April 30, 2018

The Flood - 1 Peter 3:15-22

Theme: Prepare Yourself for the Flood
  1.   The flood of unrighteousness
  2.   The flood of forgiveness
1 Peter 3:15-22:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

In the name of Jesus, who has washed away our sins, dear fellow redeemed:

The story of Noah’s flood is one the most well-known and recognized portions of the Bible. Both Christians and non-Christians know it and it’s one of the first stories that little kids learn and understand. Throughout history, there have been hundreds of flood legends in other cultures and areas of the world. These legends are all connected in some way to the Biblical account of Noah. This tells us that ever since the flood happened, it has resonated with all peoples and cultures in some way.

However, the purpose behind the global flood is often lost on most people. Sadly, many simply are fascinated at the mere thought of an event like it even happening. Many more believe it to be just a myth instead of an actual historical occurrence. Most people understand correctly that the reason for the flood was man’s wickedness. But even at this, many still fail to apply it to their lives. Fewer people actually see the flood story as a positive thing, by focusing on God’s gracious deliverance to Noah and the preservation of the human race.

Today, in our text, we see another way to understand Noah’s flood, as the Holy Spirit reveals to us that it serves as a picture of deliverance through Jesus Christ. Not only was the promise of the Messiah preserved by the flood, but the actual event pre-figured the spiritual condition of all people. And through that picture we see that we need to prepare today for another flood. As Christians, we must prepare for the flood of unrighteousness in our day but also be ready preparing ourselves and others for the flood of Christ’s forgiveness. For guidance, let us return to the Word, and the Spirit who inspired it, as we mediate on this amazing truth today.

Part 1: The flood of unrighteousness (End Times)

The first point worth mentioning in this section is how Peter understands the Genesis account of Noah’s flood. Peter takes Genesis as history upon which he can base his teaching. If you remember, Jesus did the same thing in the Gospels several times – going back to the Old Testament to understand something about today. We should take this lesson to heart in our lives and as we spread God’s Word to others. If we want to be trustworthy and reliable in what we say we need to use God’s Word as it is meant to be used.

The first connection that Peter makes to the Old Testament flood is the wickedness of sin. Peter compares the evil of Noah’s day to what is happening in the present time for Christians and the imagery still fits for our day. Peter mentions those who slander Christians, those who are doing evil, and those cause others to suffer for doing good. The very fact that he compares this with what happened in Noah’s day helps us to understand the serious nature of what is going on. It also makes you wonder how bad things could still get. How long will God continue to endure with the present generation?

Paul warned Timothy about the increasing wickedness of these final days in his second letter: But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

In many ways this seems like a fitting description of the world we live in today. The wicked have the appearance of being good and righteous people, but inwardly they are lovers of themselves, not God. This echoes the same sentiment that the Spirit inspired in the book of Hebrews, that “without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).” The flood of unrighteousness that is among us today is the same as in Noah’s day –  outright denial of God and the many attitudes and lifestyles that manifest that. Don’t be fooled by what Satan peddles in our modern world, there is no morality before God outside of faith in Jesus. It is impossible to be found acceptable in His eyes without Christ’s satisfactory atonement in our place.  

Just as many Christians past and present have suffered tribulation and persecution, so also many have been martyred for their faith – yet they overcame through the resurrection of Christ. This is Peter’s focus as He urges his readers to prepare for the end just as Noah prepared for God’s judgment. Those who are faithful unto death, especially under extreme persecution and tribulation, will receive the crown of life in place of eternal damnation. This is ultimately the Christian’s hope despite the flood of wickedness we experience on a daily basis, even from our own hearts and actions. God offers us relief and hope through the Word.

Part 2: The flood of forgiveness

The only way to prepare ourselves for the sin that surrounds us is to focus on the Lord’s forgiveness. Again, Peter goes back to Noah as a picture of how God has paid for sins. Peter likens the waters of the flood to the waters of baptism, but in so doing he makes an important distinction. The waters of baptism don’t wash like ordinary water, it’s not intended to clean our bodies. The waters of baptism remove the stains and stench of our old sinful flesh and renew our spirits to receive God’s blessings daily in faith. Just as the flood waters served the purpose of eradicating wickedness from the earth, so baptism’s purpose is the removal of sin.   

Notice with what power and authority Peter speaks with when describing baptism. He doesn’t speak of it as just a symbol or a dedication that someone makes after coming to faith. No, baptism is powerful; Peter says that baptism saves. From our training in the Word we know that baptism isn’t some type of mystical act of magic. There is no transformation of ordinary water into holy water. Rather, baptism is simply receiving God’s blessing, and just as Peter states, the power behind it comes v.21 “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

And through this resurrection of His Son, God introduces the flood of forgiveness. Sin itself and the wickedness it gives birth to is a global problem, no one can escape any more than someone could escape global flood. But in the very same way, God now forgives the entire world because of Christ’s death and resurrection. This forgiveness is given freely to all people. We can preach with confidence and authority to anyone because we know they are covered by the flood of forgiveness. God tells us as much here when He compares it to Noah’s flood. If you are a member of this world, you have been forgiven, nothing can reverse that fact.

However, the connection to Noah’s flood doesn’t end there. Only those who believe in Jesus, who are aboard the ark of faith if you will, will avoid eternal destruction. Just because the gift of forgiveness is available to all doesn’t necessarily mean that all will accept it. Rejection of faith is a rejection of Christ Himself and the very gift of forgiveness that He offers. The shortcoming is not with faith or with Christ, the shortcoming is with the person who rejects in unbelief. This is part of what makes the torment of hell so agonizing. All who go there will go with the knowledge that they are forgiven. Peter explains how after his death Christ descended into hell to proclaim this very message, that He indeed had conquered sin and death. And this is the note on which Peter ends this section. Christ has all authority in heaven and earth because He accomplished His mission. All people, even those who rejected Him, eventually must submit to Him; a fact which will become readily apparent on the final day.    

Many today fight and rage against this truth, just as many must have fought against God and their impending destruction during Noah’s day. But fight as they did the day of the flood did eventually come and nothing they did could stop it. But even if we could change God’s declaration of a final day, why would we want to? Judgment day will usher in the end of sin and wickedness. It’s built on another unchangeable event – Christ’s forgiveness of all sins. No one could stop the flood of His own blood descending the cross to wash us clean of sin. God’s righteous judgment will erase evil forever, in a more perfect and complete way than Noah’s flood. And there will be more on that day than just judgment, there will also be deliverance because of the flood of forgiveness in Christ.

The impending judgment of the Lord is not lead us to get discouraged or further rebel from His Word. Rather, it should lead us work even more fervently at spreading the gospel to all people. There’s no need for anyone to suffer for their sins, Christ has already done that in their place. The flood of forgiveness is a reality for us; let us continually prepare ourselves to tell others in meekness and fear. 

So, how do we prepare ourselves for the flood? Well, when it comes to the flood of unrighteousness around us each day and getting worse as the end approaches, we prepare by daily strengthening and renewing ourselves in the Word of God. If we try another approach, we will only be left frustrated and uncertain because of the increasing evil around us. Preparing ourselves for the flood of forgiveness is very much the same. We must stay active in the Word so that we can provide answers of truth for those who are looking for the truth. We should not only be concerned with preparing our own hearts for the final day but we should also be actively involved in helping others in the same regard. Noah’s flood teaches us these important spiritual lessons. All need forgiveness, for all have sinned. The global judgment is rapidly approaching. But all have free access to forgiveness in Christ Jesus. May the Holy Spirit prepare us to receive that gospel and prepare us to spread it to others. Amen.

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

April 23, 2018

Good Shepherd Sunday - Micah 7:14-20

Theme: The Good Shepherd is Better
1. In the gift He offered to the Father
2. In the mercy He shows to sinners

Micah 7:14-20 Shepherd Your people with Your staff, The flock of Your heritage, Who dwell solitarily in a woodland, In the midst of Carmel; Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, As in days of old. 15 "As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them wonders." 16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; They shall put their hand over their mouth; Their ears shall be deaf. 17 They shall lick the dust like a serpent; They shall crawl from their holes like snakes of the earth. They shall be afraid of the LORD our God, And shall fear because of You. 18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. 19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.

On January 28, 1986 the Challenger space shuttle exploded over Florida in front of millions of viewers on television. Naturally, shock ensued as the nation questioned, how could something like this happen? As complicated as rocket science can be, the answer was stunningly simple. The night before had reached temperatures as low as 18 degrees fahrenheit and those cold temperatures compromised the O-ring seals that prevented the rocket fuel from leaking to other chambers in the missile.

The most shocking thing of all was that this problem was known before the launch. Five of the engineers who designed the rocket tried to get the launch cancelled over concern of the O-rings. Initially, the message was received and a delay was in order, but top-ranking executives didn’t want to wait the many months it would take to fix the problem. As one engineer put it, the facts were clear, it was politics and pressure that got in the way.

This story represents the astounding tragedy that can occur when experts are ignored. On a smaller scale I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we’ve talked big like we knew something, only to find out we were wrong or someone more knowledgeable was in the room to correct us. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to be a closet expert on just about any topic. Human nature stokes the inner pride that wants to think our way is best and our knowledge is superior. But, when pride goes toe to toe with knowledge, knowledge wins. And for the one proven wrong, shame and fear are the result.

Sometimes, it’s good to have a certain amount of healthy shame and fear. It can humble us and bring us back to level. At other times, though, it can be dangerous – like the Challenger situation.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. We focus on Jesus, a shepherd and leader like no other. As we have witnessed today, the theme of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is given consistently in Scripture, in both Testaments. Our text today from Micah opens by speaking of how the LORD shepherds His people. One of the lessons that sticks out is that the LORD knows what He is doing. He knows how to lead us. He knows how to protect us. He knows how to provide for us. But, amazing as it may be, so many people, even us, doubt the LORD. We have a message today from God – listen to Him for He is the expert. May the Spirit bless the Word before us today.

Part 1: In things hidden and found

Micah tells of a time when the nations would be ashamed and fear God. Why? Because of God’s mercy. He pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. What is there to fear in that? There’s nothing intimidated about it; except when you reject it. The fear and shame come in because Jesus is the only way. As John wrote in the Gospel, Jesus is not only the Shepherd, but also the only door to the sheepfold – all others are robbers and thieves (John 10:1). There’s nothing scary about God’s grace, but those who reject it – those who try to find another way – will face fear and shame. During Micah’s time and even today, those who refuse to believe in Jesus numb this fear and guilt, but they will feel it one day. Hide as they may from the truth, it will catch up to them. There will come a day when they will have to answer before God. Paul wrote that on that day, all nations will bow the knee to Christ and confess His name (Philippians 2:11). The question is if it is done by faith or force.

Micah touches on one of the most troubling things about faith in Christ – that He is the only way. This offends people. This rubs our natures the wrong way. We don’t want to own up to true holiness; none of us ever have. We desire, we long for a different way. But there is only one. Here we think of the shame and fear that was felt during the tragedy of the Challenger. Imagine being those who made the final call to go ahead with the launch even though they had been warned by the experts. Rejection of Christ is similar and leads to an even deadlier result. Jesus knows the way – He traveled it. He is the Good Shepherd. He can handle what needs to be done. But so often we treat Him like the hireling. We treat Christ like the novice who doesn’t know any better. And we put ourselves in His place.

Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, wrote about this attitude. He said of those who rejected God’s will: Isaiah 29:15-16 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD, And their works are in the dark; They say, "Who sees us?" and, "Who knows us?" Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, "He did not make me"? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding "?

Micah himself ran into this same problem, with his own life. In chapter 6 he pleaded to the LORD saying, With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  (Mic 6:6-7)

Micah, like all people who fully understand their sins, pondered in his heart how he could repay the LORD. Could he offer an abundance of riches? Would it take giving up his own child? Many cultures have tried to do those very things – even resorting to child sacrifice to please the gods. Micah would have been well aware of such things happening in his day – even Israel succumbed to such wickedness. That’s the natural feeling of being a sinner and knowing God exists. You think you have to do something to please Him. And what higher gift could there be than our own children?  

But God says only shame and fear come with that attitude. Why try to do for ourselves what only God can? Who can improve on the satisfaction delivered through the Good Shepherd. Who can do what He has? It is utter foolishness to try to do what only God can. It’s not a popular message in a pluralistic society but it is the truth, and when denied it can have devastating consequences. 

Part 2:

It was only when Micah considered a different question that he found an answer that meant something. Instead of asking what he had to do, He asked who was like the LORD. 18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. Micah boasted that there was no other like God because God, while having the right to be angry over sins, did not hold on to that anger.

How different than the typical human response. We often hold to grudges for years. Anger has destroyed family relationships and changed the entire course of peoples’ lives. And anger without good reason. No sinner has the right to hold anger over another sinner. When we fight against others and compare our goodness with theirs, we might feel better for a time, but it will never offer healing over sin. Only Jesus can do that, because only He had a righteous reason to hang onto anger, but chose instead to let it go. The mercy of Jesus is better than our attempts at self-righteousness (far better in fact). Micah didn’t see this eternal truth until he looked to the LORD. Likewise, we will never find it by looking to ourselves.  
Because the LORD forgave us, there is hope that sin will not hold power over us. Micah goes on to say, He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old. This holds true for our lives in view of God, but also in view of other. Because of Christ, we can forgive others. We can let go of anger and hate even though others are not deserving – because He did it for us when we weren’t deserving. Only then, is sin buried away, never to be seen again.

Who is like the LORD? Easy answer – no one. No one is better at salvation than the Good Shepherd. Therefore, don’t try to be better than Him. Don’t try to do what He did perfectly. You don’t have to. Listen to Him. What He says about life is the truth – don’t try to play armchair expert with God. Because, this isn’t some trivial game. Lives are at stake – many more than the Challenger. When Christ’s mercy is in your life, the pain, stress, and heartache of this sinful live has a purpose. When you are overcome by limitations and mistakes – you have a living hope.

Some may not like the fact that only Jesus can give this mercy. Some want to believe that it can be found in good intentions, clean living, or just generally being a good person. Wishful thinking doesn’t equal truth though. There’s too much on the line for you to take someone else’s word for it. The Good Shepherd is the Better Shepherd. Follow Him. His greatness is only painful to the dying part of who you are – that sinful flesh which knows its days are limited. There is joy, comfort, and peace in trusting Jesus above all else – for His mercy becomes your strength. Amen. 

April 16, 2018

Jesus Calms - Luke 24:36-49

Theme: The Calming Influence of Jesus in the Scriptures
1. Calm from terror 
2. Calm from doubt
3. Calm from joy

The first Easter Sunday was a whirlwind for the disciples. Everything they had been through with Jesus was now coming to a head and we get a taste of the chaos in our text. Our text divides into two primary sections. We read the first, verses 36-43, which describes the frenzied state of that day:

Luke 24:36-49 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you." 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." 40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?" 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.

The disciples needed to be calmed. They were scared. They were in doubt. They were shocked. Their emotional inventory was bursting over. To calm them, Jesus taught them from His Word, as we see in the remainder of our text:

44 Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 "And you are witnesses of these things. 49 "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

An amazing transformation took place through these words. The disciples, who throughout Jesus’ three year ministry had been meek, timid, and mistake-prone, now moved forward to form the early Christian Church – the very foundation that we continue to build upon today. What happened? How did they go from wandering followers who left their Master to be killed by His enemies, to courageous defenders of salvation? What happened in the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost, the window of time for this transformation? Peter himself went from denier of Christ to gospel preacher before the very tribunal that crucified his Lord. What happened was that the disciples were calmed through the peaceful influence of the Scriptures.

Part 1: Calm from terror (from the Jews – they needed peace)

Peace was the first message Jesus spoke to them on Easter. Before He appeared to them in the upper room, the disciples were huddled in fear. They were scared that they would be the next target of the bloodthirsty crowd that had demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. They were afraid that they would be hunted down by the Sanhedrin, one by one. To the disciples, everything seemed over. What does a person who is scared need? Peace. Jesus had every right to chastise His disciples. He had every right to demand penance for their laziness and disloyalty in the Garden. But, the first thing He says is “Peace to you.” Jesus recognized that the disciples agonized over their mistakes already. They felt the guilt and shame of letting Jesus down. They were at a low point. And so, Jesus offered an encouraged word of peace.

Jesus knows the same about your life also. He knows when you are at a low point of shame and guilt because of your sins. David wrote of his own sins, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart-- These, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17). It’s okay to be broken and contrite because God says that when you repent in sorrow over your sins, He will not forsake you. He will be there to offer peace. Jesus did that for His own disciples, during this tumultuous time, and He continues to do it for you. Those who truly recognize and confess their sins for what they are, have peace from God. There is calm over the fear of what we have earned for ourselves.

Part 2: Calm from doubt (about Jesus – they needed answers)

However, the disciples needed more help from their Lord, as we so often do. The next stage of their emotional chaos was doubt. Could it really be Jesus? Was He different? Was He just a ghost – simply a vision and not truly alive? They suffered from doubt, and therefore needed answers. And quite an answer Jesus gave to respond to their doubt. He allowed them to see and feel the wounds of the cross. He ate food to show them that He was more than a vision.

It’s kind of funny that Thomas forever is known as “doubting Thomas” because he wouldn’t believe the disciples’ word until he had proof. Yet, here, shortly before Thomas’ story, the rest of them had the same feeling. They wanted proof that they could handle and see. They didn’t want to believe until their senses had been satisfied. Rather than taking Jesus at His Word, they wanted to define the criteria of faith. So many people today are the same – even good Christians – even us. We talk about trusting Jesus, but so often we fall into the trap of trusting ourselves by making faith about what we observe.

But, there was much more going on here than just providing rational evidence. Scars are also reminders. They teach us lessons. There is an emotional significance to them because they bring us back to their point of origin. For example, I have a large scar on my knee. I will forever remember, with great clarity, how I got that scar. I was canoeing with my dad and younger sister, who wasn’t more than 5 years old. I was in the front of the canoe, charting and directing the course on the river – for the first time. Due to my lack of experience I panicked when the current started leading us to a set of rapids with low-lying trees. When you’re in a canoe being led by a current that you can’t control, you stay clear of low-hanging objects. Rather than re-direct, I panicked. I was clotheslined by the overhanging branch, thrown out of the canoe, which was subsequently pinned underwater beneath even lower branches. Here’s where I got my scar. As I bobbed down the river I knew I should have lifted up my legs and just floated, but I panicked again and tried to stand up and walk out of the current. Bad idea. My knees scraped against the jagged rocks and when I finally emerged I had a huge gash. It likely could have been even worse. This scar reminds me to stay calm in uncertain circumstances. I am continually reminded of that lesson.

We could all list similar lessons about other scars I’m sure. What a much greater lesson was given through Jesus’. Here’s where we see the spiritual connection. The nail prints and the gouge from the spear were not just lessons for Jesus – they were the marks of salvation for the entire world. When Jesus showed these wounds to the disciples He was not just giving evidence of His resurrected life. He was displaying the irrefutable promise that they had eternal hope. His scars were the very best answer for their questions of doubt – not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Physical proof may calm a skeptic’s heart for a time. But if there is no spiritual backing – it will not last. More pressing than the intellectual doubts of the mind are the spiritual doubts of the heart. A person may have all the logical proof they desire, but if they still have the hollow doubt of a sinner’s heart – knowing that something more before God is still needed, they will never be calm. Jesus’ wounds calm the mind and heart – by giving proof of the resurrection, but also by fulfilled the demand of a righteous offering for sin.

Part 3: Calm from joy

One might expect the chaos to end here, but the toughest stage was still before the disciples. Upon seeing and touching the resurrected Savior, we’re told a most fascinating thing. They still did not believe for joy. Their fear had been overcome. They questions were answered. But, they still did not believe because of joy. What do you do for that? We don’t often think of joy as an impediment that needs to be overcome. But, as strange as this sounds, we’ve all had moments before where the joy of something was just too much. Think of a child on Christmas morning. Think of a married couple on their wedding day. Think of a team who just wins the championship. Moments of intense joy can be overwhelming.

The disciples knew that Jesus being alive was a good thing but they were in sensory overload. They couldn’t process it all. It was because of their joy that they did not believe. They were still in a frenetic state of emotional chaos over everything that had happened. It was finally when Jesus taught them from the Scriptures and their understanding increased, they were calmed. Jesus was giving them a foundation to stand on in their faith.

Feeling joy is great, but without an steady foundation to fall back on, it can still be a stressful thing. To be calm in your heart you have to have some place steady. For the believer that is the Scriptures. Even joy can cause uneasiness. The Word of God keeps us level. It gives us a home that we can return to again and again when we need an emotional break.

This is also why faith in Jesus is about the Word, not about feeling alone. The Christian who is on fire for the Lord may wonder, how do I keep this up? What happens if I fail? How do I keep moving forward if these feelings of joy dissipate – because surely they will in this world? It helps to return to the origin of faith – the objective fact that Jesus is the Savior; the irrefutable proofs of what He accomplished. These things are recorded for us in the Word. This is why God says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The Word is our safe space -whether we seek shelter from fear-induced frenzy or joy-induced frenzy. The Word is stable spot.

Some of us are intellectually led people; those of us that are analytically driven, fact-oriented, truth seekers. We don’t get caught up in emotions. Others are the opposite. Those who want to feel an emotional attachment. Those who look beneath the surface of the details and seek a deeper meaning of things. Jesus connects to both and calms both when troubles arise. And to do so, He used the Scriptures. The Word of God contains the straightforward truth. To the intellectually driven person the Word can be tested and analyzed. However, the Word of God also speaks beauty into a person’s life. It connects on a spiritual level – reaching the human heart. It changes how we feel, not just what we think.    

In this account we see how the resurrection of Christ and the Scriptures have a practical, day-to-day application for our lives. This gospel helps us cope with today, not just with preparing for eternity. The themes of eternal life are certainly important any time we focus on the work of Jesus but we should also remember that He does not abandon us today. There is a place of calm for you today and it comes through a better understanding of Jesus through the Scriptures. Calm terror, calm from doubt, and even calm from joy.


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

April 9, 2018

The Christian's DNA - 1 John 1:1-2:2

Theme: The DNA of a Christian
Strand 1: The Life and Truth of Jesus
Strand 2: Fellowship with God and Believers
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

One week removed from celebrating the resurrection of Christ, we continue to focus on life. Isn’t that what the resurrection is all about? The life that Jesus took back. The triumph of life over death. The promise of eternal life in heaven. We always come back to life. Here on earth, the building block of life is DNA – the threadlike structure that forms and develops organisms. Without DNA there could be no life. Within DNA we see the awesome and ever-complex design of God.

Each human, each organism in fact, has unique DNA. No two are the same. Yet, the basic structure of function of DNA remains the same. Spiritually, we have DNA as well. It’s what makes a person a Christian. Like the DNA of our bodies, our spiritual DNA has the capability to develop life and also the capability to protect life. And much like the DNA of our bodies, the factors of our spiritual life flow together like strands built around a single purpose. That single purpose is to bring a person to faith in Jesus.

Part 1: Strand 1: The Life and Truth of Jesus

The words before us are essentially an object lesson of this very thing. One scholar says that John’s epistle is not like a set of bricks side by side, where each topic is addressed independently of the other. He says rather the letter is like a spiral where each topic flows around and in relation to the central theme of Jesus Christ. Structurally, this letter is like a DNA strand. It contains all we need to create and sustain life in Jesus Christ. And like our bodies, there’s more than what meets the eye with this spiritual DNA; it is complex and beautiful – a product of God’s design. Today, we consider the DNA of a Christian – with two strands in particular: The life and truth of Jesus, and fellowship between God and one another.

Life and truth are extremely important in the person and work of Jesus. So important, in fact, that they can’t be separated. The life that Jesus lived and won for us is dependent on the truth of who He was and what He did. Today, life and truth and both under attack. Life is devalued. Truth is not sought. Those who believe such things have a hard time understanding Jesus.    

You can’t separate who Jesus was (truth) from what He did (life) anymore than you can separate the sun from light. The Sun is light. You can’t have light without the sun. Likewise, Jesus is what He did. He stands for everything that He accomplished. We see this life and truth based on Jesus immediately in the words of John, the apostle. He speaks from the perspective of an eye-witness when it comes to establishing the truth. John says, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.

Three aspects of an eye-witness come forth. That which John heard, saw, and touched. John has this unique perspective as one who was with Jesus and he shares it with his readers so that they will know the truth. The stories about Jesus were not myth. They were not oral legends that were passed down over thousands of years. John was an eye-witness. Some of those to whom he wrote had also seen Jesus. If any of this was not true it could have easily been pointed out.

Here, then, is where life enters. The truth about Jesus establishes what He accomplished. John says that eternal life with the Father has now been manifested, literally made known, to us. In verse 4 he tells the Christians that he wants them to know what Jesus is so that their joy could be full. This is the joy of the resurrection, and it applies to us just as much as it applied to eye-witnesses. Yet, there is no joy if you take away truth from what Jesus did. Truth does matter. 

This strand of truth and life is no longer supplied by eye-witness testimony today. We can use what John and others witnessed but it comes to our lives through God’s Word. It is in the written and spoken Word that we now behold the Word incarnate – the Word which John spoke of in the first chapter of his Gospel. Through the Word of God today we continue to share truth and life through Jesus Christ.

Here’s where the battle lines are drawn – where we see attacks on life and truth. Today it is considered arrogant to claim to know the truth. People think you’re too proud if you call others wrong in their beliefs. Many are trying to meld all religions together so that we don’t have to talk about truth. Carrying the banner of God’s Word brings persecution and shame. Yet, John tells us that you can’t be a Christian if you deny the truth – it’s like trying to deny your own DNA. Our life with God, the life that Jesus won through the resurrection, is inseparably linked to truth. This is why every attack on God’s truth is dangerous – even if we try to convince ourselves that it doesn’t affect faith in Jesus. By denying truth, no matter what part, we deny the way that God creates and sustains life.

John goes so far as to take one element of the truth, namely that we are sinners, and say that if we deny it we deceive ourselves and even make God a liar. The fact is that God cares about the truth so much that He sent His Son to earth to suffer and die so that you could know the truth. He used multiple writers across different periods of history to accurately record His Word so that you would know truth – and that you would have life. This is part of the fabric of how God created you and renewed you. You simply cannot be a Christian without caring about the truth.  

John knew this struggle well. At this time John lived in Ephesus. Many believe these letters were written in response to a false teacher of that time named Cerinthus. Cerinthus was doing what many do today – trying to blend all faiths into one. He took parts of Judaism, parts of Christianity, parts of a cultural religion of that time known as Gnosticism and combined them all. Cerinthus denied almost the entire Bible as inspired and authoritative from God. His attack on the truth even led him to deny that Jesus was God – and what Jesus did on the cross. Because Cerinthus denied truth, he also denied life.

John fought against these false teachings because he knew first-hand what was at stake. He saw Jesus, listened to Jesus, and touched Jesus. John’s conviction as a Christian stemmed from the truth. Without it he was lost. You have the same truth today, passed down in the Scriptures. Treat the Scriptures with care. Use them often. Trust what they say, because they will create and sustain life in Jesus.     

Part 2: Fellowship with God and believers

John mentions fellowship as another aspect of Christian identity. Here’s where we see the life and truth in action. Fellowship in the Christian life involves spiritually sharing God’s blessings in Christ. It helps to think of our fellowship in two parts based on directions. Vertically, each Christian has fellowship with God by faith. Horizontally, Christians have fellowship with other Christians based on a shared confession of faith. Life and truth are important to both directions. God has established faith with believers by the Holy Spirit’s work in their hearts through the truth of His Word. This relationship fulfills Christ’s promise when He says those who believe in Him that they have passed from death to life. Believers are living eternal life today.

Horizontally, our fellowship with other Christians is based on the truth of God’s Word. Our confession of faith ought to line up correctly with God’s Word. This is why we see multiple horizontal fellowships in the world – not all Christians agree with everything the Word of God presents. Many also do not believe that unity in all matters of God’s Word is necessary or even possible. 

Much like DNA, fellowship is all about creating life. God makes establishing fellowship with Him by faith a priority in His Word. This marks the beginning of fellowship. It’s no surprise then, that God compares this to being reborn or coming back to life from death. Likewise, earthly fellowships of Christians are to go forth into the world and bring the life-saving gospel to all people. This spiritual DNA strand is also concerned with protecting life. One of the grand designs of DNA is that it has the ability to adapt to situations. If you are suffering from a virus your DNA code can actually change in order to release a helpful protein, and then go back to its original design.

In a similar way, the same Creator has designed fellowship as a protective measure against the harmful effects of sin. John speaks about this in matters of confessing our sins. Refusing to confess sin is similar to resigning oneself to a physical illness without seeking treatment. God has given us an antidote for sin. He has designed the Christian life with a means of receiving this treatment whenever we need it. It’s called confession and repentance.

Our horizontal fellowship is meant to act like an immune system to protect our vertical fellowship with the Lord. This is why unity in God’s Word is so important. If we don’t agree on what is right and wrong, how can we properly diagnose and treat the spiritual viruses that threaten us. Some say it’s impossible to agree on the truth. Perhaps on the surface that’s true with sinners. Some also say it’s impossible for sinners to have fellowship and be united with God. (2:1 – God has done this so that we don’t sin – but we do!). Perhaps that’s also true on the surface. But, Jesus got beneath the surface when He suffered, died, and rose again. Jesus turns impossible situations into practical truths worth believing. He is able to unite fractured believers. He is able to forgive fallen sinners. Just because something seems impossible to our ears does not mean it is truly impossible to God, nor does it give us a free pass to ignore what God commands.       

These two strands mark the Christian’s DNA. But most important is what they encircle: Jesus Christ the righteous – your Advocate. He gives life and truth to our lives. He established unity with us by faith and allows us to extend the same gift within our churches. Ultimately, our lives are measured by Christ’s. The fabric of our identity by faith is established and strengthened by Him. Amen.

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

Easter Sunday - Acts 2:29-32

Theme: Through the Resurrection: A Puzzling Question becomes Faith’s Answer

Acts 2:29-32 "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 "Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 "he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.”

We know what the world says about today. It’s the same thing they’ve said about our faith from the very beginning. They refuse to accept that Christ is alive – literally they refuse to believe it. They act like it doesn’t matter either. “So what?” the world says. To them it’s more than ironic that today is also April fool’s day. Peter tells us the rallying cry of unbelievers is that there’s nothing new under the sun – which is actually a Christian concept to describe human sinfulness. The skeptics apply it to God, though. They say nothing has changed since the beginning of time. They say there’s nothing special about Christ, or God, or the faith which we confess and believe. And especially, the resurrection.

Today, it’s popular to lump Christianity in with the other religions of the world. People say that religion can serve a purpose culturally, but only in so far as we deem it worthy – and that worthiness obviously changes from culture to culture. Some Christians even say this. They strip the Bible of its historical accuracy and say that it’s only a collection of cultural myths that serve as metaphors to the modern man. If you want to make it part of your culture, you can, but it’s not a big deal either way. Ultimately, it’s no different than the Egyptian religion, or the Greek and Roman gods, or any other deity that has ever existed. Sadly, for many, even many Christians, the Resurrection is nothing more than a child-like fairy tale with a moral lesson. Christ didn’t actually rise from the dead, they say; rather it’s the story that teaches us we can become new people and create a better world. What a sad, limping gospel that truly is.

It’s well-nigh impossible to believe that how the world sees religion today is even remotely connected to the gospel that Peter boldly spoke in our text on Pentecost Sunday. It’s impossible to believe that a mere fairy tale is what caused countless numbers of Christians to risk their very lives to establish the New Testament church; to be willing to be killed instead of denying the faith. There was something more to the resurrection of Christ than a wish-fulfillment myth. For Peter and the others, as for us, the resurrection of Christ is irrefutable proof that death is conquered. It was not fulfillment of a mere wish that early Christians had, which differed in no way from other religions. No, it was absolute proof that Jesus backed up His promise to be the resurrection and the life, that all who believed in Him would have eternal life too. The resurrection of Jesus was not a wishy-washy concept. It had teeth and voracity. It struck people in the heart. It left them with a feeling that could not be explained away or sidetracked.

Anytime we stray away from the simple words of God about His Son’s death and resurrection, the message loses force. Skeptics today say that Christians are just dreamers because they think we avoid the tough questions. But being a Christian does not grant a free pass on mental wrestling. You and I know well that confessing Christ’s name is not an easy pass from spiritual conflicts. If anything, being a Christian brings with it an even greater awareness of the tough questions. We’re not just academically discussing the Word of God. We’re claiming to stake everything – even our entire eternal existence – on what that Word says. How can we escape the questions about the very things we trust? We, too, like the rest of the world, must give an answer.

Peter was answering a puzzling question in our text. It was a question that had long hounded the Jews of Jesus’ day – one that He even posed to them. And it’s a question every person must eventually answer. Who is Jesus?

Jesus obviously addressed this question a lot. Even His very presence begged it. However, it was in one particular section that He connected it to David; which is where Peter found the impetus for his own treatment of it on Pentecost. We read from Matthew 22, where Jesus says, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" They said to Him, "The Son of David." 43 He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him`Lord,' saying: 44 `The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool "'? 45 "If David then calls Him`Lord,' how is He his Son?" 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore (Matthew 22).

This was the puzzling question. How could Jesus be David’s descendent and also David’s Lord? What it ultimately comes back to is the person of Jesus. He was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Completely God and completely human. Clearly, just the bare logic of the question astounds us. No one can scientifically explain how God could become human. Furthermore, how could a person even measure God? It takes faith to answer this question.

This is why the Pharisees were left speechless before Jesus. This is why the world continues to reject what Jesus came to do. It takes trust in God to accept the answer. Jesus was David’s descendent and His God because He was able to be both. More importantly for our lives, Jesus had to be both. He had to be perfect – to plan and execute the task of salvation from eternity. He had to be like us in order to carry our sin. If He wasn’t, the blessings would not have applied to our lives. Jesus certainly could have atoned for sin on His own, but without being human it would not have translated to our lives.

It takes trust in God to answer this puzzling question, but not because faith blindly follows anything it chooses. Here’s where the world thinks that Christians have an easy pass. To say that something must be accepted by faith sounds like a cop-out. The world tells us that we are avoiding the tough question. Eventually, the world pities that Christian who makes such a confession, as if they are some lunatic who doesn’t know right from left. To the world, there’s a noble courage involved with confronting the spiritual questions of life head on and bringing them in to submission to the human will. It’s considered weak and naïve to trust.

Understanding the two natures of Jesus is a lot like understanding His resurrection. They both defy reason. But the connection runs even deeper. They are also inseparably linked in spiritual importance. It is through His divine power that Christ conquered death. But, it was also with His human body that He died and came back to life. You can’t have a resurrection without a fully divine and human Savior. This is why Jesus asked people about Himself as He was approaching the cross. To see Jesus was to see eternal life. To know Him was to know that death would be destroyed. The Pharisee’s missed the boat because they didn’t want to trust. Many in the world continue on the same path because they don’t want to trust.

Trust seems like an easy way out of the puzzling questions because it involves obedience. Obedience is despised in our culture. In fact, obedience is despised by all people who are hungry for power and control. Therefore, we are often told that obedience, and the trust in God from which it flows, is only for simple-minded people who want to keep their head in the sand. We’re told that you can only get to a position of faith by ignoring the puzzling questions.

What do you think about these accusations? Do they apply to Christians? Well, they certainly could. There are plenty who believe to avoid strife and difficulty – even Jesus admitted as much when He taught that hypocrisy is real. But, to make that determination, you have to go back to the basis of one’s trust. If your faith has no backing then it truly is blind. However, listening to Peter, that’s not the impression with which we’re left. Peter speaks with the confidence of someone who has found the answer to a question. Peter, being a Jew himself, certainly wrestled with the person of Christ; even more so with the resurrection of Christ. When Jesus foretold His death and resurrection, it was Peter who stood up and said it would never happen. When Jesus was on trial, it was Peter who denied the Lord. Peter knew the tough questions and he didn’t skirt around them. His hope abounded because he found the answer from God – not because he avoided the struggle. w

How did Peter get to this position of confidence and hope? It was through the Word of God. Led by the Holy Spirit as he studied the Word, Peter saw what David prophesied about Jesus. In his own moment in the spotlight, it was this Word that Peter fell back on to defend his faith in Jesus. It was only once Peter let go of his own will and submitted to His Savior’s that he found the answers he was looking for. That’s what faith in Jesus does. It sheds light on tough questions but it also changes the human heart to trust God above all others.

Countless numbers of believers have been through the same process as Peter. Paul would use the same defense of his faith in Acts 13, again going back to David. Even David himself used it as Peter described, how David had to wait on the Lord to fulfill the Messianic promise of which he was aware. Believers don’t avoid the tough questions – we answer them in Christ. There is no greater example of faith’s power in this way than Christ Himself – who didn’t avoid the fate of death but rather conquered in it. He didn’t skirt around the grave. He was consumed by it. He didn’t run from Satan’s temptations – He stood up to them. He didn’t hide from the taunts and jeers, not just on Good Friday but during His entire life – rather He responded in truth and love. You simply can’t be a follower of Christ by avoiding the tough questions – because He didn’t.

And more importantly, you don’t have to avoid the tough questions – because He didn’t. Through Christ’s resurrection, you have been brought to the cross and even past it. You have been carried in to the grave. You have been raised. You stand victorious against Satan and hell today. That’s the power of faith. It may be called weak. It may be deemed foolish and naïve. But, there is nothing more powerful than a believer who trusts their Savior and leaves everything to Him. Today, God tells you that not even death can stand in your way. If that is the case, why worry what the world says? God has answered every question.

To close, listen to what Peter would go on to write to the Christians he was called to serve, again, not dodging the tough questions, but answering them in Jesus and through His resurrection:   

1 Peter 1:3-4, 6-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

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