July 21, 2016

July 17, 2016 - Galatians 4:21-31

Theme: God’s Fragile Covenant Proves to Be All Powerful Love
1) It seems as fragile as ninety-year-old giving birth
2) It proves to be powerful enough to conquer the law

To those who live in the freedom of Christ crucified, dear fellow redeemed. Our text for study and application today is taken from Galatians 4:21-31:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, "Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband." 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit some friends who just had their first child. It’s always a special occasion to visit a newborn and their parents but this time was especially significant. Our friends had been trying to have a child for a long time now, over a year actually. Physicians and birth professionals told them that they didn’t have a good chance. That’s tough news for a husband and wife who want kids and sadly many couples must cope with infertility.

I suppose that, to some extent, they had an idea of what Abraham and Sarah felt like in the context of our Scripture reading from Genesis 18. For our friends, it was truly a surprisingly joyful moment when they found out they were expecting. I suppose they shared that too with Abraham and Sarah. It must be an uplifting feeling, to say the least, when you go from disappointment to expectation. But though they shared to some extent in the heartache and joy of Abraham and Sarah, we’d still have to conclude that even they really didn’t know what it was like. Abraham was 99 years old when God’s promise of a natural heir was realized. Sarah was 90. They waited for a long time, much longer than any of us would have been able I’m sure. And there was a lot more riding on the birth of Isaac than any of our children. The heritage of the Messiah was at stake. The validly of God’s promises to His people rested with Abraham and Sarah’s child and eventual descendent. 

Today, in our sermon text, the Holy Spirit reveals that there was much more to that story than bare facts in time and history. Ultimately, it was a deeper picture of God’s relationship with you. And just as unlikely as it seemed that His promise to Abraham and Sarah would be kept, so at times it seems like His promises to us are in question. But in both cases, God responds to our doubts with resounding hope. What appears to be a fragile covenant, is in truth, very powerful. May the Holy Spirit bless our study.

Even without the allegorical interpretation of the events of Genesis 18, we’d still have plenty about Isaac’s birth that we could relate with. There’s so many moments in Abraham and Sarah’s life that hit home to us. In their haste to expedite the Lord’s promise, they broke their marriage covenant with one another by inserting Hagar into the situation. When Ishmael was born, the all too common attitudes of jealousy and anger reared their ugly heads. This led to Hagar disrespecting her master Sarah and Sarah despising Hagar’s honor in being able to bear a child. Haven’t we felt similarly at times when others have something we want, or when they receive honor that we think we deserve? Haven’t we tried to circumnavigate God’s plan because we thought we knew better? Sure, it happens to us all the time. In those thoughts alone, even though there’s no direct application to our lives, we know how they felt.

We see ourselves in Sarah’s retort of laughter at the promise that she would have a child. Surely it couldn’t be possible. No way it could happen, doesn’t matter what God’s Word says. We’ve been there before too, and for much lesser reasons.

But the fact that the Holy Spirit was also working a deeper application through these events, one that does apply directly to us, really hits home the hardest. And it’s not just because Sarah and Hagar and Isaac and Ishmael correspond to things in our lives. It’s because it deals directly with the gospel. Even in these most unlikely circumstances, long before Jesus would be born, God was fashioning and shaping the gospel’s effects in our lives. And Paul brings this meaning out to the Galatians, at a time when they needed it most.

We know from our reading through the letter to the Galatians that they were in immediate danger of losing the truth of Christ crucified. Not because it wasn’t powerful enough, but because they thought they knew better. It’s one thing to think you know better than God when it comes to childbirth, it’s an entirely different level to think you know better about salvation. But can’t we sympathize with the Galatians, and with Sarah? God’s covenant, His promise of salvation in Christ, just seems so weak at times. It’s no wonder that He not only likened it to, but also preserved it through a ninety-year-old giving birth.

The Galatians discredited salvation by faith in Christ alone for the same reasons. It didn’t measure up, in their eyes, to what the rest of the world offered. It didn’t feel right because it didn’t require enough from them. It just seemed to easy. Just like Sarah, they doubted because they couldn’t understand why God would have it that way. And when they doubted, they were led to try things on their own. So Paul led them back to that story in the Old Testament that they knew so well. A story of God’s faithfulness. A story of miraculous power. And also a story about God’s grace. Paul implored them to look beyond the details and see what God intended them to know. It was more than an account about Sarah and Abraham. It was a message of God’s love. See beyond the details and you see the real meaning.      

Beyond Hagar and Ishmael was the law of God and its righteous demands. But even further was death and condemnation because no man can escape them. Beyond Sarah and Isaac was the gospel of forgiveness. But even further was life and immortality because it Jesus conquered over the curse of the law. The Galatians saw earthly Jerusalem, with its outdated customs and festivals that were fulfilled in Christ. They focused on those temporary things because they were something they could do; something to make the story of salvation more believable to their ears. Paul saw the heavenly Jerusalem, the true home of freedom. Yes, often despised, rejected, and forsaken. Often foolish and fragile in the eyes of world. But, a covenant of God, sealed with His own Son’s blood.  

Everywhere this contrast exists, the contrast between Sarah and Hagar, between Isaac and Ishmael, between the Old Covenant and New, there will always be those who feel that God’s way is too fragile to make it. Those that think they know better; that God’s plan has failed. Sometimes those doubters are you and me. It’s an easy thing to do, as easy as doubting that a couple of ninety year olds could have a child. In fact, it’s much easier to doubt than even that. At least we could imagine that happening. But that Almighty God, whom we’ve never met face to face, would send His Son in our likeness and in our place, even when we did exactly that opposite to deserve that kind of treatment. Furthermore, that Son went against every earthly inclination and made His entire life all about others. He acted and spoke in ways that no one ever has or ever will again. He taught direct truth that pierced so deeply that it couldn’t even be argued against, even by His strongest opponents.

This Savior, heir of Abraham and Isaac, champion of God’s promise of salvation, was the strongest human the world has ever witnessed. Not strong by human definition. He came in fragile circumstances. Before He could even walk His life was threatened. It seemed to hang so closely on the edge of destruction. Even as Jesus grew His disposition was meek and mild. It took years for people to notice His power. Lesser men would have grown anxious about the Lord’s plan, for attention and fame were non-existent in the young Savior’s life.

But even in His greatest moments, what many would consider to be great examples of power; perhaps the raising of the dead, the calming of the storm, or the many healings, it was His love that spoke loudest and strongest, for it was His love that broke the shackles of the law. The law was always mankind’s greatest hurdle. It was the obstacle that everyone sought to overcome but also the very one that revealed our defeat before we even began. Without the love of Christ there is no hope over this barrier. It’s more challenging than being able to call life forth from a barren womb. And perhaps that’s why God chose to reveal this message of salvation in the story of Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael. Speaking again of Abraham and Sarah, one Bible commentator had this to say about the end result, “…God was about to display His power in making nature subservient to His grace.”

True words indeed. God’s power to grant physical life was definitely in play. But as we are reminded in our text, it was ultimately a measure of the power of His love in our spiritual lives, to call us back from the brink of hell. For in that story of Isaac’s conception, we have the entire gospel promise, revealed and protected for us.

God displayed His power in making nature subservient to His grace. We don’t often think about God’s grace as making things subservient or putting other forces in their place. Usually, grace is a comforting thought, one that I might nestle up to in a moment of need and dwell safely in. But grace is only comforting in so far as it is powerful. Grace indeed breaks the bondage of the law with great force and keeps the devil and all his host at bay. Grace is all that separates you from your comfortable life and the disposition of Job at his worst. It is the shield of God that says “no” to Satan. It says that all wickedness, sin, evil, demons, and the like can come this far but that is it. No more, no further, no effect on you.

That’s power. Don’t be duped by your own limited perception or the weakness of others into believing that God’s plan is too fragile. God has it in control. The day of battle is His and He has conquered. He doesn’t need you to adjust His plans. He doesn’t need you to think past each problem. He doesn’t need you to plan for contingencies. He asks you to trust. When all things seem lost and beyond control, leave your problems in His hands. In fact, always leave it with Him, not just when it seems beyond your control. Think how many heartaches you could avoid if you did.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:1-3) 


July 11, 2016

July 10, 2016 - Jeremiah 33:6-9

Theme: The LORD gives spiritual healing
            I. A painful cleansing of sin
            II. A comforting bandage of forgiveness.

Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and how untraceable are His ways. The portion of His Word that we consider today is taken from Jeremiah 33:6-9:

'Behold, I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth. 7 'And I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and will rebuild those places as at the first. 8 'I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me. 9 'Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.'

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Great Physician of our souls, dear fellow redeemed:

The ‘pain of solarcaine.’ I can still feel it today and it still makes me cringe. As a child, whenever I would have a scrape or cut, my mother would pull out the solarcaine, an anti-bacterial spray, and douse the exposed area. Simply put, I hated it because it stung more than the actual injury, but my mother knew that I needed it to reduce the chance of infection. The solarcaine may have stung when first applied, but it always made the cut feel better after a Band-Aid was applied. After all, no cut is properly taken care of if left exposed. It needs to be covered to protect from harmful elements until it is fully healed. Regardless of what type of injury one has, these two steps are the norm, they are vital to a healthy recovery. First, the injured area must be cleansed, and then it must be protected until healed.

The Holy Spirit brings a similar picture to us today in our text. Through the prophet Jeremiah He describes the miraculous and wonderful healing that Judah would receive. But He also prophecies a greater deliverance from spiritual captivity, from bondage under sin. May the Spirit bless us as we meditate upon how the LORD has healed us: cleansing us from sin and protecting us with His forgiveness.

Jeremiah had a difficult task while working in Judah: he had to speak the truth. Now He didn’t have a problem getting content, the LORD provided the words to speak. Rather, the difficulty was with the people’s reception of his words. That’s the thing about speaking the truth, most people only want to listen to if it contains a good message for them. But if the truth tells of something undesirable, denial and deflection are often the reaction.

Now we must admit that our text for today doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, the language used to describe the LORD’s deliverance Judah is absolutely beautiful. Without a doubt, no one had a problem with Jeremiah’s prophecy of these events. But if we back up a couple of verses, we see the side of God’s truth which they didn’t want to hear.

vv. 4-5: For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defense against the siege mounds and against the sword: They are coming in to fight against the Chaldeans and to fill them with the dead bodies of men whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their evil.

What a dire picture Jeremiah gives preceding our text! He speaks of a Babylonian invasion in which the very houses of Jerusalem would be torn down to make fortifications. And in the place where the houses once stood would be filled with dead Israelite bodies. How could two such contrasting scenes be connected so closely in Jeremiah’s thoughts? Well the simple answer, as we stated earlier, is that it was the truth. And it was a recurring theme in the history of Old Testament Israel.

Jeremiah, like many of the Old Testament books, is riddled with examples of Israel’s falling from the LORD into idolatry and unbelief. Time and time again they ignored what the LORD commanded in His Word, they resisted His messengers even to the point of murder. The OT lists Israel’s long list of self-inflicted wounds, wounds which were sure to be infected with the false lies of the heathen gods. But with every account of Israel’s failings, a stronger example of the LORD’s faithfulness and protection shines forth as we see today.

But what good would the LORD’s faithfulness be if He allowed them to continue in their evil ways? How would Judah stay healthy if the LORD wouldn’t cleanse their spiritual injuries? With every proper healing comes the necessary task of cleaning out the bad, purging the contaminants so that the infection does not spread. Judah would soon realize that the correction of LORD is not an enjoyable process; just as cleaning a cut for us brings momentary pain. In less than a year, this cleansing process would begin as the Babylonians would carry off King Jehoiachin and much of the population to captivity as well as destroy the city of Jerusalem. This captivity would last a long time, about 70 years, but it would not stand forever. The LORD’s promise of healing in our text would indeed come true as Judah would not be completely wiped off the face of the earth. Jerusalem again would become a thriving and prosperous city.

But Jeremiah is focusing on more than just a physical healing and a spiritual lesson for the nation of Judah. He is looking ahead to a time when Someone greater would come and would deliver all people from a much deadlier enemy than the Babylonians. Jeremiah called Him the Branch of Righteousness; we know Him as Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

A couple chapters before the events of our text, Jeremiah recorded the LORD’s promise about this coming Savior, a message for all people not just for the physical inhabitants of Israel. The LORD said: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,”

This covenant or promise would be different than the one He previously made with Israel. He goes on to say how it will cover all people and will be built upon the forgiveness of sins. This promise of God, recorded by the prophet Jeremiah, finds its fulfillment in Christ, as the writer of the book of Hebrews expressed: how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:14-15).

Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant, He is the only One who was able to perfectly suffer and die for the sins of mankind. He is the only One who was able to grant us the righteousness which God demands. But just like Judah of Jeremiah’s day, we too need to be cleansed from our sin. God desires all men to not only come to saving faith in Him but to stay in that saving faith. A helpful illustration of this in our lives is the job of an auto-body specialist. When fixing a dent, scrape or patch of rust on a car, a professional doesn’t just paint over the defect and call it good. No one would be content with that kind of work, it may look good for a little while but eventually the problem is going to show itself again. Instead the specialist must pound out the dent, grind away the rust, or buff out the scratch. Only after the problem is fixed can he properly apply the paint and finish the job.

The same is true of our spiritual lives. The LORD doesn’t simply “paint” over our sins to make them look temporarily ok. Instead He works hard to clear that sin out of our soul and heal our void with the promise of the gospel. The Apostle Paul uses the illustration of leaven in his first letter to the Corinthians to make the same point. He writes: Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Instead of allowing sin to spread forth in our lives, like leaven raises a loaf of bread, we need to cleanse it out and intake the spiritual bread of truth in God’s Word. And notice what Paul says about this cleansing process, it is built upon the sacrifice of Christ.      

Now just like any cleansing process, the solution often isn’t easy or quick. In fact, our sinful flesh would much rather have God “paint” over our ailments. How quick we are to complain in our lives when things get difficult. Instead of appreciating all the blessings we have from the LORD we seem to get the attitude of always wanted more and more. Sometimes a series of bad days can lead us to feel like the world is up against us and we give up instead of trusting. So often, we take the attitude that Judah did with the message Jeremiah brought. We have no problem accepting blessings from the LORD but as soon as He gives us trial or test to strengthen us, we want nothing to do with it. But who are we to question what God provides in our lives, whether it appears to be good or bad to us?

We see an example which we can apply to our lives by looking at the life of Job. Just after Satan struck him with painful boils, Job’s wife breaks down and tells him to curse God and die. But notice how Job responds to her: "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10) Job understood the foolishness of his wife’s attitude. There’s no doubt that she readily accepted blessings from the LORD. Before his affliction Job and his family had tremendous wealth. Do you think she ever complained about that wealth? Hardly. But now that God had allowed Satan to test Job, she became bitter, turned her back on the LORD and tried to get Job to do the same.   

And likewise we ourselves, in stubbornness and ignorance rejoice in the blessings of the Lord, yet are so quick to complain at the very hint of adversity. More often than not we desire to stay connected to our pet sins instead of having the LORD painfully strip them away from our sinful flesh. So often Jesus is enacting His cleansing process in our lives without us even knowing it and usually with us fighting against it every step of the way. Think about it in your own lives for a moment. Have you even fallen into a sin so often that you actually convinced yourself that it was okay? Usually it starts of as something that seems harmless, maybe a little white lie or gossiping about someone for a few seconds. What we often fail to realize is that any sin, no matter how innocent-looking, is a spiritual wound in our souls. And when we grow comfortable with those scrapes and cuts and we let them grow, it may feel good to our sinful flesh, but we’re actually increasing our risk of spiritual infection.

But who better to have in your corner than the only One who knows exactly what you go through? The One who experienced the threat of temptation, sorrow, and loss. The One who knows how life can beat you down again and again. The One who experienced the pain of your sin, more than you will ever have to, and had no bandage for it.  Jesus is the One who can lead you safely through the cuts and scrapes you experience in life. As painful as the LORD’s cleansing may be at times, rest assured that it is only painful to your sinful flesh, to that part of you which clings to sin and resists the truth. And know with certainty that your Savior loves you and has paid for that sin of which you repent of.

God has blessed us with His Word so that we can see for ourselves what Jesus went through on our behalf. How He willingly left His throne in heaven to come to us as a human. How He faithfully lived His life in accord with the Law and Prophets, always keeping others in the forefront, rather than Himself. We see the bitter pain and suffering which He went through to appease the righteous wrath of God. Each time we confess our sins and come to the LORD for forgiveness, He is cleansing our souls of infection and healing us with the comforting bandage of the gospel.

When you are discouraged over the pain of your sins, don’t ignore the problem just to feel better in that moment. Meditate instead, upon the pain Christ endured for you. Because through His pain you are healed.      
Ponder the spiritual agony He sustained as God the Father forsook Him on the cross. Jesus did all of this, He did it for you, because His is that One and only mediator spoken of in Hebrews. He is the link between the OT and NT, between God’s first promise and His last, between Jeremiah’s prophecy and you.

Hold fast to the important lessons in our text for today. Always be on the guard against sin and be aware of how easily it can grow. May the LORD grant you patience and wisdom so that you won’t react foolishly and become bitter when sin creates problems. There is nothing in this world, nothing Satan can hurl at you, and nothing your flesh can tempt you with which outweighs God’s cleansing forgiveness of your sins.

If you think about it, a bandage is a good picture of a ‘go between’ or ‘substitute.’ It’s there in place of the skin, to protect the inside of the body. Oftentimes, a bandage is designed to look and feel like skin. It performs this duty until the skin fully heals again and is able to once again function as protection. In the same way, we can see Jesus as the bandage for our spiritual ailments. He came and did what our spiritual skin could not; cover our sinful scrapes and cuts. He came like one of us, as true Man yet also true God. And He protects us from all evil, from the infections of Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh. And He grants us continual forgiveness before the throne of God. The comfort of knowing that no matter how bruised or battered we may become from our sins, continual healing abounds in Jesus. A healing that stands the test of any injury and a healing that stays with us until we safely reach our home in heaven.


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