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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Pentecost: You Need the Holy Spirit

05/31 [Pentecost: Sunday] Obey Jesus; You Need the Holy Spirit; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200531_holy-spirit.mp3

We have been looking at discipleship, being disciples or learners or followers, disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus commanded.

Impossible Obedience

One of the things we have seen throughout this study is that what Jesus commands is impossible. It is humanly impossible to obey Jesus. We simply can’t. We can’t believe in him, we can’t see that all the Scriptures point us to him, we can’t abide in him, we can’t give him our primary allegiance, treasure him above all else, put the needs of others above our own. We can’t. We can’t do this consistently, with a whole heart. We need help. Actually, we need more than help, we need a new heart. We need God himself to come live inside us and obey the commands of Jesus through us.

Pentecost [Shavuot] (Lev.23:15; Deut.16.9)

40 days after his resurrection, after appearing repeatedly to his disciples and teaching them, Jesus ascended to the right hand of his Father. At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus

Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus will send the promise of his Father, and he commands them to wait in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high. In Acts, Luke resumes the story where he left off.

Acts 1:1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

You will be baptized with, immersed with the Holy Spirit. Wait for the promise of the Father.

At the outset of Jesus’ ministry, Luke 3 records John’s response to questions of whether he might be the Christ.

Luke 3:16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

In Acts 2,

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks [Hebrew: Shavuot] comes 7 weeks (or 50 days) after Passover, and commemorates the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, where Israel entered into a covenant and became a nation under God.

New Covenant Glory

Acts 2:2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The law was given 7 weeks after the Exodus where God freed his people from Egypt, but the people immediately and persistently failed to obey his commands.

50 days after Jesus accomplished his Exodus, freeing us by the Passover sacrifice of himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn, 1:29; 1Cor.5:7), leading us out of our slavery to sin, he gave us his Holy Spirit, to live inside.

Paul draws this contrast in 2 Corinthians 3.

2 Corinthians 3:3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

He draws a contrast between the letter that kills and the Spirit who gives life, the ministry of death and the much more glorious ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness, the veiled temporary and fading with the unveiled permanent glory of Christ, the hardened minds and the transforming work of the Spirit.

Pentecost changes everything! The God whose Spirit brooded over the face of the deep at creation,

2 Corinthians 4:6 …who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

By his Spirit and his Word he brought life and light out of darkness and chaos.

Heart Waters Flowing

This is what Jesus was talking about in John 7.

John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Rivers of life giving water pouring out of the hearts of believers. The Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.

Do you have life giving rivers flowing out of your heart? What is flowing out of your heart? ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Lk.6:45).

Out of the hearts of his believers will flow rivers of living water. ‘This he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given.’ Wait for the promise of the Father, stay until you are clothed with power from on high. ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’ (Acts2:17; Joel 2:28-29).

When the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, and the crowds, gathered for the pilgrim festival, rushed together, amazed, perplexed, some mocking, Peter (who had self confidently asserted that he was willing to die with Jesus, and then denied even knowing him three times) now addresses the crowd:

Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Peter preached Jesus, the cross and the resurrection. He pointed out their sin and guilt.

Acts 2:32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

This is the fulfillment of the promised Spirit, whom those who believe in Jesus would receive.

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart,

That is the work of the Spirit of God! When the Spirit comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn.16:8)

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Repent. Turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That promise is for you! For everyone the Lord our God calls to himself. Notice carefully, the Holy Spirit is given by God, a gift received, he is poured out on all who believe.

You Must Be Born of the Spirit

We looked at the gift of the Spirit in John 7, whom those who believed in Jesus were to receive. If we look back in John 3, Jesus referred to this as being born of the Spirit.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus’ teaching comes from the New Covenant promise in Ezekiel 36,

Ezekiel 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

You must be born of the Spirit. In order to obey Jesus, you must be born again. Jesus goes on to describe how this takes place:

John 3:14 …so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Whoever looks to the Son lifted up, crucified, as his only hope, whoever believes has eternal life. God gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him is born of the Spirit.

Ask

Jesus promised in Luke 11

Luke 11:9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Asking, seeking, knocking are other ways of describing believing. The Father will give the Holy Spirit to everyone who asks. The Spirit will be poured out on every believer.

Every Believer Has the Spirit

Paul rebukes the Galatians for turning away from their simple belief in Jesus.

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Paul assumes that upon hearing the preaching of the cross, the Galatians trusted Jesus, they believed in him, they had faith, and they received the Spirit. They didn’t do anything to earn this free gift. They received the Spirit by hearing with faith. There is no such thing as a believer in Jesus who does not have the Spirit of God living in them.

Paul commands the wayward Corinthian church to flee sexual immorality.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

He doesn’t question if the foolish Galatians or the sinful Corinthians have the Spirit. He bases his argument with one for living by faith, with the other for God glorifying holy living on the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In Romans, it is abundantly clear that everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit living in them.

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. …11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

You, right now, if you are a believer in Jesus, have the Spirit of the living God dwelling in you! Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God!

We Need Help to Love, Obey

In John 14 Jesus connects loving and obeying him with the Helper, Counselor or Comforter, the coming Holy Spirit.

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Jesus has just told his disciples to ask him for anything in his name and he will do it, and he had promised that they would do the works that he does, and greater works than these because he goes to the Father. To do greater works than Jesus we need help, supernatural, divine enablement, and this is exactly what he promises; Jesus will ask his Father to send the Holy Spirit to live in us. Loving Jesus, keeping his commands requires divine power from the Holy Spirit living inside. Jesus ordered them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. And then,

Luke 24:47 …repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

You must be born again. To love him, to obey him, to be his witnesses, you need the Holy Spirit. Wait for the promise of the Father, stay until you are clothed with power from on high. Believe in Jesus and out of your heart will flow rivers of living water, and you will ask Jesus according to his will and through you by the Spirit in you he will do greater works than even he did when he was here physically.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 31, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obey Jesus – Beware What You Treasure (Luke 12, 15, 16, 18, 19)

05/17 Obey Jesus: Beware What You Love – Treasures; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200517_treasures.mp3

Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus commanded. We are looking at some of the things Jesus commanded, so we can obey him, and teach others that we disciple to obey Jesus in everything.

One thing Jesus talked about frequently, maybe more than any other thing, was treasure. He warned us about what we treasure. Jesus commanded us in regard to what we treasure, to take care, to be on our guard.

Beware on Guard against Covetousness

Luke 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Take care and be on your guard against all covetousness. Jesus warns us to be on our guard, because this one is sneaky. We may think we’re fine, that it’s not an issue, but this is one that sneaks up on you. Be on your guard. Covetousness. Greed. Wanting more, wanting something you don’t have. Your life doesn’t consist of your substance, of what you have.

We know this. Stuff doesn’t make us happy. Possessions don’t ultimately satisfy. But how often do we see something and think “I wish… If only… Things would be much easier if… Life would be better if…” He warns, ‘take care, and be on your guard.’

Be Rich Toward God

Luke 12:16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’

This sounds a lot like what we call here in America ‘retirement’. This is not to say that it is evil to wisely invest and prepare for the future. That is good and wise. But this person is hoarding all that he can to pursue a life of pleasure and ease and consumption.

Luke 12:20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

God says that it is foolish to pursue your own pleasure in this life. This life won’t last. We have no guarantee. He says the one who fails to be rich toward God is a fool.

What does it mean to be rich toward God? If we keep reading,

Do Not Be Anxious but Generous

Luke 12:22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

What are you anxious about? What are you worrying about? What are you focusing on? Seek his kingdom. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Seek to advance his kingdom by bringing others into the kingdom. Be generous to the needy. Jesus said that to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked, to visit the sick and imprisoned is to do it to him (Mt.25:34-39). To be rich toward God is to seek his kingdom, to be generous and use what he gives us to bless others.

Pursue treasure in heaven. Because your heart will follow your treasure. What you treasure is what you think about, what you worry about. If you want your heart to be more fully devoted to God, then invest your resources with him.

Treasure in Heaven

This raises a question. What does it mean to have treasure in heaven? Does this mean that if we sell what we have and give to the poor, that we are filling some treasure chest in heaven with gold? Does having treasure in heaven mean that we are making deposits into some eternal bank account so that when we get to heaven we will have greater resources, greater access to pleasures, a larger mansion, a more opulent lifestyle than others in heaven? Is this saying that by denying ourselves now, we are pursuing our own greater pleasure later?

If by pursuing our own greater pleasure, we are thinking in terms of gratifying our own fleshly desires and having more stuff than others in heaven, then no, I don’t believe that is what Jesus is talking about.

But we are told in the Psalms that “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps.16:11). By denying our own fleshly desires now to pursue God and his kingdom, we are pursuing our own greater pleasure, because we acknowledge that the greatest imaginable human pleasure is enjoying our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. By investing in what pleases God, by using our resources in ways that bless others rather than pursuing our own temporal pleasure, we are saying that our heart and our treasure is in the Lord, in pursuing his pleasure. The deepest satisfaction in human relationship is found not in using others to pursue our own pleasures, but rather in using our resources to pursue the pleasure of the one we love. So in our relationship with God; we find satisfaction in pursuing his pleasure. We are storing up unfailing treasures in heaven by treasuring our relationship with him above all.

The Lost Son

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son, teaching that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. In the parable of the lost (or prodigal) son,

Luke 15:11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

An inheritance wasn’t to be given until after the death of the father. This younger son was saying he wished his father was dead and all he was interested in was the money. And he took the money and ran. He indulged himself in everything he hoped would make him happy, and ended up empty and broken.

Luke 15:17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

He came to himself. In his emptiness he realized the value of the relationship he had squandered. ‘And he arose and came to his father.’ His father ran and embraced him, received him back as his son, clothed him, and called for a feast.

Luke 15:24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

This parable is actually about two lost sons. The younger son was obviously lost; he rejected his father and wasted his inheritance, and he was found, was dead and is alive.

The older son was also lost, but in a more respectable way. He was the faithful son who never disobeyed. He too was after the inheritance, but to get it he was following the rules and patiently waiting. But he also failed to value his relationship with his father, rather he reveals that his desire was a feast where he could celebrate with his friends. Now that his brother had wasted his portion of the inheritance, anything the father gave to his younger son would cut in to the older son’s inheritance. He referred to his relationship with his father as a servant, not a son, and he further distances himself from the family by referring to his brother as ‘this son of yours’. He refuses to enter into the family celebration, but remains outside, angry. His younger brother’s return revealed the true condition of his heart. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.”

You Cannot Serve God and Money

In Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable of a dishonest manager who abused his position to forgive debts and make friends to secure his own future. Although he was dishonest, his master commended him for his shrewdness. Rather than using people to make money, Jesus says we should make use of money to make friends. The money will fail but friends will last. We are to imitate his shrewdness but not his dishonesty. Jesus says:

Luke 16:10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Be on your guard against all covetousness. What do you love?

Rich Man Lost; Drop Your Baggage and Follow Me

In Luke 18, a rich young man runs up to Jesus and falls before him.

Luke 18:18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus points this man to the commandments. And this man claimed to have kept them all. But Jesus mentioned only commands from what is known as the second table; commands that have to do with our relationship with our fellow man. He didn’t mention the first table, that we are to have no other Gods, that we are to worship and serve no idols, that our love for neighbor is to flow out of our primary love for God himself. Outwardly, this man felt he was doing well. So Jesus pushes on his heart.

Luke 18:22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Is Jesus demanding that we all must sell everything and take a vow of poverty in order to follow him? No, he is wisely sensitive to this man’s unique heart problem, and puts his finger on it in a way that shows this man clearly what is keeping him from the kingdom. Jesus is wisely answering this man’s question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? God must be your greatest treasure. You must be willing to trade in every worldly treasure for the greater Treasure. Jesus is inviting him, ‘drop your baggage that is holding you back so that you are free to come, follow me.’ You cannot serve two masters.

Impossible With Man

Luke 18:23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

You see how we desperately need to take care and be on guard against all covetousness? It is eternally dangerous. This man came running up to Jesus, falling down before him, eager to do whatever it takes to have eternal life. But Jesus showed him that he loved his stuff more than he loved God, and he went away sad, unwilling to let it all go and follow Jesus.

How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It is just as impossible as stuffing a big hairy camel through the eye of a sewing needle! The people ask ‘is that a one hump camel or a two hump camel?’ No, they recognize the utter impossibility and despair ‘who then can be saved?’ If those who have power and access can’t get in, then nobody can!’

Jesus doesn’t correct them, and saydon’t worry, it will be much easier for you who are poor and have little, to enter.’ You see, when Jesus put his finger on the heart of this rich young man, and pointed out that he loves something more than God, he put his finger on the hearts of us all. We can’t. It is impossible for us to love God more than anything else. We can’t obey Jesus. It is impossible. Absolutely.

Luke 18:27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

You are right. Salvation is impossible. It is impossible for anyone to treasure God more than anything else. No one seeks for God, no not one (Rom.3:11). God alone is mighty to save. God must overcome our impossibility and by his own Holy Spirit create a new heart and new life with new desires and new affections in us. It is impossible for us to obey Jesus. It is impossible for us to do what he commands. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn.3:3).

Rich Man Saved

The next chapter, Luke 19, we see the impossible happen as Jesus enters a rich man’s life.

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

This was an impossibly rich man, and so an impossibly lost man according to Jesus in chapter 18, but Jesus came to seek and to save him. ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’

Luke 19:6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus did an impossible miracle that day, probably more impossible than making the blind see or the lame walk. Jesus enabled a rich man to treasure him more than his possessions, to drop his baggage and follow him joyfully.

What about you? What do you treasure? “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.”

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 18, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obey Jesus; Believe in Me

04/19 Obey Jesus: Believe in Me; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200419_believe-in-me.mp3

Disciples who Make Disciples who Obey Everything Jesus Taught

After his resurrection and before he ascended to the right hand of his Father, Jesus told his followers to make disciples who would make disciples who would make disciples to the end of the age. He told them to make disciples of all nations.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We as followers of Jesus are to continue to make disciples who make disciples. Part of making disciples is immersing them in the name of the triune God. Another essential part of making disciples is teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. We are to be disciples and make disciples who obey everything Jesus taught.

So what did Jesus teach? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What are some of the central things Jesus taught that we need to observe and pass on to others? While following Jesus is a lifetime commitment, I hope over the next several weeks to highlight some of the central commands that Jesus gave us, and my prayer is that this would be one useful piece in a lifetime characterized by following Jesus.

Discipleship is Relationship not Rightness

One thing you will notice as you get to know Jesus is that following him is so much more than believing things about him. Following Jesus is a relationship. It involves getting to know him, listening to him, and responding to him by doing what he says.

In teaching all that Jesus commanded, we are not aiming for a pharisaic rightness, knowing the right answers with the ability to sniff out those who do not have it quite right and critique and criticize. Rather, what we are after is a humble and steady quiet walking with Jesus. Notice, Jesus did not say ‘teach them everything.’ He said ‘teach them to observe or obey or keep all that I have commanded you’ That means that we are to walk it, and lead others in walking with Jesus. It is more than just knowing stuff; it is doing it, walking it, living it.

His Commands Are Not Burdensome

When you hear words like ‘command’ and ‘obey,’ something in you might naturally raise walls of resistance, thinking ‘the last thing I need right now is more duty, more obligation, more requirements and responsibilities, more things to check off my list.’ Before you go there, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is inviting you in to rest. He is inviting you to learn from him, but he says that is where you will find rest for your soul. He is not riding behind you adding to your load, cracking the whip to keep you pulling. He wants us to walk along side him, in the yoke with him, doing life together with him. He is willing to share your burden, and thus make it lighter not heavier.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a weight to pull and that you won’t face difficulties along the way. But it does mean that you will never be alone in them. Jesus yokes himself together with you.

Believe that I Am Lord and God

I want to start today with one of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, a week after his resurrection. His disciples were discouraged, confused, afraid, hiding behind closed doors. They were hearing rumors, some of them had claimed to have seen Jesus alive. That first Sunday evening, he appeared to the whole group of disciples, minus Thomas.

John 20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Thomas refused to believe. In fact, he said ‘unless I have undeniable proof, I will never believe. John 20:26 says ‘eight days later’. Imagine, a full week of doubting, questioning, wondering. That following Sunday,

John 20:26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Jesus was offering the proof Thomas demanded. And he was commanding Thomas to believe. Believe what?

John 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Confronted with irrefutable evidence, Thomas grapples with the implications of a man who had clearly been executed and buried, who was now alive in the flesh, standing right in front of him, still retaining the wounds of his execution. Peter had earlier confessed Jesus as ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Here Thomas worships Jesus as God. He calls him ‘my Lord.’ a connection with the Greek of the Old Testament YHWH, God’s name, the I AM. Thomas addresses Jesus with the language of prayer; ‘my Lord, my God’. He has come to believe in Jesus as the I AM of the Old Testament, the Sovereign One of Israel.

John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John gives the purpose of his writing. He is recording signs that offer evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; YHWH of the Old Testament; the Word who was with God and who was God, come in the flesh to save us. He writes so that we, his readers, would believe in Jesus. Jesus himself pronounces a blessing on us who believe in him now, not having seen him ourselves, but believing the testimony of the eye witnesses.

Believe and Be Born Again

In John 3, where Jesus tells Nicodemus ‘you must be born from above, born of the Spirit, born again’ (Jn.3:3-8), he reveals his identity to Nicodemus:

John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God gave his only Son. Whoever believes in him has eternal life. You must be born again.

Jesus said in John 5 that John bore witness about me (33-35); the mighty works I have done bear witness about me (36); the Scriptures bear witness about me (39); and the Father himself bore witness about me (37); But he said

John 5:38 …you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. …40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

Jesus commands us to believe in him, to come to him.

Come to Me and Drink

In John 7

John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive…

Jesus invites the thirsty to believe in him, to come to him and drink, to have their need satisfied. Those who come, the Spirit will produce new and overflowing life in their hearts.

Believe that I AM

In John 8, addressing the Pharisees who refused to believe in him, Jesus said:

John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

Unless you believe that I AM. This is the same phrase we find in the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14, I AM Who I AM, the self-existent one. Jesus is demanding that they believe in him as the I AM, YHWH of the Scriptures. Jesus makes this explicit in verse 58, when he responds to their question:

John 8:57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

The Jews understood what he was saying, and they considered it blasphemy for a man to claim to be the I AM of the Scriptures.

But this is exactly what Jesus was commanding them to believe. You must believe that I AM or you will die in your sins.

Believe in God and Also in Me

In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples:

John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

In John 16, Jesus tells his followers that the coming Spirit would

John 16:8 …will convict the world … 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;

The sin that the world will be convicted of is unbelief toward Jesus. We are commanded to believe in Jesus, and to disobey this command means condemnation and death.

The Impossible Work of Believing

In John 6, people were pursuing Jesus, not because they believed in him, but because he was feeding them.

John 6:26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

Jesus tells them to labor for eternal food, not temporary food.

John 6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

What must we do? What is the work God requires? To believe in Jesus. But these same people who had eaten the multiplied loaves, who were seeking Jesus because of the great signs he did, asked him for a sign.

John 6:30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?

We scratch our heads, wondering at their unbelief. But Jesus was not surprised.

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

All that the Father gives him are the ones who come to Jesus. Then he said:

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

No one can come. Jesus said:

John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Something we will see as we look at the commands of Jesus is that obeying Jesus is not something that is hard to do; it is not difficult; it is impossible. We can’t obey Jesus.

When Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, Son of the living God, Jesus responded:

Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Peter didn’t come up with this on his own. It was revealed to him by God.

In Mark 10, a man came running up to Jesus asking him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus showed his followers how difficult it is to trust him completely,

Mark 10:26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

It is not difficult to obey Jesus, to believe in him, to trust him; it is impossible. But not with God. It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh is no help at all.

Just before this, in Mark 10, his disciples were rebuking those bringing children to him.

Mark 10:14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

We must come to Jesus as a child, expectant, eager to receive his gift; not trying to earn it or work for it.

Become like a child! Ask! Ask him to give you his Spirit. Ask him to give you the faith to let go of whatever else you are holding on to and trust him completely. ‘Everyone who asks receives!’ (Lk.11:10-13). So ask! Come as a child and ask. Ask him for the faith to believe in him.

Application; Believing in Jesus

The most important thing Jesus commands his followers is that we come to him, that we believe in him, that we take him at his word and believe that he is indeed who he claims to be, who he demonstrated himself to be. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Jn.3:18)

Believing is the way of life for the follower of Jesus. We are to walk by faith. So what does it mean to walk day by day believing Jesus? Believing Jesus is the I AM? Believing that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God? Not just knowing it to be true, but truly walking in the light of that truth, knowing that he is with us, that he will never leave or forsake us?

If you truly believe in Jesus, that he is the I AM, my Lord and my God, God become flesh to save you, and that he is with you always, to the end of the age, it will change everything. It will change what is most important to you. It will change what you are afraid of. It will change your attitude and your outlook. It will change how you love and serve others. His yoke is easy and his burden is light and when we walk beside him, believing in him, we find rest for our souls.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

April 26, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2020 Vision – The Church – Matthew 16:18

01/05 2020 Vision – The Church; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200105_vision-church.mp3

I recently got my eyes checked. I was way overdue for an eye exam, and I’ve been noticing that my vision isn’t as keen as it once was. I’ve been having some trouble reading, especially with my contacts in. Vision is so important, and affects so many things.

One of my kids has glasses that she doesn’t wear very often, because her eyesight really isn’t that bad. But while we were traveling, she was looking out the window and said ‘Whoa, look at that buffalo!’ Of course everyone looked, but nobody saw any buffalo. Finally one of my other girls said, ‘Do you mean that big rock over there?’ If you can’t see clearly, you might fail to interpret accurately what is really there. That’s a problem.

Another time we were driving and the windshield was a bit dirty, but when we came around a bend so that we were heading directly into the sun, the glare made it impossible to see the road. It’s extremely dangerous both to yourself and to others around you when you can’t see the road. You have to be able to see the lines so that you can stay between them. Clear vision is essential to see the way ahead.

Vision and Vision Casting

It’s worthwhile to periodically check your vision. It’s worth stopping to clean your windshield before you find yourself facing directly into the sun. As a pastor, I am occasionally asked ‘What is your vision for the church?’ I understand that the question is meant in the sense of vision casting, what are your goals, your objectives, your strategic plans for the future. Dictionary.com defines vision in two distinct ways: 1. the act or power of sensing with the eyes; sight. 2. the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be: prophetic vision; the vision of an entrepreneur.

I’m not a visionary, and while I don’t want to disparage those who are, I would rather focus on making sure we are seeing clearly and accurately.

Vision and Absolutes

In visiting the eye doctor, I discovered that they believe in absolutes. They have an objective standard. They put letters on the wall, and they ask you to tell them what letters you see. When your vision is fuzzy, the capital G is easily confused with the C or even the Q. But it’s not enough to answer confidently. If I said that the F was a P, they adjusted my prescription. Telling them that it was a P to me just confirmed their suspicion that I wasn’t seeing accurately or clearly.

We have an absolute standard, and it is the word of God. I want to be sure that my hopes and dreams for the church stay between the lines God has established for his church, and that we are moving together in the right direction.

Matthew 16:18

What is the church? What is God’s vision for his church? In the coming weeks I want to refresh and clarify our vision for the church, what we are meant to be. Today I want to look at Jesus, his promise to built his church; I just want to walk through the text in Matthew 16 together and make some observations about the church.

Matthew 16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Ownership

The first thing that Jesus says about the church that I want us to pay attention to is an issue of ownership. Sometimes when pastors talk with other pastors, I hear things like ‘how are things going at your church?’ or ‘this is what we do in my church’. Now I don’t want to be the word police and I’m sure I’ve said things like that myself; that’s easier to say than ‘this is what’s happening in the church that I serve’. But I want to be clear. Jesus said ‘I will build my church.’ The church belongs to Jesus. Sometimes people refer to ‘my church’ not in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of belonging. When someone says ‘this is my restaurant’ we know they don’t mean that they actually own the restaurant; it’s the one they always eat at. ‘My church’ can mean the church I belong to, the church where I serve. But if we are talking about ownership, Jesus holds exclusive right. It is his church that he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28). The church belongs to Jesus.

Built on the Identity of Jesus

The second thing to note is that Jesus started this conversation off with a question about his identity. Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do you say that I am? The church is built on the rock of the identity of Jesus. Peter’s great confession was ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There are lots of opinions about Jesus floating around, but it is essential that we see clearly who he really is, who he claims himself to be. The Christ, the promised Messiah, the long awaited anointed one. Prophet, Priest and King. The Son of the living God. “He was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn.5:18). The identity of Jesus is the foundation of his church. You are:

Ephesians 2:19 …members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

On this rock I will build my church.’ The identity of Jesus is the foundation of the church.

Spirit Wrought Faith

There’s a third thing we need to see in this passage. This great confession was not a clever conclusion drawn from evaluating the evidence. Jesus makes a point of pointing this out.

Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Peter, you are blessed. You have been given a great treasure. You didn’t come up with this on your own. It wasn’t your keen insight or brilliant logic. It was revealed to you. My Father revealed it to you. It was given to you from above.

There was a Pharisee who came to Jesus at night with his own perception of who Jesus was. He called him ‘Rabbi’ and identified him as a teacher who came from God doing signs. He acknowledged that God must be with him. Jesus challenged him on his need for a spiritual transformation so that he could see Jesus for who he really is:

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 …‘You must be born again.’

…or born from above. Jesus went on to describe the work of the Spirit of God in bringing about this new birth.

John 3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Spirit brings about the new birth when and where and in whom he wishes. Jesus went on to reveal his identity as the only Son given by God the Father to bring eternal life and salvation to a world condemned by sin.

The new birth is necessary to see Jesus for who he is, and that seeing is a work of the Spirit of God. There is a spiritual blindness that keeps us from seeing.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God through the supernatural work of his Spirit and through his omnipotent word reveals Jesus to us.

The church belongs to Jesus, it is built on the identity of Jesus, and that identity is perceived and believed by those who have been born again by his Spirit.

Un-opposable Authority

Let’s look at some other things we can glean about the church from this passage.

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The church is not depicted here as a fortress immune from attack. Instead it is an organism on the move, advancing and taking ground. The gates of hell can’t hold up against the advance of Christ’s church.

And there is unopposable authority. Keys unlock doors and grant access.

Peter, on the day of Pentecost, proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, and opened the kingdom to three thousand Jews. (Acts 2:38-41)

Later, in Acts chapter 10, Peter went to a Gentile’s house proclaimed the good news:

Acts 10:43 ..that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

And the door was unlocked to the Gentile nations. This was not unique to Peter.

When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey

Acts 14:27 … they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

If we jump ahead from this great confession to the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, we read of this unstoppable authority.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus holds all authority. And he invites us to make disciples of all nations. The church is made up of disciples, followers of Jesus from every diverse people group. We operate under the authority of Jesus, who is with us always.

The Offense of the Cross

But if we read on, there is something else we can learn about the church.

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

There is an offensive element to the church. It is the offense of the cross. In fact the church is built on the offense of the cross. There is a warning here. We have a tendency to want to avoid the cross. We have a tendency to set our minds on the things of man, not the things of God. We tend to look to human means, to strategies for success to grow the church. This is not God’s way. Jesus builds his church through the offense of the cross. Jesus triumphed over sin and death by bearing our sin and dying. We want the church to look presentable to the world, but the cross is not presentable. It’s not politically correct to talk about sin and judgment, but the good news is that Jesus took my sin and carried my shame and died the death that I deserved. The church advances when the message of the cross is unapologetically proclaimed.

Community of Self-Sacrificial Service

Jesus goes on in the next verses to define his followers.

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The offense of the cross extends to Jesus’ followers. A disciple is one who patterns his life after the one he follows. Following Jesus means a life of self-sacrificial service to others. Jesus laid down his life in love for us. We are to lay down our lives in loving service to others. The church is made up of people who follow their Master and pattern their lives after his self-sacrificial service to others.

Conclusion

Let’s keep a clear vision of who we are as the church; who we are meant to be. The church is a community of Jesus followers united in one family by new birth. The church belongs to Jesus, it is built on the identity of Jesus, and that identity is perceived and believed by those who have been born again by his Spirit. The church embraces the offense of the cross both in belief and practice. The church is a community of Jesus followers who gladly surrender and sacrifice for the good of others. Let us see clearly who we are, and let our identity shape our actions.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 6, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Darkness Before The Light

12/09 The Darkness Before the Light; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181209_darkness-before-light.mp3

<<Griswold Christmas Lights (23 sec short clean version)>>

Christmas lights. Why are Christmas lights a thing? Why is there a whole aisle of just Christmas lights? We put them on our houses, on our trees, around our windows and doorways, all down main street, little twinkly Christmas lights everywhere. Why?

Here’s some verses in Luke that help us understand why. Zechariah prophesied over his son John:

Luke 1:76-79 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Matthew, in chapter 4, quotes the prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2.

Matthew 4:15-16 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

We are enamored by lights shining in the darkness, at least in part because it is an echo in our souls of our hope for a light to overcome the darkness. When you see all those twinkly lights this time of year, remember that there is a longing in every human soul for a light that will overcome our darkness.

Jesus came to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.

Deep Darkness in the World

This longing goes all the way back to the beginning

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

There’s this theme of darkness and light throughout the bible. God overcame the darkness at creation by his Spirit, by his Word. The light, he said, was good.

Already by chapter 3, man sinned and went his own way, and he hid from the light of God’s presence in the shadows of the garden.

Ever since, there has been this tension between the light and the darkness.

Darkness Linked with Death

Did you notice in those verses in Matthew and Luke that ‘darkness’ is synonymous with ‘the shadow of death’?

Luke 1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Matthew 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

The wages of sin is death. Because we are sinners, death looms over our entire lives. We live under the shadow of death. You never know. None of us know how long we have. We often distract ourselves from this reality – until some crisis or event crashes in and shatters our delusion, snapping us back to the reality that we are mortal. We are finite. Every moment, every breath is a gift. We live under a dark cloud. We dwell in a land of deep darkness. We sit in the shadow of death. Hence this longing in every heart for the light, to be out from the shadow, to see light overcome the darkness.

Blind To The Darkness

But before the light can be appreciated, welcomed, received, the darkness must be felt. This was the problem of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and it remains a problem for many in our day.

We live in denial. We refuse to believe that it’s really all that bad. We refuses to see the darkness.

We might agree and say ‘Yeah, it’s a really dark place out there. There’s really bad people doing horrible things and they need Jesus.’ If that’s what your find yourself saying, be careful, you might completely miss the meaning of Christmas. You might completely miss it and miss out. You see, Jesus came to be the light in a dark place. He entered in to the darkness. If you are saying ‘those people over there really need the light of Jesus’ you are putting yourself into a different category. ‘What they are doing over there, that’s really dark. But not me. I’m not in the dark. I can see just fine.’ Be careful, you are saying ‘I don’t need Jesus.’

Jesus was not very kind to hypocrites and finger pointers. He had sharp words for those who looked down on others and thought too highly of themselves.

John 9:39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

The worst kind of blindness is when you think you can see and refuse the gift of sight that is offered to you. Jesus came to offer sight to the blind, but those that deny that they are blind refuse to receive his healing.

You see, it’s not just dark out there. It’s dark in here. It’s dark inside, in me. My heart is the problem. My heart is dark. I need Jesus.

Reaction to Light; Rejection and Hatred

We don’t often notice just how dark it is until the light gets turned on. Our eyes adjust. We get used to the dark. We get comfortable in the dark. You’ve been in a room that slowly gets darker and darker and you don’t notice it, until someone walks in and flips a light switch and bam! Blazing light! What’s your reaction? Turn it off! Turn it off! It hurts! I was comfortable in the dark.

We all have this deep longing in our hearts for light to overcome the darkness, and Jesus is the light of the world, but there is always a reaction when the light gets turned on.

We looked last time at John 1, where Jesus the eternal Word, who was with God in the beginning and who was God, became human and entered our world. We are told of Jesus in verse 4:

John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …7 [John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

You see, Jesus coming into the world as light says something about the world. It says something offensive about me. Jesus the light coming into the world says that the world is a dark place. And it is a dark place because it is made up of sinners dwelling in deep darkness. The world is a dark place because my heart is dark. This is offensive. I don’t like to be told that my heart is wicked. That my heart is deceitful. I don’t like to be told that I’m blind, that I’m living in utter darkness. That’s offensive.

We looked last time at John 3:16, where God gave us his only Son. John 3:19 says

John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

We are not just in the dark. We love the dark. We have this love affair with darkness. We are ashamed and afraid and we don’t want to be exposed, so we hide in the shadows. We don’t want anyone to see what we are really like. We know we don’t measure up.

Do you see what this is saying? The light has come into the world; Jesus has come into the world. And we love the darkness and hate the light. We hate Jesus. ‘Whoa! That sounds harsh. I don’t know if I would say it like that.’ Jesus says it exactly like that. ‘I wouldn’t say I hate Jesus; I respect him as a great man, a great teacher, a prophet.’ You can’t say that. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘he has not left that option open to us.’ He claimed to be God. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic …or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. …you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” [Mere Christianity]. Jesus divides. You are either for him or against him. You either hate him or you fall at his feet and worship him. You can claim to respect him as a great man, but that’s not being intellectually honest. If you believe in him, you must receive him completely, as he is, everything he says. And that includes some really painful things to swallow. Receiving him as the light of the world means confessing that my heart is dark, wicked, desperately wicked.

Jesus The Exclusive Light of the World

Notice, Jesus says the light has come into the world, the true light.

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

Jesus does not claim to be a light in the world, one among many. He is the light – the only true light of the world. Jesus is exclusive. You follow Jesus or you are in darkness.

Jesus Only; Not Jesus Plus

In Matthew 17, some of Jesus’ disciples got a glimpse of his glory.

Matthew 17:1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail th’ incarnate deity, pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.” [Hark! the Herald Angels Sing -C.Wesley]. For a moment, as it were, the curtains were drawn back and the pre-incarnate glory of the Son of God blazed out. The light of the world was so bright in that moment, they couldn’t look at his face.

Matthew 17:3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Moses, the one to whom the Law was given, the author of the Torah, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets were there speaking with Jesus. Peter thinks this is great. Three of his heroes; Moses, Jesus, Elijah. We should just camp out, get autographs, bask in the glory. Peter wanted to honor these three, enshrine these three. But the Father would have none of it. He thundered from heaven interrupting Peter before he could finish his thought, putting him on his face.

Matthew 17:5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

What was the message that came through crystal clear to the disciples as their faces were pressed against the dirt? God does not share his glory. Jesus is the only Son of the Father. He is not one among the prophets, givers of God’s word; he is the Word. He alone is to be honored. He alone is to be listened to. He alone is the light of the world. The Law and the Prophets, the entire Old Testament, Jesus said, was pointing to him. It is all about him. Jesus did not come to abolish the law or the prophets; he came to fulfill it. All the scriptures find their answer in Jesus. It is not Jesus plus the law, Jesus plus the prophets; It is Jesus only. We do not enshrine three lights, three great teachers; Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Moses and Elijah were anticipating Jesus, pointing to Jesus. Jesus is the only, the unique Son of the Father. Jesus is the light.

He took our Darkness and Night

We all have this deep longing for a light to overcome the darkness. At Jesus’ last supper, when Satan had entered in to the betrayer, when Judas left, John tells us “And it was night” (Jn.13:30). This is more than just a description of what time it was. Jesus had said in John 9

John 9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

I am the light of the world. But night is coming. Judas went out. And it was night. Later, in the garden, when Judas kissed Jesus to identify him to the authorities,

Luke 22:52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

This is your hour, and the power of darkness. Jesus could have blinded the crowd with a blaze of transfiguration glory, but instead, he allowed himself to be seized, led away, ultimately to be crucified.

Luke 23:44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Jesus, the light of the world, endured darkness for me. Matthew tells us:

Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus took my darkness, he fell under the shadow of death, he was made to be sin (2Cor.5:21); He bore our sins in his body on the tree (1Pet.2:24). The light of the world conquered the darkness by being extinguished by it. He was swallowed up by the darkness, and in doing so, he swallowed up death forever!

The Necessity of The New Birth to See

The light of the world came, but he was not received. He was hated.

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

How is it that we receive him? How is it that we see him for who he is? We are blind to our own darkness and need of him. Those who receive him are those who were born of God by the will of God. God caused us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3).

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We sinned. We hid from the light of God’s presence in the darkness. God overcomes the darkness in our hearts by his Spirit, by his Word.

Acts 26:27 …I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

God’s word and his Spirit opens blind eyes.

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Maybe you see, maybe for the first time, that you are in the dark, and the only light is Jesus. May God open your eyes to the truth of who he is. May God by his Spirit and through his word shine in your heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Receive him today. Believe in his name.

December 13, 2018 Posted by | advent, occasional, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 14:1-32; Cleansed!

09/04 Leviticus 14:1-32; Cleansed!; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160904_leviticus-14_1-32.mp3

Completely Leprous and Clean (13:12-13)

Last week we looked at Leviticus 13, a chapter that describes in gross detail different kinds of skin disease, and how to identify if it is the kind of disease that makes one unclean and cuts one off from the community. Common characteristics of skin conditions that were considered unclean were those that appeared to be deeper than the skin, symptoms of a deeper problem, and those that spread, that didn’t go away or continued to get worse over time. One curious case that we didn’t look at in detail is in Leviticus 13:12-13.

Leviticus 13:12 And if the leprous disease breaks out in the skin, so that the leprous disease covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot, so far as the priest can see, 13 then the priest shall look, and if the leprous disease has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean of the disease; it has all turned white, and he is clean.

How is it that when the disease breaks out and covers every inch of his flesh, he is clean? Isn’t that a clear case of ‘unclean’? Is that a typo? If a person cannot point to even one patch of healthy skin, that would seem to make him wholly unclean, but rather the verdict is ‘clean’ and he is welcomed into the community and into the sanctuary. This seems “a complete paradox to all save those who understand God’s mode of dealing with sinners” [CHM p.363]. C.H.Spurgeon said:

How many there are, who, as they come up here, are ready to confess that they have done many things which are wrong, but they say, “though we have done much which we cannot justify, yet there have been many good actions which might almost counterbalance the sin. Have we not been charitable to the poor, have we not sought to instruct the ignorant, to help those that are out of the way? We have some sins, we do confess, but there is much at the bottom which is still right and good and we therefore hope that we shall be delivered.”

“I do not know,” said Martin Luther, “when men will ever believe that text in which it is written Christ died for our sins. They will think that Christ died for our righteousness, whereas He died for our sins. Christ had no eye to our goodness when He came to save us, but to our badness.” A physician, when he comes to my house, has not an eye to my present health. He does not come there because I am healthy, but because I am sick and the more sick I am, the more call for the physician’s skill and the more argument does my sickness yield why he should exercise all his craft and use his best medicines on my behalf. Your only plea with Christ is your guilt. Use it, Sinner, use it as David did when he said, “Lord have mercy upon my iniquity, for it is great!” If he had said “Have mercy upon my iniquity, for it is little,” he would have been a legalist and would have missed his mark. But when he said, “Have mercy, for it is great!” he understood the Gospel riddle—that strange paradox at which Pharisees always kick and which worldlings always hate—the glorious fact that Jesus Christ came into the world “not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” [C.H.Spurgeon, The Cleansing of the Leper, no.353, Dec. 30, 1860]

Andrew Bonar writes “Is it not when a soul is fully sensible of entire corruption, …that salvation is nearest? A complete Saviour for a complete sinner?” [Bonar, p.234].

Consequences of Leprous Skin Diseases

Remember, the consequences of being pronounced unclean.

Leviticus 13:45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

And remember, there was little hope for the one pronounced unclean. The procedure for making that declaration was not hasty or subjective, but when it happened, it was devastating. Separation from family, from friends, from society, from the worshiping community. It was a living death. That makes it so surprising when we get to chapter 14

Leviticus 14:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, 3 and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person,

Leviticus 14 gives instructions for the day of his cleansing, when he is healed. Wait, what? We skipped a chapter. How did the leper get healed? What did he do? What treatments did he undergo? What medication did he take? Last chapter he is kicked out of the community, forced to live alone, to wear the label and declare himself unclean to anyone who would come near. Now he is healed. Did I miss something? If you are the one being declared unclean, don’t you want to know what you have to do to get healed? Don’t tell me what kind of ceremony I go through after I get healed, I want to know how I get healed. Leviticus has no cure. Leviticus identifies the problem. There is in fact nothing proscribed for the leprous person to do. The only thing a leper can accomplish on his own is making everything he touches unclean. In this passage describing the ceremony for pronouncing the leper clean, he is not the doer. Things are being done to and for him. He shall be brought to the priest. The priest shall go out of the camp. Notice, the diseased person has been excluded from the community, and is not permitted to seek out the priest himself. He is not permitted to enter the camp. The priest must go out to him. Remember, we are Christians, looking for glimpses of Jesus in Leviticus, because it is all about Jesus! Jesus our great High Priest does not remain in glory waiting for us to make our way to him. He comes to us when we are outsiders.

The Ceremony

Leviticus 14:4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. 5 And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. 6 He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. 7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.

This is one of the most elaborate rituals in the Old Testament. It has some similarities to Numbers 19, where we find rituals for cleansing those who have come in contact with a grave or a dead body. That ceremony also uses cedarwood, scarlet yarn, hyssop, and living water. This connection to another ritual that purifies from contact with death makes sense, because the diseased person who is declared unclean is living in a state of separation as if he were dead. Why these things?

Possibly cedarwood because it is durable and long lasting. King Solomon “spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall” (1 Ki.4:33) as a way to refer inclusively to all plants from the greatest to the least.

A scarlet cord marked out Rahab and her house for deliverance in the destruction of Jericho. Scarlet yarn was used extensively in the construction of the tabernacle, and the uniforms for the priests, so it would be a connection with the sanctuary.

Hyssop was a plant used in the Passover to paint blood on the doorposts of the Hebrew homes. It was used in the covenant making ceremony at the foot of Mt. Sinai to sprinkle the people with blood (Ex.24; cf. Heb.9:19). In David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51 he prays:

Psalms 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Hyssop was used as a sponge to extend the sour wine to Jesus on the cross (Jn.19:29).

Fresh water, literally living water was water that had not been stagnant. Jesus referred to himself as the source of living water (Jn.4:10-11, 7:38).

The earthenware vessel, or clay pot was an ordinary container, basically made out of dirt. 2 Corinthians 4:7 speaks of holding a treasure in jars of clay as a way to describe the dust to dust frailty of our human existence.

I find this ceremony a bit funny. It reminds me a bit of some of the things my brother did to me when I was younger. “hey Rodney, hold these two wires… Stand right here on this X and pull this string… Hold this while I light the fuse”. Something tells me this is not going to end well. So you take these two live birds, and some red string, and a piece of wood, and a plant, and a bucked of water. And you kill one of the birds over the bucket and don’t forget to hold on to the live bird. Have you ever killed a bird? That’s messy! But don’t let go of the live bird. Now dip all the stuff in the bloody water. Yes, the live bird too. It’ll be fine. Now use the plant to sprinkle blood all over the guy, but keep holding on to the live bird that you dipped in the blood. Now take the live bird, make sure it’s really wet and bloody and let it go…

But even in this strange ritual we can see a picture of Jesus. Living water in a clay pot. Two birds; one clearly representing death, the other possibly picturing resurrection? Blood applied to a diseased person to declare him whole. Remember, all this is done to for the leper, and to the leper. He is not doing anything. He is passive. At the end of this he is pronounced clean.

Washing and Shaving

After he is declared clean, the person being cleansed becomes more involved in the ceremony. Up to this point he could do nothing. Now that he is declared clean he becomes an active participant in the ceremony.

Leviticus 14:8 And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. 9 And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.

There is a seven day process that includes laundry, shaving and bathing, and returning to the camp, but not going home yet. Shaving is often a sign of mourning or humiliation. Have you ever seen someone who shaved – all their hair – even their eyebrows? This would be especially shocking in a culture that is not to trim the corners of your beard. A man who shaved his beard and every bit of hair off his body would look a little like a newborn baby. Could this be a picture of new life after death, a new birth of sorts? Jesus said ‘you must be born again.’

The Eighth Day

Leviticus 14:10 “And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish, and a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. 11 And the priest who cleanses him shall set the man who is to be cleansed and these things before the LORD, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 12 And the priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it for a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. 13 And he shall kill the lamb in the place where they kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the place of the sanctuary. For the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy.

The eighth day is a day is a day of new beginnings. The former leper is now welcomed back in the camp, but not yet into his own home. First he must come before the Lord. The former leper who was excluded from the community is now brought in before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The first sacrifice is a guilt offering, which we learned from Leviticus 5 makes restitution for an unintentional sin against the holy things of the Lord. We were created to bear the image of God and declare his glory, but the leprous skin disease has distorted the image of God in him. He must offer first a guilt offering. But this guilt offering is unique.

Leviticus 14:14 The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 15 Then the priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand 16 and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the LORD. 17 And some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. 18 And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed.

This is similar to the ordination offering for the priests, from which some of the blood was applied to different body parts to cleanse their ears from listening to lies and slander, to cleanse their hands from doing wrong, to cleanse their feet from walking away from the Lord. The former leper was then anointed with oil on these same body parts, to set apart his ears to hear the words of the Lord, to do what he commands, to walk in his ways. He was anointed with the oil of gladness, free again to enjoy God’s presence.

Leviticus 14:18 …Then the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD. 19 The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. 20 And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.

These are the regular offerings made in the tabernacle or temple. The final 12 verses repeat the eighth day ritual for a leper who cannot afford three lambs. He can substitute pigeons or doves for two of the lambs, but the guilt offering must still be a lamb. The former leper is now fully welcomed back into fellowship with God and with other members of the community. He now no longer carries the stigma of unclean. Atonement has been made and he is clean.

Jesus and Leprosy

Jesus’ interaction with a leper is recorded in Matthew 8, Mark 1 and Luke 5.

Luke 5:12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (cf. Matthew 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-45)

Remember, the priests had the responsibility to inspect and determine if a person was clean or unclean. They had no power to heal. This leper, full of leprosy, knowing his desperate need, entered a city to find Jesus. He recognized in Jesus something more than the priests. Jesus could heal. Jesus touched this diseased man, and with a word he immediately healed him. A man full of leprosy was transformed instantly. And then Jesus commands him to go get Leviticus 14 done. Go show yourself to the priests make the offering for your cleansing as a proof to them. As a witness, as a testimony to the unbelieving priests. I can just imagine a priest coming back from this encounter. ‘Where have you been, and what happened to you?’ He’s completely splattered in blood, and has a bit of a stunned look on his face. ‘You know that Leviticus 14 thing? Oh, you mean with the birds and the string and the wood and the water? Yeah… Wait, that’s for cleansing a leper… Yeah…’ They may have never used Leviticus 14 before. What is this a testimony of? When John sent disciples to ask Jesus ‘are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’

Luke 7:22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Cleansing of lepers was a sign that God had come down and the messianic age was unfolding. The system that could merely identify problems without offering any cure was coming to an end. The one who could get to the root of the problem and heal was now on the scene. Jesus is both all-powerful and full of compassion. He is both able and willing to heal. If you will come to Jesus acknowledging that ‘in me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing’ (Romans 7:18)

If you will repent of your dead works and believe in Jesus (Heb.6:1), if you will fall on your face and beg him ‘Lord, only you can make me clean’, Jesus will stretch out his hand and touch you right where you are, as you are, in all your filth and uncleanness, and even today, based on his finished work, he will say ‘I will, be clean’.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

September 6, 2016 Posted by | Leviticus | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 12; Born of Woman

08/14 Leviticus 12; Born of Woman; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160814_leviticus-12.mp3

We are in Leviticus 12. In the context of the judgment of Nadab and Abihu for failing to glorify God in the presence of the people and failing to treat him as holy, God gave the priests this instruction.

Leviticus 10:10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.”

Chapters 11-15 deal with making distinctions between the unclean and the clean. Chapters 17-26 deal with making distinctions between the holy and the common. To understand this section, we need to understand these categories. That which is holy, the tabernacle, the priests are to touch no unclean thing (Is.52:11; 2Cor.6:17). That which is holy, set apart to the LORD must not come into contact with the unclean. That which is common or clean is neither holy nor unclean, but it can become unclean through pollution, and it can become holy through sacrifice. We could think of the common or clean as a neutral state.

←← SACRIFICE ←←

Sanctify             Cleanse

HOLY           COMMON/CLEAN           UNCLEAN

Profane             Pollute

→→ SIN and INFIRMITY →→

[G.Wenham, NICOT, p.19, 26]

Unclean things are those things that God has declared unclean. Unclean does not mean evil or morally wrong. Everything God created was good, yet under the law God used creatures to teach his people to make distinctions. Chapter 11 deals with clean and unclean creatures, creatures that can make one unclean by eating or by contact with a carcass.

Neutral objects or people that have become contaminated by contact with something unclean can become clean or neutral again through the appropriate cleansing process.

Chapter 11 deals with sources of uncleanness that come from the outside. In this chapter we begin to see another form of uncleanness, this time not from something external to a person, but something within.

Leviticus 12:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. 5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.

6 “And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, 7 and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female.

8 And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

Duration and Severity of Uncleanness

In chapter 11 we saw uncleanness that would last the remainder of the day. In this chapter we see uncleanness that lasts for months. In the next chapter we will see uncleanness that can last for years. In chapter 11, we saw uncleanness that was dealt with by washing with water. In this chapter we see uncleanness that is cleansed by blood sacrifice. In the last chapter we saw uncleanness that came through contact with something outside of a person. In this chapter we see uncleanness that comes from within.

Unclean Not Evil

To keep the big picture in mind, we need to remember that the problem with uncleanness is that it separates a person from fellowship with God. Uncleanness in itself is not morally evil, as is made clear by this instance. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Ps.127). God blessed the man and the woman and said to them ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ (Gen.1:28). In this case as well as in chapter 15 we will see uncleanness is a natural part of human existence. Birth, procreation, death, all brought uncleanness. John Hartley writes:

Among matters classified as common are included some of the most essential aspects of human existence, such as sexual intercourse, parturition, and burial. Participation in any of these activities rendered a person unclean. That does not mean that the purity laws demeaned these practices in any way. Rather, they prevented any of them from taking place in the area of the sanctuary; that is, nothing associated with these vital areas of life could ever be used as an approach to worship. Specifically fertility rites were never to be a means of worshiping Yahweh, and sex could not be deified as it was in polytheism. The potent uncleanness caused by a corpse plus the strict standards for the priests about touching a corpse and mourning the deceased struck a fatal blow against ancestral worship and any veneration of the dead that bordered on worship.” (Hartley, WBC, p.144).

It is not that these normal human activities were sinful or wrong in themselves; it was to make a distinction between God’s elect people and the nations, to prevent them from using fertility and sexuality as a way to connect with God.

Blood and the Sanctuary

The issue that created uncleanness and required atonement was not the new baby. The issue stated in the text is ‘then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood’. Chapter 15 is alluded to and deals with uncleanness associated with the monthly cycle. Childbirth is also bloody. Blood is a big deal in Leviticus. Leviticus 17 God says:

Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Blood indicates a life taken. The wages of sin is death and God provided a substitute victim to die in the place of the sinner. What happens to the blood is always carefully specified in the sacrificial system in Leviticus. The blood of childbirth was never to be confused with the blood of a sacrificial animal. Because of this, those who had a flow of blood were to be kept out of the sanctuary.

The Snake Crusher and the Curse

If you remember last time, we saw that most of the creatures that were considered unclean were those associated with death and decay and the curse. There was a verbal connection back to the curse in the garden with the prohibition against ‘whatever goes on its belly’ (11:42). Here there is another connection back to the garden.

To the serpent who was made to crawl on his belly God said

Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Here we have the woman who ‘conceives and bears a male child.’ With every male child born there would be anticipation; ‘could this be the promised one, the serpent crusher, the one who will deliver us from the curse?’

But with that anticipation, there would also be a painful reminder of the curse.

Genesis 3:16 To the woman he said,“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

There would be a reminder that this world is not as it once was. This is a reminder that what we consider ‘normal’ is a fallen broken distorted normal. Things are not as they were created to be. It is difficult for us to imagine what the birth experience would have been like before sin and the curse marred it. Even good things have been tainted by the entrance of sin into this world.

Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

All creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth.

Women in Worship

One interesting thing to note is that this passage assumes the access of women to the tabernacle for worship. This passage deals with a significant interruption of that access due to the birth of a child. This was a momentous occasion in a family, and there was to be a 40 day (or 40 x 2 in the case of a girl baby) period of separation from the tabernacle (ample time for healing and restoration to wholeness) before the woman was required to bring her sacrifice into the courts of the Lord to worship and celebrate the blessing of new life. This is not something the husband could bring for her. She was to come herself. Under the Levitical law, women had access to the tabernacle to worship God. We see this with Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, who poured out her soul before the Lord. We see this with Anna in Luke 2 in the New Testament, who, ‘did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day’ (Lk. 2:37).

Jesus and the Law

It is important to remember that when we come as Christians to Leviticus, we are not looking for rules to obey. We are looking for shadows that point us to Jesus who is the fulfillment of the law. We are looking to catch glimpses of Jesus.

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Luke 2 records the fulfillment of this law in Jesus.

Luke 2:21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” … 27 And he [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

The background for Luke 2 is Exodus 13 for the redemption of the firstborn and Leviticus 12 for the purification of Mary 40 days after childbirth. It is worth noticing that “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” is what Leviticus 12:8 says is to be offered “if she cannot afford a lamb”. From this we learn that Joseph and Mary were very poor people. They could not afford a lamb. But while they could not afford a lamb for the burnt offering, the one they were presenting at the temple that day was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn.1:29)!

This Lamb born into a family who could afford no lamb was the promised snake crusher.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Jesus was the eternal Son of God sent from his Father’s side, and he was born of a woman, born under the law to fulfill all the law and set us free.

The staggering truth is how our rescuer claimed the victory

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

Christ crushed the head of the serpent by being crushed in our place by his Father. He set us free from the curse by becoming our curse.

Jesus told his followers:

John 16:21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Jesus had his own joy that allowed him to endure the cross.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

John tells us

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe.

Jesus had a flow of blood and water when the spear penetrated his heart. Through this flow of blood and water, Jesus birthed for himself a people. Jesus told Nicodemus ‘you must be born again’.

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1 Peter 1:23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; … 25… And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

We are cleansed from all sin by the blood of Jesus (1Jn.1:7); and we are sanctified and cleansed, washed in the water of the word (Eph.5:25). By Jesus’ death, he birthed a new people. Peter then invites us:

1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

We are to feed on the word, on the gospel of Christ crucified, so that we grow to maturity. Paul laments the Galatians.

Galatians 4:19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

The goal of our salvation is that Christ be formed in us. Having been born again, we must imitate Christ, we must be conformed to the image of Christ. Oh that Christ would be formed in us!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

August 17, 2016 Posted by | Leviticus | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Church Members

01/05/14 Church Members Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140105_church-member.mp3

It has been suggested to me that it might be useful for us as we begin a new year together and as we approach our annual meeting and as we are encouraging you to apply for membership in this local church, to study together what it means to be a church member. In order to understand church membership, we first need to understand what the church is, and then what the bible means when it talks about members, and let that shape how we think about church membership.

Church

First, what is a church? According to the dictionary,

http://dictionary.reference.com

church [church] noun

1.  a building for public Christian worship.

2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.

That is how the modern English dictionary defines ‘church’ But in the New Testament, the word church never once refers to a building or a location. The New Testament word is [ἐκκλησία] ekklesia; it means a called out assembly of people. In Acts 19 this word usually translated ‘church’ is translated ‘assembly’ referring to the riotous crowd that gathered in the theater in Ephesus shouting “great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. The town clerk quieted the crowd and told them that if they have any legitimate issues they should be settled in the legal assembly (again the same word usually translated ‘church’). The Greek word ekklesia simply means a gathering or assembly of people. The church or gathering is made up of individuals. After Stephen was martyred, Saul persecuted the church by going after individuals.

Acts 8:3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

After Saul met Jesus, we are told:

Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Here we see that individual followers of Jesus in different geographic regions, who would not typically meet together, are all collectively called ‘the church’, singular. Jesus spoke this way when he said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt.16:18). Jesus is building an unstoppable assembly of people. Acts 20:28 tells us that God obtained the church with his own blood. So the assembly, the church that we are talking about is the blood-bought people of God, made up of believers who follow Jesus.

In Acts 14, as Paul and Barnabas visited cities, they preached the gospel and made disciples of Jesus. As they passed through these areas again, they strengthened and encouraged these followers of Jesus.

Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

So they established assemblies of believers or churches in each city, each with their own local leadership. After they returned to Antioch from this missionary journey we are told:

Acts 14:27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Pay close attention to how they talk about the church. It does not say they showed up at an address. It says that they ‘gathered the church together’. It does not say where. Where is irrelevant. The church is not a location. The church is not a building. The church is the blood-bought people of God who gather together. Notice also that church is not something we do. We do not do church, have church, or attend a church service. Church is not an event or a religious service of one form or another. Church is not where. Church is not what. Church is who. Church is our identity as a collective group of Jesus-followers. In Acts 15 Paul returned to many of the cities where he had made disciples:

Acts 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Here he refers to churches plural. There were multiple assemblies of Jesus-followers in different locations. The churches were strengthened in the faith by strengthening the people who made up those churches. The churches increased as disciples were making more disciples.

So we can talk about the church, the assembly of people that Jesus bought with his blood and will take from every tribe and language and people and nation. And we can talk about churches, local gatherings of Jesus-followers with their own local leadership.

Members

This brings us to the next question; What is a member? I thought it might be informative to start with a dictionary definition.

http://dictionary.reference.com

mem·ber·ship [mem-ber-ship] noun

1. the state of being a member, as of a society or club.

2. the status of a member.

3. the total number of members belonging to an organization,society, etc.

Notice some of the key words in this definition: state, status, number; society or club; belonging.

A quick google search was revealing. Here are some of the first things that pop up for ‘membership’:

Membership Saves You Money On The Things You Love To Buy. Learn More!

Investigate the benefits of basic and society memberships. Explore member and visitor resources and services. Renew or elevate a current membership.

Members can get it all! Members can express their unique style … explore member-only areas

The focus is on you, the member; membership saves you money on the things you love! Membership has benefits. Membership has perks and privileges. Membership grants you exclusive access to resources and services that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t a member. We are encouraged to ask questions like ‘why should I become a member? What’s in it for me? Why is this membership better than that one? What will I get out if it?’ This understanding of membership is shaped and influenced by the individualistic consumer mentality of this present age in which we live. I am the center. I will shop around for a membership that suits me, that serves me well, that meets my needs and fulfills my expectations.

Did you know that church membership is a biblical concept? But if we take what our culture tells us about membership and apply it to the church, we will end up with a disastrous mess. We should not be surprised that the Bible re-defines what membership means and re-calibrates our thinking on what it is to be a member. So buckle up, hold on to your brains, we are going to look at what the Bible has to say about being a member. Let’s start with something Jesus says.

Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The word ‘member’ that Jesus uses is [μέλος] melos; it means a limb or a part of the body, like an eye or a hand. Think for a moment on how this re-shapes the idea of membership. A member is not an individual with rights and privileges; instead a member is a connected functional part of the whole. This how the Bible talks about church membership. This is what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12.

1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Membership is a body analogy. The human body is made up of a bunch of connected functional parts. The many members make up one body. When someone puts faith in Jesus and becomes a follower of Jesus, that person is baptized with the Holy Spirit and made a part of the body of Christ. Paul goes on to ‘flesh out’ this body membership analogy:

15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

Notice that there is necessary diversity of function among the members of the body. One member has one function, another has another function. All members are dependent on one another.

Paul warns us against member envy. There is a tendency among the members of the body to be discontent. We often wish we were something other than what we are. Imagine a ligament in the left knee noticing how eloquently the mouth speaks and trying to yell out in competition!

Notice too how serious it is to have a disconnected member. One member cannot say to another member “I have no need of you”. That is not true. We are designed to be incomplete parts connected to the whole, incomplete without each other. No member stands alone. No member can say ‘I am so important that I don’t need the rest of the body. I am the hand. This sluggish body is holding me back. I think I am going to go it alone for a while’. Neither can any member say ‘I am so insignificant, so unimportant, so unnoticed that the body will be just as well without me. I am only one vertebrae in the spine, I will just quietly disappear and no one will even notice.’ Paul says ‘indispensable!’

In this body analogy, there is no room for retirement. One day the kneecap says ‘I’ve been filling this role for so many years. I’m tired of it. It’s time for me to retire and make room for someone else to step up. When your kneecap gives out, that’s called an injury, and it causes the whole body to suffer.

There may be a time when amputation is necessary, when a member has become so infected with the disease of willful unconfessed sin that for the protection of the rest of the members, they must be severed from the body, but this is a drastic measure, a messy last resort when every other effort has failed, and always with the goal of restoration. The consequences of this action must be carefully weighed, as the body will be handicapped without this member. This highlights the seriousness of membership. For someone to simply choose to dismember themselves from the body for whatever reason is reckless and irresponsible. It handicaps the body and is lethal for that body part.

Some might say ‘oh, I am staying connected to Jesus, the Head, but I just don’t want to be connected to the body’; that is sheer nonsense.

Every member in the body is to be a connected functional part of the whole. This is by God’s design. If we look back at verse 11, we see that it is the “Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” Verse 18 tells us “God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.” Verse 24 tells us that “God has so composed the body …that there may be no division in the body.” God designed you individually to be connected and play a vital, indispensable role in the body, for the good of the whole body. God intends “that there be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” In humility, we are neither to overestimate or underestimate our value in the body. Neither are we to overestimate or underestimate the role of anyone else in the body. No division. “Have the same care for one another.”

26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

You all together are the body of Christ. Each one is to be a connected functional part of the whole. The New Testament assumes that every Jesus-follower is a connected functional member of the body of Christ. When the apostle wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, it is clear that there was a real assembly of believers in that city to whom the letter would be delivered. When Paul wrote to the church of God that is in Corinth and told them that they were not to judge outsiders but those inside the church, and that they should ‘purge the evil person from among you’ (1Cor.5:13), he assumes that they knew who was outside the church and who was inside, whether that was on a paper member list or a mental one. The bible doesn’t specify how we should keep track, but it is imperative that we know.

Who Should Be A Church Member?

So if we ask the question ‘who should be a member of the church?’ we can answer ‘all those and only those who are genuine followers of Jesus.’ The church is a family that you must be born into. You cannot be a member of the church unless you have experienced the new birth. Those who have experienced the regeneration of the Holy Spirit have been made members of the body of Christ. They are those who experience forgiveness of sins through faith in the Lord Jesus. They make a public profession of that faith through baptism, which is an outward picture of the inward reality. You are not a member of the body of Christ and should not be one on paper if you do not embrace the good news of Jesus. If you do belong to Jesus, then you are a member of his body, and it is essential that you connect with a local body of believers.

What is My Part In the Body?

Here is another question. I am a member of the church. How do I know what my part is? I want to be a connected, functional part of the whole. What part am I? How do I know? You could take a spiritual gifts inventory and that might help a little bit. Let me give you 4 simple things that I think will help you see what part you are to play in the body of Christ.

1. Clearly understand the goal. What is the purpose of the church? What is our mission, our objective? If we clearly see the destination, we can more easily see if we are moving in the right direction or if we are getting sidetracked. The purpose of the church and of every member is to glorify God by loving God, loving people, and making disciples who glorify God by loving God, loving people and making disciples. The great commandment and the great commission encapsulate the purpose of the church. If what I am doing does not advance the great commission and embody the great commandment, then I am probably not functioning in the church in the way that God intended.

2. Be a healthy member. A body part that is diseased, disconnected or sick cannot function properly in the body. Stay connected to the members around you. Value them. Seek unity in the body. Stay connected to the Head; abide in Christ. Turn away from your sin.

3. Be obedient; when the Head (who is our Lord Jesus Christ) calls you to do something; do it! But that’s the problem, how do I know what Jesus wants me to do? Many people say ‘I just don’t feel called to that’. I’m not sure what feelings have to do with it. Calling is not a feeling, it is not often a message in the clouds or a still small voice. Here’s how this might look.

If you notice something that would glorify God, love people and make disciples that is not happening, then you should complain to the leadership and demand that they appoint a committee to investigate and address the problem… no really, if you notice something that is not being done and it needs to be happening, very likely that is the Holy Spirit pointing you to exactly what part you are to play in the body. There are more good gospel opportunities in our community than we could ever fully exhaust. But if you have a clear understanding of the goal, if you are a healthy connected member, and if God has opened your eyes to a need, if God has given you a passion for something, then get busy! By all means seek wisdom and godly counsel from leaders, get equipped, but go do it. Be an active member. Step up. Take responsibility. Function. Engage. Enjoy. Be who you were created to be. Do something!

4. Don’t be so self-conscious. What I mean is this. A guitarist who has to consciously thing about where each finger goes to make a chord is still learning how to play. Try running up the stairs sometime while paying careful attention to how each muscle and ligament in your foot and leg move. Actually, don’t. You would probably fall down and hurt yourself. But if your son is crying upstairs and you need to get up there to see if he’s all right, if your body is functioning properly, you don’t need to think about which part does what, you just go. Your body naturally, almost unconsciously does what it was meant to do. Don’t over-analyze your every move. Clearly understand the gospel goal, be a healthy, holy, connected member, and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in Jesus, you have been made a member; not of a social club, but of the body of Christ. Our all-wise God has carefully placed you in the body exactly as he intended. Think about the implications! Church is not where I insist on my own way. Church is an assembly of people with whom I voluntarily give up my own preferences for the good of the body. The body is only as healthy as its sickest member. I will seek to stay connected, to seek unity, to put to death my pride. As a member of the church, I look for ways to function that contribute to the overall purpose. As part of the church, I come not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life, my gifts, my talents, my passions for the benefit of the others. As a church submitting to Jesus our Head, we show the world that it is good to live under God’s authority.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 5, 2014 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Natural Inability and Spirit Transformation

05/05 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 Natural Inability and Spirit Transformation; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130505_1cor2_14-16.mp

1Cor 2 [SBLGNT]

14 Ψυχικὸς δὲ ἄνθρωπος οὐ δέχεται τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ θεοῦ, μωρία γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐστίν, καὶ οὐ δύναται γνῶναι, ὅτι πνευματικῶς ἀνακρίνεται· 15 ὁ δὲ πνευματικὸς ἀνακρίνει τὰ πάντα, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑπ’ οὐδενὸς ἀνακρίνεται. 16 τίς γὰρ ἔγνω νοῦν κυρίου, ὃς συμβιβάσει αὐτόν; ἡμεῖς δὲ νοῦν Χριστοῦ ἔχομεν.

1Cor 2 [ESV2011]

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

We will focus our attention on verses 14-16. An overview of Paul’s flow of logic will help us see where we are in this passage

1:10-13 The Corinthians are dividing and quarreling, boasting in seemingly wise and popular human leaders; this is not in line with the gospel

1:13-17 The gospel is the message of the cross, of Christ crucified

1:18 This message divides all mankind absolutely into only two categories; us who are being saved and those who are perishing.

1:19-25 God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise; The wise, powerful, noble of this age have rejected the gospel as foolishness

1:26-31 God chose to save those who are foolish, weak, low, despised, the nothings so that no one would boast in his presence

2:1-5 The messenger fit the message, coming in weakness, fear, and much trembling with the simple message of Christ crucified to allow for a demonstration of the power of the Spirit

2:6-9 The cross is God’s hidden wisdom, and the rulers of this age didn’t understand it

2:10 God has revealed the hidden wisdom of the cross to us through the Spirit.

2:11-13 Only God’s Spirit can comprehend and communicate God’s hidden thoughts

2:14-16 The person without the Spirit is both unwilling and unable to receive the gospel; the person who has received God’s Spirit is enabled to understand the gospel and be transformed by it.

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Natural / Spiritual

The natural person is here contrasted with the spiritual person. The natural person (literally the soulish person; ψυχικός) is the person without the Spirit of God. The spiritual person is the person who has the Spirit of God. Throughout this passage Paul has dismantled the categories of the Corinthians, who wanted to be exalted, to be thought wise, sophisticated, popular. Paul appealed to them “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… that there be no divisions among you” (1:10). He made it clear that the cross of our Lord Jesus divides all people into two categories; those who are perishing and us who are being saved. On the one side are the wise, the scribe, the debater of this age, the powerful, the noble, the rulers of this age who are being brought to nothing, whom he here categorizes as ‘natural’ or ‘soulish’. On the other side, there are those who believe, those who are called, the foolish, the weak, the low and despised in the world, the nothings, those to whom the message of Christ crucified is God’s power, those who are mature or perfect or complete in Christ, those who love him, those to whom God has revealed the wisdom of the gospel through his Spirit, those who have received the Spirit, whom he categorizes as ‘spiritual’ (πνευματικῶς).

We often use this term spiritual to refer to those who have achieved a higher level of spirituality, or those who are self-righteous and holier-than-thou. This idea of a spiritual elite who have advanced beyond the ordinary Christian flies in the face of everything Paul has said so far. Paul does not use the term this way. There are only two categories, those who have received God’s Spirit, and those who have not. So the ‘spiritual’ in this passage refers to all believers; those who have received God’s Spirit, as opposed to the ‘natural person’ those who do not have God’s Spirit.

The Natural Person Not Willing to Accept (2:14a)

Paul tells us that the natural person, the person without the Spirit of God, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. The things of the Spirit of God, in the context are the things freely given us by God (2:12); the things God has revealed to us through the Spirit (2:10); what God has prepared for those who love him (2:9); the secret and hidden wisdom of God (2:7); the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified (2:2). This is the only message Paul preached. Christ crucified was scandalous, offensive and foolish to Jews and Greeks, but to the called, to those who believe, this same message of the cross became the power and wisdom of God. This is the message that the natural person does not accept. They will not accept it. And Paul gives us the reason the natural man does not accept the message of the cross; ‘for’, or because, they are foolishness to him. This is what he has been saying all along. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1:18). To the person without God’s Spirit, the cross makes no sense, and who believes something that makes no sense? Only a fool believes something that is silly or absurd, so the natural person not only refuses to believe, but concludes that those who do believe are fools. Paul will address this conclusion in a moment.

The Natural Person Not Able to Understand (2:14b)

But first he goes on. He adds ‘and he is not able to understand’. The person without the Spirit of God is not able to understand the gospel. This flows logically out of what he said back in verse 12; “We have received …the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God”. Without God’s Spirit we are unable to understand the cross. Many people react against this, because it doesn’t sound fair to us. If a person is not able to believe the gospel and so they are perishing, (which is what this text says) then how can God hold them accountable for something that is outside their ability? That seems unreasonable. It will help if we can see that there are different kinds of inability. There is what we could call neutral inability, and what we could call guilty inability. An illustration might help us understand. I am not able to fly. I cannot fly because I was not designed to be able to fly. I don’t have wings. If God demanded that I fly, which is contrary to the way he designed me, then this would be unreasonable. It is not my fault that I don’t have wings. Now let me describe a different kind of inability, guilty inability. A drunk driver was unable to keep his car under control. He swerved into an oncoming vehicle and killed everyone in that car. He was incapable of keeping his car under control, (that is why he should not have been behind the wheel); his inability was entirely his own fault, and we would all agree that he should be held accountable for his inability. That is guilty inability. This is the kind of inability that the bible declares that all of us have. We ‘by our unrighteousness suppress the truth… we did not honor God as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in our thinking and and our foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, we became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images… we exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… we did not see fit to acknowledge God’ (Rom.1:18-28). We, ‘who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds’ (Col.1:21). We ‘were dead (totally incapable of responding to the gospel) in our trespasses and sins, in which we once walked’ (Eph.2:1-2). We, who were created to worship God, became drunk with our own self-centeredness. We were given wings, we were designed to know God and enjoy fellowship with God, but we bent those wings to an evil purpose, and we are guilty for our resulting inability to fly. The natural person is not able to understand the good news, because it is spiritually appraised. Only when we receive the Spirit of God can we perceive the cross as God’s power and God’s wisdom for our salvation.

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

The Spiritual One Judges All (2:15)

The spiritual person, one who has received the Spirit of God, judges all things, but he is himself to be judged by no one. The same word that is translated ‘judge’ twice in verse 15 is translated ‘discern’ at the end of verse 14. This word shows up in Luke and Acts in the context of a trial to examine the evidence. It means to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, to examine with a view to either approve or condemn. The things of the Spirit are spiritually judged; the person with the Spirit judges all, but is himself judged by none. The person without the Spirit is not equipped to rightly evaluate the gospel. The person with the Spirit is able to rightly evaluate all. Paul, someone who has the Spirit, condemns the rulers of this age for their guilty ignorance and unbelief. But when someone who does not have the Spirit concludes that a believer in Jesus is a fool, his evaluation is not valid, because he is not qualified to pass judgment on spiritual issues.

This verse has often been ripped out of context and abused to mean something it was never intended to mean. Spiritually arrogant people who think they have attained to greater spirituality than the rest of us quote this verse to show that the spiritual insight they have attained is revealed to them by the Spirit and we don’t understand it because we are not spiritual enough. If you agree with them, they consider you ‘spiritual’; if you disagree, you are not. If you try to evaluate or critique their insight, they might appeal to verse 15 and claim that they are exempt from being judged by anyone. From what we have seen so far, it is clear that this is a gross distortion of what this passage was intended to mean.

In many places we are encouraged to humble ourselves, to submit to one another, in love to gently rebuke one another and hold one another accountable, to test every truth claim and reject anything that does not align with scripture, to contend earnestly for the gospel, to be teachable, to receive correction and learn from it. Often we will even find ourselves rebuked and challenged and convicted by unbelievers.

Isaiah 40:13 (2:16a)

Paul supports his assertions that the person without the Spirit will not receive and can not understand the gospel with a quotation from Isaiah 40:13.

1 Corinthians 2:16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

Only the Spirit searches the depths of God; only the Spirit of God comprehends the thoughts of God. Isaiah 40 is a passage that declares the incomparable unfathomable greatness of our God.

Isaiah 40:13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

The assumed answer to all the rhetorical questions in Isaiah 40 is ‘no one’. No one is like God. No one compares to him. His understanding in unsearchable. That makes Paul’s concluding statement in 1 Corinthians all the more shocking. He answers Isaiah’s rhetorical question this way:

1 Corinthians 2:16 Who has understood the mind of the Lord…? …But we have the mind of Christ.

The Mind of Christ (2:16b)

Who has understood the mind of the Lord? The Spirit searches the depths of God. We have received the Spirit that we might understand the things freely given us by God. We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God. We preach Christ crucified. We have the mind of Christ. All believers who are indwelt with the Spirit of God have the mind of Christ. This is not a privilege for the elite few. This is the common possession of all believers. What is the mind of Christ? Philippians 2 spells it out.

Philippians 2:2 …being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We who are indwelt with the Spirit of God have the mind of Christ. What is the mind of Christ? It is not divisive privileged elite secret wisdom. It is not merely an understanding of the cross. It is being shaped by the cross. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. God from all eternity emptied himself, humiliated himself, became man, was executed as a common criminal, putting our interests above his own, demonstrated the epitome of love, totally devoid of selfish ambition or conceit.

If we have the Spirit of God, if we have understood the mind of the Lord, if we have the mind of Christ, then we will be characterized by a deep sense of humility. We will live in humble prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God. Selfish ambition, pride, conceit must die. Self-centeredness must die. We will be others centered, characterized by a humble willingness to lay our own ambitions down for the good of others. We will be characterized by love; a rugged relentless self-sacrificial pursuit of the good of others. We will live for others, and we will lay down our lives for others. Our lives, our hearts, our attitudes, our actions will begin to be shaped by the cross. We have the mind of Christ!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 5, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Disciple-Making Disciples; Jesus Preached the Good News!

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20110130_teach_about_good_news.mp3

01/30 What did Jesus teach – about the good news that he brought?

Intro:

We’ve been looking at Jesus’ final command to his followers before he returned to the glory of his Father. He commanded that we all be disciple-making disciples.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are to be followers of Jesus, and we are to make others into followers of Jesus by immersing into the one name of the triune God and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. We are taking some time to equip ourselves with what it is that Jesus commanded so that we can effectively obey him in carrying out his final command. We looked at what Jesus taught about God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We looked at what he taught about the Bible, Old and New Testaments. We looked at what he taught about the origin, character, nature, and destiny of humanity. So far, these are big sweeping world-view shaping questions. What is God like? What is the source of truth and authority? Where did we come from, what is our nature, and where are we headed?

Summary

We have seen the belief that there is only one God, eternally existent in the three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit comes from the teaching of Jesus. We found that Jesus looked to the Scriptures of the Old Testament as his final authority on issues of faith and life. He himself followed the Scriptures carefully, and he promised that not even the least stroke of a pen would pass away until all was fulfilled. He claimed that his own teaching carried the same authority – he he spoke what he received from his Father. He paved the way for his followers to write the New Testament, promising them the presence of the Holy Spirit as their Teacher who would ensure they remembered everything he had said. We saw Jesus teach that mankind, male and female, are the greatest expression of God’s creative genius, made in his very image, given authority over the rest of creation, but because we rebelled against God, we have become evil and corrupt to our very core, and we have earned the holy and righteous wrath of God. Jesus graphically describes what awaits us in the most horrific terms, as worse than non-existence, worse than maiming, worse than drowning, as unquenchable fire, outer darkness, a place where there is incessant weeping and gnashing of teeth, as torment, anguish and unquenchable thirst. And he makes it very clear that there will be no end to the punishment.

So this is the world-view of Jesus. He took the Scriptures to be absolutely true and trustworthy, breathed out by the Spirit of God. He believed in one good and sovereign, just and loving God, who sent his only Son, who was himself God in the flesh, into this world to rescue a humanity that had rebelliously chosen to destroy itself and was running headlong into the pit of a horrific hell.

Jesus holds out to us hopeless and helpless sinners the hope of life, eternal life. This he describes as entering into the joy of our Master, satisfaction of our deepest longings, life and life abundant, intimacy of relationship with him, being in his presence to enjoy his glory. This is good news indeed for hopeless sinful man.

Today I want to look at this good news message of hope for sinners that Jesus preached.

Jesus Preached The Gospel

Jesus saw preaching as primary in his own ministry. At the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark, the first words of Jesus are introduced this way:

Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus proclaims the gospel of God. The word ‘proclaim’ or ‘preach’ (khrussw) means to publish, announce, or herald. This is an official public proclamation. The word ‘gospel’ (euaggelion) simply means good news, glad tidings, a good message. What Jesus preached is described simply as ‘the gospel of God’ or ‘the good news of God’. This phrase ‘of God’ could be understood in different ways. It could be descriptive, as in ‘a cup of water’ – in that case ‘God’ would describe the contents of the good news message – it is good news about God. Or it could be possessive, as in ‘the front door of the building’ – in that case, ‘God’ would be the owner and source of the good news message – it is God’s good news. So Jesus comes heralding good news from God or good news about God.

Do you often think of Jesus primarily as a preacher? When we think of Jesus, we often think of a man of action, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, calming the storm, cleansing the temple, engaging the religious hypocrites, delivering the oppressed. But Jesus thought of himself primarily as a messenger with a message to proclaim.

Just a few verses down in this first chapter of Mark, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum when he was interrupted by a man with an unclean spirit. He delivered the man and his reputation spread so that the whole city brought him their sick and those who were oppressed by demons, and he healed and delivered many. The next morning he got up very early and went out alone to pray. When his disciples found him and told him that everyone was looking for him, this is what he said:

Mark 1:38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (cf. Lk.4:43)

Jesus saw his role primarily as a messenger – one who is sent with an official proclamation to declare to all people.

What was the content of Jesus’ message? We already saw that it was good news from God or good news about God. Let’s look at the words Jesus spoke in Mark 1:15:

Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

There are two main parts to this declaration. Something momentous has happened, and there is an appropriate response that is demanded.

Something Momentous

Jesus tells us in two ways that something momentous has happened. He says ‘the time is fulfilled’ and ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’. ‘The time is fulfilled’ means time is filled up, the time is complete, the fulfillment of the ages has come. The climax of all history is upon us. ‘The kingdom of God is at hand’ means that God’s rule and reign is right here, namely because the coming King has come indeed. Jesus saw himself as both the fulfillment of all prophetic Scriptures and as the coming King, God in the flesh. Jesus heralded the good news about himself, the fulfillment of the promises, God with us, God come near.

Demanded Response

The King is here! This demands a response from us. There are two parts of our required response that are described here. ‘Repent and believe in the gospel’. Repent (metanoew) is a compound word made up of the words (meta) movement or change and (noew) the mind with its perception, thoughts and purposes. It points to an internal change of mind and heart. Jesus commanded that we:

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (cf. Luke 10:27)

And Jesus says we think evil in our hearts (Mt.9:4, 15:9; Mk.7:21; Lk.1:51); we speak evil out of the abundance of our hearts (Mt.12:34; 15:18; Lk.6:45); our hearts have grown dull (Mt.13:15); our hearts follow what we treasure (Mt.6:21; Lk.12:34); our hearts become weighed down (Lk.21:34); and are troubled (Jn.14:1, 27); we have hard hearts (Mt.19:8; Mk.3:5; 6:52; 8:17; 10:5; Jn.12:40); we have slow hearts (Lk.24:25); we question in our hearts (Mk.2:8; Lk.5:22); we doubt in our hearts (Mk.11:23; Lk.24:38); we reason in our hearts (Lk.9:47); our hearts are far from him (Mt.15:8; Mk.7:6); but God knows our hearts (Lk.16:15)

Repentance is a call for heart transformation. The other part of our required response is to ‘believe the gospel’. Believe (pisteuw) means to have strong conviction, to put your trust or confidence in. It is the verb form of the root (pistiv) faith.

So the good news that Jesus preached was that something momentous has happened, the King himself has come to fulfill all prophetic Scripture. He demands that we respond with heart transformation and place our trust and confidence in the good news that he brings.

Mark 1:15 …“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

We are to ‘make disciples of all nations’, Jesus said ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt.28:19-20). What Jesus commands is that we repent and believe in the gospel.

This is filled out when we look at how Luke records our commission to the nations. Luke’s account of Jesus’ final command to his followers reads like this:

Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

So, where Matthew has ‘repent and believe in the gospel’, Luke tells us to proclaim ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name’. Jesus claimed to have authority to forgive sins:

Matthew 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”––he then said to the paralytic––“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Mk.2:10; Lk.5:24, 7:48)

Jesus connected the source of this forgiveness to his own blood poured out:

Matthew 26:28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

So Jesus in Luke points us to the promise in the Scriptures that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead as a basis for the proclamation of the good news of forgiveness of sins in his name. When we put this together we have what Paul summarizes as the gospel he preached:

1 Corinthians 15:3 … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Something momentous has happened. God came in the flesh. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. A response is demanded from us. Repent and believe the good news. The good news is that forgiveness of sins is found in the name of Jesus.

Gospel in Action: a tax collector

To help us get the implications of this, let’s look at repentance and the good news of forgiveness in action in the evangelism of Jesus. We’ll start in Luke 5 with the story of a tax collector named Levi. To feel the force of this encounter, we need to understand the social and political backdrop. Israel is under Roman occupation. Rome brought along their many gods, their idolatrous emperor worship, their materialism and immorality. Jewish zealots thought they were doing God a service by stabbing a Roman official in the back. Tax collectors would buy franchises from Rome giving them the right to collect taxes in a certain town or district. Tax collectors were despised as the lowest scum of human refuse imaginable. They were allowed by Rome to charge exorbitant taxes of their own countrymen to line their own pockets. These were traitors, liars and cheats, consumed with greed. They were considered as swine, on the level with murderers. They were viewed as unclean and beyond repentance. They were excluded from the synagogues. Enter Jesus.

Luke 5:27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus stuns everyone, including his first three disciples, Simon, James and John, local fishermen who had certainly been ripped off repeatedly by this Levi. I wonder if they were excited as Jesus approached the tax booth, thinking he would surely overturn this tax collector’s tables. Jesus, the great teacher, walks right up to the tax booth and says to this filthy human swine who is beyond hope of repentance ‘follow me’. Let’s imagine what is going on in the heart of this man. He was aware of the amazing things going on in the area. Jesus was healing the sick and the lame and freeing men from demonic oppression. Jesus said:

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I am a captive. I am a slave to my greed. I am riddled with guilt. I am despised. I am the worst of the worst. There is no hope for me. But this teacher Jesus is bringing hope to many we viewed as beyond hope. I wonder… could it be…? Imagine the guilty conscience when this man’s eyes met the penetrating gaze of the Master. And then he spoke. Two simple words. ‘Follow me.’ That was all it took. He abandoned everything and went after Jesus. He threw a feast and invited the only people who were willing to associate with him. Other tax collectors and sinners.

28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

The religious elite were disgusted that this great teacher would associate with such scum. Jesus answer is powerful. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Levi was a sinner. Everyone knew it. He knew it. The religious leaders were sinners too, but they refused to admit it. In their self-righteousness, it was impossible for them to repent.

A parable

Jesus did not come for the righteous. Later, Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector to confront the self-righteous.

Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The difference lie in what they trusted in. Jesus said they ‘trusted in themselves that they were righteous’. The so-called prayer of the Pharisee is filled with the first person pronoun. I, I, I, I, I. The tax collector, in his distance, in his posture, in his desperation, and in his words, demonstrated that he was genuinely broken and repentant. He has nothing to trust in but throws himself on the mercy of God. In humble helpless dependence, he cries out ‘God be merciful to me, the sinner’. It is to him Jesus says ‘Yes!’

Receive Like a Child

The next thing Luke records is this:

Luke 18:15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Jesus uses this opportunity to illustrate what is required for entry of his kingdom. He says we must receive the kingdom like a child. It must be received. It cannot be earned. Receive like a child – in simple trust, helpless dependence, shameless asking, eager delight.

What good must I do?

One more ilustration. Luke continues.

Luke 18:18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.”’ 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

When Jesus called Levi at the tax booth, he didn’t demand that he leave everything. That’s what Levi (or Matthew) was already eager to do. When this eager seeker comes and wants to know what he can do to get eternal life, Jesus points him to the character of God and to the commandments. God alone is good. You are not. But this man was righteous in his own opinion. “All these I have kept from my youth.” So Jesus confronts the treasure of his life and extends the invitation. Let go of what you are trusting in and follow me. He came asking for eternal life, and Jesus turned him away because he came with his hands full. He was unwilling to empty them, acknowledge his sinfulness and need, and receive like a child.

Luke 18:24 Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Jesus, with sadness, tells us that it is impossible for someone with their hands full to repent and believe the gospel. His followers ask with incredulity “Then who can be saved?” They are right. It is impossible. We all have our hands full. But Jesus points us to the true source. “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Salvation comes from the Lord. Only God can birth new life in the heart of a Levi so that he sees following Jesus as greater worth than the piles of money he is wallowing in. Only God can birth in the heart of a Pharisee like Nicodemus that his righteous deeds are like filthy rags in the sight of God and that he needs to repent of his righteous deeds and turn and look to the Son of Man lifted up on a cross, bearing sin and purchasing forgiveness, to put his trust in him and receive like a child the gift of eternal life. “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 30, 2011 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment