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Entries in Compassion (8)

Tuesday
Oct152019

Jesus Feeds 5,000 People

We will have the audio up Tuesday around noon.

Mark 6:30-44.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner, October 13, 2019.

We pick back up in the Gospel according to Mark where we left off.  As we look at this passage, we are going to recognize that God has ministry for us to do, but He also wants us to have rest.  It is not always easy to find that balance, and no one does it perfectly. 

In our story today, the time of rest for the disciples is interrupted by the crowds who want to see Jesus.

Jesus seeks rest for his disciples

Verses 30 through 33 focus on a reunion scene with Jesus and his disciples.  In verses 7-12 of this chapter, we were told that Jesus had sent them out in pairs to go through the towns of Israel.  They were to preach that people should repent because the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  They also were to cast out any evil spirits, and heal those who were sick.  We are not told how long they were gone, but here we have their return, and the excitement that they had as they tell their stories to Jesus.

Meanwhile there are other people who keep coming and going who want to interact with Jesus as well.  We are told that it was so hectic that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat.

At this point, Jesus recognizes that they need to go to a place where there aren’t any people, so that he can spend some time with The Twelve.  They then get in a boat and head towards an area that Jesus has in mind where they could fellowship and rest.

There is an interesting interplay surrounding the concept of rest in the Bible.  It is clear that we physically need rest every day, and that we also need rest in others ways: emotional rest, rest from activity (even if it is ministry), and especially spiritual rest.  In this case, they needed a physical break from ministry and attending to the needs of other people.  If we are always helping others, and never taking time to get alone with God, then we will come to a point of emotional and spiritual exhaustion.  We need rest and relationship with Jesus in order to recharge.  Even just sharing with Jesus and having him encourage them would be a powerful rest or refreshing of their souls.

Ask yourself, do I take time to be refreshed by Jesus?  If we will take the time to talk with Jesus about our day and ask his help, we will find a source of power that cannot come any other way.  In fact, this helps us to understand the fourth commandment of The Ten Commandments.  In the days of Moses, it was normal to work seven days a week.  However, God tells his people to take one day off from trying to make it by their own labor and trust God to bless the other six days of labor.  It is not intended to be a harsh command, but rather a blessing from God.  Part of resting is being able to trust that God will take care of things if I take a break.  Isn’t that amazing?  The universe won’t fall apart if I take a break.  The Gospel won’t fail if I take a break. 

Yet, there is a caveat.  Our flesh can come to love taking a break.  Just as a good rest can turn into laziness and lethargy, so we can be lazy about the work of God in our lives.  We can be spiritually sleeping when it is time to work.  This is where we need to be in tune with the Holy Spirit.  If He is moving then we need to be moving.  Moreover, if He is telling us to stand still then we should do so even if there are other people telling us to move.

The crowds see Jesus and his disciples leaving and figure out where they are headed.  We are told that they ran by foot around the lake to go where they believed Jesus and the disciples were going.  No doubt, they were spreading the word as they went.  Thus, by the boat arrives, there is quite a large crowd awaiting Jesus.

At this point, it would be easy to see crowds as a bad thing.  However, these people are just desperate people who sense in Jesus something that can help them.  The group is mixed with many who just want a miracle, some who want to see the man who may be the Messiah, and others who are working as spies for the Pharisees.  Remember that the crowd is always a mixed bag, and therefore it can be a good thing or a bad thing.  The people within the crowd are not thinking about the disciples need of rest.  They are only thinking about their own desire for Jesus.

Jesus has compassion on the crowds

In our flesh, we would probably disperse the crowds with some choice words, but we are told that Jesus was moved with compassion for them.  He saw them like one who sees sheep who have no shepherd.  Their religious leaders were not feeding them the truth and the spiritual food that God had supplied.  Instead, they were being abused and used as a means to an end.  Sheep without a shepherd would have all kinds of wounds and diseases from all the harassing predators.

Do you believe that God’s heart is moved with compassion when he looks upon the crowds of this world?  Sure, crowds can be capable of quite evil things.  It was a crowd that day that chanted, “Crucify him!”  Even the mobs of rioting youth, that we see in our cities, are only lost people who are hopeless in a world that sees them as a means to an end.  I do not want to romanticize the crowd in any way.  It can be a dangerous tool in the hands of evil people and the devil.  Yet, it is filled with people who don’t know their right hand from their left spiritually.  Otherwise, why would they be standing in a crowd?  May we first understand God’s compassion for us, so that we can then see His compassion for others, not because they are good or even doing good, but because often they are just sheep without a good shepherd.

We are told that Jesus takes time to teach them many things.  Probably it was something like the Sermon on the Mount.  We are not told of any healing, but that may only be due to their location in a remote place.  Sick people are not often able to travel to remote places.  However, the teaching of Christ is far more important than the healing of Christ.  A person may be healed and yet never learn from Christ what they need for spiritual life.  Make sure in your own life that you are not failing the accusation that Satan made against Job.  He accused Job of only serving God because God blessed him materially and protected him. 

At some point, the disciples recognize that they should send the people away, so that they will have enough time to go into the villages around there in order to find food for the night.  Yet, Jesus tells the disciples to give the people something to eat.  Believe it or not, God does care about your material needs.  He does supply for us both physically and spiritually.  Our problem is that we often neglect the spiritual in pursuit of material things, and this highlights the folly of our understanding.  It is better to lack material things and have God then to have material things and yet lack God.  Without God, no amount of provisions and possessions can satisfy and protect us.  However, with God, I can be destitute in the desert and still be filled by His provision.  Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Jesus miraculously feeds the people

It is clear that Jesus has decided to do a miracle.  Just as Israel wandered in the desert and God miraculously fed them with Manna, so Jesus would miraculously provide bread for multitudes in a deserted place.  Yet, he does so by asking his disciples to feed the people, knowing full well that this is beyond their ability.

The disciples complain that the request is unreasonable.  Do you expect us to go into the villages and buy up food for everybody?  Now, a denarion was equivalent to a day’s wage for the average laborer.  So, 200 denarii would be just over half a year’s income.  Most likely they were not carrying 200 denarii along with them.  Their point is that Jesus is asking them to do something that is ludicrous.  Have you ever felt yourself in this place?

Jesus then tells the disciples to check their inventory of food items.  They only have 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish.  Instead of saying, “Wow, that is not nearly enough!” Jesus moves forward like they are going to feed all of these people with this small amount.  The people are instructed to sit down in groups to make it easier to serve and thus we are told that there were groups of 50 and groups of 100. 

Have you ever neglected to serve others for God because you could only see what you were lacking?  Yet, Jesus instructs them to take the five loaves and 2 fish and proceed to feed the multitude.  What is the worst that can happen here?  They would feed a couple of people and there would be no more food.  Why not just step out in faith and obey the Lord?

Now, the point of this story is not about how we can get a miracle when we want.  Rather, it is about how to change your mindset from one that can only see what you can’t do to one that is faithful to respond to the Lord with what little you have.

Before they serve, Jesus takes the bread and the fish, and he blesses them.  This is clearly a prayer of blessing over the food, which most likely involves thanks to God for His provision.  This is important because it shows to the disciples and to the crowd just who actually be serving this crowd of people.  Without the blessing of God, the disciples and their small amount of food are not at all enough, but with God it is enough.  Yes, it will be the hands and feet of the disciples that bring the food to the people, but it is God who will be providing the increase and the blessing.

Now, the blessing is not solely about the amount.  It is even more about the strength that we gain from it.  What will I do with this strength that God has given me?  Will I use it to do the works of God, or will I use it for my own fleshly ends?  As we eat the bread of heaven, we should then use that strength for the purposes of God and not just for ourselves.  The disciples probably felt pretty sheepish (pun intended) as Jesus broke the food into pieces and gave it to them to hand out.

Yet, as they obeyed, God supernaturally added to what they lacked.  The mechanics of how God supplied so much food from such little amount is not explained, most likely because no one knew how it happened.  It just did!  As one person received and passed on to the other, there continued to be more to pass on.  The same God who can form man from the dust of the earth and breathe the breath of life into him is able to cause bread and fish to appear as well. 

We are told two things to help us see the magnitude of this miracle.  First, there are actually 12 baskets of leftovers when they are done.  There is probably 12 because Jesus is reminding the tribes of Israel that God has not forgotten them.  There shouldn’t even have been enough to feed The Twelve, much less the crowds.

Second, we are told that there were about 5,000 men in the crowd.  This was a typical way of counting crowds in those days.  This means with women and children there were more than that.  Now, we get a sense of what the disciples were thinking as they approached the crowds with the little food that they had.

Jesus is called the bread of heaven who is sent down from heaven to feed the souls of men.  Here the people are miraculously fed natural bread and natural fish, but the true needs of the people are much deeper and much greater than this.  It would be a tragedy to feed people’s bellies and yet leave them destitute of the truth of salvation.  Jesus cared for both.  We must learn to care for people’s natural needs, but not lose sight of their spiritual needs, and our spiritual needs.  We must quit looking at what little we have and simply pray this prayer.  “Lord, bless this little that I have so that it may accomplish the work that you intend it to do.”  May we learn to quickly say, “Yes!” to our Lord’s command to serve (even when we are tired), and trust Him to provide the increase.  Do you believe that little is much when God is in it?

You might be interested in meditating on the lyrics of the old song found here: https://hymnary.org/text/in_the_harvest_field_now_ripened.

Jesus Feeds audio

Tuesday
Mar122019

Touching the Untouchable

Mark 1:40-45.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 10, 2019.

Today’s passage deals with a man who has leprosy.  In the Bible leprosy can be connected to a similar disease today called Hansen’s Disease.  However, it is clear that the Bible uses this term for far more than what would be considered Hansen’s Disease.  It was more of an umbrella term that was used to describe a range of skin problems, and even molds and mildew on stone or wood.  The man in our story appears to have a skin problem.  How bad his case is and how long he has had it we do not know.  This much we do know.  In the ancient world, the only answer for leprosy was a miracle.  Short of a miracle, a person was doomed to a life of being ostracized from society.  Lepers had to live outside and away from the dwelling places of the uninfected and they had to warn people if they approached.

This in and of itself would be bad enough, but then we must add the human element.  Humans added to the difficulty of lepers by showing little to no compassion.  Self-preservation was the order of the day and it was often laced with a derogatory hostility.  They were often seen as deserving of a punishment from God.  It is true that the Bible records some situations where a person who was rebelling against God came down with leprosy as a punishment.  However, this does not mean that every case is the result of judgment.  In general sin is in the world because humanity is fallen.  It is a result of the general sinful condition of mankind.  Though God can direct disease as a primary force, He typically allows proximity, DNA, and chance take its course.  Though we may wish God would protect everyone, or at least children and the helpless, etc., He has a plan to make us like Him.  If we are protected from the results of our fallen nature then we will never grow to become like Him.  The first reaction of Christians to disease should be the same compassion that we see in Jesus in this passage and the attempt to do for them what we can, both physically and spiritually.

An Untouchable approaches Jesus

The event begins in verse 40 and happens somewhere outside of a city because none is mentioned and lepers were very limited in where they could go.  In Matthew this same story is recorded right after the sermon on the mount, which happens near Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives.  Therefore, it is likely that Jesus is outside Jerusalem, but we cannot know for sure.

People who had contracted leprosy were supposed to keep their distance and shout “Unclean! Unclean!” as a warning to people.  However, this man knows the reputation of Jesus as a healer and breaks protocol.

He kneels down and implores Jesus to heal him.  Now, kneeling for a person with leprosy can be a dangerous thing.  These diseases typically are caused by bacteria that attack the nerve endings and work their way to the core of the central nervous system.  The lack of feeling is as much responsible for their wounds as any cellular deterioration.  Yet, this is a desperate man.  He pleads with Jesus for help. 

If leprosy symbolizes sin then we should recognize that this man’s knowledge of his own condition, his own helplessness, and just who could help him, is symbolic of the answer to sin.  Only God could help this man wracked by the ravages of a disease.  Only Jesus had given him the hope that something could be done about his condition.  The same is true for us and our own sinful condition.  Without Jesus, we are at the mercy of sin and our selfish flesh.  They drive a wedge between us and the relationships in our lives, making us numb to life, and eventually destroying all hope.  We cannot approach Jesus with proud demands, but if we approach in brokenness and humility, we will find Him gracious and willing to help us.

Let’s analyze the statement the man makes.  First, he states the conditional, “If you are willing.”  This is enlightening.  He knows that God can heal him, but up to this point it hasn’t happened.  When he hears about Jesus, he has hope again, but still doesn’t know if Jesus is anymore willing to heal him.  There are some today who answer this question by saying Jesus is always willing.  If you are sick and come to Jesus, you should always get healed.  If not, then there is something wrong with you not Jesus.  Let’s lay this larger issue aside for a second and recognize in this moment how critical that question is to an individual.  It is often the result of countless hours of beating yourself up with the hopelessness of your situation and the idea that God doesn’t care about you.  Jesus was probably the first time that this man felt any hope that it could happen, but it hinges on the willingness of Jesus.

The second part of his statement is this.  “You can make me clean.”  It states an unwavering belief (faith) that Jesus had the power to heal him.  Of this, he seems to have no doubt.  Now, we have no indication that Jesus has healed other lepers up to this point.  He is the first recorded in the gospels.  However, it is possible because of all the blanket statements that say that Jesus healed all who were brought to him (at a particular instance).  Regardless, he believes.

The word clean is used because biblically the person with leprosy was declared “unclean.”  This was a ceremonial declaration that they could not participate in any temple rituals, whether to offer sacrifice or whatever.  Also, those who were ritually clean could not touch them at risk of becoming ritually impure themselves (note: mere touch could only cause temporary uncleanness, but contracting the disease would create a permanent uncleanness without healing).  So, the use of the term has two meanings.  The man could not be declared clean by the priests unless he was first healed from the disease.  He wants Jesus to heal him so that he can then be declared clean. Once he is clean, he can take his part in the heritage of Israel and go to the temple for worship and sacrifice.  It would open the door of access for him. 

The same is true for us today.  Without Christ, we are still in our sins and shut out from God’s heavenly temple.  Only Jesus can clean us from our sins.  However, even more than that, only Jesus can restore us to a position in which we can participate in the heritage that God has for His people today, that heritage that will take us into eternity, and the new heavens and the new earth.  Christ has not come just to rid us of the bad, but also to restore us to that good thing that we have been missing in our life.  Fellowship with God the Father and the Power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to image the Father to this broken and lost world.

Jesus responds to him

So, let’s look at the response of Jesus to such an approach.  Does Jesus respond with fear and calling for the stoning of such brazen audacity and wanton disregard for scriptural protocol?  I am not exaggerating, because historically certain rabbis have gone on record of responding with such reactions towards those with leprosy.  Of course, Jesus does no such thing.  Verses 41-42 show us a powerful scene of compassion.  We must be careful of brushing over such moments in the Scripture too quickly.  We are told that Jesus is moved with compassion.  The word for compassion speaks of a very deep emotion that comes from the guts.  We often have compassion on people, but typically it is for those who are very close to us, or the compassion is not very deeply felt.  Here is a man who has no connection to Jesus other than to be a fellow Israelite.  Yet, Jesus is moved with deep emotion for this man and his condition.

Do you believe that God is deeply moved by compassion when He looks at the world and its bondage to sin?  We only need to look at the cross and see the suffering of Jesus in order to know that He is deeply touched by our sin.  He does care.  He hasn’t abandoned you.  Put your trust in Him and He will never fail you.  He won’t do everything you tell Him to do, but He will be faithful to you to the very end.

We also see that Jesus was not afraid to touch the man.  There is great significance in this touch because Jesus did not have to touch him in order to affect a healing.  He is powerful enough to just think it and it will happen.  On top of this a person with leprosy were basically like a dead person.  If you touched a person you would be ritually unclean, and even worse, you could contract the disease.  In the case of a dead person, someone from the family has to bury the body.  However, Jesus didn’t have to touch the leper and yet He does.  Put yourself in the sandals of this man.  No one had touched him for years and here is a powerful prophet touching you in the name of Father God.  It must have been powerful.

Here is a brain bender.  Is Jesus ritually impure when He touches the man?  He would be technically.  However, the guy is made clean by the touch.  So, shouldn’t that disqualify the touch as making Jesus unclean?  Of course, I am treating this a problem for priests who are trying to follow the Law of Moses.  It is clear that when the Holy One, the Clean One of God, touches a person, the impurity of the person does not affect Him, but His purity affects the impurity.  That is how powerful the life of Christ is.  For us as humans, we cannot conquer someone else’s disease with our own health.  We can only hope to fight off the disease that they may have and could still succumb to the disease, no matter how healthy we are.  With Christ, this is not so.  The power of Jesus disintegrates the bacteria in every cell that is ravaging this man.  Jesus shows the true purpose of the purity laws.  They are not about walling us off from each other and from God, but rather about turning our eyes towards and connecting with the only One who can truly make us clean!

The man is instantly healed

Jesus was willing to heal the man, O, happy Day!  How those words must have washed over the man.  We are told that the man is instantly healed, which is saying a lot for a disease that would have been ravaging his whole body.  There would not only be destruction of the invading bacteria, but also reconstruction of destroyed cellular tissue. What a powerful healing.  So, what happens next?

Jesus warns the man not to tell anyone.  Of course, the man is extremely excited.  Why would Jesus give such a command?  Doesn’t this run counter to our duty to tell the whole world about Jesus?  Jesus is trying to minister somewhat under the radar of the religious authorities.  He knows that if He “pokes the bear” too much and too quickly then their attempts to kill Him would begin too soon.  God had a particular timing and purpose for the ministry of Jesus.  It is now clear that He needed to minister for 3 ½ years before He was to be killed.

Of course, today we are not under such a command from Jesus, although people sometimes act as if they are.  Jesus continually told His disciples that His death and resurrection would be the turning point for them to go public, declaring Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world.

Jesus also tells him to go and show himself to the priest as a testimony to them.  This was the requirement of the Law of Moses for anyone cured of leprosy.  They had to present themselves to the priests and go through several protocols that would determine whether they were truly healed or not.  Can you imagine what it must have been like at the temple that day?  Keep in mind that it is highly doubtful that the priests had ever had to perform this ritual.  There was probably a frantic scrambling around of priests trying to figure out what to do.  Yet, all of this was to be a testimony to them.  God was moving and there was a God in Israel who was making lepers clean.  Who had ever heard of such a thing (only a couple of times in the Old Testament)?  It was very rare.  The greatest testimony to the world of the power of Jesus is your own life transformed from sin and cleansed to be like Jesus.  None of us are perfect, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk in truth and righteousness before the world, and yet, also be compassionate and life-giving.  We don’t have to fear anything, even incurable diseases.  Sure, some people reject the testimony, but some are shocked and believe.  Others may tuck it in the back of their mind and it comes to fruit later.  Regardless, may we be a true testimony of Jesus Christ.

Next, we see that the man didn’t listen to Jesus and tells everybody what He did.  Here we see that even a good thing can be a bad thing if it is not exercised in wisdom.  Thus, we must learn to trust the wisdom of Christ and His representatives, the Apostles, rather than our own mind.  He knows better than us.

I said earlier that they are most likely outside of Jerusalem.  Thus, it is most likely the city that He couldn’t openly enter.  The passage tells us that Jesus goes north to minister in the Galilee region again.

Here we have a story about our broken and rotten condition without God meeting the compassion of God in Jesus.  If you are a believer today then I encourage you to remember that you were such a spiritual leper, being ravaged by sin, before you met Jesus.  He had the compassion to touch you!  He loves you.  However, we must also see ourselves in the place of Jesus.  Ask Christ to build such a deep compassion in you for those who are broken around you, whether they deserve their situation or not.  Pray that you may have such an impact upon the lost.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, then I encourage you to search your heart and see your true condition with Jesus.  You are being ravaged by a spiritual disease of sin that has deeply infected you to the core.  It will isolate you from everyone that you love, and destroy your life one cell at a time, until you are completely destroyed.  However, Jesus loves you and wants to touch you too.  If you will only fall down before Him and ask for His healing touch.  Lord, Jesus heal me of all my sin and make me clean that I may take my place in the heritage that belongs to God’s people, instead of being shut out and excluded.

Untouchables audio

Tuesday
Sep062016

Society under Siege: Of Nations & Borders

Acts 17:26-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 4, 2016.  Please note that this is the second part to a previous entry on Racism (August 28, 2016).

Last week we talked about racism, so today we are going to segue into the issue of nations and their borders.  Many have asked this question in one form or another, “Doesn’t Christian unity and the sovereignty of Christ demand that Christians work towards a global government that fixes all the evils of this world?”  Some picture this as a test, in which our passing will bring Christ back to pat us on the back saying, “Good job!”  So is it the job of Christians to build Utopia for Christ?  Within this idea are some who state that nations, borders, and patriotism are somehow racist things and should be abolished.

So what makes something racist anyways?  Typically for something to be racist, it has to be motivated by a sense of superiority.  So let us look at national patriotism.  It can be racist, but it can also not be racist.  It depends on the heart of the person.  If a person’s national patriotism is based on racism, it will become obvious in their treatment of other races.  If our patriotism leads us to attack others unprovoked, or to rejoice in their misfortunes and take advantage of them, then it is very likely racist and at least self-centered.  But, people can simultaneously be patriotic towards their own nation and respect the identity and patriotism of other nations.  So, tongue in cheek, let’s deal with that age old question, “Which person would Jesus deport?”

God created nations and boundaries

In Acts 17 verse 26 Paul was in Athens, Greece.  He reminds the wise men of Athens that there was One God who had made all the separate nations of the earth, from “One Blood.”  His purpose in doing so is to tie the fate of a Jew (him) and them.  His main point is that this One God is working out His will among all the nations, not just one.  Thus we are all in the same boat.  So why are there so many nations?  Where is Paul getting this idea from?  Well, he gets it from Deuteronomy 32:8-9.  Before we go there, let’s remind ourselves of Genesis 10.  Often called the Table of Nations, this is the first place we see nations in the Bible.  It is also important to note that Israel is not in this list simply because they didn’t exist yet.  Genesis moves from the account of the flood, to a list of the nations that developed after it.  It then gives the account of how these nations came about in chapter 11, The Tower of Babel.  It is here that mankind began to rebel against God’s command to multiply and fill the earth.  Instead, Nimrod led the people to build a great city and a great tower that would serve as a gate to the heavens (Babel meant “Gate of God”).  Thus Genesis 11:7 records God saying, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their languages, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  There was a clear judgment event of which we are not given full details.  “Let us go down there” implies a visitation of sorts.  This is the backdrop to Deuteronomy 32:8-9.  Moses is pointing back to that time when God’s judgment of mankind separated it into different people who could not understand one another.  Basically Moses is explaining to Israel their place among the nations.  At Babel, God had disinherited the nations.  If they wanted to connect with the “gods” of the heavens, then God would separate them through language and boundaries.  Notice in Deuteronomy it is God who sets their boundaries.  Although some versions say that God separated them “according to the number of the children of Israel,” this is not the best reading.  The original was “sons of God.”  Space doesn’t permit going into this deeper.  But the sons of God, were a high class of spiritual beings that were present at the creation of the earth (Job 38:7).  God delegates the nations to these beings and from the list in Genesis 10 we can recognize 70 original nations.  However, Moses tells Israel that they are God’s portion or inheritance.

Let’s put this thread on hold for now.  So it was God who broke mankind up into nations and gave them set boundaries, and their preappointed times (i.e. how long they would last).  According to Romans 13:1-4, God has given each of these nations authority over what goes on within their own borders.  Of course history is littered with examples of how this authority has been abused and exercised for ignoble purposes.  Thus these nations are accountable to God for how they rule themselves and how they interact with other nations.  In that sense each nation is sovereign.  The individuals within each nation are to respect a nation’s authority, whether their own or another.  Thus we see the example of early Christians doing their best to respect the governments of the world.  The only law we see them disobeying is one that tells them to stop telling people about Jesus.  Why?  They do so because this is precisely what Jesus had commanded them to do.  So they respect the nations in so far as those nations operate within their God given authority.

Even Israel, when they were taking over Canaan, was told to respect the boundaries of other nations.  They were not just willy nilly conquering whatever they could like mindless, blood-thirsty savages.  Deuteronomy chapter 2 records several times when God warned Moses that Israel must not mess with other nations on their way to Canaan.  God had not given them those nations.  They were to respect the authority of those nations and purchase anything they wanted to use.  In fact, Israel ended up having to go many miles out of their way out of respect for nations that basically told them not to even set a foot in their territory.

Lastly, we must recognize that God is still sovereign over the affairs of all the nations.  As Paul states in Acts 17:26, the nations have been “preappointed  times” by God.  In His wisdom He has allowed the friction and fighting between nations to change from time to time.  In fact, those original nations that are listed in Genesis 10, no longer exist by God’s decree.  Romans 13 uses the phrase that the power that are (which currently exist) have been appointed by God.  The whole theme of the book of Daniel is that the living need to know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21).  This is important because in Daniel 7 there is a vision of the “Son of Man” approaching the Ancient of Days and receiving authority and sovereignty over all the nations.  So where are we with all this nations and borders?

The Nations have rebelled against God

As we saw back in Isaiah 24:2, in previous sermons, the nations of the world have rebelled against God.  In fact they have joined a rebellion of those spiritual beings God had put in charge over them, the sons of God.  So separation into nations was followed by further rebellion and loss of any hope of belonging to God.  Yet, God had not created Israel to be a kind of special “teacher’s pet.”  Rather, through Israel He was launching a plan to take back the nations from the devil and his angels.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is the good news that Christians have for all the nations of the world, even though they have been part of a rebellion against Him.  In fact, even Israel itself was in rebellion to God.  If it were not for Jesus, the plan would not have worked. 

So, does Christian compassion for the lost cancel out nations and borders?  Well in some ways it does, but in other ways it does not.  If we are talking about who can belong to God then nations and borders lose their significance.  People from every tribe, language, and nation on earth will belong to God.  But, that does not mean that Christians are to ignore governments and their laws.

Christian compassion does not cancel out God’s prior judgments

This seems to be the anthem of many.  A true Christian will not respect governments and their borders.  Our Christian compassion must cancel out the nation’s duty to protect its people.  Yet this mentality is not based in Scripture.  The Bible teaches us that God is not taking over the governments of the world through His Church.  Rather, He is calling people from all of these nations to identify with His rule and the Kingdom that He will bring at His second coming.

It is one thing for a Christian individual to participate in government and attempt to bring it into conformity with the righteousness of Jesus.  But the mission of the Church is not to take over governments and rule.  The problem of sin and the flesh stands in the way of any governmental system being perfected.  Even churches run into the problem that no matter how hard we try to run things by God’s Word and by His Spirit, we continually have to deal with sin and flesh cropping up.  Thus a true Christian knows that this is not the time for ruling over the world.  This is the time for ruling over our own sinful nature and bringing it in subjection to the rule of Jesus.  The judgment of all the nations has already been pronounced.  It is our job to save the Rahabs, the Ruths, and the Naaman’s of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another confusion that exists is the blindness to the fact that if we exercise compassion to an extreme for one, then it leads to lack of compassion for another.  Thus in an extreme attempt to be compassionate towards all “refugees,” we can lose compassion for our own citizens, or even those refugees who need the most help.  Compassion can become a trite phrase that hold as a banner over all manner of evils.  No matter what system of compassion you set up, others will abuse that system because of sin and their evil desires.  This leads us to the real problem.

We cannot live together without laws, and yet we cannot perfect this world with better or more laws.  Our founding fathers understood this.  That is why they created a small framework of laws (i.e. showing restrain, not enamored with the power of legislation, under which men must be free to live out their lives.  But we live in a day that has been seduced by the power of the State.  We see society as a wonderful Petri dish in which we can perfect our social experiments to create Utopia.  Thus we are headed to great tyranny. 

Is it wrong for nations to have immigration laws?  The Bible says nothing against a nation protecting its borders and in fact does state that a government’s proper duty is to protect its citizens from evil.  Thus having good control of one’s border can be a righteous thing.  Does any nation do this perfectly?  No.  So are Christians justified to rebel against the nation’s immigration laws simply because they think the laws are unjust or unfair?  No.  Fair and just laws are not the litmus test given to us in Scripture for righteous, civil disobedience.  Christians are told to obey the government unless it contradicts a direct command of Christ.  Thus in the name of righteousness and compassion, we can be guilty of rebelling against Christ and becoming children of lawlessness.  Yes, Christ will hold nations accountable for how they treat their own citizens and their neighboring nations, etc.  But, He still leaves room for national and individual freedom within His governance because He is not a tyrant.  Our problem is that we allow ourselves to be seduced by the power tyrant who can “fix everything.”

Lastly, there is confusion between individual responsibility and a government’s responsibility before God.  Yes, nations should be compassionate in their governance.  But compassion for others is a command for individuals, not governments.  We can have compassion for potential immigrants and refugees without rebelling against our country’s laws.  If you don’t like them, then work to get them changed in Congress in the proper way and proper spirit.  We can also advocate for getting supplies and safe havens in their originating countries (or ones nearby).  In all things we need to have a humility that recognizes our greatest need is Jesus, not more power in the hands of a smaller group of people.

Nations Borders Audio

Tuesday
May052015

A Heart For That Which Is Lost-Part II

Luke 15:11-32

Last week we saw two quick parables about God’s heart for those who are lost from Him.  The images then were a lost sheep and a lost coin.  Today our image is going to be a son who is often called the prodigal son, which refers to the fact that he “wastes” his inheritance.  But in reality this parable should be called the parable of the lost son because the emphasis of all three of these parables is that something is lost and needs to be found. 

If you are skeptical of Christianity and the message of the Bible, I would ask you to at least hear out this one message.  In this story Jesus gives us a glimpse into God’s heart for all of mankind.

A Son Is Lost

In verses 11-16 we see the story of a young man who is tired of being in his father’s house.  It is a common story for a young man to chafe under the roof of his parents, and even m ore common is man’s chafing under the administration of God, our Father in heaven.  Throughout this story the actions are illustrating spiritual realities between God and man.

In the story the young man commits a series of very insulting actions toward his father.  First, he asks for his inheritance early.  This action would come across as wishing that your father were dead.  I would rather have the stuff my father is going to give me than to have him.  Now it is not uncommon for an inheritance to be divvied out early, but it would always be at the direction of the father.  Thus the second insult is regarding the father’s wisdom as to when the inheritance should be handed out.  So how is it that we take hold of our inheritance from God before the proper time in order to do with it as we wish?  When we ignore God’s instructions regarding what we have (our body, wealth, time, health, etc…) and then do with it whatever we wish, we are doing the same thing to God that this young man did to his father.

So the young man liquidates his inheritance and goes off to a far country.  This is the third insult.  The son separates himself as far as he can from his father and family.  All by itself it would not be an insult.  But in the context of the actions of the young man it becomes another expression of rejection.  There had already been a separation between the father and son emotionally, but now a large distance is put between them as a barrier to ever fixing this relational problem.  This is true of us with God as well.  We not only neglect relationship with God, but we often put up large barriers that keep God at a distance.  The places and people we hang out and the places we never go, often become shackles that keep us from ever connecting with God.

Although the son doesn’t realize it, the maturity of the Father’s life and decisions is part of what bothers him.  The son wants to live life more.  He doesn’t want to be restricted in his activities and unhampered by the boring things that his father has given him to do.  However, the very inheritance that he takes is the product of his father’s wisdom and maturity.  It is the blood, sweat, and tears of his father put in monetary form.  In the spiritual sense, the temptations of this life call us to cast off the boundaries that God has placed on us and to “enjoy life.”  We want to eat, drink, and be merry at the expense of the work that God has given us to do.  This is an immature mentality that does not produce good things.  Rather it squanders good things.  This lost son is known as the prodigal son because his immature decision making wastes every good thing that he ever had in his life starting with his father and family.  Those who take this path walk away from God and yet take all that he ever supplied for them.  Instead of walking in wisdom they squander all the good that God has given until it is both wasted and ruined.  You will eventually squander all that you have: money, body, mind; and you will be left with nothing to show for it in the end, nothing but spiritual emptiness that is. So the young man became penniless through living the fast and furious, high-life.

Of course this would be the exact wrong time for a severe famine to strike the area, but that is exactly what happens.  Although we often pray for God to help us escape difficult times and difficult things, they have often been the very grace of God to bring people to the point where they can see their need of Him.  As long as he had money and was spending it, the young man never lacked for people to party with him.  But now that he is broke and difficult, economic times have struck, he is alone and in great need.  The young man is so desperate that he takes a job that every Jew hearing this story would have cringed at: feeding pigs.  Spiritually, we can often let desperate times push us into worse and worse decisions, until we end up in a mess that is near impossible for us to fix.  It appears to me that Satan uses these things to herd lost people into prisons of their own making.  Even if they get to a point where they would want to return to their father, they have burnt so many bridges behind them that they won’t be able to make it back.

Perhaps the saddest line of this whole parable is this, “and no one gave him anything.”  Of course they didn’t owe him anything and times were difficult for everyone.  But when a person is in dire need and has nothing to eat, it is easy for those who have no connections to them to ignore it.  And, those who may have partied for you in the past tend to separate from you.   You might wonder why they do it, in that moment.  But it is the kind of decision that immaturity makes.  The destitute person has nothing to offer.  Only a mature and wise person will help such a one, and this young man had separated himself from such people.  It is here that the real truth hammers into the head of this lost son.  He had embraced the cold decision to separate from his father for the fires of passion in a far country.  But now that he has burned out in rapid form he is on the receiving end of others doing the same to him.  They too embrace the cold decision to leave him destitute for the sake of warming and feeding themselves.  Without God this world quickly becomes a cold hard place where people tend to connect with you only as long as they are getting something out of you.  Yet, in the end their care for you does not go beneath the surface.  Many have taken the path of the immediate decision for their own passions, only to find that no one cares for them in this place they have ended up.

A Son Repents

In verses 17-19 the story takes another turn.  The son repents of what he has done.  Now the word repent in this passage literally means to change your mind.  It is also associated with another word that means to regret something after the fact.  Thus repentance is not just an intellectual change of mind, but an emotional one as well.  Another concept that comes out is that of turning.  The young man has been going in a direction that is taking him farther, and farther away from his father.  But here we see him sorrowfully changing his mind.  Filled with remorse and regret he begins to turn away from those previous decisions and actions and begins to turn back towards his father.  He no longer sees hope further down the road of his way, but rather looks back to his father as the only hope for him now.  Have you reached that point regarding your Father in heaven?  This is true repentance on display for us to see.  When we truly repent we turn away from our decisions and actions in disgust and turn towards God in hope.

It is at this point that the young man comes to his senses, or as the passage says, “he came to himself.”  Until now he couldn’t see himself for what he really was.  He was blinded by his desire and his ignorance.  But now he sees his true condition.  But, the truth can set us free, if we will recognize it and embrace it.  It is not easy to embrace truth.  Much like embracing a cactus, it pierces our skin and causes pain.  Yet, unlike embracing a cactus, the truth can lead us in the direction of hope, wisdom, freedom and especially love.  The rebukes of life are those effects of our poor choices and the added problem of adverse circumstances that we didn’t cause.  This perfect storm mixes together and binds us to a miserable state.  But the question is, do we really see ourselves in that moment, or do we ignore it and press on the same old way?  Like a person banging their head against the wall, we can persist in the same direction in the face of evidence that it is destroying us.  Only the Spirit of God can truly help a lost person to come to their senses and mercifully He works on each person.  However, even then, when those glimpses come, we can choose to ignore it.  The Bible calls this hardening your heart.  When does a heart become so hard that nothing, not even Truth, can break through?  This is something that cannot be answered, but must be recognized.

In this moment of seeing the truth, the young man recognizes that the only path out is to humble himself and return to his father.  This is a plan born out of desperation and yet also the understanding that his father is different than those who surround him now.  Perhaps I can go back and be a slave in my father’s house.  He knows he doesn’t deserve even that, yet, it is worth a shot.  The worst that can happen is that he will be rejected and in the same condition he is in now.  These two key points are necessary to true repentance: humbling and returning.  When we can strip ourselves of all the ways of thinking, reasons, philosophies, and lusts that led us away from God in the first place, then we are able to come back to Him for help.

The young man also comes back without demand and with an attitude of unworthiness.  If we approach God with demands then we are not truly repentant.  The person who repents takes full responsibility for their choices and the effects of them.  They are asking for help rather than demanding it.  At times they are hoping against hope for help, that’s how desperate they are.  Do not be so quick to pump up the self-esteem of a person who is coming to Christ.  Yes, God loves them and yes, He will definitely restore them to the status of a son.  But it will have been over the top of my sin.  When we diminish our sin we are at the same time diminishing the greatness of God’s love and mercy towards us.  If my sin was no big deal then God’s grace is not a big deal.  If I only owe a penny to my friend, it is no big deal when he says to forget about paying it back.  But if I owed him $100,000 and he forgave the loan, I would be indebted to him immensely.

A Father And Son Are Reunited

In verses 20-32 we have the fun part of the story.  The son goes back and is received by his father.  It is interesting that the father runs out to meet his son.  It is as if to say that if we will take steps back towards God, He will come out to meet us and bring us all the way back home.  God is looking for any movement in our life back towards Him.  He isn’t waiting for us to prove ourselves.  Rather, He runs to us quickly in order to help us come all the way.

It is also important to notice the compassion of the father.  God has a great deal of compassion for sinners who repent and turn back towards Him.  Of course, He had compassion before, but it was internal.  The lost person’s heart is separated from God and wants nothing from Him.  But, when the lost heart turns back towards God, His compassion can now flow towards them.  Now that the son’s heart has changed, God can act in a way that would not have been received before.  If the father had showed up while the son was partying he would not have been received.  If he had shown up too soon, when the son was working as a feeder of pigs, the son might have willfully stayed there eating pig slop.  But at just the right time, the father runs out to his son.  This is God’s way with us.

Next the Father throws a celebration for his son.  God doesn’t just bring us back into the home.  He celebrates.  We cannot fathom the heights to which the heart of God ascends when a sinner repents, or I should say when we repent.  We should ponder long the reality of what is being shown here.  God does not just require repentance; He throws a party when we do it.

The father also blesses his son as if he was a favorite son.  He gives him the best robe, a ring, and sandals (and most likely a bath).  This is a picture of the lavish love that God pours out upon those who turn to Him.  He will not hear of us serving only as a slave.  He will not leave us in our filthy stained condition.  But, rather, He will lavish upon us those things that we do not deserve.  Believers have the privilege to delight in the robe of the righteousness of Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We can walk in the authority of His favored Son, Jesus.  We also have a future with the Father that we had thrown away.

It is at this moment that the beautiful story hits a snag.  The older brother is offended.  He hears what is going on and refuses to go into the celebration.  He begins to separate himself from the path of his father’s choice.  Up to now he has followed his father’s wisdom, but this is too much.  At that moment, he too becomes a son who is in jeopardy of becoming a lost son.  Whether he goes off to a far country or not, he does not want to join with his father.  His complaint that he never got to celebrate with his friends is flimsy.  First of all the lost brother most likely doesn’t have any “friends” at the celebration, only the father and his servants.  Second of all, the celebration is offset by the grieving that went on before.  Imagine that the celebration is like 100 happy points all in one day.  The older son can only see that he never got 100 happy points all in one day.  This isn’t fair is it?  The reality is that the day the younger son left the father experienced something like a 1,000,000 sad points.  Every day since his leaving the father had grieved with sadness over the loss of his son.  Now the 100 happy points seem small.  Now let’s continue with these happy points.  Imagine that one normal day with his elder son was like 10 happy points.  How many days had they dwelt together with no real sad points to think of and 10 happy points racking up: 10 per day, 70 per week, 300 per month, 3,652 per year.  It is so easy to discount the happiness of “normal.”   It may not be a festival celebration, but the simple meals that we have together, day after day, are not a drudgery when we love each other.

Ultimately being lost is a matter of the heart.  We have all been lost children of God.  His heart yearned for the return of each of us.  He has planned a great celebration and feast for those who return to Him.  In all of this we see God’s heart for each person who has been found and for those who are still out there squandering their inheritance.  When you first get saved you are the younger brother.  But over time our hearts can become entitled and we can become derisive towards those who turn back to God after us.  Beware of such a heart because it is a lost heart as well.

The Lost Son audio