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Weekly Word

Entries in Forgiveness (8)

Wednesday
May292019

A Warning against Blasphemy

Mark 3:28-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Memorial Day Weekend, Sunday, May 26.

Today we are going to talk about the Unpardonable Sin.  Many people who become Christians live under a fear of an inner accusation, which tells them that they can’t really be saved because they did something so bad that God won’t forgive it, no matter how repentant they are.

Our passage is short and follows on the heels of the response of Jesus to the Scribe’s accusation that he is in league with the Demon Lord, Beelzebub.

The general statement about forgiveness

After showing that it is illogical to think that Satan would cast out his own demonic minions, Jesus gives what can only be seen as a warning.  Is he saying that the Scribes had already gone too far and could no longer be saved, or is it simply a warning that they are flirting with a serious offense?  That would seem to be the question.  Before we get into the unpardonable sin, though, we should spend some time talking about the powerful statement Jesus first gives in verse 28.

It is an amazing statement about our sins and blasphemies, and the possibility of their forgiveness.  Let’s first notice that it opens with the word “Amen.”  This is usually translated as truly or assuredly (KJV = verily).  This is a Hebrew word that means something is firm and dependable, along with everything else this implies.  We are most used to its use at the end of a statement, or as an affirmation of the hearers to a statement that is truth.  So, to preface a statement with this word is to in a sense amen your own statement.  It functions as a form of emphasizing the importance of what one is going to say.

So, what about our sins and blasphemies?  Jesus states that God is ready and able to forgive them.  That is an important statement.  Sin is the many ways that we miss the mark or goal that God has for us in this life.  It is not just an inability to hit the target, but also our partiality to missing it on purpose. Interestingly, the word that is used in the Greek is a modified form of the word for sin and adds the sense of including even the results of our sins.  Thus, it points to our sinful actions (whether in thought, word, or deed) and the sinful results they produce in us and others. 

Blasphemy on the other hand is a particular kind of sin, or a subset of it.  It means to slander someone or speak in a way that intends to bring harm and injury to them.  It is not about hurting someone’s feelings, but about our intention to hurt their reputation, their place in society, and even their physical well-being.  This can be done against another person, but also against God Himself.  Though we don’t use this word in our society, we probably should, since much of our politics and social discourse consists of lots of slander, whether intentional or not.  At best our politicians throw mud against their opponent hoping it will stick to them in your mind and heart.  Beware of being drawn into the blasphemies of others for their selfish motivations and your own. 

Now, as horrible as sin and blasphemies can be, the statement is that they can be forgiven.  Each one, no matter how bad.  Yes, we are going to get an exception.  However, we should not jump past this statement.  God is ready and able to forgive us our sins, pause and meditate.

The second emphasis is that God alone is the remover of sins.  When we say that they will be forgiven, it is not a statement of universalism, which means every sin regardless of our heart condition will eventually be forgiven, i.e. no one will be judged eternally.  Rather, this is a statement of possibility and God’s disposition towards us as sinners.  He is willing to forgive us.  The word “forgive” is far more specific in the Greek.  It literally means to remove our sins, including their guilt, and cause them to be separated from us.  It does not mean to overlook something.  God will remove them so that no one, not even Satan himself can bring them up to be used against us before His judgment seat.  So, how does this work when we are told to forgive one another?  We cannot remove another person’s sin and guilt from them, only God can do this.  When we forgive another person, we choose to let go of the offense and not bring it up against them ever again.  If they are truly forgiven is between them and God.  I, however, need to forgive for at least two reasons.  One, I testify to the other person of the greater forgiveness of God that they should seek.  Two, I shut down the sins of hatred and bitterness in my own heart.

The phrase “shall be forgiven” in verse 28 is in the future tense and has a quality that means, “at whatever time it is needed or necessary.”  Though Jesus does not bring up the mechanism of getting God to forgive us, the Scriptures teach that those who humble themselves, repent of their sins, and believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness from God.  1 John 1:9 states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Confession is agreeing with God concerning just what sin is (i.e. not changing the definition to suit us).  Repentance is the idea of turning away from our ideas and emotions about our “sins” and turning towards God and His Word of Truth. 

This is a powerful reminder of the grace of God that works tirelessly to give us what we desperately need and yet also give us what we undoubtedly do not deserve.  We stand completely guilty before Him of not just accidental and incidental sin, but also of willful and purposeful ones.  Yet, He does not want us to perish in our guilt.  He makes forgiveness possible through the death of Jesus, who takes our sins upon him and carries them away from us.  Praise God for His indescribable gift!  We must simply humble ourselves, ask his forgiveness, and put our faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

Now, we turn to verse 29 and the qualification to the general statement that all our sins can be forgiven.  Blaspheming, or slandering, the Holy Spirit is put forth as a sin that will not be forgiven.  So, what does this actually mean? 

Many treat it as a simple one-time act that can remove us from any hope of salvation.  They can picture a person who is begging God to forgive them, but He will not because they did a sin that is unpardonable.  Is this actually what Jesus means?  And, do we ever see God telling a truly repentant person in Scripture that they cannot have forgiveness in the Scriptures?  The answer to that last question is an emphatic, “No!”  Yes, there are some verses that may seem on the surface to say such, but the truth is that on deeper inspection it is not.  This is often approached in one of two ways.  People either use it as a point of fear and warning, with no hope for those who may do it, or they try to water down the idea to the point that you don’t really need to worry about it because it is basically impossible.  I believe that either way is foolish.  Jesus would not have said this if it was impossible to blaspheme the Holy Spirit in such a way that you could not be forgiven.  It is a real warning of something that we can actually do, if we let ourselves do so.  Sin is damaging, even to the point of eternal damage.  Thus, it should not be taken lightly.  The passages that warn of judgment are as important as the passages that point us to grace.  So, whatever we do, we must understand that this is a true warning from Christ of a sin that can affect our eternal salvation.

Yet, does this mean it is something that we can unwittingly do in an unguarded moment of time?  To analyze this, we must think about the way the Holy Spirit is involved in forgiveness as revealed by Scripture.

The Bible tells us that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict or convince people of their sin, their coming judgment, and the righteousness of Christ.  This can be found in many places, but John 16:8 says it best.  Even as Jesus was doing what he was doing, the Holy Spirit was moving on the hearts of those watching him.  The Spirit was working to convince them of their sin, coming judgment, and need for God’s righteousness.  Thus, it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to humble ourselves, repent, and believe.  If it wasn’t for the grace of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, none of us would do so.  The Holy Spirit operates upon every heart and mind upon the earth, drawing them to Christ.  Jesus does the work of making forgiveness available to us, but it is the convincing work of the Spirit that encourages us to believe in Jesus and receive the benefits of what He has done.

This is a critical point because, if we need the Holy Spirit’s work in our heart and mind in order to be forgiven, then any resistance and slandering of that work pushes away the only thing that can bring us to it.  Essentially to resist the Holy Spirit is to build a wall between us and salvation.  To slander the Holy Spirit is an even greater wall between us and forgiveness of sins.  The point of verse 29 is not about an instant in time.  We have plenty of examples in Scripture of people who resisted the Holy Spirit, and even blasphemed His work, and yet who later repented and received forgiveness (Paul the apostle comes to mind).  In fact, all humans who ever get saved do so after a period of resisting the work of the Holy Spirit and what He was trying to do in our hearts and minds. 

Many people who have been hurt in this life will tell themselves that they want nothing to do with organized religion.  In so doing they protect themselves from the charlatans that abuse the words and authority of Christ.  Yet, in so doing, they also wall themselves off from a huge witness that the Holy Spirit could use to reach their hearts.  If we continue to block and resist the Holy Spirit in our heart regarding Jesus, then we have no hope.  There is no other answer; there is no other way.  Jesus is God’s solution to our problem of sin and the Holy Spirit is God’s worker to convince us of this, period.

The phrase in verse 29 that is often translated “never has forgiveness,” literally says, “is not having forgiveness into the age, but is presently guilty of eternal judgment.”  The emphasis is on a current condition that will not be overturned in the age to come.  The emphasis is not on whether or not we can get out of that current condition as long as we are alive.  We are presently in the age of grace in which God is allowing whosoever will to believe and receive forgiveness of sins.  We are approaching the age of judgment and the restitution of all things.  Let no one think that the sins they refuse to deal with in this age will be overlooked in that age.  Now is the day of salvation.  Today, if you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts, as they did in the rebellion.  Rather, repent and believe in the Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.  Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is serious because you are fighting against the one person who can convince you of salvation.  I do not believe Jesus is saying that one instance of blasphemy can damn a person forever.  However, each time we do so we are damaging our ability to respond to the Holy Spirit.  We can so damage our ability to respond to the Holy Spirit that we are unrecoverable.  How can a person know if they have gone too far?  If you are worried that you may have gone too far, then it is a sign that you haven’t.  Only the Holy Spirit can convict us of sin and by definition those who have gone too far are beyond His work, or no longer sensitive to His stirrings. 

If you feel fearful and despondent today, don’t stay in that place.  The Holy Spirit is calling you to Christ, but the Devil wants to scare you away.  Repent of past disbelief and rationalizations of why you don’t need to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.  Then believe on Jesus and follow Him.  You can know today that your blasphemies can be forgiven, if you will yield to the conviction of the Holy Spirit right now.

Blasphemy audio

Tuesday
Mar192019

Obstacles to Reaching Jesus

Mark 2:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 17, 2019.

Although we will look at a story where Jesus heals somebody, this story is not so much about healing as it begs the question, What is our greatest need?  It positions a physical healing opposite the forgiveness of sins and questions if we would work so hard to be rid of our sins as we would to be rid of sickness or disease.

I could have entitled this as, “Obstacles to being Healed,” but that is not the true emphasis of the story.  Jesus is asking us to think about why we might come to Him and what really is our greatest need.  If we see Jesus only as a means to an end, then He simply becomes a gumball machine from which we get our gumball and then walk away.  However, Jesus has not left this option open to us.  Even being free of sins can become a means to an end if we are only seeking to assuage our guilt and avoid judgment.  We need more than physical healing and we need more than spiritual forgiveness of sins. 

Ultimately, we need a relationship with Jesus, who is the Lord of all those things and more.  Jesus is not a means to an end.  He is the end or goal for which we must desire and strive.

He had a physical obstacle

We do not know how long this man has been paralyzed nor how he came to be in that condition.  However, it would pose a problem to finding Jesus and asking for a healer.  At least the leper in the previous story could track down Jesus and catch Him on the road, but this man is debilitated to the point that he cannot do this. 

Yet, this man has friends who are willing to help him.  It is important in life that we have people who care about us enough that they will help us when we need them.  Of course, we too should be a friend back towards them, but friendship should not be about an equation of help. 

In this life it is easy to let differences and hurts lead us into isolation from the world, but we still need others.  We need others because we are not enough by ourselves and God desires others to help us.  He created us to be social creatures who work together for the good.  No one person has all the gifts, regardless of how talented they may be.  Eventually they will need others around them.  It is true that there are some people from whom we may be better off dissociating ourselves.  Yet, hurt can cause us to dissociate from people who don’t deserve it and to our own detriment. 

Still, no number of friends can replace Jesus in your life.  Thus, the best kind of friends are those who will help you to come to Jesus for all the needs in your life, not just healing.   Four friends determined to carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus so that he could be healed.

The crowds around Jesus were too large

When the paralyzed man and his friends get to Jesus, there is a problem.  There are too many people surrounding Jesus and they cannot get close enough to ask for help.  We are going to see later in the story that not all of these people are believers in Jesus.  These crowds are themselves a physical barrier, and yet they can also be psychological barrier to people who do not like crowds.  Some people are not interested in Churches and crowds of Christians.  Yet, they still need Jesus. 

In His humanity Jesus was often surrounded by crowds, but in His divinity, He is always accessible to those who will reach out to Him in faith, whether by themselves are with the help of a friend.  Don’t just limit yourself to inviting people to Church to hear the Gospel.  Learn to share Christ with people one on one, or in smaller groups of friends.

Notice that these friends are not easily daunted.  They don’t quit just because they run into an obstacle and it gets hard.  Instead, they devise a way around the obstacle, which involved tearing through the roof and lowering the man down in front of Jesus by ropes.  Their faith or belief that Jesus would heal the man stirred up a determination within them that wouldn’t quit.

Sometimes, whether individually or as a group, we can lose heart because we run into barriers.  If getting people to Jesus was easy then they would already be with Him.  No, this is a difficult job that is full of obstacles.  Am I determined to help my friends get to Jesus?  Of course, in our lives today the answer will not be tearing a whole in a roof.  However, may God help us to see the true barriers that keep our friends and family at a distance from Jesus.  Let’s continue reading at verse 5.

The man is a sinner

This story takes a turn with the response of Jesus.  Here is a man on his sick bed, lowered down by ropes in front of Him.  Yet, Jesus chooses to tell the man that his sins are forgiven.  This is important because it changes the story.  To the man and his friends, his greatest need was to have his paralysis healed.  To Jesus, the man’s greatest need was to be free from his sins.

Now, it is easy to let this story become cluttered with the intellectual trappings of healing.  We are not told if the paralysis was due to his sin.  So, we should be careful of making this about the need to have your sins forgiven before you are healed.  Jesus will go on to heal the man, but not because he now has his sins forgiven.  Jesus himself states that he healed the man to prove to them that He had power to forgive sins on earth.

There are many things that we need in life, some of which we only think we need.  However, they all pale next to the need to have our sins forgiven.  Our sins separate us from God and cause us to be guilty before Him.  We do not deserve His grace or His benefits.  We only deserve His wrath and judgment.

The statement of forgiveness in verse 5 is connected to the statement of Jesus in verse 10.  Jesus has the power (both authority and capability) to forgive sins.  As believers we can assist our Lord in helping people to be free from their sins.  This is their greatest need, whether they understand it or not.  What does it profit a man to be healed in this life, but not have their sins forgiven?  Yes, you would think that it would always be good to have both, but one is immensely more important than the other.

There was an unbelieving, religious community there

It is important to recognize that not all who surround Jesus, then and today, truly believe in Him.  You either believe or you don’t.  However, there is a tendency within us as humans to give up faith while attempting to keep remnants of religion.  It can be a security blanket, sentimentality, or even crass opportunism.  Without faith in Jesus, religion is dead and cannot help us, but with faith, religion can be pure and full of life. 

These religious unbelievers think that Jesus is blaspheming because only God can forgive sins.  However, they willfully forget that God had set up a whole system of priests whose job it was to perform rituals through which they could declare that people’s sin was now forgiven.  This delegation of forgiving was not blasphemy.  It was merely obeying what God had sent them to do.  They just weren’t used to seeing this outside of the temple compound and the priests.  Surely, Jesus must be blaspheming.  Yet, the priests over the centuries had been pointing people to the Lamb of God that would one day come in order to take away our sins, once and for all.  Jesus stood as the ultimate High Priest and declares that this man is forgiven.

This leads to a challenge from Jesus.  He asks them which is easier to say to the paralyzed man, Your sins are forgiven, or Arise, take up your bed and walk?  “Your sins are forgiven” is easier in the sense that it can’t be verified.  How can you know it actually happened?  It is not like you get a certificate in the mail stating that God has forgiven your sins.  Yet, “take up your bed and walk” is easier in the sense of actually doing it. 

Do we really understand that healing people is easier for God then forgiving their sins?  Healing is so easy that humans themselves are figuring out ways to get the cells and DNA to do what they are supposed to do in some situations.  I doubt we will ever get to a place where we have conquered all disease.  However, no man on earth has any power to forgive someone’s sin outside of Christ.  The obstacles to being set free from sin are legion: We can be paralyzed to even try and come to Jesus, We can fight with and reject those friends who try to bring us to Him, We can give up when we run into obstacles that make it hard, and We can even believe that our sins are too great to be forgiven.

I pray that today you will see the truth of this passage.  Sin is our biggest issue, and not just getting rid of it.  Sin itself is a barrier to the relationship that God intended for us to have with Him.  There is nothing more important in life than to have Christ declare over us that our sins are forgiven.  If you do not know Christ or you have friends that do not know Christ, I pray that you will not let any of the obstacles of this life and your own heart keep you from coming to Christ.  He will receive you with open arms if you will turn from your sins and run to Him.

Obstacles Audio

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