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Weekly Word

Entries in Jesus (118)

Tuesday
Apr102018

Rest for the Weary

Matthew 11:28-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on April 8, 2018.

Last week we talked about how Jesus offered himself to Israel as their king, but not in a way that would satisfy their flesh.  The same is true to all who are invited to come to Jesus.  The heart of God is to invite us into relationship with Himbut it is not in a way that satisfies our flesh.  He will not stop calling us to Himself until we leave this earth.

So we see in this passage a wonderful message that reminds us that God wants to give us rest for our weary souls.  Are you weary in this life?  Listen to what Jesus has to say in these verses and then follow His wisdom in order to find peace.

Jesus gives His invitation.

When Jesus started his public ministry, He went out of His way to be available to the world around Him.  In fact at times he became so hard pressed by the crowds and multitudes which gathered that his mother and brothers worried about Him and thought that He should quit and come home.  In verse 28 Jesus gives an invitation and it is about more than following Him around the Sea of Galilee and seeing a miracle.  He is giving a spiritual invitation that must be responded to in physical and spiritual ways.

Today, when we hear about the invitation of Jesus we may respond by reading the Bible, finding a group of disciples to join and praying.  However, this can only go so far if there is not a real spiritual response to the call of Jesus at the foundation of it.  Thus it takes both.  If a true spiritual work has been done in my heart then it will give external evidences in our life.

It might be easy to read the Bible and think that Jesus is much better than the God of the Old Testament.  This would be a mistake.  If you take Jesus seriously, He is telling us that He is the perfect representative of the heart of God.  He only spoke and did what the Father had given Him to say and do.  Jesus is calling us to Himself on behalf of God the Father.  As the Son of God who has been sent to save us from the tyranny of this world, He has full authority from the Father to give this invitation.  Remember the picture from this passage.  When God looks upon us, He does not see pitiful losers that aren’t worth the time of day.  Instead He sees people who are struggling under heavy loads that He did not make for them, enslaved by systems that He did not intend for them,  simply lost and captive.  So the Father sends Jesus to call us back from the ledge.

The invitation that Jesus gives is to come to Him.  He is not calling us to a particular denomination, or pastor, but to Himself.  The relationship is first and foremost a relationship with Jesus.  Everyday that we wake up needs to be a new day in which we hear the voice of Jesus calling us to Himself, and respond by drawing near to Him.  God does not want to be distant to you.  

Though the call of Jesus is technically for anyone who hears it, Jesus puts a choice before us.  Much like the “whosoever” of John 3:16, Jesus leaves it up to us if we will come to Him or not.  Bear with me on this.  He brings up the issue of weariness.  His call is to whosoever is weary.  This puts the hearer in the position of thinking, “Am I weary?”  Of course everyone who is not in relationship with Jesus is weary, but not all will admit it.  This is the spiritual part of the call.  It is a challenge to our mind and heart.  When I hear the words does the conviction of the Holy Spirit stir up my heart to admit that this is me?  In fact even followers of Jesus sometimes grow weary when they forget that the call is to a relationship with Him rather than a list of duties to fulfill.

Are you weary?  Jesus invites you to come to Him today and every day afterwards.  The invitation of God has always been to the weary.  Isaiah 50:4 says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.  He awakens me morning by morning.  He awakens my ear to hear as the learned.”

He wants to replace our yoke.

Although Jesus technically tells us that He will give us rest when we come to Him, he uses the metaphor of a yoke to drive the point home.  A yoke was a wooden or metal harness that was used to connect a beast of burden to a load.  This picture reveals much about what Jesus is trying to show us here.  It involves us being a beast of burden or a slave to things in which we are laboring for another.  The yoke represents the obligations that one has in life.

When a person is born into the world, many obligations are put upon them.  As they learn to speak their parents begin to put obligations upon them.  At some point society itself will assert the individual’s obligations to it.  Add marriage, religion, nations, and especially our plans and obligations that we put upon ourselves, and you now have an amazing amount of “yokes” that an individual picks up in life.  All the different people we are trying to satisfy.  Even the person who says that they don’t care what anybody thinks still finds themselves yoked to the competing desires of their own flesh.  Thus we are all loaded down with all these claims of duty that practically pull us apart.  

Notice that Jesus has a switch in mind.  He is not wanting to add His yoke to the lot.  Rather, He will remove all those yokes off of your neck and only put His upon you.  Now someone might say that this is not right.  We shouldn’t have any yokes, but be free.  The problem is what I mentioned earlier.  What happens to a person in this life is that they end up a slave to the competing desires of their own flesh.  It is only by accepting the Lordship of Jesus that we can find true freedom, although that sounds contradictory.  Our only hope is to switch masters.

Remember that Jesus is the Lord of lords and King of kings.  So he has complete authority to tell us to quit trying to please everybody else (especially our self) and simply pull the load that He has for us.  He nullifies all the obligations that we or others place upon ourselves and says, “Let me be your master.”  Does that mean we will suddenly quit fulfilling our obligations to the people in our life?  To the contrary, people who become followers of Jesus are often better in these areas.  Christ helps us to be a better child, father, mother, employee, citizen etc.  Instead of trying to please people we now focus on pleasing Jesus.  When Jesus is your Lord, it becomes difficult for the world or the devil to manipulate us any more.  A person who has come to Christ has had their life simplified and clarifies the real reason why we are to love one another.  I am to love you because Christ asks me to do so.  Yes, even the world loves those who love them.  But such a quid pro quo world ends up with a soul full of weariness and in bondage.  Let Jesus be the teacher who shows you what your true purpose is, not another person, or even one you make up on your own.

It is to your benefit to come to Him.

Jesus knows that it is not a very tempting invitation to take on a yoke.  Thus He points out that it is to our benefit to take Him up on this offer.  You see, He is a better master than any other.  First of all, He is gentle.  Obligations and duties become impersonal and focused on the load that must be pulled.  In so doing we can even force ourselves to pull loads that are too heavy and end up damaging ourselves.  Sometimes churches make this mistake.  They can be all excited and encouraging to a new person who joins the group.  But, then over time the expectation for you to get in and help pull the load can start to corrupt the situation.  I am not saying it always happens, but that it is a common error.  The real question is not about whether a person is pulling the load we think they should be pulling, but if they are listening to Jesus and doing what He is saying.  Jesus is far more gentle than we are, even on ourselves.  In fact, I have found that people can be extremely harsh on themselves.  Jesus is gentle and will not overwork you, heartlessly whipping you to get the task done.  The truth is that Jesus simply wants us.  He wants our heart.  He wants to have a relationship with us.  

Secondly, Jesus is lowly or humble in heart.  The masters of this world are proud and full of themselves because they are blinded by the devil.  The devil is the ultimate taskmaster who cares not for those who toil under him.  Like Israel in the slavery of Egypt, Jesus comes out of the middle of the wilderness, and while he calls us to himself, He also says to the spiritual powers of this world, “Let my people go!”  Who has ever heard of a slave being able to pick their own master.  God gives us that authority because of Jesus.

Another benefit to taking the yoke of Jesus upon yourself is that He gives rest to our souls.  Nothing sounds sweeter to the weary and heavy burdened person than rest.  But notice that Jesus is not so much concerned with physical rest as He is about spiritual rest.  Throughout our life as we choose to go our own way, we give up an increasing amount of our soul until we find ourselves harassed and in bondage.  Jesus sets us free on the inside, which is rest to our soul.  This will often make a difference on our experience in life.  However, even then the key is not trying to get a certain something out of Jesus in this life.  Rather it is about having rest and peace in our soul.

Like Noah, we find ourselves working on the load that He has given us, while the whole world around us scoffs at our insanity.  The world doesn’t understand what we are doing.  Thus it mocks and ridicules the faithful believer.  It is this way because the world doesn’t understand or know Jesus.

Ultimately, God cares about us and wants to give us rest in our inner person.  Jeremiah 6:16 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the way and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it;  then you will find rest for your souls.  But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  The wise and sophisticated of Israel back then were like the wise and sophisticated of the world today.  They are always coming up with new paths and reasons why to disregard the Creator and His proven word.  Yet, they will never come up with anything that is better than what Jesus is offering.  In the end they just craft a new and improved form of tyranny.  So let me ask you again, “Are you weary?”

Rest for the Weary Audio

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

Tuesday
Mar272018

The Flesh Profits Nothing

Mark 11:7-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 25, 2018.

Today we remember the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the week before he was crucified.  In some ways it looks like a victorious thing we should be excited about, yet in other ways, it represents a clear defeat of mankind’s ability to follow God in truth.  Yes, many people publicly embraced Jesus as the Messiah that day.  But over the course of the following days they were unable to follow the Spirit of God because they were operating according to the desires of their flesh, rather than the desires of the Spirit of God.  Of course, God knew this was the case and therefore had worked it into His plan to use the fleshly desires of mankind (and even fallen cherubim) in accomplishing His plan.  This doesn’t make these things good or acceptable.  The crucifixion of Jesus still stands as the most reprehensible action of mankind and the devil and his angels.  There is no absolving ourselves by claiming it was the will of God because those who participated in the crucifixion of Jesus did so in answer to their flesh, not the Spirit of God.

Jesus made it clear that he was doing a spiritual work that was directed by the Spirit of God.  He said in John 6:63,

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”  

I want to highlight this concept.  Following the flesh will not benefit you in any way.  It is only in hearing and following the Spirit that we can benefit.  I do not say this to exclude physical things.  We can grow up, marry, raise children and work as a person who follows the Spirit of God, rather than one who follows the desires of their flesh.

On this amazing day, Jesus finally quits beating around the bush (from the perspective of the average person in Israel) and presents himself as God’s Anointed One, the King of Israel.  However, we must take note that Jesus does not present himself in a way that would satisfy the flesh of those who were celebrating that day.

The same is true today.  We declare that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords to the people of this nation and world.  However, we must follow the Spirit of God and not the desires of our flesh (i.e. be born again) if we are to enter the Kingdom of God.

He appears to do nothing.

We are picking up the story mid-stream.  Each day more and more people are swelling the population of Jerusalem, and the surrounding area, in preparation for the coming Feast of Passover.  On top of this is the growing anticipation of this man Jesus.  Will he show up?  Is this the year Messiah appears and delivers us from the Romans?  When Jesus comes down the Mt. of Olives, opposite the temple, riding on the back of a donkey, it was an unmistakable signal to the people that Jesus was presenting Himself as their king.  The prophecies of Zechariah spoke about the Messiah and His work.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off.  He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, and from The River to the ends of the earth.’ “  Zechariah 9:9-10.

Yes the stories of all that Jesus did around the country had stirred up an anticipation that he would step into the role of Israel’s messianic king.  He has avoided this up to this point.  But, now he clearly accepts the role that the prophets had declared and publicly offers himself to Israel.

Yet, what we will see in the following events, both that day and in the days to follow, is that there is an anticlimactic feel.  This is the high point, but everything continues to unravel over the next days and culminates with the crowds crying, “Crucify him,” and then the death of Jesus on the cross.  Mark seems to highlight this anticlimactic feel.  Everything builds up in the story.  Jesus enters Jerusalem and goes directly to the temple.  He then looks around at everything (with everyone watching him with bated breath).  Yet, Jesus simply leaves, “as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.”  Why the grand entrance into Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecy, only to look around and leave?  Why did he come so late in the day?

This should be a clue to us that Jesus is doing something more than offering himself to Israel as the Messiah.  This timing issue ought to catch our attention.  Is it not true that God often seems to come “too late” for our tastes?  Are not we tempted to just give up and walk away because He appears to do nothing?  Yet, when we think God is doing nothing, we are wrong.  We have to learn to see with the eyes of the Spirit, rather than the eyes of our flesh.  We need the eyes of faith in God rather than faith in the flesh and what we see.  God is always working by His Spirit.  If He comes late in the day, it is because that is precisely the best time to come for the things of the Spirit, but not for the desires of our flesh.

Mark emphasizes that Jesus looked around at everything.  In light of the fact that he will come back the next day and “clean house,” we must see this as a kind of inspection.  Rather than doing nothing, Jesus is inspecting the temple that belongs to Him, the temple that he had commanded Israel to build along with the instructions of what to do there.  Were they focused on the purposes and plan of God in what they did there?  The irony of the situation is that as they are being inspected by The Lord of Glory, they presume to be “inspecting him.”  Be careful that you are not so critical of Jesus and the Christians who follow him that you miss the fact that you too are being inspected by God.  If He uses the same criteria of fleshly judgment against you that you use against him, will you survive? 

Jesus leaves exactly when you would expect something big to happen.  Our flesh does not like that sort of thing.  If we don’t get the “bang for our buck” then we feel like we are cheated.  God will never allow us to turn Him into our personal “God machine.”  You know; where you put in a certain amount of effort or money and get what you ordered by 3 PM the next day (or with Amazon Air within 30 minutes).  Not only does our flesh profit nothing, it cannot recognize a spiritual profit when it is staring it in the face.  We must recognize this critical point about ourselves as humans.  We have to learn to recognize that God often operates in a way that is a rebuke to our flesh, and simultaneously a call of the Spirit to follow Him.

He rejects the empty, religious practices of the day.

Now look at verses 12-19.  I ask you to put the verses about the fig tree on hold so that we can deal with them later.  However, after spending the night in a neighboring village called Bethany, Jesus and his disciples come back to Jerusalem and go to the temple the next day.  When Jesus gets there, he tosses the money changers out, and forces those selling sheep and doves to get everything out of the temple grounds.  Why does Jesus do this?  He is confronting the empty, religious practices of his day.

The temple had turned into a convenience store for religious people.  They could come from anywhere in the world, purchase a sacrifice in the temple, and not have to bother themselves with any of that nasty work of touching them (except for a ceremonial touch).  The problem was not that they purchased the sheep.  This was acceptable.  But that this was being done in a place that was not meant to be a commercial place that focused on the comfort of the “worshipper.”  This conflation of the sacred and the common (commerce is not evil, but neither does it have place in the sacred), has forever been a bane to humanity.  Today, we can be in jeopardy of turning churches into a means of making money off of those who are in our niche market, all by satisfying the desires of the religious people who gather, which are superficially spiritual desires, but at their depths are only fleshly desires dressed up as spiritual desires).  It becomes a type of “spiritual transaction” in which those in the pew pay in order to have their conscience assuaged.  This is a dangerous undermining of the true purpose of the place of worship.

The true purpose of the temple was to be a place where people could approach God in order to deal with their sin, but also, to fellowship with Him.  It was a place to celebrate His appointed feasts and to rejoice in His kingship over them.  The flesh turns religion into a marketplace of hyperactivity that loses sight of what the Spirit of God is trying to accomplish.  The flesh is hostile to the purposes of God and will always choose one of two paths: active rejection or passive repurposing.  Jesus is reminding them that the true purpose of the temple was to be a place of prayer (i.e. interaction between people and God) for all nations.

He does not confront the Romans.

We won’t spend a lot of time on this.  But, it is worth noting that Jesus did not even lift a finger towards removing this occupying force.  He did not raise an army, or connect with the zealots of the day in order to raise up a rebellion.  There was no great battle of Messiah vs. the Romans that week.  This was an added consternation to those whose flesh badly wanted free of the Romans, but not necessarily their sins.

The lesson of The Withered Fig Tree

Verses 20-26 bring us back to the fig tree that was mentioned earlier.  It is important to recognize that these two interactions with this fig tree are like bookends to the actions of Jesus in the temple.  So what about this?

When Jesus and his disciples were traveling into Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree in the distance that had leaves on it.  It was common for travelers to eat from food that was found along the road.  As long as it wasn’t in an enclosure, it was considered common fare.  The fig tree is different from some fruit trees in that it will fruit first and then grow leaves.  Thus the leaves on this tree give the appearance that there is fruit to be had.  It represents something that promises fruit from a distance.  It is clear that this interaction with the fig tree is intended to be a parable for something.  So we must dig deeper to discern the spiritual truth that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and us.  As I said earlier, it is obvious that Mark understood the events of the fig tree to be connected to the cleansing of the temple.

The fig tree that promises fruit from afar has none upon closer inspection.  Jesus draws near, but finds no dates on the fig tree.  The inspection of the fig tree is parallel to the inspection of the temple that Jesus had done the night before.  The shouting crowds surrounding Jerusalem and the temple activity all gave the appearance of a people who were obedient to the Lord and were righteously awaiting his coming.  Like the fig tree, it would appear that Israel was faithfully serving the Lord and waiting for His deliverance, but it was superficial.  In truth, most of their hearts were following fleshly desires.  Only a remnant of the people would follow the Spirit of God over the course of the next 40 years.  And, only a remnant would escape the destruction that was coming upon this fig tree that God had planted in the land.

Now we can focus on the fact that it wasn’t prime fig season, yet.  However, this plant put forth the outward appearances that it was fruitful, when all the other fig trees were not.  This signifies all who are easily drawn into religion by their flesh.  We can fall into the trap of thinking that we are fruitful because we gather at a particular place, at a particular time, and do a particular set of rituals.  But the real thing that prepares us for God comes from listening to the Holy Spirit and following Him.  There were some who had fruit in those days, just as there are some who have fruit today.  But, God is not looking for an outward show that has lost the true inner purpose of His Spirit.  If you lack the fruit of the Spirit of God then humble yourself and cry out to Him for His presence and salvation in your life.  But under no circumstances should you pretend that you are okay with God, when you are not.  Those who do so have nothing to expect from God, but a curse and His judgment that they are unacceptable.  Jesus does not curse the fig tree because his flesh is angered that it won’t get food.  He does so to teach us a spiritual lesson that the outward show of religion that lacks the fruit of the Spirit of God is ripe for judgment from God.

It is easy to think that Jesus simply takes time to teach on prayer all of the sudden.  But, his comments about prayer are directly tied to the fig tree.  We need to understand the role of faith in our spiritual life as a follower of God.  That which is by faith will live, but that which is by the flesh will die and benefit us nothing.  The flesh tells us that the path of faith won’t work, but the Spirit faithfully calls us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  When we cling to our sins over the top of the call of the Holy Spirit, our flesh becomes blind and calloused to what the Spirit of God is saying.  The Pharisees could only see that Jesus was trespassing upon their authority.  Who did He think He was?  They were so offended in the flesh that they could not hear the Spirit saying, “Israel, behold your king!”  In truth it was the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were the true trespassers.  Their right to represent God before the people was only authoritative as long as they actually represented Him, and not the desires of their flesh.  We must learn to let go of what others have done to us, and follow the Spirit of God, rather than the spirit of fear and offense.  Only then can we escape becoming a fig tree that offers false hope to God and ends up withered and dead.

Flesh Profits Nothing audio

Tuesday
Dec262017

He Shall Be Called Emmanuel

Matthew 1:18-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 24, 2017.

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

Today we are going to look at a passage in Matthew regarding the birth of Jesus.  His name tells us something about him through its meaning- the salvation of God.  Christians look to Jesus as God’s answer to their problems and those of the world.  No matter what is ailing you today, or bothering you about the world, God’s word tells us that Jesus has an answer for it. 

Yet, as we will see today, He is also called Immanuel, which means God with us.  Thus, no matter how alone we may feel today, whether Christian or not, God is as close as the mention of His name.  When we read the Scriptures about Jesus, we are being introduced to the one who is God’s presence with us, both personally and as a world.  I encourage you to not see just a story of peace and good times.  We must also recognize that it is a story of an answer from God that involves His presence with us in the midst of our difficulties and even our own failures.  Jesus is God with us, even when we don’t recognize him, or even when we think he is absent, or even when we may think that we have failed him completely.  Today we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World, who is still with us, even though we may feel abandoned.

The Birth of Jesus

Jesus was born at a particular point in time.  His life was so monumental that much of the world has used his birth in their system of dating time.  Thus B.C. came to mean “before Christ” and A.D. is from a Latin phrase that is short for “in the year of our Lord.”  Lately it has become vogue and even proper within the sciences to use B.C.E. for “Before the Common Era” and C.E. for the “Common Era.”  Of course they still switch at a date that is roughly the birth of Jesus. [Note: There has been much study on exactly what year Jesus was born and many believing that Jesus may have been several years old at 1 A.D.  Regardless, for our purposes it is still pertinent to the point.]  Think of it, it is a blatant fact that the Jewish man named Jesus from the first century C.E./A.D. has impossibly affected this world.

So our story picks up with a crisis that has to do with two people who have been betrothed to each other, but not yet married.  Mary has become pregnant and her only explanation to Joseph is that an angel appeared to her and told her that she would become pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.  Now it is easy to scoff at such a story.  Joseph did not immediately believe her, and neither did the society around her.  The Gospels record some harsh digs made towards Jesus by the Pharisees.  They saw him as an illegitimate child.  So this is not a problem that those backwards ancient people were easily duped because they didn’t understand science.  Everyone knew that if a girl is pregnant then there has been sperm inserted in her by a man.  Now if Jesus had grown up to be just a normal Jewish man then nothing more would have been said.  However, Jesus did not grow up to be a normal man.  Instead he became such an amazing figure that the whole world is marked by his life today.  So we can’t just toss this aside as mythology or propaganda.

Chastity has been a big issue in most cultures throughout history.  It appears that Mary has been unfaithful and Joseph is struggling over how to break off the marriage without doing too much harm to Mary.  Now our culture has gone from being one that prized chastity before marriage and fidelity during it, to tossing both into the garbage bin.  This culture encourages our sons and daughters to be promiscuous and faithful only to themselves and their own desire for pleasure.  If Mary were in our day, our society would tell her to go to the nearest Planned Parenthood Clinic and get an abortion.  This child will ruin your life if you have it.  But Mary is not a modern woman who is pregnant because of some guy she met in the market.  She was a virgin who had abstained from sex and was saving herself for her husband to be, Joseph.  Her pregnancy creates a problem for her, people will see her as unfaithful, but it also creates a problem for Joseph.  If he doesn’t break off the marriage people will see it as an admission of guilt, i.e. Mary and he had been sexually active before the wedding.  In such a situation you can imagine Mary telling God that it wasn’t fair.  However, previously Mary had stated to the angel, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be unto me as you have said.”  No difficulty is too great if it is done for the Lord’s purposes.   As I said, in our culture this used to be a big thing.  However, it is probably hard for us to understand just how difficult a crisis this was.  Joseph doesn’t want to publicly humiliate Mary, but for his own honor, he must break off the marriage. 

Just as God had a job for Mary, so God has a job for Joseph.   An Angel appears to him in a dream, verifies Mary’s story, tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife, and to name the baby, Jesus.  The term angel is used in the bible in several ways.  It basically means messenger, whether human or heavenly.  So the context will determine which is intended.  It is easy to read the Bible and to think that angels were showing up all the time.  However, the truth is that they were few and far between.  But, at special times their activity would increase.  This was one of those special times.

Sometimes people make a big deal out of how the name Jesus should be printed and said.  Some say it must be the original version in Aramaic or a Hebrew equivalent, such as Yeshua.  Some will even claim that to use any name but some ancient form of Yeshua is the same as calling on a false God.  However, this just doesn’t make sense.  It is common throughout history and even today to recognize that names change from language to language.  Sometimes names are simply transliterated.  This is where you go sound by sound and choose which target-language letter mimics it closest.  However, this sometimes creates a name that is weird or strange sounding in the new language.  So it can also be translated.  The meaning in the first language is brought over into the new language and a new name is created.  The name Jesus in English has been transliterated from the Hebrew to Greek and then into English.  It is basically a transliteration with a modified ending to make it more Greek (and then eventually English).  Even the Hebrews in the Scriptures would use Hebraicized forms of the names from other countries.  It seems an overly dogmatic point to try and state that if you pray in the name of Jesus, that God will reject you.  He knows all along that who you are praying to and who you mean when you use that name.  Jesus is the one who is God’s salvation/solution for the world.  As Mary was a righteous girl asked to do something that would cause tongues to wag all over town, so too, Joseph is a righteous man who is asked to come alongside of her in this endeavor.  This is all because God needed to send a savior into the world.

In verses 22-25 we drop out of the story and Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus, explains the critical importance of all of this.  The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy and it becomes an important teaching or doctrine of all of his followers.  The prophets of the Old Testament had often pointed forward to a coming savior or Messiah, who would be God’s solution to the crisis of mankind’s rebellion against Him.  Our outline today speaks of Mary and Joseph’s crisis and God’s solution.  But it is parallel to a greater crisis of mankind’s rebellion and God’s solution.  We were created in perfect relationship with God until the crisis of sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).  God initially tells them that He has a plan to solve this crisis, and slowly over the course of many years He reveals more and more what that solution will be.  Some have counted as many as 353 different prophecies regarding the first coming of Jesus.  Of course it comes down to how you count a prophecy.  Here is a link to a website that breaks it up by each individual new fact that is prophesied in the Old Testament and then gives the fulfillment in the New Testament.  Now the statistical chances of one person fulfilling 353 different prophecies are so close to zero that we can say it is nigh impossible.   Yet, Jesus did.  But here Matthew only points to one prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  This prophecy says that a virgin would give birth to a son as a sign that God was going to help those who would trust Him.  In that prophecy, however, the baby is to be called Emmanuel.  Now the Old Testament spells it Immanuel.  This is the difference in the Hebrew spelling versus the Greek spelling.  So it refers to the same name.  The meaning of Emmanuel is “God is with us.”

Such a name brings to attention the ancient problem of the nearness of God.  In the technical sense God is omnipresent and thus always near even the worst of sinners.  He is everywhere at once because He is not a part of this material creation.  But don’t think that means He can’t interact with the universe.  Yet, when mankind rebelled against God, it created a relational separation.  The fractured relationship is what causes us to feel that He is so far away that He might as well not exist.  The name Emmanuel is intended to give the hope that God is fixing this separation in our relationship through Jesus.   On one hand Jesus is divine and thus “God with us.”  He came down from heaven and entered a human body that was especially made for Him to inhabit.  I won’t get into the complexities of what that could have looked like.  So in Jesus, God has come down to Earth in order to help us.  Now, most religions, whether false religions or Christian cults, are man’s attempt to be good enough.  Somehow they teach men how to climb up Mt. Olympus and take their place among the gods.  Like some kind of spiritual Hercules we hope to make it.  However, true Christianity recognizes that no one is good enough to climb into the heavens.  God’s solution is not to save the greatest of mankind, who can climb into His presence.  His plan is to come down to us, into the muck and the mire of the trenches in which we live.  He comes down into the ugliness of sin and lifts us up out of it one day at a time.  This emphasizes the other hand.  Yes, Jesus is divine, but He has come down to our level, “God with us.”  God wants to dwell with mankind, but in our rebellious condition He can’t.  So isn’t it ironic that Jesus, who is called Emmanuel, has ascended into heaven and we wait for Him again?  You have to see God as an artist to appreciate this touch.  Yes, Jesus is no longer physically near us.  But, He is near us through the Holy Spirit.  Just as the prophecy of His first coming was fulfilled, so the prophecies of His second coming will be fulfilled.  However, now we have the reality of Emmanuel and the countless thousands who saw his life and death.  Then we also see the reality of over 500 witnesses to His resurrection.  The testimony that has been given to us is that, regardless of how much it feels that God has abandoned us, or is far, far away, God is with us!  The birth of Jesus forever vanquishes the horrible thought that we might have been abandoned, and replaces it with the awe inspiring Truth that God will see us through.  This is the amazing gift of Jesus to mankind.  He is proof that God is with us and He is the One who has taken away the sins that have separated us from God.  Amen!