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Entries in Servant (6)

Friday
Dec282018

The Mind behind the Incarnation

Philippians 2:5-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 23, 2018.

It is easy for Christmas to be taken over by the things that our flesh likes.  We can become far too excited about the latest technological gadget that we are getting, or similar things.  We can bask in the nostalgia of family, big meals, and “magical moments.”  However, Jesus did not come to make us feel good about life and ourselves, although we will have those things from time to time.  Rather, Jesus came to save us.

Yes, God wants to save us from oppressive governance that sees itself as god.  Yes, God wants even to save us from those fellow citizens who seek to take advantage of us like a wolf does a chicken.   Yes, God wants even to save us from our own lower motivations and mistakes.  Yet, ultimately Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). 

Our sins affect our heart and our mind to the point that we can never feel or think our way out of their effects.  Yet, God so loved the world filled with humans that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life.  Today we are going to focus on the mind of Christ and the mind of God the Father who sent him to earth.  We are going to talk about the kind of thinking that can save us from all those things I mentioned earlier. 

Let’s look at Philippians 2.

The mind of Christ

In verses 1-4, Paul describes several issues that go to the heart of how we tend to think.  In verse 3 he says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or deceit.”  In verse 4 he states, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests.”  Later he emphasizes this more in verse 14, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.”  Also he says in verse 21, “They all seek their own interests.”  All of these descriptions flow from a heart and mind that is twisted towards self.  This is every single person who has ever lived besides Jesus.  If it was not for him coming to earth and demonstrating a different heart, a different mind, we would still be lost and without hope.

So, when we think about the baby in the manger, let us also think about the mind, or the thinking, that was behind what was happening that day.  Let’s remember that Jesus represented not just a clash of thinking between God and 1st century Jewish religion and philosophy.  Rather, he represents a clash of thinking between God and every generation who has ever lived, including ours today.

Thus starting in verse 5 Paul tells us that we need to have the same mind or thinking that Jesus had when he left the throne of heaven to be born in a lowly stable.  We should question ourselves this morning.  What mind have I been using and living by?  Have I lived by the mind of Christ or the mind and rationale that comes naturally to me?

So what is it about the mind of Christ that we need?  First Jesus did not cling to being in the form of God (vs. 6).  The KJV and the NKJV translate this verse to say that Jesus didn’t think it robbery to be equal with God.  However, the flow of the argument is not towards Jesus being equal with God, but rather away from that state.  He is leaving heaven in order to take on that which is lesser than God.  Thus the point is not that he didn’t think that he had robbed God to be equal with Him, but that His equality with God was not something to cling to or snatch at.  Jesus was willing to lay that amazing, incredible place with the Father aside in order to come down and save us.  So what am I clinging to that I need to let go of in order to experience what God has for me and others in my life?  Jesus wasn’t climbing the ladder and clinging to his place.  He was descending the ladder in order to help us.

Another part about this mind of Christ is that he was willing to “empty himself” in order to become a servant, in human form.  We are not told exactly of what Christ emptied himself.  However, we know that at the very least he emptied himself of his position and the rights or privileges that go along with it.  His mind, which is the same mind as that of the Father, does not cling to power and position, but rather lays it aside in order to serve others, at least if need be.  For you and I, we only have to descend out of the high and loft position of our inflated ego in order to be of service to God, but for Jesus it was truly a humbling of epic proportions.  We should ask ourselves today.  What do I need to empty myself of in order to serve those that God has put in my life?

Lastly in verse 8, we are told that Jesus laid down his human life in order to obey God’s will.  It is easy to focus on the sacrifice of Christ and the love for us that compelled him, and yet overlook his love for God the Father.  He chooses to obey the Father’s will by laying down his life.  Our impulse is to throw God’s commands and plans back in his face and shout, “You expect too much!”  Yet, Jesus trusted the plan of the Father, even when it led him to become a servant to serve mankind, and even to be crucified on a cross.

It is not easy to trust God, but Jesus did.  He also asks us to trust him, pick up our own cross, and follow him.  Do I trust him that much?  Am I refusing to follow Jesus because it costs me something, even my life?

After Paul shows us the mind of Christ that we need in order to be what God wants us to be in each other’s life, he then turns to the effects of this selfless obedience to God the Father.

The reward of God the Father

In verses 9-11, we are shown the response of God the Father to the selfless actions of Jesus. 

First of all God highly exalts Jesus and, I will add here, at the proper time.  The actions of Jesus are all the opposite of self interest and exaltation.  Jesus actually is humbling himself and doing a humbling work that leads to death.  Nothing he does is about trying to lift himself.  We can get so consumed with trying to get ahead, whether secularly or spiritually, that we neglect to think about what we may be risking.  What will God think of my thinking and the actions that it led me to do in this life?  Were they all about self promotion and seeking to be higher?  Or were they similar to those of Christ?

We are told that Jesus is currently at the right hand of the Father awaiting the signal to come back to earth and take control of the governance of this world.  However, that is his experience after the Father chose to exalt him.  Before this exaltation, Jesus is humbling himself and rejecting the temptation to make those things happen on his own.  Even now Jesus is not exalting himself.  He only accepts the exaltation that the Father has given him. 

1 Peter 5:5-7 says, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Notice that God opposes the proud.  When we humble ourselves, we put ourselves in a position for God to exalt us at the proper time.  I would put before you today that this life is not the time for exaltation.  Our flesh can’t handle it.

Verse 7 highlights the big problem.  When we are humble we get worried and anxious about all that we aren’t getting.  We are counseled to trust God and his care for us.  Our flesh doesn’t like such an answer, but God does.  You can exalt yourself in this life and be humbled by God at its end, or you can humble yourself in this life and be exalted by him at its end.

Part of Christ’s exaltation is that he is given a name above all others.  The emphasis is not on some new name that is really cool.  A person’s “name” is equivalent to their reputation and standing among others.  Jesus is given a reputation and standing that is above all others, both on earth and in heaven.  This position is similar to that which he had before because it is once again at the Father’s side, but now he has an even greater honor and standing.  He is now the Redeemer and Savior of humanity.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  If we will take on the same mind that Jesus had, and if we will live out this life as the Holy Spirit leads, we will also join him in attaining great honors and standing at his side.

We are told that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in heaven, or on earth, or in the grave.  This is not just about the physical position of bowing, but about the submission it represents.  Eventually even the enemies of Christ will have to recognize his true standing.

In that moment we are told that they will also confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  What Jesus lost by not seeking his own selfish interests, is given back to him in even greater portion by the Father.  What the religious leaders of his day gained through their self seeking actions, was taken away from them by the Father. 

Knowing that God is bringing all beings of creation to a place where they will confess that Jesus is Lord, what should we do?  To double down on being a rebel only ensures that we would die in our sins and stand before God, confessing that Jesus is Lord, but to no avail for our future.  However, if we will confess him as Lord in this life, and take on the mind of Christ, if we will humble ourselves and live in obedience to his commands, then our confession will lead to the reward of God the Father, who gives us a place at the side of Jesus forever.

So let us contemplate this Christmas season.  Am I following the thinking of this world, the thinking of the devil, or am I letting the mind of Christ lead me?  Let’s live according to the mind of Christ and truly find life!

The Mind behind the Incarnation audio

Tuesday
Apr242018

When the Truth is Made Known

Matthew 10:24-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 22, 2018.

Is it possible to have joy when difficult things are happening to you?  According to Jesus in his “beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed when people revile us, persecute us, and say all manner of evil things against us falsely for Christ’s sake.  Then he goes further and tells us to rejoice and be glad for great is our reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-11).  These are not the words of a man who was protected by privilege and position in this world.  He had grown up labeled as an illegitimate child, and then rejected and mistreated by entrenched religious leaders.  Ultimately he was headed to a cross and yet he tells us we are blessed in such cases and should rejoice and be glad.  How is such an incredible response possible?

It may be easy to dismiss this by saying that it was easy for Jesus because He was God.  But such arguments are themselves a cop-out.  How are we to know that it wasn’t actually harder for Him because He was God?  We can’t because we can only know for sure what it is like to be human.  Jesus was fully human and yet fully God.  So we should dispense with such intellectual dishonesty and recognize that Jesus expects this to be our experience in times of persecution or suffering.  How could he expect this of us?

As we look at the words of Jesus in our passage today, we will find that it is the knowledge that there will be a day when all that is hidden will be brought to light.  This is a scary thing for those who have ulterior motives.  But, for the believer, the day of revelation will be a joyous moment in which all that has been slandered against us will be cast down by Christ Himself.  Let’s look at the passage.

In this world Christians will be persecuted.

Jesus never promised us a rose garden in this life and this passage is one of many that prove it.  The apostle tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” They had been warned by Jesus.  A pernicious mentality has developed among some Christians today.  It is the idea that if we were more like Jesus in faith and power, that we could fix the ills of the world and save everybody.  As wonderful as that idea is, it is not a biblical one, nor is it particularly Christian.  It is not a Christian idea because it purports to put us and the power of our faith above the Lord who bought us with His blood.  Here Jesus makes it clear that those who follow Him are going to encounter persecution in this world.

This will happen precisely because we are not greater than Him.   Jesus uses three different relationships to help us see why we will be persecuted as well.  There is the relationship of the teacher to the student, the lord to a servant, and the master of a house to the members of that household.  The student learns from the teacher in order to be like his master.  If a servant’s master is hated by the world, then so too will the servant.  Ultimately, Jesus is pointing out that if we are in relationship with him then we will experience whatever it is that he receives.  Whatever lot comes to Jesus also comes to us.  The only way to avoid it is to reject Him, or at least to minimize his lordship in your life.

In the end it was the lot of Jesus to be persecuted in this world.  Thus those who follow Him will also encounter persecution.  Sure, it will vary depending on the place and time that you live.  Jesus points out that just as they accused Him of being in league with the prince of demons, so they will accuse His disciples of being evil.    They also called him a heretic that was causing dissension.  He was labeled an insurrectionist and revolutionary.  All of these were false accusations.  

Herein lies the problem.  The above mentioned relationships between us and Jesus, and the Scriptures themselves, teach that the Spirit of God is laboring to make us more like Jesus.  Romans 8:29 says, “For those He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  So how can it be that Christianity can convert the whole world and create a Utopia by having the power and faith that Jesus had?  Such power and faith led to Jesus being persecuted and killed.  How can it lead us to anything new?  Yes, if Jesus so determines, it could be so.  But here he promises the opposite.  Perhaps the only way it can be is if I am not operating in the same faith and power that He did.

Regardless, notice how verse 25 is worded, “It is enough...”. Jesus puts it in a statement form.  But we should ask it as a question.  Is it enough for me to simply be like Jesus?  Clearly it is enough from God’s perspective because Jesus states it so.  But is it enough for me?  Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher, said, “God was slandered in paradise, and Christ on Calvary.  How can we expect to escape?”

It is each thing that Jesus was not that draw our hearts away from Him and towards the world; away from the relationships of Teacher-student, Lord-servant, Master of the house-household member.  We are drawn either completely away from Christ, or we are deluded with the fanciful notion that we can have Christ and the world as our teachers.  Friend, recognize today that Jesus really is enough for you.  However, your flesh will not think so, and the world around you will not tell you so.  When the Christian Corrie Ten Boom came out of the German concentration camp of WWII, she had a message for the world.  “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”  He is enough.

In some ways modern society has become “more righteous” than God Himself.  It makes accusations of conspiracy, and rejects biblical ethics and morality.  Don’t listen to those voices that seduce you with becoming greater than Jesus, whether from within Christian circles or from the world.  When Jesus is enough for us, then we will know the peace and rest that God has for our souls and the joy of His Holy Spirit in times of difficulty.

There is a day in which all will be revealed.

In verse 26 Jesus reminds us of a principle that is as sure as any law of physics.  The hidden things will come to light.  This is both a warning and an encouragement.  It is a warning for those who would conceal evil, and an encouragement to those who are falsely accused of such.  All things that are done leave evidence behind.  Even when a person is framed by planted evidence, there will always be some evidence that it was planted, whether we are able to recapture it or not (God can recapture it).  Truth has a way of coming out in the end, precisely because it is real.  So it will be in eternity as all that has truly happened comes to the surface and God gives His judgments based upon reality, truth.

Jesus was not like the secret societies of our days.  He did not teach one thing in public and another to his top 3 disciples.  Sure they received more than the crowds, but Jesus was not publicly worshipping Yahweh, while privately promoting Beelzebub.  The false slander of the religious authorities came from an attempt to hold to two irreconcilable positions: Jesus was doing incontrovertible miracles, and yet He cannot be the Messiah.  Jesus was silent at His trial precisely because He had said and done everything out in the open.  If they were still going to pretend He was evil, what could he say to overturn their minds?  Christians reject those who use secret society techniques, who promote one thing to the masses and another to the inner elite.  This is the way of Satan, not Jesus.  The longer you are with Christ the more you recognize that His teachings do not become different as you draw closer to Him.  Rather, it is you who becomes different, and the teachings of Christ become deeper than we ever imagined.  This is what Corrie Ten Boom found in the depths of an earthly hell:  Jesus was still with her and His love had not abandoned her, even though she was in a place destitute of love and faithfulness.  So as the disciples of Jesus, we have nothing to hide, even though the world accuses us of hypocrisy, conspiracy, and idiocy (granted such do exist under the tent of Christianity).

Jesus tells his disciples not to fear those who make such unfounded accusations because the truth will come to light in some way.  It might not come soon enough to keep me from being nailed to a tree, but it will come nonetheless.  

There is a strength that can be derived from trusting the vindication of God Himself in your life.  Think of it.  God is your defense attorney and therefore you can’t lose.  But when I am my own defense attorney and I am constantly fearful at what others think about me, then I will become trapped by my own double-mindedness.  Draw strength from God’s promised rectification and wait for His timing.  

In fact, worry and fear of what others think or say sidetracks us from the mission of Christ.  Instead we pick up a futile mission of our own.  We will never please all of the people all of the time, in fact not even a majority.  Think of it.  If I am working at “reforming my public image,” it puts me at odds with the Holy Spirit’s work of making me to look like Jesus.  How proud we must be to remake our image so as to avoid what Jesus marched purposefully towards.  The only choices that God gives to us is to embrace the image of Jesus and the persecution that goes along with it, or choose an image that the world will accept and avoid it.  It is not our job to reform our image, but rather, in every way to yield to the Spirit’s call to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes God does bring the truth to light in the present.  We will taste some vindication in this life in various ways.  However, our hope goes beyond this.  Few are ever completely vindicated in this life.  Even Jesus has billions who reject His words.  But a day of vindication is coming.  God’s defense of Jesus and those who are following Him never rests.  He will have the final word.

This final vindication will be brought to light when the Lord Jesus comes to reign upon the earth.  As it was in the days of Jesus, so it is today.  Often those who paint the devil on others are most manipulated by the devil themselves.  Jesus and His apostles warned us against judging too quickly, and at the wrong time.  Thus some things, like the hidden motivations of a person’s heart, have to be left up to God.

Humility is a part of following Jesus, and it teaches us to trust in the judgments of God that will be revealed at Christ’s Second Coming.  Romans 8:18-21 says, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the Sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willfully, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  So just who are the children of God and what is their revealing?  He is speaking of Christians and the day of resurrection when we will stand beside Christ in glorified bodies.  It will be clear on that day just who chose wickedness and who chose truth.  It won’t matter what any person thinks, or even if billions of followers shout your praises.  What matters is the judgment of God Himself.  Thus in 1 Corinthians 4:5 we are told, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  Then each one’s praise will come from God.”  Instead of fearing what people think, we can rejoice in knowing already what God thinks.  In fact the life of a believer, is constantly having fellowship with God by His Spirit.  Instead of worrying about what others think, we only worry about what God thinks.  Thus the adage is true, “You don’t want the wrong people to like you.”

Let’s put our trust in the Lord and grow in living out His righteousness.  This is enough for us, regardless of what the world around us might falsely say about us.  We are in good company, for such they did to the prophets of old and especially our Lord Jesus.  If we suffer with Him then we shall be glorified with Him!

Truth Made Known Audio

Tuesday
Jan162018

Ready for the Call of God

1 Kings 19:19-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 14, 2018.

There is this situation that we see in professional sports on draft day.  There is a big pageantry about who is going to be picked and who is going to “get the call” saying that they have been chosen.  Typically those who have put their name in the draft and have a very good chance will be sitting at home with their family waiting for just such a call.  I am not knocking the process, but rather, using it as a glimpse at how Christians can sometimes fall into the trap of doing a similar thing with the call of God.  Spiritually we can fall into the rut of sitting on our backside with our friends and family around us and waiting for God to call us to something great.

Today we are going to see that this is not how things work in God’s kingdom.  Those who are called by God are those who weren’t expecting it and they were not sitting around waiting for it.  This is true whether we are talking about the call to salvation, or whether we are talking about God calling us to a specific ministry or station of life.  Let us see that God calls us to be faithful in whatever He has given us.  Instead of looking past our situation today towards the hope of some “other glory,” we must keep our eye on the ball and learn to serve the purposes of the Lord that are right in front of us.  Being ready for the call of God is not about moving to the next level.  Rather it is about having a heart of faithfulness in everything that we have been given in life; regardless of how “great” it may appear to us.

In our short passage today we see God calling Elisha to become a prophet.  In this story Elisha represents what we want to be, a person who is ready when God comes calling.  But, let’s first make clear what is meant by the “call of God.”  The calling of God or the call of God upon a person is used to refer to God’s invitation to an individual to serve a purpose for Him.  There are generally multiple layers of God’s call upon our life that begin with those that are general to most everyone up to those that are highly specific and even rare.  The most basic level of the calling of God on our life is to become a faithful believer in Jesus who is the Savior of the World that God has sent.  Almost synonymous with this is the basic call to live our lives as Jesus would have us live it, or to honor God in how we live.  Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Other general calls involve children heeding the authority of their parents, parents raising their kids for the Lord, and husbands and wives portraying the love between Christ and His Church.

However, there are times that God has a more specific calling that He gives to individuals.  In our story, Elijah had been the main prophet (not to say that he was the only one) and it is clear that he is reaching the end of his time on earth.  God calls Elisha to replace Elijah as a prophet to the nation of Israel in the 9th century B.C.  In real time, God speaks to Elijah, who then speaks to Elisha about God’s plan.  Yet, we should take notice of what Elisha is doing when Elijah shows up.

It is important to see that Elisha is not seeking to be a prophet.  He is not taking night classes on how to be a prophet, and neither is he following the prophet around like a groupie.  Elisha is clearly one of those 7,000 faithful believers that God had told Elijah about in verse 18 of this chapter.  He is not just faithful in that he refused to worship Baal and continued to worship the God of Israel.   He is also faithful to those general calls that God had put on his life.  We find him out in the field plowing with the oxen and eleven other teams.  It is enough for him to be a faithful servant of God within Israel, and faithfully serving on the family farm with his extended family.  It is also clear that Elisha comes from a wealthy family, in light of the previous drought and the large number of oxen plowing.  There are many who want to be a prophet so bad that they can taste it.  They study prophets and even seek them out and try to get them to notice them.   It is as if they are trying to call themselves.  This is a mistake and involves our flesh more than the Spirit of God.  It is our flesh that wants notoriety rather than faithfulness that gets no press.  Just as James warns people about seeking to be a teacher (because they will receive a stricter judgment), so we should recognize that desiring to be a prophet puts one in a similar position.  You do not want to be a prophet if God hasn’t called you to it.  “Calling ourselves” is not the proper way.  We must learn to be content with the calling that God has given to us, to simply live our life in honor to Jesus.  1 Corinthians 7:20 says, “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.”  Today, there is a general sense in which all who follow Jesus are prophets to this nation.  We are called to invite everyone to follow Jesus and receive God’s salvation.  We do this on behalf of God and for the benefit of the lost.  However, there are times when things come into our life out of the blue and we weren’t expecting them.  Yet, in those moments God may be calling us to serve in a different way, or at least an added way that is very specific and not general.

Technically Elijah doesn’t tell Elisha that he is called.  Instead he uses his mantle as a word picture that says it for him.  The mantle spoken of here would have been an outer cloak that typically still had the hair attached to it.  It was an article of clothing that was associated with kings and prophets, and was a symbol of their calling and authority.  When Elijah throws his mantle onto Elisha, Elisha knows immediately what Elijah means by it.  Now, as symbols go, we see in the Bible a tendency of humans (i.e. us) to be overly fascinated with the object rather than the truth that it represents.  Later, Elisha will be given the mantle of Elijah as Elijah is taken away from this earth.  But the mantle is not some kind of talisman that will ensure Elisha’s success, any more than the ark of the covenant could ensure the success of the wicked sons of Eli (see 1 Samuel 4).  Rather, the mantle points to the God of heaven who is calling a person and puts a heavy job upon them.  Those whom God calls, He has prepared spiritually.  He will also place His power and authority upon them in order to do the task at hand.  At this moment Elijah is still alive and the mantle still belongs to him.  But if Elisha will follow Elijah like the disciples followed Jesus, then the role of prophet will come to him in the proper time.  Thus Elisha has a decision to make.  He can keep the wealth of his family, the security of working a farm and not meddling in politics, or he can leave it all and follow Elijah onto Israel’s Top 10 Most Wanted list.

Elisha accepts the call, but wants to say goodbye to his family.  Note that no words have happened yet.  Elijah threw his mantle on Elisha and just kept on walking.  So Elisha runs to catch up with Elijah in order to explain that he will follow him.  Now this situation is somewhat reminiscent of a couple of verses in Luke 9:61-62.  This passage speaks of a person that was called to follow Jesus but said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  Jesus replied by saying, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Typically the words of Jesus are presented in the sense of saying the guy failed for asking to say goodbye.  Thus Jesus is telling him he “failed the entrance test.”  We should be careful of jumping to that conclusion in light of our passage today.  Elisha is not rebuked and goes on to follow Elijah.  It is most likely that Jesus is not rejecting the guy, but rather warning him.  Family doesn’t always understand when God calls us to something out of the ordinary or general call of God.  Even family of Jesus thought that he was going crazy at first.  Yes, you can say goodbye.  But recognize that the pull on your heartstrings can put you in a situation of only half-heartedly serving God.  If you are going to go out into the field you need to plow looking forward.  Perhaps Jesus is even alluding to this passage.  God has nothing against family and saying goodbye.  However, good things can get in the way of a hard task that God calls us to.  Like Elijah, Elisha is about to become a hunted man that the Lord leads, who knows where, and for many years at a time.  Just as Israel followed Moses into the wilderness only to keep thinking about the things that they left behind in Egypt, and just as Lot’s wife looked back to the city of Sodom that she was leaving behind, so our hearts can get stuck looking backwards to things that we think were better.  The point is not about saying goodbye, but about where your heart is.  To follow god is not always easy, and is not always understood by others.  In the end we see that Jesus warns the man in Luke.  But Elijah let’s Elisha go back without any such warning.  In fact his retort is basically, “Do what you want, what have I done to you.”  Yet, even this phrase has a subtle and unsaid aspect to it.  It makes one think, just what has Elijah done to Elisha?  This subtle reminder points out what is at stake.  Do you want to be a prophet or not?

Elisha does go back.  But he slaughters the oxen that he plowed with and used their yoke and equipment as fuel to cook them.  In a sense he is burning his bridge behind him and sending a message to his family.  I’m done farming.  I will now follow the prophet of God.  Obviously with such expressions as “burn your bridge behind you,” the situation is glossed over.  The truth is that even when we “burn our bridges,” or as in Elisha’s case burn our oxen, there is a way back.  One can follow the river long enough to find another way to cross.  Elisha could return and his family would gladly receive him regardless of the oxen he slaughtered.  So with all symbolic gestures they are that, symbols.  The symbol has no meaning if the thing to which it points is not lived out.  Thus it says in verse 21, “Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”

Becoming a prophet is not about having power and prestige in the presence of others.  The true prophets of God have always been hated by most of the people of their day.  It is only when they are dead that people tend to honor them and decorate their graves.  If we are to put the calling of God into a single word, it would have to be “servant, or service.”  A prophet served God as a voice to the people, and they served the people as a means of hearing what God thought about their life, king, nation, etc.  God does not call everyone to a specific task of being a prophet to their nation.  However, put aside what you think would be great.  Instead, focus on what God has given you in the present.  Jesus is inviting you to live your life for His purposes instead of your own.  Your relationships, job, etc. all can be a means of serving yourself, or a means of serving God.  When you are using these things to whole-heartedly serve Jesus, and you are content with the tasks that He has given you, then and only then are you truly ready to receive any further call from the Lord.  Let’s be a ready people.

Ready for the Call audio

Tuesday
Apr182017

Jesus, The Suffering Servant

Isaiah 53:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Resurrection Sunday, April 16, 2017.

The death and the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most substantiated facts from ancient history.  So generally it is not because of the facts that people reject its veracity.  On one hand it seems impossible to our minds, especially in this modern age.  On the other hand, if it is true, then I would have to admit that I am a sinner and guilty before a holy and just God.  Thus this moral claim upon a person’s life is not always acceptable. 

Written about 700 years before the life of Jesus, our passage today is mid-stream in a series of visions and revelations that God gave to Isaiah.  The truth that Isaiah reveals was and still remains a shocking thing regarding the Messiah.  The Messiah was to be the Anointed One that God would send to save Israel and eventually the whole world.  Israel had been waiting for this heaven sent savior and had given lip service to the promise since at least 700 years before Isaiah.  Thus Isaiah makes several things clear:

  • God would be faithful to send the Messiah.
  • But Israel would not be faithful to receive Him.

The story doesn’t end there because God always has the last word.  Thus the unjust death of Jesus becomes the means by which we can be saved from our sins, and even more, that we can become the children of God.  Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Yes, Jesus would be rejected.  But our Lord’s acceptance of this rejection becomes the very demonstration of God’s love for us.  He cares even for the sinner, and makes a way back to Him for those who will yield to the graceful drawing of the actions of His Son and the work of His Holy Spirit.  So let’s look at this passage in Isaiah 53, where we see God’s Anointed One coming forth as the Suffering Servant.

His Life, vs. 1-4

Isaiah starts out verse 1 with the question, “Who has believed our report?”  This question is somewhat rhetorical. The rejection of Jesus makes sense when we see it on the backdrop of the lives of the prophets who predicted his coming.  They were generally rejected during their lives and many times killed by the leaders of Israel.  Later, after their word proved to be true, they honored them as prophets and kept their words.  This highlights a strange tension within us as humans.  We want a word from God, but we tend not to like what we hear.  So there has been an ever-present conundrum that God is faithful to speak and reveal Himself to mankind, but our flesh tends to push back against what He has to say.  There is a sense of frustration in Isaiah as he opens up this passage.  He has an unbelievable revelation to make clear to His people.  Yes, the Messiah would come, but we will mistreat Him and put Him to death.  Jesus came as the final word of God before Judgment Day.  Christians carry on this tradition of speaking this final word to the rest of the nations.  Here we too see a somewhat stormy welcome.  So let’s face the reality that our natural self doesn’t want to believe the message of Jesus.  We need to have our eyes and ears opened spiritually before we can see who Jesus really is.

In verse 2 Isaiah uses the image of a tender plant growing out of a hardened desert.  This spiritual imagery shows Israel to be a place devoid of any moisture.  Typically it is strong, prickly plants that can endure in such harsh environments.  However, the Messiah would be like a tender plant.  Somehow it miraculously grows in this harsh environment.  He is not what they expected.  He was humble, gentle, and not on the warpath against Rome.  Or, at least, he wasn’t in the way they expected.  Even today we must recognize that Jesus is not what most people are looking for.  We want something that changes the world and its systems they way that we want it, rather than a humble, gentle Jesus.

Isaiah goes on to point out that the Messiah would be without physical attractiveness.  One of the weaknesses of mankind is that we are easily drawn by that which is outwardly extraordinary.  We want to be on the team of the powerful athlete, the savvy business person, or the beautiful and glamorous of this world.  This is not meant to be a slam against those who find themselves to be powerful and beautiful externally.  Rather, it is a recognition of how easily we are seduced by that which is beautiful on the outside, and yet, a world of horrors on the inside.    We are often seduced by that which is strong and powerful on the outside, and yet, filled with every weakness imaginable on the inside.  So don’t get Isaiah wrong.  Jesus is strong and beautiful, powerful and desirable.  But these were all internal virtues.   God was not sending a Greek demi-god to wow the crowds and win them over through external, fleshly means.  God refuses to seduce mankind, or deceive mankind into following Him.  He presents the Messiah in a way that stands all the hopes of our flesh on their head, and forces us to turn away from them.  Of course, Satan and the world that he controls has no problem manipulating us in these ways.

Then Isaiah says that the Messiah would be a man of sorrow from whom we hide.  Jesus technically held the rights to the throne of Israel and the throne of heaven, and yet, he would live a life of sorrows.  He would know the sorrow of a leader trying to help his people, who refuse to be helped.  He would know the sorrow of a teacher trying to teach students, who refuse to be taught.  He would know the sorrow of a rich man whose wealth and power could not fix the problem.  He would know the sorrow of the poor man who has nowhere to lay his head.  He would know the sorrow of an innocent man unjustly maligned by people with wicked intentions.  When someone is being executed, you tend to keep your distance from them.  Thus when Jesus is seized and crucified, all those who claimed to follow Him hid their faces from Him.  The cross and the resurrected savior that God offers us can only appeal to our souls.  No one gets excited about picking up a cross and following Jesus.  If we are to do so, it will be because our inner man is made aware who He is.

Lastly in this section, Isaiah points out that the Messiah would look more like God is against Him rather than for Him.  To those who rejected Him, the death of Jesus would serve as proof that God was not on his side.  They believed that they were being used of God to strike this blaspheming heretic down.  There is no way that God would allow the Messiah to be killed.  However, not only in Isaiah 53, but many other places like Daniel 9:26, we are told that the Messiah would be executed.  And so, the sign of the cross and what happened on it, the picture of Jesus as he goes into the grave, each of these are abhorrent to our flesh and something that we will seek to avoid at all costs.  Yet, verse 4 also has a change to it.  Yes, he is a man of sorrows.  But, he is bearing “our” grief, and carrying “our” sorrows.  If you have ever felt like God doesn’t understand your grief and sorrow, you only have to look to Jesus and quickly you will see that He more than understands it.  He has done more than just join us in our grief and sorrow.  Even more, he dove headlong into it, and that is what scares us about Jesus.  Our flesh does not want to follow Him, but our spirit knows that he is the only way.

His Death, vs. 5-9

In verse 5 Isaiah moves to talk about the death of this Suffering Servant that God would send.  Verses 4-6 have two sides to them.  First is the aspect that this is happening because of our sins.  He is wounded because of our transgressions, and bruised because of our iniquities.  The Lord has laid on Him all of our iniquities.  In our pride we are tempted to reject such a message.  But if we think that we have been good enough, or that somehow we should be acceptable to God on our own merits, then recognize just who it is you are arguing with (i.e. God).  Can you really win an argument with Him?  Are you not just holding up a pretense to Him in hopes that He won’t see through it?  We only need to read the words of Jesus in the New Testament in order to recognize that even the best of us fall short, and that we are sinners in the end.  We want to redefine sin so that we can tell ourselves that we are good.  But that kind of logical magic will not work when we stand before our Maker.

The second side to verses 4-6 is that his death is for our benefit.  Yes, it is because of our sins, but it is also for taking our sins away from us.  Yes, he is wounded for our sins, but so that we may be healed from their wound.  This word “healed” in verse 5 applies to both physical and spiritual things.  It is a healing of everything that is wrong with us.  Yes, in the garden, a spiritual entity (the devil) tricked our ancestors into rebellion against God, and so has inflicted the wound of sin upon all mankind.  But, in Jesus God has provided for the healing of our lives, both between each other, and with Him.  God would rather do what Jesus did than let us die with an eternal wound.  He has provided for your healing in every way.

The sheep imagery in verses 6 and 7 is important because Jesus is the Lamb of God who is being offered as a sacrifice for our sins (vs. 10).  But, he does so without protest.  In a world that rages against the authorities and demands justice, as we dictate, before God, there is Jesus.  This tender lamb is not just being sacrificed against his will and over the top of his bleating protest.  Rather, in a surreal manner, he unflinchingly takes the bitter pill and puts his faith in this plan of salvation.  He is not silent because he is broken and knows it will do no good to protest, like some kind of Hebrew Socrates standing before the men of Athens.  Rather, he is silent because this is his plan and his heart.  This is why he came down from heaven and took on flesh, to do this for us, to save us.  He is not sitting aloof in the heavens, untouched by the things that ail us.  Instead, he has come down and done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  This is the Savior that God offers to the world, and to you.

In case it wasn’t clear yet, vs. 8 slams the point home.  He would be cut off, or executed.  It is shocking enough that he would suffer, but that he would also be executed is unthinkable.  As I said earlier this is an unbelievable story to our flesh.  But it is the Truth.  Not only would he be humiliated with death, but he would unjustly be associated with the wicked and the rich in his death (vs. 9).  He would be treated as a criminal.  Even though he is without sin, he is crucified between two thieves.  He ends up buried in the tomb of a rich man who was a secret follower of Jesus.  Yet, he is no criminal.  He is crucified because he testified that their deeds were evil and unacceptable to God.  He did not have great wealth in this life and yet he ends up in the tomb of a rich man.  Yes who ever said life was fair?  But in the end we would not want it to be fair.  If life were fair then we would all be held accountable for our sins and punished.  Yet, Jesus steps forward and pays the price for our sins and willingly associates himself with those sinners who will simply repent and put their faith in Him.  This isn’t fair, but, it is love.

His Glory, vs. 10-12

Praise God that the death of Jesus is not the end of the story.  This is what Resurrection Sunday is all about.  It is the reversal of the most heinous event in history.  The savior of the world is killed, but God overrules the wicked and their plots against him.  And, yet, even the glory of Jesus is something we don’t always understand.

The words in verse 10 seem horrific, “it pleased the LORD to bruise Him.”  However, we must understand that both Father and Son are in agreement and unified in this plan.  Thus, just as it pleased the Father to bruise, so it pleased the Son to be bruised.  It is pleasing because of what it will accomplish and not for the sake of bruising and death alone.  The age of animal sacrifice comes to an end with God’s sacrifice of his own perfect lamb, His Son, for our sakes.  Thus the glory of Jesus is that he becomes that One who fully pleased the Father, the perfect Son.

Verse 10 also says that these things will prosper in His hands.  Thus it is the glory of Jesus to prosper over the top of all that is done to him and done against him.  They can kill him, but he will be resurrected.  They can reject him, but God will accept him.  They can put him with the criminals and even in Hades, but God will raise him up to sit at the right hand of the throne of God.  They can use their authority to punish him, but God will take their authority from them and give it to Jesus, who waits for the day when he will be sent back to earth in order to remove the powers of wickedness, both natural and spiritual.  Yes, Jesus is enjoying the glory of prosperity and it is only going to increase.  The question is, “Will you join him in that glory?”  Or, will you side with the wicked against him?

Verse 11 shows that it will be to the glory of Jesus that he will justify many through his knowledge.  No one else understood how to save Israel and even the whole world, but Jesus.  The beautiful truth is that though I am not righteous, I can be justified.  And, though I am a sinner, I can be made righteous by what Jesus did all those years ago.  All I need to do is to confess my sins and repent of them.  Then I must turn towards Jesus and put my faith in him, not just that he died, but also in the words he spoke.  He must become both savior and Lord of our life.  Jesus wants to share his glory with whosoever will.  Won’t you surrender to his call today?  “Come follow me!”

Jesus, Suffering Servant audio