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Weekly Word

Entries in Trials (8)

Sunday
Jul092017

Our Great Joy in Jesus

1 Peter 1:3-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 09, 2017.

Today we will spend some time in a passage that focuses on the joy that we have as believers in Jesus Christ.  It is easy to let the things of the world around us drag our hearts down into a dreary drudgery.  We see individuals rejecting the gospel and plunging down the “wide way,” and we see the nations of the world rejecting the ways of God and pursuing their own ways.  In the midst of this is the onslaught of both individual and political evils that continue to tear the world apart and create massive suffering.  So I want us not to forget about the world’s plight, and yet not to be infected by a spirit of hopelessness.  The follower of Jesus has nothing to hang their head over.  We are never defeated or losers.  We are the true overcomers as we keep our eyes upon Jesus and the mission that He gave us.

We Give Thanks to God

In verses 3-5, Peter starts out by thanking God for His blessings and yet he is also reminding the believers of the blessings that they have.  And so, we do have much to be thankful for, and it all finds its source in God the Father.  He is the architect of creation, and the giver of life and all its wonderful aspects.  Am I thankful?  And, do I take time to thank God?  We should wake every morning and recount the amazing blessings with which God has surrounded us.  He has been good to us and grateful thanks should be the foundation of our daily life.

In fact Peter uses the phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It could also be translated as “Praise the God…”  Our praise is the proper acknowledgment that is actually due to God.  All creation should praise Him, but not all of creation does.  Of course giving God His due praise speaks to those who are not doing so.  But to us who do praise Him, it should not be about duty and obligation.  It should be about gratefulness and thanks.  Our thanks and praise rises up to God in the midst of a world that takes God’s goodness for granted, and a spiritual realm that has a rebellion against Him.  The devil and his angels believe that they can do better than God and are ungrateful for His decisions.    We are those who have rebelled against the rebellion, and have put our faith in Jesus.  We are not under the shadow of judgment, but can see and recognize the goodness of God.  Because of this, we are the recipients of the greater treasures that God is in the middle of giving to those who trust Him.

Peter particularly points out the “abundant mercy” of God.  He is not obligated by justice to give us mercy.  However, He is kind, loving, and merciful.  Salvation always begins with the mercy of God and we must never forget that.  His holiness and justice would come against our lives and bring us to account and to punishment.  But in His mercy, God makes a way for us to be saved from punishment.  He holds out the offer of eternal life to those who will trust Him.  So what are some of these mercies?  Peter lists some for us.

He uses the phrase, “He has begotten us again.”  This is very similar to the phrase used by Jesus in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  We are all born physically and because of the will of two humans.  Yet, we are not spiritually alive.  Thus all humans are in need of being “born again,” but not physically.  This second birth is a spiritual birth and is because of the will of God, not man.  Even though we are alive to the world around us, we are spiritually unable to recognize and interact with the God who created us.  If we were to use the analogy of a still birth, we can think of it like this.  Though a still born physically exists, they cannot interact with the physical world around them.  Similarly, though we do have an inner spirit, it is still born towards the Holy Spirit of God.  It will never be able to sense and interact with God unless a spiritual miracle occurs. The analogy is not perfect, but it does help to see what the Bible is saying.  This is called being born again.  So to compare the two births we have this.  Physical birth is the first birth, caused by humans, in which we are able to interact with the physical world.  Being born again is Spiritual birth, a second birth, caused by God, in which we are able to interact with the Spirit of God.  What a blessing and mercy this is.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  In John 1:12-13 we are told that such a birth makes us the children of God.  “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So why has God made us spiritually alive?  Peter says it is for the purpose of receiving a “living hope.”  Regardless of what our lot is in life because of our physical birth, our spiritual birth leaves all of that in the dust.  All that we might hope for in this life will one day be taken away from us.  Thus it is a hope, but a dying one.  Our spiritual birth gives us hope of things that cannot be taken away, even in physical death.  If a person is born into royalty or a family of great power, that is nothing compared to being born again in Jesus.  Even, if I have been born into squalor and have little hope in the things of this world, in Christ I have a living hope that is so much greater than anything this world can offer.  Peter further describes this living hope.  It is a living hope because of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  It is living because it is based upon the living Jesus.  He is alive and can no longer die.  Similarly because our hope is in Him, even if we die physically our hope cannot die because it is in one who cannot die again.  Even more than this, we believers in Jesus are promised a day of Resurrection in which we will fully join Christ in that state of eternal life through a body that cannot die and a spirit that dwells in the presence of God every second.  Thus even our physical death because an entering into the presence of the Lord of Life.  What a living hope we have in Jesus!

Peter also describes this living hope as “incorruptible,” and “reserved in heaven” for us (vs. 4).  It is called an inheritance because there is a future aspect to what God is giving us.  Yes, I have eternal life already, but I have not received all that eternal life has to offer, yet.  Thus he uses the word “hope.”  We are already experiencing some of His promises now and thus the hope that is future is already “living” within us and blessing us.  Peter uses several words to show that this hope is secure for the ages.  It is incorruptible, and will not decay or go bad.  There is no expiration date on the promises of God.  It is also “undefiled.”  It is a hope that is untainted by the sin and rebellion of this world.  No matter how much the rebels of this world hope in a Utopia, it is a defiled hope.  They will continually slam up against the reality that the hope is tainted by the sin of mankind and the fallen angels.  Lastly, Peter says that it doesn’t “fade away.”  It is a hope that will not lose its luster and beauty.  This world fades and dims, but our hope does not.  It is reserved in heaven for us.  Thus it is safe in God’s hands, and guarded by none other than God Himself.  If God be for us who can be against us?  On this earth our inheritance and blessings are always in danger of others who may want to steal it, but the inheritance of God cannot be touched by any, not even the devil himself.

However, God does more than just guard our inheritance.  In verse 5 it says that we ourselves are guarded by the power of God.  The same God who guards our inheritance is also insuring that we can make it to that inheritance.  The word “kept” in verse 5 is similar to the word “reserved” in verse 4.  They both have the sense of guarding something.  However, the word in verse 5 adds the sense of a military guard.  It has a higher sense of protection to it.  Thus God stations His forces around us, to ensure that we make it to the day of inheritance, which is the completion of our salvation (notice the future sense of salvation in this verse- more on that later).  The only thing that can derail it is our own faith.  Satan cannot win by destroying us physically, financially, or emotionally.  But, he uses those things to try and destroy our trust in God.  Now, God doesn’t just put a carrot in front of us.  He also protects us along our way to make sure that we will be able to dine upon it.  All of this is “through faith,” our faith in Him.  This living hope and inheritance from God cannot be earned or purchased by the power of this world.  It can only be the gift of God to those who trust Him.

Our Thanks Endure Even Our Various Trials

In verses 6-9, Peter acknowledges that Christians go through difficult things, even though they have much to be joyful.  It is easy to be so focused on making people look happy that we can forget that there is a time to cry, and a time to mourn.  We must deal with the difficult things of life, not by shutting them down, but by overcoming them.  They devil is trying to disqualify us through those trials and tests of life.  But God allows them for the purpose of proving that we qualify and ultimately making us stronger.

So let’s look first at how the trials of life can grieve us for a little while.  Do not make light of the emotional side of trials.  They are difficult and tend to weigh us down with an internal heaviness.  God does not call us to be unfeeling automatons, or robots.  As we grieve and yet remind ourselves of the goodness of God, our faith in God can be deepened.  We can also understand the depths of God’s love towards us.  Trials also help us to see the depths to which our enemy will stoop in order to try and disqualify us.  If we shed tears in this life, then we can shed them knowing that God sees them and will keep a record of them.  He will right every wrong and then bring us to a place where we will cry no more and have pain no more.  And, on that day, He will reward us for those tears and pains of this life that we endured while hanging on to the promise of eternal life, our living hope.  The enemy, however, wants to drown us in our sorrows and difficulties.  He wants us to blame God for our pains, so that we will lose faith in God and walk away from our inheritance.

Peter reminds us in verse 7 that these tests prove our faith.  Have I really trusted in God?  If God stepped in and removed every difficult thing in our life then we would never truly know if our faith is founded on solid ground.  In a sense many people say, “God I trust you, if You keep everything from hurting me.”  This is not trust.  Yet, Job said, “Even if God slay me, yet I will trust Him!”  Some follow Jesus because of what they obtain in this life: people who care for you, and love you, among other comforts of life.  But what about when I lose all of those things?  Like John the Baptist sitting in prison about to lose his head, we can begin to question and waver in our faith in Jesus.  Thus the picture of trials being a refining fire is used by Peter.  The trials are called various because there are innumerable ways to be tried in this life.  Some are seductive, with hidden motives, and we can enjoy their presence to some degree.  Others are brutish, with the obvious motive to overwhelm and destroy us.  Typically we do not enjoy these.  But our faith, Peter says, is more precious than gold.  We are tempted by things that are really not as precious as we think.  The truth about our faith will be made clear at the “revelation of Jesus,” which is His Second Coming.  This will be our glory and honor in the day that He returns: we world will see that we belong to Him.

In verse 8 He commends them for their faith and love for Jesus.  They are keeping their eyes on Jesus even in the face of trials.  Peter had seen Jesus with his own eyes.  But then Jesus was taken into heaven and now Peter no longer can see Jesus.  He must use the eyes of faith, trust.  Even harder it is for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh.  They are taking the witness of Peter, and the Holy Spirit.  They have come to love this Jesus that they have learned about.  They are not about to be scammed out of the inheritance they have in Jesus.  So also, keeping our eyes upon Jesus, we await that day when He will split the clouds and return to earth.  Even if I die, I do so keeping my trust upon the one who said, “He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.”  Our love for Jesus is birthed in the love that He had for us.  He died in my place even while I was still a rebel against Him.  He did so to make an inheritance for me with Him.  He paid the price that I might sit with Him at the Father’s table.  He purchased us back from the place of slavery to which we had sold ourselves.  And, He does this to make us His beloved ones.  In the words of Paul, “[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. 

So this love that Jesus has for us and that we have for Him fills us with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.  In the face of our own death, His death and resurrection assures us that He loves us and will keep His word.  The daily joy that we have as a Christian should never be based upon the earthly joys and comforts that we have.  Yes, we should be thankful for any such things that we experience.  But they must never be the foundation of our joy.  The foundation of our joy is the relationship of love that Jesus has given to us.  As the old song says, “I’ve got something the world can’t give, and the world can’t take it away!”  It is called inexpressible or unspeakable because it goes beyond the ability of words to fully express.  Not that we don’t express our thanks, but that they too fall short.  “O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemers praise, the glories of our God and King, the triumphs of His grace.”  So we continue to describe to people that which can never be fully expressed.  Such is the joy of the believer.  It is also described as “full of glory” because it is given by God Himself.  Glory is often described as brilliant light in the spirit realm (within Scripture).    God has given us Himself and the glorious shining of God sits at the center of our heart and life like a blazing sun.  Thus our joy and faith in Him, which is set on fire by the blazing glory of God, cannot be extinguished by the devil. 

In the midst of such glorious joy, Peter says we are receiving the salvation of our souls.  In fact this is part of the joy.  I may endure a difficult trial, but it is part of me receiving something much better.  Verse 5 speaks of our salvation in the future, but verse 9 speaks of it as a present thing.  That is because we are in the process of receiving a salvation that will one day be completed at the second coming of Christ.  Thus we can look back to the day that we began receiving salvation, we can look around at our current salvation, and we can look forward to its completion at the Second Coming of Christ!  Amen!

Our Great Joy audio

Monday
Mar062017

Growing Spiritually 2

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Nov172016

Doubts & Fear

Matthew 27:45-51; Psalm 22:21-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 13, 2016.

We have been looking at the many ways in which our society is under siege by Satan and his cohorts, and we could continue.  But I want to stop and deal with the issue of doubt.  One of the reasons the enemy attacks from so many different angles and vantage points is in order to overcome our faith in Jesus.  He does so by making it increasingly difficult to stick with Jesus.  This can happen in several ways.  The first is the seductive attack.  When I am following Jesus, I am missing out on all those “pleasures” that Christ is taking me away from.  Satan clearly tempts and pulls on us to go his way rather than the Lord’s way.  The second attack is in-your-face intimidation.  When I am following Jesus, this bad thing and that bad thing happens to me.  Satan clearly persecutes those who want to follow Jesus and he generally does so through willing human accomplices.

Now when something impacts your life it is normal to ask questions.  Any honest question in a difficult situation will stir up doubts.  Whether you are talking about a career choice, marriage, large purchase, etc… everyone has felt those moments of buyer’s remorse after the fact (many times even when we know that we made the right choice).  So it is important for us to look to Jesus himself and recognize that he knows what it feels like to doubt.  In Hebrews 4:15 it says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Let’s look at the moments leading up to the death of Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:45-51.

Doubts are dredged up by our emotions

Of the things that Jesus said while he was on the cross, the statement, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” would seem to be the most troubling to Christianity.  It appears that Jesus is confessing that he was wrong and that God has abandoned him.  Yet, this seems strange in light of the fact that Jesus told his disciples that this not only would happen, but had to happen.  So there is something deeper going on.  Now traditionally, it has been explained that because Jesus was taking all of the sins of the world upon himself in that moment, God could not look upon him.  Thus the quote is a pointing out the breaking of that eternal communion that they have shared (something Jesus would have never felt before).  I think there is merit to this as a starting point.  However, I think there is more to see here.

It is interesting how our emotions toy with us in the middle of difficult and important times.  When Jesus is dying on the cross, he is not only paying for our sins.  He is also fulfilling what Old Testament prophecies said must happen.  The reason I say this is because everything that Jesus is experiencing is exactly what the Scriptures foretold, and exactly what Jesus said would happen. Normally when things go exactly as planned our faith is encouraged.  But Jesus appears to have doubts.  Now it is important to point out that Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 22:1.  Whether or not people at the time recognized this is not important.  Eventually the disciples recognized this quote and were amazed by what they saw when they read Psalm 22.  It is normally treated as David complaining to God about his persecutions at the hands of Saul and his men.  But it is shocking how well it describes what happened to Jesus on the cross.  In fact we are told by the Apostle Paul that David was a prophet and many of his Psalms were prophecies about the Messiah (Acts 2:29 and following).  Now here is the main point I want to make about this.  If it is true, and it is, that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy and everything is going as planned then it must not be the facts of the situation that cause this doubt.  The doubt here comes specifically from his emotions.  Please know this: emotions will often mislead us in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Have you ever done something you absolutely knew was right and yet were dogged by doubts because of your emotions?  The core of what Jesus taught is never more vindicated than in this exact moment, as the religious leaders reject him and execute him.  But it is not reason and facts that plague his mind.  In reality it is emotion and imagination that are the real enemies of our faith.  Here is an example.  The Bible says that in the last days people will become lovers of themselves and scoff at those who believe God.  This is clearly proven true.  Yet, the facts themselves don’t always encourage our faith.  Why not?  They often fail because of the power of our emotions at being rejected and scoffed at.

We need to recognize as we are going through life that our emotions and moods change with our experience.  Jesus is letting us know that he is not just acting out a charade.  He is letting us know how he actually felt in that moment of fulfilling all the Old Testament was pointing to.  He is letting us know, he is letting you know that he understands your doubts and your fears.  He understands how even in the very moment of God’s Word proving true, our emotions can rise up and rebel against it.  “I don’t want to keep following you, even though everything you said is coming true.”  Bill Bright in his famous tract, “The Four Spiritual Laws,” has a part in the back in which he deals with the subject of emotions.  He uses the image of a train and makes the point that emotions should never be the engine, but rather the caboose.  The caboose only follows the train wherever it goes.  Thus even when our emotions rebel and want to go a different direction than with Jesus, Christians refuse to let emotions direct them.  C.S. Lewis, a Christian writer, put it this way in his book Mere Christianity.

“Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway.  That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion.  Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.”

The truth is that God will never forsake you, but your mood is that He actually has.  This is what Jesus was feeling.  He knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s plan and that this would lead to great joy for Him and the Father.  But, he still felt like God had abandoned him.  He did not protect himself from the pain of the nails, nor the emotional pain of the injustice while God is silent.  The disciples that had reasoned in their minds that Jesus must be the messiah, allowed their faith to be temporarily derailed on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus.  In fact it was important for this to happen.  We, as much as them, need to recognize that our salvation is not based upon how great our following of Jesus is.  It is not based upon what others do to us.  It is based upon the fact that Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to die on your behalf.  It is also based upon the fact that the resurrection (which was witnessed by over 500 people) is proof that God the Father accepted the death of Jesus on our behalf.  This is what sustained those early disciples when their every emotion screamed, “Just give in, it’s not worth it!”  Even in the face of death, they kept their faith in Christ because their emotions could not change the facts.

In Psalm 22, the psalmist complains that God doesn’t hear his cry (vs. 2).  He goes on to complain that God hear others, but not him.  “I am a worm,” he says (vs. 6).  He goes on to describe how he is being put to death and God does nothing.  This is how he felt.  But God had not forsaken him.  This complaint completely changes in verse 21.  Let’s look at Psalm 22:21-24.

God always hears the honest cry

I actually think the phrase “You have answered me,” should stand by itself.  Something happens between “Save me from the horns of the wild oxen,” and “You have answered me.”  We are not told what it is.  There is a period of time between the complaint that God isn’t listening and the answer.  For Jesus that time was 3 days.  It is not the length of time that is important.  It is the reality that the disciples spent 3 days with their hopes shattered thinking God had forsaken them all.  But then came Resurrection Day.  So when Jesus is on the cross he is not just dying.  He is demonstrating that God always answers the cry of the afflicted, even when it looks like He doesn’t.

It is interesting how the mind of the psalmist felt like there was something different about him.  God helped others, but he felt like a worm because God wasn’t “doing anything.”  Listen, everything within our flesh rebels against having to endure difficulty, suffering, or injustice.  We don’t even like suffering the effects of our own choices that we know we deserve.  So we sometimes say to ourselves, “It works for others, but not for me.”  What, like Jesus is a car that you jumped in and it wouldn’t start?  Or every time you turned the wheel it didn’t drive where you wanted it?  There is a world of misunderstanding in those words, “didn’t work,” because in them we see that the problem was that we were trying to control things and get them to go in the direction we wanted.  Remember, Jesus is the Lord.  We are following Him.  He is the one that not only saves us, but leads us to the Father.  He will not settle for being a paint job on your car while you drive all over town doing what you want to do.  So in this regard, there is nothing different about you.  Your flesh doesn’t like where God takes us as much as anyone else.  Faith in Jesus is not an emotional decision.  It is a rational choice that is going to be challenged by your emotions many times on the road ahead.  Satan has worked hard through the many different facets of our society to dismantle the reasons for your faith.  He manipulates our emotions to get us to drop Jesus, to quit believing.  Let me tell you a secret.  All the godly people of the past felt like “it didn’t work for them.”  When you read all the great people of faith in the Bible, you find that they had all kinds of doubts and fears.  And yet, they held on to God, and He revealed more and more to them until we received the full revelation in Jesus Christ.  Through the Bible they are saying to you that they felt like quitting as well.  But, hang in there.  God isn’t finished yet.

In fact the difficulties we face do several good things within us.  They test our commitment to God and make us more like Jesus.  They change us for the good if we keep our faith in Christ.  Let me give an example.  The Bible teaches that our ultimate inheritance is not in this life, but in the life to come.  It is simple enough on the face of it.  However, this is easier to believe when you have something in this life.  But what about the person in Aleppo, Syria who has lost everything and whose life is being hunted by evil men?  Sometimes when people are in great grief the above promise may seem hollow.  And, yet it is still true none the less.  In fact, such a person has nothing to lose.  Why not trust Jesus? 

Psalm 22 highlights this problem.  The person writing the psalm points out in verse 24 that God has not hidden His face from the afflicted.  The whole psalm is the problem between the afflicted as a class of people in life and the afflictors or persecutors as a class.  Since the serpent afflicted Adam and Eve and brought death into their lives, or Cain went after his brother Abel and killed him, there has always been those who simply wanted to serve God and yet suffered because of it.  In those moments there is a part of us that gets angry and wants to throw the white, good-guy hat into the mud and put on the black, bad-guy hat (if you remember the old westerns).  This division within humanity shows that people make a decision in their life if they will follow the way of Jesus or of Satan, the way of the afflicted or of the oppressor.  Satan and his hordes are the oppressors of humanity.  Many humans throughout history have joined with them because they see it as the winning side.  Yet, the psalmist declares that God has not forsaken the afflicted.  You see Jesus could have stayed in heaven and simply destroyed the oppressors.  However, he chooses to come down and take his place among us as one of the afflicted.  If the God of heaven took on the badge of affliction and did not despise it, how much more ought we to hang in there and trust him?  When Jesus is crucified, he is not just saving us.  He is also condemning all wicked people and all wicked spirits of the heavens who have chosen the path of Satan.  The cross shows us the truth that Satan could care less about you.  He only wants God’s place.  So what will you choose?  Your mind and heart know that the right thing is to choose to suffer with the righteous.  But your emotions and imagination stir up all manner of fears and doubts.  This life is your test and your proving grounds.  Will you wait for the answer from the Lord, even if it comes after your death?  Or, will you grow tired of waiting and join the other side?  Choose this day whom you will serve. 

Let me also remind you of the man Moses in the Bible.  Moses was born to parents who were Israelite slaves in Egypt.  However, by the help of God he was adopted and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter.  In Hebrews 11:24-26 we are told, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he looked to the reward.”  So too you have a difficult choice to make.  Should I do all I can to enjoy the temporary pleasures of this life by joining the oppressors, or should I go for the greater riches and reward that God offers to all who will follow Jesus?  Don’t be tricked into identifying with Satan, the Pharaoh of this world, and rejecting your true identity.  God created you to become like Jesus and take your place among the Sons of God in the world to come.

Thus Psalm 22 ends with the psalmist rejoicing in the testimony of the afflicted.  It starts out dark and ghastly, but ends with rejoicing and exhortations to praise God.  I know that when you look at the world, or at your life, at times both will seem dark and headed towards no good.  But God has made a promise to those mankind and those who will follow Jesus.  He has promised that this story will end in great rejoicing for those who trust Him.  But those who trust in Satan and the path of self-will, self-strength, will only find suffering and punishment.

Doubts & Fears audio

Tuesday
Feb092016

True Leadership

Luke 22:24-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on February 7, 2016. 

We have been looking at the Passover Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed.  Each of the disciples was destined to have a critical role in the work of Jesus moving forward.  Yet, this brought great temptation with it.  They renewed an old favorite pastime of squabbling among themselves about who was the greatest disciple.  This argument gives rise to great insight from Jesus into what makes a great leader.

Who is the greatest disciple?

It is common in any group to have a clash of inflated evaluations of self and the disciples were not immune.  Verse 24 brings this out.  Of course, self-evaluations are always there and are not wrong necessarily.  However, Jesus taught that judgments should not be according to appearance, but rather should be righteous (John 7:24).  Clearly the disciples failed on this evening.  Yet, they become an example of what we should not do.  Take joy in the fact that, even when you fail, you can provide an example to yourself and others.

The word translated as dispute is a bit unclear.  The word that is translated here means more than just a dispute and the strife that goes with it.  It is literally a “love of disputes” that is referred to.  Thus this was not just a difference of opinion, but a love of arguing with each other.  Sometimes when you argue with someone you realize that either you or they fall into the trap of arguing for arguments sake.  You may use logic for your point but then refuse that same logic from the other side, which is both illogical and hypocritical.  Such love of dispute is not anchored in a love of God, or a love of righteousness and truth.  It is anchored in contention itself.  Conflict can become a habit that mimics addiction.  However, Christians are called to be peacemakers, not lovers of strife.  Their question of which of them is the greatest stirs up a spirit of arguing within the group.

Jesus steps in and uses the situation to teach about true leadership.  Notice the word “considered.”  They are all concerned on how they are considered by the others.  They each think the others should consider them the greatest.  Jesus points this out as a problem.  They are thinking like the world about power and position.  He reminds them that in the world the rulers exercise dominion and rule over the people.  The people in turn often admire them and give flattering titles like “benefactor” to them.  Thus in the world leaders are often seeking the admiration of the crowd and the titles that they may give in consideration of them.  People will often take pride in an oppressive leader if they think the leader is benefiting the status of the nation within the world.

Greatness is defined by Jesus

Our knee-jerk answer to the question of which of them was the greatest might be to exclaim, “None of you are great!  Only Jesus is great!”  Yet, take notice that this is not how Jesus responded.  None of them are claiming to be greater than Jesus.  They are only thinking among themselves, and Jesus gives them an honest explanation of what greatness is in God’s eyes, rather than men’s.  So who do you want to “consider” you great, God or people?

Christian leadership must not seek privileges nor to be served by others.  Jesus points out that in the systems of this world the older ones obtain privileges the higher they move up in leadership.  To become like the younger is not to use the system for these privileges.  In fact it is to be as one who has none.  One of the problems with our government today is the many privileges that they have legislated for themselves.  This is also seen in the way that great leaders of this world are served by lesser leaders.  To move up in leadership is to have more servants at your beck and call.  This creates a kind of sycophantic system in which younger leaders serve greater leaders in flattery and unhealthy ways in order to obtain position and privilege.  Think of how corrupt religious and secular institutions can become through this dynamic.  Even in the sciences there is a system in which the younger plebes do research and write papers in order to please the older ones who hold the power of their advancement.  In a perfect world this would not be a problem.  But, welcome to Earth.

How does the Lord respond to this?  “Not so among you!”  It is sad to see how often we have tossed such words aside in the heat of the moment in order to obtain what our flesh desires, greatness.  Whether in local churches, within denominational structures, or among the body of Christ as a whole, we have continued to transgress this command and to our own detriment.

Yet, Jesus then points to himself.  The example that Jesus gave of servant-leadership is contrary to the way of the world.  It would be interesting to know exactly when the foot-washing of the disciples occurred.  Even so, it works the same whether he had already done it or did it right after these words.  As Jesus washes their feet, he takes a lowly position that would be given to the lowest plebe in any worldly system.  All of the disciples would have stated strongly that Jesus was the greatest among them.  Thus Jesus highlights the inner dissonance that exists.  They know that he is the greatest and yet they continue to follow the world’s ways in order to obtain their own greatness.  The greatest leader in God’s eye is the one who will come down off their throne and serve those under them.  The world serves for the privileges and the accolades of men to the expense of pleasing God.  The disciples of Jesus must not follow that model.  The believer must reject privilege and use the position and power to serve those “under” their authority.  Even then, the service must be done not to please those you help, but instead God.  Of course Jesus was within 24 hours of his ultimate service.  He would become the substitute for the punishment of their sin.  If Jesus led to please his disciples, he would have never gone to the cross.  They didn’t want a crucified leader.  They wanted Jesus to walk into Jerusalem and take over.  They wanted the fame of the world, not the hatred.

The rewards of following Jesus

In verses 28-30 Jesus changes his tone.  Though he has verbally stripped them of any appearance of being great disciples, he transitions to what they have done that he thinks is truly great.  On top of that he tells them they will be rewarded for it.  Many had left Jesus over the course of the last months.  The crowds had quit following after him.  Even Judas was in the middle of leaving him.  The disciples themselves would scatter in unbelief of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  Even today, followers of Jesus are being challenged.  Will we leave Jesus in order to give allegiance to something else?  Or, perhaps we will simply redefine Jesus and thus serve “another” Jesus, a Jesus of our own making and in our own image?  These men had remained with Jesus through his trials.  The word has the sense of a trial that is intended to prove the genuineness of something.  Jesus was enduring a test to prove whether he truly was the Anointed Son of God.  His teachings and way of living life was undergoing a test.  And, as he is being tested, so those who are learning his way are to be tested.  Jesus was joyous to have these men in all their weakness and frailty, who had nevertheless stuck with him.  “Who else has the words of Life, Lord?”  The truth of Christ and his way is undergoing a test in this generation.  Will we stand by Jesus unwavering, or will we betray him?  Will we learn to seek his approval, or will we seek the consideration of each other, striving to be seen as great?  His testing is our testing.  So, learn to trust the master.  His way leads to life.

Verses 29-30 are interesting.  In a sense Jesus speaks of two kingdoms: one that he is giving to his disciples and one that they will join him in later.  The way they lead in the kingdom that he gives them will be rewarded in the Lord’s kingdom later.  He will not be present as they lead the Church after his ascension.  Thus their faithful service in the first century to lay down a foundation for the Church to be built upon would be rewarded in the coming millennial kingdom.  If we will listen to the commands of our Lord then we will find sure reward later.  Do not worry about the level of your authority and strive to get higher and higher.  Whatever authority comes your way in life, use it to honor Jesus and not yourself.  Use it to serve those under you in a way that will cause the Lord to think you are great.  At times that may make people under your influence to think less of you.  But that must not matter to us.

Do not embrace worldly thinking in any part of your life, much less within the Church.  It is high time that we drop the ways of the world and adopt the ways of the master, our Lord Jesus.

Leadership audio