March 11, 2012

Seeing the Invisible - Mar 11, 2012

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It is hard to understand what you cannot see. In fact, it is impossible unless someone teaches you.

About 170 years ago a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis (Ig-nahts Zem-uhl-vahys) was working in Vienna. He was in charge of two birthing clinics run by the Vienna General Hospital. These clinics offered free birthing services to poor or single mothers.

Semmelweis was troubled to the point of sickness with his work. One out of every ten women who gave birth at his clinics died from something termed Childbed Fever. But this wasn't all. Unexplainably, more women died at First Clinic than at Second Clinic. Semmelweis wanted to know WHY.

So, he looked at the data. He examined the differences and the similarities between the clinics. One difference that he found was this. First Clinic served as a training facility for medical students. Second clinic as a training facility for midwives. At First Clinic the medical students also performed autopsies, whereas the midwives of Second Clinic did not.

In 1847 a close friend of Semmelweis died after being accidentally poked with a scalpel during an autopsy. When they examined his body, they found many similarities to the mothers who had died of Childbed Fever. Semmelweis made the connection immediately. Something was being transmitted from the dead bodies to the birthing mothers on the very hands of the doctors.

Semmelweis had a revolutionary solution. Have the doctors wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution (like bleach).

The result of the new hand washing policy was astounding. The death rates at First Clinic dropped 90%.

But here comes the tragedy. When Semmelweis suggested to the medical community that the reason for these deaths was a lack of cleanliness, his hypothesis was considered extreme. Some doctors felt insulted at the implication that they had dirty hands. At the implication that THEY were causing these deaths. After all, they were gentlemen. They were not unclean. For the most part, Semmelweis was ignored, rejected and ridiculed.

Eventually he was forced out of Vienna, committed to an asylum and died of septicemia at the age of 47.

You see, the medical community at that time did not yet believe in germs. Mostly because they could not see them. Only decades later did men like Luis Pasteur prove their existence of germs.

It is hard to understand what you cannot see. In fact, it is impossible unless someone teaches you.

In the book of John, it says...
" 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known" (John 1:17 NIV).
Our Scripture readings for today tell us how the invisible God Has revealed His existence, His will, and His character to the people He created.

Old Testament: Exodus 20:1-17 (ESV)

1 And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

One of the fundamental principles of parenting is: let your children know what you expect of them. Don't expect big heads on little shoulders. Children are just learning what is acceptable and what is not. So adults need to tell them very specifically what is expected, and we need to remind them.

God did this for the human race that He created. First He wrote right in wrong in our hearts. Then when sin blurred those lines He gave us a handy summary of right and wrong in the Ten Commandments.

As we read the words of the Ten Commandments, the very Spirit of God is working, helping us to understand what He expects of us.

Some of these commandments we get pretty easy. These are the ones that God doesn't spend much time on. Don't murder. Don't commit adultery. Don't steal. Don't lie. God doesn't need to spend many words on these commands because we get these commandments. These are things we don't want other people to do to us, so we instinctively understand that we shouldn't do these things to others. It's the other commands that God uses more words to explain.

For example, take the last commandments about coveting. In Romans 7 Paul writes...
"...I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet'" (Romans 7:7 ESV).
Through God's commands about coveting we learn that God isn't just concerned with outward actions, He's concerned with inner motives. He wants us to learn that we don't just sin through what we say and do, we even sin in through what we think.

Much of parenting is simply encouraging good behavior, and discouraging bad behavior through reward and punishment. And God does this for the human race that He created also. Here in Exodus 20 God says, "I'm serious about how you act. I WILL punish those who hate me, and I WILL bless those who love me and keep my commandments. The commandments contain two promises - the promise of punishment for the wicked, and the promise of blessing for the righteous.

And it's in these promises God reveals something about Himself, and about us.

First He reveals that He is a jealous God. In our day, we generally associated the word "jealous" with a bad attitude. But this isn't the sense of the word "jealous" when applied to God. Replace the "j" with a "z" and you get a clearer idea of what God means here. God is ZEALOUS. He's intensely emotional about how his creations act toward Him. He's not going to put up with people breaking His Law. And He's not going to forget to bless people who keep His Law out of love for Him.

The second thing God reveals to us through His commandments is that we are sinners. Even though we know God's threats to punish the person who sins, we still sin. Even though we know God's promise to bless the keeper of His Law, we still sin.

Ever heard someone say, "Well, we're all human". When we use this phrase we suggest that we shouldn't be surprised when people sin. It's just human to sin. And along with this sentiment we subtly imply that since everyone does it, and it's to be expected, that makes it okay.

Through His commandments God says, "No way. Your sin is NOT okay. Not according to my standards."

Psalm of the Day: Psalm 19 (NASB)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

One title for this Psalm is "God's revelation in work and word". The first half of this Psalm talks about how the physical world testifies to mankind every day that a great, wise and powerful God exists.

The apostle Paul repeats this truth in Romans 1 when he writes...
"...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20 ESV).
The second half of Psalm 19 talks about how God reveals His perfect and holy will through the commands found in God's Word.

At the end of Psalm the writer becomes pensive. He turns his thoughts inward. He's convicted by God's commands. He knows he has sinned often and in many ways that he is not even aware of. He writes,
"Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12 ESV).
And he is afraid of what he calls "presumptuous sins". He doesn't want to be ruled by his arrogant sinner's heart. Instead the Psalm writer longs to master his sins. Like God told Cain,
"...sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it" (Genesis 4:7 ESV).
With the last lines of the Psalm he expresses his only hope for forgiveness. He says,
"...O LORD, [You are] my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14 ESV).

The commandments of God do exist to show us God's will. How He wants us to act. But more than that, they exist to show us that we are sinners who cannot do this. They exist to point us to the Redeemer from sin which God promised from the very first sin.

So often when people read God's commandments they think that God is saying we can actually keep them, and if we do we can get to heaven. NO! Forgiveness for sins has NEVER BEEN A WORK THING, it's always been A FAITH THING. Even the ancient Psalm writer knew this.

Gospel History: John 2:13-22 (ESV)

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Through His threats and promises connected with the commandments, God made it clear that He was intensely serious about being honored by the human race. Here in the Temple, God's Son makes it clear that He is of the same mindset.

The Temple courts were meant to be a place for people to approach God in worship and prayer. They were not meant to be a market where wallets were padded through exorbitant prices and where money was worshipped by the religious authorities who encouraged and benefited from this trade.

But sinful humans often focus on the temporary at the expense of what lasts. We miss the point. We don't understand unless God opens our eyes and points us to the truth.

The reason for this is that we are born sinful. Sin has so permeated the human condition that we can't see spiritual truths clearly anymore. Our sinful nature blinds our spiritual sight like cataracts. Like Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians...
" 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV).

And, it appears from this story about Jesus cleansing the Temple, that some of the things that God teaches aren't meant to be fully understood right away.

Here the enraged Jews demand a miraculous sign from Jesus to show that He has the authority to do what He is doing. Jesus responds...
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19 ESV).
It doesn't appear that Jesus intended anyone to understand this prophesy about His resurrection right away. Even if He did, they didn't get it.

Later on, after Jesus had been raised from the dead the prophetic statement that He uttered here was illuminated in the minds of His disciples. And at THAT time it strengthened their faith in Him.

May the Holy Spirit help us to hold on to the words of God in our hearts and minds, even when we do not fully grasp their meaning. And may those words open up to our mind at just the right time, to the glory of God and the strengthening of our trust in Him.

NT Letter: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (NIV)

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

This Lent I've been trying to emphasize that the Cross of Christ is not a place to pummel ourselves with guilt and sorrow, it is the headwaters, the source of the Christian's forgiveness, peace and power.

It's not surprising that we miss the point. Our sinful nature gets in the way of our understanding God's free gift of salvation. Only through the revealing power of the Holy Spirit working in the Word of God do we finally break free of the idea that we have to put on a parade of emotional pain in order to enter the presence of God.

Does God want us to see that it was our sins that put Jesus on the cross? Clearly yes. Does God want us to be sorry for all the ways we've sinned against each other and against Him? Definitely. But God wants us to see our sins CLEARLY and DEFINITELY so that we can then see that all our punishment was swallowed up by His Son on the Cross.

God uses the Law to grip us by the collar and pull us close. And then He says, "Look! Look at your sins! Look how ugly they are! Look how twisted and damaging and sick they are! Look at all the hell you deserve because of them!" And then he drops those sins off the side of the boat into the deepest abyss we could ever imagine. And smiling He says, "See? They're gone. You sins stands forgiven in Christ. You will never feel my wrath because of Him."

Even then, it's hard for sinners to believe that God's love is that big. That ridiculously free. The Gospel is so far beyond our sinner's hearts to grasp that it can only be understood though God's persistent and brilliant teaching.

In this last reading Paul illustrates how impossible it is for sinful people to understand God's gift.

The Jews were the type of people who looked for miraculous signs to validate a message. When they looked at Christ on the cross, they were confused. Where was the glory in this? Where was the miraculous sign here?

The Greeks were the type of people who were always trying to logic things out. Philosophy was their thing. When they saw Christ on the cross, they just thought it was silly. We're supposed to get behind this guy? He's our great leader? He got Himself crucified?

But the irony is that in the cross there was both sign and power.

When Christ was crucified He was fulfilling ancient prophesies found in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 that said that One would take the fall for the many. And the sign of the cross was followed by the sign of the empty tomb. Christ rose from the dead, as foretold. What greater sign could there be that this was the Messiah foretold?

And if we're looking for power, there's power in the cross. The power of Christ's crucifixion is found in His voluntary choice to die. It takes one type of power to ride into battle and cut down the enemy with a sword or a gun. It takes a greater power to willingly sacrifice yourself because you know it will win the battle once and for all.

It is hard to understand what you cannot see. In fact, it is impossible unless someone teaches you.

And those whom God calls by the Gospel of Christ, He enlightens with the Gospel. He teaches us to see that in the cross of Christ is GOD'S power, GOD's wisdom, and GOD's love - all SO MUCH MORE than man's power or wisdom or love.

If we try to see God apart from the Bible, we only see a hazy shape. But through the Words of Scripture Christ Jesus reveals the true God to us. He is an intensely emotional God, zealous and protective of His honor. But He is also an intensely and emotional God, zealous and dedicated to saving those who could never save themselves.

We started our service today by talking about a Hungarian doctor who suggest a simple way to save human lives. Wash your hands.

The medical establishment just couldn't see the wisdom in that. They had it all figured out. Human health depended on a balance of the four humors of the body, not on imaginary "germs" or other such nonsense.

Let's not do the same when it comes to spiritual things. Let's not dismiss God's revealed way of salvation by thinking we've got some other way figured out. Instead, let's listen to the Greatest Teacher - for in Christ we are given SPIRITUAL CLEANSING and ETERNAL LIFE.


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

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