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Entries in Judgment (38)

Wednesday
Sep202017

The Judgment of the Nations II

We apologize that the audio is not available for this sermon.

Matthew 25:35-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 17, 2017.

Today we finish part two in this look at Jesus judging the nations after His Second Coming.  This is an event that is in the future, but towards which we are hurtling quickly.  The Bible is clear that Jesus will return after a devastating period called The Great Tribulation.  This period is at least 3.5 years long and some speak of it as 7 years.  During this time mankind chooses to put a tyrant in charge of the world that then uses religion and economics to control all peoples.  At The Second Coming of Jesus, this governmental system is destroyed, leaving only the surviving populace left.  This is who Jesus is judging in this passage.

Last week we saw how Jesus will come in a spectacular manner and as the King of all Kings.  He sets up a throne and will judge who gets to enter into the new kingdom.  His judgment is a matter of discerning who is righteous and who is not.  Regardless of whether or not a person survives to this point, the question is the same for every person in every generation.  When I am judged by God will He see me as righteous or wicked?  It is easy to say that He will see us as “basically good.”  Of course we all think that we should be accepted.  But will God think so?

The sheep on the right hand

We left off with verse 34 last time, and saw how Jesus was separating the sheep from the goats, or the righteous from the wicked.  Thus the sheep or righteous are put on his right hand.  They are basically told that they are blessed because they will get to enter into the Kingdom that Jesus is setting up.  In Revelation we see that this kingdom will last 1,000 years on this earth and thus it is often called the Millennial Kingdom.  Technically Jesus already is a king over a kingdom.  But that kingdom is from heaven and in the hearts of men.  This point in time represents a real and significant change in the administration of Jesus.

So how does he determine the good from the bad?  Interestingly enough, he says to the people on his right hand that it is their care for even the least of his brothers and sisters.  He gives a list of 5 situations in which they helped his family (hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison).  They had fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned.  Even more than this, Jesus states that when they helped his family they were helping him.  It is interesting that the righteous are clueless to this dynamic.  So this is not a group of people who are trained in the Word of God.  I believe that most of these people refused to take the mark of the beast, but not necessarily because they believed in Christ.  They probably witness the hatred of the world against Christians and feel sorry for them.  In helping them they take a stand against the beast and with God’s people.  Jesus accepts this as having taken a stand with Him.

This begs the question.  Just who are the brethren of Jesus?  In Matthew 12:50 Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”  At the time, his mom and brothers were trying to get into see him and take him home.  They thought that he was out of his mind.  When told that his mother and brothers were outside, Jesus counters with the recognition that his true brothers (family) are those who do the will of God.  The will of God is for all people everywhere to repent of their sins and believe on Jesus, a.k.a. To become true, born-again believers in Jesus, Christians.  Sometimes people try to interpret this as the Jewish people themselves.  Let me say that its proper meaning is those who follow Jesus.  However, the bible is also clear that The Great Tribulation is about God bringing the nation of Israel to a place of repentance and salvation from their enemies.  So there is room to recognize that God will hold people accountable for how they treated Christians and Jewish people who He is bringing to salvation.  We should always beware working against those whom God has pledged Himself to. 

Now the key to this passage is the close identification that Jesus makes with his family.  These people are being blessed because they identified with the family of Jesus in times of difficulty.  Jesus considers a good deed done for them as a good deed done to Him.  This does put a bit of a wrinkle in the mentality of those who say they like Jesus, but don’t care for His followers.  If you really like Jesus then you will recognize how closely He identifies with his followers and bless them when they need help rather than piling on with the rest of the world.  You don’t have to like them, but you do need to love them.  Why?  We need to do so because Jesus loves them so much that he inseparably identifies himself with them.  This is just as important among fellow believers.  How do we treat one another as the brothers and sisters of Christ, or even as the least of his brothers and sisters?  We cannot use the status of a person and their failings as an excuse not to love them.  Now let’s turn to the goats.

The goats on the left hand

Next we are told that the goats (wicked) are put on the left hand.  In verse 41 they are called cursed, and the implication is that they are cursed by the Father.  Their punishment is given in the command to depart from Jesus and go into the everlasting fire.  This is the fire that was originally created for the devil and his angels, but to which wicked men will go also.  It is clear that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, in this life.  Which will it be for you?  Sure you can deny it or theologize its existence away.  But the truth is that Jesus will judge us and give us our reward or punishment.  Which will your life warrant?

In parallel fashion, Jesus points out that the goats had not cared for his brothers and sisters.  In fact, this is probably putting it rather mildly.  The Tribulation period will involve one of the greatest persecutions of God’s people ever.  Those who do not pledge allegiance by taking the mark of the beast will be excluded from buying and selling, and also will be hunted down and put to death.  Whether these actively helped in this persecution, or passively allowed it to happen, they are held accountable.  Whatever good they had withheld from his family, He considers it withheld from Him.  Now, not to help people who are hungry, thirsty…etc. is an injustice on the face of it.  No person deserves to be abused for simply refusing to join a political system.  But again we notice that Jesus takes it personal.  Even believers should stand up and take notice of this.  Some believers have no problem talking about other Christians behind their back and saying all manner of things that they have no proof of.  Won’t Jesus consider it as if we did it to Him, if we are wrong?  We should love one another on its face value.  The other Christian has just as much right in God’s family as I do.  Even if I hold a position that is “above” them, it does not give me the right to be unloving towards them.  That said, we do live in an age where to hold someone accountable to the Word of God is considered unloving by some.  When we love each other, we truly love Christ.  When we correct each other we should do so with the humility of knowing that I will have to give account before Christ some day.  We must remember that we all bear the image of Christ.  When we love each other we love Christ in a very real way.  This is probably the key to understanding why Christians are not called to take over the world and fix it.  Our job is not to fix the world, but to offer it salvation.  In the middle of this, we also become a litmus test to those who interact with us and within each society.  Just as the treatment of Jesus proved Israel of the first century was worthy of judgment, so the world’s mistreatment of God’s people will prove its worthiness of judgment.  This is not a fun job, but it will allow us to become like Jesus, rather than becoming like the devil and his angels.

In conclusion, we need to see that faith in Jesus will lead to good works that God will accept.  Some people get hung up on the fact that there is no mention of faith.  However, this is like saying God isn’t in the book of Esther.  He isn’t named or blatantly acting like He did at Sinai, but He is there nonetheless.  So too, the people had to exercise faith in those actions of mercy they gave to God’s people.  Some will even say that these people aren’t being saved they are just being allowed to enter the Kingdom.  Yet, verse 46 says that these same people will enter into eternal life.  To have Jesus is to have eternal life.  1 John 5:12, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life.”  Because they are mortal, they are in the same condition that Christians are in today.  Their initial faith led to actions worthy of repentance.  Rather than joining with antichrist against God’s people, they have stood with God’s people before mankind.  This faith has put them in relationship with Christ, which is to have eternal life.  However, they must continue in faith in Jesus in order to continue in eternal life.  They are not being saved by works, but rather being saved by faith that was alive enough to do works.

Also, we should note that in this passage the main point is about helping God’s people.  So does that mean it doesn’t matter if we help the lost or not?  Or, another might ask, “Shouldn’t we help unbelievers too?”  The short answer is of course we should.  But let me simply answer this by quoting Galatians 6:10.  “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Clearly we are instructed to do good to all.  Friend, don’t go another day without making your peace with Jesus, and taking your place among His family.  No they aren’t easy to love, but then neither are you.  We will have to become more like Jesus in order to accomplish such a tall order!

Wednesday
Sep132017

The Judgment of the Nations I

A great theme throughout the New Testament is the mercy and the grace of God that is offered to everyone who will put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God.  However, the reason it is such great grace and such immeasurable mercy is because it saves us from the judgments that are coming upon the earth at some point in the future.  The passage that we will look at this morning deals with this judgment that will happen when Jesus comes back to earth in order to set up his earthly kingdom.  Something we should keep in mind is the fact that by this time many “judgments” will have occurred already (as we see in the book of Revelation).  During the seven years leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus, God will send forth severe judgments on the earth.  Some of them involve the removal of His protection from our own actions.  The Beast Leader of Revelation will come forward and take control of the whole earth, bringing it under a mandatory economic system that involves allegiance to him.  He will have many people put to death.   Other judgments involve God actively doing things such as: allowing the spirit-beings to be released from the bottomless pit, earthquakes, and other environmental destruction.  We also see in Revelation 19 that the nations of the world will gather their armies together in the Middle East in order to fight against Christ and stop His coming.  We are told that these armies will be completely destroyed, and the beast and the false prophet will be captured and thrown alive into the Lake of Fire.  Thus we are given a scene of a conquering King who is judging those who are left among the nations, those who have survived the horrors of The Great Tribulation.

Takes place when the Son of Man comes

The phrase “Son of Man” was used a lot by Jesus referring to himself.  On one hand it is a title that emphasizes that someone is human, i.e. born of a human.  He wanted us to know that he truly was human.  This should not be seen as a contradiction of his also being the Son of God, i.e. divine.  On the other hand, this phrase is also a technical term for an individual that was revealed in Daniel 7:13-14.  It was revealed to Daniel that none of the empires of the earth would last.  Rather, God would give everlasting dominion and a kingdom that cannot be destroyed to a character called “The Son of Man.”  The Son of Man would be representative of the saints and share his kingdom with them.  Jesus clearly saw himself as this character and his apostles clearly taught this about him later.  This passage represents that point in the future when the Son of Man takes up this rule upon the earth.

We are told that the Son of Man would come in his glory.  The idea of coming in glory refers to both how it will appear to those who see it, but also to the particular stage of Christ’s activity.  The first coming was all about his humbling.  But the Second Coming will be all about his being glorified.  We should also connect this to Matthew 24:30.  There Jesus tells us that the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (similar descriptions are in Daniel 7:13-14).   This glorious appearing involves visibility to the whole earth with Jesus in the sky, accompanied by angels who are most likely visible as well.  Some would also say that resurrected believers will also accompany Jesus, but that is another sermon.  On top of all of this, in the book of Revelation the Apostle John sees Jesus in a way that makes clear that he is not the same as he was when he was a lowly teacher in Israel.  His glorified form is described in Revelation 1:13-16.

“13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”  (NKJV)

He is not coming again to lay his life down for sinners.  He is coming to bring the judgment that has been warned against for millennia, and He will be in glorious form.

Part of his glory is to sit on the throne of his glory.  This is as opposed to sitting at the right hand of the Father’s throne where he is now (Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 8:1).  His Second Coming takes place because the Father has determined the time is ready for Jesus to come back and begin his 1,000 year rule on this earth.  Christians are already a part of the kingdom of God.  But that kingdom is ruled from heaven and has a very spiritual nature to it.  At this point, the Kingdom of God will take on a more physical reality because Jesus and his place of rule will be a visible place here on earth.  It is important for Christians and the denominations, to which they belong, to avoid seeing their buildings and headquarters, or even each country, as synonymous with God’s kingdom.  No leader or city on this earth is to be confused with what this passage is talking about.  Jesus is the only king and until he comes back no earthly city has claim to the allegiance of Christians.

We are also told that part of taking his place upon the throne of his glory is to judge all the nations.  As I said earlier, it is the survivors of The Great Tribulation that are in view here.  Thus Christ takes time to remove all things that are wicked before He continues His kingdom.  The nations have already had their political aspect judged.  Here the individuals of the nations are brought before Christ and he gives a decision regarding their future.  It is amazing how many people and even Christians who do not understand that Jesus is the judge of all people.  But this is a cardinal teaching of the New Testament.  Jesus is the judge of the dead and the living.  He has been given this position by the Father.  Please remember that the key understanding of the word “judgment” is that of making a decision.  He is making a decision between what is good, or acceptable, versus that which is not good, or wicked.  This is pictured by a separation of sheep from goats.  Notice that though these are all people who may not have noticeable differences to us, Jesus is able to determine a spiritual difference between them.  Those who are classified as sheep are those who are putting their faith in God.  Those who are classified as goats are those who have not trusted in God, and His Anointed One Jesus.

This judgment will lead to an individual being rewarded because they are deemed righteous or punished because they are deemed wicked.  We are only going to look at the righteous today and will pick up the rest of the story next Sunday.  Notice that the sheep are told that they are blessed of the Father.  They are blessed because they get to experience and enter the kingdom of God.  This kingdom will not be ruled by the wicked politicians of this world, or even hypocritical religious leaders.  It will be ran by the perfect judge, Jesus Christ.  This will truly be a Utopian age in which wars will cease and the ability of mankind is enabled by the grace of God to become what He intended it to become.  The Bible says that people will live longer during this period of time and will not die from diseases and other maladies.  Revelation 20 gives some more information on this 1,000 year period.  Now it is important to recognize at this point that these people are still mortal.  However, there will also be a large host of glorified believers who have accompanied Jesus to earth along with the angels.  They are not emphasized in this passage, but we know they will assist Jesus as kings and priests in His administration.  So the Millennial Kingdom will have both resurrected humans (who cannot die) and mortal humans who can.  This mixed group will be like Noah and his family stepping off of the ark.  They were spared the destruction of God’s wrath and are blessed with the grace and peace of entering the new age.  Many people of this world believe they can bring about a new age that is full of peace and joy.  All attempts that do not look to Jesus to bring it about are doomed to failure, even if they are done by Christians.  We cannot make this happen.  But we can serve Christ faithfully as we wait for the day in which this will come to past.

We do not know when Christ will return.  We are simply told to continue to be faithful to what Christ has told us to do.  Our mission statement is that we exist to connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  We must make sure each day that we are drawing life from Jesus and following Him in all that we do or say.  We must make sure that we are taking our place in His family of believers and doing our part to encourage others.  We must make sure that we are having compassion on the lost and making them aware of Christ’s offer to join his people and enjoy the blessing of the Father.  Our reward is sure no matter how dire things may get on earth before then.

Judgment of the Nations audio

Tuesday
Jun272017

Go and Sin No More

John 8:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 25, 2017.

Today, as I preach this sermon, the 43rd Annual Gay Pride Parade will begin in Seattle, WA.  Over the course of the last 43 years homosexuality has taken center stage as our society wrestles over how we should move forward.  What will be the laws that we will live by and by which individuals will be punished?  Of course churches and Christians are a part of this society and should speak the truth in love.  But even with this goal, we do not always agree.  Some have responded with acceptance to the degree that they have declared their approval for homosexuality, ordaining gay ministers and performing same-sex weddings.  Others have responded with rejection to the point of advocating the re-establishment of capital punishment for any such acts.

It is important to recognize that in the middle of this culture war individuals get chewed up and spit out, whether they are gay or a conservative Christian.  Christianity Today ran an article recently from a woman named Bekah Mason.  She is a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction throughout her life and tells her story.  She was raised in a very legalistic environment where even the idea that you would be attracted to the same sex was an “abomination” to God.  There was no room to talk about it and so she grew up holding it in and hiding it.  Later, when she entered college, she encountered a Christian group that was progressive.  This group told her that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality.  In fact, it was a gift from God.  She should completely embrace it and follow her “true self.”  This was too enticing not to embrace.  Thus she explored her true self and same sex relationships.  Over the course of time she realized that the progressive mentality was not the answer she had hoped.  She states, “Both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.”  In one group she was rejected as an abomination before God and couldn’t even discuss it, and in the other she was encouraged to follow her “true self” rather than Jesus.  She could not resolve following self with the Gospel message.  Over time she came to embrace the gospel.  Though she was inclined to a sinful expression of sexuality, God loved her enough to help her lay it down and follow Jesus.  It didn’t matter whether her feelings ever changed.  If she needed to remain celibate then that was fine.  She was no longer under the tyranny of hiding her feelings, nor that of redefining sin.

Though the woman in this passage is not a homosexual, she too has a problem with sexual sin.  We find in it a reminder that it is not our job to sacrifice individuals in order to make a difference in society.  It is our job to be a redemptive influence in the lives of those whom we cross paths.

Love the Individual more than the Society

Do you love humans or humanity more?  I believe it was Dennis Prager who said that people who loved humanity more than humans scared him because they were capable of great evil towards the individual in the name of the group.  If we were to create an artificial intelligence (AI) how would it be different if we programmed it to work for the good of humanity rather than for the good of each person?  This mental exercise will help you to see that in order to save the system or the larger group, people are often sacrificed.  Individuals are crushed under the machinery of good for the many.  Now it is different if a person volunteers to lay down their life for the sake of others.  When our military men and women volunteer to put their lives in jeopardy in order to protect our society, it is a good thing.  But when people are forced into armies and sent to die for the sake of the empire or society of whatever size, then it is an evil. 

This is part of what we are seeing in this passage.  Only here it is not conscription into an army.  Rather a woman who has broken the law is used as an expendable tool in order to stop Jesus.  The religious leaders do not see an individual woman who has embraced sin and is lost.  They do not see someone in need of saving and help.  She doesn’t matter to them, but stopping Jesus does matter, at all costs.  He is going to mess up their society, and their position within it.  Thus the woman is merely a useful tool and this tactic is used to this day, whether in politics, business, or even in churches.  I’m reminded of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist from the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.  She would not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.  She had sold flowers to the gay individual for years.  But felt that going to the wedding venue and setting up the flowers would be too much of helping a person to sin.  Initially the man had no problem and went his way.  The two parted on friendly terms even though they disagreed.  It is when others get involved who could care less about keeping an amicable relationship that things turn to the bad.  All they see is a tool of leverage to reinterpret old laws and force social change upon others through new ones.  This was a golden opportunity to change society and send a message to all Christian business owners.  It is clear in the John 8 passage that Jesus refused to operate on that level.  If society was to be saved it would not be at the expense of a woman who was a sinner.  In fact, the heart of God displayed in Christ is very different from the heart of mankind.  Jesus would lay down his life for us rather than sacrificing any sinners.  The question for us as Christians is this, “Are we following the Pharisees' model or are we following the model of Jesus?”  We must learn to lay ourselves down in order to reach the lost and help them to reconcile to God the Father.

All of this begs the question, “Can a society be saved, and if so, in what way?”  When an individual is saved it can be in one of two ways.  Jesus saves this woman from dying that day.  However she would eventually die of old age.  The more important “saving” is that of her soul.  We don’t know what becomes of this woman’s life despite the speculation that has occurred throughout history.  But, Jesus is clearly concerned about her soul.  She is a sinner who is lost.  If she died that day then she would be without hope.  Salvation for her is the possibility of having eternal life.  Now when we look at a society, it can never be eternally saved.  Our founding fathers stated in many different ways that the constitution and laws they established would not be enough.  Each generation would have to engage the fight for freedom for themselves.  Societies can only be “saved” for a temporary time.  History bears this out.  Should people who can be saved eternally be sacrificed for the sake of a society, which can only be saved temporarily?  I think the answer is obvious.  No society will survive the Second Coming of Christ, or the White Throne Judgment.  So why would we sacrifice people to save them?  Society is important, but it is of secondary concern.  Individuals should always be our primary concern.  A Society that sacrifices individuals for its own sake is poor indeed.  If such a society is worthy then individuals will voluntarily lay down their lives in order to save it (whether they are judging rightly or wrongly).

Though the religious leaders are correct in their understanding of the Law of Moses and its punishment, they do not understand the heart of the God who gave it.  This woman was caught in the act of adultery.  There is no question about her guilt and the punishment.  But Jesus does not respond to them on that level.  He knows that they are correct in her guilt and the matter of the Law.  Yet, Jesus clarifies the problem by issuing the challenge for them to declare publically that they are without sin.  He who is without sin among you, should throw the first stone.  Of course, none of them are willing to make such a public statement.  Clearly only a sinless being can truly hold a sinner accountable for their sin.  One of the mistakes of modern thinking is that we think judging sin is bad.  No, sin itself is bad.  But it is bad form for a sinful person to carry out judgment on another sinful person.  Jesus takes time to remind them and us just who is the Judge of sinners and just when punishment should be given.  In Romans 2:16 Paul states, “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.”  You see the Pharisees had unwittingly brought the woman before the only one who could carry out punishment upon her.  Now, don’t be deceived, there is a day of judgment and the Lord Jesus will preside over that judgment.  However, it was not that day yet.  They have prematurely brought her before the heavenly court in order for punishment to be carried out.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men to die once, but after this the judgment.”  Notice judgment before God follows death.  Yes, we do have to have some laws within this society of sinners so that we can live our lives.  But the punishment of sin is to be left to God once a person has died. 

When our focus is on condemning people and punishing them, we elevate the law over the top of the Grace of God.  Yes, God gave the law.  But He is not willing that any should perish.  He would even go to the extent of becoming a man himself and dying in our place in order to save us.  Or, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whosoever would believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This includes those who sin sexually.  As long as a person is a living breathing soul, they can still change.  It doesn’t matter how long this woman has been a slave to her sin of adultery.  She can change and Jesus knows that.  He is more concerned about her continuing to have a chance to change than he is about perfecting society by getting rid of her.  Notice his words to her at the end, “Go and sin no more.”  What she does with those words is an eternal decision that she will have a chance to make as long as she is alive.  For the rest of her life she would remember that strange man who saved her life physically and wonder if He could actually save her life spiritually.

Now this leads to my last point.  Jesus defends her physical life, without defending her morality.  He does not give some speech filled with moral pablum such as, “This woman has done nothing wrong.  Come into the First Century!”  He merely challenges their right to carry out such a punishment.  Christians should not advocate or give aid to the mentality that homosexuals should all be killed or jailed.  But we should neither give our aid to promote it.  Jesus is not promoting her adultery.  Rather, he is promoting her salvation.  He did it so that she would have a chance at redemption, whether that was immediately seized upon or later.  She would never be able to forget the man from Nazareth who saved her life and then told her to sin no more.  I would say that we clearly see Jesus defending her from her external attackers.  But, we may miss him coming to her defense against her internal attackers.  The inner life of our flesh and its sinful desires continually assail our mind and will.  This inner assault is even more insidious than that of the religious leaders.  When you tell someone that their sin is okay, you are refusing to help them against that inner onslaught.  You have actually left them to their worst enemy.  We cannot save people by protecting them to just keep on sinning.

So how can we maintain a faithful conviction regarding sin and also show love toward those who do not?  I guess my point is that we do so by keeping our focus on the soul of each individual we meet.  It is not my job to stop the Gay Pride Parade in Seattle next year.  But it is my job to care about the soul of each homosexual that I come in contact with, each and every day.  The gospel is that freedom which God gives to us, freedom from the self life and tyranny of our flesh.  We can embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and know that regardless of our sins, He will accept us as we repent and follow Him.

Let’s love people more than we love America, or whatever society of which you are a part.

Go and Sin No More audio

Monday
Apr102017

When God Calls Our Bluff

Luke 19:37-40.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 9, 2017.

Today is Palm Sunday.  In and of itself it looks like a good day in the life of Jesus, at least on the surface.  But as we did deeper into what is really going on here, we see that ultimately it is a very sad day that reveals exactly why the crucifixion and the resurrection are necessary components to the salvation of a human being.

The calling of someone’s bluff comes from gambling at poker.  Instead of only waiting until you have a good hand to bet large, a person will learn to play a more difficult game of pretense.  I may pretend I have a bad hand or pretend I have a good hand.  It makes it more difficult for others to tell if I am really bluffing.  Now, between humans, this simply comes down to who is best at bluffing.  However, you can always be wrong when you call someone’s bluff.  If you call you must be ready to pay the price if you are wrong.  At this point let’s switch to the topic at hand.

If God calls our bluff, there is no question.  He knows our thoughts and our heart better than we do.  Thus, for God the risk is not calling our bluff.  The risk is to let us continue pretending that we have a good hand when in reality we are living in a land of our own imagination.  People who try to live in reality based upon imaginary things and pretense ultimately will find their dream world turn into a nightmare as everything they think is good proves not to be so.  The point today is that God loves us too much to let us keep bluffing.  In reality this is exactly what Jesus is doing that day all those years ago.  Let’s look at the passage.

Jesus Presents Himself as Messiah and King

The larger context tells us that there is a Passover festival at hand in Jerusalem.  Many people are coming to Jerusalem to celebrate.  So, we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem.  However, there are some unique things that he does.  He purposefully comes in such a way that the religious people of Israel will know that he is presenting himself as the Messiah.

The two terms, Messiah and Christ, have come to us from the first century.  Messiah is a Hebrew term that means “anointed one.”  Throughout Israel’s history God had progressively revealed to them that He would eventually send His Anointed One who would be King of Israel and would restore Israel and the even the world to righteousness.  He himself would be perfectly righteous.  Some passages to back this up are: Psalm 2, 1 Samuel 2:10, and Daniel 9:25.   During the time of David it was revealed that the Messiah would be of the line of David.  So they had a promise of a coming savior who would fix all that was wrong with Israel and take over the whole world.  So, if Jesus is presenting himself as Messiah, we might ask the question, “Why didn’t he do it?”  It has been said that Jesus came the first time to fix only our spiritual problem and that his Second Coming will be about fixing our natural and geo-political problems.  Though there is some truth to this, it is a gross simplification.  To fix a person’s unbelief and sin, is to transform their life in the natural.  Thus those who believed in Jesus and followed His ways discovered a transformed natural life, as well as a supernatural one.  Let’s look at the Second Coming.  Though Jesus will clearly remove the wicked kings and armies of this world and take over politically, it is also clear that he deals with our spiritual enemy, the devil.   By the time of Jesus, the Greek language was as prevalent in the near east as English is throughout the world today.  Thus the word Christ was used as a synonym for the Hebrew term Messiah.  It too meant an anointed one.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had asked people to keep the fact that he was the messiah under wraps.  He wasn’t ready to announce himself yet.  But on this day he is ready.  Before we look at how they would know that is what he is doing, let’s look at the timing issue first.  Throughout their history Israel had waited for the messiah.  Definitely since the prophet Isaiah who spoke of him throughout his book, but especially Isaiah 53.  That would be over 700 years.  But they had also been waiting since David and his many prophecies 950 years earlier.  In some ways we can even go back to Abraham and God’s promises to him, or Eve and God’s promise that one of her seed would crush the serpent’s head.  It is hard to keep positive about a promise that takes so long to keep.  God’s timing is clearly not our timing.  How many generations had been born, heard the promise, hoped in it, and then died without seeing it?  Of course no one person had to wait over a 1,000 or even 2,000 years.  Yet, intellectually they would recognize that it has been a long time.  This would raise the question, is it really going to happen?  Doubts, and even cynicism, easily creep in.  This is typically handled one of two ways.  We either outwardly reject it and live openly without that hope, or, we keep the doubt internal.  We keep up the bluff that we believe in order to get the best out of the system that such belief has built up.  So when Jesus presents himself that day, there are people in different categories.  There are some who have held out hope against all odds that the Messiah would still come someday even though it had been so long.  There were others who only pretended that they believed the Messiah would come.  They actually lived their lives based on other hopes.  Then there are those who had outwardly given up in believing.  The life of Jesus had stirred all of these different groups.  His miracles and powerful words shook them to the core.

I point all this out because we are in the same boat today.  We have been waiting for the Second Coming of Christ coming on 2,000 years.  In 2 Peter 3:3-4, the apostle warns us, “Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning.’”  These same categories exist in our churches and across this world.  In our humanity and in our sinfulness we want, and even demand, God to do it now!  We want Him to operate on our timetable.  Since God has not cooperated, we cast Him aside and seek to make ourselves God: observing all things (omnipresent), knowing everything (omniscient), doing anything (omnipotent), and living as long as we want (immortal).  So the question today is this, do you trust God’s timing even though it has been so long?  Are you willing to wait, or are you only pretending to be waiting for Him.  One day He will call our bluff and Jesus will present himself to our surprise.  On that day the hidden hand that we really have will be laid on the table for all to see.  Don’t cast away the promise of God and forge your own way.  The siren call of the modern world and its technology is that we no longer need a God.  We can become the gods that we have always wanted.  The problem is that there really is a God and He really has asked us to wait for Him.  Future us will slam into that reality at light speed, just as Israel and Rome did all those years ago.

But it is not just God’s timing that bothers us.  It is also the way in which He does it.  There are parts of the plan that Israel liked (getting rid of the bad guys and ruling over the whole earth).  But clearly there were other parts that they didn’t like.  Jesus comes down the Mt. of Olives to the city of Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey as prophesied in Zechariah 9.  But, this gives a far different picture of God’s Anointed King than our flesh would like to dream up.  He does not come as the proud, flamboyant hero that our flesh desires.  Instead, he comes as the humble, peaceful, unpretentious leader who is not drunk on their own authority.  He did not have a sword, nor an army behind him, at least in the natural.  He came not to pat the people on the back and say good job.  But, instead he comes to save them from their sins, and those powers that used their sins to hold them in bondage.  He was not after geo-political boundaries that day, but rather to break down the boundaries and walls that they had built around their hearts (that we build around ours even today).  The heart of the matter is this, we want a leader who will not demand our hearts change, but rather will change the world around us.  We want things to change without us having to change.  Of course this is impossible.  Even progressives who say similar things, but in order to increase our faith in the intellectual elite that will lead us into the New Age of Mankind, do not recognize that the only change that matters is the one that must happen in our sinful and rebellious heart.  No.  Mankind cannot fix itself because to do so is to refuse to change in the one area that it must (in hearts and minds).  Thus our own hearts set us up for the betrayal of leaders who promise heaven and yet deliver hell, who look like Jesus but in the end they are a devil.  Jesus did not fit the profile that the religious leaders had in their mind.  All their lives they had said that they loved God and wanted His Messiah.  And yet, Jesus was the fulfillment of all of this.  God called their bluff and many of them were found wanting.

The History of the Church

There are two aspects to the history of the Church.  On one hand it may seem that it is no different from Israel and that God’s plan didn’t work.  Definitely, the Church as an institution of people is like Israel because it is made of people.  Yet, on the other hand, in the midst of it all, we do see people who believed God and refused to only honor Him with their lips.  They were not bluffing.  Just as Israel had her prophets and believers within the midst of many unbelievers, so too is the Church.  When the hard call came to them in their day and age, they rejected what the world was offering and followed Jesus.  Thus the early apostles did not create little kingdoms over which they all reigned as popes.  Instead, they each sacrificed their lives to give the Truth of Jesus the Christ to the world.  The reformers in Europe refused to shut up and obey man, but instead lost everything in order to follow Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of Martin Luther that he thought he had left everything behind to enter the monastery.  But what he found in the monastery was that there was one more thing he needed to let go of, his pious, proud self-will.  Thus Luther had to leave this in the monastery and go back into the world, all the while being called a heretic and blasphemer by those who held the reins of power.  None of these people were perfect, only Jesus is perfect.  But they understood that to follow Jesus is to let go of everything that comes between us and him.  It is ours to simply say yes to his timing and to his way.  Yes, it will often be inconvenient and difficult.  But it always leads us away from destruction and towards life.

What is it that Jesus is calling us to do today?  Yes, in general, we are to be faithful to His Word and promote Jesus as savior and Lord.  But what is he specifically saying to you about your life.  Every time we read God’s Word, His Holy Spirit works in our hearts to call our bluff, or at least to get us to resist turning towards it.  He calls us to be real.  So what were the responses on that day?  There really are only two that are possible.

The Response to Jesus

Let us not kid ourselves.  Jesus was clearly presenting himself as God’s Messiah (The Anointed One) who was the rightful King of Israel.  As this gauntlet is thrown down those who believed that he was Messiah began to rejoice.  His ways had confused them because he wouldn’t do anything that looked like he was going to take over.  So on this day his followers are ecstatic because they think they know what will happen next.  Finally, he is ready to do what we have asked him to do.  Though they are in for a rude awakening as to what is next, it is still important to recognize their response to Jesus.  They quote from Psalm 118, which was a psalm predicting a coming Anointed King who would save Israel.  They believed in Jesus, and thus believed God who had sent Him.

All that said, even when we initially respond correctly, our faith is always going to be challenged.  Today when he rides down the hill on a donkey their faith is strong.  But what about later when he hangs on a cross and is buried, will they still believe?  When he is resurrected and yet ascends into heaven without fixing everything, will they still believe?  If we really trust God and His Anointed One, Jesus, then it is our duty to follow and accept that His way is perfect and mine is not.  You see even then their hearts were still their greatest enemies.  Would they be led astray by their wicked hearts?  Thus the reality is this, those who believe will do the actions of faith.  Their heart and their mind will protest a thousand times and yet, at the end of the day, they will choose to trust God over their own heart and mind.  We will be tested on this time and time again throughout our life, not because God is trying to disqualify us, but because He is perfecting us.  He is making us to be like Jesus, if we will let Him.

The Second response is simply to not believe.  Those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah resisted and did the actions of unbelief.  Thus the religious leaders rebuke Jesus and tell him to rebuke his disciples.  Resisting can be open and heavy or hidden and slight.  Regardless it is of the same ilk, unbelief.  We are no different today.  We must all come to Jesus as both savior and Lord.  Yes, we want saved but we can’t dictate the terms of our salvation.  We must follow him, not because he is headed in the direction that we desire or does what we desire.  We must follow him because he is the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.  We must follow him because he is the only Righteous One.  Become a follower of Jesus today by walking away from the life that your flesh wants to create, whether religious or not, and letting him who alone has the words of life lead you forward no matter what that may look like.

When God calls your bluff audio