Apr 22 - Tempted To Let God Go

Tempted To Let God Go

April 22, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

TEMPTED TO LET GO OF GOD

April 22nd, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

A man walked along a steep cliff one day, when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he happened to grab a root sticking out of the soil.  This stopped his fall, at least temporarily.

He looked down and to his horror saw that the bottom of the cliff was hundreds of meters below.
There was no way for him to climb up by himself and he was afraid that the root wouldn’t hold much longer.  So he started to shout for help, in the hopes that someone would walk close where he had been. 

HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? HELP!"
He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.

  • Paul, Paul.  Can you hear me, Paul?

  • "Yes, yes! I can hear you. I'm down here!"

  • I know, Paul.  I am the Lord.”

  • The Lord?  You mean God?

  • Yes, Paul.  Do you have faith, Paul?

  • Um, well not really, but NOW I do.”

  • OK, Paul.  I want you to let go of the root.

  • What?

  • I said, let go of the root.”

There was a long pause.  Finally, Paul started yelling again:  “HELP! HELP! Is anyone else up there?"

 

 

When I became a Christian, in my late teens, one of the very first Bible verses I memorized was 1 Cor 10:13.

 

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                              1 Corinthians 10:13

 

The Greek word translated as “temptation”, can equally mean test, trial or difficulty.  So it is completely legitimate to translate it accordingly.

 

No trial has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                                                      1 Corinthians 10:13

 

Since the word can have both meanings, it sometimes has the combined meaning of, “being tempted on the basis of difficulties or trials.” 

 

In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 3, it becomes evident that Paul’s primary concern was that the believers in Thessalonica - because of the difficulties and trials that they had to face - had been tempted to give up on their faith and walk away from God.

 

Today we are continuing in our series in 1 Thessalonians and today we are looking at the whole of chapter 3. 

 

When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we decided that we should remain in Athens and send Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the good news of Christ, in order to strengthen you and encourage you in your faith, because we did not want anyone to falter[1] because of these troubles.[2]                         1 Thessalonians 3:1-3a

 

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to flee, first Philippi (Acts 16:39-40), then Thessalonica (Acts 17:10).  Paul also had to flee from Berea (Acts 17:13-14), but left Timothy and Silas there while he travelled on to Athens. 

 

We don’t know how long Paul was in Athens, possibly a few months, but Timothy and Silas joined him there.  It was from there that Timothy was sent back by Paul to return to the churches in Macedonia.

 

I mentioned in a previous sermon, the trip between Athens and Thessalonica was about 500 km one way.  Timothy’s journey would have been much the same as walking from Sidney all the way to Pt. Hardy.

 

The reason why Timothy had to make the trip back to Thessalonica was because of Paul’s concern that the believers there were not doing well, that they were faltering or falling away because of the persecution and hardships they were enduring at the hands of others. 

 

We know from the previous chapter (1 Thess 2), that they had to endure some form of persecution by others in town.[3]   Let me continue to read from 1 Thess 3.

 

As you know, we were destined for these (troubles).  When we were still with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we had to suffer trials[4] and, as you know, that is what happened.           1 Thessalonians 3:3b-4

 

When Paul was in Thessalonica, likely also the other places that he planted churches, he must have been quite up front about the fact that Christians will, in all likelihood, face persecution. 

 

He had reminded them previously in this letter, that he and Silas had endured a severe beating when they were in Philippi.

 

At a later letter, Paul wrote that he received the dreaded 39 lashes 5 times, that he was beaten with rods 3 times, that he was shipwrecked 3 times, that his life was in danger numerous times (when he crossed rivers or when he was confronted by highway robbers, when traveling through the country side or while staying in cities, his life was in danger from Gentiles and Jews), and that he was often without food and shelter, enduring hunger and freezing due to exposure (2 Cor 11:23-27). 

 

He also mentioned, that he was stoned and left for dead.  This happened during his first missionary journey when he was in Lystra. 

 

(While in Lystra) Jews came from Antioch and Iconium.  They riled up the crowds and stoned Paul.  When they thought he was dead, they dragged his body outside of town.                                                                Acts 14:19

 

After going to Derbe and recovering physically from the stoning, Paul returned to Lystra.  But note his message:

 

They strengthened the believers and encouraged them to remain steadfast in their faith.  They said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[5]                                                                                     Acts 14:22

 

Again, Paul was up front, that Christians won’t have a trouble free life.  He may have been familiar with Jesus’ teaching on this matter. 

 

Remember what I told you: ... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.            John 15:20

 

In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.                            John 16:33

 

There are three things about trouble we need to realize:

 

Either we’ve just gotten over some trials,

Or we are facing difficulties right now,

Or we are heading toward problems.

 

And I’m not being pessimistic.  Difficulties and trials are simply part of life.

 

So the reference to “we” in 1 Thessalonians 3, not only relates to the difficulties faced by Paul and his companions.  It also included the fact that the believers who were left behind in the town of Thessalonica were facing persecution of some kind.[6] 

 

It is because I couldn’t stand it any longer, that I sent (Timothy) in order to find out about your faith and whether the tempter[7] had (successfully) tempted you[8] (or: the one who produces trials has tested you) and our work among you has been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:5

 

Paul’s work would only have been in vain if his fear, that the tempter or tester had been successful in tempting them or testing them - that is, that as a result of the difficulties they had been facing, they had decided to abandon their faith. 

 

The tempter or tester is likely in reference to Satan, who Paul mentions later on in the chapter.  We find Satan referred to as the tempter only one other time in the NT, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matt 4:3).  In the book of Revelation, the devil is referred to as the one who tests or tempts some of the believers by having them thrown into prison (Rev 2:10).

 

The concept of Satan being the “tempter” comes from Genesis 3, the temptation of Adam and Eve.  In the Genesis account the snake is not identified with Satan or any other spiritual creature.  [In fact the curse placed upon the snake (Gen 3:14 - to move on its belly and eat dust) makes it highly unlikely that the author of Genesis thought of the snake as an evil spiritual being.[9] ]

 

However, other passages in the Bible, like Rev 12:9, make that connection.

 

... Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. ...

2 Corinthians 11:14

 

Just as an aside, when I think of Satan, I envision someone much like the Balrog in the Lord of the Ring movie.[10]  However, as Paul knows, Satan most often doesn’t appear that way.  He appears as an angel of light.  As something that appears to be innocuous, tolerant, even innocent and safe.

 

So what are some things that might tempt us to abandon our faith today? 

 

1. God didn’t come through for me (or someone I care about)

 

I’m still struggling ... emotionally, relationally, financially, morally.  Stuff happens in my life but I can’t see anything good coming from this.  Rejection is painful. Loss is devastating.  Illness and pain are bad.  There just doesn’t seem to be an upside to any of these things. 

 

If God really cared, he would not allow the kind of suffering and death that we can see every day in the news.

 

Everything should be fun and exciting when it comes to God.  So where are the bells and whistles, the wonders and miracles, the adrenalin rush, the happy, happy, joy, joy life? 

 

Things should constantly be changing for the better.  I should go from one mountain top experience to another mountain top experience.  No need to hit the valleys.  One victory after another.

 

Life should be more like a video game, where death is fake and I can level up.

 

Many people don’t mind being a Christian, but when it comes to their personal lifestyle choices, they don’t want God to telling them what to do.

 

Further, God may be asking us to give up our comfortable and cozy lives in order to make a difference in someone else’s life. 

 

But most people want to live for their own enjoyment and pleasure ... and if they do something for someone else, that surely shouldn’t result in them doing without something - it shouldn’t cost them.

 

But God not only expects us to share our time.  He also expects us to share our income.  That too will put a crimp in what we want to do and experience and enjoy.

 

Jesus said that following him is somewhat radical ... he likened it to carrying a cross.  Honestly, many of us don’t feel like carrying anything, much less a heavy burden like a cross. 

 

Supposedly hardship builds character.  But some of us would rather skip the hardships and not have as much character.

 

Suffering, pain, trials, tribulations, misfortune ... all of these can lead to discouragement.  And discouragement can be costly.  A sense of defeat and hopelessness can settle in that saps us of energy and vision.

 

Trials can consume a lot of our time - because they may keep us worried and anxious, thinking of a way out.

 

Difficulties can keep us from doing what we need to do (procrastinating) because when we try to simply avoid dealing with it.

 

Suffering can be the reason why we end up in unbelief. 

 

Paul saw in suffering as a situation out of which God can and will bring something good or beneficial, either for the person suffering or for someone else.

 

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.                       Romans 8:28

 

It seems to me as if Paul had a joyful or positive outlook because he truly believed that, God will inevitably bring something good from anything that is bad.  We just need to have the insight to recognize it.

 

For example, Paul believed that when God provides comfort for someone who is undergoing a great difficulty, he is also giving the person the ability to understand and comfort those who are going through that same thing.

 

God comforts us in all of our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort we received from God.          2 Corinthians 1:4

 

Or then there are the verses, like those found in 1 Peter, where hardships are seen as a way of proving the genuine nature of our faith. 

 

For a little while you have been distressed by various trials. Through them your faith will be tested and will prove itself to be more precious than gold that is refined by fire yet still perishes.                         1 Peter 1:6-7[11]

 

In other words, if those various trials don’t knock us off course and cause us to abandon God, then our faith is genuine.  But what a nasty way to find that out.

 

Let’s go on in our passage in 1 Thessalonians 3.  We’re at v.6:

 

But now, Timothy has returned from you to us, and has reported the good news of your faith and love, and that you always think with fondness of us, longing to see us, just as we long to see you.      1 Thessalonians 3:6

 

It likely took Timothy a couple of months to travel to Macedonia on foot, visit the various churches, and then return to Greece.  When Timothy returned, either Paul was still in Athens, or he had moved on to Corinth by then (see Acts 18:5)[12], where he would spend the next 1 ½ years (Acts 18:11).

 

Timothy’s report was extremely positive.  He reported that the Thessalonians had not faltered in their faith nor had their affection for Paul waned. 

 

Despite our distress and afflictions, the report about you and your faith comforted us.  When you persist[13] in the Lord, we have a new lease on life.  How can we thank God enough for you because you give us such great joy with which we rejoice before God?         

1 Thessalonians 3:7-9

 

Paul was elated when he heard the news from Timothy.  He described this feeling literally as “living”.  In other words, hearing the news gave him “a new lease on life”, he was now “truly alive”.  A huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. 

 

He was filled with so much joy and happiness, that he could not help but rejoice before God for what was happening in their lives.[14]

 

Paul goes on ...

 

We earnestly pray night and day that we will see you face to face again and complete what may be lacking in your faith.      Now may our God and Father himself, and Jesus our Lord, direct our steps to you. 

1 Thessalonians 3:10-11

 

Paul was praying earnestly night and day (cf. 1 Thess 1:2-3; 2:13),[15] that he would soon visit Thessalonica again. His desire to see them is a recurring theme in this letter, as can be seen from the verses out of 1 Thess 2, which I added to the slide. 

COMPARE

 

We are so eager and desired greatly to see you face to face.  We wanted to come to you, I Paul more than once, but were hindered by Satan.                    

1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

 

How Satan hindered Paul from returning to Macedonia is unknown.  Possibly, Paul may have suffered some illness or physical disability that kept him from traveling.  It may also be that he felt that the work in Greece simply couldn’t do without him at that time.[16] 

 

With his visit, the Apostle desired to “perfect or complete” something that potentially was still be lacking in their faith. Paul had left Thessalonica in a hurry - while the Christians there were still completely new to the Christian faith (Acts 17:1; Acts 17:4-5; Acts 17:10).

 

It would make sense that they did not fully comprehend the events surrounding Jesus’ return (see 1 Thess 4:13 - 5:3) or the moral implications of their faith. Paul addresses both of these topics in the next chapter of this letter (see 1 Thess 4:2-8; 5:6-8).[17] 

 

Paul then repeats a prayer for a reunion in the near future.  Unfortunately, this never took place.  3 or 4 years would go by before Paul passed through Macedonia again, this time on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-2).[18] 

 

Paul then ends this section of the letter with a blessing, really a prayer for blessing. 

 

May the Lord cause you to grow and abound in love for one another and for all people, just as our (love) does toward you, in order that your hearts may be unshakable[19] and so be blameless and holy before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus returns with all his holy ones.                              1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

 

Paul already mentioned that the love of the believers in Thessalonica is exemplary.[20]  Now Paul prays that their love toward one another and toward all men would grow even more and abound, just as Paul’s love abounds toward them.[21]   

 

The reason for an increase in love, and that really refers to loving actions, and not “just” a warm and fuzzy feeling, is that it would make firm or establish or stabilize or strengthen their hearts.  And a heart that is firm, that is unshakable, in turn will be blameless and holy before God. 

 

The point is NOT that they will reach perfection in the distant future when Jesus’ returns (for one, in Paul’s mind the time is too short for that). Instead, the prayer of blessing is that the believers in Thessalonica would be blameless and holy now AND that they would continue to be so until Jesus returns. 

 

The reference here to Jesus’ holy ones (who come with him at his return), could potentially be the belief that Jesus will come with an angel army in tow.[22]   It could also reflect the belief that the righteous people who have already died will accompany Jesus at his return (cf. 4:17,18 - the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will join Jesus and the previously risen). 

 

But the important thing to keep in mind, is that the believers’ blameless and holy character is ultimately the result of their increasing love for each other and all people

 

So let me end with just a few thoughts on the trials that we face.  Plato said something very similar to what is on the next slide:

 

Be kind because everyone you meet is likely fighting some kind of battle you know nothing about[23]

 

When we are young, we may not appreciate that sentiment because life at that point may seem pretty problem free.

 

But as we get older, we realize that most people we meet are facing challenges of one kind or another.  It may be the loss of a loved one, poor health, taking care of aging parents, problems with children or grand-children, addiction, dealing with bullying, or possibly with financial problems or illness, maybe stress and anxiety is creating havoc, or they are traumatized because of something that happened in the past.  The point is that no-one escapes this life unscathed. 

 

And the same is true of Christians. “In this world you WILL have troubles” Jesus said.   And since everyone faces some kind of battle,

 

1. We should treat them with kindness, and

2. We should not be surprised when we face our own battles. 

 

Mind you, we will likely never have it as bad as the apostle Paul. He writes of himself:

 

We are greatly afflicted in every way, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. ... Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward body is passing away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.                                                   2 Corinthians 4:8,9,16

 

Paul somehow had the ability to view all the bad and potentially discouraging events in his life from the perspective of eternity.  So the great afflictions that he faced become momentary and light afflictions

 

Paul viewed every difficulty as something that is only temporary, something that would pass.  And he felt that no matter how long it persists, it’s still a very short time when compared to eternity. 

 

There will be sunny days filled with laughter and excitement.  But there will also be stormy days, filled with conflict, tears, anxiety, uncertainty, challenge and unwanted change. 

 

Now, the storms of life will affect us in one of three ways:

 

1. Either, we will be shipwrecked by them.

 

This is when we have a nervous breakdown, when we have one anxiety attack after another, when we fall apart, when we end up in shock, unable to move or act, when we throw up our hands and give up or give in or walk away.

 

2. Or we will muddle through the storm we are facing with difficulty.

 

We struggle and struggle, it’s tough going, we are torn apart inside.  So all we can do is just hang in there, slug through until it’s over.

 

3. Or we will sail right through the storms of life. 

 

This is when we are not fazed by the difficulties.  They don’t bring us down emotionally.  We remain incurably positive

 

Which would you like to be?  I think it would be wonderful if I always felt “on top of the world”.  If I remained positive despite setbacks.  If I experienced calmness and tranquility regardless of my circumstances.

 

So Paul seemed to be able to have this, despite the fact that his life wasn’t easy.  He writes about having learned the secret of contentment, whether he has lots or nothing, whether he’s well fed or suffering hunger.

 

I have learned to be content regardless of the circumstances I find myself.             Philippians 4:11

 

How can we handle trouble, the storms of life ... without having to give up on God?  Here are some suggestions (in no particular order ... not in order of importance):

 

1. Assess - what is the cause of the storm?

 

a. Storms that I cause (hardest to spot)

 

There are problems that we bring on ourselves. Often we have blinders on and don’t recognize when we are the cause of a problem ... the natural thing is to make excuses or to blame someone else.

 

b. Storms that others cause (hardest to forgive)

 

There are trials in our lives that are caused by other people.  They are not only the hardest to forgive, but also the hardest to respond to in a positive manner.  Our natural instinct is to hit back, to hurt back.

 

c. Storms that God allows (hardest to understand)

 

When a child dies, when a tsunami kills, when pain endures, these events and others like them are hardest to come to terms with because there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for them. 

 

So the first thing I should do is figure out where the difficulty is coming from and decide whether or not I can do something about it.

 

The second way to handle the storms of life is to ...

 

2. Gain a new perspective

 

This means that we look at life differently.  How can we gain a new perspective?[24]  Well here are some hints:

 

a. Embrace life as it is (don’t compare)

 

So many of us want to embrace life as we want it to be, not as it actually is.  And so we are never content.  Instead of realizing that the vast majority of humanity have it worse than us, we compare ourselves to those who have more than us, who we think have it so much easier and better, and as a result we lose sight of the good things in our own lives - and become discontent. 

 

b. Stay calm and rational

 

Some of us have problems keeping our emotions in check. Instead of taking 10 deep breaths and realizing that it’s not that big a deal, we get completely bent out of shape.[25] 

 

And when our emotions get out of hand then we react without thinking things through rationally, often with disastrous results.    

 

c. Evaluate (actually re-evaluate) the problem in terms of eternity.

 

This is what Paul did,

 

However, normally when we gauge an event, or a problem or a difficulty, we often see only the present or maybe the very immediate future.  We have a hard time looking at things long term.

 

When someone really ticks me off, I sometimes have to tell myself, “don’t take yourself so seriously,” and, “in 100 years, all new people.” 

 

When we actually are able to see things long term, particularly in terms of eternity, then we will not be so prone to viewing every little inconvenience or problem as an earthshattering event, as if it’s the end of the world. 

 

d. Pray / be thankful / practice gratitude

 

That is one of the best ways to gain a different perspective.  Instead of focusing and dwelling on the things that are wrong, we focus on the things that are right and good and wonderful.  And we might be surprised just how much of the good stuff is in our lives when we set out consciously to thank God and others.

 

e. Get help / support / advice

 

Sometimes our pride does not allow us to get help, especially when we have a terrible outlook on life, when we’re only focused on ourselves and our problems.  But really, that is when we should reach out to people we trust. 

 

f.  Grow in love and compassion for others

 

When we go through storms and we are still compassionate and kind to others, it does something wonderful in our hearts and our minds.  As Paul wrote in our passage, it is foundational to strengthening our hearts and our faith and making us blameless and holy before God.

 

Today is the time to “increase and abound in love” as we await the return of the Lord.

 

 (No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted - Aesop)

 

HAVE I BEEN TEMPTED BY THE TEMPTER TO LET GO OF MY FAITH?

 

IF SO, HOW WILL I RESPOND?

 

 

 

[1] Literally, “to be drawn aside” (sainesthai)

[2] Greek Thlipsis, (literally “pressure”) meaning persecution, affliction, distress, tribulation.  This also includes the internal conflict due to tribulation, especially the feeling of being constricted or hemmed in without a way out. 

[3] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You suffered at the hands of your countrymen (as the churches in Judea suffered at the hands of the Jews).

[4] Derivative of same Greek verb in v.3.

[5] See also Paul’s letter to Timothy:  All who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...   2 Tim 3:12.  In the Western world Christians may not face the kind of persecution that was common in Paul’s day, but there are other forms of “persecution” (ridicule, rejection, etc.).

[6] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen.

[7] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” (see comment in footnotes above) - the one who tempts (to sin) or the one who produces trials or difficulties; 

[8] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” - to tempt or to produce trials

[9] This then poses the “difficulty” of a snake that can speak. 

[10] This Balrog was known as Durin's Bane and he resided in the Mines of Moria, where Gandalf battled him.  Both ended up falling into the abyss.

[11] The same idea is found in James 1:2-4 - Christians should be overjoyed when they face trials that test (prove) their faith and produces endurance, which can result in wholeness and completeness (lacking nothing).

[12] Acts 18:5 - When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, ...

[13] Greek steko, meaning “to stand firm,” “to persevere”, “to persist”, “to retain one’s standing”.

[14] Given that Paul was not harmed in either Athens or Corinth, he may be referring either to previous affliction, or perhaps about simply being opposed, such as being dragged before Gallio, the new proconsul of Achaia, while in Corinth (Acts 18:12-16), or about the physical distress of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue in Corinth, who was beaten publically (Acts 18:17).

[15] We give thanks to God always for you ... constantly thinking of your work of faith and labour of love and steadfast hope ....

[16] In Acts 18:9-10, Jesus (i.e., the Lord) came to Paul in a vision at night and told him to keep on speaking since many people in the city were or would become believers.

[17] These verses speak of sexual immorality and drunkenness.

[18] 2nd missionary journey c. 50-52 CE.  3rd missionary journey c. 53-58 CE.  Since he stayed 2 years in Ephesus prior to traveling to Macedonia (Acts 19:10), it could have been 3 years before he saw the Christians at Thessalonica again.

[19] The infinitive of the verb sterizo, which means to make stable, to make firm, to strengthen, to make consistent or constant, etc.

[20] 1 Thess 1:3 - your labour of love; cf. 1 Thess 4:9-10 - They are taught by God himself to love one another and do so toward all Christians in Macedonia.  Even so, Paul urges them to excel even more in that love. 

[21] In the 4th chapter, Paul encourages them to excel in love even more, despite him mentioning that they had shown love to all the believers in Macedonia.

[22] Jude quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9: “Behold the Lord (in Enoch: “he”) will come with 10,000 of his holy ones to execute justice ....” 

[23] Plato wrote, “Be kind.  For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 

[24] Joni Mitchell (1967?) Both Sides, Now.  She looked at clouds from above and below, she looked at love from gain and loss, she looked at life both as a wonderful thing and as one where friends put her down.  Her conclusion:  She doesn’t know clouds, love and live at all because they are illusionary (there is no up and down?).

[25] Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.

Apr 8 - Payback Or Passing It Forward?

Payback Or Passing It Forward?

April 8, 2018

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

 

PAYBACK OR PASSING IT FORWARD?

Impacting My World for God and for Good – Part 2

April 8th, 2018

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

 

A woman was pregnant but she did not let her ex know.  As she was commuting to work one day, she got into a car accident and ended up in an induced coma for 6 months at VGH.

When she is woken up and sees that she’s no longer pregnant, she is frantic, but the doctor in the room assures her that she had healthy twins by Caesarean, a boy and a girl. 

He also told her that her brother, who had been visiting daily, had provided names for the children for the birth certificates because her situation had been so precarious.

The woman exclaims, “Oh no, not my brother.  He comes up with the weirdest stuff.  My goodness, I’m afraid to ask, but what’s the girl’s name?” 

The doctor tells her, “Your brother named her Denise.” 

Wow, that’s not a bad name at all.  In fact I like it a lot!  So what’s the boy’s name?” 

Denephew.” 

 

There is a need within human nature for retaliation and retribution.  It offends our sense of justice if people are able to do terrible things but carry on without facing any negative consequences. 

 

Mao Zedong (1893 - 1976) whose 5 year plan called “the great leap forward” directly led to the starvation of some 30 million peasants between 1959 and 1962, did not seemed to have bothered the so-called “great helmsman” very much.  He lived to age 82, and is venerated to this day.[1] 

 

Joseph Stalin (1878 - 1953), was ruthless, brutal and sadistic by nature.  He started his political career by raised funds for the Bolsheviks through deadly robberies[2], kidnappings, counterfeiting, and running protection rackets. He also ordered the killing of suspected informants. 

 

Once he gained control as the communist dictator, he instituted a 30 year reign (1924 - 1953) of unprecedented cruelty and violence, which cost the lives of some 40 million people.  He once said that a million deaths is simply a statistic.

 

He orchestrated the so-called “Great Purge[3] where, within a few years, hundreds of thousands were killed on his order.  He died at age 74.[4] 

 

The likes of Pol Pot and Idi Amin also died at an advanced age without ever having to face justice for their murderous reigns.[5] 

 

If you are like most, it probably rankles you that those who caused the suffering and deaths of millions of human beings should die peacefully in their old age.  The reason for this is something that is found in most people:  a desire for justice.[6] 

 

Most people think that there is something inherently wrong with the innocent being punished simply because they don’t have any recourse, and the guilty going free because they have money or power or influence. 

 

But we don’t have to look back in history all that long.  Clifford Olsen, who killed at least 11 children around 1980 (died in prison in 2011). Robert Pickton who killed around 50 women between 1980 and 2002.  In the early 1990’s serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.  Or mass murderer Colonel David Williams who stalked, tortured and killed his victims until he was arrested in 2010. If you are anything like me, I would like them to be locked up for the rest of their lives.

 

However, it becomes even more acute when someone hurts us personally or hurts someone we care about.  Then, we want payback.  We want that person to suffer for what they did.  This is no longer simply the desire for punishment, it is the desire for revenge and retribution.[7] 

 

Some of you will remember where you were back in September 11th, 2001, known as 9/11, now already 16 ½ years ago.   But you likely will not remember the speech to the world that then-President George W. Bush gave on Sept 20th, 9 days after the attacks.[8]

 

It was s speech about his resolve to go to war, to bring justice for the 3,000 killed and the 6,000 injured, by punishing those who made it happen.  He told the terrorists that they would be brought to justice and they would not be able to escape it.[9]  Less than a month after 9/11, the US began military operations in Afghanistan,[10] which they named “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

 

It may have taken 9 years and 8 months, but eventually even Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was killed in his hideout in Pakistan.[11]  And a lot of Americans were pretty happy about it.

 

We want justice and we want revenge.  When someone does horrible things, we want them punished.  If someone hurts us or hurts someone we care about, we want to retaliate, so that the other person is forced to suffer for their actions. 

 

That is simply part of our human nature.  It is why we strike back when someone hurts us; why we get defensive or become hurtful when we feel threatened or put down or hurt.[12] 

 

And because it is so natural to want revenge, both the OT and NT speak out against this tendency. 

 

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.        Romans 12:17

 

Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge ... instead love your neighbour as yourself.            Leviticus 19:18

 

Jesus made a point of this as well, as he told his followers to pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:44), and Paul echoes this by writing that Christians are to bless their persecutors (Rom 12:14).

 

So while justice and anger by their very nature demand punishment and retribution, it isn’t nearly as natural to repay a kindness with another kindness, although it sometimes happens. Kind people can inspire others to be kind. 

 

While this is a wonderful sentiment, I have not found it to be commonly true.  Most people aren’t nearly as keen to show kindness because kindness was shown to them.  Some people simply take the kindness of others for granted.  Others may appreciate it, but it still doesn’t convict them that they too should act in a similar way. 

 

Some of you have watched a movie back in 2000 called “Pay It Forward”.  It is about a 12 year old boy by the name of Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) whose teacher (Kevin Spacey)[13] gives the class an assignment – they are to do something that would change the world in which they live. 

 

The boy came up with the idea of doing something for three people that they could not do for themselves.  And then he would tell these people that if they wanted to repay his kindness they should “pay it forward” by doing the same for three other people.

 

The concept behind the movie is something I read years ago in a book in my library.  This is what it said: 

 

How can I ever repay you?” asked a person of a friend who had done him a great favour.  “I will forever be indebted to you for your kindness.” 

Not necessarily,” answered the friend. “If you really want to repay me, keep your eye open for somebody who needs help as badly as you did, and help him. 

If you are willing to do this, I will be fully repaid, for I will enjoy the great feeling that someday – through you – I will have helped someone I didn’t even know.”

 

In a sense, that is what God is asking every believer to do.  He has given us good things:  Forgiveness and cleansing and wholeness and meaning in life.  He has given us His Spirit, whether we are aware of him or not.  He has given us the ability to connect with him and to worship him and talk to him.  He has given us the potential of a Christian family – of friends who are concerned about us and pray for us. 

 

We cannot repay God for any of these things.  We can’t earn them, we don’t deserve them.  However, God asks us to share with others the grace and forgiveness and love and mercy he has shown toward us.  We are to pay it forward.  And it is that very act of paying it forward that pleases God.

 

That was something ingrained into the apostle Paul. Something happened in his life he considered to be wonderful.  He had received something he considered to be incredibly valuable, in fact he called it “the good news.”  The good news contained the message that God did something for him that he simply could not do for himself - even though he tried hard.

 

Maybe when he received the “good news”, he felt like someone who had won the grand prize in the lottery. 

 

Now when we win the lottery, we might be inclined to share some of the winnings with immediate family members.  But surely we wouldn’t share them with total strangers. Yet Paul thought it was incumbent upon him to share this good news with anyone who would hear him out. 

 

As a result, Paul made a huge positive impact in the lives of so many people – he brought them meaning and joy in the present, and hope for the future. 

 

A few weeks ago, I started on a series in 1 Thessalonians and spoke on chapter 1. This morning I want us to take a look at chapter 2, in particular Paul’s motives and his methods as an example to us of what it takes to share God’s message and God’s love with others.  Let’s begin by reading 1 Thessalonians 2. 

 

You know for yourselves, brothers, that our visit to you was not futile.  You know how, after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, we still had the boldness in our God to tell you the good news of God despite much opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:1-2

 

In chapter 2, Paul refers six (6) times to the fact that the believers in Thessalonica already know what he is now telling them.  In other words, he is simply reminding them of something they had witnessed personally when he was with them.

 

Paul is writing this letter from Greece.  When in Philippi, Paul and Silas had received a severe beating, which would have shredded their backs, then been imprisoned (likely in stocks), and then had to flee for their lives after being released.

 

In Thessalonica they also face a huge amount of opposition in Thessalonica. 

 

Now you would think that Paul would have been bitter about his treatment in Philippi and Thessalonica and wished evil and curses on his detractors.  But, instead of wanting them to pay for their actions against him, he was more focused on blessing others regardless of the danger involved.

 

So Paul reminds the believers at Thessalonica of his courage, his boldness, to continue preaching the message about Jesus, despite all that happened.

 

Most of us are so afraid of rejection or humiliation or looking stupid or being thought of as less, that the slightest opposition will cause us to cave in or give up on our principles or voice our convictions.   

 

So we can be prevented from doing what we think is right and good, simply because we are afraid that others may think less of us. 

 

If you couple that with the prevailing sentiment that religious beliefs or convictions are private and personal, something not to be discussed in public, then it results in believers who are afraid to say anything about their faith or beliefs to others.

 

It is why some believers enter eternity without ever having told anyone else about their convictions or beliefs. 

 

I am reminded of a story about a man who travelled all over the world on business.  In every major city he stopped, he would buy something for his mother and send it to her. 

On one such stop he found a parrot that spoke 13 different languages.  He paid a small fortune for it and another hefty sum to have it looked after on the trip to get it to his mother. 

A few days later he phoned his mother.  “Did you like the parrot?” he asked her. 

Oh yes, son, thank you.  It was delicious.” 

WHAT?” the man was beside himself.  “You ate it?  That parrot wasn’t for you to eat, it spoke 13 languages!” 

 

The mother paused for a moment and then said, “So why didn’t he say something?

 

My point is not that we should be beating others over the head with our faith - especially when they do not want to hear about it.  My point is that some people are desperately searching for answers and quite open to what we may have to say.

 

Now, good sense should have told Paul that he was heading for trouble and that he should give up and stop talking. 

His fear of rejection should have told him to stop doing things that would cause people to hate him.

Self-preservation should have told him to shut up instead of risking beating, imprisonment or even death.    

 

Yet something, something drove him to keep on keeping on.  Something allowed him to keep speaking the same message about Jesus’ identity and what Jesus’ had accomplished through his execution on a cross despite the consequences.  Something gave him the courage not to be afraid of what others may say or think. 

 

Paul wrote in v.2: we had boldness in our God!  Paul’s life was given over to God.  Paul trusted God implicitly.  His courage was in God, not in his own strength or in some other human protecting him.    

 

Courage comes when we overcome our addiction to the approval of others.  Paul got his approval and inner security from God. 

 

So let’s go on in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2.

 

Our message was not motivated by a desire to mislead you, to take advantage of you sexually, or to defraud you.  On the contrary, we speak as those who are approved by God and have been entrusted with the good news, not in order to please people but God, who examines our hearts.                 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4

 

As you know, we never came with flattering words, nor were we motivated by hidden greed, as God is our witness, nor did we seek the adulation of people, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of the Messiah, we could have asserted our authority. 

                                                1 Thessalonians 2:5-7a

 

There are all kind of reasons why someone will choose to be nice to another person.  Sometimes those reasons are selfish ... in order to take advantage of them or get something from them.   

 

Paul lists a number of hidden motives that people may have:

 

  • The hidden motive to take advantage of someone sexually 

  • The hidden motive to defraud someone of money;  In that context, Paul also writes about greed motivating a person

  • The hidden motive of pleasing people ... of being liked by others.

  • The hidden motive of receiving the adulation of people ... in other words, to have status.  Status gives power over others and enables a person to manipulate others.

 

Paul mentions two methods that can be used in taking advantage of others: 

 

Deceit (desire to mislead)

and flattery

 

Of course there are more:  Intimidation, for example.

So Paul reiterates that his desire was to bless other people, to be a blessing to other people.  It wasn’t to make money or gain prestige or take advantage of them. 

 

As I read these verses, I wonder if someone in the church had accused Paul of sharing the good news about Jesus for the wrong motives.  It wouldn’t be unheard of. 

 

There are some religious leaders who see in religion a way of meeting their sensual and sexual desires.  Cult leaders often have many wives.  There are others who use their position to take advantage and abuse adults and even children. 

 

There are other religious leaders who use religion as a way of making money, lots of money.  Their motivation is to get rich, to enjoy all of the things money can buy – and their way of getting it is to fleece the faithful.

 

There are some religious leaders who see in religion a way of gaining status and prestige and power.  Some can become dictatorial and harsh. 

 

Paul makes the point that he was not motivated by these things, but he was motivated by his desire to please God, the God who examines the heart and cannot be hoodwinked or deceived about the real motives (v.4). 

 

Paul also knew, that what pleases God more than anything else is sharing the love he has shown with others – to “pay it forward”.  So let’s read on:

 

To the contrary, we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.  And being so disposed[14] toward you, we were delighted to share with you not only the good news of God but also our own lives,[15] seeing that you had become very dear to us.                                                1 Thessalonians 7b-8

 

You remember, brothers, how hard we laboured and toiled, how day and night we worked in order not to be a burden to any of you while we proclaimed the good news of God to you.  You are witnesses, as is God, how devoutly, uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.                        1 Thessalonians 2:9-10

 

Similarly, you know how, as a father does his own children, we exhorted, encouraged and urged each one of you to live[16] in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

                                                1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

 

In the last number of verses in chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul paints two pictures: 

1. that of a nursing mother, who shares her own life with her new-born child, and

2. that of an encouraging father who urges his kids on to greater heights. 

 

And in between, he speaks of working hard in order not to be a financial burden to the people in Thessalonica, possibly as a tent maker, his trade (Acts 18:3).  He obviously was not out for their money, because he didn’t take any from them.

 

Paul uses different adjectives to describe himself, Silas and Timothy:

 

Paul’s attitude:

 

1. Gentle

2. Tender

3. Devout

4. Upright

5. Blameless

 

And he points to his devout, upright and blameless behaviour, that was everything but indicative of inner corruption, bad character, or the desire to misuse or take advantage of those who were converted. 

 

Paul makes the point that he didn’t just share information, even though he felt it was the most valuable message he could possibly give them.  He, Silas and Timothy also shared their lives with them.

 

We were delighted to share with you not only the good news of God but also our own lives, seeing that you had become very dear to us.          1 Thessalonians 2:8

 

And the reason why they did so is because they genuinely felt love and compassion for them, like parents feels love and compassion for their children.  They were like good parents who would never think of taking advantage of or abusing their kids. This is why they shared their lives with those in Thessalonica and why it wasn’t a chore but a delight for them to do so.

 

When we share our lives with others in an obvious selfless manner, we are letting them know that we genuinely care for them.   

 

When we share our lives, then

We are transparent.

We don’t hide or conceal what is important to us. 

We make time for another person. 

We listen to them. 

We give them personal attention. 

We let the other person into our lives. 

 

Now, there are limitations to the amount of people who we can get personally involved with.  Jesus had 12 disciples, but of these, he only became very close friends with 3 (Peter, James, John). 

 

I’ve read a few articles that make the point that one person can have about 5 friends or family members in their inner circle, that people can only maintain about 5 close relationships.[17]  Beyond that, there are an additional 10 (to a total of 15) where relatively close bonds can be formed.  This is why small groups are so important in any church.  Only there can closer bonds be formed, can friendships develop. 

 

There are even limits to the number of people in the outer circle that any one human being can maintain:  about 150 people.  Beyond that, people are strangers or virtual strangers.

 

However, despite these limitations, Christians are called on to share their lives with others to whatever degree possible ... first of all with their spouses and their children, should they have any.  Beyond that, they are called upon to share their lives with other family members, then with their Christian brothers and sisters, then with their friends, their fellow students, their co-workers, their neighbours, and then even with complete strangers, those who are beyond even their outer circle.

 

The question we should ask ourselves is whether or not that is actually taking place in our own lives.  If the answer is “no”, we should ask what has to happen in our hearts for that to become true. 

 

What does the Spirit of God need to work on in our hearts for us to be effective in sharing our lives with others?  What needs to happen for us to be parents who genuinely share their lives with their children?  With their spouses?  With other family members and friends?  With strangers in need?

 

When I consider the grace of God, his unmerited love and forgiveness shown toward me, despite the many times I screw up – then I will want to pass on that grace to others.

 

When I consider just how interested God is in me, as an individual, as reiterated by Jesus in story after story, illustration after illustration, parable after parable, then I want to be as lovingly concerned about others as I possibly can.

 

I think in the past there was the idea that a man’s man is the tough silent type who doesn’t share much.  True men don’t hug other men – ever.  Men don’t cry. 

 

So was Paul an emotional basket case, some namby-pamby softy?  Well, Paul never strikes me as weak or emotional – the very reverse seems to be the case.  He was, after all, the person who was instrumental in having Stephen stoned to death - and possibly many others.

 

So for Paul to say: “I feel genuine affection for you, you are so dear to me”, is a sign to me that God is in the business of softening hearts.  God the Spirit causes believers to feel affection for one another. There is an inner commitment to compassion.

 

We don’t just do something good for another person emotionally completely detached and dispassionate - as a social experiment, or so we can look good, or so we can toot our own horn by posting it on YouTube, or in order to fulfil an expectation, or because we’re getting paid to do it, or as an obligation before God, or as a necessary evil.

 

In 1 Peter 1:22 we read:

 

Love one another sincerely, from the heart.   1 Peter 1:22

 

When we become believers something happens to us. 

 

Think of it in these terms:  When a person is confronted with death, sometimes it has a great effect on the heart. 

Shortly after 9/11, calloused New Yorkers showed love and compassion. 

 

Things that were taken for granted, all of a sudden become extraordinarily precious.  In the face of death, the annoying imperfections and character traits of others become unimportant.    

 

When we become believers, when we belong to Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God comes to live within us, then our minds are no longer focused only on ourselves.  We ponder instead on the wonderful realities of life and death. 

 

In a sense we come to realize that we live on the brink of eternity.  And it should give us a kind of wistful fondness and compassion for others.

 

AM I SHARING MY LIFE AND CONVICTIONS WITH OTHERS IN MEANINGFUL WAYS?

 

IF NOT, WHAT HAS TO TAKE PLACE IN MY HEART FOR ME TO DO SO?

 

 

 

[1] Mao became grossly overweight by age 60 and smoked heavily.  He still made it to age 82.

[2] On robbery in 1907 cost the lives of 40 guards. 

[3] Also known as “The Great Terror” (1936 - 1938)

[4] Stalin was a heavy smoker.  He had a brain hemorrhage and died 4 days later. 

[5] Pol Pot died at age 72, apparently of heart failure or suicide (the latter because he knew that he was about to be handed over to the US).  Idi Amin died at an unknown age, likely somewhere between 74 and 80, apparently of kidney failure.

[6] Also the reason why hell may be a balancing of the scales of justice.

[7] The idea of suffering in hell (Jesus: weeping and gnashing of teeth), may be a desire for retribution. 

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/21/september11.usa13.

[9] The Taliban must act ... They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.  He also told the world that in this “war against terror” they will either be with the US or against it.

[10] Began October 7, 2001 with the aerial bombing of Taliban and al-Qaeda targets.  It ended officially on December 28th, 2014, but there continues to be US soldiers on the ground, named “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.”

[11] May 2, 2011.  However, there are no more extreme Sunni terrorist groups today than ever before.  But I wonder if that had more to do with getting rid of Sadam Hussain. 

[12] The OT commandment that demands an eye for an eye was to limit retribution and prevent an escalation when it comes to revenge. 

[13] Ironically, in 2017 Spacey was accused of a host (16?) of inappropriate sexual advances and liaisons with boys around 14 years of age. 

[14] The verb “omeiromenoi” is only used here in the NT.  The meaning is unclear but the verb has been translated as “being affectionately disposed” or as “yearning over”.  I thought it should probably be related back to the feelings of a nursing mother. 

[15] Greek psychas - can also mean minds or souls, but in the context the word “lives” makes most sense.

[16] Literally, “walk” (peripateo).

[17] https://www.sciencealert.com/the-latest-data-suggests-you-can-only-keep-five-close-friends; http://nationalpost.com/news/world/humans-only-able-to-maintain-five-relationships-in-their-inner-circle-and-150-in-their-outer-circle-study-finds.

Apr 1 - Easter Sunday - Encountering The Resurrectd Christ

Encountering The Resurrected Christ

April 1, 2018

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

ENCOUNTERING THE RESURRECTED CHRIST

April 1st, 2018

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

Some people reject Christianity because they think that Jesus did not actually rose from the dead - it wasn’t a historical event. 

 

Others reject Christianity, because they can't see what difference that it would make in their lives today.  The good news about Jesus seems to be insignificant or irrelevant to what really concerns them, what really goes on in their lives.  They can't see how going to church or believing in Jesus, including believing in his resurrection, will affect anything. 

 

The question regarding the truth of the event and the question regarding the meaning of the event are most often so intertwined that it becomes hard to deal with one without dealing with the other as well.

 

So I want us to consider both of these questions this morning:  The question about truth: "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?".  And the question about meaning: "If He did, what difference does that make?"

 

The Resurrection of Jesus Really Happened Because:

 

1. Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead.

 

On at least three different occasions, Jesus told his disciples, those who were closest to him and followed him around to listen to his teaching, what would happen to him.  On the overhead you will see the record of one of those times from Mark 10:

 

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.  Again Jesus took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.                                                       Mark 10:32

 

"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him.  Three days later He will rise."                                                            Mark 10:33-34[1]

 

Jesus never said this to any but the inner circle,[2] however, he did hint at it.

 

Jesus answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; but no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.   For just like Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."                                                                    Matthew 12:39-40[3]

 

Obviously, Jesus' predictions do not prove that he in fact rose from the dead.  However, some of those who reject Jesus' resurrection, such as Mahatma Ghandi and Albert Schweitzer, still think that he was a man of absolute integrity. 

 

But Jesus' integrity is called into question if he predicted something that really didn't happen.[4]  It is hard to honour Jesus as a good and honest man, or even a psychologically healthy individual, if he didn't live up to his claims to divinity and to rising from the dead. 

 

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), in his book, Mere Christianity, put it this way:

 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the devil of hell

 

You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. .... We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative.  This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what he said or else a lunatic, or something worse.                                                  C.S. Lewis

 

The enemies of Jesus could not produce his body.  If they were able to do so, it would have ended Christianity before it even got started. 

 

Some people claim that Jesus never really died on the cross.[5]  He revived in the cool of the tomb and moved the stone blocking its entrance.  However, anyone who knows the horrible reality of what it meant to be crucified, and the lengths to which the Roman soldiers went to make sure that Jesus and those crucified with him were dead, would realize that this is just not possible.

 

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.                  John 19:31-32

 

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.   John 19:33-34

 

Others have tried to say that the disciples came and removed the body and disposed of it so that no-one could find it.  However, that would mean that Jesus' followers would be willing to go to their deaths for what they knew was a lie and a hoax.

 

It is clear from the Biblical accounts that after Jesus' death the disciples did not expect to see him again.  They were demoralized and hiding in Jerusalem in a locked room, afraid of being arrested, imprisoned, and possibly executed as revolutionaries. 

 

They did not think that Jesus would rise from the dead.  Some of them went back to Galilee and returned to fishing for a living. 

 

Then, when they first heard the reports of Jesus’ resurrection (by the women at the tomb), they did not believe them.  

 

However, seven weeks after Jesus' death, they were no longer ashamed or afraid to be publicly identified with Jesus - instead they were outspoken in proclaiming him to be the Messiah. 

 

When this brought them into the expected conflict with the Jewish authorities, they were prepared to be imprisoned, flogged and even put to death, rather than to disown Jesus or to keep quiet (Acts 2-4).

 

The most outspoken of them, Peter, John and James, were extremely fortunate that they weren’t executed in those first years.. 

 

The first death that we know of, an impromptu stoning for proclaiming Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, happened about 5 years after Jesus’ execution.  It was the deacon Stephen (c. 36 AD).[6]  The coats of the executioners were laid at the feet of the person who would become the apostle Paul, the ring leader of the murderous mob and possibly the one who told them to stone Stephen.[7] 

 

The next execution that we know of was of the apostle James, about 8 years later (c. 44 AD), by King Agrippa.[8]  But there are indications that other Christians were imprisoned and executed between those two events (for example, we are told that Paul persecution the church in a murderous rage).  Within the next 25 years, most if not all of the apostles and many church leaders had been executed. 

 

So what had happened, that this band of Jesus’ followers, scared, in hiding, fleeing Jerusalem, were willing to put their lives on the line by openly proclaiming that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah?  They themselves said, that the reason was that they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

 

Norwood Russell Hanson was a philosopher of science at Yale University prior to his premature death.  He wrote a well-known essay entitled "What I Do Not Believe", about the reasons why he didn't believe in God.[9]  Let me read you what a portion of what he wrote:

 

Suppose ... that on next Tuesday morning, just after breakfast, all of us in this one world are knocked to our knees by a percussive and ear-shattering thunderclap.  Snow swirls; leaves drop from trees; the earth heaves and buckles; buildings topple and towers tumble; the sky is ablaze with an eerie silvery light. 

 

Just then, as all the people of the earth look up, the heavens open - the clouds pull apart - revealing an unbelievably immense and radiant Zeus-like figure, towering above us like a hundred Everests.  He frowns darkly as lightening plays across the features of his Michelangeloid face.  

 

 He then points down - at me! - and exclaims for every man and child to hear, "I have had quite enough of your too-clever logic-chopping and word-watching in matters of theology.  Be assured Norwood Russell Hanson, that I do most certainly exist! ... if such a remarkable event were to transpire, I, for one, would certainly be convinced that God does exist.                  Norwood Russell Hanson

 

While such a thing never happened, when the disciples saw Jesus alive after his execution, it was an earth shattering event.   

 

Paul, who was confronted with the risen Christ, totally changed his life and endured immense loss and suffering, and ultimately execution in Rome because of his absolute conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead.

 

Now think about it.  If you knew that you were propagating a lie, would you be willing to be imprisoned and flogged and killed for that lie?  Yet many in the early church who had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry were willing to risk martyrdom.    

 

In the church at Corinth, apparently some teachers denied the possibility of an afterlife, much like the party of the Sadducees in Jerusalem. 

 

Paul felt he had to address this teaching in part because a denial of an afterlife also puts into question the historicity of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.[10]  

 

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that if Jesus’ resurrection was not a historical fact, then Christians are deluded and derive no benefit from claiming that he did. In fact, he writes, that Christians are, of all people, most to be pitied.[11]

 

If, however, Jesus in fact rose from the dead, then, as Paul put it, Jesus was the "first fruits of those who have died" and the first of those who are permanently raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20).[12]  His example would then be proof positive that there is an afterlife indeed. 

 

Paul believed that Jesus was not only the one who was resurrected first, but also the one who made an afterlife with God for the rest of humanity even possible (1 Cor. 15:21-23).  He begins his argument by reciting what appears to be a creedal formula, possibly the earliest creed of the Christian church.

 

For what I received I had passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[13] and then to the twelve.[14] 

                                                1 Corinthians 15:3-5

 

The creed ends with Jesus appearing to the apostle Peter and then to the 12 apostles.  However, Paul goes on to write about more post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

 

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally (or: untimely) born.

                                                1 Corinthians 15:4-8

 

The point that Paul was making is that these eyewitness testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection prove that he in fact did rise from the dead.  The writer of Luke mentions that Jesus appeared for 40 days after his resurrection.

 

After Jesus’ suffering, he also proved himself to be alive to them through many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke of the things concerning the kingdom of God.             Acts 1:3

 

Even 20 years after the event, Paul could write to the church at Corinth that many of these eye-witnesses were still alive.[15]  Those who were skeptical could find almost 500 eye-witnesses who could verify that they had seen the risen Jesus. 

 

Some would say that the followers of Jesus wanted him to be alive so desperately, that they just envisioned or hallucinated about it.  The problem with this theory is that while individuals can have hallucinations, it is unheard of that groups of people have the same hallucination at the same time.  And, as I have already mentioned, there is no proof that the disciples were even expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.

 

Those who followed Jesus weren't wide-eyed fanatics.  Instead they seem to be credible, rational, eye-witnesses.

 

I realize that this is a very subjective criteria, but don't we have to bank our decisions about something we didn't see ourselves on credible eye-witnesses?  When I read the NT accounts, I find that the insight of the apostles is profound.  They thought through their personal commitment, their teaching was coherent and their moral standard was high. 

 

Now to deal with the second question about relevance.  What possible difference could the events of 2,000 years ago make today?

 

II. The Resurrection of Jesus Has Meaning Today Because:

 

1.  It deals with our alienation and separation from God

 

One of the strangest concepts found in the Bible is that the God who created the heavens and the earth, this infinite, immense, spiritual being, is a God who does not require people to prove themselves to him by how much they can do for him.  Rather, he is a God who proves his strength by serving humanity.

 

That almost sounds like blasphemy, doesn't it?  But consider what the Bible says:

 

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.    Acts 17:24-25

 

God doesn't need anything from us.  He has no deficiencies that we can make up for.  Rather, we have the deficiencies and he is infinite in power and wisdom, holiness and love - and is ready to serve us! 

 

God isn't looking for people to work their way into heaven.  He is looking for people who magnify his power and wisdom and love by admitting their deepest needs and failings, and then letting him do his work on their behalf.

 

We read in the OT that God acts on behalf of his people (Isa 64:4), those who are fully committed to him (2 Chron 16:9).[16]

 

And that is how Jesus characterized his mission.  As one of service:

 

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

 

Without the resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Christian faith is a sham and a lie.  There would be no saving significance (and thus no significance at all) to Jesus’ death if he did not rise from the dead.  The events of 2000 years ago would indeed be meaningless for us today.[17]

 

However, if Jesus indeed rose from the dead, then that proves that he was who he had claimed to be, the Son of God, who is one with God the Father.  It proves that his death had meaning and purpose.  That it made it possible to receive God’s forgiveness, and resulted in God’s resources, God’s Spirit, being active in the lives of believers.    

 

The reason why Easter is more important than Christmas, is because the resurrection of Jesus is a sign to us that God's declaration that HE will meet our deepest needs through the cross is valid.

 

There are two questions that follow from this:

 

  1. Do we know what our most pressing needs are? 

 

And then,

 

  1. Will we let the risen Christ come into our lives to meet those needs?

 

The most pressing need that we have this morning isn't our financial need.  It isn't our need for healing and better health.  It isn't our need for a career.  It isn't even our need for good relationships. 

 

Now I understand that these may be pressing and heart-wrenching needs in your life or mine, and I believe with my whole heart that God can give us the power to help us deal with them.

 

But the most pressing need we have this morning is our alienation and separation from God.  Our sins - the things we do and say and think which we know to be wrong - but we do and say and think them anyway - those separate us from God.  And the result of that separation is separation from God in this life and in the life to come

 

The Bible teaches that Jesus carried all the things we do that offend our conscience and dishonour God, all of the sins we commit, onto the cross.  It teaches that Jesus died for the sins of all humanity in order to make a reconnection with a holy God possible. 

 

What is even more surprising is that in the Jewish Scriptures, 700 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah described the work of the one he refers to as the "Servant of God" in this way:

 

But he was pierced through for our iniquities, he was crushed for our sins; the punishment that brought us salvation was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the guilt of us all.... My servant will justify the many as he bears their sins ... because he poured himself out to death and was numbered with the transgressors.                                                            Isaiah 53:5-6,11-12

 

The debt had been paid, the curse had been lifted.  The suffering servant has done the work we could never do for ourselves - take away our sin and make us right with God.  And the result is that death no longer has a final claim on us. 

 

The apostle Paul put it this way:

 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.                                       Romans 8:11

 

What Paul was saying is that acceptance of Jesus' work on the cross will allow us to re-connect with God and that means that God will begin to live within us and we will live with God forever, even if our physical bodies are frail and will pass away.

 

The resurrection of Jesus has meaning for today because 1.  It deals with our alienation and separation from God.

 

There are probably many of you here this morning who can bear witness to the personal life-changing power of the living Christ.  When we put our faith in him, he will come to reside within us by his Holy Spirit, and begin to demonstrate his love and power in us.  As a result we can receive new love for God, new love for people, a new hope and joy - even when things are rough -, new patience in times of trouble, new freedom from the past

 

For some of you there will have been dramatic change over a short period of time.  For others of you, the change will have been less dramatic and over a longer period of time.

 

While none of us are perfect nor will we ever be in this life, there should be change, positive change, which comes into our lives when we believe that Jesus not only died for us, but rose from the dead to substantiate all of his claims about himself and the reason why he came to earth. 

 

Jesus' promise to his followers after his resurrection that he would be with them always.

 

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.                                                       Matthew 28:20

 

But this is not just a promise for those who were with him at that time, because he referenced the end of the age.  This promise extends to us and to those who will come after us.  What does that promise mean?

 

Many people are enslaved to fear or resentment or greed or lust or selfishness, or unconcern, or some other sin

 

  • When we experience the presence of Jesus, then we can be freed from that which enslaves us

  • That means, if the risen Christ is with us, he will change us.

  • When Jesus is with us, then we will learn not only to live our lives for our self-interests, but to include the needs of others as well.  We will learn to love and serve and sacrifice - yet never suffer loss or lose ourselves in the process. 

 

We will still face temptation and we will still make mistakes.  It’s not as if all of our problems are a thing of the past.  Life will not necessarily be easy and free of worries.

 

But it means that our consciences and our hearts are renewed. 

 

At the Last Supper, Jesus encouraged his disciples to love each other. He washed their feet, which at the time was the job of the lowliest of slaves.   With regard to this, Jesus said: 

 

I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  ... My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you. ... I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 13:14-1515:12,11

 

True joy and meaning are found in demonstrations of love and care toward others.

 

I am reminded of Easter already over 15 years ago.[18] Two elderly women were killed in a car accident in Cameroon where the vehicle they were traveling in hit a tree and they were thrown from the vehicle.

 

One of the ladies was someone personally known to be, Ruby Eliason, who had spent all of her life as a medical missionary, first in India and then in Africa.[19]

 

Some of you might remember her because many of the churches of our convention used to support her.  Ruby was 77 years old when she was killed.  The other woman, Laura Edwards, a retired doctor, was 78.

 

Some people thought their deaths were tragic, and in one sense they are right because every death is tragic.[20]  But consider this, Ruby and Laura, at their age, could have been taking it easy living in Canada after their retirement.  But they were so filled with love for the lost, sick and poor that they just continued to serve God in this way.  They spent their whole lives helping others. 

 

There are tens of thousands of people who are retired on the Peninsula and their whole life consist of going from one meaningless activity to another, or of sitting in a care home feeling lonely and useless.  I ask myself, “which is the real tragedy?

 

In “Mere Christianity,” in direct opposition to the saying about people being so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good, C.S. Lewis wrote:

 

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who have done the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.

 

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this - that is, ineffective in doing something positive for the world.[21] 

 

Following Jesus, the one who was raised from the dead, can and should be a life-changing experience. 

 

Let me close with a quote from the personal testimony of Paul M. Anderson, a university professor in biochemistry (at the University of Minnesota, Duluth):[22]

 

I could ... “probably be considered successful by some standards (wonderful wife and family, a new home, a successful career). ... Yet something was missing. 
What was missing was purpose and meaning in my life, and this was intensified by the tremendous beauty, order and design evident in the world as I observed it as a scientists.  ...

Within my experience with Christianity, my biggest problem had been Jesus Christ.  I intellectually accepted the idea of God, but I could not accept Jesus Christ.  ...

 

(He goes on to relate how the book “Surprized by Joy” written by C.S. Lewis brought about a change).  He went on:

 

Suddenly I understood.  Before I had seen Jesus Christ only as a man.  Now I understood that Jesus Christ is the “visible expression of the invisible God” who came to earth to live, but was put to death on the cross as a sacrifice that we may be saved from our sins. I had not even understood that I needed forgiveness! ...

 

At that time I bought a Phillips translation of the NT and read the entire book in about three weeks.  I remember reading passages such as, “The preaching of the cross is ... nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from death it is nothing less than the power of God,” and thinking, “I understand that.” 

Since that time I have had a sense of purpose and meaning in my life and work, and I have come to understand clearly my need for forgiveness, which I am assured of through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. ...

 

I (now) have a responsibility (and desire) to conduct my life in a way that is pleasing to God. ...

 

(And) I find my ultimate fulfillment in understanding God’s plan as revealed through Jesus Christ.  “For it is in him, and in him alone, that men will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[23]

 

HAVE I ENCOUNTERED THE RISEN CHRIST?

 

IF NOT, WHAT IS KEEPING ME FROM DOING SO?

 

IF SO (if I indeed have encountered the risen Christ), HOW HAS IT CHANGED ME AND THE WAY I LIVE MY LIFE?

 

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?    

John 11:25-26

 

[1] The accuracy of the prediction is actually one of the reasons why liberal theologians think this is an ex-eventu prophecy placed in Jesus’ mouth by the author of Mark or by his source.  They point out the surprise and disappointment of the disciples when the events actually took place.

[2] However, when Jesus predicted that he would rebuild the temple in three days should it be destroyed (John 2:19), John comments that Jesus was in fact speaking about his body, not about the actual temple (John 2:21).  In Mark, this statement was misquoted during Jesus’ trial: “We heard him say, ‘destroy this man-made temple and I will build another without hands in three days’.”

[3] See also, John 2:19-21 - Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  The Jews replied, "It took 46 years to build this temple, and you want to rebuild it in three days?"  But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

[4] The only problem with this statement is that Jesus seemed to have also predicted his imminent return. 

[5] The “swoon” theory.

[6] Acts 7:60 - He enraged the crowd by accusing them of being stiff-necked, of being like their ancestors who killed the prophets, and of not keeping the Mosaic Law. When he said that he saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand, they stoned him to death. 

[7] Acts 7:58

[8] Acts 12:1-2 - Herod Agrippa (also known as Agrippa the Great, grandson of Herod the Great, ruled Judea, Galilee, etc., from 41 - 44 CE) “laid hands” on some Christians and had James executed with a sword.

[9] Norwood Russell Hanson (1924-1967, What I Do Not Believe, and Other Essays (Reidel, 1971), published posthumously.

[10] If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised (1 Cor 15:16)

[11] Because of the persecution and suffering they endured for believing a lie.

[12] Those Jesus raised from the dead during his ministry would die again.

[13] i.e., The apostle Peter.  Cephas means “Rock” in Aramaic.  It is the Aramaic equivalent to the Greek Petros.  Simon was renamed “the Rock” by Jesus (Matt 16:16-18).

[14] Paul likely thought here of Isaiah 53 with regard to the Messiah dying for sins.  The burial and resurrection was never prophesied in the OT, however, Paul may have been thinking about the link Jesus made to the prophet Jonah (Matt 12:40) or perhaps to the fact that the God apparently rescues the person in Psalm 22. 

[15] 1 Cor 15:6-7

[16] Isaiah 64:4 - Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  2 Chron 16:9 -For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.

[17] Paul says that Christians would remain in their sins.

[18] April 19, 2000

[19] From 1954-1980 in Tezpur, Assam, India (apart from 1959-1961).  From 1983-2000 in Cameroon.

[20] http://personalblogofpetermusa.blogspot.ca/2010/08/tragedy-hits-cbc-health-board.html

[21] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 2001 ed. pp. 134-135).  “..... Online at https://github.com/F1LT3R/mere-christianity/blob/master/book-3/3.10.-Hope.md.

[22] Born 1938; edited the book, Professors Who Believe:  The Spiritual Journeys of Christian Faculty (1999).  He is now professor emeritus.

[23] The quote is from “A Scientist’s Search for God” (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1988).

Mar 25 - Deciding To Have A Joyful Heart

Deciding To Have A Joyful Heart

March 25, 2018

Zechariah 9:8-10

 

DECIDING TO HAVE A JOYFUL HEART

March 25th, 2018

Zechariah 9:8-10

 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before he was killed, he rode on a young donkey.  And the crowds that were at the city gates and along the road placed their outer clothes, their coats, and branches broken from trees, in front of the animal as Jesus rode along.

 

And they began to shout exuberantly,

"Hosanna! 

Hosanna in the highest!

Hosanna to the Son of David

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Blessed is the king of Israel."[1]

 

Why were the crowds so exited?  What were they hoping for?  We are told in the gospels of John and Luke that one of the reasons why some of these people may have been so excited, was because they had witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave just a few kilometers away in Bethany.[2] 

 

But all of the Jewish adults surrounding Jesus were rejoicing and shouting because they recognized that Jesus’ choice of entering Jerusalem the way He did, was a conscious decision on Jesus’ part to fulfill the prophecy made long ago by the prophet Zechariah:[3]

 

Here God is addressing those who have returned from exile through the prophet (a word from YHWH 9:1)

 

I will defend my house against the marauding army that goes to war and returns home.  Never again will an oppressor attack my people, for now I keep watch with my own eyes.                                        Zechariah 9:8

 

Zechariah had seen the marauding armies of Babylon sweep through Judah and destroy Jerusalem.  This would never happen again once the messianic king comes.  God himself will make sure of it.   

 

But of course, Jerusalem was conquered and ransacked again, for example, by the Greek Seleucids[4] and, later, by the Romans, both before and after Jesus’ death.[5]  So Zechariah was looking forward to a time when the anointed one, the Messiah, the Davidic King would come to his people to rule over them, and not only over them, but over the whole world. 

 

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout joyfully, daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King is coming to you, righteous and victorious, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.[6] 

 

Through the prophet, God tells the women of Jerusalem to rejoice and shout with joy because the King who would come into the city will be righteous (upright moral character) and victorious, despite being gentle and riding a young donkey. 

 

The picture of a conquering warrior king on a donkey is as incongruous as a soldier or noble man riding this rather humble beast of burden. A horse maybe, but not a donkey. It simply is counter-intuitive.

 

So Jesus choosing to ride a donkey is not something insignificant.  It is why the crowd knew that Jesus was in fact declaring himself to be the Messiah by doing so.[7] 

 

In our passage, God continues to speak through the prophet to the nation of Israel:

 

I will take away the war chariot from Ephraim[8] and the war horse from Jerusalem,[9] destroying the battle bow.  He[10] will proclaim peace to the nations.  His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the river Euphrates to the ends of the earth. 

 

Here both God and his anointed would bring peace.  The picture is again of the most feared part of the Babylonian army, their chariots and warriors on horseback, all of them armed with battle bows.  God himself and his messianic king will make sure that these will never be used again against the nation of Israel and its capital Jerusalem.

 

The king will rule from sea to sea, possibly in reference to the ends of the Mediterranean Sea, known as the Great Sea.  He will rule from the River Euphrates to the East, to the ends of the then-known world to the West, likely in reference to Tarshish, what today would be Spain. 

 

 

And so, as Jesus rode toward the city and entered it, the crowds did exactly as they were told to do in Zech 9:9.  They welcomed their king with shouts of joy.

 

And as they shouted, they gave Jesus the title "the Son of David", because the Messiah was to be a descendant of king David of old.  They shouted about the restoration of the Kingdom of David as promised in the OT.  They proclaimed Jesus to be the coming anointed one who would save God's people.

 

The crowd purposefully obeyed the call to rejoice greatly and to shout joyfully, as they are told to in Zechariah 9:9.  And they did so by quoting from Psalm 118. 

 

In Hebrew they shouted out two words that sounded like Hosanna.  "Hoschiya Na", an expression found only once in the OT.

 

O LORD, save now (hoschiya na); O LORD, prosper now.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. ... With [branches] in hand, join the festal procession to the horns of the altar.[11]                   Psalm 118:25-27[12]

 

... the crowd heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem.  So they took palm branches[13] in order to greet him and shouted, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”      John 12:12-13

 

The crowd knew the prophecy in Zechariah, as it was read and taught on in the synagogue.  And they made sure that they fulfilled their part, with the anticipation that Jesus would fulfill the Messiah’s part in the prophecy.  In particular, Jesus was expected to call together the Israelites into an army that would defeat all of their enemies, would throw off the cruel Roman occupation, re-unite the northern and southern kingdoms under his rule, and usher in an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. 

 

 

Hoschiya na!  In the Psalm, it is the cry that someone would make when they fell off the ferry into the Strait of Georgia: "Help, help, save me!” 

 

But by the time of Jesus, the phrase "Hoschiya Na" could also mean "Salvation!  Salvation is here".   It's the cry of joy when the person who had fallen off the ferry sees the Search and Rescue Boat coming toward her.  It is the joyful bubbling over of a heart that sees salvation on the way, and can't keep it in.

 

So when the crowd shouted Hosanna, they were saying, "Hooray for salvation!  It's finally arrived".

 

When they shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David", they meant, "The Son of David will be our salvation, salvation belongs to the King, the Messiah".

 

When they shouted "Hosanna in the highest", they meant, "Let all the angels in heaven join in as we rejoice over God's salvation."

 

Hosanna went from plea to praise.  From a cry for help to a shout of confidence.

 

Have you ever been at a deciding game?  Maybe where the winner goes on in the play-offs.  Or better yet, it’s a cup final.  Imagine such a game going into sudden death overtime.  And I’m assuming that you’re a real fan here.  And your team scores.  The crowd goes absolutely bonkers.  How would you feel?  Content, happy, elated, euphoric even? 

 

I wonder if that was the kind of exuberance and joy and shouting that was taking place when Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem.  If so, it is no wonder that Jesus was told by the Pharisees to tell the crowd to be quiet.

 

When I read the account of the crowd, I had to ask myself, “Do I have that kind of joy?”  Can I decide to rejoice so enthusiastically?  Do I have something to cheer about?  Do I have any reason to be glad?  Has my team won?  Do I anticipate that it will?”

 

Now those who were cheering on Jesus that Palm Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem hailed him as their Saviour, their Messiah.  But they didn't fully understand what Jesus was saving them from.  They didn't fully understand the victory and the freedom that Jesus was bringing. 

 

We live in a place where there is normally an abundance of rainfall.  And yet, with all the rain we do get, we have to ration our water use when we get weather that you and I like. 

 

Imagine for a moment that you are in a place where there is very little rainfall and the climate is a lot hotter than here.  Rivers stop running.  Wells run dry.  There isn't enough water to irrigate the fields.  The crops die.

 

Imagine that, to make things worse, there is a war and the enemy soldiers take you prisoner and throw you into a deep, dried-out well, into a waterless pit, much like the brothers of Joseph did to him. 

 

You would be condemned to die a miserable death in that dry well, a parched, hot, cramped prison where you would never be able to get yourself out of without outside help.

 

So God continues to speak to those who returned to the land through the prophet Zechariah:

 

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

                                                          Zechariah 9:11

 

Notice how Jesus’ words at the Last Supper closely mirror this verse from Zechariah. 

 

This cup is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28[14]

 

In Zechariah, God says to the Israelites – even though you have returned from exile, you are still in a waterless pit.  But when the messianic king comes, I will pull you out of that dry well.  And it is because he, the Messiah, will renew the covenant between us, the one that is sealed with blood

 

What blood is not specified here, but both God’s covenant with Abraham and with the nation of Israel at the time of Moses were made with animal blood ... in fact the latter is called “the blood of the covenant.”[15]  On the Day of Atonement, the sacrifices are to bring about the forgiveness of sin (which Heb points out is just a shadow of what was to come through Jesus’ sacrifice).

 

So the people of Israel and Judah should shout for joy.  God will not only bring peace, but he will rescue them from the pit. 

 

Now you may be able to understand why some of very people who were shouting in joy at Jesus, only a week later were so deeply disappointed in him - to the point that they may have been part of those who, at the trial before Jesus, shouted, “crucify him”,[16] or why they mocked him and hurled insults at him as he hung on the cross.[17] 

 

Where is the warrior Messiah that Jesus seemed to have proclaimed himself to be when he rode on a donkey?  Here he is, arrested, defeated, disgraced, at the mercy of the very oppressors that he was to kick out of Jerusalem.  No wonder they shouted at him as he hung on the cross, “Hey, let’s see you come down from the cross.  Let’s see you save yourself, you who proclaimed yourself to be the Saviour of the nation.

 

Jesus’ words to Pilate would have seemed utter nonsense, “My kingdom is not of this world … My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36)?[18]  Where else would the kingdom of the Davidic king be located but on earth? 

 

The Messiah, arrested, scourged and crucified by the hated Romans is

like Ronan the Accuser annihilating the Guardians of the Galaxy,

like Lex Luthor killing Superman,

like the Joker destroying Batman,

like Syndrome wiping out the Incredibles,

like Red Skull smashing Captain America,

like the Borg permanently assimilating the crew of the Enterprise,

like Darth Vader killing Luke Skywalker,

 

like Dr. Octopus obliterating Spiderman ... you get the idea. 

 

The apparent super-hero is permanently eliminated by the super-villain.   What a disappointment.  What a disaster.  No more sequels ... the show is over.  That is what the people thought in Jesus’ day.  The show is over!

 

So, how does this relate to us 2,000 years after Jesus rode down from Bethany and into Jerusalem?  Has our joyful shouting when we first turned to Jesus been quietened by the hardships and troubles we have faced since?  Have our cheers of joy, our great rejoicing been muted by our disappointments in God, all the things he has failed to do for us or those who we love? 

 

We want victory, don’t we?  We want God to intercede on our behalf.  We want him to provide success, accolades, comforts, the good life, ... and take from us pain, difficulty, suffering and physical death – and not just for ourselves but also our loved ones.  Permanent health, wealth, and happiness.  Isn’t that what a good God should provide?

 

But that’s not how we experience life.  What do you mean, “my kingdom is not of this world”?  Sounds a lot like pie in the sky in the by and by. 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

The expectation that Palm Sunday 2000 years ago, was for Jesus to save the Jews from the Roman overlords.  But he didn’t.  It seems as if the enemy has won.  Are my “enemies” still winning?  The gut wrenching divorce.  The failure of my business.  The potentially fatal disease.  The horrible car accident.  The addiction.  The constant conflict at home.  The child or grandchild making terrible choices.  The loss of a job.  The chronic debilitation. 

 

I’m reminded of the man who just had his annual physical examination and the doctor tells him that he can live a completely normal life as long as he doesn’t try to enjoy it. 

 

Sometimes it seems as if we’re still imprisoned in that dry well, parched for some relief, stuck with no way out. 

 

I am reminded of the Samaritan woman at the well outside the village of Sychar.  She was ostracized in town because of her many failed relationships and because of her present lifestyle.  And in such a small place, everyone would know what she was doing.

 

As a result she had to come to draw that precious commodity, water, at midday, in the searing heat when no-one else would be there to point their fingers or whisper to each other. 

 

She has not had an easy time of it.  Being shunned by the other women was painful.  Looked down upon as corrupt and a bad person destroyed her self-worth.  Possibly she had a tough childhood and was married off by her father while still in her early teens.  There is no indication that she had children who would have got her water and given her the security of being looked after in her old age.  These are just some of the reasons why all of her relationships are fractious and full of conflict.  Life was hard and painful.

 

The woman was incredulous that Jesus could offer her water when he did not have a bucket and rope, no means to draw from the well.  Yet Jesus said to her:

 

If you drink the water from this well you'll just be thirsty again in a little while.  But if you drink from the water that I am offering you, you will never be thirsty again.  And that water will become in you a spring that will well up to eternal life."                                           John 4:13-14

 

Jesus knew that there is a thirst in the woman’s hearts for God, and for meaning, and for peace ... and nothing she had filled her life with had brought it to her.  She misunderstood.  “Yes, give me that water so that I don’t have to come out here in the heat of the day.

 

She only thought in terms of her present circumstances.  Jesus knew that her need ran deeper.  That she needed something a lot more important than indoor plumbing.   Because that is not really where joy comes from. 

 

In essence, joy is not the event itself, but it is discovering the secret of being content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, good and bad. 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

We fill our lives with all kinds of activities, toys, things, people, none of which are bad in themselves, but we do so because we think they are all necessary prerequisites to our happiness.  Only then we will be, as the Psalmist says, be “like trees planted by streams of water” (Ps 1:3).  Only then we will escape being stuck in a dry, dusty and stifling well.  

 

Many people go through life looking for a secret combination that will unlock joy for them: 

I need to buy these things.

I need to own these things.

I need others to see me a certain way.

I need them to treat me courteously and respectful.

I need to be able to go places and experience things.

If all of these needs are fulfilled, then I will experience joy. 

 

I was listening to a comedian online the other day.  He said that money can indeed buy happiness

 

He made the point that you never see someone frowning on a jet ski. 

 

However, he then contradicted himself because he said that he’d seen people in the third world who seemed to be happy despite the fact that they were impoverished, something he found really annoying.

 

The joy we receive from buying or owning something; the joy we receive when we’re treated nice; the joy we receive in our holidays … these are, more or less, short lived.  They cannot carry us along permanently. 

 

If those are the source of our joy, then what happens, is that we need to buy more stuff or own more stuff or upgrade our stuff, or have others treat us even better, or go on another vacation, all in the attempt to maintain our happiness.

 

But ultimately, joy does not come from outside things.   Outside stuff can enrich life and make it more enjoyable.  However, lasting joy comes from within. 

 

I’ve seen this in my own life.  I’ve known a number of men who were incredibly rich, able to buy whatever their hearts desired, do whatever they wanted, experience whatever they decided on … but by and large were miserable and cantankerous, making life hard and unpleasant for their employees, friends and family members.[19]  They always seem to find a reason to be upset, disappointed, worried, or angry.  And they seem oblivious to the fact that, despite all they owned and enjoyed, they were still imprisoned by their attitude. 

 

Maybe they’ve gotten used to being irritable.

Maybe they always expect the worse.

Maybe they’ve developed the habit of responding to life's normal disappointments and challenges as if it is the end of the world.

Maybe they are deflecting, blaming their miserable mood on someone else, on circumstances, on bad luck, on God. 

 

A famous psychologist once said that he considers only one kind of person who comes to him to be beyond help - and that is the person who blames others for his or her problems. 

 

Of course, the same can be true of poor people.  Poverty does not engender joy either.  Again, it is something within a person that determines to a large degree how they experience life. 

 

I believe that joy is the result of an underlying attitude that a person has.  It has to do with a conscious choice to rejoice and be joyful.  In essence, joy comes down to learning the secret of contentment regardless of the circumstances, to find happiness during good times and bad times.   

 

The people who surrounded Jesus saw themselves in a dry place because the nation was under Roman occupation.  They thought that reversing their unhappiness, dealing with their discontent, meant having their outward circumstances changed.  Jesus will battle and overthrow the Romans and get rid of the corrupt high priestly family.  Then things will get better.  No more overbearing taxes that bled them dry.   Hosanna! 

 

But Jesus saw his mission differently.  He realized that the real drought, the real prison, the real problem, lies in the hearts of people.  It is in their hearts that they are imprisoned and it is there that they need to be set free –

free from the guilt of the past,

free from the malaise of the present, free from themselves, free to live for God, free to do the right things, and

free from the fear about the future, including death.

 

That is why Christians, of all people, should be the most joyful, the most positive, the most exuberant of all people.  They should be filled with happiness and joy. 

 

The prerequisite for joy is not experiencing a problem and worry free life.  The prerequisite for joy is not being independently wealthy.  The prerequisite for joy is a mindset, it is a general outlook. 

 

Does that mean that Christians run around with silly grins on their faces?  Or does it mean that Christians don't deal with down times or times when they are sad?  Does it mean we can't experience the February blues or the November doldrums? Does it mean that Christians can't struggle with depression?  Does it mean that I have to feel guilty when I don't feel on top of the world?  Of course it doesn't! 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

Being aware of the incredible ways that God blesses us, does not make us immune to feeling down.  Some believers think that they should be perfect.  That nothing should rattle them.  That nothing should be able to rob them of their sense of peace.  That the disappointments and challenges in life should simply roll off their backs like water off a duck’s back.  That they should never feel stressed or overwhelmed or depressed.  That they should never need help, counsel, or outside help.

 

Whatever life throws at them, they believe that they should be able to maintain a stiff upper lip, to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to be able to buck up, or whatever other idiom they can think of, otherwise there is something seriously wrong with them or their faith. 

 

That’s simply unrealistic.  At times, we simply need help, even if Jesus is in our lives.

 

We need to accept ourselves for who we are.  We need to accept our bodies, our minds, our mistakes, our personalities and our emotions and feelings.  We need to genuinely like ourselves.

 

That doesn't mean that we simply stop trying to improve ourselves, that, with the help of God and others, we do all we can to improve our health, our thinking, our personalities and our emotions.  What it does mean is that we don't have to wear masks of perfection.  And it means we will go easier on ourselves.  We will be able to laugh at ourselves.

 

Some people don’t want to change.  They prefer being miserable, negative, grumpy … maybe it’s a coping mechanism that’s is meant to protect them emotionally against life and against others.   Maybe there’s a certain satisfaction with feeling sorry for themselves.  Or it’s a way of drawing attention to themselves. 

 

But as believers, we will need to praise and glorify and give thanks to God, to be filled with exuberance and joy, at all the good that is in our lives right now and at the hope we have for eternity. 

 

When we worship and praise God, when we give Him thanks – there is a shift from self-occupation to a focus on God.   When praise, rejoicing and thanksgiving become a way of life, then joy will follow us all the days of our lives.  It will become engrained in us despite the stress or strain we might face.  And that is spiritual and mental wholeness.

 

Praise, exaltation, thanksgiving opens us up to the power of God.  These are bridges to God that allows him to be active in our lives and our hearts.  Wherever there is adoration, reverence, worship, praise, and thanksgiving, God will work.

 

In some situations, it isn't easy to be jubilant.  At times we will feel far away from God.  At times the situation we find ourselves in will not be good.  So, at times, we won't feel like shouting for joy. 

 

But something can and does happen when we verbally sing and express our praise to God.

 

IS ANYTHING ROBBING ME OF THE JOY OF THE LORD?  IF SO, WHAT IS IT?

 

PRAYER:

 

Heavenly father, thank you that you love me so much.  Thank you that you are my stronghold, the one who will save me as I turn to you.  Thank you that salvation is now, it has arrived, it is here. 

 

And so, Lord, I give you my hurts and my grief and my despair.  I forgive the people who I believe have hurt me.  I release the past to you.  Give me the ability, right now to feel good about life, to see you smiling in approval of me, because of what Jesus has done.  I affirm my trust in you.  I believe you have a purpose behind all that has happened.  I am hopeful about the future.  Give me a sound mind, a joyful heart.  Amen

 


 

 

 

 

[1] Combination of Mark 11:9-10; Matt 21:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13

[2] John 12:L17-18 - Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. Cf. Luke 19:37 - When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.

[3] Zechariah spoke around 520 - 518 BC in Jerusalem (after the return from the Babylonian exile).  The book is broken into an earlier part (chapters. 1-8) and a later part (chapters 9-14).  The second part seems to point further into the eschatological future. 

[4] Under Antiochus the Great, c. 200 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes IV ransacked Jerusalem c. 175 BC,  Antiochus VII recaptured the city c. 134 BC, but a large payment keeps spares the city from destruction. 

[5] Pompey the Great conquers the city in 63 BC.  Roman legions take the city and destroy it in 70 AD.  They retake the city in 135 AD. 

[6] Quoted in John 12:15 and Matthew 21:5

[7] Strangely, we are told in John 12:16 states that his disciples did not recognize that he was in fact fulfilling this prophecy until after his glorification.

[8] I.e., The northern kingdom of Israel.

[9] The capital of the southern kingdom of Judah.

[10] I.e., The coming King.

[11] This may be why Jesus immediately went to the temple after the triumphal entry – see Mark 11:11 (he went to the temple, looked around, and left again for Bethany); In Matt 21:12-17, Jesus cleansed the temple and then healed the lame and the blind before leaving for Bethany.  Luke 19:45 also records the cleansing of the temple.  No visit to the temple is recorded in John’s account.

[12] LXX - Celebrate the feast with thick (branches); or:  stand together for a holiday with the ones making dense / or thick (pukazousin) unto the horns of the altar.  Comment: celebrate the feast with thick [branches, which bind the victims] even to the horns of the altar.  Still makes little sense to me.

[13] Gk. Baia ton phoinikon

[14] Luke 22:20 - This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  1 Cor 11:25 - This cup is the new covenant in my bloodMatt 26:28 - This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 14:24 - This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

[15] In Gen 15:9-10, Abraham cuts animals in half.  In Gen 15:17, God passes between the parts.  Ancient treaties: “The parties involved would walk the path between the slaughtered animals so to say, “May this be done to me if I do not keep my part of the treaty.”  See also this practice referred to in Jer 34:18.  Heb 9:19-22 points out that the Mosaic covenant was also a blood covenant in order for God’s people to be forgiven.  See also Ex 24:7-8 - Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!"  So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

[16] Mark 15:12-15 - So Pilate asked them again, “What then do you want me to do with the One you call the King of the Jews?” And they shouted back, “Crucify Him!”  “Why?” asked Pilate. “What has He done wrong?” But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”…

[17] Mark 15:29-30 - Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

[18] John 18:36 - Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place."

[19] Arzberger, Stadler

Mar 11 - It Starts With Conviction

It Starts With Conviction

March 11, 2018

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

 

IT STARTS WITH CONVICTION!

Impacting My World For Good And For God – Part 1

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

March 11, 2018

 

A little boy was afraid of the dark.  One evening his mother told him to go out on the back porch and bring in the broom.  The little boy said, “Mama, I don’t want to go out there.  It’s dark.” 

The mother smiled reassuringly at her son.  “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark.  Jesus is out there.” 

The little boy looked at her and asked, “Are you sure he’s out there?

She said, “Yes, I’m sure.  He is everywhere, and he will help you when you need him.” 

The little boy went to the back door and cracked it a little.  Peering out into the darkness, he called, “Jesus!  If you’re there, would you please hand me the broom.”

 

Today I’m starting on a series on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, and the topic is conviction - the first thing that’s necessary when it comes to impacting the world for God and for good.

 

1 Thessalonians is probably the first of all of Paul’s surviving letters, written around 50 AD, about 20 years after Jesus’ death, likely from Greece (Athens or Corinth). 

 

Paul and Silas had been commissioned in Antioch of Syria as evangelists and church planters.  This was Paul’s second missionary journey.  As they went through Asia Minor (what today is Turkey),[1] they met a young Christian man named Timothy in Lystra, whose faith impressed Paul. After having him circumcised, Timothy joined the two men in traveling on. 

 

Something prevented them from moving west into the Roman province of Asia[2] as originally planned, so they travelled first north before turning west and traveling to the port city of Troas.[3] 

 

From there they took a boat to a port town in Macedonia,[4] stayed there overnight and the next day travelled on to the city of Philippi, the capital city of the region.  If you’ve ever heard of Alexander the Great (c. 356-323 BC), he was a Macedonian, born and raised in Philippi, a city named after his father, King Philip II (reigned c. 359-336 BC). 

 

While in Philippi, Paul met and converted Lydia, a prominent woman in the city. 

 

But when Paul healed a demon possessed slave girl who was able to predict events, her owners got really upset because a lucrative source of income was taken from them. 

 

They had Paul and Silas arrested, brought them before the city magistrates, who had them beaten severely with rods and then thrown into prison for the night.  While this led to the conversion of the jailer (Acts 16:11-40), they were forced to leave town after being released from jail in the morning.

 

They travelled southwest to the port city of Thessalonica, where Paul spoke in the synagogue, arguing that the OT Scriptures foretold a suffering Messiah, and that this Messiah had come in the person of Jesus (Acts 17:1-3).  It is very obvious from his letter that Paul must have also spoken quite a bit about just how close it was to Jesus’ return. 

 

It was right around this time[5] that the Roman emperor Claudius[6] expelled the Jews from Rome because of unrest that had broken out.  According to the Roman historian, Suetonius,[7] at issue was a certain “Chrestus,[8] which very likely meant that the Jews were rioting in Rome against those who taught that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, which is exactly the same message that Paul was proclaiming in Thessalonica.

 

Paul started the church in Thessalonica with converts both from the Jewish synagogue, particularly a large group of devout Gentiles attached to the synagogue, including some leading women from the city (Acts 17:4).  To that group were added a large number of Gentile pagans who Paul met and spoke to in the streets.

 

In response to the number of people converting to Christianity, some prominent men of the city hired a mob to riot in the city, possibly because they heard what had happened in Rome.  They wanted the mob to apprehend Paul and Silas, drag them before the city authorities and falsely accuse them of fomenting a revolt against the emperor Claudius by proclaiming that is king.[9]

 

This was exactly the charge for which Jesus had been crucified, so the design was to have Paul, Silas and Timothy executed.  

 

The violent mob came to the house of Jason, where Paul, Silas and Timothy were staying.  Not finding Paul or Silas there, they dragged Jason and some other of the new believers before the city authorities.  It was a good thing that the city authorities seem to have been relatively level headed.  They asked for a large sum of money as security, in order to ensure that Paul and Silas wouldn’t cause any more problems. 

 

But the believers knew this wouldn’t be the end of it, so they helped the three men flee at night in order to escape arrest (Acts 17:5-10a).  From Thessalonica they travelled south to Berea where they would plant another church. 

 

I think Paul must have been frustrated at having to leave this and other fledgling congregation in Philippi after such a short time.  He knew that the believers there would continue to face opposition, and he was likely worried that they would abandon their faith as a result, or possibly that they would embrace some heresy. 

 

His fears were not unfounded.  The Christians who were left behind in Thessalonica did in fact have to endure opposition and persecution, which Paul refers to in this letter as “afflictions” (1 Thess 3:3-4,  “many tribulations” (1 Thess 1:6) and “suffering”  due to the actions of “their own countrymen” (1 Thess 2:14). 

 

From Berea the men travelled south to Athens.  Paul was so worried about what could have happened to the Christians they had to leave behind in Macedonia.  So Paul sent Timothy back in order to find out if they were holding up, and in order to encourage them (1 Thess 3:1-3).  This Timothy did - which would have taken him about 2 weeks.  The distance he had to walk was just over 500 km.  It would be like walking from here to Port Hardy - over 100 hours of walking.  We don’t know how long he stayed in Thessalonica, possibly a month or longer.  He then returned to Greece in order to update Paul (1 Thess 3:6). 

 

By and large, Timothy’s report was very positive.  The church was relatively stable despite the persecution.  The converts lived out their faith as they demonstrated kindness among themselves and to Christians who were coming through town. 

 

However, Timothy reported back that some of the converts did not grasp the ethical implications of the good news, so some were still getting drunk (1 Thess 5:6-8), others continued to have extra-martial sex (1 Thess 4:3-8),[10] while others had stopped working with the expectation that other Christians should look after them (1 Thess 5:14; cf. 4:11-12).[11] 

 

Paul’s letter then was in response to Timothy’s report. 

 

The three most common themes in the letter deal with:

  1. consistent love for others

  2. holy living

  3. the return of Christ

 

So let’s read the beginning of the letter.

 

Paul, Silvanus (= Silas) and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  1 Thessalonians 1:1

 

This is the introductory section of the letter. Following the letter writing convention of his day, Paul first mentions himself, who is writing the letter, and then the two men who are with him and who the believers in Thessalonica know personally.  This is followed by the recipients and then by a blessing:  Grace to you and peace. 

 

In almost all of his letters, Paul follows the introduction with a thanksgiving section. 

 

We continually give thanks to God for all of you as we mention you in our prayers.  In the presence of our God and Father we unceasingly call to mind your work of faith, your labour of love, and your patient endurance based on your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                  1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

 

In particular, Paul points out what he is thankful about - the work and labour and endurance of the Christians in Thessalonica based on their faith, love and hope.  They hadn’t crumbled under the opposition they face.

 

As we do, we know (the genuine nature of) your calling [or: election], brothers so beloved by God, because our good news did not come to you in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a

 

Paul comments on the fact that he is convinced that the Thessalonians were a part of God’s chosen people, in other words, that their faith was genuine, based on their ongoing conviction of the truth of Paul’s message.  This was a deep inward conviction that they held. 

 

Paul writes that part of the reason was that the message they received first of all connected with them on a human level – they heard “the word.”  They heard the logic behind Paul’s arguments.  What he said made sense to them. 

 

But they not only received the words as a human message.  They also received the gospel, the good news “in power and in the Holy Spirit”.  In other words, there was a supernatural component to their conviction.  It wasn’t just logical deduction, but the Holy Spirit spoke to their hearts as well

 

Some people think that Paul was referring to miracles that he might have performed in their midst when he was in Thessalonica.  But the account of his stay in Thessalonica, in Acts 17, does not record any miracles, although that does not discount that Paul may have been able to physically heal some of them. 

 

The account in Acts does record how Paul’s message was accepted in a miraculous way.  You would think that a message about salvation through a crucified saviour in the context of either the Jewish synagogue or Greek philosophy, would more likely have aroused derision than admiration. 

 

The power of the message, the gospel, was in its ability to penetrate the heart of individuals and be received with joy.  And then, once accepted, it had the power to transform, to free those who believe and make them into new men and women.  To renew them in their attitude and actions.

 

In this context, Paul first mentions the Holy Spirit, because with the infilling of the Spirit, the miraculous begins. 

 

The Christians were fully convinced that what Paul told them was the truth because of the healing and transforming “power” that had been displayed.  But there was another reason.

 

On the other hand, you know what kind of men we were among you for your sakes.  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you accepted the word amid much tribulation, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.                                                              1 Thessalonians 1:5b-6

 

Paul’s message was also believed because of how Paul, Silas and Timothy conducted themselves while in Thessalonica.  We know that they worked to support themselves.  They were themselves utterly convicted of the truth of what they were proclaiming.  They lived out the ethic of sacrificial love toward each other.   

 

This was an example to the Thessalonians and they tried to emulate the three men … and they tried to emulate what they had been told about Jesus … and apparently were quite successful in doing so.[12] 

 

And so the Thessalonians believed in Paul’s message, despite the persecution they faced, likely including opposition from their own families.  And this brought them joy, happiness if you will, even though life had become harder rather than easier.   

 

So you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  From you the word (i.e. message about) of the Lord has sounded out, not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith toward God has become known everywhere, so that we have no need to say anything.      1 Thessalonians 1:7-8

 

Timothy could report back to Paul that the converts in Thessalonica were enthusiastic about their new-found faith and not shy about telling others what they had found, witnessing about Jesus despite the opposition.  

 

When Paul was waiting for Timothy’s return, he must have heard reports from other Christians who had travelled through Thessalonica on their way to Greece.  They had told him just how the Christians in Thessalonica treated each other and continued to share Paul’s message.  They were so exemplary, that news of them was spreading among the other churches in Macedonia and Greece (Achaia).    

 

They (= those who heard of the faith of the Thessalonians) themselves report about us:  What kind of reception we received among you, and how you turned to God from your idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven - the One whom He raised from the dead - Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.                         1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

 

Paul then outlines what the reports about them included.  The pagans among them had turned from the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pantheon, and embraced belief in the one true God, for whom they now lived.  And they were waiting with anticipation for the return of Jesus, as the one who would save them from the judgment day. 

 

Note that Paul prays to God the Father who deeply loves those who have faith in Him and who have turned to serve Him. 

Jesus, the Son, is “the Lord” (a title for God in the OT), the deliverer, raised by the Father from the dead, the object of the Christian message and the believers’ hope, the One whose return they await. 

The Holy Spirit is the One who changes and empowers the messenger and the converts so they are filled with joy.  

 

Over time, Paul’s relationship to the Macedonian churches, particularly the church in Philippi and Thessalonica, continued to be happy and warm – unlike his relationship with some of the churches he had planted in Asia Minor (Galatia). 

 

We know from both his letters to the churches in Corinth and Rome, that believers in Macedonia, despite their poverty, were consistently generous in their giving to himself and the Jerusalem relief fund.  Apparently the believers in Thessalonica and Philippi were the only ones who continued to support him financially. 

 

I have a Lexicon at home.  It contains entries of many, many individuals – usually people of consequence, people of influence, those who had accomplished something of note or something despicable, those who had influenced history both in a positive or negative way, as well as those who were simply public figures because of their jobs (actors, sports figures).

 

There are people who were famously rich, or influential politicians, philosophers, scientists, athletes, explorers, authors, artists and composers.   Let me show you a couple of slides and see if you recognize the people who are on them.

 

Ludwig von Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Rembrandt (van Rijn);

Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci

 

Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, Adolf Hitler;

Mao Tse Tung, Vladimir Putin, Nelson Mandela, Napoleon Bonaparte

 

Dalai Lama, Sun Myung Moon, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa,

Rabbi Israel Yitzhak Yosef (chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel),[13] Mahatma Ghandi, Ayatollah Khomeini,

 

Charles Darwin, Marie and her husband Pierre Currie, Albert Einstein;

Stephen Hawking, Benjamin Franklin, Sigmund Freud

 

Emmanuel Kant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche;

Karl Marx, Bertrand Russel, Renes Decartes

 

 

These were individuals who are almost universally known, those who were a driving force, or who changed the course of history, or who impacted others in a significant way. 

 

And I ask myself, what makes these people different from others not found in the Lexicon?  Maybe it could have been extraordinary intelligence, creativity, talent, looks, ruthlessness, or inquisitiveness.  But I also believe that these people were driven.  And so they were determined.  They were relentless.  They simply had to do what they did.

 

The same is true of other Christians who stood out in history.

 

In the 18th century, there is Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (d. 1760), who supported the Moravian movement and reformed the Lutheran church.

John Wesley (d. 1791), founded the Methodist Church.

 

In the 19th century William Carey (d. 1834), was a pioneer missionary to India.  General William Booth (d. 1912), founded the Salvation Army.

 

These men made a huge difference in their own time and beyond.  They weren’t particularly good looking or wealthy or intelligent.  But they did have an inner driving force, an inner conviction that propelled them, compelled them, to do what they did.      

 

In our passage this morning, we read that people all over the region and beyond had heard about the faith and conduct of the Thessalonian believers (in every place your faith toward God has gone forth).  Even though they were relatively new to their faith in God, they were living out their faith and were speaking about it.   The believers at Thessalonica were having an impact.  And the reason was that they too were convinced of and convicted that Paul’s message was true.

 

As I thought about our passage, I asked myself, how do I become a person who is able to impact those around me in a positive way for God and for good?  And at the very foundation, it begins with what I believe to be true and therefore of most relevance

 

Some people don’t believe because they do not feel a need to be saved.  The message of Jesus is just not relevant to them.  They are convinced that they lead a relatively good life and are good people.  From what do they need to be saved?  And to what end should they be saved?

 

But I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we sometimes need saving from ourselves, from our inability to do what we know is right, from our greed and pride and selfishness, from our bad habits and attitudes, from our emotions.  We have a need to deal with the garbage of our past and present.  We have to deal with the inevitable end to our lives. 

 

We need to ability or the drive or the motivation to become better spouses, better parents, better grandparents, better employers and employees, ultimately better human beings.

 

And that’s not a bad place to start when it comes to the relevance of God in our lives.  But the converts in Thessalonica also had a deep need to connect with the true and living God.  And the message about Jesus, about this Son of God, who came and died to pay the penalty of all the wrongs they had committed so that we can have a fresh start with God – it hit home – for them it was indeed “good news.”

 

To impact the world for good and for God …

 

The reality is that if we are not convinced about the truth of the message – the good news that God has acted for his people’s salvation in Christ -  we won’t be, we can’t be, like the Thessalonians.  So we need to have the message about Jesus touch both our minds and our hearts.

 

That does NOT mean that we won’t have doubts.  A few weeks ago I spoke about the very real possibility that doubts will arise from time to time and that ultimately our faith is a reasonable, but still a leap of faith.

 

I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling God about the doubts and questions we have and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s continuing work in our heart to help us to find and believe in truth and to reject falsehood.

 

When I read about the atrocities committed in the name of Christ, the inquisition or the crusades, or the corruption of religious leaders, or the hypocrisy or self-righteousness in the church, or the difficulties in the Bible, or whatever may turn people from Christianity – all I have to do is weigh those against the miraculous changes for good I see in those who genuinely come to God, the peace people receive, the purpose in life, the inner healing, the ability to deal with pain and sorrow and even death, the beauty and truth and wisdom in the Bible, and all the good things that have come as a result of genuine faith – the abolition of slavery, the schooling of children, the feeding of the hungry and the building of hospitals. 

 

We have to realise that so much that has been done in the name of God or Jesus has little or nothing to do with either.  Those who truly follow the teaching of Jesus are those who forgive, those who care, those who love others. 

 

The truth is that nothing apart from a personal relationship with God can radically change hearts and minds to live in love, mutual acceptance and hope, rather than in selfishness and conflict.  Science can’t do it.  Political systems can’t do it.  Self-help books can’t do it.  Seances can’t do it.  Horoscopes can’t do it.  Seminars can’t do it.  But the Holy Spirit can.

 

It’s been said that if you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills, if you can be cheerful while ignoring aches and pains, if you can resist complaining or boring people with your troubles, If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it, If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time, If you can overlook when people take things out on you, when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong, if you can take criticism and blame without resentment, If you can face the world without lies and deceit, If you can conquer tension without medical help, If you can relax without liquor, If you can sleep without the aid of drugs … then you are probably a dog (or an emotionally and spiritually mature believer).

 

In any case, a person who impacts his world for God and for good is one who is convinced that the message about Jesus is both relevant to life and true – assured by the truth of the message in his mind and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in his heart.

 

In order to be a person who impacts the world for good and for God …

 

Paul mentions two attitudes evident in the lives of these believers in Thessalonica.  The fist is found in v.3 – patient endurance or enduring patience (based on / inspired by) hope in Jesus Christ.  And the second one is found in v.6 – is speaks of it in the context of accepted the word despite difficulties:  The attitude of joy or happiness.

 

These are not two characteristics that most people develop naturally.  Being able to endure, to go on patiently, no matter what life may bring is the result having hope.  For the believer, the object of that hope is Jesus Christ.  Hope is a word that speaks

 

1. of something good that will happen in the future.  Verse 10 or our passage speaks of the hope of the Thessalonians have in the future.  It points to the return of Christ who would deliver them from the coming wrath. 

 

2. But I think that hope also speaks of the present.  We have hope in Jesus Christ for our present lives, not just for the future. 

 

And when we have this hope in help for today and eternal life for the future, then it allows us to look at things from an eternal perspective – even if we have a tendency to slip back into our human, all too human, perspective.

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff – and, do you realize that in light of eternity – almost all things are small stuff.  You know, it is the ability to realize that I have to get all bent out of shape because of something that, in the greater scheme of things, is not that important.

 

I’m not speaking about a lack of concern, but the ability to roll with the punches and not let circumstances or others upset us – because life is short and eternity forever.

 

And the second attitude that should grow in our lives is joy.  Joy is the ability to have a positive and joyful outlook on life, even if things aren’t the greatest.

 

Patient endurance and joy don’t just happen.  They come from having hope and from having the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

That does not mean that good Christians don’t get angry, don’t feel anxious or depressed.  Some people think of feeling angry or sad as “negative” emotions – but at times they may be appropriate.  When our friend rips us off.  When our spouse leaves us.  When our house gets broken into and our stuff stolen.  When we lost our job.   There will be times when we feel angry or depressed. 

 

Those who play the “A good Christian never gets angry or depressed” tape long enough, usually end up stuffing their emotions, repressing or suppressing them.  Underneath, those feelings are still there, and if you stuff them long enough, usually the result is one of two things – either a very ugly explosion – usually at a bad time, or a person becomes emotionally sick and crippled

 

We need to be honest about what we feel, but also be honest enough to examine whether or not what we feel fits what has happened to us.

 

There are three warning signs that you may have a problem with a lack of patient endurance or joy.  They deal with the intensity of your feeling, the frequency of your feelings and the duration, or length of time we feel what we do.

 

You see, if you are often angry or sad.  If you blow up a lot or you’re depressed a lot. 

Or, if you feel angry or anxious or sad over a long period of time. 

Or, if your feelings are overwhelmingly intense – all of these may be signs that something isn’t quite right in your life, that there is either a problem with your brain chemistry, with your past, with your thinking process, or possibly, with your faith

 

Just like a smoke detector can warn us of a fire – allowing us to get out of the house, so our emotional state may be warning us that something isn’t quite right inside of us. 

 

Painful feelings like anger, guilt or depression can alert us, make us aware, that something is wrong and hopefully motivate us to change and grow.  Because God does not want his people to suffer needlessly, he wants to use the bad things that happen to us for our growth and maturity. 

 

We have a tough time being a force for God or for good when we are consistently angry or depressed.  God wants us to develop the characteristics of patient endurance and joy in our lives.  

 

If I want to have an impact in this world for God and for good, I will be convinced that the message (good news) about Jesus Christ is relevant and true,

I will have the growing attitudes of patience and joy developing in my character, and …

 

There are a vast number of idols that we can serve.  We can serve the idol of money or success or self-fulfilment or pleasure or power.  Our idol could be a person, either ourselves or someone else, maybe someone we love or admire.  Our idol could be a sport or a possession.  There are so many things that we can worship in this life. 

 

The Thessalonians turned from serving their dead idols and turned to serving the living and true God.  They became imitators of Paul and of Christ.  They became examples to other believers.

 

There was a profound shift not only in their beliefs, but in their whole orientation to life.  And the practical result of this profound shift was two-fold.

 

  1. They were good, kind, caring, loving in how they treated others.  We read that their faith resulted in loving actions (v. 3). 

     

  2. They started to share the message about Jesus with others, wherever they went (v.8). 

     

    That’s what it means practically to be a believer – to share love in word and deed with others.  To care enough about others to help them – physically, emotionally or spiritually. 

     

    Let me leave you today with a couple of questions:

     

    IS SOMETHING KEEPING ME FROM FULLY COMMITTING MYSELF TO GOD?  IF YES, WHAT IS IT?

     

    Do you need to investigate the good news about Christ for yourself, and discuss it in a group setting?

     

    IS SOMETHING KEEPING ME FROM BEING PATIENT AND JOYFUL?  IF YES, WHAT IS IT?

     

    Is more patience and joy something you really desire in your life?  Are you sick of either stuffing your feelings of anger and frustration – denying them because you think they are bad – or sick of constant feelings of depression or anger or anxiety?  Are you ready to be honest about the way you feel and be honest about the reasons for those feelings? 

     

    Why don’t you begin by praying that God would show you the reasons for what is happening, commit yourself to finding help and speaking about it that will help others and yourself grow in joy and patience?

     

    IS SOMETHING KEEPING ME FROM BEING CHRIST-LIKE IN WORD AND DEED?  IF SO, WHAT IS IT?

     

    Maybe you need to figure out if there are still idols in your life that keep you from serving, worshipping and fully turning to the living God. 

     

    I think we all need to pray on an ongoing basis that God’s Spirit would make us into, emotionally and spiritually mature and loving and caring individuals.

     

     

     

 

[1] Also known as Anatolia.

[2] Paul likely wanted to go to Ephesus, since that is where he shipped to from Greece on the way back to Antioch.  Acts 16:6-7 – While in Galatia, they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  This is likely the southern part of the province.  Instead they went to the western province of Mysia (can also be considered the northern part of the province of Asia).  When they attempted to go north to the province of Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  So they continued west in Mysia to the port of Troas.

[3] See Acts 16:6 - 18:5.  Originally, Paul and Silas had not intended to go to Macedonia and Greece.  Timothy had joined them at Lystra (Acts 16:1-2).  Paul continued on to Greece but was prevented from returning to Thessalonica as he had planned (see 1 Thess 2:18).

[4] Samothrace

[5] Between 49 and 51 AD.

[6] Reigned c. 41-54 AD.

[7] Suetonius lived c. 69-122 AD.

[8] Suetonius, Divus Claudius 25.4.  “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus he expelled them from Rome.”  This is also noted in Acts 18:2 - Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.

[9] The charge of sedition.

[10] fornication; sexual immorality

[11] Cf. 5:22 - Abstain from every evil.

[12] See 1 Cor 4:16 – I urge you to imitate me.  1 Cor 11:1 – Follow my example as I follow Christ’s (or: Imitate me just as I imitate Christ).  Phil 3:17 - Join one another in following my example, brothers, and carefully observe those who live according to the pattern we set for you.

[13] Ashkenazi Jews are from Germany and northern France.  Sephardic Jews are from Spain.  These European Jews are different from the African Jews (i.e., Ethiopian), and Asian Jews (i.e., Mizrahi). 

Feb 25 - Doubt

Doubt

February 25, 2018

Mark 9:14-29

 

DOUBT

February 25th, 2018

Mark 9:14-29

 

It was Palm Sunday, but because of a sore throat, 5 year old Johnny and his mom stayed home while dad and his two older siblings went to church.  When they returned from church, they were carrying branches of pussy willows.  Johnny asked dad what they were for.  His father told him, “People held them over Jesus’ head as he walked by.”  Johnny was upset.  “You’ve got to be kidding. The one Sunday I don’t go and Jesus shows up.

 

Maybe some of you feel that way.  Jesus hasn’t “shown up” for you and as a result you may be experiencing some doubt.  Doubt is what today’s message is about.

 

Be merciful to those who doubt.                   Jude 22

 

 

Maybe you remember the story about what happened after Jesus came down from the mountain where the so-called transfiguration took place.  Peter, James and John had gone with him and witnessed the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. 

 

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.  “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.  He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.  I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”             Mark 9:14-18

 

The teachers of the Law were the very same people as the scribes of the Pharisees.  They may have been arguing with the disciples of Jesus about the proper method of exorcism, or possibly pointing out that they cannot be following the right Rabbi, if they were powerless in this situation. 

 

Also, we might ask ourselves, if demon possession is only something that happened back then, not today?  Or perhaps, why is this particular demon rendering the boy unable to speak and producing fits that look very similar to grand mal seizures?

 

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long do I have to stay with you?  How long do I have to put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.  So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion.  He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”  “From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  “If you can? said Jesus. Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!      Mark 9:19-24

 

You can almost hear Jesus sigh.  Oh boy.  They got it wrong ... again.  But the part that I want you to catch is the father and the interchange between him and Jesus, particularly Jesus’ response the man’s request:  “If you can do anything, please help.” 

 

Jesus points out to the man that all things are possible for the one who believes. 

 

Jesus is not saying, that absolute certainty is the secret to receiving something, anything, from God, much like the “name it, claim it” movement does. 

 

Jesus is simply saying, “If you believe that I can do this, then I can actually get something accomplished here.”  The man needs to believe in Jesus’ ability, not have faith in just anything - the universe, karma, or whatever else.

 

And what I want you to catch in particular, is how the father responds to Jesus:  “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”  So really, what the father was saying is that, while he in fact believes that Jesus can do something for his son, he still had remnants of doubt

 

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”  The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.  After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”[1]

                                                          Mark 9:25-29

 

This account raises a number of questions, particularly because we know that the disciples had previously successfully exorcised demons (Mark 6:7,13).[2]   

 

What is so different about this particular demon, that prayer and possibly fasting is necessary when exorcising him? 

 

And if prayer and possibly fasting is needed, why did Jesus do neither and was still successful?  Could that be saying something about his identity?

 

But let me get back to the father’s statement, “I DO believe.  Help me to overcome my unbelief.”  While he had faith in Jesus, he still had remnants of doubt.

 

So I want you to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10.

 

If 1 is completely uncertainty, and 10 is complete certainty, where would you put yourself on the scale when it comes to

  • God’s existence

  • The applicability of the Bible (to your life)

  • The truth of Christianity (the identity of Jesus)

 

I would think that the father in our story, being a normal Jew during the first century, would have had little doubt about God’s existence and the applicability of their Bible, the Law of Moses and the OT prophetic and poetic writings that were considered authoritative at his time. 

 

Where there were likely lingering doubts were about the person, the identity, of Jesus, and therefore about what Jesus would be able to do.  Maybe he was somewhere in the middle between complete certainty and complete uncertainty when it came to Jesus.   

 

So, just in your minds right now, try to figure out where about on that sliding scale you are with regard to these three items. 

 

Now, if you listen to some people, you would think that they are completely certain about EVERYTHING. 

  • They are completely certain that they are always right. 

  • They are completely certain that those who disagree with them, are wrong. 

  • They are completely certain that their perception of reality is objective. 

  • They are completely certain that their political view is the only correct one.

  • They are completely certain that their interpretation of what’s in the Bible is the only possible one. 

  • They are completely certain that when they voice their convictions and beliefs, they are speaking the very words of God.    

 

They have the appearance as if they never question themselves, never question their convictions, never question their motivation, never question their objectivity, and never question their beliefs. 

 

I always think that it has to be a terrible burden to bear to always have to be right about everything. 

 

But there are Christians who would say, that, if you’re not completely, 100%, certain about God and the Bible and Jesus, there is something terrible wrong with you as a Christian. 

 

They would say of themselves that they have absolutely no doubts about what they perceive the Bible to proclaim. 

 

At first glance, absolute certainty would be great.  We would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists, that there is, in fact, a spiritual being who created the universe - even though we cannot detect him with our physical senses. 

 

We would know that the Bible is God’s message to humanity and totally applicable in everything it says, even though, at times, we may struggle with knowing exactly what it IS saying – possibly because there are a number of different interpretations of a passage, or simply because it’s hard to understand.

 

We would know that Jesus is in fact God’s son who entered history 2,000 years ago and was crucified as the atoning sacrifice for our sins - that his death overcame the gulf that exists between us and God. 

 

Those who say, that absolute certainty is required of Christians, often link it to a prohibition – the prohibition to question anything that, according to them, Christians are to believe.    

 

Maybe deep down there is the fear, that to admit to any uncertainty is to invite the ruin of their belief system, therefore, they can’t really allow themselves or others to question anything about what they believe.   

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against certainty.  Certainty is a wonderful thing - unless you’re wrong, of course. 

 

I mean, you would think someone who is willing to blow themselves and other innocent bystanders up in the name of God must be absolutely certain that what they’re doing is

1. what God would want them to do and

2. that by doing this it will propel them immediately into paradise. 

 

Of course, those who teach that nonsense most ardently to others, themselves never seem to strap on a bomb and packets of shrapnel.  Mmmm.  I wonder why? 

 

Look at these pictures and answer me this question.  Do you think that these individuals are convinced of the truth of their faith, the applicability of their scriptures, and the rightness of their cause? 

 

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if they actually possessed the wherewithal to question their prophet, their Holy book, their tradition, or their religious teachers and leaders?  Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if they were allowed a modem of doubt? 

 

The reason why so many radical Muslims are against secular education is because it may put into question the doctrines of radical Islam.  In fact, the name of the Muslim terror group in Nigeria is “Boko haram”.  In the Hausa language it literally means, “fake (i.e., western or non-Muslim) education is sin”.[3] 

 

A tremendous amount of evil has been committed by those who seemed to be absolutely certain about the legitimacy of their cause.  This can be seen in the political realm.

 

Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Engels and Marx, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung - left extremists;

Hitler & Mussolini, a skinhead who killed a police officer - right extremists;

 

Those who are completely convinced of the rightness of their cause, end up being willing to commit the most horrible things in order to further or implement their ideology.  [By the way, we sometimes forget, that over the last 100 years many, many more people were killed by professing atheists than by religious people.] 

 

 

When it comes to Christianity, the same was true at one time ... in the middle ages in particular.  Those who were seen to somehow think or believe different from the official line, were called heretics and subsequently tortured and/or killed. 

 

Whether it was the slaughter of the Huguenots in France (1572), the killing of Anabaptists in Austria, the elimination of the Hussites in Bohemia and the Czech Republic during the counter-reformation (1545 - end of 30 year war),[4]  or the burning and drowning of so-called “heretics”, this murderous rampage was ordered by those who saw themselves as protectors of the only true faith.

 

Around the same time, there were numerous armed conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism, based as it was on the absolute conviction that denominational dogma was infallible.

 

The eighty years’ war in the Netherlands (1568 - 1648).

The French wars of religion (1562-1598)

The thirty years’ war (1618 - 1648), [almost 100 years after the beginning of the counter-reformation] resulting in the death of about 1/3 of the population of central Europe.  All of this in complete contradiction to the teaching of Jesus.

 

But things have changed, haven’t they?  We are no longer living at a time when certainty is the norm.  We are  living in an era, where Christians tend to waffle more than ever in their convictions. 

 

Most Christians today face doubts about the truth of their faith.  What has changed?

 

For one, more and more Christians have grown up outside of Christian homes.  I, for one, grew up in an atheistic home. So we may be confronted with a lot more skepticism about Christianity in our homes than past generations.

 

For another, back in the middle ages, most people had no personal access to the Bible.  For one, books were relatively rare and extremely expensive.  For another most people were illiterate.  Christians couldn’t check out for themselves whatever they were told … they had no way of verifying anything that they were being taught … so they simply relied on what they were told. 

 

Today, Bibles are readily accessible.  And when Christians read the Bible they may find some of it hard to understand.  Some passages may appear to be rather odd or harsh, given Jesus’ teaching about the nature and will of God.  Or the Bible may not seem to apply to everyday life.    

 

Thirdly, in our day and age, there is a tremendous amount of opposition to Christianity, something that simply wasn’t the case previously.  There are many people in our secular society who are really no longer open to considering the validity of any religion.  

 

They reject the idea of God and chose atheism, not because the reasons to do so are compelling or earth shattering, but by default, without really giving it much thought. 

 

It is also highly likely that Christians today are confronted in high school or university with the claim that religious beliefs are wrong because they clash with science. 

 

They may be told that religious beliefs cannot be confirmed by the scientific method, and therefore are nothing more than wishful thinking. 

 

It’s kind of odd that Bill Nye, the science guy, should be the one who saves the world[5].  Probably not Kevin,[6] definitely not Jesus, but Bill.

 

Bill Nye speaks out against what he sees as the conflict between faith and science.[7] 

 

Bill Nye advises, that when religious beliefs are put into question by science, they should be jettisoned.  Personally, I don’t believe that one has to choose between God and science.  To my mind, that is a false alternative.  Truth is truth.

 

Another outspoken critic of Christianity in his day, Voltaire (1694 - 1778), noted something along the lines of ....

 

Voltaire likely meant that it is absurd to take some belief at face value without questioning it at all, because you have no way of knowing whether or not what you believe is actually true. 

 

But his and Bill Nye’s criticisms are actually fairly mild compared to the so-called “new atheists”, who argue that religion is downright evil and destructive, based on their presupposed premise that miracles cannot happen.[8] 

 

By the way, new atheists really don’t give much scientific evidence for the non-existence of God other than the process of evolution (based on natural selection), the existence of evil or suffering, and the need for a cause or source of God, none of which are terribly convincing. 

 

With regard to suffering, Bertrand Russell once said that no one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and believe in God.  He was wrong.  I’ve been there.  Maybe so have you.

 

Another reason why Christians may be doubtful about the truth of their beliefs is because there is so much misinformation out there. 

 

Have you read “The DaVinci Code”?  Or “The Pagan Christ”?  One is pure fiction, the other a completely misinterpretation of the roots of Christianity. 

 

These books, and many more like them, are so full of inaccuracies and outright untruths it’s shocking.  And yet, Christians read them without actually taking the time to research whether or not what they are reading is historically correct.

 

I’m not going to go into details about all the reasons why I believe in the truth of Christianity – why I believe it to be both reasonable and believable. 

 

I won’t look at “spontaneous remission,” the need for an “ultimate cause,” the anthropic principle found in our universe, the mathematical improbability of spontaneous formation of life from nucleotides and amino acids, the complexity of nature, the fulfilment of prophecy, the willingness of the disciples to die for proclaiming Jesus as the risen Messiah, the positive life-transformation in the lives of many Christians, and on and on.  I’ve done all of that in the past.

 

What I do want to acknowledge today is that many Christians have doubt, to one degree or another for some of the reasons I’ve mentioned – or maybe for another reason.  It is why I like a verse in Jude.

 

Be merciful to those who doubt.                   Jude 22

 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, because they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7).

 

We should be merciful toward those who doubt.  And if we doubt, we should be merciful toward ourselves!

I think it’s OK to wrestle with our beliefs from time to time, which is different from cynicism, which simply rejects anything that cannot be proven conclusively

 

By now you should realize that I do NOT think that faith has to be completely blind, that in order to be a Christian one has to believe in something without ANY evidence at all. 

 

There is a big difference between irrational and rational faith.  I do not think that Christians have to abandon logic or science or knowledge in order to believe in what they do, or that the Christian faith has to be based only on wishful thinking.

 

On the other hand, I realize that logic and science and knowledge can take us only so far when it comes to matters of faith. 

 

Without abandoning reason, the best we can do, or any person who believes in God, is a decision based on what the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called a leap of faith.

 

By this he didn’t mean that we need to choose to believe in something for no good reason, ignoring evidence, and embracing fantasy.  Kierkegaard was speaking about making an informed leap of faith.  Nevertheless, it will still be a leap of faith because it means to commit to what we believe in spite of our fears and doubts, and without a 100% guarantee that we are right.

 

I like the picture of a trapeze artist who has to let go and fly through the air without necessarily seeing the person who catches them on the other side. 

 

So what happens when I die?  When I let go of the high-bar on earth.  Will God really be there to catch me on the other side?

 

The one thing that does set Christianity apart from cult-like religions, is that having doubts is OK.  In a cult-like religion there is no room for doubt.  There is no room for dissent.  There is no room for questions.  All there is, is unquestioning subservience and obedience to the specific dogma set out by the cultic organization or the cultic leader. 

 

So to those of you who are having doubts, I would say, don’t panic.  It’s OK.  Everyone has doubts from time to time.  Some doubt can be good because it can motivate us to study and learn and it can get rid of false beliefs. 

 

Doubts can make us more patient and understanding of other doubters.  It can remind us of just how much truth matters.  It can make us humble. 

 

Whatever the case, one of the questions we should ask ourselves is, “Why am I having doubts?”, and “Where do those doubts come from?”  Or perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why has faith in God seem to have lost its appeal?  Why doesn’t it seem so real anymore?

 

A lot of people who end up walking away from God do so for personal, not rational, reasons.  It isn’t so much doubt, as it is lifestyle. 

 

For example, most humans like the idea of autonomy and self-determination.  It includes the idea that our personal choices are no one’s business but our own.  Another idea is that we will make it on our own steam and be the masters of our own destiny. 

 

A third aspect of autonomy is that we don’t like accountability, one of the reasons why some teenagers rebel against their parents, why young adults by and large don’t stay with their parents but strike out on their own, why there can be conflict between couples when it comes to control, and why people are loathed to join anything anymore.

 

I tend to think, that true autonomy really is an illusion.  Any psychologist or sociologist can confirm that we make a lot of choices based on irrational impulses, unconscious desires and connections, habits, paths of least resistance, peer and social pressures and the prevailing cultural winds

 

Nevertheless, for some people the idea of autonomy and a lack of accountability have become the biggest barrier to belief in God.  Some people truly resent God telling them how to live their lives. So autonomy from God may seem like a really good idea when one does not want to feel guilty about one’s lifestyle choices. 

 

If God in fact exists and he is moral, then we really are accountable to him.  By rejecting God’s existence, there is no need to acknowledge mistakes and sins and errors.  There is no fear of being held accountable for betrayal, greed, cowardice, compromise, untruthfulness, or anything else for that matter.  We can stop feeling guilty.

 

However, to resist accountability to God, in essence is to resist a relationship with God

 

And, true freedom from guilt really only comes when we confess and try to turn from our wrongdoing because that opens the door to forgiveness and healing and wholeness and eternal life. 

 

I want to close by reminding us of the passage I read at the beginning of this message – Jesus’ encounter with the father of the demon-possessed son.  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

 

Perhaps that needs to be your prayer today.

 

IS SOMETHING HOLDING ME BACK FROM MAKING AN INFORMED “LEAP OF FAITH”?

IF SO, WHAT EXACTLY IS IT, AND IS IT IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO KEEP ME FROM MOVING ON WITH GOD?

 

One day, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, maybe fifty years from now, you will let go of the trapeze called life.  You will take your last breath, your hands will go slack, and life will fall away. 

 

The real question is what happens then.  Will there be someone to catch you as you enter eternity, or will you simply stop to exist and the universe will neither know nor care? 

 

Can you commit yourself to God, even if I don’t have absolute certainty?

 

[1] Some MSS: “by prayer and fasting.”

[2] In Mark 6:7, Jesus sends out the 12, giving them authority over evil spirits (cf. Matt 10:1; Luke 9:1 - both add that Jesus gives the 12 authority to also heal every disease and sickness).  In Mark 6:13 we are told they in fact cast out many demons and healed the sick after anointing them with oil (cf. Luke 9:6; Matt does not record what happened). In Matt 10:8, the commission is expanded to include the cleansing of lepers and raising people from the dead. 

In Luke 10:9, Jesus sends out the 72 and tells them to heal the sick.  In 10:17, they come back rejoicing because even the demons submitted to them in Jesus’ name.

[3] The word for education, “ilmi”, is implied.  Former colonial education was called “ilmin boko” = fake education. 

[4] The counter-reformation reduced Lutheranism in Poland, France, Italy, Ireland, Austria and southern Germany, Bohemia, Belgium, Croatia and Slovania.

[5] Bill Nye saves the word, TV show on Netflix.  First episode April 21st, 2017.

[6] Kevin probably saves the world - sitcom with Jason Ritter.  First episode dated October 3rd, 2017. 

[7] Nye, who considers himself an agnostic, comments that considering the actual age of the universe and the reality of evolution, young-earth creationism in particular is obviously wrong.

[8] Christopher Hitches, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett.

Feb 18 - Extending Grace To Myself And Others

Extending Grace To Myself And Others - Family Matters Part 6

February 18, 2018

Luke 5:27-32

 

EXTENDING GRACE TO MYSELF AND OTHERS

Family Matters – Part 6

February 18th, 2018

Luke 5:27-32

 

If you were here three weeks ago, you might remember that I spoke about the way that negative messages about ourselves, whether coming from parents, family members, friends, coaches, teachers, supervisors or ourselves, can and will cause great damage to our self-esteem.

 

One of the ways damaged self-esteem, a damaged self-image, manifests itself, is through being proud or arrogant. 

 

Pride is the need to think of oneself as better than others.  Sometimes it is accompanied by a need to show them how much better, smarter, savvy, wittier, stronger, faster, more powerful we are than they. 

 

Life becomes a competition and we are bound and determined to be on the winning end, whether it’s in a race or an argument, regardless of the potential cost of doing so. 

 

At other times, pride is married to the need to control others, to have them do what we want them to because we know what’s best for them, what’s right, what should be done.  Everything will be just fine if others recognized that fact.  Or maybe we’re just bossy

 

When our pride is injured it will keep us from being kind and gracious, as we react to what we perceive to be a threat to our either overinflated or underinflated sense of self-worth.

 

Luke records multiple times when the Pharisees criticized Jesus because he spent time with what they considered to be “sinners,” including entering their homes and eating with them.  One such time is found in Luke 5.

 

27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.  "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.  29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.       Luke 5:27-29

 

If you’ve read through the gospels, you will be acquainted with the reaction of the Pharisees and scribes.

 

 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (scribes) who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"  31 Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."                                                              Luke 5:30-32

 

We find the same complaint twice more in the gospel of Luke, once in chapter 15 (vv.1-2), which actually ends with Jesus telling the parable of the prodigal son, and again in chapter 19 (vv.5-7) in the story of the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.

 

Now, by and large, the Pharisees were not bad people.  They were really intent on obeying God’s will as revealed in the Law of Moses.  In order to make sure that they would do so, they ended up discussion the implications of the Mosaic Law when it came to every conceivable life situation. 

 

In Jesus’ day, literally hundreds of years of debate had taken place and a large body of Pharisaic teaching had been recorded and accepted as authoritative and binding, even when it contradicted the Law of Moses. 

 

In some ways, the Pharisaic body of literature at the time of Jesus was similar to what would become Islamic Sharia law.  Sharia law came about because the application of the Koran was debated over 1,000 years, those debates included different schools of thought, and the result was many applications for day-to-day life.  However, Sharia Law, is a lot more stringent than the Rabbinic teaching.

 

One of the greatest problems that Jesus had with the Pharisees was their insistence that they knew best how to discern God’s will and so had the right to tell others in every detail how they should live their lives.  Jesus pointed out in no uncertain terms that sometimes their application of the Mosaic Law was simply wrong. 

 

For example, they set aside the responsibility of looking after aging parents by donating money to the temple (Mark 7:9-13).[1]  Or they taught that it is wrong if someone does something good, saves a life, or physically heals someone on the Sabbath day (Mark 3:1-6),[2] even though they fed their animals and pulled then out of a ditch on a Sabbath and didn’t consider it work. 

 

And when Jesus challenged their interpretations, they responded by making plans to have Jesus killed (Mark 3:6).  How dare he oppose them in public debate!  How dare he question their applications!  After all, they knew best because they were so pious.  Let’s get rid of this nuisance!

 

In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus points out that the Pharisees were self-righteous and treated others, who they considered to be less pious, with contempt (Luke 18:9).[3]

 

Because of their contempt for non-Jewish people and Jews who were so-called “sinners,” worst of whom were the tax-collectors, the Pharisees felt that if someone spend time with those kind of people it would cause spiritual defiled or contaminated

 

Even though the Law of Moses does not comment on Jews having to segregate themselves from so-called “sinners” (or Gentiles), Pharisees nevertheless did just that and taught that any Jew who is at all concerned with following God’s will should follow their example.[4]

 

.

So Pharisees refused to enter the homes of or eat with Gentiles and tax-collectors, nor would they invite them into their homes.  They wouldn’t even eat or drink in the homes of regular Jews, whom they referred to contemptuously as “the people of the land,” (am ha aretz) because those people may have prepared the food in some way that does not follow the Rabbinic traditions. 

 

Jesus was most upset with the Pharisees because they burdened the average Jewish people with huge lists of requirements, all the time looking down their noses at them because they weren’t as fastidious as themselves.

 

Pharisees were proud of their zeal for God, and they had forgotten that in God’s eyes they were no better than others. 

 

Jesus told them that they were blind guides who strain out a tiny insect but then swallow a camel instead (Matt 23:24). He told them that they are actually hindering the average Jew from entering the Kingdom of God (implied Luke 11:52).[5]  Jesus called them hypocrites (Matt 23) and blind guides (Matt 23:24).  He called them white-washed tombs (Matt 23:27), and even the sons of hell (Matthew 23:15).

 

Jesus and the Pharisees were different in their approach. 

 

And tax-collectors and sinners and“the people of the land” responded to Jesus because he spent time with them and he made it clear to them that God is just as much (if not more) interested in them, than in the self-righteous Pharisees or priests.  He made them realize that they are not disqualified from God’s love, as the Pharisees said they were. 

 

Jesus extended grace toward them- and so they were open to hearing a message of hope and forgiveness and reform.  Jesus spent time with those who recognized that they were far from perfect and who could, with God’s forgiveness and strength, work on bettering themselves.   

 

Extending grace = 1.focusing on the good and the potential for good within others, not their short-comings and mistakes

 

Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.                                     Romans 15:7

 

That means we don’t simply write off people, think they are useless or bad.  Jesus warns us that the way that we judge others, and I think he meant in our hearts, so we too will be judged by God (Matt 7:1-2).[6]  We show little grace toward others, God will show little grace to us when it comes to the judgment.[7]

 

When it comes to the conflict that we experience in our homes and families, it may be good to work on accepting others and focusing on their good qualities, rather than their bad ones.

 

There will be some friction in every home.  No two human beings ever lived under the same roof without clashing, getting hurt, or being mad at each other from time to time.  If there is never any open conflict, it likely means that one person is totally submissive but inside seething with resentment, or that two people have mastered the art of extending grace to the other.

 

However, while some friction is inevitable, there are situations that will simply make it so painful that it is destructive. 

 

One of these situations is the attempt to remake the other person, to change them. I’m not saying that encouraging another person to better themselves is inherently bad in and of itself.  However, when we want the other person to be fundamentally different than they are, they and us are in for a world of pain.

 

Attempting to change another person is usually not only futile, it can actually be destructive if we keep nagging about one or the other character trait that we don’t like. 

 

Everything often starts off so perfectly and with so much happiness and hope and anticipation.  We promise to love, cherish and honour our spouse for the rest of our lives.

 

But then reality sets in.  He’s a slob and doesn’t pick up after himself.  She wears socks in bed.  He doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll.  She insists on squeezing the toothpaste tube from the center. He doesn’t communicate enough.  She’s too talkative. He likes health food, she doesn’t.  Or he likes junk food and she doesn’t.

 

1001 annoyances can lead to constant bickering and complaining, all of which is pointless when the other person doesn’t want to change. 

 

You never do this, you never do that, you always do this, you always do that.  Do me a favour, don’t tell someone they always or never do something.  It just isn’t true and it labels another person unfairly - and it is severely annoying - just saying. 

 

Of course we can speak about our differences or hurts from time to time, but to harangue another person, just keep harping about someone’s faults over and over and over again, constantly criticizing and complaining, only attacks the other person’s self-worth, in fact, it has the potential of destroying another person’s self-image and irreparably damaging the relationship. 

 

Someone might actually use anger or argument or criticism or complaining intentionally as a way of destroying another person, often with the intent to make themselves feel better or with the intent of controlling the other person into doing what they want them to do.

 

The reality is that constant complaint simply is a very negative and counterproductive way into forcing another person to reinvent themselves.  The actual result is resentment and hurt. 

 

Of course that doesn’t mean that we have to put up with everything, that we can’t set boundaries, that we simply take abuse, ... in fact, if someone is highly toxic and hurtful and abusive, it’s probably best to get out of their way, even stay out of their way, rather than to just sit there and take it. 

 

Some people simply take advantage when others are gracious.  They see the other person as weak and vulnerable.  God forbid that any Christian sees another person’s patience and forgiveness as permission to abuse them.

 

On the other hand, when we extend grace, we do so knowing that everyone, and I mean everyone, has some quirks, faults, annoying habits and poor ways of dealing with stuff from time to time.  Yes, some people struggle more than others, but everyone still struggles, including you and I.  None of us are perfect. 

 

If we take a good look inside of ourselves, our character and behaviour, we will find enough shortcomings to keep us busy for the rest of our lives, if that’s what we want to do.  So, as Jesus said, it would be more productive to work on our own big issues, the log in our own eye, instead of trying to fix another persons’ small issues (picking at the splinter in another person’s eye - Matt 7:3-5)).  

 

Another way that we don’t extend grace is when we simply won’t forgive when another person hurt us. 

 

Inevitably other people will irritate us, disappoint us, offend us, hurt us.  When we accumulate enough of those wounds, refusing to let go, we end up being cynical, angry, resentful and bitter. 

 

What did Paul mean when he said that we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our anger (Eph 4:26)?  Isn’t it choosing to let go of the hurt we’ve received by forgiving those who have hurt us before the day ends

 

If we are quick to find fault, always looking for petty faults and slights, we’re creating a huge gulf between us and the other person.  If we do this with our spouse, we are no longer loving, cherishing or honouring them

 

  • If we keep rehearsing negatives thoughts about others, it will make us miserable. 

  • If we are full of resentment, fear, suspicion and anger, it will kill our joy and happiness and sense of well-being.

  • If we dwell on the faults and shortcomings of others or the way they have offended or slighted us, if we constantly criticize and belittle, especially in front of others - we’re causing untold harm to the relationship.

  • If we are so resentful, bitter and hostile toward others that we shut them out, stop talking to them, no longer spend time with them, no longer communicate, we are also in the process of destroying a relationship.

 

If, on the other hand, we accept the other person, work on our own failings, be quick to forgive, control our sharp tongues, become kind and courteous, think about them positively, and speak about their good traits in front of others, then we will find that we not only get along better with that person, but with everyone else in our lives as well.  When we extend grace toward others, it makes us into better people

 

In a marriage, a sense of oneness comes from trusting the other person, from liking them and appreciating them.  In that kind of relationship, two people can communicate more freely and with kindness.  In that kind of relationship, two people can focus on a common purpose and plan. 

 

A rather simplistic statement is that a couple that prays together stays together.  Well, I think that can be true if a couple says grace together and are thankful not only for the food on the table, but also for all the blessings they have, for a roof over their heads, their family, and especially for each other. 

 

Extending grace = 2. modeling the character of God, who extends forgiveness, patience and kindness toward people

 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

 

Why?  Because God has extended grace, forgiveness and patience toward us. 

 

Extending grace = 3. treating others with kindness and respect

 

However you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and Prophets.               Matthew 7:12

 

The Pharisees did not treat the tax collectors or the people of the land with any kind of respect or kindness. 

Their attitude was by and large exactly in contrast to Jesus’ words, that God’s people are to treat others the same way they would want others to treat them. 

 

By the way, in order to treat others as we would want to be treated, we need empathy, so the ability to feel for another person, to put oneself into the shoes of the other person, as we would hope that others would feel for us, would at least attempt to put themselves into our shoes. 

 

A crass example of a lack of empathy is found in suicide bombers or mass murderers, like the man who, in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people in a high school there, including 14 students between the age of 14 and 18,[8] a teacher,[9] a football coach,[10] and the athletic director.[11]

 

Empathy extends to thinking about others and speaking about them behind their backs in the same kind, compassionate, courteous, and respectful way we would hope that others think about us and speak about us behind our backs.    

 

The Bible speaks literally hundreds of times both in the OT and NT about the law of reciprocity.  It is the Law of the harvest – sow wheat, reap wheat; sow barley – reap barley.  The apostle Paul speaks of this law in the choices we make, “don’t be deceived,” he writes, “you WILL reap what you sow” (Gal 6:7). 

 

On the one hand we can sow to evil, to an unwillingness to be gracious or forgiving, to harshness and ugliness and hate.  And that is what we will reap.

 

The expression in Hosea 8:7, that those who sow to the wind reap the whirlwind makes exactly that point.

 

  • Jesus said, those who use the sword, die by the sword. 

  • He said that those who won’t forgive, won’t be forgiven. 

  • The Psalmist says that those who dig a pit, will themselves fall into one (Ps 7:15). 

  • We read in Job that those who plow evil reap it (Job 4:8). 

  • Proverbs tells us that the one who sows wickedness will reap trouble (Prov 22:8). 

  • Paul says, that a person who does evil, will reap within themselves the penalty of their error (Rom 1:27).

 

In other words, whenever we do something wrong, whenever we speak harshly, whenever we judge unkindly, whenever we think poorly, whenever we fan the feelings of hate, whether we are aware of it or not, we reap in our conscience, in our mind, in our heart, in our lives, the negative consequences of these things.  They will make us pessimistic, negative, mean, and unhappy.

 

But of course the opposite is true as well. 

 

Hosea tells God’s people that when people sow righteousness, that is, right and good behaviour, then they will reap unfailing love (hesed).[12]

 

  • James tells us that the person who sows peace will reap a harvest of righteousness (Jam 3:18).  

  • Paul tells us that those who persist in doing good will harvest peace (cf. Rom 2:10). 

 

In other words, whenever we do, think, speak, what is positive, and good, kind, gracious, loving ... we reap the reward of it in our hearts, our conscience, our minds, our lives.  It will make us better people, happy, content, thankful and positive.

 

Don’t’ deceive yourself.  You reap what you sow.

 

Extending grace = 4. allowing God’s grace and love to heal me so I can conquer my own shortcomings

 

Tax-collectors by and large did not extend a lot of grace to themselves, because they did not extend a lot of grace toward others, and weren’t shown any grace as a result. 

Tax-collectors were despised by their fellow Jews because they not only collected the Roman tax (collaborators of the enemy and therefore traitors of their own people), but they also over-charged the tax so they could get rich on the backs of their fellow Jews. 

 

Subsequently, the Pharisees taught that the tax-collectors were equally hated and rejected by God, without a chance of redemption.  And the tax-collectors likely agreed with the Pharisees, which is why they did not think highly of themselves.  

 

And then Jesus begins to call Levi the tax-collector to become one of his closest companion and student. When in Jericho, he calls up to one of the chief tax-collectors by the name of Zacchaeus that he had to stay at Zacchaeus’ house.  But this time, it wasn’t just the Pharisees who thought that this was wrong.

 

All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"  But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."  Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."                               Luke 19:7-10 (NIV)

 

While “all the people” grumbled that Jesus had entered the home of a tax-collector, Jesus’ gracious presence allowed Zacchaeus to take away all the loathing and condemnation and rejection that he lived with on a daily basis, and completely reform his life.  Jesus comment that Zacchaeus is a child of Abraham is about as close to saying that Zacchaeus is accepted and loved by God. 

 

That is the power of grace appropriated and then extended, not just to others, but to ourselves. 

 

I think that a few years ago now I mentioned the Hoyts during a sermon.  Dick the father[13] and his disabled son Rick[14] competed in over 1,000 races between 1977 and 2016, including 257 triathlons, 72 marathons, and 97 half-marathons.  Dick would pull his son behind him in a dinghy during the swimming portion of a triathlon, he would bicycle with his son either in a contraption over the front wheel or, as his son got older, pulling him behind his bike in a special wheelchair; during the running portions he would push his son in a wheelchair. 

 

So a father, for the love of his son, did what some would consider impossible.  A son, born with cerebral palsy and other severe handicaps, who was written off by doctors as in a hopeless vegetative state as an infant, and as clearly unable to learn and communicate by educators, because of the love of his parents, did the impossible continuously, including graduating from high school and university and holding down a career, even though he is unable to walk or speak. 

 

I don’t care what kind of short-comings you or others may think you have - your heavenly father loves you so much that you can overcome whatever you think is holding you back. 

 

That’s not to say that when debilitating depression or illness hits that we shouldn’t seek out medical help.  Rick Hoyt needed tons of medical help.  But it means that you and I should stop beating ourselves up and instead see ourselves through the eyes of God's love and grace. 

 

What needs to change in the way I think in order for me

 

TO FOCUS ON THE GOOD QUALITIES RATHER

THAN THE FAULTS OF OTHERS,

 

TO EXTEND KINDNESS, FORGIVENSS AND RESPECT,

and

 

TO ALLOW GOD’S LOVE AND GRACE TO COVER ALL OF MY FAULTS AND CONQUER ALL OF MY SELF-DOUBTS AND FEELINGS OF INADEQUACY?

 

Are you extending forgiveness and grace to others?

Are you extending forgiveness and grace to yourself?

 

[1] And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and mother, and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God), then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

[2] Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”  Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

[3] To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ...

[4] In the Mishnah, anything associated with a Gentile was considered to defile or make unclean.  Therefore, if a Gentile entered the home of a Jew, the whole home would be considered unclean.  The same was true of the taxcollector (Toh. 7:6).  While the Mishnah does not refer to sinners, it often does to “the people of the land” (Am-ha’aretz).  When one of these common Jews entered a home, then “only” groceries, liquids and all pottery not covered by a lid become unclean (Toh. 7.5).  

[5] Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.

[6] Matt 7:2 - With the judgment you pronounce (on others), you will be judged (by God), and with the measure you use (to measure others), it will be measured to you (by God).

[7] See the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt 18:21-35

[8] Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Anuiano, Nicholas Dworet, Jaime Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Laughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang,

[9] Scott Beigel

[10] Aaron Feis

[11] Chris Hixon

[12] Hosea may be saying that the person who does what is right and good receives God’s unfailing love.

[13] Born 1940, currently 78 years old

[14] Born 1962, currently 56 years old