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Weekly Word

Entries in Service (7)

Monday
May282018

The Mystery of Christ in Us

Colossians 1:21-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 27, 2018.

Today we are going to pick up where we left off several weeks ago in Colossians chapter 1.  The Apostle Paul had written about how great Jesus was and just exactly who he was.  In our verses today we see that this amazing Jesus that Paul has described is within us.  The idea that Christ would dwell within us is wonderful and is the reason why we have any hope of glory.  Let’s look at the passage.

We are reconciled to God by Jesus

In verses 21-23 we are reminded that we have been reconciled to God by Jesus.  Now, reconciliation can be seen in two different ways, both of which are found in Scripture.  The first can be seen in a legal way.  God is the judge and our life is filled with breaking His law.  Jesus covers our sin so that it is not put on the moral ledger of our life.  Instead, His righteousness is credited to our ledger.  Thus we can stand before the judge and be blameless and above reproach.  Jesus is the one who makes us right with God our judge.

The second way to view reconciliation is to see it in a relational way.  God created us to be His children.  We have left Him like the prodigal son and have become destitute.  Yet, Jesus has brought us back to the Father and made peace between us and the Father.  We are brought into God’s family and are right with the Father because of Jesus, the faithful older brother.

Both of these pictures are biblical.  However, there is a tendency among some Christians today to only use the Fatherly image and to reject the Judge image.  We should be careful of over-emphasizing either one.  God in His wisdom has given us both, and we should not make ourselves wiser than Him.  There are times when one or the other is more appropriate for what we are facing.

We are told that before Christ reconciled us to God we were alienated and separated from God.  In fact he states that this was “in our minds.”  Our thoughts and understandings were so far removed from God’s that we were practically enemies, whether we were trying to be or not.  Thus our life was filled with “wicked works.”  These works, whether internally or externally, have been rejected by God as acceptable behavior and will be judged by His Anointed One, Jesus.

However, now we are reconciled to God (vs. 22).  We are no longer alienated and separated from God by our sins.  We are now close to God, both legally and relationally.  To be reconciled to God is to be “blameless and above reproach” in God’s sight.  This idea is found throughout the Old Testament.  Adam and Eve began in such a condition and fell.  Noah, Abraham, Job, etc. all were described as blameless before God.  This can only be done by living in faith towards God.  This is the goal of our reconciliation.

It is interesting that Paul emphasizes that this is through the death of “the body of his flesh.”  His point is that Jesus was a real man who died a real death, at a particular point in time.  This is important.  The apostles were not pointing back into the mists of pre-history towards a mythical being.  Rather, they pointed to a man that anyone in Israel would have been very familiar with, both his life and death.  It was the death of Christ's earthly body that brought about this grand reconciliation.  It would be impossible had he not died.

Yet, in verse 23 he raises a clear caveat.  We are reconciled to God if we continue in the faith.  No one should think that they can walk away from faith in Christ and still remain reconciled to God.  Reconciliation is not a magic wand that is waved over our life, but a position we have been put in by Jesus.  To walk away from Him is to walk away from reconciliation with God.  This is why Paul uses the phrase “grounded and steadfast” in the “hope of the Gospel.”  Are you convinced that Jesus is the answer for everyone in the world?  That is the crux of the Gospel.  Only in Christ can every man, woman, boy, and girl experience reconciliation with God.

Yet, in order to remain, we must resist those things that would “move us away” from it.  Whether people or societies and the philosophies and teachings that they promote, we must persevere in faith.  He does not say persevere in godly conduct, but in faith.  Our state of being reconciled to God is based upon our faith in Christ, not our godly conduct.  However, our conduct will grow in godliness as we keep our faith in Jesus.

We are sacrificially served by others

In verses 24-29 Paul explains what he was personally doing.  He was sacrificially serving them for Christ’s sake.  It is good to recognize that this is how God works.  He does this through having parents sacrificially serve children for the sake of their good.  He does this through instituting government for the good of nations.  He does this through church leaders for the good of all believers.

In serving them for Christ, Paul had suffered many afflictions.  He was able to keep faithful because it was Christ who had reconciled him to God.  He also did so in order to “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions [sometimes translated “tribulations”] of Christ.”  Paul does not mean that Jesus had failed to suffer enough to completely save us, and therefore we have to suffer to make up the difference.  There are some misguided individuals who think that they can become more special to God by inflicting suffering upon themselves.  However, Paul is speaking of suffering and afflictions that came from others as he did what Christ wanted him to do.  He suffered for the sake of others, not for his own sake.  Those who serve others bear the sufferings of such for the sake of those they serve.

What Paul means is something quite different, when he writes about what was lacking in the afflictions of Christ.  The afflictions that Christ faced, while he was in ministry and while he was being crucified, represent the hatred the world has for God.  Thus the man Jesus who was limited in time and space could only suffer a small part of humanity’s hatred towards God.  Thus the Church is called the body of Christ.  By their actions towards the body of Christ in every age, the world has demonstrated over and over again its hostility towards God.  Paul rejoiced to be a part of that glorious calling of standing with Jesus before a world that wants to crucify us both.  Why would he rejoice in this?  He would rejoice because he knows that it pleases God.  And, if God is pleased it doesn’t matter what the world may think.

Paul had been called to minister to them and us.  The word for minister here is the same word for “deacon.”  It was a very general word for someone who served on behalf of another.  It could be a very low position or a very high position (like an aid to the president).  The emphasis is on the service you do on behalf of another entity.  Thus Paul served people out of a duty to Christ.  All that he did, he did to serve God’s people for God’s purposes.

A major part of God’s purpose was to reveal something in Christ that had been a mystery in the times before his coming.  The Old Testament was God’s Word and yet much of God’s ultimate plan was somewhat hidden in it.  Little by little from Genesis to Malachi we see God giving glimpses of what He was going to do.  It has been said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.  The Old Testament prophets had made many prophecies promising God’s help.  Yet, even those prophets did not understand perfectly all that God would do.  Thus it was a mystery that was being revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  It is the preaching of the apostles that reveals the great mystery of the ages past.  It is a mystery that is no longer a mystery.  There is no hidden code in the New Testament for us to uncover.  What was concealed has already been revealed.  The distinction of Israel being the people of God and the gentiles being rejected was to be overcome in Christ.  He would make the two One, holy body of people who belong to God.  On top of this, God would dwell, not in a temple made by human hands, but within the heart and soul of every believer.

Paul calls these things glorious riches.  Many people look to many things for glory and riches.  Kids are taken to basketball or football camps at early ages, and they are put in educational programs much earlier than normal, all in the hopes of getting ahead of the competition, glorious riches.  But our hope of glory is Christ dwelling within us.  This is the foundation of our hope for glory. It does not lie in us, but in Jesus.

As we close we should note that in verses 28-29 Paul describes his motto in ministry: “Him we preach.”  He mentions this same concept several times throughout his letters.  In 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 it says, “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;  but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness…”  We preach Christ, and Him crucified!  Many teachers claim to know a great number of things, but Paul focused on only knowing Christ, and a crucified Christ at that.  This is a stumbling block to many people, because our flesh looks for a source of glory that is nobler than that. 

This is why Paul spent so much time writing letters, which warned, counseled, and taught believers what it means to belong to Christ and put your faith in Him.  Paul recognized that to follow Jesus was only possible if Jesus was the one working it in you (vs. 29).  Only He has the power to help us change.  So what is Christ working in you?  I pray that today you will embrace the Lord Jesus Christ in a fresh way.  I pray that you will rejoice in the glory that is ours because we are reconciled to God through our faith in Jesus Christ.  Let the Holy Spirit work through you as He worked through Paul in order to further God’s purposes in the lives of the people whom He has put in your life.  Amen!

Mystery of Christ audio

Tuesday
Jan232018

God’s Grace towards the Undeserving

1 Kings 20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 21, 2018.

There are times in our lives when we need something so badly, and yet we feel like we don’t deserve it.  The world often counters this with the trite saying, “Yes, you do deserve this.”   In fact Christians can also fall into this trap of thinking that we deserve things from God.  The truth is that much of life has nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not, and whether for good or for bad.  Today, our passage highlights the grace of God to help Israel in a time that they and their king do not “deserve it,” and yet He gives it. 

I pray that you are not guilty of the depths of rebellion that King Ahab and Israel were in the passage today.  However, I know how the enemy operates.  He gets into our head and uses our failures, of any size, as fodder for talking us out of trusting God (e.g. “You don’t deserve it.”).  Don’t tell yourself that God no longer cares, regardless of how hopeless the situation or our level of “deserving” something.  Instead trust the God who is not seeking to make you pay, but rather is seeking to help you draw nearer to Him.  In our passage today, God is trying to draw the hearts of the people of Israel and King Ahab.  Ahab is an especially bad model of how to respond to God’s grace.  Yet, if you will turn to Him in faith and repentance then you will find Him already at your side, regardless of what you are facing.

God’s grace is given to Israel

In the previous chapter (1 Kings 19) we saw how God had graciously ended the drought that Israel experienced for 3 years.  We also saw that Ahab and Jezebel had not responded in repentance, but rather in doubling down on their sin of Baal worship.  We would expect this chapter to be full of rebukes from God and disaster.  Instead, chapter 20 is filled with the grace of God, grace that they did not deserve.

In the first 6 verses we see that Ben Hadad, the king of Damascus, has surrounded Ahab’s capital city of Samaria.  He is joined by 32 other kings and their armies.  These are vassal kings who rule over walled cities around Damascus.  As was typical in siege campaigns, Ben Hadad gives Ahab the terms of surrender that he will accept, which are “your silver and gold are mine.  Your loveliest wives and children are mine.”  Now Ben Hadad and the armies that are with him represent a very capable and serious threat.  Ahab knows that he is in a bad situation.  So how does he respond?

Ahab very quickly agrees to the terms of surrender.   Why lose everything when he can purchase the lives of his city with his wealth and family?  We could say that Ahab deserves some commendation because of his willingness to sacrifice his things for those of his people, but that might be overly naïve.  Yet, we should also notice that there is no sense of seeking God or Baal for wisdom on what to do.  Ahab only sees the natural element and thus only seeks natural answers.  It is important to recognize that though our life is filled with the natural, there is more to life than the natural.  There is a whole spiritual side to the things that are happening in our lives and the world around us.  A person who understands this will be a person who seeks God and His direction.  When Ben Hadad receives the quick answer from Ahab, he ups the ante by sending back “new and improved terms of surrender.”  Basically he will send his soldiers into Samaria the next day and take everything that is valuable.  They will be pillaged and the city will be left with nothing, while the most skilled will be carted as slaves.  Ahab balks at this and talks to the elders of the city.  Backed into an impossible corner, they decide to fight (which may have been Ben Hadad’s true purpose).  Again, at the human level we can say that this is commendable.  It is better to die free and fighting than to die enslaved and submitting.  And yet, there is still no thought of seeking God’s help.

In verses 11-14 we have a tense exchange between Ahab and Ben Hadad.  In the middle of it, God sends one of His prophets to Ahab.  There is irony in the fact that Ahab has spent years having the prophets of the Lord hunted down and killed.  Here in his own moment of being hunted, God sends one of His prophets to promise him victory.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  When we abandon the ways of god, we often destroy the very things that God wants to use to bless us.  With our own hands we tear apart the very things that we will need down the road.  Yet, God is still gracious to Ahab even though he doesn’t deserve it.

Ahab quickly pounces on the words of the prophet because he is desperate.  Thus he quizzes the prophet as to how this victory will come about.  The prophet tells Ahab that he is to have the young leaders of the provinces lead the attack (as opposed to his seasoned veterans).  This would not be normal military advice.  But another sign of Ahab’s desperation is the fact that he follows through with the prophet’s instructions.  Throughout Israel’s history God would many times instruct them to do things that didn’t make sense in the natural.  In one battle they were told to put the Levites in the front of the army with musical instruments and praising God.  This is always done in cases when God wants to demonstrate that the battle is not being won by natural means, but by supernatural help from Him.  In life we can get so used to seeing the natural that it becomes the only thing we see.  We can lose sight of God’s supernatural grace all around us every day.  From time to time, God removes those natural barriers so that we can see His grace.  These are always times that are distressing to our natural selves.

In verses 16-22 Israel comes out of Samaria and win a huge victory.  As is common in warfare, soldiers are fickle creatures.  Even though they have superior numbers, the quick success of Israel’s initial attack causes the armies of Ben Hadad to flee.  They all flee back to Damascus with their tails between their legs and being attacked by Israel all the way back.  On the heels of such a great victory, the prophet of the Lord speaks to Ahab again.  Though there is victory, he warns Ahab that Ben Hadad will attack next spring.  It was common for armies to avoid the winter months because cold and mud would hamper the movement of troops and engines of war.  There is a spiritual lesson here for us to remember.  When we stand upon the Word of the Lord and trust His instructions, we can put our spiritual enemy to flight.  The Bible says in James 4:6-7, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  When we stand our ground and continue doing what God has told us to do it puts the devil to flight.  We resist him by trusting God and obeying His word.  Yet, we must realize that even though the devil may flee, he will also regroup and figure out another way to attack us.  Thus victory is no time to get arrogant and cocky.  It is a time to praise God and prepare for future attacks.  We must use the time between spiritual attacks, whether temptations, trials, or doubts, to prepare ourselves for the next wave.  So draw near to God in a relationship of trust and love.  Learn His Word and what He is calling you to do, and be faithful to do it.  Too often we coast in times of ease, and thus set ourselves up for spiritual failure in the future.

In verses 23-28, we see that Ben Hadad returns the next spring (as prophesied).  Only this time his forces take up position near the city of Aphek, which was on a plain across the Jordan.  Several things stick out in this passage.  First, Israel’s army looks like two, little flocks of goats before the Syrians.  In the natural they are in trouble.

Second, we should notice the foolish counsel of the Syrians to Ben Hadad.  They believe they lost because the God of Israel is stronger in the mountains.  If we can only fight them in the plains, then surely our gods will win.  This blasphemy against God (saying untrue things about God) is not well received by God.  He intends to teach everyone a lesson.  You see the God of Israel is not just God of the mountains, but also God of the valleys.  It is one thing for God’s enemies to underestimate Him, but God forbid that His own people should underestimate Him.  In our day and age, it appears that all the earth is turning against God and His Anointed One, Jesus.  We may look like two little flocks of goats before their sheer numbers and power.  However, God is the one who gives the victory.  We must not lose heart, but rather stand in faithfulness to the mission that God has given us.  This chapter goes on to see a great victory given to Israel and prophesied by a prophet of the Lord.  In fact, over 20,000 Syrian soldiers perished when the wall of Aphek collapsed on them.

At the end of such a string of victories that were foretold by the prophets of God, what would you think Ahab would do?  The chapter ends with Ahab still playing up to Ben Hadad, who had been captured.  Ahab makes an alliance with Ben Hadad and sends him back to Damascus.  Ahab does not trust the Lord.  Instead he trusts military alliances, or natural things.  Thus God sends another prophet to rebuke Ahab for his refusal to do what God had decreed: put Ahab to death.

Where is Elijah and Elisha?

This whole chapter begs the question, just where is Elijah and Elisha?  Several possibilities have been conjectured through the years.  Perhaps God has put Elijah on the bench so that he can get his attitude adjusted.  Perhaps God is giving Elijah time to train Elisha before sending him back into the fray.  However, the most likely idea is that God is proving His point to Elijah that He still had 7,000 who hadn’t worshipped Baal.

This chapter emphasizes that God always has others who can serve, and there is a rhyme and reason for why He chooses certain ones to do certain things.  We see at least three different prophets at work in this chapter, and they are all unnamed.  Now God uses each of us differently.  If you are discouraged because you feel like you are the only one and are all alone, then wake up and start leaning on God.  He has others who are working as well.  Everything is not up to you.  We can lose sight of this and forget.  May God help us to learn to listen to Him, to do the work He gives us, and to trust that He can work through others also.  Instead of letting the enemy get inside your head and pillage all that God has given you, choose to stand your ground through repentance, and faithfulness to our Lord, Jesus, alongside other faithful believers.

God's Grace audio

Friday
Mar032017

Growing Spiritually

Ephesians 4:11-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 19, 2017.

We have been talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His Church.  It begins with connecting to Him and to His people.  The next purpose comes from the fact that this connection is not intended to be static.  In John 15, when Jesus used the analogy of a vine, he emphasizes that the Father wants each branch to be fruitful.  Thus this second purpose is for God’s people to grow spiritually.  Now this is not just an individual self-help exercise.  Rather, God is working in us in order to help us to grow spiritually as an individual and as a group. 

In our society we see the problem of immaturity everywhere.  It causes problems in our jobs, relationships, homes, politics at every level, and yes, even in our churches.  God’s answer to the reality of immaturity is not that we quit and go down the street, or go home.  Instead, God’s answer is for His people to turn to Him and receive from Him what we need in order to mature.

Now God has some very specific things that He has done in order to help this purpose along.  The first is that He connects us to a group of believers.  The dynamic of learning to love each other fuels this purpose of God.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, the relationship we have with the body of Christ is explained in regards to this purpose of spiritual growth.

Jesus Wants His Followers to Grow

We see the metaphor of growth throughout the Bible.  It points to the changes that happen within us in order to make us more like God Himself.  In Psalm 1 we are told, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  This is God’s vision for each of us.  He wants to make us into a fruitful tree of life to everyone around us.  Sadly we often fall into a minimal intellectual assent to the Faith.  We only accept so much of what God’s Word says and try to ignore the rest.  We can also settle for a minimal association with God’s people.  When God’s word has a minimal impact on our lives it will not result in spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “Have I settled for having just a little bit of Jesus?  Am I trying to fit a little bit of Jesus into my life?”  The reality is that Jesus is too big to fit into your life.  You must surrender your life to the purposes of Christ, then you will begin to grow spiritually to become like him.

In verse 11 Paul points out that God has raised up certain individuals to serve in differing capacities within the Church, so that we can all grow spiritually.  The top of this list is the apostles and prophets.  It was important for the teachings of Christ and His purposes to be authoritatively recorded.  The truth is that Jesus did not right any books.  He called and authorized certain individuals with the task of passing on His teaching.  More than that, Jesus even told his disciples that he had far more to teach them, but there wasn’t enough time.  Thus He promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  The reality is that Jesus Himself places a stamp of approval, or guarantee, on the authority and teaching of His apostles.    In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets that are establishing Scripture and the foundation of the Faith.  However, apostles were also used mightily to bring the gospel into new areas along with signs and wonders to confirm it.  This aspect still occurs from time to time as God wills.  As for prophets today, they can be used to speak into our lives by God, but not add new teaching to the Faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints in the first century.  Paul also mentions evangelists, who typically travel from city to city preaching the gospel.  Lastly he lists pastors and teachers.  It appears that he is putting these together, perhaps as two sides of the same coin.  The term “pastor” is a shepherd term that points to the caring and nurturing they do.  “Teacher” points to the transfer of information that they perform.  Teachers teach the Word of God to His people, not because they can’t read it for themselves, but because it helps us to grow.  The purpose of all of these individuals is not to rule over God’s people, or to control His Church.  They are not given by Jesus to dominate the other believers, but rather to help us.  Some people have been hurt by the domineering tactics of some who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Yet, we must also recognize the danger of casting off any help in this area.  Without the guarantee of the foundational teaching of the Apostles in the first century, we are intellectually standing on quicksand.

Now in verse 12, Paul explains further why Christ gave these to the Church.  So far I have summed it up under the need for spiritual growth.  Let’s explore further.  The first purpose is for the equipping of the saints.  The King James Version says for the perfecting of the saints.  Equipping is a better translation today, because “perfecting” gives the sense of being done.    To be fully equipped is always done in order to accomplish something.  When you are done gathering all your camping equipment, you haven’t actually camped yet.  You still have to drive to your destination and set up all your equipment.  Equipping is always for a purpose.  Another example is how an Emergency Room is equipped with all manner of tools and medicines.  This is for the purpose of saving a life that is brought into the room.  Similarly God uses these verse 11 roles to equip us.  This leads to the question, “What am I being equipped for?”

Paul next lists several reasons why we are being equipped.  God wants us to be able to do “works of service.”  God has particular works of service that He has for you to do.  Some of that service is towards other believers.  You are to use your gifts out of love in order to help other believers.  However, we are also called to do works of service towards those who are not believers.  Thus I am serving God by going out and serving His people, and those who are still lost.  So what do you need in order to do these things?  First, you need to know what God has already said in His Word.  You also need encouragement and direction in learning to pray and hear from God ourselves.  Ask Jesus each day, “Lord, help me to know the works of service that you want me to do today.”

Next Paul mentions we are equipped for the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is that we are unified as a group of people.  Individual growth is never complete until it enables us to grow in relationship with others.  Today, the concept of unity is held up as essential.  But notice that God is not promoting unity just for unity’s sake.  He actually says unity of the faith.  “The faith” is the teachings that God has revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  Thus, when people talk about finding common ground so that we can unify, they generally mean, “What beliefs can we drop so that we can be one?”  God is calling believers to be unified around the teaching of His apostles.  If you sacrifice the teachings of Christ and the knowledge of who He is, then you have not accomplished the purpose of God.  In fact you have actually rejected it.  You may notice that all such groups that hold up unity and love as their overarching principle, and yet do not adhere to a particular set of teachings, fall apart in the end.  Only promoting love and unity is not enough to deal with the sinful nature of mankind.  Whether it is a leader that tries to dominate the group, or the fact that a person is hurt by another’s concept of free love, we must have a truth that we are committed to that has power against the flesh and is greater than any person today.  The Word of God is the only thing that has demonstrated the power to stop the sinful desires of our flesh.

The third purpose for being equipped is so that we will not be a spiritual child, but instead a mature body of Christ.  This is where we see how the individual weaves with the group dynamic.  If I am individually taken in by every new heresy that pretends to be truth, then I weaken the group.  We are not able to operate as the body of Christ.  Yes, I need to believe the things Jesus and his apostles taught, and I need to live out the things they taught.  But our group has to grow in living these things together.  Together, we can minister, heal, and save far more than any one of us can do alone.  We need each other, but the lost need the Church to be operating as a mature body of Christ.

In verse 14 we are given another reason why God wants us to grow.  He does not want us to be taken in and deceived by false teaching.  Children are easily taken in and deceived.  We see this with Adam and Eve, who had a child-like innocence in regards to sinful ways.  Not all that masquerades as truth is Truth, and not all that masquerades as Jesus is Jesus.  Think about scams that happen in this world.  They are successful because they play on the immature desire to get something for nothing, or at least, the desire to get an inordinate amount of return on minimal investment.  A mature person is often protected by scams simply because they have grown up in regards to working hard for what you get.  Like a person who has already eaten and therefore is not tempted to eat dessert, the mature person can say, “No, thanks.  I am full.”  We need to be so full of the Truth of Jesus that the lies and deception don’t interest us.  We are not hungry for some new, amazing truth.  We already have the amazing truth of Jesus.

Instead of falling into deceptions, Jesus wants us to speak the truth, but in love.  This has been a problem for the Church.  Typically we have not faltered with having the truth, but we have with sharing it in love.  This too is a sign of maturity.  The mature person does not feel the necessity to control how people respond to the Gospel.  They continue to reach out to people who reject them, and sometimes even persecute them. 

Let me just close with emphasizing verses 15 and 16.  Paul points out that it is our connection to Jesus, the head, is what gives us anything to do and share, both as an individual and as a group.  When we are connected to Jesus, His Truth and spiritual Life will not only mature us, but also enable us to be that fruitful branch that has something to offer others.  May God help us to grow spiritually, by keeping our eyes upon Jesus and taking advantage of those gifts that He has given to help us.

Growing Spiritually audio

Tuesday
Dec082015

Lessons of Christmas- The Mystery of It All

1 Peter 1:10-13.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 5, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, we have been looking at lessons that it teaches us.  Last week we talked about the Goodness of God displayed at the birth of Jesus.  Today we are going to look at the Mystery of God.  It has been said that God works in mysterious ways.  Although this is true, there is much more to it than that.  Whether you are a person who likes mysteries or not, there is something about mystery that engages our mind.  Our natural curiosity wants to try and solve it.  One thing about a good mystery is that it usually has a surprise twist that provides the hidden information to solve the mystery.  We see these same elements in the plan of God, which has some parts that are very clear and others that are not.  At the birth of Jesus there was the mystery of who the messiah would be and how salvation would be accomplished.  A big part of the mystery was the timing.  When would all this happen?  Lastly, I would point out the mystery of God’s dealings with Israel and the nations of the world.  All of these mysterious things come together at Christmas in an even greater mystery: the incarnation.  In Jesus was united God and man in one being.  He is the one who is both fully God and yet fully man.  This is a mystery. 

In 1 Peter 1:10-13, Peter points out these things to the believers of his day.

Salvation Was A Mystery

Through the years prophets in Israel had spoke on behalf of God.  They explained past, present, and sometimes future things.  Of course God himself gives the first prophecy in the Garden of Eden when he explains that the “seed of the woman” would crush the serpents head.  This first word of hope to mankind let us have a glimpse that God was doing something about our situation.  Over the centuries a large body of prophecies had been accumulated.  These words were not a complete picture, and in fact they left many questions in the hearts and minds of those who pondered them.

The prophets themselves were in the same boat as those to whom they spoke.  They did not understand everything they were being told.  Yes, Adam and Eve knew that God would help one of their seed to give them victory over the serpent, but they didn’t know how and when.  Peter reminds us that there has always been mystery in what God is doing.

Yet, this drove the prophets to search and inquire into it carefully.  Up to Moses, the Words of God were handed down orally.  Thus to search and inquire into the matter could only be done by finding an elder who was faithful to the old ways and would explain what God had done and said in the past.  Such wise men like Noah had held onto the promises and prophecies of God despite the fact that the rest of mankind had cast them aside.  With Moses God began directing the prophets and others to write these things down.  Once that was done the writings themselves could be searched and compared.  Ultimately we see the prophets exemplified in Daniel who was searching the scroll of Jeremiah and came to understand that the exile into Babylon would only last 70 years.  Thus he knew that God was going to help his people return to Israel.  He also received many visions and prophecies regarding the future.  Yet, Daniel had many questions.  In chapter 12 of the book of Daniel, we see him asking God for more understanding and yet the Lord tells him, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.”  Even though he was the holy prophet of God, he had to trust God in the midst of many mysterious, unknowns regarding the plan of God.  We live in days where it is easy to connect with faithful, godly elders.  We can also search the Scriptures with the help of powerful computers.  Along with this, God is as close as He has ever been when we pray.  So have we grown weary of the mystery?  Have we come to the place where we quit hoping for the resolution of God’s plan?  There are even some in the Church today that teach that prophecy and searching it out for understanding is a problem.  The problem is not trying to understand prophecies.  This has been the impulse of godly people from the beginning.

Peter points out that these prophets wanted to know who the messiah would be and when he would come.  Over time God gave further clarification.  First we find that the messiah would come from Abraham, then Isaac, and then Jacob.  Later we are told that he would be of the lineage of David.  In regards to time, they are eventually given some inkling in Daniel.  In fact chapter 9 of Daniel is a prophecy that lays out how much time was left.  He also reveals that it would happen during the reign of the 4th Beast Empire.  Notice how similar their questions are to ours today.  Our waiting for Jesus to come back is very similar to what they waited for.

Peter points out that that, by the Spirit, they saw the sufferings and subsequent glory of the messiah.  These two incongruous ideas created a lot of questions and mystery concerning the plan of God.  The suffering and victory of the messiah may seem to be a contradiction, but it is more a contradiction of implausibility rather than impossibility.  God had promised a savior.  But when he came he would suffer.  Why?  He would be glorious on one hand and yet there would be nothing about him physically that would draw men to him.  They mystery was in how all these puzzle pieces fit together.  At Christmas God solved part of this puzzle for us.  Christ came first to save us from our own sin (the true enemy).  To do this he had to make himself vulnerable and let himself be tortured, even put to death, for our sake.  But how could he do all that and yet remain the King who would raise up the righteous and put down the wicked?

Why All The Mystery

There is a part of us, whether as an atheist or a frustrated believer, that wished God would make things clearer.  Yet, he has a penchant for mystery and long waits in between times of revelation.  Peter points out in verse 12 that it has to do with the fact that prophecy is not just for us.  We are serving others.  Either God has to make a clear explanation to every single person who ever existed within their time, or we have to put up with a bit of mystery.  There is no way around this.  Prophecy was never given to elite men for their benefit alone.  It was given to them in order to serve others.  First they served the people of their time by sharing the prophecies.  However, Peter points out that they also served the generation that would be alive when the messiah finally came.  Those who would see the resolution of prophecy needed served in this way.  Because of the words that were shared and written down, they would be able to see the connections between what was happening and what God promised.  It would help them to navigate especially difficult times with the understanding that God desired them to have.  Thus early Jews who were heard the good news of Jesus could either ignore the Scriptures and reinterpret the events, or they could embrace them and rejoice in Jesus.  Of course, Peter is talking about the mystery of salvation.  Through Jesus it became far less mysterious.  Of course we also recognize that Jesus and his Apostles prophesied about a future 2nd coming.  Thus, as I said before, we are in the same boat.  We have been served by Jesus and the Apostles in order to understand what God desires of us in these last days.  God was not interested in giving each generation full understanding.  No, that would come after the events occurred.  Rather, was giving each generation enough information that they would be encouraged and pass down the prophecies until that generation in which they would occur.  We are not just waiting for Jesus to come back.  We are also serving the next generation for him.

We are not just passing on information about God’s plans for the future.  We are also passing on an inner response of faith toward God himself and toward His promises regardless of how much we understand.  Some reject the prophecies because they are not clear.  However, the mystery also ensures that someone somewhere will still be interested in these things.  The intellectual puzzle laid alongside of the spiritual battle helps to keep faith alive until the event itself is revealed.  We think we need full disclosure.  But what we really need is trust and faith in God.  Peter points out that the prophecies were explained to the believers of his day by the Holy Spirit.  If we do not hand down the Word of God to the next generation in the power of the Holy Spirit, then our stream of influence is doomed.  Faith is kept alive by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Prophecy must never be a matter of intellectual curiosity and fleshly pride.  It must be a matter of a soul who has placed its hope in the hands of God.  There is one last aspect here that Peter doesn’t point out, but is shown in Ephesians 3:4-10.

In the first century things were revealed by God that had been kept a mystery from the beginning of creation.  The people of God as His Church are a message from God to both mankind and the Spiritual rulers that have abused their positions.  Those angels who were put in charge of the nations and were leading mankind away from God through the teachings of demons, are just as important in this as we are.  The wisdom of God is being displayed and explained in the mere existence of the Church, much more what it has to say.  There are still mysterious things that are yet to be revealed.  But to those who put their faith in God and trust Him, there is a joy of bearing the revelation of God’s wisdom as it has been revealed.  Part of God’s plan is to raise mankind to a position greater than those angels that ruled.  All authority is being stripped from them and given to Christ and His Church.  We are being raised up to reign with Christ in their place.  The elites of the world may scoff at such thoughts and the powers of darkness may bristle at such thoughts.  However, God has pledged himself to destroy the wisdom of the wise men of this world and the power of the powerful of this world.  Thus we see the present mystery of God’s choice of the lowly over the top of the great and proud.

The first Christmas reminds us that there is ahead of us a great day of rejoicing.  No matter what it may look like in the now, a great day of revelation is coming in which the wicked and powerful of this world will have no say in the matter.  God will do what He is going to do.  Blessed are those who put their faith in Him!  Maranatha!

Lessons from Christmas