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Entries in Mercy (9)

Monday
May152017

A Woman Who Follows Jesus

Philippians 2:1-4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Mother’s Day Sunday, 5/14/2017.

There are many voices today that promise women a better life by offering some philosophy or way of approaching life.  However, most of them are various ideas that come from the same source, the spirit of this age.  So women have a choice they can listen to the spirit of this age and go after the things that it promises by the ways it promotes (self fulfillment, self love, self adulation), or they can listen to the Spirit of God calling to them, “Save yourselves from this wicked and perverse generation!”

It is important to recognize that women have had a tough road throughout history.  Too often, men are guilty of not recognizing this and not loving women as we should.  So women need encouragement.  Yet, like any of us, they also need challenged.  Women are not inherently drawn to do things right.  They have the same battles with the sin nature as men do.  I believe our passage today has a good balance of encouragement and yet also challenge for God’s people, including women.  In fact, this is a hallmark of the Bible.  On one hand it recognizes our weakness and does much to give us encouragement and comfort.  Yet, on the other hand, it also recognizes our spiritual lethargy and does much to wake us up and get up headed on the right path.  Let’s look at our passage today.

She has much in Christ

In this passage Paul is trying to encourage Christians to have unity.  But he starts with a series of things that we all have in Jesus.  He uses a grammatical device of a series of conditionals.  These are intended to remind them of the fact that each of these conditionals is understood to be rhetorical.  Of course we who are Christians have all of these things.  There is no “if” about it.  This is going to be critical later.  But just understand that Paul is highlighting our relationship with Jesus.  We have everything that we need in this world without having to clamor and strive against others to get it because of our relationship with Jesus.  Christians are called to quit looking to the world for fulfillment and start receiving from Jesus all he has for us.  So what do we have in him?

The first “if” is consolation in Christ.  This word may give you the idea of a consolation prize.  Who wants that?  The word has the idea of calling someone to your side in order to speak to them.  Thus it is generally connected to some kind of help, encouragement, comfort, or even advice.  In Jesus we have this relationship in which the God of heaven calls us to His side and He speaks into our life those things that we need to hear.  You could say that the “if” statement does more than remind.  It can also be a testing question operating in such a way as to question.  Are you receiving this from Jesus or are you blocking his words into your life?  There is no question that it is available and at work in the life of a Christian, but sometimes we are not so cooperative with the Spirit of God.

The next “if” is comfort of love.  It is still understood to be “in Christ.”  The comfort of God’s love for us, especially through the person and work of Jesus, is immense.  When one thinks about how Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, it leaves one with a powerful sense of God’s love for them.  However, the love of Christ also comes to us through other Christians who are also cooperating with God’s design to love others.  In fact, everything that we see around us becomes a testimony of the love of God intended to help us.  We are swimming in His provision and grace.  What a comfort that gives to our hearts, “if” we are seeing it and resting in it.

Next we are reminded of the fellowship of the Spirit.  “Fellowship” refers to the emotional bond that we have with other Christians by the Holy Spirit.  It starts with an inner relationship with the Holy Spirit.  He speaks to us and teaches us to follow Jesus.  When we connect with other believers who are doing the same thing, we have a powerful, shared experience of listening to the Holy Spirit.  This shared experience of learning to trust the Lord gives us a bond that is more than emotional; it is even spiritual.  When we connect with others of “like Spirit,” we have fellowship with them.  This also refers to the common lot, and common place that we have in this group we call Christians.  We have dropped away from the spirit of this world and taken our place among those who are following Jesus through the Holy Spirit. 

Lastly we are reminded of the affection and mercy of Christ.  Affection is a reference to the knowledge that God deeply cares about us, which leads to his compassionate mercy towards us.  His emotions have and do lead to actions of mercy in our life.

In all of these things there is a direct reception of them from Christ spiritually.  However, there is also an indirect reception of them through those who belong to Christ.  Granted, this is received imperfectly because it is flowing through imperfect people to a person who imperfectly receives.  That is why Paul is writing this letter.   Think about how often we wonder why God is “holding out on us,” (insert thing you want here).  Yet, at the same time He is daily pouring out such wonderful treasures upon us, directly and indirectly.  The real question is this.  Are you taking time to open yourself up to Jesus and when you do are you receiving it or are you pushing it away?  It is when we are filled with what Jesus has for us that we are enabled to get along with others, and this is directly where Paul wants to go with this.

She can have much with others also

If we have all this stuff from Jesus then it should be possible for us to be unified with other believers.  Our relationships become better because we no longer seek to satisfy ourselves by them.  Instead we are fulfilled by the vast and amazing grace that Jesus pours out upon us daily.  Before we talk about our relationship with other believers, it is important to recognize that this applies to our relationship with unbelievers, too.  Instead of needing something from them, we can love them fully and without selfish ambition because we have all that we need from Jesus.  Yet, having all that we need in Christ can never mean that we disconnect from others and become apathetic towards them.  It is Jesus himself who whispers in our ear, “Love them with my love.  Regardless of how difficult it may be, show them who I am.”

In our passage Paul points, in verse 2, to the need for believers to get along and to have a unity of heart, mind and soul.  Think of it.  We can have unity because we are no longer looking at each other as some kind of payday.  Jesus is our source.  Yes, he may use others.  But it is not dependent upon them.  His list in verse 2 goes through three aspects of our inner being that need to be unified with other believers.  He mentions the mind twice.  Love is generally connected to the heart.  And the word translated “one accord” in the NKJV literally means “same-souled (inner life).”  Now, the world recognizes the power of unity.  It has its own attempt at unity which usually employs a kind of dog-eat-dog system in order to see whose mind, heart, and soul gets to dominate the group.  But this is not the way of Christ.  You see, Paul wants us to have unity around the mind, heart, and soul of Jesus Christ.  It is his mind that should instruct us and lead us.  As we each surrender to Jesus, we are enabled to have unity with one another and Christ’s love can flow through us to each other.

So, what are the things that typically get in the way of Christians having unity?  Verse 3 tells us to put away selfish ambition and conceit.  When we adopt such attitudes and vices, they destroy our unity.  The word translated “selfish ambition” is actually one word.  It was used by the Greeks for those whose political electioneering was underhanded and marked by unfair means.  Such a person was willing to do anything in order to get ahead, to get what they wanted.  Now the word for “conceit” is a compound word that has the idea of vain glory, or empty pride.  Such pride is empty because it has nothing to offer others.  It is always selfish and sucks the life out of everyone that it touches.  A good metaphor would be a dark, rain cloud.  A farmer who is longing for rain is excited when they see a rain cloud.  Imagine that the cloud works very hard at looking like a good rain cloud, but in the end it sails on past and only sucks up more moisture.  Such are those who are conceited.  They work hard at looking good, but they are only good for themselves.  In fact, they are not even that.  One day they will approach their death bed and how empty they will be on that day.  They will look back with sorrow on all the relationships that they sucked the life out of, like some kind of vampiric beast.  They will be left empty in the end.  And, standing before God one day, they will be empty of anything to avoid their fate.  If we want true unity of the Holy Spirit, then we have to reject the voices and the spirit of this age, which incessantly stir up angst within us, calling us to selfish ambition and conceit.  So if these should be avoided, then what should we embrace?

The second half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 point us to the need for a humble opinion of ourselves and the need to esteem others above ourselves.  When we walk into a room our sinful nature seeks to find those ways in which we are better than others.  We tend towards an inflated view of self that affects our relationships.  So what does it mean to esteem others above self?  I don’t think it means to put yourself down in the sense of hating yourself and thinking that you have nothing to offer.  Rather, it is when we see all the ways that others are better than us.  In the world this is a threat.  But in Christ it is part of His grace to us.  Yes, we want Him to put all wisdom within us.  But in the end He scatters His gifts of wisdom, and yet for each of our benefit.  Even then we need to get to such a lowly place precisely because that is the place we need to get to if we are going to actually help others.  You cannot help others full of yourself.  God will bless you through others.  But that is not to be your focus.  Your focus is to be on Jesus and receiving from Him what you can then turn and give to others.

So ladies, and guys too, who are you following?  The next time you find yourself annoyed with someone and fighting with them over something, take time to stop and think.  What do I think I lack, and why do I think this person can give it to me?  Lord, forgive us for making others our source, for looking to others in the way that we should only look to you.  Lord, help us to walk in unity with other believers so that the world might see and know that you are a glorious savior.

A Woman who follows Jesus audio

Thursday
Jan262017

The Heart of a Righteous Person 3

We apologize, but we do not have an audio for this week.  

Psalm 51:1-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 22, 2017.

We are going to look at the first half of Psalm 51 today, as we continue talking about the heart of a righteous person.  Here we see that the heart of a righteous person deals with its sin before God.  Of course, like anyone else, our flesh tries to avoid the issue of sin because it makes us uncomfortable.  However, at the end of the day, the righteous have learned that this is precisely the area that we must face if we are going to have freedom and joy. 

A unique thing to point out about the Psalms is that some of them have musical notations and statements that are not part of the Psalm, but give us information about it.  Thus, we are told that Psalm 51 was directed to the Chief Musician, but written by David.  More than this, we are also given the situation that led to David penning this Psalm, which is really a prayer.  “A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”  I think it would be good to take a few moments and remind ourselves of this situation.

In 2 Samuel 11 we are made aware of an amazing moral failure by David.  I do not say amazing because I cannot conceive of David sinning.  Rather, I say it is amazing because David has continuously stood strong against some very strong temptations: waiting patiently to be made king, showing restraint when he could have killed Saul, and refusing to reject God out of anger in difficult times.  David had weathered decades of difficulty, trusted in the Lord, and now was King of Israel.  More than this, God had blessed him and his armies were systematically subduing all the kingdoms around him.  At this point in his life, David begins to take it easy.  We are told that he, Israel’s most successful general, decided not to go to the battlefront that spring.  Instead, he stayed home.  One evening, while walking on his rooftop (think of a flat style roof), David sees a beautiful woman bathing.  This should have stopped right there.  But, David’s flesh began to leverage his power.  He inquires who the woman is and finds out that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who is one of David’s top 30 warriors and who had been with him in the wilderness times.  Again, it should have stopped there.  But David’s flesh keeps leveraging him.  He invites her to his place and they end up sleeping together.  David had committed adultery with the wife of one of his loyal friends.   To make matters worse, Bathsheba later sends word to David that she is pregnant.  Remember that her husband has been gone to the battlefield for a while.  David tries to cover his sin by requesting Uriah to be sent to the palace.  When Uriah arrives, David questions him about how everything is going and then tells him to go home for the evening.  His plan is that Uriah will take advantage of the opportunity and sleep with his wife.  This would cover up that Bathsheba had been unfaithful and would keep any further questioning leading to David.  Yet, we find that Uriah was a righteous man.  He refuses to go home and sleep with his wife, while his buddies are sleeping on the ground away from their wives.  So Uriah sleeps at the door of the palace.  David even gets him drunk, but Uriah still will not go home.  When David realizes that Uriah is not going to cover up his sin for him, he then changes plans.  He decides to send a note to Joab, his general, to have Uriah put at the front of the battle, and then to withdraw so that he will be killed.  Even worse, David has Uriah deliver his own death sentence.  Joab complies with David’s unlawful order and so Uriah is killed.  At this point David has been able to fix his problem.  But, he hasn’t really.  God speaks to the prophet Nathan and tells him what has happened.  Nathan then confronts the king.  David is guilty of adultery, deceit, betrayal, murder, giving unlawful orders, and pretending righteousness before the people (and much more).

We must understand that God will not allow us to get away with our sins.  We may be able to do so for a long time, but eventually we will be made to face them.  Righteous people are not people who have never sinned, or at some point were able to conquer sin.  They are not exalted people who are better than the rest of us.  They are people, just like you and I, who have learned to go to war against their own sin.  They are people who do not turn to pride and arrogance when they are confronted with their sin, but instead break down in repentance.  This is a righteous person.  So Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance before God when he was rebuked by the prophet Nathan.

It repents of its sin

The word repentance literally means “to turn.”  When we repent we are turning away from our sin, and the path it is leading us down, and we are turning back towards God and His paths of righteousness.  Of course, this is difficult because we have sinned.  Yet, it must be done if we want to be alive spiritually.  It is only through repentance and the mercy of God that we are freed from the tyranny of sin.

In verse 1 David asks for mercy because he knows the character of God.  He knows that God is loving, kind, steadfast and unfailing in His care for mankind.  Yes, David has blown it completely.  But he has hope that God will forgive him.  We are not just talking about feelings that God has.  God doesn’t just have merciful feelings from time to time.  But, rather, God has proven Himself to have mercy as an integral part of His character.  Now, there is a difference between asking mercy when you are forced to do so, and to ask it when you are not forced.   It is interesting that in some ways God is forcing David to face his sin; there is judgment coming upon David.  Yet, in other ways, God is giving David room to respond.  Imagine if, when one sins, a policing angel from God immediately grabbed us and brought us into the heavenly court of God and we were judged there for our sin.  Of course, everyone would immediately plead mercy.  Instead, God gives us enough warning and confrontation to cause us to fear where our sin is taking us, and yet not so much that there is no room to make it right.  I say that because sins that are done in this life must be faced and dealt with in this life.  If you wait until you are brought before the judge upon your death, it will be too late to make your peace.  Through repentance we can approach the heavenly court before hand in order to deal with our sin.  This is what we see in this Psalm.  David begs for mercy.

He also acknowledges his sin, verse 3.  Yes, he had tried to hide for a while.  But in the end we find David humbling himself and acknowledging that he has sinned.  In fact, this is the reason he can hope that God will have mercy; because he acknowledges his sin.  God loves to give mercy, but He will not do so if a person refuses to acknowledge their sin.  It is through these actions of acknowledging sin and asking for mercy that God forgives and we are declared to be righteous by God.

It desires its relationship with God to be fixed

In verses 4-9 David moves from trying to be freed from his sin, to asking for his relationship with God to be made right.  You see it is good to repent out of fear of God’s punishment.  But it is even better to also want our relationship with Him healed.  David did not want to go through life without God’s presence in his life, and God’s approval upon him.  So how can this be fixed?

Though David is king of Israel, he still has a higher King over him, and that is God.  In verse 4 David says, “Against you, and you only, have I sinned.”  To our ears it sounds like David is minimizing what he did to others, like they don’t matter in some way.  What David actually is doing is recognizing that his sin was actually worse.  In other words, when he sinned against Bathsheba by inviting her to the palace and seducing her, he was even more sinning against God.  When he sinned against his friend Uriah by sleeping with his wife, it was if he had slept with God’s wife.  David is recognizing what we often fail to do when we sin against each other.  The next time you are tempted to yell at someone and mistreat them, ask yourself, “What if this was Jesus?”  It is easier to tell ourselves that what we are doing is not that big of a deal, or that the person we are sinning against is an even worse sinner than we are.  But in truth all sin is not just against each other, but even more, it is against God.  Let me make the point another way.  In Matthew 25 Jesus stated that when we help the hungry, poor, and naked, he treats it as if we did it unto him.  If this is true for the righteous things that we do, what about the unrighteous things we do?  When we mistreat one another, does not Jesus see it as if we did it unto him?  God is our judge and we will one day stand before Him to give account for our sins.  How could David ever be seen as righteous before God after what he had just done (not just to Uriah, but to God)?  How can a righteous judge forgive our sins without being seen as wicked himself?  He can do so because Jesus paid the price for the sins of “whosoever would believe on him” at the cross.  But the wicked who refuse to humble themselves, confess their sin, and ask for mercy, will receive none.

The real problem is not the outward things.  The real problem is what giving into sin has done to our heart and mind.  We have been twisted inside and only God can heal our heart and mind.  The real battle against sin must be fought in these areas of our life.  We can’t fix our own wicked heart.  We need God’s help.  Thus in verse 6 David recognizes that he needs God’s help and that God will give it (“You will make me to know wisdom”).  Only God can bring the light of His Truth into our minds that have been darkened by sin.  Nathan’s rebuke was a gift from God to David.  God was revealing to David that he would not be allowed to get away with this sin.  The whole Bible is filled with God’s wisdom for the hearts and minds that have been darkened by sin.  But we will have to humble ourselves to receive it.  We will have to let go of the sensual, earthly, demonic wisdom that led us into sin in the first place. 

Also notice that David talks about being cleansed.  Verse 2 says, “Wash me thoroughly…cleanse me from my sin.”  Verse 7 says, “Purge me…wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  This is a metaphor of dirt.  Sin is to our heart what dirt is to a clean garment.  It defiles our heart and mind with a layer of filth that will only become harder and harder to clean the longer we wait.  Thus the mind of a sexual addict, cannot just say, “I won’t do it again,” because their mind has been defiled.  There has to be an inner cleansing that is done as we repent before God and come into relationship with Him.  No mere words can accomplish this.  Only the Spirit of God can come into a heart and cleanse it from all unrighteousness.  When we have a clean relationship with God and there are no layers of sin between our heart and His, then we can know the joy and gladness that verse 8 is talking about.  David had lost his joy and gladness.  He knew that he was destroying his relationship with God and defiling his soul.  But he had been trapped by his lusts and bound in chains by his sin.  Only God could cleanse his heart.

Lastly, as we take the initiative to “deal” with our sin, God will deal with the part of our sin that we can’t.  I can confess my sins and ask for forgiveness.  But only God can remove them from me as far as the east is from the west.  Only God can throw my sins into the sea of forgetfulness and refuse to let them be brought against me in His courts.  In fact, David asks that they be “blotted out.”  This is the picture of the heavenly books that record the actions of every person.  Yes, our actions and even our thoughts are recorded in the books of heaven.  David knew that he had a lot of bad stuff recorded on those pages.  He begs that God would blot out his sins.  Again, the only way God can legally do this is if someone pays the price for them, and that is precisely what Jesus did at the cross.  God can acquit us.  Also, once the price of a crime has been paid for we cannot be tried for it again.  We will pick this up more next week as we look at the 2nd half of this psalm.

Hopefully this walk through David’s heart has encouraged you to not run from God and try to hide your sin.  All our attempts at hiding our sin is like Adam and Eve trying to hide their nakedness from God with fig-leaves.  The fig leaves will not last; they are only a temporary fix.  Also, the very wearing of them signals to God that we have sinned.  Quit dealing with sin your way.  Quit hiding it, and pretending that it is not that bad.  It will destroy you and any relationship you could have with God.  In the end you will stand before the judge and be found lacking, unless, of course, you humble yourself and cry out to God for mercy.  Let’s be a people who are clean before God by dealing with our sin this week.

Tuesday
Apr262016

Mocking the Messiah

Luke 23:35-43.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 24, 2016.

At the lowest point in his life, Jesus is hanging on the cross while people gather around him and mock him.  I am reminded of Psalm 1:1 where it says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of mockers.”  The Psalm goes on to state that the wicked, sinners, and mockers would be blown away like the chaff.  But the righteous man will endure like a tree planted by a river.  In every age we are tempted to join this group that mocks the way of the Lord.  We do not need to look at places in the Middle East to find it because we have it here in our own country.  All around the world, Jesus and his followers are ridiculed and mocked by one group or another.  It is important for believers to restrain themselves and not respond in kind.  Rather, we must learn to live out the love of Christ in the face of those who do not understand because this is their only hope.

Most People Mocked Jesus

The crucifixion of Jesus was the darkest day in the history of Israel.  We can think about Joseph and how he was treated by his brothers; that was a dark day.  We can think about the making of the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai; that was a dark day.  How about their refusal to enter into the promise land?  That was a dark day.  Their rebellious kings and eventual destruction by Assyria and Babylon were also dark days.  But all through those times was the hope that Messiah would come some day and fix everything.  Thus the murder of Messiah becomes the darkest day of all. 

In the midst of this, the Gospels portray the people, leaders, soldiers, and one of the criminals as mockers.  Now it is bad enough to be unjustly executed, but to have people mocking you makes it even worse.  The Bible warns believers against the act of mocking others (as noted in Psalm 1).  To mock someone is to scorn and ridicule them.  Typically it employs things like taunts, mimicry, and making jokes of someone’s situation.  Even when a person is suffering justly, it is generally bad form to mock them and sets us up for a fall of our own.  Mocking seeks to pull a person down, and then when they are down it seeks to pile on top of them.  When we participate in mocking, we do not realize the manner of spirit that we are aligning ourselves with.  Mocking does not lead anyone to repentance.  It does not stir up life.  Rather it leads to destruction and takes delight in it.

Luke reveals first that the leaders mocked Jesus for his ability to deliver.  He was known as a great deliverer because of his healings and exorcisms.  He had saved people physically, mentally, and spiritually through his actions and teachings.  Thus thousands touted the amazing deliverer known as Jesus.  Yet, the leaders throw this back into his face.  If you are such a deliverer, let’s see you deliver yourself from this!  Mockers often demonstrate logic and reason.  However, it is always used for a wicked purpose.  Instead of asking Jesus why he doesn’t save himself, they use the fact that he doesn’t against him.  We now know that if Jesus saved himself he would be simultaneously condemning us.  Perhaps we should recognize that the ultimate truth that lies behind all of our questions to God, is that somehow it would bring more harm to us than good.  When we say, “God, why don’t you do (whatever it is you want),” somehow it is because he is bringing something better to us.  This is where faith in our loving Father in Heaven becomes critical.  Why doesn’t God deal with all the evil in the world?  It is because he is giving room for them to repent.

The soldiers also mocked the Kingship of Jesus.  They made great fun of the fact that they were crucifying the King of Israel.  What kind of king let’s himself be killed?  The kings of this world will sacrifice their whole army before they let themselves be taken, but not Jesus.  To soldiers, this was a foolish king.  Even the giving of the sour wine to quench his thirst seems to be done in a mocking way.  Perhaps they did so as if they were servants serving the king his wine.  Either way, they make it clear with their mocking tone that they do not respect such a king.

Lastly, with one of the criminals the mocker is really only concerned about himself.  “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.”  The emphasis should be placed on the “us.”  This criminal could care less about Jesus.  He mocks only because it makes him feel better about himself.  Jesus represents one of those goody-two-shoes that he despises.  This taunt betrays the fact that he only cares about himself.  Even if Jesus did deliver himself, why would he save this criminal?  He clearly is not a follower of Jesus.  Mocking is tempting because it gives the person a quick fix for feeling better about themselves.  Yet, at the same time it increases their judgment before God.

But Some Believed On Jesus

One of the criminals did not mock Jesus.  In fact the mocking of the other criminal sparks a rebuke from him.  Perhaps this was a mercy of the Father to his Son.  Jesus is doing this to save people and yet he is surrounded by mocking.  Yet, in the midst of this, a man declares his faith in Jesus.  Yes, the disciples would also believe in Jesus.  But only this criminal publically declared faith in Jesus that day.  Of course, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Perhaps that is our problem; we often have too much to lose.

Notice that the criminal mentions the fear of the Lord.  Up to this point neither criminal had feared God enough to follow his plans.  It wasn’t until he was nailed to a cross and dying next to the righteous Jesus that this criminal began to fear God.  He had avoided it all his life, but now he couldn’t.  Within hours he would leave this life and stand before the Creator.  This scared him.  We are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Until a person recognizes that they are going to be judged by God for how they lived this life, they do not operate out of true wisdom.  Have we become far too quick to mock and ridicule one another?  Even in the church we can play the mocker when we think we can get away with it.  Is this because we don’t think God will do anything about it, in this life or the next?  We should beware.  Such actions and thoughts are foolish.  We will have to give account for them before the Lord.  If you want to be blessed then avoid the decision chair of the mockers.

In Jesus both religious and secular mankind demonstrate their judgment of God.  They sit in the mockers chair and judge God as if they are the measure of justice.  Just as the world was unjustly punishing Jesus, so the world makes judgments against God and his followers.  These judgments are unjust and untrue.  The second criminal petitions Jesus for grace in the face of death.  He cries for help from the only one who appears to be able to do anything for him.  He has a great judgment hanging over his head and he deserves it.  The way he words his appeal asks for grace and makes a statement of faith.  “When you come into your kingdom, remember me.”  Death bed salvations may not sit well with our sense of justice.  However, when you weigh it against the fact that we all deserve death for our sins, it doesn’t matter.  What truly matters is that a person gets out of the seat of the mockers and prostrates themselves before God.  Have you done this?

The gracious words of Jesus to the sinner are “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Paradise is the word that is connected to the Garden of Eden in Genesis.  Of course that Paradise is gone.  However the book of Revelation points us to another Paradise in Revelation 2:7.  “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”  Jesus is essentially saying that the Garden of Eden is not missing, it is with the Father, and it will come back to earth some day.  Those who overcome the temptation to join the mockers of this world will enjoy it with Jesus and the Father.  What we see the criminal doing here is called repentance.  Instead of continuing down the same old path, he turns his back on his mocking lifestyle and turns to Jesus in faith.  Repentance turns from the way of sin and towards the path of righteousness that Jesus shows us.  Such a person will always receive the mercy and love of God as its reward.  Let’s be a people who shun the chair of mockers and humble ourselves before one another and our Lord.

Mocking Messiah audio

Wednesday
Dec022015

Lessons of Christmas- The Goodness of It All

Titus 3:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 29, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, I want us to look at some of the lessons that it teaches us.  Of course, we do not want to confuse what the world wants us to learn with what God wants us to learn.  The world wants us to generalize Christmas into a time of feeling and doing good things towards others.  But, God wants us to learn far more than this because the first Christmas did not happen in a vacuum.  It happened after a long history of mankind’s rejection of God and the tragic consequences of our chosen paths, namely sin.

The history of mankind is that of casting off the truth of God and his dealings with us, and then following our own heart.  We are told that spiritual enemies have taken advantage of this to instigate false religions and ways of living among mankind.  Thus the nations of the world were lost and worshipping demonic spirits in the guise of gods.  In this context, God creates a nation from Abraham called Israel.  He gives them His Law as a witness to all the nations.  But 18 centuries later, Israel had become a nation that sidelined the Truth of God’s Law and had embraced the traditions of rabbis and “wise men.”  Instead of a complete rejection like the nations of the world, they kept up a form of obedience, but the powerful principles of God’s Word had been rejected.  Thus all of mankind was in the same condition: bound by the sin of rejecting the Truth of God and guilty before Him.  It was time for judgment and destruction.  It was time for another global judgment.  And yet, that is not what God did.  It is impossible to overemphasize the fact that mankind was totally guilty and deserving judgment before God when He surprised us with a supreme gift of love.  God sent us His own Son, not as a conquering, warrior king to destroy, but rather as a harmless child who would save.  Christmas is a story about the supreme goodness of God.  The message of Christmas is not about the goodness of humanity, but rather, the goodness of God despite the horrible sins of mankind.

The Christian Is Called To Goodness

In Titus 3, the first two verses may look like a list of duties.  However, the list itself flows out of a central principle that followers of Jesus are called to goodness in everything that they do.  The first area Paul points out is our goodness towards authority, specifically governmental.  Christians ought to act in a good manner towards governments and any authorities in their life for that matter.  There are many times when the wickedness within a person causes them to reject the virtues of self-subjection and obedience to authority.  In fact as you read this you may not see them as virtuous, but as problems.  Yet, there are fewer times when righteousness demands that we stand against authority.  In fact, it is important for Christians to note, that even when the apostles themselves disobeyed governmental authorities by continuing to preach Christ, they submitted to the punishments without raging against those who carried them out.  In fact, they demonstrated love even to those who were persecuting them.  Yes, there are many issues in this area.  Yet, this cannot be avoided.  Those who follow Jesus must do so in an attitude of subjection and obedience to governmental authorities, and not one of rage, anger, and rebellion.

Next Paul tells them to be ready for every good work.  This is a general statement that helps us to see that we are to do more than just be good in a passive sense.  We are to actively prepare for and execute those good works that opportunity affords us.  How can we ready ourselves?  Our readiness is that of a disciple who is listening to the Holy Spirit and living out what He teaches us.  We follow the Spirit of Christ rather than the Spirit of this Age.  It is our submission and obedience to the authority of the Lord Jesus that enables us to be ready for the good things we must do, and often to those who “don’t deserve it.”

Lastly Paul tells us to be good towards our fellow man.  Verse 2 demonstrates many different ways that we can do that.  “Speak evil of no one,” uses the word that is translated blasphemy when it is used of God.  Thus we are not to speak what is untrue or unsubstantiated about any one, period.  We are to be peaceable towards others.  That means we don’t start fights and further more we decline to fight with others when they start it.  Such bickering, quarreling, and outbursts are to stop at the decision of the believer to not reciprocate such things.  We are also told to be gentle.  This is not about how we touch one another, but is about our dealings.  We should be fair, equitable, mild, and loving even in times of correction.  Lastly we should be humble before all men.  In fact, especially before those whom we feel we are above.  This life of goodness is not easy to accept.  Our flesh comes up with innumerable excuses and “reasons” why Jesus can’t really mean this. 

It is easy to be good towards those who we think are good, but in verse 3 Paul reminds us that we were not always a person committed to being good.  It is important to identify with the person we see as evil.  Even if we have left that life behind, we used to be like them.  If we condemn them then we are condemning ourselves.  If they are unworthy of goodness then so are we.  Paul ends his list of what our past life was like with a picture of those who are selfish and scrapping with everyone around them, hateful and hating.  It is survival of the fittest and dog eat dog.  This is the world as it was in the days of the first Christmas.  Little hope, little light, and thick darkness all around. 

The Goodness of God Has Appeared in Jesus

In verses 4-8, Paul reminds us that Jesus came to us during this darkness.  His “appearance” is a reference to His incarnation, birth and life.  His light broke in upon the darkness and life sprang up among the dead.  Jesus broke in upon this sad condition of ours and gave us goodness.  This is what we are called to do.  We are to be the goodness of God breaking in upon the darkness of others in this world.

Jesus did not just merely exist, but he was the goodness of God towards people who didn’t deserve goodness.  He came not as a rebel against the government in order to take over, nor as a destroyer.  He was the gentleness and compassion of God as he healed people, set them free from demons, helped them to see the truths that they had lost, and simply helped them to believe in God again.  No matter what we experience in life, we must keep this as the bedrock of our understanding: God loves us all and has poured out benevolent kindness upon us despite our wickedness.

He did so not because He was obligated to do so.  He would have been perfectly justified to judge us as evil and either wall himself off from us, or destroy us.  No individual and no nation had done anything that would deserve the kindness of God to send mankind His Son as a savior.  It was simply mercy.  He gave us what we didn’t deserve.  This salvation was not the outward destruction of our enemies.  Otherwise He would have to destroy us all due to the fact that we are all someone’s enemy.  Rather, the salvation is of a spiritual and mental nature.  It is intended to change our way of dealing with the world around us.  We are to respond and live differently because that is who God is.

Part of this mercy is described as being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Though this term can refer to the Resurrection, here it is referring to the spiritual resurrection of our dead spirit.  Before Christ we were spiritually dead to God.  We could not hear and respond to Him.  Instead we only listened to and followed the flesh and the spirit of this age.  When a person puts their faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit does a real work of making their spirit alive to God.  This is also called “born again.”  The Spirit takes up residence within our heart and mind in order to help us connect with the heart of the Father.

We are also mercifully renewed by the Holy Spirit.  By following the spirit of this age and our own flesh, our mind and heart have become broken and scarred.  We have believed all manner of lies and deceptions.  The renewal of our mind and heart happens through the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.  The Word of God and our obedience to it washes and renews our mind and heart from the crud of this world.  Over time it is easy to give up and become discouraged with this process.  Yet, take heart.  We were told that it would be difficult to follow Jesus and that we would be tempted to quit.  When you run into things that discourage you, this is a sign that you are on the right path.  Some people give up at the very moment they are getting on to the right path.

Verse 8 brings us full circle.  Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus will be careful to maintain a life of good works.  This means we will be vigilant and watch over our life in order to keep doing the good things that God has for us to do.  Some people balk when we talk about good works because it sounds like we are trying to save ourselves with works.  It has been said that, “The theology of Christianity is based on grace, the ethics of Christianity are based on gratitude.”   We do not do good works because they will save us.  Rather we do them out of gratitude for the salvation we already have.  If God so loved us, while we were yet sinners, how much more ought we to act in love towards all men?  Don’t let this world rob you of the goodness of God.  Instead, be one who gives it freely everywhere you go.  No, we do not do good to others because of a foolish notion of humanity’s goodness.  Rather we do so because of the truth of God’s goodness and the ability of people to be redeemed.

Goodness of it all audio