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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

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.

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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

What did Jesus Teach about Us?

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20110123_teach_about_man.mp3

01/23 What did Jesus teach – about humanity?

We’ve been looking at Jesus’ final command to his followers before he ascended into heaven. 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 follow Jesus.

John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We are to abide in the truth that Jesus spoke, and to be set free by it. We are to pass on information, character and passion that results in a transformed life. We are to have content, character and conviction that is contagious to those around us. We’ve been looking at what that means. We looked at what Jesus taught about God. We looked at how Jesus taught – and his view of the Scriptures.

Today I want to look at what Jesus taught about humanity, where we came from, what we are like, and where we are going.

Where we came from

Jesus is very clear about where we came from. We are the special creation of God, unique and distinct from all his other creation, created with dignity and worth in the sight of God, made in the very image of God.

-created by God:

In Jesus’ teaching against divorce, Jesus points us back to the created order.

Matthew 19:4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

Jesus is very clear that we are the creation of God. We were formed or made or created by God. From the very beginning of creation God has made mankind as distinctly male or distinctly female.

Look at how Jesus talks to the hypocritical Pharisees:

Luke 11:39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?

Jesus condemns the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and he calls them fools, but he argues from the fact that even they were made by God inside and out. Jesus believed and taught that each of us are the special creation of God. As the Psalmist says:

Psalms 139:13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (c.f. Job 10:11)

-most valuable of creation:

Jesus teaches not only that we are the special creation of God, but that we are the most valuable of his creation. Jesus says:

Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 10:31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 12:12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! …

Luke 12:7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12:24 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!

So according to Jesus, we are the special creation of God, unique and distinct from the rest of his creation, and we are of greater worth to God than his other creatures.

-the image of God

Jesus gives us another clue as to what he believed about the nature of man when he was asked about paying taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees and Herodians were attempting to entangle him in his talk by asking him a question about Jews paying taxes to the Roman government. They thought they had him no matter which way he answered. But his answer amazed them all. He said:

Luke 20:24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness (eikwna) and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus careful answer is using the language of Genesis:

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Jesus is saying that the coins that bear Caesar’s image can be given to Caesar, but because you bear the image of God, you must give yourselves to God.

-children of God?

Does it follow from this unique place we hold among God’s creatures, as bearing the very image of God, that we are by default God’s children? This is a more complex question. When we studied what Jesus taught about himself, we saw that he claimed a totally unique position as the only Son of the Father. Consider John 3:16

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 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. (cf. Mt.10:32; 11:27; Jn.1:14; 3:35; 5:18, 22-23; 10:30; 17:5; et al.)

Jesus claimed to have a totally unique and distinct relationship to his Father. He claimed to be the only Son of God. But he also taught his followers to pray “Our Father in heaven” (Mt.6:9). Over and over in his teaching in Matthew 5 and 6, Jesus refers to God as ‘your Father’ or ‘your heavenly Father’. So how do we put this together? How does Jesus claim to be the only son of God and then tell us to call God ‘Our Father’?

-who is your father?

In John 8, Jesus had a dispute with the religious leaders of his day over the issue of ancestry and descent.

John 8:23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

John 8:38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father––even God.”

(Here they stoop to slinging mud. It was common knowledge that Mary was pregnant with Jesus before the relationship between her and Joseph was consummated. Of course the religious leaders didn’t buy the ‘Holy Spirit conception in the womb of the virgin’ story, so they implied that Jesus was a bastard – an illegitimate child – born of sexual immorality. Look at how Jesus answers them – full of grace and truth)

John 8:42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.

So in this passage Jesus flatly denies the claim of the religious leaders that they were children of God. He says, no, God is not your Father. I came from God. You are of your father the devil.

Jesus tells the religious leaders who rejected him that they cannot call themselves children of God, but instead they are children of the devil. Jesus claims to be the only Son of God, and then he invites us, his followers, to address God as Father. How do we put this all together?

-becoming children of God

If we go back to the context of John 3, where Jesus makes the clear statement that he is the only Son of God, we find some help. John 3:16 is toward the end of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, also a Pharisee. Nicodemus has concluded that Jesus must be from God because of the signs he had done.

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 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 points Nicodemus to his need for the new birth. He had been born of flesh. He needed to be born of the Spirit – born from above – in order to have spiritual or eternal life. This, Jesus said, comes from believing in Jesus crucified for sinners. John has already pointed to this at the prologue to his gospel.

John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 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.

Jesus gives believers in him the right to become children of God. So we are not naturally children of God, but whoever believes in Jesus becomes a child of God by virtue of being born of God.

Paul appropriately uses the concept of adoption to describe our status as sons of God.

Galatians 4:4 …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. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (cf. Romans 8:15)

So in Jesus’ teaching, we see that we are created by God, created as distinct from the rest of creation with great value in God’s sight, made in the very image of God. We are created image-bearers by nature, but not sons. We become God’s children only through the new birth.

What We are Like

What does Jesus say about our present condition?

John 2:24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

That doesn’t sound very good. People were believing in Jesus but he wouldn’t entrust himself to them, because he knew what was in man. What was that? Jesus doesn’t leave us wondering.

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Jesus here flat out assumes that we are all evil. He gets fired up when he sees people who he knows are evil putting on airs that they are good and righteous and holy. Jesus says:

Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I don’t know about you, but that settles it for me. If our hearts are judged by what comes out of our mouths, specifically every careless word, then I’m in trouble. Now don’t sit there thinking ‘I don’t use profanity, so I must be pretty good’. What do you talk about most? Imagine seeing a pie chart that details everything that comes out of your mouth in a week. How much of that pie would be giving glory and thanks to God? [pie chart] Jesus describes it pretty well:

Matthew 15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person…

When a rich young man came to Jesus thinking he was pretty good, but feeling that he still lacked something, Jesus made it clear:

Mark 10:18 …No one is good except God alone. (cf. Mt.19:17; Lk.18:19)

No one is good except God alone. The question is not if you are better than… The question is if you are in the good category or the evil category. We all find ourselves in the evil category. God alone is in the good category. Jesus said

Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

You don’t hunger and thirst for something you have. Jesus calls those blessed who acknowledge they have a need and long for it to be filled.

So Jesus says that although we are the special creation of God, with great worth in his sight, bearing his image, we are basically evil, rotten to the core and empty.

Where We are Going

We’ve looked at who we are according to Jesus – where we come from and what we are like. Now let’s look at what Jesus says about where we are headed. If we look through John 3:16 and following, we see two options. There is either perishing or eternal life; being condemned or being saved; either loving darkness or coming to the light. At the end of John 3, we hear John the baptizer saying this:

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

So there is eternal life or the wrath of God. Lets look at how Jesus describes each of these.

-the wrath of God

-worse than non-existence or maiming or drowning

Jesus says of his betrayer

Matthew 26:24 …woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (cf. Mark 14:21; Luke 22:22)

So according to Jesus, his punishment is worse than non-existence. But is he a special case? In Matthew 5, Jesus deals with the sins of lust and anger.

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.

Jesus feels that it would be better to experience life maimed than to be thrown into hell. In Matthew 18 he uses similar language when he describes the danger of causing a young person to sin. He says

Matthew 18:6 … it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

-eternal fire, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth

And he warns of being ‘thrown into the eternal fire’ (18:8) and ‘into the hell of fire’ (18:9); ‘to hell, to the unquenchable fire (Mk.9:43). He describes hell as a place ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mk.9:48). He describes a tree that does not bear good fruit being cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt.7:19). He speaks of tasteless salt being thrown out and trampled under people’s feet (Mt.5:13). Six times he describes it as a place where ‘there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Mt.8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). He describes it as ‘the outer darkness (Mt.8:12; 22:13; 25:20), and ‘the fiery furnace (Mt.13:42, 50). He says they

Matthew 24:51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

He says it is a place of torment, anguish, and unquenchable thirst (Lk.16:23-25). Much of what Jesus says about condemnation or perishing or the wrath of God is in parables or stories. Jesus is quite graphic and vivid in his description of the horrors of hell.

-the final judgment

Jesus describes the final judgment in Matthew 25:

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. … 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. … 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

According to Jesus, he will separate all people into two categories. There will be separation; ‘depart from me’, they will go into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, it will last as long as the reward for the righteous; ‘eternal punishment’ or ‘eternal life’.

-eternal life

Let’s look for a minute at what Jesus says about the alternative. It is interesting that Jesus is not as graphic and vivid with his description of eternal life.

He describes it as entering into the joy of your Master

Matthew 25:21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ … 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

It is described as fullness of joy and unquenchable joy.

John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (Jn.16:20-24; 17:13)

John 16:22 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.

It is described as a satisfying of our deepest longings

John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

It is described as incomparable treasure (Mt.13:44-46), a wedding feast (Mt.22:2-4; 25:10), reward (Mt.5:12; 6:4,6,18,20; 10:42; 19:21 ), honor (Mt.24:45-47), ‘inherit[ing] the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Mt.25:34); we will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father (Mt.13:43). It is permanent (Jn.10:28). It is described in terms of fellowship (Mt.8:11).

Most often Jesus describes it as eternal life or simply life.

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Eternal life is defined in terms of relationship.

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

We will be with Jesus and we will see his glory! Jesus prayed:

John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

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

January 23, 2011 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Peter 2:17-22; The True Nature of False Teachers

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20100214_2peter2_17-22.mp3

02/14 2 Peter 2:17-22 The True Nature of False Teachers

Peter has written this short but fiery letter to warn believers that there are false teachers on the loose who have chosen a path to hell and are enticing everyone they can to join them on it. He has prayed for us that God’s grace and peace would be multiplied to us in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. He has encouraged us that God’s sovereign power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us. He has pointed us to the promises of God, to our participation in God’s holy character, and our escape from sinful desires that would destroy us. He has encouraged us in the path of godliness and virtue which testifies to our transformed character and new identity. Peter writes to establish us in the truth so that we will not be shaken when the false teachers come. In chapter 2, he lays in to the false teachers with all the vengeance of a loving father whose innocent daughter is being seduced by a sexual predator. He rips the disguise off their true motivation; greed, out of control lust, and a total disregard for proper authority. He lays out the biblical historical examples of angels who sinned, the ancient world destroyed by the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah, to demonstrate that

9 …the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

He compares these false teachers to irrational animals so out of control that they must be destroyed. He describes them as blots and blemishes, like contagious leprosy that destroys whatever it comes in contact with, with eyes that can’t stop lusting after everyone they look at. They have an insatiable appetite for sin, they are experts in greed and manipulation. They prey on weak believers who are not well established in the truth and entice them to go astray to their own destruction. He compares them to Balaam from the Old Testament, who for money told the enemies of God’s people how to seduce them into immorality and idolatry. Balaam was rebuked by his own donkey but didn’t even listen. He ended up being killed along with the enemies of God’s people.

Peter is a good shepherd, lovingly feeding and caring for the needs of the sheep, but fierce and merciless when protecting them from the wolves. He goes on in the rest of the chapter to demonstrate the emptiness of their promises, the method of their madness, and the true character of these false teachers.

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

Peter reveals the empty nature of their promises. Imagine hiking in the arid desert, your water has run out, you are becoming dehydrated, and you see a sign that says ‘fresh water spring – 2 miles’. You take the detour and with every step anticipate the refreshment that the fresh cool water will bring. The anticipation motivates you to push on toward the spring. Your thirst drives you to keep going even when you feel like you can’t take another step. You round the final bend, and there you see the decomposing carcasses of the other travelers who took the same detour. The spring that promised hope has no water. The empty promise leads to death. Proverbs says:

Proverbs 13:13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded. 14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

The teaching of the wise is said to be a fountain of life. This is teaching that honors God’s word and pays attention to his commandment. Teaching that gives life is teaching that points people to the true source of life. Jeremiah said:

Jeremiah 2:13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

The first and greatest sin is abandoning God as the all satisfying source of everything we need. The Psalmist knew God is the only one that can quench our soul’s deepest thirst.

Psalms 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Jesus said to the woman at the well

John 4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

In John 6 he said:

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.

In John 7 he said

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.

Jesus promised that those who come to him to be satisfied in him will have their deepest thirst quenched, will be indwelt by his Holy Spirit, and will overflow with living water for those around. Are we water for the thirsty? Do our words point people to Jesus and give life to those around us? Or are we waterless springs?

He calls the false teachers waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. The image is a cloud that promises rain for a parched land but turns out to be only a haze that brings hot weather. Mist has no stability and comes and goes with the changing breezes of fashion and popular opinion. These false teachers are not neutral; they are not harmless, and they will be held accountable for their actions. He says ‘for them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.’ Their judgment is firmly fixed. They have reserved seats in the blackest darkness. This destiny of the false teachers stands in stark contrast to the future that is reserved for us:

1 Peter 1:3 … he has caused us to be born again to a living hope …4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded though faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

There is an inheritance reserved in heaven for all genuine believers. The gloom of utter darkness has been reserved for false teachers who lead sheep away from the Shepherd. Peter goes on to describe how they do what they do, so we will be on guard.

18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.

They were waterless in that their words did not bring life, but they were by no means silent. Just the opposite. They would talk anybody under the table with their volume, their forcefulness, and their arrogance. They would look down on anyone who disagreed as ignorant, uneducated, or uninformed. They speak loud boasts of folly. The word here speaks of inflated arrogant high sounding speech. They were impressive to listen to. They were able to use big words and convincing arguments. They made great promises for those who would attend their seminars and follow their advice, but their teaching was full of truth that was distorted and would lead to destruction.

Their impressive sounding speech was the PR campaign for their real agenda: they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. Sex sells. Lust and greed and appetite are powerful tools, and sensual passions are intensely difficult to resist. The drives for food and drink and sex and escape from pain are all necessary God given drives that are not sinful. But when these drives become the controlling principle in life, they become destructive.

The false teachers go after those who are not established in the faith. That’s why Peter is writing this letter! He wants us all to be established, with our feet firmly planted on the solid rock of the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ, our mind informed by reliable biblical truth, and our heart transformed to love God more than anything else. There is no excuse for someone who has been a believer for many years to not be established in the truth. But growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does take time, and those who have only recently been introduced to Jesus are by nature more vulnerable. We all need to be on our guard, and watching out for one another. We all have a common enemy who constantly seeks to steal, kill and destroy. The devil is after those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. When someone comes to Christ, there must be a break with the old lifestyle. That is an especially vulnerable time for a new believer who will be barraged with temptation to return to what is familiar. We need to help each other, to confront each other, to pray with each other, to encourage each other to stay in the path of righteousness.

Here’s what the false teachers promise: They promise them freedom. Freedom is the glorious message of the cross. Jesus said “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Paul taught that “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2); “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). These false teachers would take up the cry “Freedom! – Christ set us free for freedom! stand firm in your freedom and do not submit to the legalism of those who impose their rigid puritanical morals on you to restrict your freedom in Christ. Christ died to set us free from the law! We are free! We can live any way we choose because we are free!” Freedom is a powerful word. FREEDOM! The cry of freedom can rally the troops. The idea of freedom can bring us to tears. It is an emotionally charged word. But what does it mean? What is freedom? What kind of freedom are we talking about? Peter has already addressed this danger head on in his first letter:

1 Peter 2:16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

We are free! That is true. Peter encourages us to embrace our freedom. Live as people who are free. But the danger is that we would use freedom as a cover-up for evil. We are free, but we are freed to be the glad servants of God. Here’s how Paul describes our freedom:

Romans 6:7 For one who has died has been set free from sin… 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. … 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Freedom in Christ is not freedom to live any way we please. The blood-bought freedom that we are given is freedom to live a life free from slavery to sin. Our freedom in Christ can be described as slavery to God or slavery to righteousness. This is slavery to a master who loves us so much that he paid with his own blood to free us from the consequences of our own sin – death, hell, an eternity of the righteous wrath of God; and to promise us sanctification, cleansing that leads to eternal life and joy in his presence. Jesus said

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

The loud boastful word ‘freedom’ for the false teachers really means that they are still enslaved to their own corruption. They are overcome by their own passions. They are not master of their desires, they are ruled by their desires. Their cry of freedom rings empty when we look at their slavish existence that eats away at the very flesh they worship. The next thing Peter says is downright scary.

20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

Peter tells us that it is possible to escape the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and be re-entangled and overcome. Peter doesn’t talk like many Christians in our day talk. “Well, I know he’s gone back to his old ways, but at least he prayed the sinner’s prayer when he was in jail. What she’s doing right now isn’t right, but she asked Jesus into her heart when she was young. They were baptized and went to church regularly for a while. They’ve returned to their old lifestyle, but at least they made a decision for Christ at that concert.” Sometimes our evangelism reflects this; if we can get someone to pray to receive Christ we can rejoice with the angels and go on our merry way. Peter does not think or talk like this. He says “it would have been better for them never to have know the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment”. Better never to have known, than to know and walk away. Better to never hear the gospel, than to hear, understand, and reject it. This echoes what Jesus said

Matthew 11:24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.

If…they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” This is almost an exact quote from the words of Jesus:

Luke 11:24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (cf. Matthew 12:43-45)

According to Peter, it would be better if someone had never heard of Jesus than for them to understand clearly the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for our sins, to embrace him for a time, and then to walk away.

Jesus did not tell us to go get as many people as you can to pray a prayer. Jesus told us to

Matthew 28:19-20 Go …and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you

Salvation is described in verse 21 as “the way of righteousness”; it is not the way of self-gratification. Righteousness is to define the character and way of life of a Christian. He describes it as “the holy commandment delivered to them”. The gospel is not a recommendation. It is not a suggestion or an offer. The good news is a holy commandment. The gospel makes demands on me.

Acts 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Paul reminds us of the gospel in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.

We must turn from our dead works, embrace Christ as our only hope, and abide in him.

I do not believe this passage teaches that a true believer can lose his salvation. The final phrase makes this clear. “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” Dogs and pigs were both unclean animals according to the Old Testament, and they were both considered filthy and despised. Dogs have a habit of vomiting and then eating what they have vomited up. People for a time can seem to purge themselves of the sin inside, but if their nature is not changed, they will go swallow it back down. Pigs wallow in mud. You can give a pig a bath, but it is still a pig and it will wallow in the mud as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Washing the outside does nothing to effect change on the inside. A dog is still a dog and a pig is still a pig. They are not sheep. Their true nature will become evident with time. This is what John tells us :

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

People can be very convincing. We have a tendency to want to clean the outside of the cup and whitewash the outside of the tomb. But the new birth results in new life – transformed life – sheep that follow the shepherd. Those that turn from the shepherd to eat their own vomit or wallow in their own filth are not sheep but pigs and dogs.

Jesus illustrated this truth in the parable of the soils:

Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

False teachers, and those who follow them, are thorny ground; choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. The do not hold fast to the word of truth but forsake it.

Peter is writing to warn those whom he believes to be true believers. These are strong words of warning from the loving heart of a protective father. Understand the method of the false teachers; they use bold sophisticated sounding language to persuade. Understand the bait of the false teachers; they seduce unsteady souls with indulgence of the flesh. Understand the theology of the false teachers – they preach a freedom from biblical moral restraints by distorting the meaning of Christian freedom. Understand the end of the false teachers; they are slaves to their own corruption, they are worse off than someone who has never heard the good news, and the gloom of utter darkness is reserved for them.

2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

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

February 14, 2010 Posted by | 2 Peter, podcast | , , , , , | Leave a comment

2Peter1:4; Precious and Very Great Promises

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20091011_2peter1_4.mp3

10/11 2Peter 1:4 Precious and Very Great Promises

2Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Intro

Peter is writing to strengthen believers in churches who are in danger of being led astray by false teachers. He writes to ground us in the truth of the gospel, to ‘stir us up by way of reminder’ [1:13]. ‘Knowing this beforehand, we are to take care that we are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose our own stability’ [3:17]. Peter knows if we are to stand our ground, we must ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ [3:18]. So he begins his letter pointing us to the riches of God’s grace toward us and the truth of who Jesus is. He draws our attention to the great value of our faith – our faith was not our great accomplishment, it was allotted to us by God. And he points us to the source of our faith – it comes to us through the righteousness of God. God’s love for what is right is expressed not only in the just condemnation of unrepentant sinners, but overflows in the gracious justifying of sinners on the basis of our trust in the finished work of Jesus for us. Peter describes Jesus as both our God and our Savior. Peter prays that God’s grace and the resulting peace would be multiplied to us by means of our relationship with the Father and with Jesus. Jesus, in a supreme act of heavenly generosity, freely gave us everything – everything – everything that connects us to eternal life; a life of holiness, because we cannot enjoy the presence of a holy God without ourselves becoming godly. Peter tells that every necessary resource and ability has been freely given to us by the one who called us to this eternal life of holiness. Nothing short of his divine power is at work for us securing our eternal salvation. This gracious divine power comes through the knowledge of him who called us. John speaks of the transforming power of knowing Jesus when he says, ‘when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is’ [1Jn.3:2]. It is the excellence and glory of Jesus that is inviting and breathtaking and compelling.

Peter goes on in verse 4 to tell us that it is through the excellence of Jesus that we are freely given promises – great and precious promises – promises that bring us participation in the divine nature and escape from the corruption of this world.

4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

The first words of this verse express the means by which we receive the promises. The promises come to us through ‘his own glory and excellence’. It is the manifestation of Jesus’ divine nature and his inner moral beauty that secure for us the promises.

4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

The promises are not presented as a reward for good behavior. The promises are bestowed as a royal gift. This word only appears three times in the New Testament. This is a royal act of lavish generosity that staggers the imagination. In verse 3, his divine power has freely given to us all things pertaining to life and godliness. Now on top of that, he has freely given the promises to us.

4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Peter again uses a word unique in the New Testament for ‘promises’, a word that occurs only here and at the end of this letter in 3:13, where it refers to the end times promise of a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

These are no ordinary promises. They are ‘precious’ and ‘very great’ promises. The word ‘precious’ carries the idea of value, worth, or honor. In 1 Peter 1:7, he called our genuine faith ‘more precious than gold’ and in 2 Peter 1:1 he calls our faith equally precious or honorable to that of the apostles. In 1 Peter 1:19, he refers to the blood of Christ that ransoms us as ‘precious’, and here he refers to the promises as ‘precious’ or valuable. Not only are the promises valuable, but they are ‘very great’. Peter is stacking adjectives to communicate to us the magnificence of his subject. He uses grand language to relay to us the grand nature of the promises that have been regally furnished for us.

What promises would Peter have in mind? Possibly the promises of the new covenant that Jesus referenced when he said ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood’ [Lk.22:20; 1Cor.11:25]; promises like:

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,… 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 36:26 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.

He could have had in mind promises of Jesus like:

John 3:15 …whoever believes in him may have eternal life

John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.

John 6:35 …I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

John 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

John 6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

John 8:12 …I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:31 …If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.

John 10:9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…. 10 I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 11:25 …I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.

John 14:2 …I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth…

John 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… 19 Because I live, you also will live.

John 16:22 …I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Precious promises! Very great promises! Promises worth memorizing and meditating on. But Peter’s focus is not on the promises themselves. He expects that the mere mention of promises will bring to mind some of these valuable and immeasurably great promises. Peter’s focus is on what the promises accomplish for us:

4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Peter’s focus is on the goal of the promises, the benefits gained through the promises. And he states that through the promises we may become partakers in the divine nature. In Greek thought, there was much discussion about the divine nature. The philosophers would say that there is a divine spark within us all that simply needs to be recognized. Or it is locked inside each of us and just needs to be let out. Or we can attain to the divine nature and immortality by great effort. Peter says no, we are not innately divine, but we become partakers of the divine nature through the promises freely given to us in Christ. The word is to partner, participate or share, to fellowship or have in common. Peter is not blurring the distinction between the uncreated creator and his creatures; he is not embracing pantheism suggesting that we are absorbed into the divine or polytheism saying that we become little gods. He is using the vocabulary of the philosophers to describe what he described in his first letter as being ‘born again… of imperishable seed’ [1:23]. John in his gospel says that Jesus gave the right to become children of God, to those who were born…of God [Jn1:12-13]. Paul tells us to ‘put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness [Eph.4:24]. Through the new birth, we are returned to a condition where we can more accurately bear the image of God that we were created to display, an image that was badly marred at the fall by rebellion and sin. By his divine power we are enabled to be godly, to exhibit holiness and purity and goodness and love.

That’s the positive result of the promises – we become participants in the divine nature. The negative is expressed by the next phrase:

4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

The world is morally bankrupt. Greek philosophers concluded that it is because the world is material and the material is evil. To escape from corruption is to transcend the material. Peter’s view is different. He says the world is messed up because we’re a bunch of selfish sinners. God created the material universe and said it was good – very good. We, by our rebellious self will did a very good job of messing things up. Paul says it this way:

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

It is this moral and spiritual decay that is at the root of the external physical and societal decay. “It is a degenerative power that pervades all of unredeemed life and exercises a tyranny from which human effort knows no effective escape” [Hiebert, p.49]. And it is this that we have escaped through the precious and very great promises of the gospel. Through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord we receive unmerited grace. We have obtained a faith of equal standing, we have been freely given all things that pertain to life and godliness, and we have been granted very great and valuable promises. We were called out of darkness and into his marvelous light so that we would proclaim the excellencies of him who called us [1Pet.2:9].

Three things are at work in us who believe; the promises, the power and the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In verse three it is ‘his divine power’ that gives us everything we need. That comes ‘through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence’. And it is by his own personal excellence that he gives us the very great and precious promises. The person of Christ attracts us, his divine power enables us to respond, and his promises secure for us participation in his divine nature.

How do we respond to all of this?

1. We must seek to know Jesus better. Peter says that the promises come to us through his own glory and excellence. I want to indulge myself in an exploration of the excellence of his character and the glory of his nature.

2. We must get to know his promises. Life transforming power comes through the promises, so I want to know what these promises are and bank on them day by day, cash them in and use them in my battle with my own corruption and sinful desire.

3. We must never turn it around. Peter lays for us the theological foundation for godly living in the gracious gift of our God. He goes on in the subsequent verses to describe what that life looks like. I never want to be guilty of turning the bible on its head and using it as a list of moral commands to keep in order to gain favor with God and merit eternal life. Rather, the power for a godly life comes as a gift through knowledge of Jesus – his finished work on the cross – and from the divine promises that are freely given to me.

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

October 11, 2009 Posted by | 2 Peter, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Church’s Origin and Destiny

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20090111_the_church_2.mp3

1/11 The Church; Spoken into Existence by the Creative Word of Jesus; Our Origin and Destiny

We are taking a few weeks at the beginning of the year to think through together what the church is and what it should be, and I hope we can examine ourselves and make any adjustments necessary to be who we were called to be, to strengthen the areas where we are weak, and to be encouraged and emboldened to be who we are together in Christ.

Last week we looked at the identity of the church. The word ‘church’ literally means ‘the called out ones’ and we are talking particularly about Jesus’ called out ones; the assembly of Jesus. We looked at Matthew 16:18 and said that ‘the church is a community of people founded on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, and united by the new birth.’ Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was, who his followers thought he was, and in response to the right answer, he went on to tell them about his coming death. The person and work of Jesus the Christ, infinite Son of God and Redeemer, crucified for sinners, died, buried, and raised again, is foundational to the church. Jesus, who he is and what he has accomplished for us is the rock on which the church is built.

We become members of this community by our new birth. God does a creative work in our hearts and makes us a new creation. Jesus told Peter that his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God was not a natural response to the information he had available to him. It was a supernatural work of the Father in his life. Peter tells us that God the Father…

1 Peter 1:3 … According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again …

1 Peter 1:23 …you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

So we are a community of people founded on the identity of Jesus as the infinite Son of God and Savior, and united by our being birthed into his family.

Today I would like to look at the origin and destiny of the church. Where did the church come from and where is she going? Here’s my answer, and it has two parts: the church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she will overcome. Look with me again at what Jesus said:

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.”

Jesus said he will build his church. Let’s review quickly who Jesus is: We’ll start in Colossians 1 He is God’s…

Colossians 1:13 …beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities––all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Did you get it? Jesus, beloved Son of the Father, is the image of the invisible God, creator of all things in heaven and on earth; visible and invisible, and all things were created for his good pleasure. Jesus existed eternally, and it is Jesus that sustains all things. Jesus is first place – preeminent in all things. He is first in time; he existed before anything else. He is first in authority; all thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities ultimately bow to him and do his bidding. He is first in importance; he is the Father’s beloved Son and all things were created for him.

Or consider John 1:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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. …10 …the world was made through him… 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Jesus was in the beginning with God. Jesus is God. Jesus is the Word that spoke everything into existence. Look at Hebrews 1:

Hebrews 1:2…his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.  …8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, …10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

Jesus created the world and upholds the universe by the word of his power. Jesus is God on the throne forever and ever. Jesus is consistent – he never changes and he will have no end. Check out Mark 4

Mark 4:39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

When Jesus speaks to his creation, all creation obeys his voice.

Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all things, and it is this Jesus that said:

Matthew 16:18 … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

That, my friends, is a statement of sovereign purpose. The Lord of all the universe has made a declaration of purpose. When Jesus says ‘I will…’ there is no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can stop him. Jesus did not say that he would try to build his church. In the beginning, Jesus said ‘let there be light’ and there was light. When Jesus said ‘Lazarus, come forth’ the man who had been in the grave for four days came out of the tomb. When Jesus said ‘I will build my church’, that was an omnipotent creative word that will be done.

That leads naturally to the next point – Jesus’ church will overcome. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. The sovereign power of the omnipotent Creator will triumph and his purpose will stand.

Now this requires some clarification What does it mean for the church to overcome? The church I was raised in recently closed its doors and sold their building. I’ve seen beautiful historic church buildings turned into museums or thrift stores or bicycle shops. Some churches that were once thriving are now merely a monument. Does this mean the word of Christ has failed? How do we understand this in light of what Jesus said? Let’s go to the book of Revelation for help. John is given a vision from God and is told to write what he sees in a book and send it to seven churches in Asia Minor. Listen to what God says to one of these churches:

Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: …4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Because the church in the city of Ephesus had left its love for God and for other believers, Jesus is threatening to unplug this church as a light in the world. I think that highlights an important distinction for us that is helpful in our definition of the church. There is the church local and the church universal; or the church visible and the church invisible. There is our local group of believers that gather here in this building, and there is the church of Jesus Christ that consists of every born again follower of Jesus throughout history and around the globe. When Jesus said that he will build his church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, he didn’t have in mind any specific building or geographic location or social/political organization. Peter tells us that:

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Paul says it this way:

Ephesians 2:19 … you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

We tend to think of the church as a man made building, organization or institution. It is not. It is an organism, made up of believers in Jesus Christ. This is a sobering thought. There are many who attend a church service in a church building that are not part of Jesus’ church. There are people who go by the name of ‘Christian’ who do not know the Christ of the Bible and who have not experienced the new birth, and on that fateful day, Jesus will tell them:

Matthew 7:23 … ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So my first exhortation to you today is be sure you are part of Jesus’ church. Be sure you know Jesus and are being transformed by Jesus. Be sure you have become part of God’s family through the new birth.

Earlier in the chapter, Paul tells us how this happens:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ––by grace you have been saved–– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God in his rich mercy, made us alive by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Let’s come back to Matthew 16 and see what we can learn about our role as the church. The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus says:

Matthew 16:18 … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The gates of hell will not prevail against it. Literally, it is the gates of hades -the abode of the dead. I want you to picture a walled fortress. Imagine an army attacking the city. They come against the weakest point in the city – the gates. If the gates are strong, the fortress is safe. If the gates can be penetrated, the city can be taken. Now think about what Jesus said about his church. What posture is the church taking in the war? If the church is not a building but a living organism, and if the gates that are described are not the gates of the church but the gates of hades, then the church is on the offensive storming the very gates of hell! I think too often we get the image reversed, as if Jesus said ‘I will build my fortress, and hell will not prevail against its gates’. Come hide inside the fortress and you will be safe. The church on the defensive is not the posture of the church of Jesus! The church of Jesus is to be on the offensive proving his promise true! A few chapters later, after his resurrection, Jesus came to his disciples and said:

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.”

Go, storm the gates of hell. Proclaim the gospel. Make disciples. I will be with you, Jesus said.

But how can we be sure that the gates will not be too strong for us? How do we know that we will overcome? Jesus said:

Revelation 1:17…“Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Jesus died, and he unlocked the gates from the inside! Jesus, our mighty conqueror, has gone before us, won the victory, unlocked the gates, and invites us to the plunder. Jesus now holds the keys of Death and of Hades. That gate can no longer be made secure by the enemy. And Jesus goes on to say

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, …

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

Later, in Acts chapter 10, Peter went to a Gentile’s house and taught about the death and resurrection of Jesus and 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.

God has given you authority to open the door of faith through the proclamation of the apostolic word:

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,

The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she will overcome. Be sure that you are a part of his church by the new birth, and be aggressive to take ground from the enemy, for the victory has already been won. Proclaim the good news and be confident that Jesus will build his church!

January 11, 2009 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment