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Entries in New Covenant (4)

Wednesday
Apr032019

A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh

Mark 2:18-22.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 31, 2019.

The audio for this sermon will be up shortly.

“For everything, there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven.”  This quote from Ecclesiastes 3:1 is the source of the title.  In life we generally understand what is happening socially around us.  Is it a happy time, or is it a sad time?  What is the circumstance or occasion and how does that affect my actions and words?  The answers to those questions often put a set of unspoken, social niceties upon us.

In our story today we have a situation where certain people are looking at the disciples of Jesus and wondering why they aren’t fasting.  Perhaps, it wasn’t on the order of a bride sobbing uncontrollably at her wedding, but it did stick out socially in the same way.  It was common for the strictest Pharisees to fast twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday.  Israel had been under the power of various world powers for centuries with only a few brief moments of hope.  So, these disciples of this new rabbi were under a lot of speculation.  Their lack of fasting stuck out like a sore thumb.

It is important to recognize that the Law of Moses only commanded fasting on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.  Thus, this situation is not about observing the Law, but rather it is about establishing just who is more spiritual. Yet, true to form, Jesus answers this question by digging deeper beneath the surface and showing them the truth.  There is a time to weep and fast, but there is also a time to laugh and rejoice.  When a person finds Jesus, this is a celebration time which would cause all who understand it to rejoice as well.  Let’s look at our passage today.

Why don’t your disciples fast

This question that is presented to Jesus is interesting in light of the feast that Levi had thrown right before this.  The Pharisees first objected that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, and now they are objecting to the fact that the disciples of Jesus aren’t fasting.  It is clear that they are only trying to find fault with Jesus and his disciples by nit-picking.  Yet, there are some other things to keep in mind as we approach this.

First, it is odd that the Pharisees come with the disciples of John the Baptist.  They were not natural friends.  In fact, they were quite the opposite.  John was very harsh on the Pharisees who watched him like a hawk for errors as well.  In Matthew 3 we have a scene where John is baptizing those who were repenting of their sins, and the Pharisees and Sadducees show up.  John tells them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  And, do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Second, John had publicly vouched that Jesus was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world.  He was the Messiah.  So, why are these guys together? 

It would appear that the Pharisees figured out a connection that they had with John’s disciples that was different then Jesus.  Therefore, they most likely went to John’s disciples in order to put a wedge between them and Jesus.  Now, on the surface this is a valid question and John’s disciples are probably asking it in a valid way.  However, the motivation of the Pharisees is illegitimate.  They are using fasting as a pretext to cut Jesus down.  Really, this is a matter of personal choice and preference.  There is nothing wrong with fasting twice a week, but there is something wrong with judging others who do not share your personal choices and preferences.  They were stepping out of bounds.  Let’s look at the response of Jesus.

In verses 19-20, Jesus uses the analogy of a wedding and its bridegroom.  This is important because this is the exact same metaphor that John the Baptist used about Jesus in John 3:28-30 when he was speaking with his disciples.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John clearly understood who he was in relation to Jesus the Christ.  Thus, the use of this analogy would have great significance to John’s disciples and would go over the heads of the Pharisees.  Just like a bride waiting for her groom, Israel had been waiting for the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, who would rescue them from their oppressors.  The Pharisees did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, but John the Baptist had gone on record that Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting.  This declaration created an awkward transitional time.  Some of John’s disciples immediately began to follow Jesus, but others were zealous for John and stayed with him.  Even when John was imprisoned, some of these disciples kept clinging to him instead of turning to Christ.  I do not say that to put them down.  I believe God knew that John needed friends who believed in him to stick with him because he had some difficult things ahead of him.  It wasn’t until John was executed that these who held back were forced to make a choice.

Whether like the Pharisees, or like John’s disciples, we are all tested in times when God begins to take us to the next stage.  Those who are “early adopters” will jump on board quickly and the “loyal laggards” will wait until the writing is on the wall.  The key is always understanding just who you are following.  Are you following a person, or an institution, or the Spirit of God, especially Jesus?  Being an early adopter is neither better or worse than being a loyal laggard.  What is more important is jumping on board what God is doing, whether than what man is doing.

Of course, the key point that Jesus is making is that it is a strange bride who weeps when the bridegroom shows up.  In this case, the disciples of John had more to be ashamed of than the Pharisees.  The continued fasting while the Messiah was in Israel was itself a sign of a lack of spiritual sensitivity against the Pharisees and John’s disciples, and not the disciples of Jesus.  They were only doing what would be natural, rejoicing!

Yet, Jesus notes that this happy time will come to an end because he will be taken away from his disciples.  This is in reference somewhat to the crucifixion, but even more to his ascension into heaven to wait at the right hand of the Father.  During that time, the disciples had plenty of difficulty and persecution with many of them being imprisoned and killed.  Thus, fasting is appropriate for believers during this time leading up to the Second Coming of Christ.  Yet, we should be careful of turning it into a badge of honor, much like the Pharisees were doing.

Fasting always represented humbling yourself in repentance before God.  It was an outward show, which involved wearing sackcloth, tearing your clothes, putting ashes on your head, and refraining from food for a period of time.  As Christians we should fast from time to time, but we should be careful of promoting the outward over the top of the inward.  We should also be careful of hold other Christians in contempt for not fasting as often as we think they should.  Fasting is not the secret to the spiritual universe; Jesus is.  Until you desire Jesus more than this world, no amount of fasting will do you any spiritual good.

This whole scene, and the analogy Jesus gives, implies that the first coming of Christ was not the wedding.  It would more aptly be seen as a betrothal.  Jesus came to Israel and “popped the question.”  A remnant of Israel said yes.  However, that question has been opened up to the Gentiles who want to participate in this coming wedding.  The wedding of Christ to the People of God will happen at the Second Coming (note: I state this without any reference to the specific timing of all the events associated with it).  Jesus will return to rescue his bride and wed her, never to be separated again.  Meanwhile he has been preparing a place for his bride in the heavenly, new Jerusalem.

A deeper point is made

Jesus gives two more analogies, in verses 21 and 22, that takes this point deeper.  This is not just about who has the best teacher in town, and it is not about whether a person should fast or not.  God was doing something bigger than Moses leading the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt.  This was a historical moment, not only to Israel and not only to the world, but to the history of the whole cosmos (spiritual and material).

The next analogy that Jesus brings up is that of the old garment and the unshrunk cloth.  In both of these analogies there is something that is old and something that is new.  The old garment has developed tears and holes that need mending if it is intended to be used.  To mend the old garment, one should not used new material due to the fact that the new cloth will shrink much more than the old.  Thus, the cloth will pull at the stiches and ruin the patch job.  Now, our modern society may have trouble identifying with this concern, but the people of that day would understand exactly what Jesus is saying.  So, what is Jesus talking about?

The old garment represents the Jewish religion under the Law of Moses.  Over the years, due to the sin of its people, the institutions and the devotion of the people had developed tears and gaping holes.  Jesus is God’s man to fix things in Israel.  Thus, it could be thought that the Messiah would raise up new leaders who could serve as a patch to the old system.  Jesus makes it clear that he is creating new cloth that cannot be used to patch up the Old Covenant.  He had not come to fix the nation of Israel so that it could continue on in the same mode under the Law of Moses, and within the same institutions.  He was not preparing his disciples to fit into the garment of Israel under the Law.  We could take this further now, but let’s move to the other analogy.

This is the analogy of the old wineskins and the new wine.  It is stating the same thing.  The old wineskins represent the religious institutions and their operators.  The disciples of Jesus represent the new wine that God is producing.  When Moses led Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai, they were the new wine of their day.  The Law of Moses was also a part of this new wine in that it represented the container that these people would be placed within.  It is the outward form of institutions and ritual of the people of God.  The spiritual fervor of the people (though not perfect) was focused on following God into this new thing.  Yet, the spiritual work of yesterday does its work much like wine in a wineskin.  The skin is stretched out and the wine reaches an equilibrium between its expanding and the resistance of the wineskin.  Eventually the wine is used up and an empty, dry, old wineskin is left behind.  In Jesus the God of Israel was making new wine, but he was also preparing to pour them into a new wineskin, the Church of Christ.  The new work of Christ could not be put into the institutions of the Old Covenant.  Instead of reinvigorating the old institutions of Israel, the new wine would have completely destroyed it.

Thus, Jesus had come to institute a new covenant with the people of God.  This new covenant would have better promises and new institutions.  By the way, it may be worth realizing that, when Jesus comes back to set up the earthly kingdom, he will be leading us into a new thing again.  The Church institutions of this earth will become the institutions of that age.  Christ will be making new wine and pouring it into new institutions.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he told his disciples that the cup they drank from represented the New Covenant in his blood.  Hebrews 8:6-13 tells us that when the prophet Jeremiah prophesied of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31), it was proof that the Old Covenant had become obsolete and would pass away when the new one came.  This is exactly what took place historically.  This should not be a matter of pride or arrogance of the new over the old because we could not have had the new without the old, which was once new. 

In fact, is it not clearly written on the wall?  The New Covenant is not so new anymore.  Over the centuries it has developed its own tears and gaping holes.  We can be tempted to try and fix everything in the flesh simply by calling what we do, the Spirit.  I encourage you to trust the Lord.  The answer is not to throw the Church and its institutions away, but neither is it to double down upon them as if they are the answer to salvation alone and the finished work of God forever.  I encourage you to trust the Lord and the words of him and his disciples over that of different men and institutions.  Jesus knows that we need a new garment.  So, we must do our best to be faithful with the institutions that he has given us.  Praise God that he has given us the Holy Spirit.  In Christ we can keep experiencing the new thing of God’s Spirit each and every day.  We can keep invigorated and renewed in him.  Yes, from time to time, the institutions of the Church grow hard and brittle, resistant to the work of the Holy Spirit.  It refuses to accept what God is doing.  Perhaps we should look at the history of the Church a bit differently.  Many people look back and see only failure, as one group splits from another and then another.  What if we saw it from the perspective of old wineskins?  Each time the institutions of the Church have grown hard and resistant to the Spirit, God has been faithful to provide new expressions and forms for those who belong to Him.  New institutions have cropped up only to become hard themselves.    No group can point to its beginning and declare that, because they were once new wine, they must still be new wine.  It doesn’t work that way.  Let’s be faithful Christians because our Lord is coming for a people who want him more than a certain religious form.

Tuesday
Sep052017

The Unshakable Kingdom

Hebrews 12:25-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 03, 2017.

Today we will finish this chapter as we look at the importance of believers in Jesus living each day by faith in Him.  Last week we were reminded of the heavenly city in which we have citizenship.  In this last passage, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  As we close out this section, I pray that you are able to see both the wonderful grace of God that we have been given, and the amazing responsibility we have to keep trusting Jesus, no matter what we may face in this life.

Don’t refuse the voice of the Father

By itself, vs. 25 begs the question, “What voice is being referenced?”  However, as you move back through the passage it is clear that the voice of God is what we are talking about.  If we tie the Old Testament allusions to the earlier references that God disciplines us as a Heaven Father, then it becomes clear that Christians are being told not to ignore the voice of God.  Even today, we can be guilty of ignoring or refusing to obey the voice of God.  But, before we get into what that can look like, let’s first deal with this exhortation to obey God’s voice.

We are reminded of those who rejected God’s voice under the Old Covenant and how they did not escape His judgment.  They did hear an audible voice while they were at Mt. Sinai.  However, the majority of God’s Word was given to them by the prophet Moses and confirmed by the amazing signs and wonders that God did among them.  That first generation that came out of Egypt heard the voice of God and even embraced it by agreeing to a covenant with God at Sinai.  Yet, they did not follow God through the desert in faith.  Most of them perished in the wilderness, not because they lost faith one time or in an instance, but because they continually refused to trust God all along the way.  His judgment was sometimes a quick and instantaneous thing such as when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up in an earthquake’s rift, or the many that died from the fiery serpents, or those who perished in the deception of the Moabites.  The testimony of Scripture is that most of them did not walk by faith and complained with unbelief.  The majority perished by simply growing old and dying in their unbelief.  Later generations of Israel who were not at Sinai to hear “The Voice” had to make a choice.  Were they going to listen to the Word of God’s voice that had been recorded or were they going to refuse to listen to it?  We are in the same position.  Though we are not under the Law of Moses, we have heard the record of the New Covenant that God has made clear through His Son Jesus.  Jesus was the Voice of God and He guaranteed that His Holy Spirit would speak through His Apostles to direct His Church.  This has all been recorded faithfully for us.  We have a choice to make.  We either believe it, or refuse and go on in our disbelief.  All generations are accountable to the record of the God’s voice.  On top of all this, if we walk in faith and trust God’s Word, He speaks to our hearts by His Holy Spirit and leads us through the wilderness of this world.  So the point is clear.  Be like Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, rather than like those who refused to believe and perished.  Physically hearing God’s Word is not enough to save us.  We need to put our faith in what it says.

Verse 26 then reminds us that God is shaking the heavens and the earth with His New Covenant through Jesus.  Just as the voice of God shook Mt. Sinai, so the earth would be shaken by the Gospel.  But, more than that, God was also shaking the heavens.  The devil and his angels were being told that they would be cast down into the Lake of Fire, and the Church would be raised up in their place and even higher.  Now this part about shaking the heavens and the earth is a quote from Haggai 2:6.  Its point is that God would shake things to remove that which can be shaken and replace it with something that would be permanent.  It would be easy to see this shaking as something that started and ended in that first year as the disciples went out into the world.  However, when we think through what the Scriptures say about the removal of the old order, on earth and in the heavens, then we can recognize that the shaking started in the first century and will continue until Jesus comes back and concludes removing the old.  Yes, the Law of Moses and the nation of Israel passed away in that first century and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church were set up.  But, this shaking is not over.  Throughout the New Testament we are given a sense that all that God has promised is both now, and not completely yet.  God has much more to do in this shaking that even involves the restored state of Israel and the Jewish people.  The key to this point is to recognize that in Jesus we are a part of what is going to remain.  Why would you try to go back to that which will not remain, the Law of Moses or the world, and refuse that which will remain?  The shaking has begun to knock down the shakable things of this world and that which cannot be shaken has begun to take its place, but it is not yet completed.

So we are told that believers in Jesus are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  By faith in Jesus we have a part in that kingdom that cannot be taken from us.  As Joshua and Caleb led the next generation into the Promised Land, so we can rejoice at the 2nd Coming of Christ and the inheritance that will be made manifest at that time.  When all the nations of this world have fallen, the Kingdom of Jesus will remain.  We should not be arrogant at such words because we stand by faith in God and by His grace, not by our own power.  So the unshakable kingdom is here, at least in our hearts, but not complete.  The book of Revelation is about the completing of the Kingdom of God.  Just as Israel could not survive its continual refusal to listen to God’s voice, the nations of the world today (America included) cannot survive their refusal.  Think about it.  Is there any nation on the earth today whose government makes every decision based upon what will please Jesus Christ and God the Father, based upon God’s Word?  None do so, not even the United States of America.  So I fear for our country as I watch the federal government, state governments, and local continuing to reject the leadership of Jesus and going their own way.

Let us walk in grace

Surrounded by this sea of unbelief, it would be easy to doubt God’s Word and seek compromises with the world and our own flesh.  The whole point of this chapter has been to strengthen our faith so that we can continue to walk in the grace of God (vs. 28).  It is called grace because we cannot obtain it by obeying a list of outward commands.  It truly is a gift of God to those who repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus.  It is also called grace because we give to others what God has given us, love, forgiveness, and the offer of salvation.

To those first century Jewish believers (the book is called Hebrews for a reason) the temptation was to quit following the grace of Jesus and go back under the Law of Moses.  However, there was no going back in God’s eyes.  The Old Covenant was fulfilled and had served its purpose.  It was time for the New Covenant and the faithful would hear the voice of God and leave the spiritual Egypt behind in order to follow Jesus, who is greater than Moses in every way.  Today many Jews continue to cling to the Old Covenant hoping to find salvation in it.  But salvation can only be found in God.  For most Christians the problem is not trying to go back to the Law of Moses, although some do struggle with this.  Instead we are often tempted to create a kind of Christian Law, by which we attempt to justify ourselves through outward conformity, rather than through inward transformation.  The point is not so much what you turn back towards, but what you are leaving behind in order to do so.  If God is going east and you turn back and go west, then you are headed away from life.  Don’t turn your back on God and His amazing grace.  Other Christians turn towards a kind of intellectual trick that says we can live anyway we want because we are under grace.  They turn grace into a license for immorality.  This too is a refusal to follow God.  The New Covenant has not removed the need for living out the righteousness of God.  Rather, it has provided a safe platform on which we can become more and more like Jesus as His Word transforms us from the inside to the outside.

Thus verse 28 mentions acceptable service.  Though some versions use the word “worship” it intends worship in the sense of everything we do to show God’s worth.  What makes our life acceptable?  I believe the Holy Spirit’s continual reminder in these passages of those who didn’t believe under the Old Covenant reveals it to us.  Acceptable worship is to do what God says to do.  It is to obey and to do so from a heart broken over its sin and overflowing with thanksgiving to God for His mercy.  Acceptable worship is to walk by faith in Jesus and trusting His Word.  No, not just the parts that we think He said.  Jesus guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth.  They faithfully recorded what Jesus taught and what the Spirit taught them.  We are accountable to those words. 

It is also acceptable because it is done in reverence and godly fear.  Why does passage end with such a fierce verse?  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  At Mt. Sinai, Israel was instilled with the fear of a slave towards a master.  But at the cross we are instilled with the respect and healthy fear that a child should have towards their father.  We should always be aware that no matter how close God draws us to His side and no matter how much He loves us, He will not put up with rebellion, unbelief, and refusal to obey.  His very nature of being a consuming fire requires us to approach with understanding.  In fact, it is worth contemplating that the same fire that is able to burn up all our sin and make us a refined product that is 100% pure, can also consume us in judgment.  Faith is what makes the difference.  So let’s fully follow Jesus.  And let’s not do so as we imagine him or want him to be.  Let us hear the word of the Lord and say, “Yes, Father.  I hear and want to follow you!”  Let's not trade an unshakable kingdom for that which cannot last, and a heavenly birthright for the temporary pleasures of sin.

Unshakable Kingdom 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

Tuesday
Aug112015

Undermining God's Purpose

Luke 19:45-48.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 9, 2015.

The term “undermine” has no shocking origin.  It refers to the fact that valuables are often underneath large amounts of overburden (earth that has no value to the miner).  Even though mining has been honed to quite a science we still have cave-ins today.  In 2010 a mine in the Atacama Desert of Chile had a single block of stone break free from the mountain and fall through each layer of the mine in a collapsing chain reaction.  When the dust settled it was recognized that this “stone” was at least 45 stories tall and had trapped 33 miners half a mile under the surface.  It took 17 days to drill a hole to the location of the miners and find out that they were still alive.  After 69 days, the world was able to see these miners return to the light of day.  The greater the thing you undermine the greater the consequences if you don’t do enough to mitigate your actions.

Today, Jesus reminds us that God has purposes that he is accomplishing.  It is easy for his people to lose sight of those purposes and, in fact, undermine them.  The eternal purposes of God are far “heavier” than that 45 story block of stone.  If we do not let God correct us, we will eternally endanger ourselves and the lives of our loved ones, and eventually suffer a spiritual collapse.

Jesus Removes That Which Offends God

On the heels of being declared King-Messiah by the large crowds of people, we see Jesus resolutely head to the temple and begin to clean house.  Over time the leaders of the temple had instigated and allowed practices that were undermining the purpose God had in having a temple in the first place.  Let’s take a closer look at the problem.

The temple presented a very practical, logistic problem.  People were required to bring animals for sacrifice, and those animals needed to be inspected and judged.  Also, once a year a temple tax had to be paid in the Hebrew coinage.  Some people were traveling great distances and thus would have trouble trying to bring animals to Jerusalem.  They would also have foreign money and would need to exchange it to pay the tax.  On top of this many people didn’t have their own flocks and would need to purchase animals once they got to Jerusalem.  Thus people would bring money with them in order to exchange currency and secure an acceptable sacrifice.

Now sometimes the solutions to problems can create other problems.  So, at first, people would get animals in the surrounding area and bring them to the temple.  At some point, the place of getting an acceptable animal kept moving closer to the temple until it was moved into the outer court of the temple (also known as the court of Gentiles).  On one hand this was more convenient for the people and allowed them to buy “pre-approved” animals.  This convenience led to what it always does, higher prices.  In fact Jesus called it a den of thieves.  They were price-gouging the people.  This solution had begun to undermine the purposes of God.  The people were commanded to come, give sacrifice and pay the tax.  Yet, the priests and vendors were taking advantage of that situation to “rob” the people.  When leadership takes advantage of those who are trying to obey God’s commands, it has crossed a line that God will not tolerate for long.  This happens in the Church today.  Many false leaders have taken advantage of the fact that people are commanded by God to believe on Jesus and become a part of his Church.  They undermine God’s purposes as they fleece the flock and abuse their authority. 

Another problem is that the vendors in the court of the Gentiles had become an added distraction to worship.  Now let me first say that even if everything was done perfect, there would still be plenty of distractions to worshipping God.  They still had to bring an animal that would be relieving itself wherever.  They would also have the slaughtering of the animals and other people.  We should never fool ourselves that worship of God in this flesh is meant to be a perfect event.  The flesh is always distracted.  Part of the challenge of a believer is to learn to see God in the midst of those distractions.  In fact, salvation and redemption is messy business.  But the lust for money and convenience was adding more distraction than was necessary.  Also, the rip-off prices would fill the heart of people with anger at men, and ultimately anger with God.  “Why should I come to Your temple and get robbed?  Is this just?”  It is hard to worship when you feel like you have been abused.  Commercialization within the Church diminishes and trivializes our participation within it.  Leaders may think they have created a wonderful thing, but they are undermining the ability of people to truly worship.

God Desires Prayer From All Nations

Jesus reminds the priests that God’s purpose was that the temple be a place of prayer for all nations.  He does this by quoting from Isaiah 56:6-7, which says, “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants-everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant- even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer.  Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  Thus God wanted His temple to be a place of prayer, and not just for Israel.  That passage says that God wants to make the Gentiles joyful in his house.  Prayer is basically a person reaching out to God and interacting with Him.  This was done with sacrifices and words.  Whether to cover sins or to honor God, prayer is our approach to God.  The symbolism of the temple speaks to the importance of approaching God correctly.  But we should never lose sight of the main point.  There is a way to approach God, interact with Him, and be accepted.  This is a joyful thing.  Whether we are glorifying Him, petitioning Him, or confessing and repenting before Him, we can know that He accepts us.  This was being lost through the actions of the leaders of that day. 

God’s heart is to take those who are separated from Him and to bring them near.  The whole chapter of Isaiah 56 is worth reading because he is dealing with the reality that some people were separated from going all the way into the temple.  In fact, the closer you got to the temple the fewer people who could continue.  Thus those who were not Jews could only approach the first level.  Then the next level was the Court of Women.  Only the Jewish males could go in to it.  Then there was the temple building itself.  Only the priests could enter the Holy place.  And then only one priest, the High Priest, could go into the Holy of Holies, and it only on one day out of the year.  Some people see this cynically and say something to the affect that they couldn’t worship a God who appears so racist or misogynistic.  However, they are completely misreading the reason for these barriers.  Isaiah 56 is a prophecy to Eunuchs and Gentiles who could feel badly about being separated.  He encourages them not to be discouraged.  You see the whole point was to show that no matter how “qualified” a person was in the flesh, it still couldn’t guarantee their hearts were in the right place.  The High Priest in the days of Jesus wasn’t even a son of Aaron.  He had manipulated and bribed his way into the post.  It was those who were most removed from God in the flesh who were the most easily brought near in the Spirit.  In fact, Israel as a nation rejected Jesus and when the Gospel went to the Gentile nations it was initially received my many.  Thus instead of thinking God is racist, recognize His well illustrated point that no race, biology, sex, station in life, or physical ability can ensure a person’s heart will truly believe God and worship Him.  Yes many worshipped God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.

The New Covenant

So what does this say to us today?  Yes, it can apply to us under the New Covenant.  First of all, we should receive Jesus as our King.  Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and God requires all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).  There also is no other name under heave given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  Jesus is the master and we are His disciples.  Thus His Word is authoritative in our life by His position.  Yet, he has also saved our lives by dying on a cross for us.  Thus His Word is authoritative in our life by His value to us. 

We should also let the King cleanse our life.  Jesus knows exactly what it is that is getting in the way between us and God.  If we accept Him as king then we should also accept His judgments of the things in our lives.  He prunes us and enables us to be fruitful.  Thus the true believer in Jesus is in a relationship of learning to surrender to the wisdom of Christ.  It is easy to say that all our sins were covered 2,000 years ago and thus we don’t have to worry about sin at all.  However, this overlooks the fact that to embrace Jesus as our savior is to admit that we need saved, aka “I am a sinner.”  Jesus didn’t die so that we can keep on sinning.  Rather, He died so that we can be freed from our sins and enabled to truly change.

Lastly, we should draw near to God in Spirit and in Truth.  Regardless of what you are in the flesh, God has enabled you to come into the Holy of Holies through Jesus.  Regardless of race, gender, or lineage, you can come into the holiest place of all, the throne of God.  He accepts you not because of your flesh, but because you put your faith in His Son Jesus.  Let embrace and worship Him today!

Undermining audio