few hours.

In the soul of Jesus, this produces tension. And the reality of this inner struggle is expressed in a number of ways here in Gethsemane.

First of all, it is expressed in the description of Jesus’ emotional condition. He is described as “deeply distressed and troubled”. Jesus’ own words describe the extent of this emotional distress. He tells His friends that His soul is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”.

The very fact that He has asked Peter, James and John to be close to Him shows how great this strain is. He was usually the one leading them, supporting them, teaching them. He would send them out to do work for Him, but how many times previous has Jesus requested their support? Their presence in HIS time of need?

Perhaps the greatest show of His distress is found in Jesus’ prayer. It was no unusual thing to find Jesus praying to the Father. Always sneaking off to spend some quiet hours in prayer while everyone else was sleeping. It’s the words of Jesus’ prayer that grab our attention. He repeats them three separate times. “Take this cup from me”.

The Gospel of Luke gives us two other details about Jesus’ praying here that illustrate the immense weight that pushed down on His soul. In Luke 22:44 it says that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”. So strained was His soul and mind that His body reflected this strain in this strange way.

Luke 22:43 also informs us that Jesus was under such strain that an angel was sent to strengthen Him during one session of prayer.

And this was before He felt a single blow. Before He felt the spray of spittle from those who distained Him. Before He felt the scourge caress His back, or the nails secure His arms to the cross. This was before He looked for the Father, and came up empty.

In the Old Testament book of Job, we hear the story of a follower of God whose faith was severely tested. Satan told the LORD that the only reason Job worshipped Him was because God had planted a hedge around Job. Always protecting, always blessing. Satan offered this challenge: take away Job’s blessings and he would no longer be a faithful and obedient follower.

It’s easy to follow when the command is pleasant. True obedience is shown when the command is painful.

In Hebrews 5, verse 7 it says…
“7During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:7-8 NIV).
Even when Jesus prayed to avoid the cup of suffering that was coming, He added this to complete His prayer, “Your will be done, Father”. May God give us strength to pour out our worries and troubles and requests to God with complete honesty, and to make our prayers whole by adding the same, “But YOUR will be done, Father”.

This is the image. A real Savior, there in Gethsemane. On His knees. His struggle was genuine. He was learning the full meaning of obedience.

His struggle was real, because there was a real debt to be paid. Our debt of sin. Our debt that could only be paid by the suffering of Hell. It was our struggle to experience, but it laid on Him instead.

The answer to Jesus’ prayer is not explicitly spoken from the sky here. But we know what the Father’s answer was from the events that followed. The answer was “No, My Son. There is no other way to free sinners from Hell. You must suffer it in order for them to be free. In order for them to be forgiven”.

And while this was a crushing answer to Jesus, it is the most liberating answer for us. The LORD did not say, “Don’t worry about it Son, sinner can redeem themselves with hard work and doing lots of good deeds.” No, God said, “This is the only way”.

Years later, Paul the apostle would pen this statement in His letter to the Galatian Christians…
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21 NIV).
Christ didn’t die for nothing; He died so that our sins are forgiven.

He wasn’t pretending, because our sins are real.

He was obedient, for those who were not.

He paid the debt, so that we wouldn’t have to.

Dear followers of Christ gathered here tonight – struggle against sin. Fight against those daily temptations that war against your soul. But DO NOT for a moment think that you are struggling for your forgiveness. THAT struggle and suffering has already been done by Christ. Through His blood, you are declared forgiven and free.

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, we’ve paused tonight to think about you on your knees, suffering deeply in prayer. You felt this because of our sad choices. Our unworthy words. Our foul thoughts. Thank you. Help us Lord Jesus, by your Holy Spirit and your Word and the sacraments to NEVER insult your great sacrifice by thinking there is something left to do. Instead let us dance in the lightness of your grace, with the image of your love ever in our minds. Amen.

March 8, 2011

He Shall Reign Forever and Ever - Mar 6, 2011

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Today’s message is the third in a series intended to help prepare for Lent. The first two messages directed our attention to the cross and resurrection of Christ. On the cross our forgiveness was earned, through the resurrection the truth of this forgiveness is confirmed.

Our message for today lifts our eyes above the cross and the empty tomb, to the eternal reign of Christ.


Over 500 years before Jesus was born, the Jewish people were conquered and deported to Babylon. There, a man named Daniel received a vision of the glory that would come to a mysterious figure described as “one like a son of man”.

The testimony of the Bible confirms that this figure is none other than Jesus, the Son of God. He shall reign forever and ever, because He was found holy before the Almighty God. He first came to this earth as a humble human servant, but now He reigns supreme as the eternal king. The subjects of His kingdom are those saved by His divine sacrifice, in which we trust.

Daniel 7:14-15 (ESV)

13I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

In Daniel’s vision he saw the “Ancient of Days” sit down on His throne. Daniel saw God as an ancient white haired figure surrounded by thousands of angels and fire. Before Him lie open books. We assume, the books recording the details concerning any case presented before the Ancient of Days. This is a divine courtroom scene.

The way that God chose to appear to Daniel is intimidating to the extreme.

How would you like to be the one on trial? Presenting your case before your sinless and powerful Creator. Standing in view of thousands and thousands of angels. God’s armies of pur and powerful spirit creatures. Feeling the heat of the consuming fire that surrounds the Almighty like a cloak. And there, at His side is a book that contains every word you have ever spoken. Every thing that you have ever done. Every thought that has ever passed through your mind.

When the prophet Isaiah had a similar vision of the Almighty, he cried out,
“Woe to me! …I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV).
Psalm 130 says…
“If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3 NIV).
Which one of us would volunteer to go first?

Our choices in life stamp us guilty. Guilty of doing what God has clearly forbidden. Guilty of greed, and lust and hatred and carelessness, envy, pride.

And in this place where we sinners would not dare to voluntarily go, another is brought. A figure that Daniel describes simply as “one like a son of man”. Simply put, He is a human being.

But when this human being is presented before the Ancient of Days, He does not receive God’s wrath, but God’s stamp of approval. God looks in His books and sees nothing but perfection. Not a single mark of sin on this one. And God rewards Him with authority, glory and an eternal kingdom. This figure is worthy of all these things because He is holy. Sinless, just like the Ancient of Days.

The Jewish people understood this “Son of Man” to be the Messiah. The Savior which God had promised to sinful mankind. And because of Daniel’s vision, they associated ONLY glory and power with the Son of Man.

Over forty times in the four Gospels, Jesus clearly calls Himself the Son of Man indicating that He is this figure from Daniel’s vision. But Jesus also described the Son of Man with terms that were not so glorious.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus says…
“…Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 NIV).
He had no place to call His own on this earth, because He didn’t come to build a temporary kingdom. Jesus described the work of the Son of Man in Matthew 20, verse 17
“17Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:17-19 NIV).
This was very different than what the Jews were expecting from the Son of Man. Jesus said that the Son of Man wasn’t coming to rule over servants, but to be a servant! Mark 10, verse 45
“45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NIV).
Only after the Son of Man came as a suffering servant would He appear as a glorious King. Isaiah 53, verse 11
“11After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light ‹of life› and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:11-12 NIV).

In Daniel’s vision, the Son of Man is honored and given authority. But He isn’t given this just because He is holy. He has done the great work which the Father asked Him to do. He has offered Himself as a sinless sacrifice in place of all the wicked. He has paid the ransom price so that all sinners are declared holy before God.

Now, we might rightly ask why the Son would subject Himself to such a humbling thing. He already reigned supreme when the universe was created. John 1:1-3 tells us that everything was created through the Son.

The Son of God didn’t need to become human in order to gain glory and authority. It was always His. He became human to elevate the poor, condemned, sinful creature called man. He became human to fill His kingdom with rescued sinners. Only through His holiness are we sinners declared righteous now, and made righteous in the future.

In John 3, verse 14 Jesus says…
“14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 NIV).
When we think about the Kingdom of Heaven, we tend to think about the future when Jesus will return and His kingdom will become visible. But the fact is, through faith in Jesus, we already live under the glorious reign of the Son of Man.

First Peter 2, verse 9 says…
“9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:9-12 NIV).
The Son of Man rules in the hearts of those who trust in Him. Daily He forgives our sins because of His blood. Daily His Holy Spirit works to change our hearts and lives using the Words of the Bible.

We’ve heard the positive phrase, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”. I would change that statement ever so slightly to say, “These are the early days of His eternal reign, and we are living in them.”

In the early 18th century, the great composer, George Frideric Handel composed a piece called the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Hallelujah meaning “praise Jehovah”. I’m going to play the Hallelujah chorus to close our message today, and here’s why. Jesus changes our fear of approaching the Holy God into joy and a “Hallelujah”.

As we travel through the season of Lent, we’re going to see God’s dedication to saving us from our sins expressed in every suffering step of the Son of Man. We’re going to hear that term, “the Son of Man”. Watch for it. Don’t let it slip by. And when you hear it, think of the glory expressed in Daniel’s vision. And even when you don’t hear the term “Son of Man”, let that glorious coronation of the Son of Man be the background music that flows behind Jesus as He walks the road to the cross, the tomb and the sky.

Lent is about our sins. It is about Jesus’ suffering. But above all, it is about the glory to come. The glory of the suffering servant elevated to the highest throne, and the praise that forgiven sinners offer from within His kingdom.

Play Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”.

Prayer: O Ancient of Days, let this song play in our hearts as we see your great love played out on the stage of history. Accept our meditations and prayers and songs during Lent as an expression of thanks for the full and free forgiveness that has been given us through your Son. Amen.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.