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Entries in Freedom (12)

Tuesday
Jul232019

The Power & Authority of Jesus

Mark 5:1-20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, July 21, 2019.

Many scientists do not believe there is such a thing as a spirit realm. They hold to a materialism world-view and they would not accept that a human has a true spirit, much less that there are spiritual entities other than human.  The basic line of thought is that ancient humans couldn’t explain disease and mental illness and so they came up with the idea of spirits, both good and bad (the bad being demons).  The problem with this is that is presents the false idea that we now understand everything about the human body and mind. 

As advanced as our technologies are, the human mind still presents a difficult puzzle to scientists.  There are clinically trained psychiatrists who have come to the conclusion that some cases that they have encountered cannot be explained by a problem within a person’s mind.  Things such as: the knowledge of individuals and things outside of the person’s ability (even very private things), speaking languages not learned or even encountered,  and especially aggravation at talk about and the person and work of Jesus.

Of course the opposite error does exist.  Some religious people treat all strange activity as demonic.  Many “exorcisms” gone awry have resulted in the death of people, and I am not just talking about within Christianity.  As believers in the One who is Truth, we must not cast aside the recognition that demons are real.  Yet, we also must not let fear rule our hearts and label every mental illness or strange sickness as demonic activity.

Today we will look at a passage that makes it clear that though demons do exist, they must flee before the power and authority of Jesus Christ.

A demon-possessed man approaches Jesus

Our story begins with a demon-possessed man that meets Jesus and his disciples at the shore as they get out of their boat.  We should remember that, at the end of chapter 4, Jesus and his disciples were boating across the Sea of Galilee from the Galilee region (NW part of the sea).  During this trip a huge storm occurred threatening to destroy the boat and them.  This story is what happened after that scene.  Another point to recognize is that all three synoptic gospels have these stories back to back.  They are integrally linked in the minds of the apostles.  This has caused some to see a supernatural aspect to the storm scene. 

The Scriptures do not state that this is the case.  However, it is quite possible.  In the story of Job, Satan is allowed to “touch” Job.  Of the several catastrophes that occur two seem to be natural disasters:  fire falls from heaven upon the sheep and shepherds, and a great wind destroys the house in which his adult children are feasting, killing them all.  Regardless of whether or not the above conjecture is correct, the message is the same.  Jesus is greater than anything that may come upon us in this life, whether natural or supernatural, period.

So, just where are they landing with their boat?  If you look at all three gospel accounts (Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8), you find a difference in the name of the area in which they land.  On top of this, there are also some textual differences within the manuscript evidence.  Is it the area of the Gadarenes, Gergasenes, or the Gerasenes?  It is most likely that these are variant terms of the same or overlapping areas.  The Gadara area would include all of the southern part of the Sea of Galilee.  So that gives us a rough estimate of where they were.

Immediately upon their beaching f the boat, they are met by the demon-possessed man.  This guy is in a terrible condition of which we are told about up front in the story.  Not all demon-possession manifests in a way that is so violent and socially adverse as this guy.  This man represents the “crazy person” picture of possession.  We are told initially that he has an unclean spirit, which is a synonym for a demon.  Notice that the term “demons” is used in verse 12.  He lived among the tombs rather than in a regular house of that time, most likely due to being driven out of town.  He was out of his mind crying out, cutting himself with stones and naked.  When it talks about crying out here, it is not talking about tears, but rather loud screams and words that may or may not have made sense.  The people of the area have often tried to restrain him with shackles and chains.  However, he would break these chains and tear off the shackles.

The strength he demonstrated could be called super-human.  However, it is unclear how much of the power is simply the demons pushing him to exert more energy than a person would normally push themselves.  Also, I’m sure the strength of the metals in that place and at that time are very weak compared to what we would have today.  However, we should also recognize that these people had restrained many others before.  This guy was unrestrainable in a day that knew how to restrain some pretty strong guys.  The overall picture is that this guy is a menace to the area and has been driven out of the city and into the tombs, or at least has gone there of his own accord.  Also, we see that he is a very tortured individual.  The demons are not his friends.  They have brought him to a horrible and low state.

The demons resist leaving the man

The writing of this scene is a bit choppy, but one can follow it.  It seems the man approaches Jesus and Jesus first commands the spirit to come out of the man.  It is then that the demon begins to speak.

Now we must deal with an unfortunate translation in verse 6.  The man is not worshipping Jesus as the English in the KJV, NKJV, and RSV states.  The word most of the time does mean to worship. However, at its base it means to prostrate one’s self before another as if to kiss their hand in obeisance.  Thus, the better picture is that the man has ran up and fallen down in front of Jesus, looking like a fiend (no clothing, cuts all over his body, not in his right mind, hair probably a knotted mess, etc.).  Jesus recognizes the unclean spirit and commands it to come out. 

At this point, the demon has some protests, or at least, a short dialogue takes place.  The first statement of the demon is really a question.  It essentially means what do you want with me, or why are you bothering me.  This area is not considered part of Israel at the time.  No Jew worth his salt would be caught dead there, and so, the people in this scene are most likely gentiles.  The question is on the order of asking why Jesus is “out of his territory.”  Secondly, the demon demonstrates the knowledge of who Jesus is.  He addresses him as Jesus, Son of the Most High God.  Notice that Jesus normally would not let demons talk, at least when he was in Israel.  However, here we see that Jesus interacts to some degree with the spirits.  Why would he do so here, but not in Israel?  When he was in Israel, Jesus didn’t want demons for his P. R. speakers.  I would think that here in this Gentile land the only Israelites are his disciples and they are already convinced that he is the Messiah.  These Gentiles are not thinking to themselves that Jesus could be the Messiah.  Most likely, they are not even aware of what that is.  Yet, Satan and his spirits knew exactly who Jesus was, but they did not know what he was there to do.

This demon asks Jesus if he is there to torment him.  Matthew 8 adds the phrase “before the time.”  So, what is this about?  The book of Revelation speaks of a time when Satan is to be cast into the bottomless pit.  Perhaps the demons will also have that fate.  Regardless, we know that all evil beings will be cast into the Lake of Fire when the New Heavens and the New Earth are created by God.

These spirits have clear knowledge of this coming judgment. However, they also seem to have the idea that it isn’t time yet for their judgment.  To them, Jesus is here early.  This adds to the fear of these demons.  What is he doing?  Is he throwing us into the bottomless pit/Lake of Fire early? 

Jesus asks the spirit what its name is and is told that it is “Legion.”  This is clearly not a proper name, but rather a nick-name, or better a nom de guerre.  He is possessed by many demons, whether that literally means thousands or not is irrelevant.  The demons protest that they do not want to be sent out of the region (vs. 10).  We are not told why.  Most likely they believe they have a sweet deal in this area and are able to have their way.

However, they suggest an alternative.  In their fear, they beg Jesus to give them leave to enter a herd of pigs that are nearby.  We are told that there are 2,000 pigs.  It is unclear why they ask this, and also why Jesus permits it.  It would probably be foolish to speculate too much.  However, several things are clear.  The spirits demonstrate the same violence and torment in the pigs as in the demoniac.  The pigs “go crazy” and stampede down the hill into the sea and drown.  Thus, the spirits are released into the area desperate to find another person to inhabit and have gotten away from Jesus.  Later, the disciples of Jesus would come back into this area and most likely have to deal with them again.

The people of the region are afraid

The swine-herders become the heralds of what happened.  We are not told into what city they go, but it is most likely a nearby small village.  Eventually a crowd from the area gathers at shore in order to see this spectacle.  Then the story is recounted for them about Jesus freeing the demon-possessed man and the death of the pigs.

Alongside of this story, is the reality of the man himself.  He is clearly the same man they had feared in the past, most likely with cuts still visible on parts of his body.  However, he is not ranting and stark raving naked.  He is fully clothed and in his right mind.  These evidences powerfully testify to these first century people, but it also powerfully testifies to us 21st century people.  If our psychiatrists had an one ounce of the ability Jesus had, we would not see nearly as much mental illness in our society.  I am not saying all mental illness is the result of demonic possession.  It is often just the natural result of sin, both ours and that of others.  However, Jesus healed people as well as casting out demons.  We should learn from the only one who demonstrated mastery of both, instead of scoffing at the testimony of these eye-witnesses.

There are two responses recorded here.  The first is from the people of the region.  No doubt, they can appreciate the freeing of the demon-possessed man.  However, they also may see Jesus as just another spiritual threat.  If he is stronger than a legion of evil spirits than what would he do to them?  Also, the destruction of 2,000 pigs was a heavy economic hit.  Can we afford any more actions of such a man in our country?  Regardless of all their thoughts, they plead with Jesus to leave. 

It is easy to be fearful and afraid of spiritual things because we don’t understand them and can’t control them.  However, this is the point.  Evil spirits are fearful, but the power of the Holy Spirit is greater than them.  When we believe in Christ and have his Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we have nothing to fear from such spirits, even a legion of them. 

The Holy Spirit is pure and clean.  He does not control people, torment them, and abuse them.  He works gently and kindly within us to encourage us in the right direction.  He enables and empowers us as we act in faith and trust in God’s Word.  You have nothing to fear from the Holy Spirit, and, when He is living within you, you have nothing to fear from those evil spirits that roam this world looking for people to inhabit and torment.

The second response is that of the man, which is quite different from the people.  The man wants to follow Jesus and become one of his disciples.  However, Jesus gives him a different mission.  This Gentile man is not who God has to become an apostle in Israel.  Rather, he is to tell that Gentile region his story and how Jesus set him free from a legion of demons.  Imagine what it was like when a decade or two later the disciples of Jesus came into that area.  They would find many people open to the gospel because of what they had heard from this man years earlier.  His activity would be a kind of “pre-evangelism” that would prepare the inhabitants of the region to receive the Gospel later.

As we leave this story, I pray that, instead of being freaked out about spiritual things and pushing Jesus away, you will become excited about the one who has complete authority and power over all spiritual beings.  We need not fear the demons of darkness when the Lord of the Light has come. 

Power & Authority audio

Monday
Jun102019

Will You Walk with Me?

Romans 8:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Pentecost Sunday, June 09, 2019.

Pentecost Sunday emphasizes the giving of the Holy Spirit to God’s people, which is described in Acts chapter two.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is very active.  However, He comes upon certain individuals, at certain times, for a particular work such as: prophesying, miracles, and even physical exploits in the case of Samson.  During this time, God promised that a day would come when His Spirit would be poured out upon all God’s people.  Thus, in the New Testament at the day of Pentecost, we see God’s Holy Spirit come: to dwell within believers versus come upon them for a moment, to do so with all believers versus a select few, and to do so continually versus at special occasions. 

As a feast in the Old Testament, Pentecost celebrated the middle of the Harvest and points to the great harvest of God among mankind.  In one sense people are harvested when they are taken from the field of the world, bundled together with other believers and eventually brought into the barn of God.  This analogy does miss the other sense in which believers are called to become fruitful in their life.  In that sense we are not harvested until we leave this earth.  Harvest points to God’s desire to have humans in His family.  It is His work of drawing mankind back to Himself.  Thus, it is all about relationship.

The title of this sermon comes from the fact that Romans 8:1 refers to walking with the Holy Spirit as opposed to walking with the flesh.  This ties back to the Garden of Eden where God would come down to walk and talk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day.  This relationship between God and humans is adversely affected in Genesis 3.  What used to be a wonderful thing filled with joy (God’s presence in the Garden) had become a fearful thing filled with dread because of their sin.  Yet, God in His mercy speaks of help that will one day come to help them against their adversary the devil.

Our passage today is on this side of the cross of Jesus and a long history.  Today, I would like us to recognize that Jesus and his apostles continued this theme of calling people to quit running from God and walking with the devil by following the desires of your flesh.

Will you walk with me?  This is the question God asks every person today through the work of His Holy Spirit and those who believe in Jesus.  No, it won’t be easy.  Your greatest enemy will actually be your own fleshly nature, but it will give you life and peace with God rather than death and condemnation.  I pray that we will be a people who choose to walk with God.

Christ invites us out of condemnation and into life

Verse 1 makes a statement about those who are “in Christ.”  The statement is simply that those who are in Christ Jesus are not under condemnation.  Before we delve into the statement itself, it is important to recognize just how a person comes to be “in Christ.”

It is Jesus who first invites us to come to him.  In Matthew 11:28 he states, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  His invitation is for people who are in a place, or legal status, of condemnation before God.  Thus, in Romans 8, Paul is not talking about a feeling of condemnation, but an actual legal guilt before God.  Jesus calls people out of that place to himself.  Those who come to him leave their condemned state behind and enter into a place of forgiveness, life, and peace (again, this is about a relational peace between us and God, not a feeling of euphoria).

When Jesus went into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to continue this calling of people to Jesus.  Yes, the believers of Jesus also have a role in this, but they are to do so with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Only He can convict people of their sin and the judgment that hangs over them.  Only He can convince them that their righteousness is not good enough, but that the righteousness of Jesus was intended to give them freedom and life.  It really is a work of the Holy Spirit when a person comes to believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Without His gracious work, they would not choose to believe.

So, the Holy Spirit brings us to Christ and asks us to choose.  Will you walk with Jesus?  Those who choose to follow the Holy Spirit into Christ by putting their faith in Jesus enter into a new standing before God.  The Holy Spirit takes up residence within them and causes them to become spiritually alive, which means they can sense God and interact with Him).  They are saved from the judgment that looms over them because the righteousness of Christ covers any sins that they have.  Even more, they are adopted into the family of God and made co-heirs with Jesus. We become the children of God.

Having chosen to follow the Holy Spirit into the new place before God called being “in Christ,” our walking after the Spirit shouldn’t stop there.  In Romans 8, Paul is speaking about this new standing we have before God and emphasizing that we are those who keep following the Holy Spirit now that we are in Christ.  This brings up the issue of our flesh, which Paul also talks about in this passage.

The flesh can refer to muscles, bones and tendons.  However, in this context Paul uses the term flesh to refer to that part of us that is drawn away from God towards sin.  It is so connected to our bodily appetites that the simplified word is used.  Context helps us determine if the word merely means flesh, or if it is referring to the tendency towards sin within us.

In verse 6, Paul points out that this choice leads us into one of two directions.  If I follow the flesh then I will find death, but if I follow the Spirit of God then I will find life and peace.  The devil is good at using our past life in sin against us as a means of condemning us in our hearts and minds.  Through this, He is able to rob people of their inner sense of peace.  However, the devil cannot touch our standing before God.  He can only attempt to convince you to walk away from Christ on your own.  Yes, I was a sinner and unworthy of the grace of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit drew me to Jesus and says that I can be clean if I will only believe.  Remember this always.  If God has removed you from your deserved condemnation, why would you continue to participate in condemning yourself?  And, if God has declared us to be at peace with Him, why would I worry that He will change His mind and go to war against me at any moment?  Why would I interpret every bad thing that happens as proof God doesn’t love me anymore?

Be careful of looking back at your past life and dwelling there.  If we look back, may it be in order to learn from our errors and to draw strength in order to press forward in Jesus.  However, let us not look back and become stuck in the quicksand of fear and depression.  God has not led us to this point to abandon us!

My flesh tries to pull me back into condemnation

In verse 7 Paul speaks about the challenge that lies before the Christian each day.  The Spirit is faithful to lead us to accomplish those things in your life that He has for you.  Yet, our sinful nature (or flesh) keeps trying to pull away from Jesus and back towards that place of condemnation.  In fact, we are told that the flesh is hostile to God and the things of the Holy Spirit.  The word translated as “enmity” or “hostile” has at its roots in the idea that it hates the things of God.  My flesh wants me to follow its desires and whims, but when I follow the Holy Spirit, I am led away from pleasing my flesh and its whims.  This doesn’t mean that we never have any joys and pleasures.  It just means that those joys and pleasures are not my focus.  Rather, the Spirit of God is my focus.

I know that there is a part of us that wishes or thinks that God might zap us and make our flesh go away.  However, this is not His way.  He puts His Spirit within us to help us to say “no” to the flesh and to say “yes” to Him.  God’s way teaches us to become spiritual warriors against our own evil desires, rather than to focus completely on the evil of others.

Satan’s mindset is the way of death because it focuses on others and uses them as an excuse for its sin.  It is interesting that our flesh will focus on others when it comes to sin and yet, focuses on self when it comes to love.  The Spirit of God calls us to flip this and focus on ourselves when it comes to sin and to focus on others when it comes to love.  Our flesh hates this. 

In verses 9 and 10, Paul challenges us.  If the Spirit dwells in us, which He does if we have put our faith in Jesus, then we are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit.  This is just a different way of describing this new state in which we find ourselves before God.  Being “in Christ” is to also be “in the Spirit.”  Yes, we still have flesh to fight against and we will not feel like we are in the Spirit during those battles.  However, we are in His Spirit because that Spirit is within us working to help us overcome sin and our flesh.

This leads us to verse 11, which makes a powerful statement.  The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is dwelling in you and leading you.  It will give life to your mortal bodies!  Pause and meditate on that for a moment.

There are two ways in which this can be applied.  First, the Spirit gives us life spiritually in victory over our flesh in this life.  As we walk this Christian life, we are given eternal life by the Spirit of God and victory over the flesh (not without wounds and failures).  As we choose to follow the Spirit of God, or as some of the translations say “walking after the Spirit,” or “walking according to the Spirit,” we obtain a wellspring of life within our soul.  This life is experienced each day as He gives it to us in victories over sin, and spiritual accomplishments.  We grow spiritually and bear fruit in Jesus (a process that does not happen overnight).

However, just as Jesus was physically resurrected, so too, we are promised the same.  This is the second way in which verse 11 can be applied.  At the day of Resurrection, we will physically receive the eternal life of God in a new body.  Though it will be physical, it will not have the propensity to go towards sin, neither the physical decay and weaknesses of these mortal bodies we now have.  This becomes the capstone to our salvation as God completes every promise to us and then some.

Final Thoughts

The Holy Spirit is not someone that we can define and use against each other.  There is a lot of water under the bridge when it comes to the Holy Spirit and especially the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Too often, it has been used as a kind of badge of accomplishment against other Christians, particularly certain gifts including speaking in tongues.  However, in so doing we forget that the Holy Spirit is not an inanimate object or a force that we operate.  He is a person who is capable of being grieved and resisted.  Some of the fleshliest things that have happened in the Church were done “in the name of the Holy Spirit.”  We cannot follow our flesh and then call it the Holy Spirit.  This is the same kind of thing the Pharisees did.

So how should a believer navigate this area?  First, quit worrying about speaking in tongues and spiritual gifts.  Instead, focus upon the One who is busy working in your life and wants you to cooperate with Him.  Focus upon the Holy Spirit.  Were you actually led to believe in Jesus, or were you simply looking to use church for your own ends?  If you were actually led to believe in Jesus then the Holy Spirit led you to that place.  If you surrendered and embraced Jesus in faith then it was the Holy Spirit who made you spiritually alive and even now dwells in you.  No one can take that away from you regardless of what spiritual gifts may or may not have been expressed in your life.  Quit worrying about what others think and start listening to what the Holy Spirit thinks.  Choose to follow Him.

Lastly, recognize that the Holy Spirit wants to lead you and empower you to do the work that Jesus has given you.  Pray each morning for the Lord to fill you with His Holy Spirit and to help you to listen to Him.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will empower you so that you can be more effective in your own life and the life of others.  Be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but don’t focus on what that must look like.  Rather, keep surrendering to the Holy Spirit and being open to what He is doing in your life.  I know that people can take what I have just said and twist it to their own ends, but those people will one day have to give an account to God.  Today, however, the Holy Spirit calls out to you.  Will you walk with Me?

Will You Walk audio

Tuesday
Oct162018

Your Personal End Times: The Millennium Part II

Zechariah 14:8-11, 16-20; Romans 8:18-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 14, 2018.

We are taking time to see what the Bible has to say about the period of time that we call the Millennium.  This is the promise throughout the Old Testament that God would deliver Israel and rule over the nations of the world through His righteous, anointed King, who will sit upon the throne of David.  We are given a taste of this righteous King and his righteous kingdom in the Church.  Jesus is our King and we obey his commands.  However, the fulfillment of these Old Testament passages is about more than a metaphor for our current experience in Christ.  It truly is about an earthly kingdom that will occur when Christ returns to earth.  Thus, our current experience simply prepares us for that reality.

Now the Church has preached that Jesus is the coming King of kings for the last 2,000 years.  It is clear that, though many people within the nations of the world have embraced Him, the governments of the world have no interest in Jesus being King over them.  Not even the “Christian” nations in the West show any true desire for Christ to return and rule over them.  Instead we keep doubling down on our own human wisdom and looking for anyone, someone, who will come along with better answers.  In short the governments do not like the Savior that God has given and seek another savior, or an antichrist.  Eventually God will allow them to have their wish.  However, such a hope will be short lived.  Jesus is destined to reign over the earth and His divine wisdom will usher in a new time of peace that the world has never known.  Let’s continue our look at this 1,000 year kingdom and what it will be like.

The nations of the earth will worship the Lord Jesus

Our first passage today will be in Zechariah 14.  You will notice that the millennial passages in the Old Testament have a distinctive, Jewish flavor to them because the Israeli people will be re-gathered, and Christ will reign from Jerusalem over them and the world.  You may remember Jesus speaking to His disciples in Matthew 19:28.  He promised the Twelve, “In the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (NKJV)   

However, the Millennium is not just about Israel.  It is also about the nations of the world.  Thus Zechariah speaks about the whole earth worshipping the Lord Jesus.  Now, we should not expect that we will have church services exactly as we do now.  However, neither should we expect that all cultures will have to adopt a Jewish-style service.  This passage is not saying that we will have to follow the Old Testament laws on worship.  Rather, it makes clear that there will be universal aspects of worship that all nations will do.  In this case, all nations will gather once a year to celebrate the Feast of Booths (The last feast of the 7 feasts of the Lord, which is in the Fall).  This is a super-corporate event.  It leaves the question of what worship will be the other days of the year.  I believe this passage leaves room for cultural differences, but also makes clear that Jesus will give some specific directions, much like Moses directed Israel in how God wanted them to worship Him.

We are told that there will be some big topographical changes to the area surrounding Jerusalem.  Most of the area will be flattened like a plain.  However, Jerusalem will be raised up above the plain.  This topography actually will occur, but it also symbolizes God’s decree.  All who approach the City of Jesus do so from a humble position and should have an attitude of worship.  In verse 4 we are told that the Mount of Olives will be split in half as the Lord stands upon it.  We are also told that water will flow out of the city of Jerusalem, some towards the Mediterranean Sea and some towards the Dead Sea.  This actual water flow is also intended to symbolize what God is doing spiritually.  His truth will flow towards the East and towards the West and fill the world.  He will lift up Jerusalem and dispense the Life of God to the nations.  Ezekiel 47 actually states that the waters that flow from Jerusalem will heal the Dead Sea so that fish swim in it and vegetation grows around it.  It also states that the water will flow all year long.  In the Pacific Northwest this may not sound like an important statement.  In the Middle East this is a powerful statement.  It will not just be a powerful spring river that is completely dry by the end of summer.  Rather, it will flow continuously, making the land a land of milk and honey once again.  Water shortage has been a big problem in the Near East for centuries.  The fact that this land lacks water and would be barren without modern technology, despite clearly being bountiful during the times of Moses, points to the judgments of God.  During the Millennium the land will be blessed and have plentiful water.

In verse 16 we see the worship of the Millennial Kingdom.  The passage uses the term “survivors” for those who remain after the devastations of the Tribulation, and the Second Coming.  Under the Beast and the False Prophet, the kings of the earth had gathered their armies against Jerusalem in order to destroy it, but now the nations will come up to worship rather than to attack.  The Feast of Booths is also called the Feast of Tabernacles.  In Ezekiel 45 we also see that the Feast of Passover will be observed.  However, it does not say that the people of the earth will gather for it. 

Some believers are bothered by the idea that at least some of the Jewish feasts will be reinstated and that sacrifices are described.  Let’s remember that they are not Israel’s feasts.  They were originally described as the Feasts of the Lord.  Clearly, we will not be under the Old Covenant of the Law of Moses.  However, there will be some symbolic rituals and memorial offerings that will function much like Christian Communion does today.  We do not look to the juice and the bread as our salvation, but rather a celebration of what Christ did.  Thus these feasts and their sacrifices will function the same way during the Millennial Kingdom.  They will point to the work of Christ.  We also should remember that there will be mortals as well as immortals on the earth in those days.  Thus the sacrifices will also testify and remind the mortals of where their salvation lies.  It lies in Jesus and His ability to atone for sins and to forgive them.   This snapshot of global worship doesn’t imply that we will worship only once a year, but that there will be an annual global, worshipful, celebration.

The last part of our section brings up a hypothetical situation where the nation of Egypt might choose not to come to the feast.  It describes the “blow” or punishment that Christ will give to any nation that refuses to come.  They will lack rain in their country until they comply.  This strikes me in two ways.  On one hand it is clear that Christ means business and Egypt will have to comply, if they want their country to survive.  However, on the other hand, there is no executing of rebels and military occupations either.  There will be no tactics of the Antichrist, or the empires of this world, in play here.  His response is both extremely powerful and yet extremely gracious.  It reminds us of the punishment of a Father who does not wish to destroy a child, but rather to help them learn righteousness.  This gives a picture of what the Bible means by the phrase ruling with a rod of iron.  His commands will be unyielding and yet they will still be gracious, as is his character.

It is the hope of all creation

This concludes the passages that we are going to look at, which describe the Millennial period.  However, I want to end today’s lesson by making this one last point from Romans 8:18-25.  In this New Testament passage it refers to the time when Jesus returns to earth as the “hope” of all creation.  Paul seems to personalize all of creation, as he describes its eager awaiting of this time.  It is referred to as the revealing of the Sons of God.  This is what the Apostle John spoke of in 1 John 3:2-3.  “Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  You and I presently do not look like “Sons of God,” which was a phrase used in the Old Testament for the angels.  However, when we are resurrected and come with Christ from the clouds at His Second Coming, it will be made clear, or revealed, just who we really are.  We need this personal revelation from time to time.  Don’t forget what your destiny is and trade it for a bowl of beans in this life.  The whole creation is groaning for deliverance and crying for you and I to be revealed for who we really are, the Sons of God.

We can look at this groaning and travailing of creation in a couple of ways.  First the sentient parts of creation, angels and humans, literally groan and travail.  The righteous angels and righteous men long for the Lord to come back and deliver the earth from the bondage of The Rebellion.  However, there is also a symbolic groaning and travailing that we see in the earth itself, which is racked with quakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activity.  As we approach this blessed event, all of creation will groan more and more, louder and louder.

In verse 20 and following, it refers to the fact that the creation was subjected to futility.  This word has the sense of something that has been perverted and lacks truth, or is devoid of the ability for good.  This is the same word in Ecclesiastes used to translate the Hebrew, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”  Some versions also translate it “meaningless.”  I believe that Paul has the curse from the Garden of Eden in mind.  There Adam’s sin causes changes to the ability of the earth to produce.  However, this curse was not intended to be forever.  God’s punishment was given in the “hope” that it would one day be removed.  Thus, we should not let the difficulties that we face today cause us to lose hope in the God who will one day lift this curse and celebrate the creation as it was meant to be with us.  This is His promise to those who trust Him.

The freedom of the Sons of God will bring freedom to creation, just as the bondage of Adam, the son of God, brought bondage to creation.  The Millennium is about Jesus, but it is also about His ability to bring forth the Sons of God.  The righteous of every generation are those who put their faith in God.  These will enjoy the glorious freedom of Christ as they are set free from death and this freedom will release freedom upon all of creation.  Thus the Second Adam brings life where the First Adam brought death.  May the Lord fill our hearts with faith even though we may not see these things now.  It is the same Lord, who rose up from the dead and ascended into heaven to the right hand of the Father, who will set creation free from the bondage that it is currently under.  Amen!  Don’t squander another minute without turning towards Jesus in faith and trust.  Give your life to Him and become a disciple of the greatest Master who ever lived, God Himself.

The Millennium Part II

Tuesday
Apr032018

The Victory of the Cross

Mark 8:34-38.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Easter Sunday, April 01, 2018.

It is no secret that Christians see the cross of Jesus as a moment of incredible victory for Him and for us.  It is that moment of overturning what looks like sure defeat.  It is truly a snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.  However, it is easier to get excited about His victory at the cross than it is to think about what that victory would mean in my life.

In this life it is ingrained into us by our own thoughts and desires that winning looks a particular way.  Young people who want a particular yummy item and continue to whine and beg for it are filled with the elation of victory when an adult finally surrenders and gives them what they want.  When that special someone agrees to go on a date, a young person feels that joy of success.  When our job application is accepted for that job we have wanted so badly, we are pumped and on cloud nine.  Marriage, children, cars and houses, all of these things are arenas in which our mind and body seek to be victorious and feel the joys of winning.  In all of these, we fall into the trap of believing that success is getting what our flesh desires and wants.  But Jesus taught us that to live for such a purpose, and to “win” by such a definition, is no victory at all.  It is only a deeper and deeper entrapment of our soul into a prison cell from which we will never escape, that is unless we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This is why the Apostle Paul could rejoice when he said, “Now thanks to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”  2 Corinthians 2:14.  When Christians actually pick up their cross and follow Jesus, it brings forth a different kind of victory that has little to do with how our flesh “feels” about things.  So as we think about the victory that Christ obtained at the cross during Easter weekend, let us recognize that Jesus is asking us to walk with him in this new, strange victory that He is giving us.

Jesus has called you to Himself.

Verse 34 opens with the phrase that Jesus called the people to Himself.  Now the story of Jesus and His coming into the world is a miraculous story all the way around.  But the biggest miracle is not the virgin birth, or a resurrection from the dead, although these are amazingly great.  The greatest miracle is that the Creator steps down into our world and comes to our side as someone that we can see and with whom we can identify.  Yes, I can’t identify with a virgin birth.  But, I can identify with a child who is under the threat of people who hate his existence and call him an illegitimate child.  I can’t identify with a resurrected Lord, but I can identify with the man who was hated, pilloried, and publicly crucified by those around him.  Maybe I cannot identify at the same level of experience, but definitely I can identify with the same level of vulnerability. 

Having stepped into our world, Jesus calls us to Himself.  He draws us to Himself.  This is the heart of God.  It may appear that He has not cared about you and has given all the gifts to others.  But the reality of Jesus and the cross forever calls us away from envy, jealousy, and the striving of this world.  In Jesus God is calling us to Himself.  But, why does He call us to Himself?

First we see Jesus giving those who came to him teaching or understanding.  God is a teacher at heart.  In Jesus He has stepped into a world of people who keep striving to win, but have little understanding about how to truly win in life.  He steps in and offers us teaching, understanding, and wisdom.  But God wants to do more than download information into our heads.  There are many who only see the teachings of Christ as a kind of ideological virus.  Yet, being a Christian is about more than a particular understanding about life.

Jesus calls us to Himself because He also wants to have a relationship with us.  We were not created by God to live in isolation of Him.  When we live our lives only to please ourselves, we become like a little child with our head down at Christmas playing with the toys and ignoring the parents who sacrificed to buy those toys.  God has created a world full of pleasures and joys.  But it is our selfishness and lack of relationship with The One who created it all that fills such a world with pain and suffering.  Come and have a relationship with The One who redefined what it means to win, The One who took the things of this life to a whole new level, a level that included The Creator who made it all.  You were not intended to go through life alone, and that is why The Creator is calling you to Himself.  He wants you to know His love for you.

Jesus has called you to follow Him.

Relationship is not just emotions and feelings.  It is also a continual, living connection.  Our relationship with God through Jesus is not intended to be a once a year thing at Easter, or a once a week thing on Sunday.  Jesus is calling us to become followers of Him, to follow Him to a particular destination.  Such a connection will affect the physical places to which you go throughout the week, but it is more than that.  Jesus is going on to victory, and he invites us to join Him on this journey.  Last week I said that Jesus offered Himself as the King of Israel, but not in a way that satisfied their fleshly desires.  The same is true in this situation.  Jesus offers Himself as a captain or leader who will take us on to victory, but not in a way that satisfies our fleshly desires.  He says that He will lead us to victory, but He marches towards a cross.  Can you trust such a leader?  Your flesh can’t and won’t.  Are you more than your fleshly desires?  It is as if Jesus walks through a cross-shaped doorway and then beckons you to follow Him through it.  Every part of your flesh shrinks back, not because it doesn’t want victory, but because it cannot conceive of such a doorway leading to any victory that it wants.

Jesus tells the people gathered that if they want to follow Him then they are going to have to do some things first.  They will have to deny themselves in order to follow Him.  It would be appropriate to use the situation where the disciple Peter denied Jesus to analyze this statement.  On the night that Jesus was arrested, Peter followed the soldiers to the High Priest’s compound.  He stayed out in the courtyard trying to find out what would happen to Jesus.  Someone recognizes Peter as a follower of Jesus, which leads him to declare that he did not know the man.  Remember that earlier Peter had boasted that if everyone left Jesus, Peter alone would stand beside him.  Here was his moment.  The moment where the dreams of Peter’s flesh (to be the faithful disciple that is better than all the rest) meets the hard reality of what it really takes to be such a person.  Such a person has to make a hard choice about what desire to satisfy.  Yes, the flesh wants fame and glory, but it doesn’t want suffering, hardship, and crucifixion.  Denying ourselves is seeing Jesus and the desire of our flesh side by side and choosing to stand with Jesus, not our fleshly desire.  Denying ourselves is to allow the desire that we want so badly to be drug off and crucified, instead of Jesus.  In life, when I encounter a problem in following Jesus, like when my flesh want to choose the easy path, but Jesus is telling me that victory lies on another path, precisely at that point is where I will either deny Jesus or myself.  It is not enough to agree with Jesus on 99 points, but refuse to follow on 1.  It is not a denial of our flesh to follow Jesus in the areas where we agree with Him.  No, it is only a denial when my flesh pulls the other direction and tempts me to say that we are done with the man Jesus.  I can’t have both Jesus and the desires of my flesh.  When Jesus says to love your enemy, my flesh laughs and calls such things foolishness.  My flesh says that I can’t win by going that direction.  To follow Jesus and live by His principles or mindset is to say no to ourselves and to say yes to Him.  It is to take our place beside Him and say, “Crucify me too.”

This is why Jesus adds that we will need to pick up our cross in order to follow Him.  This image was literal for Him and many disciples in that first century.  However, the cross is a metaphor for our own personal death to self.  Each person will have to pick up their personal cross (notice he does not say that we will need to pick up his cross).  Denying yourself is not some kind of asceticism where we remove all sensory pleasures from our life.  Rather, it is about picking up that particular cross that has our name on it.  It is about denying those things that are standing in the way of following Jesus and obeying Him.  So what was standing in the way of Jesus’ victory?  Perhaps the desire to raise up a mob and throw out the corrupt religious leaders.  He would also need to raise up an army and miraculously lead it to victory over the Romans so that Herod could be deposed, and Jesus take his place.  He had to die to taking over the world and becoming its emperor and forcing the world into His thinking underneath a boot to the face.  Jesus had crucified such fleshly desires internally before He was ever nailed to the cross.  He had to die to all those natural desires to stay alive, vindicate yourself, and strike down your enemies.  Instead he loved his enemies and blessed them even as He was dying (Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.)

But the real question for each one of us is this.  What is standing in the way of me following Jesus?  Clearly it is not a Roman oppression and worldly-minded Pharisees/Sadducees.  Perhaps it is your reputation that you will have to die to.  Perhaps the things that you know you will have to quit doing or even start doing that are standing in the way of following Him.  Is it forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply?  Your flesh tells you that victory in these areas cannot possibly be found in following the cross-path which Jesus has blazed.  If you are trying to hold on to both Jesus and these conflicting desires then you will find that the tension will increase until you are about to be pulled in two.  At some point you will choose one master and hate the other.  Which will you deny?  Can I choose the path that looks like losing, simply because Jesus is going there?  That is the challenge.

Jesus has called you to victory.

Even though we are called to follow Jesus to our own particular cross, the cross is not our final destination.  It is only a critical waypoint.  Jesus does have a real victory that He is offering us, both in this life and in the life to come.  Thus one of the favorite descriptions used of Christians in the book of Revelation is “overcomer.”  To deny ourselves, pick up our cross and persevere in following Jesus throughout this life is called overcoming the world.  Yes, our victory is mainly a spiritual victory over the lies of our flesh and the lies of this world.  However, it leads to something much more.

But, let’s look at the spiritual part first.  Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man to obtain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  Think about what he is implying.  Every time that a person chooses the path of pleasing the flesh over the top of pleasing our Creator, we lose a little piece of our soul.  We were not designed to have “pleasing the flesh” as our purpose in life.  The body was to be a tool that our soul used in this life, rather than our soul becoming a tool of the body.  When we live that way, we little by little give up a piece of our soul.  Something inside of us dies and we lose the freedom and authority that we had over ourselves.  We find ourselves, little by little, coming under the tyranny of this body that is slowly wasting away.

Another way to think of this is to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 21:19.  “By your perseverance, take possession of your souls.”  Jesus uses terminology that hints at Israel coming into the Promised Land.  It had giants that had taken over the territory.  If they wanted it, they would have to trust God to help them win the battles.  Similarly, we have lost territory in our souls by serving the flesh.  When we come to Christ, He challenges us to fight these giant strongholds of fleshly desires by His Spirit.  By persevering with our faith in Christ, we will have the victory, which is to have back our own soul.  The truth will set you free.  Now, even when the teacher has taught you how to win, it is not easy to follow through.   Perseverance is that part that keeps going when every other part wants to quit.  It is easy to start following Jesus, but it is difficult to stay with Him all the way.  Yet, in so doing, you will find that God gives you back your soul.  There will be a life within you that replaces the deadness inside.  This is a true victory that we can have in this life.

But the victory is not just a spiritual or unseen victory.  Jesus has called us to receive glory and honor at the day of Judgment.  Jesus actually rose up out of the grave, presented himself to over 500 people at various times over the course of 40 days, and then ascended into heaven in front of their eyes.  In verse 38 Jesus puts the stakes in a negative light.  If we choose to satisfy our flesh then there is a day of judgment when Jesus returns with His holy angels.  Those who lived for their flesh and denied Jesus will find shame and disgrace.  But those who picked up their cross and followed Him will find glory and victory.

The cynic will reply that Jesus hasn’t come back yet, and chances increasingly are that He never will.  But life teaches us that there is always a day of reckoning.  You can avoid it your whole life, but eventually the truth catches up with you.  Only a fool tells themselves that they can cut the corners, serve only their self, and get away with it (i.e. be victorious).  Jesus stands on the other side of the cross and beckons us to walk through it to victory.  This strange door causes our flesh to fear, but it is the path to true victory.

Victory of the Cross Audio