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Weekly Word

Entries in Persecution (4)

Monday
Mar062017

Growing Spiritually 2

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 26, 2017.

As we continue our focus on God’s purpose that we should grow spiritually to be like Jesus, it is easy to envision the perfect environment where all bad things are removed and we are protected in an enclosed, even hydroponic, environment.  Wouldn’t this be the best way to ensure spiritual growth?  Of course we know that this is not how God has chosen to do it.  It is easy to chafe against the wisdom of God in this matter, and why He allows difficult things in our life.  The truth is that there are ways in which we can never grow without adversity.  We must also recognize that spiritual growth does not follow a perfect linear increase without hiccups.  However, I believe it would be a mistake to see our spiritual growth as a series of failures and successes.  It is often in our “failures” that we grow the most in Christ.  Thus the believer should learn not to run from difficulties and try to hide their failures.  Instead we can walk in the confidence that, regardless of our mistakes, God will work all things in our life to help us grow spiritually.  So we must learn to trust the Spirit of God who is daily making us new.

The renewal of our inner being is at odds with the outer

In this chapter Paul has been sharing some of the difficulties that he faced as an apostle.  In verses 8-9 we see that though it was difficult, it was not enough to destroy him.  He was continually under the threat of imprisonment and death, but through it all, the life of Jesus was being revealed to those who believed.  Think about the reality of that.  We need to break out of the kind of thinking that believes God will remove all obstacles for those who love Him.  No honest reading of Scripture will ever sustain such an idea.  Faith is always lived out over the top of obstacles, and each of them was allowed by God.  Paul contrasts his inner man with the outer in this passage.  So we will work through focusing on first one and then the other.

The outer being.  In verse 16, Paul doesn’t go into detail because it is not the specifics he is trying to get across.  He suffered persecution that physically weakened him (pain, sufferings, and arrests).  He was also growing older.  Thus when Paul says the outer man is perishing it points to the bodily vigor and strength that is being consumed.  All the saints have had to face the difficulties of a body that increasingly refuses to cooperate.  In the face of such perishing it is easy to be discouraged.  I am always amazed when a 70 year old complains that they can’t do what they used to be able to do.  Yet, I am sure it will be just as frustrating for me when I get there.  Can we just recognize right now that growing old and watching our outer body perish is a major part of God’s spiritual growth in our life?

In verse 17 Paul uses a word that is translated “afflictions.”  His outer body endured all manner of afflictions.  In fact the word is elsewhere translated “tribulations.”  A good picture of this would be a vice that is given a quarter-turn ever 5 seconds.  The pressure continues to build up until we feel like we can’t take it anymore.  Yet, Paul calls them “light” and momentary.  But, we will come back to that later.  The situations never feel light and momentary.  They feel extremely heavy and like they will never end.  I am not scoffing at Paul’s choice of words.  Rather, I want to avoid the mistake of pretending like trials are easy.  When we pretend like trials are easy then we diminish the glory of what lies ahead.  No matter how heavy and long your affliction may be, the glory that is ahead of you is so amazing that it will cause you to not even give the afflictions a second thought.  We see this same dynamic with grace and sin.  If we pretend like sin is no big deal, then we actually end up diminishing the grace of God.  Our sin is so horrendous that it required the God of heaven to come down, become a man, and die a horrific death in order to save us from them.  If we see sin for what it really is, then we can see God’s love for how great it truly is.

In verse 18 Paul notes how easy it is to be focused on and only thinking about what can be seen.  This is the thing that we usually pay attention to.  Our outer being is mainly impacted by the visible.  Of course, through science we have learned that there are unseen things that lie beneath the visible things.  Throughout history we have often made wrong conclusions because we only focused on what we could see.  We had to develop ways to discover and “see” that which was invisible to the naked eye.  This has lead to a better understanding of the physical world in which we live.  Am I trapped in a mindset of only see the visible and how it affects my visible body?  The Word of God calls us to a greater spiritual reality.  We are not mere physical beings.  We have an inner, unseen part that is called our soul and spirit.  This is the part that continues on when our physical bodies can no longer live.  So let’s look at this side.

The Inner Being.  Being ruled by the desires, fears and understanding of our body does not lead to renewal and spiritual growth.  Rather, it leads to death.  The believer recognizes that God offers us life to our inner being (“is renewed day by day.”)  Yes, through the resurrection we will one day receive an eternal physical body.  But this life is not about trying to make that happen.  Our spiritual growth must happen over the top of a perishing outer body.  So, we may take care of our body so that it can last as long as possible, but our real focus is on growing spiritually.  We daily live in a process where God is renewing us day by day.  It may not feel like it on some days.  But, He is working throughout your life to renew your spirit.  To be renewed is to be brought back to the condition you were made to be, or as God intended us to be.  This word “renewed” is used in one other passage- Colossians 3:10.  There it says that we have to “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”  Notice that a choice is involved in this.  There is a part that God is doing and you will have to trust Him.  But, there is also a part that we must do by cooperating.  We have received knowledge through Jesus Christ of what God intends us to be.  Thus we cooperate by putting off the desires, fears and understandings of our old, fleshly self, and embrace the truth and love of God.

Next Paul says that the inner man is in a process of achieving an eternal weight of glory.  So let’s go back to those light and momentary afflictions of verse 17.  They are light because they cannot destroy our spirit.  Sure it can crush my body, but not my spirit.  They are momentary because they can’t outlast our spirit.  They can only last as long as our body and then they are over.  Yet, they are working for us an eternal and heavy glory.  So Paul is telling us that our faith and trust in God in the midst of these difficulties will be rewarded in such a way that we will not care about them anymore.  No one who wins the Olympics complains about the hard work they endured to get there because of the heavy glory they have won.  Yet, we are winning a place of glory that is beyond this present world.  It gives us a place in the eternal world that is coming and a place among the great heavenly beings around the throne of God.  We will take our place beside our Lord as His coheirs and as His Bride.  Yes, it is hard to imagine that because we can’t see it right now.  But this is exactly the process that we are going through.  This life is where our faith is tested and proven worthy of an eternal weight of glory.

Lastly in verse 18, Paul teaches us that our spirit keeps its focus on that which is unseen.  Though he doesn’t explain what the “unseen” is, we have many passages that help us understand this.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  We cannot see the final reward of our faith.  However, God does give us little rewards in this life, from time to time, in order to encourage our faith.  But, we must not lose sight of the greater reward that still lies ahead.  We cannot see the judgment and removal of all wickedness from the earth and the heavens, but we will see it one day.  Even though we go to our death bed, yet we shall see it with our own eyes, as the Lord Jesus shouts the shout of resurrection and we are raised up with eternal bodies.  In this life we talk about spiritual maturity.  But the truth is, when a mature believer passes away into the presence of the Lord, they are like a baby who has been brought to term and is ready to be birthed into eternity.

So let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and know that, despite what we see happening in the natural and despite our perishing bodies, God has spiritual growth and renewal for our inner being.

Tuesday
Nov082016

Society under Siege: Christian Persecution

John 15:18-20; 16:1-4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 6, 2016. 

In A.D. 1560 English preacher and historian John Foxe published a book called Book of Martyrs.  He felt that it was important for Christians to understand the history of persecution and those who had given their lives for the sake of serving Jesus.  Let me quote from the first paragraphs of this book.

“By the time the apostle John put the finishing touches on the book of Revelation, he alone among the original disciples remained alive.  All of them suffered for Christ, with most dying violently for His sake.  The witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ willingly exchanged their lives for the high privilege of declaring that life-transforming miracle.  As has often been pointed out, people don’t usually endure torture and painful death for something they know to be a lie.  Those who told the world, “He is risen!” stood by their claim in the face of threats, suffering, and death.  Their examples in dying left a lasting legacy.  They set a high bar of faithfulness for generations to come...  Make no mistake; the shoot that grew from the root of Jesse was abundantly watered by the blood of the martyrs, some whose names we are honored to know; others whose stories wait to be told in the great account of God’s ways in the throne room of heaven.”

Starting with Stephen, John Foxe described many stories down through the centuries up to his current time in the 1500’s.  The Christian martyrs were only stepping into a long line of righteous people down through the ages (starting with Abel) who paid with their lives for believing and living for God.  They were hated without a cause.  If you are going to try and follow Jesus then you need to come to grips with the reality that those who have chosen wickedness have always sought to shut up and kill the righteous.  This has not changed in the “modern age” of today.

The World Hates Followers of Jesus

In John 15 we are given an account in which Jesus described what was lying ahead for his followers.  In it Jesus refers to “the world.”  Though we don’t have time to do a deep study on this term, suffice it to say that sometimes the word can refer to the globe itself and sometimes it can refer to most of the people of the earth.  However, in the New Testament the phrase is often used in a different way as Jesus does in this chapter.  Here Jesus uses it to describe a global system of thinking and living in this world that has been developed and is controlled by wicked, spiritual beings that are in league with Satan.  Thus there is a spiritual dynamic that has caused the shape of the world’s governments, cultures, economies, and people.  All of these are by in large under the sway of these spiritual beings.  They are able to do it through their twisted teachings and ideas.  When persecution comes to believers, it is always at the hand of an individual or group of humans.  But, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they are merely the tip of the spear. 

It has always been understood that the Gospel of Jesus is a light to those who have been living in the darkness of ignorance created by these spiritual forces.  By the Gospel’s light, humans can be called out of bondage and slavery to this world system and brought into the kingdom of Christ.  Thus the Church is a divine rescue mission, much like that of Desmond Doss portrayed in the new movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”  Though his battalion had been obliterated by the Japanese, he continued to go back into danger to save the wounded.  He stated that he kept praying each time he went back out, “Lord, help me get one more, just one more!”  Jesus is not telling us that the world hates us in order to make us hate people.  Rather, he wants us to understand completely what we will run into while we try to save people.  It will be a war-zone.  Thus Jesus commands His followers, “Love your enemies.”  May we have the same heart of courage that Desmond Doss had as we go back into this world system each day.

Why does Jesus use the conditional “if” in verse 18?  It can’t be because he is not sure that there will be persecution.  He makes that abundantly clear later.  It seems that the conditional is used because not all believers will have the same experience.  The hatred of this world is not in question.  What is in question, is the how and degree of hatred we will encounter.  Depending on your time and place of living, you will encounter resistance that goes from mild, passive aggression all the way to an in-your-face brutal attack.  Here in the United States of America we have been very sheltered.  But across the world Christians suffer severe brutality at the hands of people who are caught up in this world system.  It would be easy to think of ourselves as the blessed ones.  But, the truth is that the Church is always most dangerous to the spiritual enemy when it is being persecuted.  It is always more vibrant and capable of displaying Christ when it is openly attacked.  Much like Samson, we can find ourselves without power and blinded.  But the grace of God will always work powerfully through the repentant one.

The hatred of the world system is not really against Christians. Jesus highlights that the source of the hatred is because Jesus has chosen us out of the world.  The choice of Jesus marks believers.  They become targets to those spiritual beings that hate Christ and any who would dare follow Him.  Jesus was the first man to live perfectly outside of this world system.  He began a divine rescue mission in Israel that has gone to the ends of the earth.  This counter attack has raised the hackles of these wicked, spiritual powers.  Their precious system of bondage and control is threatened by those who follow Jesus.  Many persecutors don’t even understand their own hatred because it has a spiritual source.  That is why the unswerving faith of many martyrs has led to the conversion of some who tormented them.  It is only through Christ that we can tell someone who threatens our life, “You can cut me into a million pieces.  But, each one of them will cry out, “Jesus loves you!”  Thus Jesus reminds us that we cannot be greater than our master.  If we truly follow Jesus then we will be mistreated by most and only loved by some.  If we make avoiding persecution our goal then we will veer off the path that Jesus has blazed before us.  Thus His words, “Pick up your cross and follow me!” are a statement that implies that there is a certain amount of persecution ahead of all who dare follow him.

The World Hates God the Father

The world not only hates Jesus, but in verse 21 and following we see that it actually hates God the Father too.  This is a critical point.  The Pharisees claimed that they loved the Father and that was why they put Jesus to death.  Of course this same excuse has been used down through history.  Religious people often persecute others in the name of God.  This doesn’t make it right.  Nor does it make Christianity (following Jesus) wrong, either.  Jesus tells us that the world actually doesn’t know the Father.  Now that would be one thing if Jesus were just talking about the Romans and other nations outside of Israel.  But Jesus is talking even about the leaders of Israel.  For all of God’s revelation through Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, Israel still had no clue what God was really like.  The problem does not lie in God.  The problem lies in us.

Think about Noah and his family after the flood.  They all know the truth about the ancient world and what God has said and done.  But within 100 years their grandchildren are being led by Nimrod to try and connect to the wicked “gods” of the pre-flood era at Babel (Babel means Gate of God in their language).  Nimrod led his generation to rebel against the God of heaven and join in league with Satan.  Why?  He had been spiritually deceived by those evil spirits.  They always get into people’s minds and lie about the Creator in order to get humans to leave the freedom of Christ and come into the system of bondage and slavery that Jesus called “the world.”  Thus the Jews in the days of Jesus had the truth at one time, and yet, little by little, they had rejected the heart of what the Bible was saying and instead recreated God in their own image.  Thus multitudes had grown up in a system of ignorance and darkness.  Their actions proved that they didn’t really know God.  Otherwise they would act like Him and not like Satan. 

A part of you may protest that there isn’t just one system in this world.  It is true that there are many different cultures, religions, philosophies, etc. in this world.  On the surface they may all look vastly different.  Yet, they do have one thing in common; they all reject the truth of God and supplant it with wisdom supplied by these fallen, wicked, spiritual powers.  The deception is that you think you are different.  The Pharisees thought they were different than the Romans.  When in fact, they were connected to the same deceiving, lying spirits.  Jesus was a divine litmus test to show Israel and the rest of the world this principle.  Litmus paper has a property that it will change colors to show whether the solution you put it in is acidic, basic, or water.  All of the solutions look the same.  But when you dip in the litmus paper, the truth is known.  Thus God sent Jesus into a “Holier than thou” culture to show it that they were just as acidic as the Romans.  In His grace, God gives moments of clarity to a nation so that they can see the truth of what they have been choosing.  Don’t choose the world.  Choose to follow Jesus regardless of the fall-out.  The cross itself is proof of God’s love for sinners who are in bondage.  It is proof of the righteousness of Jesus, and the way that we should go.  Whose side are you on?

In verse 24 Jesus points out that because of what he did, they would be without excuse. God does not hold us accountable for what we do not know.  But He is faithful to put truth in front of us throughout our life.  In that case, we know far more than we would like to be accountable for.  If we reject God’s truth then we become accountable.  Today the world has had nearly 2000 years of the grace of Jesus demonstrated to it.  As we approach the Day of Judgment, we must see that the world is without excuse.  That is why in Acts 2:40 the apostle Peter proclaimed, “Save yourself from this crooked generation!”  Are we not just as perverse and twisted as they?  Is not the nature of mankind becoming more and more twisted every day?  Instead of becoming like this world we must learn to flee the destruction and run into Jesus.  Put your trust in Him today.  Otherwise, you will only perish under judgment without excuse.

The World has been Deceived

I will finish by looking at the first part of John chapter 16.  There Jesus reveals the deception that the people of the world are under.  Jesus tells them that the day will come that they will be kicked out of the synagogues (that is the Jewish version of a church) and they will be put to death, all in the name of God.  You see the leaders of the Jewish religion were deceived.  Do you not see that even Christianity itself is just another useless religion if it doesn’t actually follow Jesus?  Religion that is not connected to God can only destroy your soul.  Why?  It does so because at its root we are deceived away from Christ by those Spiritual Powers that rule this world.  Yes, the Pharisees were “good” Jews by the definitions of their “world.”  Many Christian leaders are “good” by the definitions of the Church system today.  I tell you that Jesus knows these problems.  He has true leaders and true Churches that are following Him.  It is only by following the ways of Jesus and the Spirit of God that we can be saved from this world system.  Otherwise, you will be sucked into a delusion that has been tailor-made for you.

If you are a Christian today, you need to stop playing any games with God.  It is not about your denomination.  It is not about everybody having to believe everything that you do.  Yet, at the same time we have to quit playing the game of “Don’t say anything to disturb my precious beliefs, or I’ll kill you.”  We may not actually say that last part, but it describes what is often in the heart of people who have become religious instead of becoming like Jesus.

Am I following the true Jesus, or am I following a cardboard cut-out Jesus?  Maybe I am following a bobble-head Jesus that smiles and always gives the thumbs up sign.  These “false” Christs cannot save us.  When you are in the middle of severe persecution, you will need something far more substantial than that.  Thus Jesus warned us ahead of time, so that we could know that we are on the right path when persecution comes our way.  It may not be what we want, and we should never romanticize persecution.  Christians in the Middle East are at the ends of themselves and what is happening to them is grossly evil.  Yet, when we find ourselves in the face of great persecution, may we pray, “Lord, help me save one more, just one more!”

Christian Persecution audio

Tuesday
Oct202015

Jesus Reveals the Future III

Luke 21:12-19.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 18, 2015.

This weekend I attended a conference put on by the Voice of the Martyrs.  It may seem intentional that we are going to talk about persecution and martyrdom today.  But in actuality it wasn’t.  We heard from speakers who had suffered persecution in many different places throughout the world.  However, they each encouraged us that God was using this persecution and turmoil to open doors to the gospel.  Muslims and communists are coming to Jesus among many other people.

One person from Syria said that there were places that would have been impossible to go into and preach the gospel before the civil war that is embroiling that nation started.  But now they are able to preach and see people turn to Christ in the midst of all the pain and suffering.  He then said that the Syrian Christians have quit praying for God to stop the war and have begun praying that God would glorify Himself through them in the midst of whatever they have to go through.  Is it possible that we pray for God to remove thing that we could glorify Him in the midst of them?  It is, very much so.

As we hear the Word today, may God strengthen our hearts for the battle that has already begun in our own land.  Is it dark and bleak?  Of course, but this is when the tactics of the enemy are the weakest and people are the most desperate.  A young man from Iran whose father was martyred for preaching Jesus to muslims, said that the greatest “evangelists” of Iran have been the Ayatollahs and presidents who have persecuted Christians.  Their totalitarian and brutal reign has turned people off of Islam and on to Jesus.

Last week we read how Jesus prophesied a time of sorrows that would lead up to the end of the age.  It would be filled with deception and fear in the form of: False Christs, Wars and Turmoil, Great Earthquakes, Famines and Pestilence, Fearful Sights, and Great Heavenly Signs.  Thus the disciples of Jesus would have to learn how to navigate terrifying times without being terrified and deception without being deceived.  Believers would have to face these sorrows.  However, our Hope is for something beyond national pride, social cohesion, and physical safety.  We overcome the sorrows of this world in order to receive the prize of the inheritance Jesus has held in reserve for us.  Today verse 12 shows us another aspect of this time of sorrows.

Persecution and Martyrdom will come

Even before all the other things previously listed, Jesus says that persecution would begin.  Of course we know that the Church was birthed in the midst of persecution.  Jesus himself was persecuted and martyred because He spoke the Truth.  When his disciples began to call the nation to repentance for this, they immediately suffered persecution.  Persecution has been a hallmark of those who belong to Christ; even to the point of being persecuted by people claiming to be Christians.  2 Timothy 3:12 says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  It doesn’t say at what level and in what style, but persecuted nonetheless.  In some places it is a brutal, harsh form that forces submission.  In other places it is a soft, inviting form that seduces one into submission.  Either way, to follow Jesus is to be hated by this world.

Jesus tells us that they will “lay their hands one you.”  This is a Hebrew phrase that means to take somebody physically captive, whether for jail, or a momentary beating.  It can be proper authorities or it may be a mob.  The intent is to pursue and take hold of someone in order to stop what they are doing.  This is the definition of persecution.  This world employs a variety of techniques in which it pursues Christians with the intent to squelch what they do.  Some would be brought before religious judges (synagogues) and other put into prisons by the civil magistrates.  They would even stand before kings and rulers for the sake of Jesus.  These descriptions make it clear that Jesus is talking about more than just what would happen in Israel.  It is a description of the kinds of persecution they would encounter throughout the world.  Notice that Jesus highlights that all of this will be happening because of our connection to Him.  In John 15:18-19 Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  We are not to take such persecutions personal.  It is not really about you.  It is about the Lord that you are serving.  Thus we need to see our sufferings in this respect as a badge of honor because we suffer for Jesus.

Jesus has shown us what the world would do and why it would do it.  But in verse 13 he turns and tells us what God’s purpose is in allowing it to happen.  It will be an occasion for testimony.  The term translated occasion was often used of disembarking a ship when one has reached the destination.  Thus it came to be also used of the end or purpose to which one was heading.  Jesus is basically saying that though the ship be a ship of suffering and persecution, it is not headed to destruction.  Rather it is bringing us to a place where God will give us a platform one which we can testify about Jesus and the salvation that he is offering.  Thus Jesus then commands us not to meditate on what we will say at that time.  This does not mean we don’t read the Scriptures and meditate on God’s grace and the future judgment.  Rather, it teaches us to rely more upon the Holy Spirit than on our own wisdom and ability.  Jesus promises to fill the mouth of those who are persecuted for his sake with wisdom and words that the world can’t stand against.  It will be you testifying, but in another way it won’t.  The Holy Spirit will anoint you with the power of God.  He will testify through you, not as a robot, but as a willing servant.  Yes, the world will take its stand against you and resist you.  But they will not stand in the end.  No matter what they say and do (even to the point of killing believers), God will not support them.  Short of repentance, they will fall and be taken away in judgment.

It is bad enough to have enemies, but it gets worse.  Jesus tells us that we will be betrayed even by loved ones.  This is a general prophecy and thus we must see that it is not an automatic fact that our family will betray us.  However, in times of deception it will be a common pattern.  Those who are of the natural family are not always faithful to the end.  Thus the Church of Jesus becomes critical.  We are a spiritual family that is to stand together even in the midst of great persecution.  Yet, even this spiritual family has people in it who will betray us, like Judas.  Such are the sufferings of this time of sorrow that we are in.

Jesus then says that some will be put to death.  What we see here is that all will endure persecution, but not all at the same level.  Some will escape capture while others are put in prison.  Some will be released from prison while others are killed.  It is not ours to know exactly what God’s path is for us.  But, it is ours to be faithful to Christ and our fellow Christians in the midst of such difficult times.  We are not called to instigate persecution and martyrdom.  It is not our goal.  Our goal is to testify to a lost world of its sin and God’s love in Jesus.  Persecution and martyrdom are a byproduct of the clash of two kingdoms.  This is why Jesus tells us that we will be hated by all nations (this includes the USA).  This world is seduced by the wisdom of Satan and thus hates those who embrace the wisdom of Jesus.

Jesus then says that not a hair of your head will be lost.  How can he say this when he just said that some would be put to death?  There is a Hebrew phrase that we find in Scripture that has the sense of complete safety.  In 1 Samuel 14:45, when Jonathan was in danger of being killed by his father, King Saul, the people state, “not a hair of his head will fall to the ground.”  Of course we are losing hair all the time.  But the implication is that they will protect Jonathan even to the point of not even losing a hair.  We see it again in Acts 27:34.  Paul is on a ship that is about to be destroyed on the rocks during a great storm.  The soldiers are going to kill all the prisoners so as to lose none of them.  Paul then tells the soldiers not to kill the guys because, “not a hair will fall from you.”  Everyone would survive and make it to the mainland.  The soldiers would not be held responsible for losing anyone.  Notice that Jesus has changed the phrase from hair falling to the ground to hair being lost.  Thus even if the “hair does fall to the ground,” what would it mean that it isn’t lost?  I believe that the implication here is that the same God who has numbered the hairs on their head, will also take note of everything they have lost in his name.  Their sacrifice will not be lost because God will take note of it and holds for them a reward that none can steal.  Persecution is not a loss for the believer, but rather a gain.

Jesus ends with the command for believers to take possession of their soul through enduring faith.  Fear and doubts constantly assail the person going through persecution.  Like a ship on the sea, we are tossed this way and that.  Only a strong faith in Jesus will help us to weather such things without losing our souls.  Perseverance or endurance, by definition, cannot only last for a while.  It must be to the end of the trial and to the end of our life.  May we not lose our souls in this day, but rather remain under the difficulties of this time while serving our Lord.  Let us fight the good fight of faith and live a witness and testimony before the world regardless of what our flesh may fear.  This is what our Lord calls us to be.

Jesus Reveals Future III audio

Tuesday
Dec162014

The Sin of Hypocrisy

Today we will be in Luke 12:1-12.  We apologize that the audio is not available for this sermon.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had been speaking in particular to the Pharisees and Lawyers.  Here he turns directly to his disciples in the midst of a chaotic scene that had developed around them.  His directives to them can help us to see how these religious leaders could be so blind to the Truth of what God had actually called them to do.  Well the answer to that has to do with Hypocrisy.   This is a Greek word that originally referred to the dialogue that would occur between actors.  But over time it became associated with acting itself.  This quickly was used with the negative connotation of someone who wasn’t being real, they were acting out something other than what they actually were; thus, a hypocrite.  These religious leaders had become great actors (hypocrites).  But their inner life was anything but godly and they constantly talked about being like God, but never actually doing it.  So, today, we use this word to speak of those who say one thing but do another.  Of course it has become an easy pejorative to throw around.  What I mean is this.  Just because someone sins doesn’t mean they are automatically a hypocrite.  Some refuse to try and live as the Bible tells us because they don’t want to be hypocrites.  However, this is actually hypocrisy.  With their mouth they are testifying that they want to be a “good person.”  Yet, with their actions they reject God’s direction in this area.  The truth is that they only want to follow their own ideas.  Let’s look at the passage.

Beware of Hypocrisy

Now in verse 1 it tells us that the crowd had increased greatly and that people were beginning to “trample” one another.  It is possible that people were actually getting stepped on and hurt.  However, this word was also used metaphorically to refer to rudeness, insults, and overall selfish activity at the expense of others.  There is an irony pointed out that they were trampling one another in order to get near and hear Jesus, who would be teaching them to love one another.  Did they really want the Word of God?  How can one justify trampling their brother in order to get something from God?  Of course this is the way of the world and to be expected of humans.  But it is not the way of God and should not be acceptable in the life of one who claims to love Him.  When you look at the angry, verbal attacks coming from the Lawyers and the people trampling each other to get closer, it becomes clear that there is some evil spirits at work here.  This is not as an excuse for the people, but as an extra dimension to what is stirring them up.  Jesus has spoken truth to them and they don’t like it.  Their flesh and a spiritual enemy is stirring them up so that they do not receive what Christ has to offer.  Things are getting ugly quick.  It is here that Jesus teaches his disciples to beware Hypocrisy.

He does so by using the imagery of yeast or leaven.  When you add a little bit of yeast to a lot of dough it will cause the whole loaf to become fluffy.  Now this is good if you like fluffy bread.  But it is a picture of how sin and hypocrisy work.  Whether we are talking about a group or an individual, to allow hypocrisy to continue without rooting it out will eventually affect the entire person or group.  Now the word “beware” is to watch out for something, and to keep it in front of you so as not to forget about it.  Thus we must be vigilant within ourselves and not put up with “small” amounts of sin.  This is how hypocrisy starts.  We make excuses for small amounts of sin and yet pretend as if they don’t exist or matter.

Next Jesus warns that all hidden things will be brought to light.  Now many things are brought to light in this life, however, not all things.  Still, imagine if everything you said in private or thought in secret would end up on your FaceBook page.  We can be thankful that life doesn’t work that way.  Yet, Christ warns us that we should not “bank” on secrecy and privacy.  God has an interest in making all things public because everyone of us plays the hypocrite throughout our life.  If it wasn’t for the reality of God we would all be completely consumed by it.  Yet, eventually we will all stand before God one day.  God knows all things.  Our hidden thoughts and secret counsels are completely open to Him.  He will bring forth judgment upon our life.  If we don’t want to be convicted and exposed as a hypocrite before Him then we will have to judge our own hidden things now.  What I mean by that is this.  God calls all who want to follow Him to live lives of recognizing their own sin, confessing it to Him, and asking for forgiveness.  This “pre-judging” of our own sin, if done with faith in the mercy of Jesus, will allow us to avoid the judgment of God.  Also, if I will not judge myself now, then God will judge me later.  Either way, the truth is going to come out.  This should affect the life of anyone who believes that Jesus means what he says.

Thus we should be careful what we say in secret, whether to another or to ourselves mentally.  The disciples of Jesus are called to be those who guard their tongue.  A part of ourselves that James says is “a world of iniquity….and it is set on fire by hell.”  Most people fear private speech only because of the threat of a tyrannical government.  But God challenges us to think higher.  We guard our words because God Himself has vowed to bring them all to light.  What is going on in the secret place of your heart and mind, your inner sanctum?  Jesus warns us to not play the hypocrite, but rather bring those areas under control.  This naturally leads to the problem of those who fail to heed this advice and choose the path of Hypocrisy.

Don’t Be Afraid of Hypocrites

Hypocrites are able to worm their way into many positions of authority and power.  The temptation is to let our fear of them be the only thing that affects what we say or do.  This might keep us from speaking, but it will not put out the seething inferno that is ignited in the heart of those under tyranny.  I don’t say this to promote tyranny.  Just to point out that fighting against tyrants may bring relief in the life of many, but it will never make us more like God.  In fact, many rebels who have thrown down tyrants have in turn become tyrants themselves.  Jesus moves to the issue of the fears of our heart that lead to compromise and hypocrisy.  He says point blank that they will seek to kill his disciples.  Here we already see their anger against Jesus.  Elsewhere Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before you.”  When we follow Christ we are called to be the opposite of a hypocrite.  Instead of acting out a pretend role we are actually living the life of one who is a warrior against their own sin.

Like Cain with Abel, the hypocrite’s beef is not with you.  Rather, it is with God.  However, since they can’t take it out on God they take it out on you.  Many hypocrites started out wanting to be like God and stay true to the principles of their heart.  But fear of the hypocrites they ran into along the way caused them to compromise and eventually they became a hypocrite themselves.  At this self-loathing point one either drops the charade or angrily defends their portrayal of righteousness.

Yet, Jesus reminds us that these hypocrites are limited.  They can only kill your body.  Now this is not to put down the horrendous things that men have done to each other.  Torture and hideous deaths are not just things of history.  They are our everyday news.  Yet, Satan uses our fear of being limited and weak as a means to bully us into playing the hypocrite.  Jesus tells us that this can only go so far.  Ultimately, they cannot control what you think and believe in your heart.  Even though they kill you, they can do nothing more.  Yet, God is greater than these hypocrites or any man for that matter.  He can not only kill you but destroy your body and soul in hell.  If it is fear that motivates you then fear the right thing.  Don’t give up in the short-term at the expense of the long run.

Now God wants us to be motivated by something better than fear.  If we are rejecting Him then we need a healthy dose of the reality that His power over our lives is greater than all the other things we fear in life.  But if we want to be His disciples then he wants us to know his love and care for us.  Thus God’s love is the prime motivation for not being a hypocrite.  If you love God then you will flee hypocrisy like Ebola.  Jesus softens the previous words about hell, by pointing to God’s desired intentions toward them.  God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  When you are surrounded by hypocrites it always feels like God has forgotten you.  You are tempted to give in.  Yet Jesus reminds his disciples that God has not forgotten them.  Just like the Father did not forget His Son who was hanging on the cross feeling abandoned, which was proved by the resurrection and ascension.  So God hasn’t forgotten you, no matter what you are going through.  He also points out that we are valuable to God.  If he notices when even one sparrow falls, does he not notice you?  Of course He does.  You are more valuable to Him than many sparrows.  He counts the very hairs on your head; that’s how much He cares for you.  We can always know that God has not forgotten us because of the Truth that we are valuable to Him.  How do we know this?  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  Jesus hanging on the cross is God’s ultimate picture to you of how much He loves and cares about you.  So don’t be unfaithful to Him and play the harlot with other hypocrites.  Rather endure their insults and persecutions and keep your eyes upon the character and will of God.  When the righteous are put to death, God is not forgetting them nor are they merely expendable.  Rather, they are doing exactly what Jesus himself did: testifying with their dying breath on behalf of the love of the Father.  Hypocrites live as if God cannot see them.  But believers live knowing they are always in His sight.

Speak as Christ before All Men

In verses 8-12 we have several words that deal with speaking.  Hypocrisy is generally revealed through the things we say in private versus those in public.  The word “confess” means to acknowledge, to agree with, or to speak the same as another.  The word “deny” means not to speak for or on behalf of another.  The term “blaspheme” means to speak evil against another.  Lastly the word “answer” means to speak in defense of one’s self or another.  This is why I summarize the section with the phrase “speak as Christ before all men.”  We are not only to acknowledge the Truth of Christ, but we must also agree with it and speak it exactly as he did.  We are to be Christ living through our lives.

Thus in verse 8 Jesus tells his disciples, who in their fight against hypocrisy would be struggling with these temptations, that if they will confess him before men (speak the same thing as he and be identified with what he said) that Jesus will acknowledge them before the angels in heaven.  Now in Matthew 10 Jesus says the same thing only saying that he will acknowledge them before his Father in heaven.  Thus the idea is that our confession here on earth before men will be vindicated by Jesus in heaven.  There is a timing issue here that is not specified.  In the now, it seems that heaven is silent as we suffer and are persecuted.  Yet, we are told that Jesus is interceding on our behalf before the Father.  He is speaking up for us and acknowledging us.  This ought to give us great hope to know that whatever we face, God is in control; even if it be a cross.  Yet, when we die we will stand before the Father.  He could bring out a long list of our sins and failures.  Yet, Jesus promises that He will acknowledge us and speak up on our behalf.  “He belongs to me.”  Thus judgment will be avoided by those whom Jesus acknowledges.  Yet the alternative is true.  If we refuse to speak on his behalf (whether out of being neutral or from rejecting him) he will refuse to speak on our behalf.  Thus we will face judgment without the forgiveness of Christ.

Next Jesus gives an interesting view into our sins against God Himself.  Jesus says that those who sin against him will be forgiven.  The implication is that those who ask forgiveness will receive it.  He is not saying it is okay to sin against him.  Only that it will be forgiven to those who ask it.  We can think of the Pharisee Saul/Paul here.  He fought against the Christians and the testimony of Christ and yet, when confronted by Jesus himself, Paul repented and received forgiveness.  Jesus then warns against blaspheming the Holy Spirit, i.e. speaking evil against the Holy Spirit.  This leads us to what has been called the “unpardonable sin.”  Ultimately the unpardonable sin is completely rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, which is pointing us to Jesus.  If you are afraid that you may have committed the unpardonable sin then it is pretty clear that you haven’t.  I say this because sensitivity to sin is a sign that the Holy Spirit is still working in your heart and you are open to Him.  I do not believe Jesus is saying that one cannot ever reject the witness of the Holy Spirit.  Otherwise, a story like Paul’s would not make sense.  When Jesus confronted Paul with his sin of rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, Paul repented, changed his thinking and life.  Yet, many of his generation refused to accept the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.  They persisted to the point that they could not receive the very thing that was sent to save them.  If we die making our stand against His witness then we cannot be forgiven.  That is what many of the Pharisees did.  Yet, there was still hope for them if they would repent and believe.  The Holy Spirit would especially be working once Christ was resurrected and ascended into heaven.

Lastly, Jesus reminds them that when they are persecuted they are not supposed to worry about what they will say.  Jesus knew that those who speak with him in their life would eventually face persecution.  He comforts us with the reality that we need not worry how we will defend ourselves or even Christ.  We needn’t worry because the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say in the moment.  Though we won’t be able to see Him, God Himself will be present with the followers of Jesus and in the moment of their greatest loneliness He will fill their mouths with the words to say.  We see this evidenced in Scripture when Steven is martyred.  Can we trust God and live open unhidden lives before Him and each other?  Only by dying to self and following Jesus is it possible.  Let us fervently love one another in truth.