May 26, 2013

An Invitation Into the Sublime - May 26, 2013

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday which we set aside to meditate on the three-in-one nature of God.

In the Bible God describes Himself as a single entity. That is, He describes Himself as a single spirit being—one God. But God also describes Himself as being composed of three separate and distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is a mystery. We can know and believe that God is three-in-one, but we don’t really understand how that can be. To date, man hasn’t found anything in creation that is three-in-one in the same way that God describes Himself. And this makes sense. We would expect to find that the creator is different in some ways from His creation.

When we’re teaching children about the Trinity, we might use an apple to help them get some idea what God’s triune nature is like. An apple is composed of three parts: the peel, the flesh and the core. The peel isn’t pear, it’s apple. The flesh isn’t pumpkin, it’s apple. The core isn’t peach, it’s apple. Peel, flesh, and core are all apple.

In a similar way, the peel isn’t flesh, it’s peel. The flesh isn’t core, it’s flesh. The core isn’t peel, it’s core. But together they are ONE apple.

Others might use water to describe the Trinity. There is liquid water, solid ice, and water vapor—but they’re all water.

But, you know, any visual aids we might use to illustrate what three-in-one means fall short at some point. God is simply beyond any earthly example we might point to.

Trying to explain God’s qualities by using visual aids from the physical world, is a bit like trying to understand an artist by their art alone. We may learn quite a bit about an artist through their work, but we’ll understand a lot more about them if we simply spend time with them. Daily contact helps us to learn what a person is like more than anything else.
The disciples of Jesus had that opportunity. They lived with the Son of God. They traveled and conversed with Him for three solid years during His ministry. They were invited to have daily contact with Jesus, and through this contact they learned something about how the persons of God function together.

Jesus gives us a glimpse into how the persons of the Trinity function in our sermon reading for today. On the night before Jesus was crucified, He told His followers the following.

John 16:12-15 (NASB)

  12   “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
  13   “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
  14   “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
  15   “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.
On the night when Jesus told His disciples these words, He was well aware of the fact that He would be leaving them soon. He knew that His betrayal and crucifixion were approaching. He also knew that after His crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples would still NOT be ready to hear a lot of the things He had to tell to them. But in time, they would be. And Jesus trusted that at the right time, the Holy Spirit would take up the work of further educating His disciples.

The first thing that we learn about the Trinity from Jesus’ words here is that they work together seamlessly. The things that Jesus couldn’t tell the disciples because they weren’t ready, the Holy Spirit WOULD tell them. Jesus says,

“…When He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth;” (John 16:13 NASB).

The second thing that we learn about the Trinity from Jesus’ words is that in their actions toward each other, they are self-less.

Now, when we talk about regular people being self-less, we mean that they aren’t putting themselves first. They consider the needs of others, the plans of others, and don’t push themselves forward at the wrong time. This is what the members of the Trinity do towards each other. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit,

“Will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak;” (John 16:13 NASB).

As the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit has a lot to say. But in the future when the Holy Spirit would come to the followers of Jesus, He wouldn’t start spouting off about just any truth. Instead, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit would speak the things that Jesus gave Him to speak. That is, He would give the disciples the right information, at the right time, so that Jesus’ followers could serve as His ambassadors to the world. Earlier, Jesus had told the disciples,

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26 NASB).

So, in their relationship together, the members of the Trinity work together. They are self-less. And the third thing that we learn here about the Trinity is that they are humble toward one another.

Now, it may sound strange to say that the members of the Trinity are HUMBLE towards each other, but here’s what it means. Look at verse 14 again. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, 

“He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:14 NASB).

The members of the Trinity glorify each other. The Son glorified the Father by doing what the Father sent Him to do. He lived a life free from sin, and offered His perfect soul to redeem sinners like you and me from hell. In response to His obedience, the Father glorified the Son by raising Him from the dead for all the world to see. In turn, the Holy Spirit glorified the Son by proclaiming this truth to the world through the testimony of the disciples.

In Proverbs 27, it says,

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2 NASB).

This is what the Trinity does. They work together, more seamlessly than any human team. They are selfless in their dealings with one another, and they glorify each other.
Now, sometimes we talk about the different members of the Trinity as having different jobs. In the Apostles’ Creed we say the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit changes those who have been brought to faith so that they more closely resemble the Son by the things they think, say and do. But upon further review, the jobs that the members of the Trinity do are really TEAM JOBS—that is, they do these things together.

For example, when the Father created the world we’re told that the Holy Spirit was also present. He was hovering over the waters at the time of the creation. Where life was brought into existence, the Holy Spirit was working. We’re also told that the Son was there. Talking about God the Son, John chapter 1 says,

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3 NIV).

So the Trinity created our universe, together.

We often talk about how Jesus redeemed sinners from hell by dying for them on the cross. By suffering hell in our place, the punishment for our sins was erased. And while it is true that the Son was the only member of the Trinity that became human and died on the cross, we can’t forget what the Father gave up to redeem us. John 3:16 says,

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17 NKJV).

Was it nothing for the Father to give up His only Son? To give over His Son to infinite suffering so that the world of condemned sinners could be redeemed? No! This was a big deal. This had never happened before.

The Trinity redeemed sinners, together.

When we talk about the Holy Spirit and what He does, we talk about the changes that are effected in the hearts and lives of people brought to faith in Jesus. But what message is the Holy Spirit proclaiming through the Gospel? He’s proclaiming the life, death and resurrection of the Son! Through the Words of the Bible, the Holy Spirit teaches us to live our lives as people who now serve our Savior, not our sinful selves.

The Trinity changes the way we live our lives, and the Trinity works these changes in us, as a team.
So, what is it that enables the Trinity to function like this? It is TRUST. They work seamlessly together because they trust each other completely. They can pass off tasks from one to the next, having complete confidence that the job will be done perfectly right. The relationship that exists between the members of the Trinity is marked most clearly by TRUST.

And this is what the Triune God invites sinners like you and me to be part of. A relationship DEFINED by trust.

Having a real relationship with God doesn’t mean just believing that some divine being must exist. Having a real relationship with the Divine begins when we TRUST what He says. That sin really IS that bad. That it WILL sever us from Him forever. But that God’s Son really DID erase the record of our sins by His suffering and death. And that through Him we TRULY stand cleansed from all our past mistakes, evil thoughts, words and actions. A real relationship with God begins when we trust what God says, that through His Son we stand FORGIVEN.

Through this message, we are invited by God to be united to Him. To be reborn into His family through the cross of Christ.
I said earlier that the relationship that exists between the members of the Trinity is marked by TRUST. When sinners begin to trust that the God who made them, has also saved them, then the Holy Spirit begins to educate us further. After faith takes root in our hearts, the Holy Spirit begins to teach us what we weren’t ready to learn before.

He teaches us to work together as one. He teaches us to be self-less, putting the needs of others ahead of our own. He teaches us to be humble, glorifying each other, instead of ourselves. In short, after faith takes root, the Holy Spirit teaches sinners to treat each other the same way that the members of the Trinity treat each other.

Jesus said,

“All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:15 NASB).

Through the message of sins forgiven through Jesus, we are invited in to the sublime relationship of the Trinity. To be children of the Triune God. To take our direction from HIM instead of from our own sinful hearts, or from other sinful beings.
If you wanted to learn how to strengthen your marriage, what better way could imagine than by moving in with a couple that already has a strong marriage? And seeing how they work together.

If you wanted to learn how to be a truly good friend, what better way could you learn than by studying the ways of your most loyal and thoughtful friend?

If you want to learn how to function best in all your relationships, what better way than to learn from God, who has existed from eternity in the most sublimely perfect relationship that has ever existed?

That is what God invites us to experience in Christ. But God doesn’t just say, “Here, let me show you how it’s supposed to be done”. First He says, “Here, let me forgiven all your sins by My Son’s precious sacrifice, then I’ll teach you How to live the way We do.”
Some people think that the idea of God being three-in-one is just a theological exercise. You know, just Bible scholars splitting hairs and overanalyzing. But the more we grasp what the Triune God is like, from His own testimony, the more we will understand what He intended US to be. For in the beginning, God created Mankind in HIS OWN IMAGE.

Is the doctrine of the Trinity worth teaching to our children? To our members? To ourselves? To our friends? Oh yes. For that perfect, sinless, seamless, self-less, humble relationship was not only what Mankind was intended to be, it is what we are invited to reclaim through faith in Christ Jesus.


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

May 19, 2013

A Tower of Pride - May 19, 2013

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Throughout the day, radio operators on the Titanic had been receiving warnings about ice in the area. The captain of the Titanic responded to these reports by turning the ship slightly to the south. He did not, however, make any orders to slow its speed.

At 9:40 pm, a nearby ship reported that they had seen a large ice field full of pack ice as well as a great number of large icebergs. The radio operator on the Titanic, however, felt no need to pass this information on to the ship’s bridge.

About an hour later, another nearby ship reported that they had stopped when it became clear that they were surrounded by ice. The Titanic’s radio operator responded to this warning with the following message, “Shut up! Shut up! I am busy…”

About forty minutes later the ship that was called “unsinkable” had scraped along the side of an immense iceberg, and was now filling with water.

Two hours later, the Titanic was on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.   

Some would say that an iceberg sunk the Titanic. Others would argue it was human pride that took this ship down.
Pride is an exaggerated opinion of one’s own importance, intelligence, or ability. Pride can be secretly cherished in the mind, or displayed outwardly by what a person says and does.

Pride is problem for mankind today, as it has been from the beginning. Countless tragedies can be traced back to human pride. 

The part of God’s Word which we’re going to study today is all about pride.
But, before we read from the Bible, let’s get a feel for where we are in history. Our reading for today is a fascinating and ancient account. It takes place somewhere between Noah’s Flood, and Abraham’s birth. That is, it takes place somewhere around 4,300 years ago.

Noah’s family has come off the Ark in the region of the world that we call Palestine. They have continued life. Their families have grown. There are now many people on the earth. But these people are all in one place. There are no nations yet, only this one group of human beings. They are the only tribe. They are the only people.

Let’s see what happens. 

Genesis 11:1-9 (NASB)

    1   Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.
    2   It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
    3   They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.
    4   They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
    5   The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
    6   The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.
    7   “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
    8   So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.
    9   Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.
The first thing about this account that I find amazing is that these people are our ancestors. Like I said before, at this point, there weren’t any nations yet, no ethnic groups, no differing languages. This is the human race right here, from which we all have descended.

They’ve been living in Palestine, when they decide for some reason, to migrate east. And the place they finally decide to settle down in is Shinar—that is, Babylon. If you want to find the place they went to on a modern map, just look about 58 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. That’s where this story unfolds.

We learn just a little about the culture and technology of the time. Mankind had developed various building methods by this point. They weren’t just tenting or building stick-frame houses, they had learned how to process shale and fire uniform bricks from it. Bricks that were strong enough that they could undertake a huge tower project.

They had the infrastructure to pull this project off. They had the architects to plan it, the foremen to direct it, the workers needed to build it, and the food sources to fuel all these people.

Furthermore, they had decided this was a good place to settle down. You don’t build in brick if you’re planning to leave anytime soon. 

Verse 4  gives us their intent,

Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4 NASB).

Unified under one language, Mankind saw the potential for great power in community and numbers. And they were beginning to dream about what they might do with that power.

But they needed something to keep them together. Something more than one language must bind them together where they might grow more and more powerful. Someone posed the idea of a great city, and a great monument. A project that was grand enough to display their great strength and ingenuity. Something to give them prestige and keep the future generations here, like a huge magnet.

We can see their pride pretty clearly, can’t we? What we don’t see is any thought of God. These were the descendants of the faithful Noah! You would think that they would have passed down the knowledge of their Creator. You’d think that they would have passed down the Promise of the Savior from sin that God had made. No doubt there were followers of the LORD among them who knew these things. But, still, we find no mention of a great monument to God. No temple plans. No place of worship. The city and the tower were to glorify mankind only.
One of the characteristics of human pride is that it always seeks to put Man in the place of God.

God’s plan was this: Make a world. Fill it with human life. Bless that human world so that it would praise its Creator.

Man’s plan was this: Make a city. Keep the people and the power in one place. Build a monument to glorify Man.
When  Noah’s family stepped off the Ark and sacrificed a thank offering to God for saving them from the flood, God told them that He would bless them. And furthermore, God told them to go and spread throughout the world. In planning this city and tower, the descendants of Noah were forgetting, rebelling even, against God.

But spreading mankind throughout the world wasn’t the main thing God was concerned about here. When God saw their plans beginning to be fulfilled He said,

Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6 NASB).

God saw their pride. That it was growing. That it would continue to grow as their project progressed. God knew that pride of this kind had no room for Him. Pride of this kind takes the abilities and blessings that God gives and uses them to squeeze Him out of the picture. And so, God took action to limit Mankind’s destructive pride by humbling him and dispersing his power.

The LORD simply took away their unifying language. And their plans fell apart. With no way to overcome this hurdle, they began to disperse through the land, and the country, and the world—as  God had told them to do in the first place. And while their pride was not extinguished altogether, it was severely limited in its scope and power.
Today, man still dreams his dreams of glory, power and prestige. We’ve split the atom. We treat cancer. We transplant organs and limbs. We talk with each other on phones that reach across the globe and beyond. We create technological wonders like face recognition software, and drones which kill from above with terrible precision. And we still build towers to show off our grand abilities. They stand in every major city.

But when one empire rises to high, the others turn and tear it down, and pride is brought down to the dirt once more. Towers fall, ships sink, and monuments to the greatness of Mankind topple over and rot in the dirt.  
I may sound like a bit of a negative guy, but there’s a point to all this. God made mankind as the crown of His creation. But when man uses his abilities to serve his pride, God interposes and brings the prideful down.

And God doesn’t do this because He’s a mean, spiteful God. He does this because He loves us. God alone belongs on the throne of our hearts, and God will do anything He can to keep us from putting ourselves there.

When our lives end, we must stand before God and be held accountable for what we’ve done. Only the humble person who relies on God for forgiveness will enter Heaven. That’s why God brings the prideful down.

The prideful, God humbles. But the humble, God lifts up. This is why God brings the prideful down, so He can lift us up.

This is why God’s Bible talks so much about our sins. We need to be humbled. We need to see that while we think ourselves pretty good, God judges us by a higher standard. He pronounces us completely unacceptable. Utterly sinful.

When we accept this truth, God shows us His plan of salvation. He shows us that even though our sins disqualify us for heaven, His Son has covered those sins by suffering Hell in our place and dying on the cross. To those humbled by the knowledge of sin, God gives the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus.

If we depend on our own strength, our strength will fail us. But if we depend on God’s strength, we’ll find that our weakness is more than compensated for by the power of God.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It’s the day that we remember how the Holy Spirit made His power known in Jerusalem. You remember the story.

After Jesus had risen from the dead, He told His followers to go and share the message of sins forgiven through His cross. Go and tell sinners that in Christ they are cleansed and given a place in God’s family. On the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the followers of Jesus the ability to speak in languages they had never learned. And they used this power to speak the message. Thousands came to faith and were saved from hell that day.

Essentially, the curse of Babel was reversed. Where communication had been lost due to Man’s pride, communication was now restored miraculously so that God’s mercy might be proclaimed.

On the day when God looked down on Babel, He toppled Man’s tower of pride. When God looked down on Pentecost, He lifted mankind up by the gift of forgiveness in Christ, received through faith in His Name.
We began today by remembering how one iceberg sunk one of man’s most glorious ships by brushing against it in the Atlantic. But pride is more dangerous than any iceberg. Icebergs melt in the warmth o f the sun. Human pride only melts in the light of God’s truth.

Take this lesson away with you today. Our strength and intelligence is nothing when we set it against God. Our sinfulness makes anything we might be proud about into absolutely nothing. In other words, we are WORTHLESS because of our sin. BUT, in Christ we are declared PRICELESS, because God’s own Son gave His life to redeem us and make us His own.

Discard your human pride whenever you see it, and let Christ be your boast instead. Like Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian Christians…

14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NIV).


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

May 12, 2013

We Are His Witnesses - May 12, 2013

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The book of Acts is essentially a history book. But instead of relating world history, or regional history, the book of Acts records the early history of the Christian church.

Christianity is the continuation of the Old Testament worship of Yahweh, or as He is more commonly called, “the LORD”. So,  you could say that the history found in the book of Acts isn’t the beginning of the Christian church at all. But here’s the difference. Before Jesus came, the followers of the LORD were always looking forward to the time when the promised Messiah would come and rescue mankind from sin and hell. After Jesus came, their hope changed in this way. Now the church proclaimed that the Messiah had come. And that the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.

In our Sunday morning Bible Class this year we’ve had the opportunity to study the book of Acts in detail. And recently I had the opportunity to study through the book again, in preparation for an outreach talk presented in Vancouver. From these studies, three key observations rose.

First, the disciples who went out to preach sins forgiven through Jesus presented His resurrection from the dead as unshakable proof that their message was true. The disciples were first and foremost, witnesses to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And in their preaching they explain what significance this has for all sinners.

Second, miraculous signs done through the power of the Holy Spirit served to confirm the apostle’s message. The history of Acts is filled with miracles. The disciples speak in languages they never learned. People are instantly healed of their sicknesses. There are demons cast out of people. Others are raised from the dead. But no matter what kind of miracle was performed, the ultimate purpose of each one was to point people to Jesus, and to the forgiveness of sins that He offers.

Third, the message of sins forgiven through Jesus was no manmade religious idea. The Gospel was God’s proclamation to the world. And therefore, the message couldn’t be stopped. By God’s power and according to His plan, the Gospel made it’s way through fiery persecutions and opposition and spread throughout the world.

These are three of the major observations that arise from a study of the book of Acts. And interestingly, these three teachings are encapsulated in the very first chapter of Acts, from which we read today.

The disciples of Jesus might summarize all of this by saying, “We are His Witnesses”. We are witnesses of His resurrection. We are empowered by His Holy Spirit. We are tools of the Father through which His forgiving grace is made known to all.

Acts 1:1-11 (ESV)

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
When the apostles set about filling Judas’ empty place among the Twelve, they selected a pool of men who had been with them from the time of John’s baptizing to the time of Jesus’ ascension. They did this because this new apostle would need to be a “witness to His resurrection”. Once the pool of candidates had been selected, they drew lots, and Matthias became the twelfth apostle. But the main point here is that the twelfth apostle needed to be someone who could say, “Yes, I knew Jesus before He died, and I saw Him after He had been raised to life.”

As you read through the book of Acts, you find sermons of the apostles recorded on different occasions. One thing that the apostles routinely come back to in their preaching is that they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

And they didn’t just see Jesus like an Elvis, or Bigfoot sighting. The resurrected Jesus, complete with nail holes in His hands, spent FORTY days with His disciples after the resurrection. During this time He continued to teach them about the Kingdom of God, and He laid to rest any doubts they might have had about the reality of His resurrection.

Have you ever woken up the morning after some momentous event, and had to honestly ask yourself if it was a dream, or if it had really happened? I’m guessing that this was common among the followers of Jesus after the first Easter Sunday. It makes sense that Jesus would stay with them until the shock wore off and they were sure of who they had seen.

It was important that these disciples be sure of the resurrection, because it would be the cornerstone of their preaching. In the book of Acts, the apostles mention Jesus’ resurrection specifically some 21 different times. And here’s the reason. If Jesus was really raised from the dead, that was God’s power at work. If God raised this teacher from the grave, that was God’s stamp of approval on His message. By raising Jesus from the dead, God was saying, “This is the Christ I have sent to take away your sins”. Boil it down and this is what you get: If Jesus was truly raised from the dead, He is the Savior God promised, and your sins are forgiven because of His suffering and death on the cross.

Our faith is not a faith without foundation. Our trust in Christ is based on the resurrection witness of the men who were there. All who hear the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection hear evidence which demands a verdict. Is the testimony of these men true, or not? If it’s true, then that changes everything.
Now, when the Gospel first went out, God also caused miracles to happen around it, to serve as a secondary witness that this message was true. At  the end of Mark’s Gospel it says,

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (Mark 16:19-20 ESV).

Jesus’ own ministry had been marked by all sorts of miracles. It makes sense that the message of Jesus would be accompanied by more. And that’s what we find in the book of Acts.

At Pentecost the disciples speak in languages that they had never learned. In Jerusalem, Peter heals a paralyzed man. The sick are healed and demons are cast out. A faithful woman by the name of Tabitha is raised from the dead. Peter is set free from prison by an angel. And on and on the list of miracles goes.

But listen to the account of Paul doing a miracle on the island of Cyprus. When a wicked man by the name of Elymas tried to turn people away from Jesus’ message, Paul turned to him and said...

“You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:10-12 ESV).

The telling line here is, “he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord”. Miracles were impressive, yes, but what was more impressive was the message that accompanied the miracles.

If you think about it, a Christianity without miracles would still have the message of sins forgiven and eternal life given through God’s own Son. But a Christianity with loads of miracles but no message, would have so much less to offer.
The last part of our sermon reading for today takes place on the Mount of Olives. This was a mountain that was just east of Jerusalem. From that mountain the disciples would have had a pretty good view of the city.

Jesus took His followers to this mountain at the end of the forty days. The disciples were still hoping that Jesus was going to kick their Roman overlords out of the country and establish a golden age for Israel. They ask Jesus,

“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV).

But Jesus had a better plan in mind. The plan of the Father. Instead of a temporary earthly kingdom, Jesus would send the disciples out into the world to establish the invisible Kingdom of Grace. He tells them,

“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV).

This would be a pretty bold prediction for any mere human being to make. But Jesus was the Son of God. And He knew that the message they were taking out was God’s message to the world. It would succeed because God cannot fail. And it has. Followers of Christ are now found in even the furthest corners of the globe.

As one final sign that God’s power was at work here, Jesus was then lifted up into the air and disappeared from their sight when a cloud drifted between them. And then angel messengers reassured the gawking disciples that Jesus would one day return in the same way that He left. All of this is to say, God’s plan was laid out, and it would progress according to the Lord’s will.

Some scholars aren’t satisfied with the way the book of Acts ends. The book ends with the apostle Paul arriving at Rome where he is to go on trial before Caesar. Here’s the final words of Acts…

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31 ESV).

The scholars who don’t like this ending want to know what happened to Paul? How did the trial go? What happened to Paul after this? They question, have we lost the final chapters of Acts?

But really, this is the perfect ending. The Gospel message that Jesus sent out with His witnesses has reached the capital city of that part of the world. It is being preached freely and is bringing more sinners to the throne of God’s grace. What the Father planned out, is being accomplished through the tools He chooses to use.

Instead of the question, “What happened to Paul”, we aught to ask, how is the Lord going to use my little life to bring glory to God and sinners to Christ? For one day Jesus will come again, like the angels said.

How can I be a witness of Christ’s resurrection?

How can I move at the impulse of the Holy Spirit?

What part does God have for me to plan in His plan of saving the world through Christ?

These are the questions we need to have in our minds as we imagine Jesus ascending into  the sky. Our ever living King has gone up to rule the universe for our good. He has left with us His precious message of free forgiveness and life eternal. He promises that His followers have His power to compensate for our weakness.

May these thoughts give you peace and strength as you face the troubles of this life, and as you wait for Jesus to descend in glory.


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

May 5, 2013

When God Plays, the World Sings - May 5, 2013

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When we hear a favorite song, things start to happen. At the stoplight we begin to bob to the beat, we tap our hands on the steering wheel, or we hum along with the melody. When the chorus comes around we involuntarily find ourselves joining in with the hook. Music is powerful in that way.

Our sermon reading for today is a song. King David composed it to be used in worship. This song is about another song, the one which God plays for the whole world to hear.

Just like a song played by a master musician, God’s song is powerful. It elicits a response from those who hear it. “When God Plays, the World Sings”. When God plays the song of forgiveness, the world is filled with joy. When God plays a song of power, the world is filled with awe. And when God plays the song of providence, the world is moved to thankfulness.

Psalm 65 (NIV)

For the director of music. A psalm of David. A song.

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.
You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.
You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.
God’s song of forgiveness was heard by Adam and Eve right after they sinned for the first time. God promised that one of Eve’s descendants would crush the power of Satan and set sinners free from our damning sins. (Genesis 3:15)

Even before Jesus suffered and died to set sinners free from hell, people were already responding to God’s promise of a Savior. David knew well the promise that God had made. It moved him to write,

“When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions” (Psalm 65:3 NIV).

The first response to God’s song of forgiveness, is joy. God saw our sin and immediately provided a way of forgiveness. A way of forgiveness that we have no part in earning. That sounds odd to us human beings. When we sin against other people, we usually have to fix the mess ourselves. We have to own up to what we’ve done, apologize, and earn our way back into that person’s trust. But God responds to man’s sin by saying, “I will fix this, because you cannot. I’ll send my Son to suffer and die in your place. Through Him you’ll be declared innocent.”

Since we know salvation is completely finished by Christ, Christians look for something else to do, and we find praise. David writes,

“Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled” (Psalm 65:1 NIV).

David paints a picture. It’s like there’s a huge choir that is ready to praise God on Mt. Zion. They’re prepped and ready to begin a song for God, and they’re waiting for Him to come to the Temple. With the phrase, “Praise awaits you”, David makes us think of that moment after the choir piece has been introduced, and the singers are drawing in breath to begin their song.

God’s song of forgiveness is what moves us to sing praise to Him. And one way that we praise God is through obedience to His commands.

God’s song of forgiveness draws people in from across the globe to join His choir. Forgiveness in Christ brings us into the house of God where we sing His praise and are filled with all sorts of inward, spiritual blessings.

If we find that we’re not moved to sing God’s praises, its probably because we haven’t heard His song, or have failed to appreciate how precious His gift of forgiveness really is.

The world trains us to think of physical things as most desirable. A nice home, a fun vacation, a new gadget to play with. But the richest possessions on this earth are not those which we can take in hand. The inner, spiritual blessings that come with Christ’s forgiveness are far better.

Through faith in Christ Christ we have relief from the guilt that sin lays on our minds. We have peace, knowing that God loves us, and is watching over our lives with care. We have confidence, knowing that God’s Word can guide us to the wisest course of action in any situation.

It isn’t the things we find at the mall that lead us to a satisfying and joy filled life, it’s the things we are given in God’s house. It isn’t the things WE put on the outside that complete us, it’s the things GOD puts in our hearts.
If God’s message of forgiveness is a song, it’s a song that turns a unexpected phrase. It’s a song that sounds different than anything we’ve ever heard before, but is sweeter and more welcome than any of our other favorites. The Gospel is a gentle, welcoming melody.

But God also plays a song of power to get the world’s attention. In the middle of Psalm 65 David paints a picture of God’s complete sovereignty over the world and it’s inhabitants.

David says that God makes MOUNTAINS. Only the most adventurous people attempt to climb the world’s highest mountains, and often they die in the attempt. But in the beginning, God formed these mountains with His own hands, like a child molding Play-Doh. 

David says that God stills the ROARING SEAS. Man make giant ships that travel across the Atlantic and the Pacific like a fleet of scurrying bathtub toys. When the hurricane threatens, all we can do is hunker down behind the wheel and hope our vessel will hold. But God has the power to make the angry ocean as still as a glassy lake at the break of day.

David also describes the turmoil of human politics. When the NATIONS of men rattle their sabers and arm their nuclear weapons, people worry and prepare for the worst. But God maneuvers the great political powers of the world to serve HIS purposes. He starts or ends their empires according to His plan.

Like a champion slugger stepping up to the plate, God sometimes even calls His shots. In the book of Daniel, God described the rise and fall of the Persian Empire, the Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great, and the Empire of Rome—all before they ever happened. In that same book, God also foretold the rise of a different kingdom. One that would begin during the time of the Rome, and would stand FOREVER. This was the Kingdom of Christ Jesus, the Kingdom of grace and forgiveness. As you remember, God’s Son was born under the reign of Caesar Augustus in the little town of Bethlehem, just as one of God’s other prophesies had foretold.

Wherever people see the power of God at work, they are filled with awe. If we aren’t filled with awe at the sight of God’s powerful deeds, it’s probably because we don’t appreciate how impossible these things really are.

Many of the so-called scholars of the world aren’t impressed by the works of God because they dismiss Him from the very beginning. They say that the prophesies found in Daniel MUST have been written AFTER these nations rose and fell, because no human being could have known these things would happen in advance. These scholars are unimpressed by prophesy and fulfillment because they refuse to believe God exists. Is it any wonder than these same “wise men” make a god out of chance and time? What else is left when you’ve painstakingly cut God out of the picture? All they hear of God’s song is noise. And so, sadly, they do not respond with praise and joy.
But God plays on anyway, reaching out to the doubters with another tune, one of tender providing. Toward the end of Psalm 65 David writes about how God waters and tends the earth like a giant garden. In response to His gardening, the world produces grain and flocks of such abundance that each year the world could be fed one and a half times as much food as it needs.

God does this quietly, with a soft and gentle tune. The drip, drip, drop of April showers fall on fields prepared for the growing season. Life nourishing water fills the troughs between rows of planted grain. The mist from above softens ridges of fields from China to Australia and everywhere in between. In the wilderness far from man’s houses the grass springs up for the deer. In the pastures of ranchland the flocks and herds give birth to more and more young. For the vegetarian, the carnivore, and the omnivore, there is abundant provision—all from the hand of the Lord. Like we read in last Sunday’s Psalm,

“The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (paraphrase of Psalm 145:15-16).

With His tender song of providence, God calls out to those who do not know Him. His song informs them of His character. He is the God who provides, both for the good and the wicked, in hope that they will all turn to Him for forgiveness and life.

As nature sings out to the God who made it through all its green growth and varied flowers, we are invited to sing along in a song of thanksgiving.
When you hear a true and moving song, it’s right to sing along. That’s what music is for.

When the Centurion at Christ’s cross saw Jesus give His life to redeem the world of sinners, He heard the song of forgiveness and added His voice, saying,

“Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 NKJV).

When the angels of heaven witnessed God framing the world by, they heard God’s song of power, and added their voices. The book of Job tells us that at the creation the angels,

“…shouted for joy” (Job 38:7 ESV).

When the world gathers in the year’s harvest and notes how abundant it is, even the godless take a moment to reflect on all that they have been given. Together they sing a song of Thanksgiving.

How much more fitting it is that we who know much more of God’s character from His Bible, should sing His praises every time we hear His song. We aught to sing when we hear God’s song, whether it’s the tune of free grace and forgiveness in Christ, or the tune of God’s unlimited power and majesty, or the tune of God’s quiet and continual providence.

God doesn’t just play His song in order to make us join in. Like a master musician, He plays just because that’s who He is, and what He does. But all the same, His song does invite us to add our joyful voices.

First His song of forgiveness grips our hearts and moves them sing inwardly. We thank God for declaring sinners saints by the blood of His Son. Then, when the Gospel fills us up, that song begins to sound out from our mouths as we speak of His grace. Then the beat of the Father’s song finds it’s way into our life, moving us this way and that according to His choreography.

Don’t fight that song, dear Christians. Embrace its lines, and flow with its rhythm. Song and dance. That’s what witnessing of our God’s greatness and mercy is all about. Singing to the song of God, and moving to the rhythm of the same. Moving through life with one thought in mind – to do justice to the masterful music which comes from Him. To praise the God who made us, preserves us, and has saved our souls by His Son’s cross.

Music is for singing and dancing. And God’s song is for praising and living. When we hear it, let’s not ignore it, let’s respond with joy.


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