Tag Cloud
: Mothers Abandonment Abomination of Desolation Abortion Abuse Accounting Activism Adultery Affection Affliction Afterlife Altar America Angels Anger Anointing Apologetics Apostasy Armor of God Ascension Ashamed Atonement Authority Baal Babylon Bad Baptism Betrayal Bible Bitterness Blasphemy Blessing Blessings Blindness Boasting Body of Christ Bondage Borders Born Again Bridegroom Calling Capital Punishment Celebration Character Children Children of God Chosen Christ Christian Life Christians Christmas Church Civil Disobedience Clay Cleansing Comfort Commands Communion Community Comparison Compassion Complacency Complaining Conception Condemnation Conduct Confidence Conflict Conformity Confrontation Confusion Connection Conscience Consequences Contentment Conviction Cornerstone Correction Cost Counsel Courage Covenant Creation Creator Cross Crowns Crucifixion Culture Curse Darkness David Day of the Lord Death Deception Defense Delegation Demon Demons Denial Dependency Design Desolation Destruction Devil Direction Disaster Discernment Disciple Disciples Discipleship Discipline Discontentment Discouragement Disease Disgrace Disputes Distraction Diversity Divine Division Doctrine Double Fulfillment Doubt Drought Drugs Duties Duty Earth Earthly Earthquakes Easter Edom Education Elders Elect Emmaus Emotions Employment Encouragement End Times Endurance Enemies Enemy Environmentalism Equality Equipped Eternal Eternal Life Evangelism Everlasting Life Evil Evolution Exaltation Exalted Exclusion Excuses Exorcism Expectations Eyes Failure Fairness Faith Faithful Faithful Servant Faithfulness False Christs False Doctrine False Gods False Religion False Religions Family Famine Fasting Father Fathers Favoritism Fear Fear of the Lord Feasts Fellowship Finances Fire First Coming Flesh Flock Folly Foolishness Foreigner Foreknown Forgiveness Fornication Forsaken Foundation Freedom Friends Friendship Fruit Fruitfulness Future Gentiles George Wood Giving Glory God God’s Word Godliness Godly Good Good Shepherd Good Works Gospel Gospels Government Grace Gratitude Great Commission Greatness Grief Growth Guilt Hardship Harvest Hate Hatred Healing Heart Heaven Heavenly Hedonism Hell Herod Hidden Holiness Holy Holy Spirit Homosexuality Honor Hope Hopelessness Humility Husband Hypocrisy Ignorance Image Immanuel Immigration Impossibility Incarnation Individuals Indulgences Inheritance Injustice Inner Battle Instructions Insults Integrity Intercession Israel Jerusalem Jesus Jewish Temple John the Baptist Joy Judas Judgment Judgments Justice Justification Justify Key Keys Kindness King Kingdom Kingdom of God Kingdom of Heaven Knowledge Lamp Law Lawlessness Leader Leaders Leadership Leftism Legalism Leprosy Lies Life Light Like-minded Lord Lost Love Loyalty Lust Lusts Luxury Malachi Manipulation Marriage Martyrdom Martyrs Mary Materialism Maturity Meditation Men Mentoring Mercy Messiah Millennium Mind Mind of Christ Ministry Miracle Miracles Mission Mocking Money Mothers Mystery Nations Natural Gifts Naturalism Nature Near-Far Fulfillment Necessities New Covenant New Man New Testament Obedience Obstacles Obstructions Offense Old Man Old Nature Old Testament One Mind Outcast Pagan Pain Palm Sunday Parable Parables Paranormal Parenting Passion Passover Patience Patriotism Peace Pentecost People of God Perfect Persecution Perseverance Persistence Personal Testimonies Perspective Perversion Pestilence Peter Pharisees Piety Pilate Politics Poor Position Possession Possessions Posture Power Praise Prayer Preaching Preparation Pride Priority Privilege Prodigal Promise Proof Prophecy Prophet Prophets Protection Protestant Reformation Proverbs Providence Provision Punishment Purgatory Purpose Questions Racism Reason Rebellion Rebuke Reconciliation Redeemer Redemption Refuge Regeneration Rejection Rejoicing Relationship Relationships Reliability Religion Remember Remnant Renewal Repentance Reputation Resolve Rest Restoration Resurrection Revelation Revenge Revival Reward Rich Riches Righteous Righteousness Rights Riot Risk Rivalry Robbery Roman Catholic Church Rule Sabbath Sacred Sacrifice Saint Salvation Sanctification Satan Savior Schemes Science Scripture Seasons Second Coming Secret Seed Seek Self Self Control Self-centered Self-Control Selfish Ambition Self-Righteous Servant Servant-Leadership Serve Service Serving Sexual Immorality Sexual Sin Sexuality Shame Share Sharing Shepherd Sickness Signs Signs and Wonders Simplicity Sin Sincerity Singing Singleness Sinners Slavery Sober Society Sojourner Sojourners Son Son of God Son of Man Sons of God Sorrow Soul Source Sovereignty Speech Spirit Spirit Realm Spirits Spiritual Spiritual Battle Spiritual Birth Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Growth Spiritual Rulers Spiritual Warfare Stewardship Strength Stress Strife Stumbling Block Submission Suffering Supernatural Supper Surrender Syncretism Tags: Patience Taxes Teaching Tears Technology Temple Temptation Temptations Terminal Illness Test Testimony Testing Tests Thankfulness Thanksgiving The Curse The Day of The Lord The End The Fall The Holy Spirit The Law The Way The Word The World Theology Time of Visitation Times of the Gentiles Tithing Tongues Tradition Tragedy Transfiguration Transformation Traps Treachery Treasure Tree Trial Trials Tribulation Trifles Trinity Triumphal Trouble Trust Truth Uncertainty Unity Unpardonable Sin Utopia Value Vigilance Vindication Virtue Virtues Volunteer Warning Warnings Wars Watching Water Baptism Wicked Wickedness Widows Wife Wineskins Wisdom Witness Witnesses Women Word of God Word of the Lord Works World World View Worry Worship Worth Wrath Yahweh Yeast YHWH Zion

Weekly Word

Entries in Forgiveness (6)

Sunday
Jan082017

A People Who Pray

Hebrews 4:14-16; James 5:14-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 01, 2017.

As we approach 2017, we have much to be thankful for, and yet we have much to be in prayer about.  The people of America are more and more turning away from Jesus and towards the answers of the world.  Some who say they are following Jesus are trying to walk the fence of following the world and Jesus at the same time.  When we look to the global scene, we see that the nations of the world seem primed for a great delusion.

It is important for Christians not to let these things wear down our desire to live for Christ.  In fact, it is for such a time as this that we are here.  One aspect of our duty to God is to be a people of prayer.  Now when I say this I do not mean that we should treat prayer like a cosmic, Amazon, wish list.  Though we can ask God for things, prayer is not about me getting everything that I want.  Another danger is to treat prayer as some kind of impersonal power or force that we can learn to wield.  We need to pray, but we also need to do so with proper understanding.

Prayer at its most elemental level is a child conversing with its father.  We must recognize who we are to God and who He is to us.  Though the world may look at Christians as weak, it really is a result of the commands we have from our Lord.  We are not to fight as the world fights and neither do we fight against the same things that the world fights against.  When Christians understand prayer as an amazing aspect of putting on the Armor of God, learning to wield the Sword of the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit, then we will find it to be one of our most powerful weapons against the devil and his plans.  Let’s choose to be a people of prayer today!

Come before the Throne of Grace

In the book of Hebrews the apostle is demonstrating the greatness of Jesus and what that means for us as His followers.  In Hebrews 4:14-16 we are given instruction on how the greatness of Christ opens the door for us to approach God’s throne.  It is interesting that he refers to God’s throne as a place of grace.  Earlier rabbis had recognized that God sometimes dispenses punishing judgments against people and nations, and at other times dispenses gifts of grace.  In their minds they theorized that there were two different thrones.  Your outcome depended upon which throne God was sitting on.  Early Christianity received revelation that made it clear this was not true.  In Jesus the Justice and Grace of God are satisfied in one place, one throne.  Ultimately it is a throne of grace because that is God’s intent; He wants to give grace to those who come before Him.  However, one must not be worthy of judgment to approach.  In Jesus, Christians have their judgment covered by the work of Jesus Christ.  We can walk into the fearful place of Justice and it is a safe place for us.  Christians must resist the temptation to split the justice and grace of God.  In fact it is common to focus on one to the detriment of the other.  Some highlight the grace of God to the effect that He would never judge anybody.  Others highlight the justice and righteousness of God to the effect that grace becomes non-existent.  Ours is an even more amazing message.  We can walk into the place that no man can walk, and the fearful judge will lovingly embrace us as His children.

This is why the apostle says that we should come “boldly,” or “with confidence.”  The Greek word that is translated here has the idea of “freedom of speech.”  When we enter into God’s presence through prayer, we do not have to measure our words, so as to avoid incurring the wrath of the Sovereign.  Instead, we are free to speak our hearts and minds before a loving Father.  Of course kids sometimes say dumb and even wrong things.  However, we are in a loving, safe relationship with a Father who is committed to helping us grow and mature spiritually.  Over time our prayer life will go from an infantile wish list to a far deeper intimate communication.  The devil does not want Christians praying.  Think of it as a kind of spiritual, First Amendment (AKA freedom of speech).  The devil cannot overturn this right that we have as followers of Christ.  So, how does he combat this?  He needs only to convince us to shut up, to self-censure ourselves.  He uses doubts and fears about God’s intent towards us, or even His existence, to get us to quit praying.  He sometimes uses brute force to intimidate people from believing God (I quit because it only gets me hurt).  He sometimes uses a seductive attack to get us so hungry for the things of this world that we never come to know God at all, and perhaps could walk away from Him.  Christians every day say things like this as they continue in prayerlessness:  “It does no good,” “I don’t have time,” “Something bad might happen,” or “That stuff isn’t real.”  Satan has a vested interest in discouraging prayer in your life.  But, Jesus gives us the confidence to talk with God.

Jesus is our high priest who properly mediates between us and God.  More than this, Jesus has been a man and was tempted in every way.  He knows how we feel and the difficulties we face.  The Father is not looking for ways to disqualify you and push you away.  He has gone to the cross in order to qualify you.  So, don’t let the enemy put the idea in your mind that God can’t understand how difficult it is to trust God in this world.  It was not easier for Jesus because he was God, it was actually harder.  Why would I say that?  I say that because all the things that discourage us in this world against faith would be harder for a “perfect” person.  When someone does me wrong, I get angry and may blame God.  But I am not a perfect person.  Perhaps God has allowed it because it is a discipline for me that I deserve.    It would be even harder for a perfect person to accept.  Jesus accepted the plan of the cross, and it was not easy for Him.  He knows how you feel.  For your own sake, go to Him in prayer.  No one cares for you like the Father in Heaven. 

The apostle mentions two reasons to come to the Throne of Grace:  to obtain mercy and to find grace to help in time of need.  Let’s look at mercy first.  Mercy is the remission and removal of what we deserve.  Some of the things that we suffer in life are at least partly our own fault.  It could seem spiritual to simply accept it and honor God by suffering.  However, this is not our instruction from God.  We are told to ask for mercy.  It doesn’t matter what you have done or how bad you have messed things up.  You can ask God for mercy.  In fact, salvation is a matter of asking God for mercy.  I do not deserve heaven.  My sins deserve separation from God and His goodness forever.  Yet, the prayer of repentance says, “God, I am sorry for following my sins.  I renounce them and ask for your mercy.”  Notice that it would be mercy for God to simply let us be his slaves.  But He goes above and beyond this and makes us His children.  Thus we can ask for mercy in our lives.  If God still asks us to suffer a situation, then we can yield to his decision and honor Him by what we suffer.

Grace on the other hand is the receiving of that which we don’t deserve.  We don’t merit it in any way, but God gives it anyways.  Yes, it may seem spiritual to be content with what you have and not ask for anything.  But that is not our instructions from God.  We can ask for those things that we think we need and would be beneficial.  Of course that will be a very different list as we mature from an infant spiritually to a mature believer.  If God tells me, “No,” regarding something I ask for then I can yield to His decision and trust that I don’t need it as badly as I think.  God in His sovereignty gives us things for which we did not ask.  However, He also leaves room for things that we must ask for if we are to have them.  Why?  He does so because He wants us to mature and become like our Lord, Jesus.

A righteous person prays

So now let’s go to James 5:14-16.  The main point I want to draw out of this is that a righteous person prays.  If I am lacking in prayer then I might look at this area of righteousness.  Being “righteous” in this passage cannot be talking about having our sins covered by Jesus.  All Christians, spiritually infants or mature, stand before God covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  We are all technically, absolutely righteous.  However, in this passage is the hypothetical case of a Christian who is sick because of sin in their life and need the prayer of a righteous man to deliver them.  It is my belief that the word “righteous” here refers to the fact that this believer has no issues of sin that are between them and God.  The righteous believer is not perfect and without sin.  However, they are properly dealing with any areas of sin by first resisting temptation, and second quickly confessing sin if they fail.  1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sin, that the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  This verse has been called the Christian’s bar of soap.  Many believers who are living a life of prayerlessness do so because they have areas of sin in their life that they are trying to hide.  God in His mercy is working to bring us to maturity.  When we are like Adam and Eve, hiding in the Garden full of shame, He comes out after us.  So all Christian communities need mature, righteous individuals who are in a position to pray for and help other believers.  In fact, even they need other mature believers around them.  None of us can stand on our own.   We need others who will pray with us, and at times for us.

James brings up the issue of sickness.  He actually starts with a person who is simply sick.  Most likely they have prayed for healing and nothing has happened.  At some point they should ask the elders to pray for them.  Let me just say that one thing is clear in this passage.  A righteous person prays for healing when people are sick.  There are some who believe that God does not heal any more.  There are various reasons for believing this.  But all of them are woefully lacking in the face of Scripture.  It is patently not true.  In their minds it is a mark of spiritual maturity to not ask for healing and suffer for Jesus.  I do not want to deride this idea because sometimes God does ask us to suffer something for His glory.  Yet, their default position is that there is no healing.  We are instructed in this passage that if we are sick, we should call for the elders (presumably righteous believers) to pray for us.  Of course God is not required to heal anybody.  But it is not our job to determine whether God will heal someone.  It is our “job” to simply be a child and come before the Father with a request.  Then we trust His answer.  Take note that if there is no immediate healing, it may not be a, “No.”  It could just be a, “Not yet.”  Still we operate in faith.  We ask because we believe He can heal, and may do so.  We wait in faith because we know that, as Sovereign, He gets to pick the time and way it is done.  We accept His final answer because we know that our reward and inheritance are far much more than this world.

James adds another dimension to the hypothetical situation.  He says that it is possible the sick person has sin in their life that is the reason for their sickness.  Sin is not just an issue for the lost.  It continues to be a daily issue for the believer.  Unconfessed sin will always be a barrier between us and God.  I am not saying that a Christian can lose their salvation.  What I am saying is that sin affects our communication and relationship with the Father.  It can even affect how He responds to our prayers.  In 1 Peter 3:7, husbands are told to dwell with their wives in understanding and honor them.  Peter then adds, “so that your prayers will not be hindered.”  So even the sins of how we treat one another can become barriers to our prayers.  Yes, God hears our prayers, but in a sense He is saying, “I want you to deal with this sin first, before I consider these other requests.”  The requests are unable to be dealt with.  Now confession is ultimately between man and God.  But when our sin is against other people then God tells us to make it right with them first (if that is still possible).  Even then, there are times when private sins become such a stronghold in our life and such a barrier between us and God that we need to confess to spiritually mature people.  Confession has a way of breaking those chains and giving us an accountability partner.  Notice that confession is not to a particular office in the church.  Confession can be to any Christian, but it is most effect when to a spiritually mature believer, regardless of whether they have an official title or not.  Thus a righteous person prays for forgiveness when people have sinned.  In fact, they are more able to do so because they have been praying for their own forgiveness and keeping short accounts with God.

We will close with the last part of verse 16.  “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  This phrase is a bit tricky to translate.  There is one word that often is translated as “effectual, fervent.”  This one word has the sense of that which is working, thus the word “effectual.”  When we think of prayer working, we typically think of getting what we ask.  However, the meaning is not so simple here.  The emphasis is on the fact that prayer is something that is real and is accomplishing a real work when a righteous person prays.  This interaction with God has more to do with God accepting the prayer than it does with Him giving us exactly what we ask for.  The prayer of a righteous person is not hindered, but is getting through to God.  God is not refusing to hear the prayer, until they deal with sin.  He is hearing the prayer and giving it consideration.  Such prayer is powerful because the One receiving it is able to do above and beyond anything we ask.  A righteous person sometimes gets an answer from God that is essentially, “Not yet.”  They may even get the answer, “No.  My grace is enough for you.” This verse is reminding us how powerful the prayer of a righteous person can be.  It is as powerful as the God to whom we pray, which is omnipotent.  Much of a righteous person’s spiritual walk is in this relationship of prayer, and discovery of the heart of God.  An immature child stomps their feet demanding exactly what they ask for.  A mature person draws closer to the Father to discover what it is He is concerned about.  May we be a people of prayer.  But even more, may we pray those prayers as a righteous person who is maturing in their relationship with the Lord.

A People Who Pray audio

Monday
Apr252016

A Lamb To The Slaughter

Luke 23:26-34.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 17, 2016.

The title comes from a phrase in Isaiah 53:7.  The powerful descriptions in Isaiah 53 are hard to avoid.  They point to the Messiah, the ultimate Servant of the Lord, being killed for the sins of Israel and of course the Gentiles as well.  The Lord would lay all our sins upon him.  This is what John the Baptist was pointing to when he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  Isaiah goes on to state that “by his knowledge My righteous servant will justify many.”  The passage that we will look at today is exactly what Isaiah and John the Baptist were prophesying would happen.

Throughout the last 2,000 years it has been a tendency to focus upon the horrendous pain and suffering that our Lord endured in the twelve plus hours leading up to his death.  This is to point out the great love that God has for mankind.  However, we will see today that Jesus himself puts the emphasis upon the judgment that was still in the future.  In other words, no matter how bad you think this judgment of me is, the judgment that is coming upon Israel (and by extension the world) is far worse.  It is important for us today to be amazed at the love of Jesus towards us.  Yet, it is equally important to recognize the judgment that looms over the world like an overhanging cliff that is about to collapse.

The Judgment Of Jesus Is Carried Out

We have seen Jesus moved about from Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate.  It is clear from the account that Pilate is done arguing with the Jewish leaders and thus gives judgment that Jesus is to be executed.  In Luke’s gospel we are not given long accounts of the suffering of Jesus.  In fact, Luke skips the whipping that the Roman soldiers gave Jesus.  Another important fact that is glossed over by Luke is that it was customary for those who were to be crucified to carry the cross beam that they would be nailed to from the place of judgment to the place of execution.  Some scholars believe this could have been up to 2 miles since the place of execution was outside the city.

It is in this that Luke takes note of the need for another to carry the cross of Jesus.  The most logical explanation for this is that Jesus physically is unable to carry the cross all the way.  At some point, Jesus begins to fail and it is then that the soldiers press Simon of Cyrene into service.  He was coming into town from the area around Jerusalem.  Now Cyrene is a city on the coast of what we call Libya today.  This is hundreds of miles away.  Most likely Simon was coming into the city for the feast celebrations, having spent the evening in a place of lodging nearby.  The fact that the Gospel of Mark mentions the names of his sons has led most scholars to contend that Simon had become a believer and joined the Jerusalem Church.  This sets up an interesting parallel.  Seemingly by accident, Simon runs into the Light of the World on his way to Jerusalem and has his eyes opened.   Whereas later we see Saul of Tarsus running into the Light of the World while leaving Jerusalem.  This theme of people having an encounter with Jesus and coming to believe in him, even without seeking it out, is seen regularly in the Scriptures.  There is also an irony that Simon helps Jesus in a physical way, so that the Lord can help him in a spiritual way.  Each and every one of us could die for our sins, but that would not save us.  It would merely give proper payment.  However, the death of Jesus allows those who believe in him to have eternal life.  There is a time when each of us who are trying to carry our load in life, may begin to physically, emotionally, or even spiritually fail.  We need others who will come alongside of us and help us to do what we need to do.  Just as Jesus needed help in this way, so we need it all the more.

By now word has spread and a large crowd from Jerusalem has gathered with a contingent of women who are mourning the approaching execution of the one who was thought to be the Messiah.  Jesus was the righteous teacher who was doing amazing things everywhere he went.  Yet, now he is to be killed?  While they are mourning Jesus gives warning to his mourners of their own coming judgment.  He does not seek their pity, though they are right to mourn him.  Rather, he is pointing them to where their pity would be better suited.  It is as if he is saying, “You think this is bad?  You should see what is coming for this whole nation.  That is what you should be weeping over.”  This ominous warning points to something that would normally be seen as being cursed (childlessness).  The days ahead will get so bad that that which is normally a curse will be a blessing.  In a similar way he points out that things will get so bad that people would rather be crushed by a mountain then face it.  Interestingly, this same figure of speech is seen in Revelation 6:16 where the kings of the earth and the mighty men cry out for the mountains to cover them, “for the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  We often point out how horrible the cross was, but it was an event that was horrible for one man.  First the judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (a national scale) and then the coming judgment, which will be global, each dwarf the physical and psychological trauma of Jesus.

Jesus then says, “If they do these things in the green wood what will be done in the dry?”  This figure of speech is intended to warn of something worse to come.  It does so by referencing green wood versus dry wood.  Green wood does not burn very well and can be easily put out, whereas, dry wood is very dangerous and creates a far worse and hard to manage fire.  Jesus is a righteous man in that sense he is green wood.  He is more than connected to a thriving root system.  Jesus is life itself.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  Thus, Jesus is warning that if this is what happens to the green wood, it will be much worse when the dry branches (those who have rejected God and have no life in themselves) are judged.  This reminds me of Isaiah 57:1-4.  “The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil.  He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.  But come here you sons of the sorceress, you offspring of the adulterer and the harlot!  Whom do you ridicule?”  The offspring of the sorceress, adulterer, or harlot is one who has grown up following an evil path and being taught evil things as normal.  Of course they can learn to repent and turn towards God, but that is not the point in this passage.  The point is that we should not mourn so much the passing of the righteous.  Things will go well for them.  However, the unrighteous will receive the wrath of God.  There is nothing wrong with mourning the passing of a righteous person, even more so the Son of God.  However, that is not the end for The Righteous One and those who have believed on Him.  They will be exalted by the Father and given all things.  However, the wicked will be taken in hand by the wrath of God and find their place in the Lake of Fire.  Do we weep over the coming judgment of the Lost?  God does.

Next we see that Jesus is crucified in public shame.  The place where Jesus is to be crucified is called the Place of the Skull.  The Latin is Calvaria (where we get Calvary), the Greek is Kranion (think cranium), the Aramaic is Golgatha.  All of these different terms are pointing to the same thing that will happen.  A human’s head that represents the essence of the person’s identity is going to be turned into a skull.  It is a place that reeks with death and the Devil’s power.  As a lord of death, the Devil feels that he has won, but in truth it is about to become the public shame of the devil and his angels that is highlighted before the world.  Jesus is crucified in a vile way and hanging between two other vile offenders, as if he was the worst of them.  It is as if the Devil is daring anyone to choose to be on the side of such a man.  Everyone is going to have to choose sides.  You are either with the great men and rulers of this world, or you are with the lowly Jesus.  Will you let go of the pomp, power, and pride of this world and embrace the public shame of Jesus?  If you do your future will be eternal life.  The other choice leads to destruction and shame.

In this context the next words of our Lord seem impossible.  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  The Lord demonstrates that he practices what he preaches.  They speak death and execution to him, but he speaks love and forgiveness towards them.  Thus Jesus displays perfect righteousness.  As he taught in Luke 6, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.”  It is hard to accept such words at face value.  However, when people do accept them, they usually do in the hopes that such actions will win them over.  In fact, this argument is used against the West in regard to Islam.  If we loved them more, then they wouldn’t pick up weapons and bombs.  They wouldn’t hate us so much.  At the cross, such trite is proven a fairy tale.  Jesus loved those who were killing him, not because he hoped they would stop, but because he knew they wouldn’t.  Jesus will die and his enemies will live on.  Yet, he still offers them righteousness.  He basically makes the case for manslaughter to the Father.  They don’t realize that they are offending the God of heaven and heaping up judgment against themselves.

So what was God’s answer?  Well, for 40 years following the crucifixion, God sent the apostles of Jesus to minister with miracles and the truth.  They offered their fellow Israelites forgiveness in the name of Jesus; “whosoever would” could have it.   Yet, ultimately the answer is this, “If they will turn from their sins and put their faith in Jesus, then I will forgive them completely.”  This is the grace and love of our Lord.

Lamb to the Slaughter audio

Wednesday
May272015

Faith, Duty and Being Offended

May 24, 2015-Luke 17:1-10

Today’s passage follows the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  The parable was given to the Pharisees, but at this point Jesus turns back to his disciples to instruct them on obedience in these matters.  It is easy to treat the instructions of Jesus as optional, and only for those who want to move to higher levels of discipleship.  But in this passage Jesus drives home the importance of listening to him.  When people live for themselves and without thought for others, we end up sinning against each other.  Eventually those sins heap up on top of each other and create large separations between us.  In the last chapter Jesus spoke of how wealth could be used to bless people around us in His name.  But in this chapter Jesus deals with the other side of the equation: when you are the one being overlooked or sinned against.

Make Sure You Are Not A Cause Of Stumbling

It is very easy in this area to only focus on the sin of other people.  But Jesus warns against causing each other to stumble.  In 1 John 2:10 it says, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”  When we truly love one another we will rid ourselves of those things that get in each other’s way.  Yet, when something does happen, we can let it bother us so much that it impacts our ability to trust God and obey Him.  Thus Jesus puts this in very strong terms; as a command and as a warning.

So what is meant by “offense” in this passage?  In verse 4 it is to sin against your brother.  The word that is translated “offense” here is more than just being offended by someone.  It is used to refer to anything that causes a person to be trapped or to fall.  It was used to refer to the stick that triggers a trap.  The Bible also refers to a “stone of offense (or stumbling)” in which the same word is used in regards to causing someone to fall and be injured.  Here it is being used of spiritual matters.  When we sin against each other we are causing a situation where the other person is tempted to fall into a trap of sin with us.  Jesus says that it is impossible for these offenses not to happen.  In fact it is impossible for us to live in this world without being an offense to others.  Some are an offense because they could care less about pleasing God and living for Him.  However, we can be an offense even when we want to please God, simply because we have a heart of flesh.  Christ is calling those who want to follow him to learn to deal with sins that inevitably crop up between them and others.

Jesus then pronounces a woe upon those who offend others.  This is a warning that when we walk this way (offending each other) we are headed for grief.  Like the Rich Man we will wake up one day to find ourselves weeping and crying for mercy.  Jesus gives very stern warning to those who do not take these matters seriously and learn to restrain themselves.  Even though Jesus does not flesh out what the woe would detail, it is clear that it can involve a number of things.  How we treat one another can affect our eternal destinies.  But, it can also affect our lives in the here and now.  It can bring grief to every one of our relationships and spoil the good it is intended for.  In fact, many times people who reject being a part of Christ’s Church do so out of hurt and bitterness.  They see Christians sinning against each other without dealing with it and it causes them to reject Jesus.  What a woeful condition we can find ourselves in when we reject God’s way and follow our own.

Ultimately Jesus is challenging us to pay attention to ourselves.  It is our tendency to be so focused on the sin of others that we pay little attention to our own.  We are told to “pay attention” to ourselves.  Inspect, and analyze how you treat others and how you respond to them.  Make sure there is no cause for stumbling within you.  It would be good to recognize that even if someone sins against us, there is a secondary temptation for us to sin against them.  Thus, especially in this situation we need to watch ourselves carefully.

Now the way Jesus lays this out, it doesn’t seem that there is much mercy.  I believe he puts it so sternly because our pride does not need coddled.  Yet, we know that God does not just warn us of woes, but also calls us to take advantage of the grace He has provided in order for us to deal with our sin correctly.  The heart of this instruction is that we work on not sinning against each other and that we exercise mercy with each other regardless of what side of the problem we find ourselves.  When we think of the rich man and Lazarus we clearly see the warning for the rich man.  But, Lazarus was being tempted to fall and to be trapped in the sin of bitterness and unbelief.  He could have refused to serve a God who would allow such a horrible life to happen to him, and yet, he clearly kept his faith in God.  What a sad turn to this story it would be if Lazarus would have been filled with such bitterness and hatred that he found himself right beside the rich man in the fires of Hell.

Reconcile With Those Who Sin Against You

Though Jesus doesn’t use the word reconcile here, the two instructions he does give to those who are sinned against are what help believers overcome the separating influence of sin and keep themselves tied together in relationship.  Sins separate, but forgiveness overcomes that separation.  Thus God does not give us any excuses to pull away from working things out with each other.

So, verse 3 gives the first instruction to you when someone sins against you.  Rebuke them.  Now that word sounds pretty harsh, but it simply means to correct them.  It is easy when we are hurt to lash out angrily or to retreat silently.  Neither one is a godly response to sin.  The believer is under a command from the Lord to face it when others sin against us and to deal with it.  Yet, correcting someone is a skill that needs to be honed.  Just as you were not born able to walk, so you are not born able to correct.  Sure you can do it, but are you causing more damage than good?  In this case we can be so right, in that we were sinned against, and yet so wrong, in that we rebuke harshly and angrily.

Now let me remind us that not all things are big enough to merit a rebuke.  We cannot expect people to speak and act perfectly all the time.  Little things that are merely aggravations can be and should be overlooked.  1 Peter 4:8 reminds us, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  Now that doesn’t mean we are covering up sins.  But rather we cover it much like we would cover a bill for which someone else is short the money.  Also in Proverbs 19:11 it is said this way, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.”  Thus discretion is found in thinking about ourselves and how we need to give mercy to others that we expect from them.

So how do we properly correct each other?  Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love with one another.  Love is that guiding principle that should surround our decision to correct someone.  This takes some serious time spent in prayer asking for wisdom as to what to say and for control over our own spirit.  I can sin against my brother in how I rebuke him.

Thus we are to correct and then forgive our brother.  Now forgiveness is a skill that needs to be honed as well.  We all have emotional barriers to overcome in order to truly forgive someone.  When we truly forgive someone we release them from the desire for justice we could hold over them.  When I see them their sin is no longer a part of the picture because I have released them from it.  Now this passage assumes a brother repents.  What do you do if he won’t repent?  You have to go to Matthew 18 for that information.  But let me just say that it follows the same spirit of this passage.  You must reconcile with your brother as far as is possible from your side.  There is no choice, if you are going to follow Jesus, and you are never free to flee from reconciliation.  Thus in Matthew 18 we first correct our brother in private and without telling others what happened.  If the brother rejects us then we widen the circle and bring in one or two others to try and help us reconcile.  If he still refuses to repent then we take it before the Church and its elders.  If a person still refuses to repent even when faced with a whole church that is calling him to repentance he would be treated as if he wasn’t a believer.  Of course at any time he could repent and rejoin the assembly.  But, until then, he would not be received as a brother.  Why?  If he was truly following Jesus he would have no problem repenting.  Today we can get offended and go down the street to another church.  This is a weakness in the church today.  Instead of being reconciled and becoming more like Christ, we are fractured and become more like the spirit of this world.  God forgive us for running from reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

In fact Jesus goes on to instruct us not to limit our forgiveness.  Even if your brother sins 7 times in one day and continues to ask forgiveness, we must forgive him.  There is no wiggle room to deny the repentant forgiveness.  We are under a command.  Now seven times is amazing to us.  We would question such a person’s sincerity.  However, the truth is that our flesh questions their sincerity on time number one.  If he is not sincere then his master (Jesus) will take care of that.  The rich man did all manner of religious things in his life, but eventually his lack of sincerity caught up with him.  Quit worrying about a person’s sincerity and start worrying about your own soul.  Yes, we can even rebuke a person regarding their sincerity or lack thereof.  But we still must do so in order to reconcile and out of love.  Now, seven is not some lucky number that allows us to quit forgiving.  Elsewhere, Jesus gives the number 70X7, i.e. 490.  The numbers are really meant to be so incredulous so as to cure us from counting.  Love keeps no record of wrongs, i.e. it doesn’t keep count.  Instead it speaks the truth in love and forgives.  If you limit your forgiveness to others, do you not limit it to yourself?  If you are merciless to others are you not asking God to be merciless to you?  Think on this.

We Have A Duty To God

Now Jesus ends on a note of duty.  He does so particularly because his disciples are amazed at what he expects of them.  “Increase our faith.”  Now surely this is a prayer we all should pray.  However, that is not what they are doing.  It is the equivalent of saying, how in the world do you expect us to do that!  Lord, I don’t have enough faith to do that!  Now before we talk about duty let us all understand that God wants us to do the right thing for more than duty.  He would rather we obey Him out of love for Him and also a love for His character, and the way that He does things.  Our obedience is best when it is the cry of faith, “I want to be like you, Lord!”  Yet, underlying this higher motivation must be a foundation understanding that I am also duty bound.  Like a foundation is to a building, so duty is to our desire to be like God.  When a hurricane strikes and wipes out a house, it leaves behind a foundation.  So, there are times when our desire to be like God and our love for him is wiped away in the storm and trial of temptation.  Yet, there must always be a foundational response of duty before God.  If you are a follower of Jesus then you have become a servant of God, duty-bound to Him.  Duty can save us when our own love fails us.  But, we must never settle for duty as the sole motivation.  We must build upon this foundation a whole structure of love and desire to be like Jesus.

Now the instructions of Jesus make it clear that the disciples do not need their faith increased.  You do not need great faith to follow these commands.  You need only a small amount of faith.  The amount of faith is not the problem.  It is my own stubborn pride.  The problem isn’t that I can’t believe and do it, it is that I don’t want to do it.  It is simple to do and yet hard because my flesh fights it so.

Yet, even our pride and wounds can be overcome.  The mulberry bush in this passage represents the root and bush of the sin of unforgiveness and bitterness that can grow in our hearts.  If we even have a mustard seed of faith in Jesus we can send our own bitterness into the sea of God’s forgiveness.  If we even trust Jesus one speck we could free our brother from his sins against us.  It is only our pride that stands in the way of forgiving another person.  So why am I so prideful?  And, if it causes me to reject the command of Jesus, am I truly trusting and believing upon Him?

Thus, the call to duty is given by Christ.  There is a reward for those who will serve him in this matter.  Yes, a reward in the life to come, for sure.  However, there is a reward in this life.  We will be enabled to become one with a spouse, and to raise a family.  We will be enabled to build a church body that brings honor to God.  We will be able to be a peaceful influence everywhere we go and enjoy the fruits of brotherly love rather than the bitterness of selfish endeavors.  We will be rewarded according to what masters us.  So who is your master, your own fleshly pride or Jesus?

Being Offended mp3

Tuesday
Dec162014

The Sin of Hypocrisy

Today we will be in Luke 12:1-12.  We apologize that the audio is not available for this sermon.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had been speaking in particular to the Pharisees and Lawyers.  Here he turns directly to his disciples in the midst of a chaotic scene that had developed around them.  His directives to them can help us to see how these religious leaders could be so blind to the Truth of what God had actually called them to do.  Well the answer to that has to do with Hypocrisy.   This is a Greek word that originally referred to the dialogue that would occur between actors.  But over time it became associated with acting itself.  This quickly was used with the negative connotation of someone who wasn’t being real, they were acting out something other than what they actually were; thus, a hypocrite.  These religious leaders had become great actors (hypocrites).  But their inner life was anything but godly and they constantly talked about being like God, but never actually doing it.  So, today, we use this word to speak of those who say one thing but do another.  Of course it has become an easy pejorative to throw around.  What I mean is this.  Just because someone sins doesn’t mean they are automatically a hypocrite.  Some refuse to try and live as the Bible tells us because they don’t want to be hypocrites.  However, this is actually hypocrisy.  With their mouth they are testifying that they want to be a “good person.”  Yet, with their actions they reject God’s direction in this area.  The truth is that they only want to follow their own ideas.  Let’s look at the passage.

Beware of Hypocrisy

Now in verse 1 it tells us that the crowd had increased greatly and that people were beginning to “trample” one another.  It is possible that people were actually getting stepped on and hurt.  However, this word was also used metaphorically to refer to rudeness, insults, and overall selfish activity at the expense of others.  There is an irony pointed out that they were trampling one another in order to get near and hear Jesus, who would be teaching them to love one another.  Did they really want the Word of God?  How can one justify trampling their brother in order to get something from God?  Of course this is the way of the world and to be expected of humans.  But it is not the way of God and should not be acceptable in the life of one who claims to love Him.  When you look at the angry, verbal attacks coming from the Lawyers and the people trampling each other to get closer, it becomes clear that there is some evil spirits at work here.  This is not as an excuse for the people, but as an extra dimension to what is stirring them up.  Jesus has spoken truth to them and they don’t like it.  Their flesh and a spiritual enemy is stirring them up so that they do not receive what Christ has to offer.  Things are getting ugly quick.  It is here that Jesus teaches his disciples to beware Hypocrisy.

He does so by using the imagery of yeast or leaven.  When you add a little bit of yeast to a lot of dough it will cause the whole loaf to become fluffy.  Now this is good if you like fluffy bread.  But it is a picture of how sin and hypocrisy work.  Whether we are talking about a group or an individual, to allow hypocrisy to continue without rooting it out will eventually affect the entire person or group.  Now the word “beware” is to watch out for something, and to keep it in front of you so as not to forget about it.  Thus we must be vigilant within ourselves and not put up with “small” amounts of sin.  This is how hypocrisy starts.  We make excuses for small amounts of sin and yet pretend as if they don’t exist or matter.

Next Jesus warns that all hidden things will be brought to light.  Now many things are brought to light in this life, however, not all things.  Still, imagine if everything you said in private or thought in secret would end up on your FaceBook page.  We can be thankful that life doesn’t work that way.  Yet, Christ warns us that we should not “bank” on secrecy and privacy.  God has an interest in making all things public because everyone of us plays the hypocrite throughout our life.  If it wasn’t for the reality of God we would all be completely consumed by it.  Yet, eventually we will all stand before God one day.  God knows all things.  Our hidden thoughts and secret counsels are completely open to Him.  He will bring forth judgment upon our life.  If we don’t want to be convicted and exposed as a hypocrite before Him then we will have to judge our own hidden things now.  What I mean by that is this.  God calls all who want to follow Him to live lives of recognizing their own sin, confessing it to Him, and asking for forgiveness.  This “pre-judging” of our own sin, if done with faith in the mercy of Jesus, will allow us to avoid the judgment of God.  Also, if I will not judge myself now, then God will judge me later.  Either way, the truth is going to come out.  This should affect the life of anyone who believes that Jesus means what he says.

Thus we should be careful what we say in secret, whether to another or to ourselves mentally.  The disciples of Jesus are called to be those who guard their tongue.  A part of ourselves that James says is “a world of iniquity….and it is set on fire by hell.”  Most people fear private speech only because of the threat of a tyrannical government.  But God challenges us to think higher.  We guard our words because God Himself has vowed to bring them all to light.  What is going on in the secret place of your heart and mind, your inner sanctum?  Jesus warns us to not play the hypocrite, but rather bring those areas under control.  This naturally leads to the problem of those who fail to heed this advice and choose the path of Hypocrisy.

Don’t Be Afraid of Hypocrites

Hypocrites are able to worm their way into many positions of authority and power.  The temptation is to let our fear of them be the only thing that affects what we say or do.  This might keep us from speaking, but it will not put out the seething inferno that is ignited in the heart of those under tyranny.  I don’t say this to promote tyranny.  Just to point out that fighting against tyrants may bring relief in the life of many, but it will never make us more like God.  In fact, many rebels who have thrown down tyrants have in turn become tyrants themselves.  Jesus moves to the issue of the fears of our heart that lead to compromise and hypocrisy.  He says point blank that they will seek to kill his disciples.  Here we already see their anger against Jesus.  Elsewhere Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before you.”  When we follow Christ we are called to be the opposite of a hypocrite.  Instead of acting out a pretend role we are actually living the life of one who is a warrior against their own sin.

Like Cain with Abel, the hypocrite’s beef is not with you.  Rather, it is with God.  However, since they can’t take it out on God they take it out on you.  Many hypocrites started out wanting to be like God and stay true to the principles of their heart.  But fear of the hypocrites they ran into along the way caused them to compromise and eventually they became a hypocrite themselves.  At this self-loathing point one either drops the charade or angrily defends their portrayal of righteousness.

Yet, Jesus reminds us that these hypocrites are limited.  They can only kill your body.  Now this is not to put down the horrendous things that men have done to each other.  Torture and hideous deaths are not just things of history.  They are our everyday news.  Yet, Satan uses our fear of being limited and weak as a means to bully us into playing the hypocrite.  Jesus tells us that this can only go so far.  Ultimately, they cannot control what you think and believe in your heart.  Even though they kill you, they can do nothing more.  Yet, God is greater than these hypocrites or any man for that matter.  He can not only kill you but destroy your body and soul in hell.  If it is fear that motivates you then fear the right thing.  Don’t give up in the short-term at the expense of the long run.

Now God wants us to be motivated by something better than fear.  If we are rejecting Him then we need a healthy dose of the reality that His power over our lives is greater than all the other things we fear in life.  But if we want to be His disciples then he wants us to know his love and care for us.  Thus God’s love is the prime motivation for not being a hypocrite.  If you love God then you will flee hypocrisy like Ebola.  Jesus softens the previous words about hell, by pointing to God’s desired intentions toward them.  God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  When you are surrounded by hypocrites it always feels like God has forgotten you.  You are tempted to give in.  Yet Jesus reminds his disciples that God has not forgotten them.  Just like the Father did not forget His Son who was hanging on the cross feeling abandoned, which was proved by the resurrection and ascension.  So God hasn’t forgotten you, no matter what you are going through.  He also points out that we are valuable to God.  If he notices when even one sparrow falls, does he not notice you?  Of course He does.  You are more valuable to Him than many sparrows.  He counts the very hairs on your head; that’s how much He cares for you.  We can always know that God has not forgotten us because of the Truth that we are valuable to Him.  How do we know this?  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  Jesus hanging on the cross is God’s ultimate picture to you of how much He loves and cares about you.  So don’t be unfaithful to Him and play the harlot with other hypocrites.  Rather endure their insults and persecutions and keep your eyes upon the character and will of God.  When the righteous are put to death, God is not forgetting them nor are they merely expendable.  Rather, they are doing exactly what Jesus himself did: testifying with their dying breath on behalf of the love of the Father.  Hypocrites live as if God cannot see them.  But believers live knowing they are always in His sight.

Speak as Christ before All Men

In verses 8-12 we have several words that deal with speaking.  Hypocrisy is generally revealed through the things we say in private versus those in public.  The word “confess” means to acknowledge, to agree with, or to speak the same as another.  The word “deny” means not to speak for or on behalf of another.  The term “blaspheme” means to speak evil against another.  Lastly the word “answer” means to speak in defense of one’s self or another.  This is why I summarize the section with the phrase “speak as Christ before all men.”  We are not only to acknowledge the Truth of Christ, but we must also agree with it and speak it exactly as he did.  We are to be Christ living through our lives.

Thus in verse 8 Jesus tells his disciples, who in their fight against hypocrisy would be struggling with these temptations, that if they will confess him before men (speak the same thing as he and be identified with what he said) that Jesus will acknowledge them before the angels in heaven.  Now in Matthew 10 Jesus says the same thing only saying that he will acknowledge them before his Father in heaven.  Thus the idea is that our confession here on earth before men will be vindicated by Jesus in heaven.  There is a timing issue here that is not specified.  In the now, it seems that heaven is silent as we suffer and are persecuted.  Yet, we are told that Jesus is interceding on our behalf before the Father.  He is speaking up for us and acknowledging us.  This ought to give us great hope to know that whatever we face, God is in control; even if it be a cross.  Yet, when we die we will stand before the Father.  He could bring out a long list of our sins and failures.  Yet, Jesus promises that He will acknowledge us and speak up on our behalf.  “He belongs to me.”  Thus judgment will be avoided by those whom Jesus acknowledges.  Yet the alternative is true.  If we refuse to speak on his behalf (whether out of being neutral or from rejecting him) he will refuse to speak on our behalf.  Thus we will face judgment without the forgiveness of Christ.

Next Jesus gives an interesting view into our sins against God Himself.  Jesus says that those who sin against him will be forgiven.  The implication is that those who ask forgiveness will receive it.  He is not saying it is okay to sin against him.  Only that it will be forgiven to those who ask it.  We can think of the Pharisee Saul/Paul here.  He fought against the Christians and the testimony of Christ and yet, when confronted by Jesus himself, Paul repented and received forgiveness.  Jesus then warns against blaspheming the Holy Spirit, i.e. speaking evil against the Holy Spirit.  This leads us to what has been called the “unpardonable sin.”  Ultimately the unpardonable sin is completely rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, which is pointing us to Jesus.  If you are afraid that you may have committed the unpardonable sin then it is pretty clear that you haven’t.  I say this because sensitivity to sin is a sign that the Holy Spirit is still working in your heart and you are open to Him.  I do not believe Jesus is saying that one cannot ever reject the witness of the Holy Spirit.  Otherwise, a story like Paul’s would not make sense.  When Jesus confronted Paul with his sin of rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, Paul repented, changed his thinking and life.  Yet, many of his generation refused to accept the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.  They persisted to the point that they could not receive the very thing that was sent to save them.  If we die making our stand against His witness then we cannot be forgiven.  That is what many of the Pharisees did.  Yet, there was still hope for them if they would repent and believe.  The Holy Spirit would especially be working once Christ was resurrected and ascended into heaven.

Lastly, Jesus reminds them that when they are persecuted they are not supposed to worry about what they will say.  Jesus knew that those who speak with him in their life would eventually face persecution.  He comforts us with the reality that we need not worry how we will defend ourselves or even Christ.  We needn’t worry because the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say in the moment.  Though we won’t be able to see Him, God Himself will be present with the followers of Jesus and in the moment of their greatest loneliness He will fill their mouths with the words to say.  We see this evidenced in Scripture when Steven is martyred.  Can we trust God and live open unhidden lives before Him and each other?  Only by dying to self and following Jesus is it possible.  Let us fervently love one another in truth.