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Weekly Word

Entries in Repentance (14)

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

Tuesday
Aug252015

The Stone That Is Rejected

Luke 20:9-19.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 23, 2015.

The materials that are used in a building project are a critical factor.  If they are not of good quality they can affect the looks, durability, and especially the safety of the structure.  This is important because God has been building a structure Himself.  However, this structure is not made of wood or stones.  It is made out of people who put their faith in Jesus.  Yet, much like stones, they are being cut, shaped and placed next to other believers.  This structure becomes a living temple, both as individuals and as a group, in which the Spirit of God dwells.  Today we are going to see that our Lord, Jesus, is a critical stone in this structure.  If we are thinking of a rectangular building then Jesus is the critical foundation stone.  If we are thinking of a pyramid shape then he is the critical capstone.  Another critical stone in architecture can be seen in the keystone of an arch.  The center stone becomes the one thing that holds all the others up.  God has made Jesus the most critical part of this structure we can refer to as the Kingdom of God.  He is that one thing that holds all the others up.  When we reject the authority of Jesus, like the religious leaders of his day did, we do so to our own folly.  They were more interested in asserting and defending their own authority than to recognize the authority that God had given Jesus.

The Parable Of The Vineyard

In Luke 20 we are in the last week leading up to the cross.  Jesus is in the temple compound teaching daily.  The religious leaders have challenged the authority of Jesus to kick out the merchants.  Though Jesus turned them away with his own challenge regarding the authority of John the Baptist, in verse 9-19 he turns to the people and shares a parable that is intended to be heard by those leaders.

In this parable there is a vineyard that is owned by a certain man.  Jesus is clearly using Isaiah 5:1-7 as a background to this parable.  In that passage God tells Isaiah that Israel is like a vineyard that God planted to grow good grapes.  Yet, it kept producing wild grapes.  Thus the vineyard is not so much Israel as a national entity, but rather, the kingdom of God’s people who had been drawn together under His leading.  God’s purpose in drawing the children of Jacob into this kingdom was to bring forth good fruit.

In the story the vineyard is put in the charge of certain vinedressers, we will get to them in a bit.  At harvest time the owner would send servants to check on the fruitfulness of the vineyard and to bring back a sample of the fruit.  But these servants were beat and turned away by the vinedressers.  So who are these servants?  The servants are the prophets that God periodically sent to Israel to both check on the fruit and to instruct them on how to be more fruitful.  In 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 it is recorded, “And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.  But they mocked the messengers of god, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.”  This testimony of how Israel rejected the prophets when they spoke is sad.  Notice that God uses the phrase, “rising up early,” of Himself.  It means that He was faithful and diligent to do a good job of trying to help them be fruitful.  This phrase is used by Jeremiah (the prophet that prophesied during the destruction of Jerusalem) 7 different times.  Although this parable only mentions the servants being beaten, we know from the Old Testament that many of them were put to death as well.

Finally the owner, God, reaches an impasse.  “What shall I do?”  We see here the perplexity and difficulty that God has with trying to help mankind.  No matter how faithful and diligent He is, we tend to reject Him and go after others.  So the owner determines to send his beloved son.  Surely they will respect the owner’s son.  Of course the Beloved Son is none other than Jesus.  Here we see that Jesus the Messiah is much more than another prophet (i.e. servant of God).  He is prophet, priest, and king.  He is the one ruler from whom all proper authority finds its authenticity.  Clearly the parable shows that this is a last resort option of the owner, God.

Now let’s deal with the vinedressers.  They are the leaders of Israel who have been given authority over the vineyard, but for the purpose of growing good grapes.  Yet, they have abused their authority.  Instead of pruning, irrigating, and fertilizing the vineyard, they had used it for their own purposes and for their own promotion.  So in the parable the vinedressers do not respect the owner’s son.  Instead they conspire to kill him in order to keep the vineyard for themselves.  Regardless of how they thought they would get away with it, this clearly demonstrates that Jesus knew they would kill him.  They rejected his authority and even more would seek to remove him.  In John 7:7 Jesus says to his brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.”  Though the religious leaders would justify their rejection of Jesus through pious and noble justifications, Jesus makes it clear the real reason they were rejecting him.  He exposed their wickedness.

Though the vinedressers have had their way with the servants of the owners and now with His Beloved Son, they will not get away with it.  What will God do?  God will judge Israel’s leaders and put the vineyard in the hands of others.  His purpose is not just to create a people, but to create a people who bear good fruit.  The religious leaders were content to just be a people.  But they didn’t fear God enough to recognize that it wasn’t good enough to just bear His Name.  They had to produce righteousness that was worthy of the character of God.  Yes, Israel as a nation is going to be destroyed, and in so doing, the political and religious leaders of Israel will lose their place in the vineyard.  Yet, there is still some good clusters of grapes (the faithful remnant).  The faithful believers who attached themselves to Jesus and who will produce good fruit, are plucked up and sent into the nations as a new group called the Church.  They are put under new vinedressers:  Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastors and Teachers.  Let me just pause to give warning to those of this age who are in positions of religious authority.  You have a duty before the owner of these people to exercise your authority in such a way as to increase the fruit of righteousness.  Just as God judged the religious leaders in Israel, so He will judge those who abuse their authority in His Church.  Do not be deceived, God will not be mocked for long until His judgment comes to bear on wicked leaders.

The Judgment Of The Priests And Elders

In Matthew’s account of this interaction (Mt. 21:43) it is clear that Jesus makes the parable very explicit.  He flat out states, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.”  Of course the religious leaders do not like this and respond with great incredulity and raging anger.  This categorical rejection of the idea that God would remove them from leadership and put others in charge shows that they are not interested in the proofs of the authority of Jesus.  They cannot even conceive of the idea that God would judge them.  In a sense they see this as blasphemy.  Be careful that you do not confuse statements against your actions as the same as statements against God.  In so doing you can blind yourself to the merciful attempts of God to turn you away from a wicked path.  Even today the idea that God might hold pastors and leaders of the Church accountable through judgment and removal is unthinkable to many.  In many places throughout the Church in the USA we are producing wild grapes and slapping a “God approves” sticker on it.  But this is folly. 

Jesus reminds the leaders of Psalm 118.  Now this is the same Psalm from which the people were quoting when they cried, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosannna!”  It is a messianic Psalm that is very interesting to read.  The same Psalm that blesses the coming of the messiah states, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  Jesus asks them what could it mean, but that the leaders would actually reject the very messiah that God was making the central stone in His work.  The Psalm also warns those who would stand against God’s plans.  They will be destroyed if they insist on standing against Him.  We can often be very blind to things in God’s Word because we can’t conceive of their possibility.  How we ought to humble ourselves and have enough respect of God to recognize that we have a place in His kingdom only by His grace.  If we eat up His grace and use it to produce sour grapes, will this be acceptable?  Of course, not.  God forgive us of using grace as a license for immorality and a license for using the Church for our own purposes.  The messiah was and still is today a stone that is rejected not just by the world, but also by many within the Church itself.

Jesus says that this rock will trip people up and grind others to powder.  This alludes to Isaiah chapter 8.  There we are told that the cornerstone of God (Jesus the messiah) would be a rock of offense.  The rock is first and foremost a stone of stumbling.  It is intended to cause those who are oblivious to their sin and looming judgment to trip over it.  Though they may injure themselves in the fall, they can at least now have their eyes opened and repent.  They can come to trust the ways of Jesus and not their own.  However, those who reject even this mercy will be ground into powder in a final judgment of God.  We see this in Daniel chapter 2 where the image that represents the kingdoms of this world is struck by the rock of God.  It grinds the kingdoms of this world to powder and fills the whole earth.  Let us recognize that God loves us too much to let us blindly walk in wickedness.  He is faithful to trip us up and try to get our attention.  But eventually judgment will fall on those who reject His attempts to get us to turn from our wicked ways and turn towards the truth of His Beloved Son.

There was no repentance in the souls of the religious leaders of that day.  Yes, there were a few like Nicodemus.  But, most of them hated what Jesus was, a blinding light exposing their wickedness.  They will go on to fulfill the words of the parable even while rejecting the truth of it.  The book of Revelation mentions 4 times that the people did not repent in the face of the increasing outpouring of God’s wrath.  God’s judgment always comes in birth pangs.  They are increasing in pain and closer together.  This is to give us fair warning and plenty of time to change.  Do you not see the birth pangs all around us today?  God has been faithful to send his servants and yet our nation has beat them and sent them away.  God has been faithful to give us warnings militarily, economically, and even in our weather.  But we still refuse to repent as a nation.  Friend, please recognize that this world has a sin problem.  Even when the truth is staring us in the face, we not only refuse to see it, but we also try to kill it out of anger and hatred.  The only way to save yourself from the coming judgment is to flee in faith to Jesus Christ.  Give your life to trusting Him and learning from Him how to please God.

stone rejected audio

Tuesday
Jul212015

An Impossible Salvation

July 19, 2015—Luke 19:1-10, Pastor Marty Bonner

 

Today we are going to look at a “wee, little” man named Zacchaeus.  In Luke 18 we saw a rich ruler of Israel who left Jesus saddened at what was required to follow him.  It was then Jesus told his disciples that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  This caught the disciples by surprise.  They thought that riches were proof of God’s blessing.  Yet money, wealth, and riches are very powerful motivators.  Once we obtain them it is impossible not to become ruled by them.  However, Jesus did also say that what is impossible with man is possible with God.  Thus rich men can get saved, but it will only be by the grace of God.  Thus Zacchaeus becomes the proof of this.  In him we witness such an impossible salvation.

Another Rich Man Checks Out Jesus

Now that we have in mind the parallels between Zacchaeus and the previous, unnamed ruler, we can look at some other similarities between them.  Both of these stories start with an interest in Jesus.  Something in them both drew them to Jesus in order to find out more about him, and this is where any salvation starts.

Both of these men had a ruling position.  The first rich man is a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a group of 71 priests, scribes, and “ancients” who served as an official “Supreme Court” of Israel.  Zacchaeus is a ruling or chief tax collector- not nearly as prestigious as the other man, but it was a powerful position.  Both of the men have become rich.  In fact Zacchaeus is rich precisely because of his position.  Many people desire positions in the Church and in the world because they know it will make them rich.  This always leads to a destruction of the individual’s soul.  However, both of these men were still aware of their need for “something more.”  They knew they were lacking spiritually.

It is here that the stories diverge.  There are no difficulties or negatives listed about the rich ruler.  He knows the law and has “done it all his life.”  He is the type of guy who has the golden touch.  He is the golden child who seems to always end up on top and has everything going his way, and yet, he knows he is missing something spiritually.  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, has several negatives that stick out about him; things that made his life much more difficult than the rich ruler.  No one likes negative things in their life, but it is generally the negative things in life that teach us that we can live without many of the things we desire.  Negative things tend to teach us what really matters. But, when we have everything we want and have the “Midas touch,” we generally lose sight of God and His salvation.

Let’s look at several negatives that Zacchaeus had.  First, he was a short man.  He lacked in the area of physique.  It is very difficult to grow up with a physical deficiency of any kind.  Other kids look down on you and ridicule you.  Even in the best of environments you are continually made to know that you do not measure up.  Thus we   speak of a “little man” syndrome that can drive such a person with anger and even rage.  Perhaps this is the reason why a person would chose to take up a profession that would make you an outcast (tax collector).  He already felt like an outcast who never really fit in to his own country.  This leads us to the second negative.  He was a collector of taxes for the Romans.  The Romans were an occupying force in Israel, which was much resented.  A fellow Israelite who was collecting taxes for the enemy would be bad enough.  But it was also common for tax collectors to abuse their position to get more money then was right from people.  Thus Zacchaeus bore the mark of a traitor who betrayed his people for the ability to steal from them and enrich himself.  However, in his mind, he may just see this as embracing the outcast status that had already been forced upon him.  I realize there is some speculation in this, but I doubt it is far from the bulls-eye.  Zacchaeus would never fit in, but he could rise above most in Israel through the riches amassed.  Yet, Zacchaeus was still empty.  Thus he is drawn to Jesus.

This is an important point: An outcast can more easily identify with Jesus.  You see, Jesus was an outcast too.  He was rejected by his own nation, but also the Romans.  He told his disciples in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  People who have suffered as outcasts know what it is like to be rejected.  A part of them longs for acceptance and yet has had any hope of such crushed.  Now being an outcast cannot save a person in and of itself.  But it can help you to appreciate and embrace the love and wisdom of Jesus.  Historically it was the poor and downtrodden that were drawn to Jesus, but not many great and mighty.  Typically the great and mighty only give lip service to God in the midst of nations where there is a strong belief in God.  But once this is stripped away, the great and mighty will show their true colors.  They have always served themselves out of selfish ambition and have never feared God.

This brings me to a point I must make about our own nation.  Up to now Christians have enjoyed a status of acceptance.  Now let me compare this to a group, such as those who embrace homosexuality.  They have been social outcasts in this society for a long time.  How have these things affected both groups?  The acceptance that Christians have enjoyed for so long has caused them to lose sight of God and His salvation.  In fact many have joined the ranks of Christians out of reasons other than true repentance and belief in God.  Many who call themselves Christians are empty and don’t know what they are missing.  But what they miss is a true saving faith in Jesus.  What about homosexuals?  On one hand the outcast status has bonded them together and made them committed to the cause of being accepted.  Yet, we might miss that it also enables them “to get” the message of Jesus.  Though it is a negative, it can have a positive effect.  Jesus does not tell us to make others accept us, he tells us to pick up our cross and follow him on in to further rejection.  As homosexuals win the fight of social acceptance, we see Christians becoming less and less acceptable (at least a certain kind of Christian).  It is here that we should be broken hearted for the homosexuals.  They are in danger of losing the one thing that keeps the door open for their salvation.  It is hard to follow Jesus when you have all you ever wanted.  Yet even then, we serve a God who can save the impossible!

Jesus Invites Himself Into His House

Because Zacchaeus is short, he climbs up into a Sycamore tree in order to see and hear Jesus when he passes by.  Yet, when Jesus comes to the tree he initiates a discussion by inviting himself to the house of Zacchaeus.  On one hand this might seem arrogant and rude.  But when you look at it from the mind of an outcast, Jesus is telling Zacchaeus that he accepts him and wants to have relationship with him.  This must have sent his heart flying.  Everyone there would despise him and tell him to leave, but Jesus honors him by wanting to come to his house.

This brings up the issue of guilt by association.  The crowd is surprised with this.  A righteous man should not associate with sinners and let us not fool ourselves, Zacchaeus is a sinner.  How should we interact with sinners and those who do not believe in Jesus?  In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul teaches the believers that we should not associate with Christians who are living in sexual immorality.  Why?  When sin is condoned and treated as acceptable, we are not displaying the heart of God, but rather the heart of the devil.  Of course, Matthew 18 describes a process whereby Christians are not on a witch hunt.  But rather we confront each other in love and forgive each other.  But if a person refuses to quit sinning and refuses to repent, we cannot pretend that they are following Jesus.  This is not being judgmental, but rather being honest.  On the other hand Paul tells the believers that he does not mean they should separate themselves from the sexually immoral people of the world who are not believers in Jesus.  Christians are not called to wall themselves off from sinners.  No, we are called to interact with them and share the gospel of Jesus.  We are called to be a channel of the love of God reaching out to them.  Yet, we are not called to participate in sin.  This is where the phrase comes from, “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  Sure, those who are sinners are not going to like this phrase.  But it is the truth.  You can love people and yet not agree with what they call “good.”  Any parent who has tried to raise a child can attest to this.  Even Paul’s principle of not associating with a Christian who persists in sexual immorality (or any open sin for that matter) is not meant to be treated legalistically.  The sin of a sinner cannot contaminate the believer, unless he opens himself up to sin.  Thus we are free to plead with and correct another Christian in the hope of drawing them back to Jesus.  However, we can never pretend that calling yourself a Christian and refusing to repent can coexist for long.

Zacchaeus is a sinner, but he is also repentant.  It is not clear if this happens on the street in front of the crowd or if it happens back at the house.  Regardless, the simple kindness of Jesus softens Zacchaeus to the point that he lets go of the justifications he had created for his lifestyle.  His mind had changed about things and that lead to a change of actions in his life.  He would no longer cheat people in the taxes.  Also, he would repay those whom he did cheat four times more than he stole.  On top of this he was going to give half of his legitimate holding to the poor.  That is not how the old Zacchaeus thought.  Something drastic has changed in him.  He has believed in Jesus.  John the Baptist called this “fruit worthy of repentance” in Luke 3.  If our mind has really changed then “fruit” will grow out of that real change.  The fruit of his repentance grew out the real actions of compassion and restitution towards his fellow Israelites.

Thus Jesus confirms the impossible salvation of this sinner.  He publically declares him as a righteous man.  The gospel’s depiction of instantaneous righteousness because of faith can rub some people the wrong way.  How can such a horrible sinner be considered acceptable in just a moment?  This truth is not meant to undermine a life of faithfulness.  If Zacchaeus only repents for a day and then goes back to those old sins then that is a new sin, a worse sin.  Rather, this instantaneous change of acceptance is meant to open the door of hope to those who have so much guilt and shame hanging over their head that they will never approach for forgiveness.  We see here a picture of salvation.  Jesus comes into our lives and in the relationship of love and truth that follows we are changed.  Faith comes alive, repentance is born, and righteousness is embraced.  Jesus even calls him a son of Abraham.  When we remember the discussion in John 8, we can see that Jesus is saying that he is a true son of Abraham.  Abraham was a man who heard God calling to him and he trusted God enough to follow Him.  Jesus is calling to you today.  Will you trust him and follow Him or will you continue to follow the sinful path of the self-life?

Jesus ends this section by telling us that his mission is to seek and save that which is lost.  We must never forget this.  Jesus is not physically on this earth right now.  But his mission has not changed.  He tells his believers to go into all the world and tell people the good news of how they can have the salvation of God and be set free from their sins.  May God help us to overlook the “impossibility” of a person and see the true, inner longing for the love and acceptance of God. God does not accept our sin, but He does accept us as sinners who are sorry for their sins and look to Him for salvation.  In this way many we think deserve salvation miss it and many we think can never be saved find it.

Impossible audio