June 8, 2014

The Birth of the New Testament Church - June 8, 2014

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Read: Acts 2:1-38

The birth of child is actually a natural occurrence. Yet because of the complex nature of this event, and the life which is produced, we have come to call childbirth a “miracle.”

So much happens before a baby is birthed into this world. Bone structures solidify, organs are pieced together, neurological pathways are laid out, muscles and tendons slide into their places. And by God’s amazing design all these preparations are completely out of our hands. As it says in Scripture, it is God who “knits us together in the womb” (see Psalm 139:13).

And when everything is ready, at just the right time, a special hormone called oxytocin is released in the mother’s body. This hormone begins the process which ends with a brand new person entering the world.

Perhaps this is why we call childbirth a “miracle.” Because it’s something we can’t make happen. Only God can make a person.
The birth of the New Testament Church occurred in much the same way. It was God who made the preparations, complex and extensive. And when everything was ready, at just the right time, God poured his Holy Spirit into the disciples of Christ, and the Church was born.

Today we celebrate the birth of the New Testament Church by turning once again to the events which happened on Pentecost around the year 30 AD.
Now, we say that Pentecost marks the birth of the NEW TESTAMENT Church, because God’s Church has always existed, even since the very beginning of the world. Down through the centuries there has always been a group of people who worshipped the one true God. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned and God promised to send a Savior, the Church has looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The man who would rescue sinners from their sins, and make it possible for us to re-enter an intimate communion with our holy Creator.

Even though the Church of God knew the promise of salvation, they didn’t know exactly how this would happen. It was on Pentecost that the plan of salvation was proclaimed to the masses in detail.
Now, The festival of Pentecost was originally a festival that God commanded the Israelites to celebrate. Pentecost was to be held 50 days after the Passover. It was also called the “feast of weeks.” It marked the end of the barley harvest, so it was a harvest festival of sorts. A time to thank God for the blessings of the field.

Pentecost was a busy time in first century Jerusalem. Pilgrims from all over the world came to worship and celebrate. Through his Old Testament worship laws, God gathered in a huge crowd to hear the message of the Messiah proclaimed.
But this wasn’t the only preparation God made for this special Pentecost. God had also foretold an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. An outpouring that would get people’s attention, and draw them in to hear the message of sins forgiven through the cross of Christ.

It happened in this way. The Holy Spirit, who is always present in the hearts of believers, showed his presence in the disciples of Christ in a miraculous way. A mighty wind was heard rushing through the house where they were gathered. But visibly, all was still. And then flames appeared, and settled on the gathered Christians. And when they exited the house where they had been gathered and began to speak to the Pentecost crowds, they found that they could address each ethnic group in their own language. The Holy Spirit enabled them to communicate the wonders of God’s salvation to everyone—clearly and easily.

Jesus had told his apostles that the Holy Spirit would come to them, and that he would teach them all things and help them to remember everything that Jesus had said to them (John 14:26). And that’s exactly what happened on Pentecost. Whether a disciple was usually and eloquent speaker, or a dunce, on this day the Holy Spirit empowered them to speak the truth of the Gospel with perfect accuracy—and with boldness.

People fear a lot of things, but one fear that ranks high on many a  list is public speaking. But on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit took that fear away from the followers of Christ. And they spoke with joy and boldness.
And when some mockers tried to dismiss the message of Christ’s followers as the drunken ranting of party-goers, the apostle Peter stood up and gripped the masses with an poignant sermon explaining the Gospel.

So bold was this fisherman from Galilee that he even confronted the inhabitants of Jerusalem concerning their murder of the Messiah! He said,

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:37 NKJV).

This wasn’t exactly politically correct to say! But Peter didn’t care—it was the truth. And it was the truth that these sinners needed to hear. Christ had come from heaven to save them from their sins, and they had murdered him.

Politically correct or not, the message had it’s intended effect. The consciences of many were convicted. And fear gripped their hearts. Israel had been waiting for the promised Savior for thousands of years! And now when he finally came, they had killed him?! And in such an inglorious way. They betrayed him to the Romans and had him crucified—tortured to death.

Convicted of their sins, and the truth of Peter’s preaching, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem could says was, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NKJV). What can we do? Is there anything we can do to escape God’s wrath over this unthinkable sin, and all our other sins against God and man?
And then and there was the opening that the Holy Spirit was waiting for. There was nothing THEY could do. Their sin was done, and it could not be undone. But all was not lost, for in Christ Jesus there is FORGIVENESS—even for this sin. Peter proclaimed, no doubt with ecstatic joy in his heart…

“…Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39 NKJV).

Peter knew the forgiveness of Jesus. He had experienced it himself. He had denied even knowing Jesus—three times. And the risen Christ had forgiven him. And not only that, Jesus had called Peter to proclaim that same forgiveness to the rest of the world. Jesus hadn’t suffered and died for a few little sins. He had died for each and every sin. Great and small. In Jesus is FULL remission of ALL sins. There wasn’t a thing that anyone could do to escape God’s wrath, because Jesus had already done it for them!

And what was the result of this message? Three thousand were baptized into the faith on that day. THREE THOUSAND. Three thousand came to trust in Jesus as their great Savior from sin. No doubt many of these same people had cried out for Jesus to be crucified only weeks before. But now they cried out to God in repentance and faith, and were restored to God.

And that is how the New Testament Church was born.

Eventually the pilgrims who came for Pentecost went back to their homes. But they carried the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and the message of sins forgiven through Jesus in their mouths. And they were not silent about it.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit caused a great miracle to happen. The disciples spoke in languages they had never studied. And they spoke the life imparting message of Christ. They were made bold by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, and they gave the gift of forgiveness and peace to many through the Gospel message.
But what about today? Does the Holy Spirit still do the same thing today? In many ways the answer is yes. Christians across this globe are TODAY speaking the Gospel message, in many different languages, to untold numbers of sinners.

The Holy Spirit enabled followers like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and James to write down what Jesus had taught them, and what they had witnessed during his ministry. His teaching. His crucifixion. His resurrection to life. His ascension to heaven. And when we read their words, the Holy Spirit teaches us—for the Holy Spirit lives in the Word of God.

And though the WORLD has changed a lot since that special Pentecost, the Gospel remains the same. The sins that would damn us forever, Christ has taken away. And those baptized in the name of Jesus, and raised to know him day by day—we possess the same peace and joy that the apostles proclaimed. We know the gift of forgiveness and the promise eternal life to come.
In a very real sense you could say, Pentecost is still happening.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Lord chose a harvest festival as the day when his message would go out with power. The harvest which started with the disciples of Christ, moved on to the harvest of three thousand. And the harvest of three thousand moved on to the harvest of billions.

Today there is an estimated 2.3 billion people in this world that claim to follow Christ. And though many of them may be hypocrites, merely claiming faith in Jesus, we know that wherever the Gospel goes, it has effect. Wherever the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s command, people are brought to faith in their Savior. Like God says in Isaiah 55

10        “…as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
            And do not return there,
            But water the earth,
            And make it bring forth and bud,
            That it may give seed to the sower
            And bread to the eater,
11          So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
            It shall not return to Me void,
            But it shall accomplish what I please,
            And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NKJV). 

Even today, here at Redemption Church in Lynnwood WA, we are adding another member to our little fellowship. A child prepare by God in the womb, and birthed at just the right time. A child prepared by God’s Word, Abbey Mantei will today tell us about the faith she holds, a faith which clings to Christ Jesus as her only Savior from sin.
And there are more people around us that God is preparing for his kingdom. In the book of Acts the apostle Paul says…

“From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27 NIV).

God is even now preparing people around us. Preparing them to come into contact with US, his followers. And he is using his holy Word to make us ready to tell them about what God had done for THEM, through Christ our Savior.
With all the technological wonders of our modern age, we still can’t piece together a child. We can’t prepare those organs and complex systems. We can’t put them together like a car on an assembly line. We can’t bring new life into this world. But God can, and does.

And in the same way, we can’t control and direct the lives of the people around us. We can’t move them from one place to another. We can’t get them ready to hear the Gospel of Christ. We can’t create faith in Jesus in their hearts. These are things that only God can do. But they are things that he does. And he has chosen to do these things through the simple testimony of his people. Through his Word on our lips. That’s why we’re here! That’s why God’s Church exists in this broken and sinful world—to declare the wonderful works of God—salvation through the Messiah.

So continue to pick up your Bible this summer. Continue to pour the knowledge of God into your hearts. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. And when the opportunity arises to speak about what Jesus has done, for you and all sinners—just speak up. The same Holy Spirit who spoke through the apostles on Pentecost, will speak through his people today.

PRAYER: Father in heaven, thank you for restoring us through Christ’s sacrifice. Thank you for assuring us of our forgiveness by raising your Son from the dead. Help us to live each day in the light of your forgiveness and love. Lead us to live as your people, confessing our sins, receiving your forgiveness, enjoying your grace, and proclaiming your grace to others. Give us wisdom, give us boldness, and make each day an echo of that first Pentecost. Amen.

June 1, 2014

Invisible But Invincible - June 1, 2014

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Today is Ascension Sunday. On this day we remember how the resurrected Jesus left this world. Forty days after Jesus was raised from the dead, he gathered his followers on a hill just outside of Jerusalem. After blessing them, he rose bodily into the sky, and ascended steadily until the clouds obscured him from their view.

This was Jesus’ way of taking his visible presence from the earth. He didn’t die again. He didn’t just disappear. He purposefully ascended so his followers would know he was going to the Father.

Though they would no longer see Jesus with their eyes, Jesus assured them that he would remain with them, and with all who trust in him as their Savior from sin. Jesus told them,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
Have you ever wondered why Jesus said all authority in heaven and on earth had been GIVEN to him? He was the eternal Son of God, right? So that authority was always his, right?

To begin with today, I’d like to review some theology that helps us understand statements like this. Statements made about Jesus in the Scripture. Statements that speak of Jesus being GIVEN divine rights and abilities.

When the eternal Son of God became human, his divine attributes were transferred to his human nature. But since he came to be a humble servant to save sinners from hell, his human nature did not freely and openly use the divine attributes transferred to it. Instead Jesus used his divine powers as God only when necessary for his work as our great Savior. Theologians call this the “Humiliation of Christ.” It covers the period of his life from his conception to his burial.

But when God the Father raised his Son from the dead, the human nature of Christ began to freely and openly use the divine attributes that had been transferred to it. This is why Jesus says that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been GIVEN to him. The Son of God always had this authority because he was in substance, God. But now his human nature was given this authority as well. He was fully glorified as the God-Man. Theologians call this the “Exaltation of Christ.” It began with his resurrection, and will never end.

This is the Jesus that you and I have been connected to through faith. Today he is invisible to our eyes, but he is also invincible beyond our wildest imaginations.

It is this connection to the invincible Savior that the apostle Paul helps us to better understand today.
If I asked the question, “What is an airplane?”, even a little child could give me an answer. An airplane is a thing that flies in the sky. It carries people from one place to another. But if I asked one of our Boeing engineers what an airplane is, I’d get a more detailed and technical answer. Both answers would be true, but the adult version would be more full. More advanced.

It is one thing to know the FACT that we are connected to God through Jesus. And it’s a wonderful thing to know that. But to fully comprehend what this means for our lives every day—that is something God must show us. God must enlighten us through his Holy Word. May God bless our study of his Word today, so that the eyes of our hearts may more fully grasp the great salvation we have in Jesus.

Ephesians 1:15-23 (NASB)

  15   For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,
  16   do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers;
  17   that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
  18   I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
  19   and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
  20   which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
  21   far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
  22   And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
  23   which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
There’s a lot of stuff in this text. A lot of deep, transcendent, and profound concepts. That’s why Paul prays that God would enlighten us. We need God’s teaching and guidance, otherwise we will never understand spiritual truths of this magnitude. 

Simply put, Paul says he wants his fellow Christians to know three things: God’s calling, God’s inheritance, and God’s power. Just what kind of calling is this? What type of inheritance? What level of power are we talking about here?

When people talk about a “calling” we often just mean a job. A vocation. What you do in life. In this sense, a person’s “calling” could be quite grand, or quite common.

An inheritance is the same. It could be next to nothing, or it could be billions of dollars.

And power is the same too. It could be little or great.

So where does God’s calling rank? Or his inheritance? What about his power? Are these little, or great? How great are they?

Paul directs us to look at the Father’s interaction with Christ Jesus. In the Father’s interaction with the God-Man, there is also a calling, an inheritance, and a power. And if we look to Christ we’ll have some idea of how grand God’s calling, inheritance, and power is concerning us.

In verse 19 Paul says…

“…These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
  20   which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
  21   far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
  22   And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
  23   which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19b-23 NASB).

The connection Paul is making is this: look at how the Father did things with Jesus, and you’ll have an idea of how he’s dealing with us. Look to Christ, and you’ll be able to estimate the greatness of God’s calling, and inheritance, and power towards us.
First of all, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. This exercise of power is something only God could do. No human doctor has ever raised a corpse from the grave. Not even Satan with all his angelic energy could do this. Only God raises the dead.

But God didn’t just raise Jesus from the dead, he elevated him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places. That is to say, God set the man Jesus in the place of highest honor and power. Paul describes just how high Jesus has been elevated by saying that he is “above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (verse 21). In other words, Jesus is above every human authority. He is above every angel, every demon, every force of nature in the created universe.

Imagine for a second that we had a list of every being who ever existed, human or otherwise. And imagine that we put those names in order from greatest to least. Paul says that the name of JESUS would top the list. His name is the the greatest name ever named in this age, and the greatest name that will EVER be given.

Just to make sure we get it, Paul says that when the Father set Jesus at his right hand, he put ALL THINGS in subjection under his feet. If two kings meet on a battlefield and king “A” ends up standing with his foot on the head of king “B”, we know king “A” is the victor. He is completely in charge. That’s what the Father did for Jesus. He set everything under his feet.

But then comes a little twist in the description. Though Jesus is the mighty victor, the champion with his foot resting on the universe, God the Father gave him to be HEAD of the church. Certainly, Jesus is above us, but not as a victor grinding our faces in the dirt. For those who look to him as Savior, Jesus is our gracious HEAD. And we are called his BODY, part of him now, by faith.

Paul even says we are the “fullness” of the One who fills all things in every place. Not just according to his divine nature, but also according to his human nature, Jesus Christ is now present everywhere in this universe. And we have been placed safely in him through faith in his cross. No longer do we have to fear God’s wrath over our sins. Now we are IN CHRIST. Our sins stand forgiven through his blood.

This is how God the Father exercised his power in connection with the human Jesus. He called him from the grave. As his inheritance he gave him the position of highest authority and honor. And he gave him power over all things to use on behalf of his church.
But maybe these thoughts are hard for us to grasp. So let’s look at this calling, inheritance, and power in a different way.

When you invite someone to a party, your call goes out with the intention that they’ll come. That’s why you invite them.

When someone leaves you an inheritance, that inheritance is legally YOURS even though you don’t have it in your possession at the time. Eventually the paperwork will be finished, and the inheritance will be placed in your hands.

If you plug a cord into a power source, the power that flows through that cord matches the power of the source. If you’re plugged into a car battery, you have one level of power. If you’re plugged into a nuclear reactor, you have another.

God the Father has called us in Christ. Through his Word he has revealed that our sins damn us, but that Christ has saved us. The Father’s intention is that we will believe, and be saved.

Through Christ, God the Father has set aside an unbelievable inheritance for us. This inheritance means forgiveness of sins in this life, love from God, peace with God, joy in life, guidance, comfort, and after this life—an existence beyond our imagination at God’s side in heaven.

Through Christ,  God the Father promises us that his power will flow into our lives. Protecting our souls, and working through anything and everything that happens to us to bring us spiritual blessing and fulfillment. In Romans 8 it says…

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NKJV).

This is the hope of his calling, the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe. And it’s all because we’re connected to Jesus by faith. He is our invisible, but invincible Savior.
We tend to forget these things as we trudge along through life, distracted by the cares and worries of this world. If we don’t continually come back to God’s promises, to review then again, and again, to refresh them in our minds, then we get into a weak-faith frame of mind. We grow an attitude that says, “Yeah, Jesus is my Savior, BUT there’s so many things going on in my hectic life right now. Yeah, God is all-powerful, BUT I’ve got a lot of problems to figure out. A lot of errands to run. Savings to manage, bills to pay, etc., etc.

Through the apostle Paul, God calls us back to the truth of the Gospel. We have been redeemed by the God-Man. He has been exalted to the highest place. He holds absolute power over hell, death, the devil, and over any other power that seeks to tear us away from God. Jesus is our LIVING Savior, and he watches over us with a loving and powerful eye. And the same Father who exercised immense power in raising Jesus from the dead, and exalting him, that same Father is now our heavenly Father too.
We know these truths. Now is the time to learn these truths more completely. Now is the time to see our lives through the lens of God’s Word, and more specifically, through Christ’s Gospel. This is what Paul prays God will help us to see.

Jesus ascended. But he’s still here. May his Holy Spirit enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we say, “Gosh, my life is hectic, BUT JESUS IS HERE. Yeah, I’ve got problems to solve, errands to run, savings to manage, bills to pay, but in all these things, BUT JESUS IS HERE. Invisible, but invincible. And because he’s with me, I’ve got nothing to fear.”

PRAYER: Father in heaven, help us not only to know your truths, but to live in them. Strengthen our trust in your Son. Lead us to a greater understanding of the love and grace you have showered on us through our crucified and living Savior. Help us by your Spirit to live in the light of your forgiveness, and ever to rest on the surpassing greatness of your power. Amen.