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Entries in Kingdom of God (9)

Tuesday
Jul162019

More Parables II

Mark 4:30-41.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, July 14, 2019.

Today we will continue in Mark 4 looking at another parable that Jesus told.  In it we will see that Jesus knew that his Church would become a large thing and that the devil would take advantage of that to hide his servants among the branches.  Ultimately God is in control and he is not afraid of the things that we fear.

We must learn to pray and to trust his final decisions regarding the difficulties allowed in our life and in his Church.  God always has a way through for us that leads to him and his glory.

The parable of the Mustard Seed

In this parable, Jesus employs the planted seed metaphor again.  We are also told that this is a picture of the “Kingdom of God.”  This parable is also in Matthew and Luke.  In Matthew 13 we told that this is a picture of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  I only point this out because some try to force a technical difference upon these phrases.  However, at least in this case, it is extremely stretched to think that Jesus means anything other than that these phrases are basically synonymous.  Though the Kingdom of Heaven includes the spirit realm and the earthly realm, the parables are generally focused on the earthly realm. 

This parable is short and makes a clear and simple message that is basically about the size of the plant that grows from the seed.  Since the plant represents the whole Church (geographically and chronologically), the seed here represents the deposit of the Gospel into the earth.  What looks like the smallest of seeds grows into a plant that is larger than the other garden plants.  Historically, we can see that this is very true.  The Church began as a small group compared to the other religions of the world, but grows to become a very large concern, even to the point that there are over 2 billion people today who have some connection to Christianity.

Some point to this parable as an illustration of Jesus being in error.  They state that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on the earth.  However, in the context, Jesus is talking about seeds that a 1st century Judean would be sowing in their garden.  In fact, the term “on earth” is literally upon the earth and is used in the same way that we would call dirt “earth.”  Matthew doesn’t even use the phrase, “upon the earth.”  There it says of the seed, “which a man took and sowed in his field.”  Jesus is not claiming that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of all the seeds upon the entire planet.  He is not at an International Botany Convention presenting his scientific research on the mustard seed.  When we are intellectually honest with what Jesus is saying, it is clear that he means the mustard seed was smaller than the seeds they would have been planting in Israel at that point in time.  People who make this objection are being bull-headed and attempt to force the words of Jesus to mean something other than what he intended.

Another area people like to pick on is the size of the mustard plant.  They will say that a mustard plant doesn’t get big enough for birds to nest.  However, some mustard plants can get up to 12 feet tall.  The point Jesus makes is not that all mustard seeds will end up big enough that birds will build nests in them.  The main point that it will be larger than the other plants who started with bigger seeds.  Also, that this particular mustard plan will be large enough that birds would nest in it.  The emphasis is its largeness, not that all mustard plants have bird nests.  Thus, the Kingdom of God, or the Church, starts out small, but ends up being larger than the other plants (religions).

In light of the parable of the sower, we must deal with the phrase, “birds of the air.”  There it had a sinister interpretation, and it pointed to the work of Satan and his evil spirits to remove God’s Word from our life.  Though there does not seem to be a need for a sinister interpretation in this parable (due to the fact that it emphasizes the large size of the plant), it makes sense in light of the countless other places where Christ warns that Satan would sow tares among his field, false teachers and prophets would arise, and that deception would be prevalent especially in the last days.  Thus, the Church would become so big that false spirits and leaders would be set up in particular branches without being ran away.

Verses 33-34 tell us that Jesus told many such parables to the crowds, and yet explained the meaning to his disciples later, when they were alone.

To sum up, the parable of the sower emphasizes the importance of the condition of our heart and mind when we hear the word of God.  The parable of the Lamp under a Bushel emphasizes the purpose that God has in giving light, and our responsibility in receiving it.  The parable of the Growing Seed emphasizes that God’s plan is inevitable.  His Word will build the Kingdom of God, until it is ready to be harvested, and then God will harvest it.  Likewise, the mustard seed emphasizes that the Church would become quite large.

Let us remember that Jesus was not contemplating nature and coming up with spiritual knowledge.  He is operating the other direction.  It is his knowledge of spiritual truth that allows him to pick out illustrations from the world around him.  We must be careful of taking these or other natural analogies and attempting to press them into further truths that the Bible does not reveal.  Truth opens our eyes to the world around us.  However, trying to discover new truth by studying nature leads to countless false ideas and false religions of our own making.

Jesus calms the storm

At verse 35, Mark turns back to the narrative of events that Jesus and his disciples encountered.  The next situation starts out with a simple task.  They are clearly on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus instructs his disciples to take them to the other side via a boat.  At least 4 of the disciples had extensive experience boating on this sea, so this is not hard thing.  In comparison, Christ gives us a very simple thing to do.  Quit living life for self, pick up your cross, and follow him.  Essentially, we trust him as the way to peace with God and we share that message with those we encounter.  Simple.  These are not difficult things in and of themselves.

However, the disciples encounter difficulty along the way of accomplishing the simple task.  A storm rises up and begins to swamp the boat.  It is clearly worse than any they have seen before and are unable to bail or, at least, keep up with the water coming into the boat.  They sense it is going to sink and they with it.  It is unlikely that they would be able to swim to shore in such a turbulent storm.  It is amazing how even simple things can quickly be complicated by difficulties.  Raising your children for the Lord is a simple thing, but the difficulties we encounter from our culture and from within our own children can sometimes make us feel like we are going under and have failed.  Our mind knows that God allows difficulty, but our heart continually says, “Surely, if God was in it, there would be little difficulty.”  However, without difficulty, we would not be aware that God is truly with us, and we would not become likely him, overcoming adversity.

The difficulty of the storm and their impending death causes the disciples to question whether Jesus cares about them.  Doubt rises in their hearts.  Jesus is sleeping in the stern of the boat.  Why does he not care that we are perishing?  We often judge God’s actions, or more precisely his lack of action, as if he were us.  Things in life often become difficult and threatening.  However, Scripture is abundantly clear on this point.  God cares about us more than we can imagine. He has provided everything that we need, and, when we were without help and hopeless, while we were yet sinners, he stepped in and died in our place in a cruel and horrible death.  The disciples had not seen Jesus on the cross at this point, but we have.  How can we doubt his love when he has shown us by the cross just how much he loves us?  Yes, he cares for you.  Even though it appears that he is doing nothing, or is asleep in the back seat.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm.  “Peace, be still!”  At that point, the winds stopped and it says there was a “great calm.”  He didn’t just turn the storm down enough that they could make it.  He commanded the wind to completely stop and suddenly it was Lake Place, or for our neck of the woods, Lake Serene.

Notice that Jesus had a question for his disciples.  For every question that we have for God in this life, we should remember that he has questions of his own, and we are far less prepared to answer his than he is ours.  Why are you so fearful?  How is it you have no faith?  If I really am a child of God, so loved by him that he would come and die on the cross for me, then what do I have to fear?  Clearly the answer is nothing.  For us, death on a cross or death on the seas are horrible things that we would seek to avoid at all costs.  However, for God these are not problems.   He can “fix” them in a second.  So, if he allows them to continue, he must have a reason.  God’s plans are different than our because even death cannot stop the purpose of the God of the Resurrection.  He can immediately end our difficulty and sometimes does, as we cry out to him in prayer.  Other times, when we cry out to God, he brings just enough relief to help us through the difficulty.  However, sometimes the difficulty, even the death, may be his plan.

Thus, Jesus shows us the way on the night in which he was betrayed and handed over to be executed.  He prayed, “Father, if possible, may this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, your will be done.”  God knows our fears and has purposed to help us in life as we pray to him.  Yet, sometimes there are things that he will not remove, not because he doesn’t love us, but precisely because he does love us.

The powerful display of speaking to nature and it responding shocks the disciples.  Please…it would shock us today.  Our scientists have enough trouble telling us what the weather is going to do today, much less control it.  Sure, there are projects around the world that seek to use directed energy to affect weather, but such things are child’s play compared to what Jesus did and can still do.  It was pure, raw, and undeniably the power of the Creator.  He spoke, “Let there be peace, and there was peace.”  The disciples went from questioning if Jesus cared for them to questioning just who this guy was.  The answer to that question is that he is the Son of God who has all power and authority over heaven and earth.  If you are on the side of such a being, what have you to fear?  Nothing.  What is there not to trust?  Nothing.  May God strengthen our faith and may all our fears be cast at the feet of the one who is greater than even death itself.

More Parables II audio

Tuesday
Feb192019

Jesus Begins to Minister

Mark 1:14-20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 17, 2019.

Last week, we saw Jesus preparing to minister to the people of Israel.  In the passage before us today, he begins. 

The preaching of Jesus

The first thing that we see is not miracles and wondrous signs.  Rather, we see Jesus proclaiming or preaching to the people.  Mark focuses on the natural transition point of John the Baptist being imprisoned as when Jesus entered Galilee to minister.

It is important to recognize that throughout the Bible we see that people generally resist a true prophet of the Lord who comes speaking the truth of God.  This general resistance can be overcome.  However, we should recognize its prevalence.  An underlying theme throughout all of this is that God’s Word/Voice cannot be silenced.  If one is imprisoned then another will speak forth.  If one is killed then another will take their place.  It is not just a secular thing.  This world, both secular and religious, often operates in a way to try and silence what the Spirit of God is doing through those who listen to Him.  It hates the fact that they march to the beat of a different drummer.  It hates the message that there is something wrong with it.  It hates the message that people need to turn back to the ways of God because they already feel that they have the truth.  This silencing is sometimes with brute force, imprisonments, and violence.  However, it is sometimes with propaganda, narrative-control, disinformation, and manipulative and seductive memes.

In whatever way this world tries to marginalize the true work of the Spirit of God, it cannot stop what the Spirit is doing.  Those imprisoned just preach to their captives and demonstrate the value of God.  Those who are killed are replaced by others who may be even more powerful than they.  God’s Word cannot be silenced because it is empowered by God Himself.  In another way we can say that it cannot be silenced because it represents real reality, which no one can run from very long without running smack into its stubborn existence.

We must understand this about Christianity.  It is not the institutional trappings that Christ is promoting.  Though it may look like the world is winning, we must understand that we are on the side of the God of the universe.  He will not fail, and I must do my part, whatever it may come to be.  John the Baptist probably did not envision imprisonment and later death (Mark 6), but that is what was asked of Him by the Lord.

Thus the preaching of Jesus comes on the heels of one of the greatest preachers/prophets that Israel had seen in a long time.  Now let’s look at what this preaching proclaimed.

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.  All of the Gospels emphasize several things about the teaching of Jesus.  At its core, He was proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God was drawing close.  This had been the hope of Israel for over 1400 years, obtaining more and more information from God’s prophets regarding what that would look like along the way.  For the previous 500 years they had specifically suffered under the imperial rule of the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, which still ruled over them in the days of Jesus.  The faithful still waited and hoped for God’s Anointed man (Messiah is the Hebrew word for Anointed One) who would judge the nations and rule over the world from Jerusalem.  When would this wait ever end?  John the Baptist had shocked the nation with his insistence that he was a forerunner to the Messiah.  He told them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.  Thus Jesus tells them the good news that the Kingdom was drawing close.  The long wait was coming to an end!

In fact, Jesus uses a phrase that the time was fulfilled or completed.  God had determined a particular time in history for the Anointed One to come forth.  Their long wait was done and the transition time was upon them.  Of course, things did not go the direction they all hoped it would go.  We now know that there are two phases to this Kingdom’s arrival on earth.  The first phase focused on spiritually changing those who would be its citizens.  It is a time of invitation and grace.  In this phase Christ rules from heaven over the hearts of those who believe in Him as the number of believers/citizens increases.  The second phase, which will occur at the Second Coming of Christ, is taking up of political control of the earth and removing the wicked leadership of the nations (which will only grow worse and worse).  This is often referred to as the Day of the Lord and as the Judgment of the Nations by the God of heaven.

Believers today live in this strange period where the Kingdom of God is now, but also not yet.  Though we may long for the coming of Christ and His rule upon the earth, we are still in the day of God’s invitation and grace to the people of this world.  Anyone, who so desires, can become a part of God’s Kingdom.  Thus it is important for current believers to keep their hands on the plow and keep working to share the invitation while there is still time.

Like any kingdom, the king has rules as to how one becomes a citizen.  Yes, any who so desired could come forward, but they were called upon to repent and believe in the gospel.  The need for a person to repent literally means to change your mind, or your way of thinking.  In so many personal ways, each person of that day was following the dictates of their own heart and mind.  Some in complete rejection of God’s Word and others with a partial rejection (sound familiar?).  The Spirit of God calls us to change the way that we are thinking, but also in a specific way.  Another metaphor that is used of repentance is turning.  We, who have turned away from God’s Ways into other ways of our own choosing, need to turn back to God in our hearts and minds, and follow His ways.

Repentance is always needed in our lives because we live in a world and a body that continually questions and rejects the ways of the Lord. Christians are not those who repented long ago, but are those who continue to be a repentant people.

So it begins with repentance, but then it moves to faith.  They needed to believe what Jesus was telling them.  Even though Mark emphasizes believing in the good news, Jesus Himself is the good news!  To believe in the Gospel is to believe in Jesus.  God had joined mankind in order to lift us up out of the horrible fate we were plunging towards.  Thus to believe in the Gospel is to believe that God has not abandoned us, and instead He has stepped into the muck and mire with us in order to save us.  This is good news indeed, for who can stop the Lord Almighty!

The disciples of Jesus

In verse 16 Jesus begins to call certain people to follow Him everywhere.  The term disciple is not used here, but they were called to learn from, be students of, Jesus.  In the New Testament, Jesus called 12 disciples to a special task.  They would become his apostles, sent-ones, who would go to the nations and lay the foundation for His Church.  They actually lived and ate with Jesus as they helped Him in His ministry.  Many other people were students and believers of Jesus.  However, they did not live with Jesus day to day.  So we should recognize that even though the outward form may be somewhat different, all of these disciples had one thing in common.  They were now following and listening to Jesus as their master and teacher.

Let’s explore the passage.  Notice that Jesus stands on the shore and calls 2 fishermen to follow him here, and then 2 more fishermen to follow Him there.  These would be the core of the 12 disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John.  Though Jesus is no longer physically on the earth, he still approaches people through his disciples and calls people to believe upon Him and to follow Him.  None of us today pack up our bags and follow a physical Jesus to Jesus-ville.  However, we do these things spiritually.  To follow Jesus is to quit listening to those things you did before and to start listening to His Words and those of His Apostles.  It is to follow them.  It is to reject the mindset of this world that marginalizes Christ and His teachings, or even hijacks His teachings and twists them to other ends.  To follow Jesus is to have a spiritual journey every day where the Spirit of God leads us, much as Jesus led The Twelve 2,000 years ago.  We must ask ourselves this question each day.  Who am I following?  Am I following a favorite religious leader or philosopher?  Or am I following Jesus and the Spirit of God?

 The second thing about being a disciple of Jesus is that they were called to draw others to Christ.  These men had lived their lives catching fish and thus Jesus uses their life experience as a metaphor for what He was calling them to do.  They would fish for people.  Ultimately their lives would become about drawing people to Christ.

As in any analogy, fishing is a crude one.  God does not use tricks to hook people and drag them to shore in order to eat them.  Thus the metaphor is intended only so far.  God will work with people to live with and speak into the lives of others in order to draw them to Christ, to join His Kingdom.  Part of God’s call on your life is to be a light to the world around you.  You are to be a drawing influence through your life and the worlds you speak.  However, we are not to be drawing people to ourselves, but rather to Christ.

We are told that they dropped their nets and left their father in order to follow Jesus.  This recognizes the sacrifice that is made by all who follow Jesus.  Not every disciple was called to physically leave their families behind in order to follow Jesus.  However, we are all called to spiritually leave our old life behind and the attachments it has made upon us.  If I was a business man before I met Christ, He may call me to become a missionary or a pastor and I would literally leave that life behind.  However, He may simply call me to quit being the old business man that I was and to become a new creation in Christ who runs a business in a whole new way.  Regardless, the point is that if we are truly listening to and following the leadership of Christ, we will leave the old life behind.  I cannot hold on to the old way of living and survive.  I will either be pulled in two, or I will let go of one and cling to the other.  What am I clinging to today?

Let me close by recognizing just who Jesus chose to follow Him.  He was not in Jerusalem picking the top rabbis of the day.  He wasn’t even picking those Pharisees who would even one day believe on Him.  He was in the rural back country of Israel.  He was picking from among the lowly of society.  I do not mean they were lowly in a moral way, though we are all sinners.  1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says it this way, “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

We must quit looking at ourselves and our lives, becoming discouraged, and letting the enemy draw us away from Christ.  Rather we must rejoice that God loves to use the weak and lowly because then it is clear that it is His power working in us and not our own!  Yes, a rich man can be saved and even a powerful politician.  However, they will have to die to their riches and to their power before they can become a disciple of Christ.  Drop your nets (that which hold you back) and follow Jesus today!

Jesus Ministers audio

Wednesday
Apr182018

Joy in the Holy Spirit

Romans 14:17-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 15, 2018.

There is a song that has been taught to young children in church called “Jesus and Others and You.”  Here are the Lyrics:

"Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.

Jesus and others and you, it’s the life for each girl and each boy.

J- is for Jesus for He has first place,

O- is for others we meet face to face, and

Y- is for you, in whatever you do put yourself last and spell joy."

Of course, when we are not teaching children, it is easy as adults to toss this idea out the window as a simplistic platitude.  It seems to be a foolish recipe for disaster.  “I don’t want to be a doormat,” exclaims our smarter self.  However, when we are honest it is the way of Jesus.  Part of our problem is that we think we know what this song is talking about and yet we generally get the acronym mixed up.

Some think they have tried this, but in all actuality they were spelling JYO.  The Pharisees during the life of Jesus were of this sort (I know they didn’t believe in Jesus, so they were spelling God, You, Others).  Unless we learn the lesson, which we talked about last week, in Matthew 11:28-30, God is not really in first place.  In reality we are in first place with God as our flag or banner.  We make all the decisions and call all the shots, all in the name of God.  Such is a recipe for disaster, for us and others.  When Christ removes the yokes of obligation to others off of our neck and we submit to serving only Him, then we will find a place of joy that others and self cannot steal.  In a word, even when we try to put others second for the sake of Christ, our self often hijacks the attempts and we fail to recognize it.  Thus we walk away cynical and jaded to the path of joy that comes from Christ.  Let’s look at our passage.

Trouble in Paradise

Verses 17 and 18 are part of an important issue in this chapter.  The apostle Paul is dealing with Christians who are arguing over whether Christians should eat meat.  There were several reasons and issues that could lead to such ideas.  For some this had to do with the requirements of the Law of Moses to refrain from certain meats.  Thus the early Christian community had many people who grew up in a society that strictly avoided certain meats.  This created friction in the early community over whether or not a person should eat these meats, and how people who practically disagreed could get along.  Another issue (detailed in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10) is meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.  It was common in the Greco-Roman world to have meat in the marketplace that had been consecrated to the gods in general or to specific ones.  Thus issues developed over whether or not Christians could eat such meat in different circumstances.  In this chapter, Paul does not get into answering questions in this area.  Rather the strongly held beliefs of Christians on either side of this issue were causing them to mistreat one another.  Thus Paul states in verse 3 that those who didn’t eat were “despising” those who did and those who did eat were judging those who didn’t.  I know, I know, it is shocking that Christians had trouble with despising and judging one another back then (sarx).  So we have one group looking down upon another as if they are of no account and to be avoided (despise) and the other group judging them back (perhaps not associating with them).  Both of these words are really two sides of the same coin.

The Bible does not hide the fact that Christians do not always see eye to eye on every matter and we know that this is still true today.  It was the apostles’ job to lay down a firm foundation of what the teachings and “good news or Gospel” of Jesus were.  Here Paul is teaching that what Christians eat or drink should not cause division among them.  In verse 5 he also adds what days we hold special observances. 

Do any of these issues sound a little more familiar?  Our issues today may not be the same as those of the first century, but the overarching principles that the apostle Paul laid down are still necessary for us to listen to because Paul is speaking as a representative of Christ.  We should not let our opinions about food, drink, and special observances, draw us into actively despising and judging one another.  If we want to debate issues that is fine to a degree, but it is secondary to how we treat one another.

In serving the Lord we can lose sight of what He wants and how He wants it done.  The secondary issues, or even lower, can supplant what we are primarily supposed to be accomplishing.  Thus in verse 1 Paul says that we should receive one who is “weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.”  The phrase “weak in the faith” is not intended as a pejorative.  It is intended to make it clear that theologically it did not matter for Christians whether they ate meat or not.  The teachings of Christ, the vision of Peter, and Christ’s words to Paul had settled the issue.  Christians did not need to follow the Mosaic food laws, nor did they need to fear that meat could be spiritually contaminated.   Some people knew these teachings, but still it bothered their consciences.  Thus their faith in these teachings was not very strong in the practice of their life, which is fine because our salvation is not based on whether we eat pork or not.  Neither Jesus nor the apostles created a litmus test for people to join the community that involved eating pork or observing certain days.  Thus we should receive each other as brothers and sisters even if we have some matters of conscience that are different.  Yet, we should not receive them to arguments about such doubtful matters.

This is exactly where Christians have failed throughout the years.  In trying to serve Jesus and the Truth, we often- without even knowing it- confuse our thinking and rationale with what Jesus wants.  We end up sacrificing our brothers and sisters on the altar of our own opinions, instead of remembering what the Kingdom of God is all about.  Is this what God wants?  Is Jesus so concerned about what meat you eat that a person should be despised and shunned as an unbeliever or heretic?  Is Jesus so concerned about what day you worship on or whether or not you celebrate Christmas?  Paul is saying, “No way!”  So what does Christ want and how should it be done?

There are matters that Jesus and His apostles made clear were essential in order to be a Christian.  One must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins on the cross, and gives us peace with the Father.  Also, Jesus made many other strong statements that make it clear that He must be our Lord and Master, if we are to truly be His disciple.  We must believe that he truly came in human flesh.  Thus there are essentials and this is not what Paul is talking about.  He is dealing with doubtful matters, or matters of personal opinion (no matter how biblically based our reasoning is).  A famous phrase on these matters says it this way.  “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things charity.”  Thus Paul is concerned that they are attempting to make doubtful matters essential, and in the process, losing all charity with one another. This is why verses 17 and 18 are so critical to this passage.  Here Paul reminds them just what Jesus is trying to accomplish with this Kingdom of God we have now joined.

The True Purpose of the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God has a dual aspect to it.  On one hand we are already a part of the God’s kingdom.  Jesus is our King; the New Jerusalem is our heavenly capital; the commands of Jesus are our law; we are its citizens; and all of us are joined by one blood (that of Jesus) and one Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.  The Bible promises a day when Christ will come to earth and create an earthly throne, and these things that are now in the spirit realm will be manifest in this world.  Just as Jesus was incarnated into the world, so these things will also come into material existence.  So the Kingdom of God has both now and not yet aspects to it.  This is important to keep in mind as Paul describes what the Kingdom of God is all about.

Having reminded them that the Kingdom of God is not about what you eat, drink, or what days you specially observe, Paul lists three things that the Kingdom of God is actually trying to accomplish.

The first is righteousness.  The Kingdom of God is about creating true righteousness.  Though Paul is not likely listing these in matter of importance, this is primarily where the Roman believers were failing.  They were not dealing with one another righteously.  Notice that the people on either side of this debate likely believe that they are on the side of righteousness, but they are not dealing righteously with one another.  Doesn’t this say volumes to the things that go on today in our society as a whole and even within the Church?  We should not be despising anyone, and our judgments of one another should be tempered with the truth that we are not the final judge, Jesus is.  Also, our judgments should be tempered with humility and the awareness that the same measure of strictness we judge others will be given to us by the Lord.

Now when it comes to Righteousness, our entry into the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with our own righteousness.  We are brought into the Kingdom of God by the righteousness of Christ.  Thus the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and all people approach God as beggars seeking help.  Once we are in the Kingdom of God, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit within us to hear the Lord’s commands, through His written Word and by the Spirit in our hearts, and to do that which is truly righteous.  The Spirit leads us into all that is righteous, if we will follow Him.  Christians can lose sight of where the Holy Spirit is truly leading.  He is not leading to conformity on what we eat and the days we hold special.  He is leading to us living in true righteousness with one another.  In fact when you contemplate the matter, you will find that it is hard to talk about righteousness without assuming our interactions with other people.  Righteousness is all about how we treat one another, and the only way it can be truly righteous, is to die to ourselves, listen to and follow Jesus.

The second purpose is peace.  The Kingdom of God is about giving us peace, and Jesus wants you to have peace.  That is an amazing statement.  We first receive peace with God through the work that Jesus did on the cross.  Before I put my faith in Him, I was an enemy of God.  I was on the side of the rebellion and under His looming wrath.  However, He is not willing that any should perish and thus sent His Son to make terms of peace between us and Him.  The terms of peace are this.  We put the Son of God to death and therefore are guilty.  But, if we will repent and through faith serve Him as our Lord, then we can be absolved of our crimes. 

This peace with God is intended to then give us peace in our hearts and our minds.  Jesus rises up as the new Lord over that seething cauldron and foaming ocean of thoughts and desires we have within.  He declares, “Peace, be still!”  My thoughts and desires no longer take preeminence.  His is the Lord and it is His desires and commands that take first place.  Part of the problem with doubtful matters or matters of opinion is that instead of trusting the words of Christ and His apostles, we let storms, of logic and desire, rob us of our peace.  We must step aside and daily, moment by moment, allow the Lord to once again speak peace over us.

When we are at peace on the inside, then we can live peacefully among others (at least for our part).  Yes, sometimes others need corrected in the areas of essentials, but it can be done in a peaceful way that follows the Spirit of God rather than our own spirit.

The last purpose is joy in the Holy Spirit.  Jesus wants us to have joy in our hearts, but not just any joy.  It is particularly a joy that is found in the Holy Spirit.  Living in the Spirit is a way of saying that we are hearing Him and following Him.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 the imagery is different, “Joy of the Holy Spirit.” Thus we can think about being in the Holy Spirit (like a sphere of relationship), or we can think about the Holy Spirit being within us (like a constant presence and influence).  Either way the joy Jesus has for us does not come from certain people or things of this life.  It comes from God Himself by His Holy Spirit.  When we find ourselves losing our joy, we must let that be a red flag to us.  We then need to get back to seeking the Lord and listening to His Spirit.

Just as Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and his burden is light, so today we should recognize that the way of the Lord is not intended to grind the joy out of our life.  Rather it should cause it to grow in joy and other fruit.  This is what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Now don’t confuse being happy with having joy.  Being happy has more to do with the surface reactions of our heart to the moment.  This will go up and down as we seek to control our heart and minds before the Lord.  Yet, in the midst of deep and troubling times, we can have a place of joy that the world didn’t give and the world can’t take away.  When we start following ourselves then we start to lose connection to the source of joy that Jesus has for us.    We need to listen to the Holy Spirit each day in order to keep experiencing that joy.

It is interesting that the New Testament talks a lot about joy in circumstances that are contradictory.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was in prison, and yet it focuses on the joy of the believer.  Acts 13:52, after explaining that Paul and Barnabas had been kicked out of a particular province in Asia Minor, immediately states “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  Listen, this would be like saying that a person lost their job…and they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t follow in the natural.  The only way that it works is because they were keeping their eyes on the Lord and listening to the Holy Spirit.  They took joy in the fact that they were experiencing the same things that their Lord had experienced and countless saints down through the ages.  When Jesus is truly Lord in our life, then we will have a proper priority.  Instead of tearing each other down we will work to build each other up in the most, holy faith.

Thus the phrase “Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell joy” is not off the mark.  It is exactly what Paul is telling us.  When we see ourselves as “on the side of Jesus” and others as farther away, then we enter into a territory that robs us of our joy.  But when we serve Christ by helping and loving others in a way that pleases Him, by speaking the truth yet in love, then we can know true joy, even in the middle of trials and persecution.  Let’s live for Jesus this week and know His righteousness, His peace, and His joy!

Joy in the Holy Spirit audio

Monday
Feb082016

The Lord's Last Supper

Luke 22:14-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 31, 2016.

Today we will look at a passage where Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Passover meal, which is often called the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper.  There is a dispute as to how this lines up with the feast days.  However, it quickly becomes more technical than would be helpful on a Sunday morning.  Thus we won’t go into it today.  Early Christians gave us many details that point to the timing.  But, things that are important to us were not always important to them.  Thus there is no doubt Jesus was born, but it was not important for the gospel writers to nail down the day of his birth, all this despite the fact that they give us many details regarding the timing of it.  So we have debates today that include the year of His crucifixion, date and year of his birth.  These kinds of questions have nothing in them that would cause concern to our faith in Jesus himself.  So we see Jesus making it clear to his disciples that everything he had come to do was coming to a head at this meal.

The Desire of Jesus

Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus displaying many different emotions.  We see him showing amazement at the faith of some and the lack of faith of others.  We see him moved with compassion for those who are sick and afflicted.  He is angry at the insolence of the religious leaders, and weeps over the death of his friend Lazarus.  In verse 15 Jesus makes a statement regarding his emotions that literally reads, “with strong desire I have strongly desired…”  This makes the statement one that emphasizes the strong desire that he has towards this meal with them.  In fact the word that is translated as fervent desire is usually used in a negative context for a person’s lust (strong desire) for something bad.  Of course, this meal with his disciples is not a bad thing.  Thus lust would not be a proper translation.  My point is to show that just as humans strongly desire that which is sin, and it seems to drive them towards sin, so Jesus is driven by a strong desire to this moment with his disciples.  His strong desire is not about the meal itself, but about what the meal represents for him and them.  Everything they have heard and experienced with Jesus up to now has been prologue to the events that will happen in the next four days.  Recognize that Jesus was “chomping at the bit” to accomplish these things, and yet also submitted to the timing of the Father.  May God help us to strongly desire His will and yet to also be submitted to His timing in our life.

In verse 16 Jesus specifically says that he will abstain from future Passover meals until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.  In verse 18 he also adds that he will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.  In some ways the death and resurrection of Jesus brings in the Kingdom of God.  However, not all aspects of the Kingdom of God have come to pass.  Just like Israel received a covenant, but had to wait 40 years to experience the fullness of it, so the Church has begun the Kingdom and yet awaits the fullness of the “millennial kingdom.”  Some point to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19:9 as a time in the future where the preparation of the Church will have been completed and She will be brought before Christ never to be separated again.  Either way, at the Second Coming of Christ the kingdoms of this world will be taken up by Christ and given over to His saints.  It will be a great time of joy and celebration between Christ, the saints, and the heavenly hosts.

The New Covenant of Jesus

In verses 19-23 Jesus reveals that this meal is pointing to a new covenant, as opposed to the Old Covenant that God made with Moses and the people of Israel.  It is important to recognize the Lord’s position and actions here.  We see him as the director and giver of all good things.  He dispenses the food and drink to his disciples all the while pointing to a spiritual significance to these things.  Under the New Covenant Jesus would become our source of spiritual food and spiritual drink.  The people of the New Covenant must learn to feed spiritually upon the person, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Let’s look at the spiritual significance that Jesus gives to the meal.  The original Passover pointed back to a time when Israel was spared from the Angel of Death in Egypt.  Now it would point forward to a time when all God’s people would be spared from the judgment of God, eternal death.  Specifically Jesus picks up the bread and the wine.  Just as he gave them bread to eat, so his life in human flesh was given to them as the bread from heaven.  He was surrendering this body as a sacrifice for our sins collectively and individually.  The wine was a symbol of the not just the literal blood that was shed at the cross, but of the spiritual work of atonement that it would accomplish.  He shed his blood in order “to cut” a new covenant with the Father.  We can stand in faith knowing that the Father will not diminish the death of His Son and turn His back on the New Covenant.  This is a sure covenant that can never be laid aside for another.  In fact, God made the first covenant so that they would be able to recognize the Eternal Covenant that He would give through His Son.  Thus, Jesus tells the disciples to now do the Passover meal in remembrance of Him.  This should not be seen as a confirmation that the Church should keep the festivals of the Old Testament.  Rather, the emphasis is on giving the old forms, new significance in Jesus.  He becomes the fulfiller of all that the old was signifying.  This new meal of the New Covenant would be from then on done in honor of Christ.  The early Church appears to have celebrated this meal far more than once a year.

The discussion transitions from the intimacy of what the meal represents to the warning that there is a betrayer in their midst.  Verse 22 says that the son of man “goes” as it has been determined.  He is not just talking about leaving the meal.  This term is a reference to his physical death and then later physical ascension.  These things have been determined by the counsels of God the Father and agreed to by the Son.  The sacrifice must be made, and not of bulls and goats.  Even though it is determined by God, this does not absolve Judas, who is the betrayer.  It didn’t have to be Judas.  It could have been another.  But, it was he who made the choices and embraced the horrible act of betrayal.  It is also determined that there will be a great falling away from the Truth in these last days.  However, you do not have to be one of those who choose apostasy.  Even today, there is an intimacy between true disciples and the Lord Jesus.  Yet, in the midst of such intimacy is a growing group who are not choosing intimacy with Jesus.  Rather, little by little they are turning from Him and having strong desires towards the things of this world.  A moment of betrayal will always follow such days.  Yet, even then, the sacrifice of Christ can still cover this.  Judas did not have to kill himself and go into eternity through an act of hopelessness.  He could have thrown himself on the mercy of God in repentance.  If you recognize that you have been walking away from the Lord and instead walking towards the world, then turn in repentance today.  The Lord has provided the sacrifice that will cover our sins.

Last Supper audio