PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Obey Jesus: Marriage Covenant

07/05 Marriage Covenant– Building Blocks of Society; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200705_marriage.mp3

Our society is broken. Our culture is not what it ought to be. And this is an opportunity for us as the people of God to let our lights shine brightly. As we follow the Lord Jesus we are to let our light shine in such a way that the world may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. We looked last time at the issue of fathers; that God is our Father and he loves to reward those who seek above all to please him. God is a Father who loves us as we are, but he is not satisfied to leave us as we are; he will apply loving discipline to shape us into who we ought to be, to form in us Christlike character. We as earthly fathers are called to pattern our parenting in the home after our Father in heaven. We are to be eager to reward our children when they seek to please us, and we are to apply loving discipline when appropriate, to teach our children to respect the authority established by God. This is an area where we can shine in a culture that has lost all respect for authority.
Marriage and Divorce

Today I want to take a step back from this and look at a relationship that is even more foundational to all society, and that is the marriage relationship. I want to see what Jesus has to say about marriage, and to look at what it points to. We are going to start out in Mark 10.

Mark 10:2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

The Pharisees are referring to a law in Deuteronomy 24. Deuteronomy 24 says that when a man takes a wife and then divorces her, if she remarries and the second husband dies or divorces her, the first husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again as his wife. This is not authorizing divorce, any more than the laws regulating polygamy are authorizing polygamy. The laws were regulating a common practice for the protection of women. The Pharisees were taking this as the law’s stamp of approval on what they wanted to do.

The reason Deuteronomy gives is ‘if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her’ (Deut.24:1). Matthew 19:3 records their question ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ Two school of rabbis disputed what this meant. Shammai interpreted ‘some indecency’ to mean that divorce was only allowed for a sexual immorality; Hillel allowed divorce for any reason whatever; any act on her part which displeased him entitled him to give her a bill of divorce, even trivial offenses, such as burning a meal. It was, by the way, that more lenient and liberal school of Hillel that prevailed. [Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 90a; http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5238-divorce ]

Mark 10:5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

Did you know some of the laws in the Old Testament were given to regulate sinful behavior? That’s what Jesus is saying here. Divorce is not God’s ideal for marriage, but because of your hardness of heart, he regulated the practice to protect vulnerable people. Which means that now in the New Covenant, where believers in Jesus have the Holy Spirit of God living inside, that hardness of heart has been overcome. Jesus calls us to a higher standard. Jesus holds up the ideal of marriage.

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

God designed marriage. God created mankind as male and female and he meant for them to leave and cleave. Hold fast. Notice, guys, the primary instruction is to us. The man is told to hold fast to his wife. Proverbs 18:22 says

Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.

If you are married you found your good thing. The one thing in all of God’s good creation that was not good was that the man was alone. We need help! Guys, if you find your good thing, hold fast to her. Now guys, I know I need to clarify. That doesn’t mean you put her in a headlock and physically restrain her.

The word ‘hold fast’ is literally ‘to glue’. We have some amazing glues. A good wood glue creates a bond that is much stronger than the wood itself. What that means is that once you glue two pieces of wood together, if you then force them apart, the wood will splinter and break but the bond will hold. You can tear it apart, but in doing so you destroy the wood. That’s an appropriate picture of marriage. Remember, Jesus says that the two become one flesh and it is God who joins them together. We have a lot of broken splintered people walking around because something that was never meant to come apart was forced apart and it left deep scars.

Lust and Porn

I want to come back to that, but first, look with me at something else Jesus says about marriage. In Matthew 5 he quotes the seventh commandment.

Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The marriage relationship is a covenant commitment. There is nothing more destructive to the marriage than unfaithfulness to the covenant commitment. What Jesus says here couldn’t be more relevant. There is probably nothing more damaging, more prevalent, and more readily accessible than internet porn. Jesus takes the seventh commandment to the heart level and says if you look with lust you have committed adultery in your heart. This is gnawing away at so many marriages. This is destroying so many people who are not yet married. This is poison for your soul. And Jesus tells us to take severe and radical steps to root it out.

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.

You can’t entertain lust in your heart without the cancer spreading. ‘Is it really that big a deal? It’s not hurting anyone.’ That is a lie from the pit of hell, and according to Jesus it will send you there if you don’t get free from it. If you need help, ask. Get it out into the light.

How To Hold Fast

Mark 10:5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

We are to hold fast, but how? How are we to hold fast? Ephesians gives us some clear instructions

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5 starts with ‘therefore’. Live in such a way because. Because of what? We go back to Ephesians 4, and it also starts with therefore. Because of all that is true of you in Christ Jesus that was unpacked in the first three chapters, because you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, because you have been chosen for holiness, predestined for adoption, redeemed by his blood, because you were sealed with the Holy Spirit, because the risen and exalted Christ has been given as head over all things to the church, because you have been made alive with Christ, saved by God’s rich mercy and great grace, created for good works, brought near by the blood of Christ, granted access to the Father through the Spirit, because you are strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, filled with all the fullness of God who is able to do far more abundantly than all that you ask or think according to the power at work with in you, because of all this, therefore, walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. …25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

That is what it means to cleave, to hold fast. Love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Pursue the purity, the splendor of your bride. Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. You nourish and cherish you wife. Love your wife as your own body. Love your wife as you love yourself.

‘But that’s hard!’ Yes it is. Do you think it was easy for Jesus to hang on that cross and bear in his sinless body all the punishment for your sins?

‘But you don’t know what she’s like!’ Yes I do, because I know what I’m like. ‘Filthy, vile and helpless we; spotless Lamb of God was he.’ I was dead in my trespasses and sins, following Satan, pursuing my own passions, by nature a child of wrath when God came after me.

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

‘But, I just don’t think I can.’ You are right. You can’t. I can’t. I need all three chapters in the front half of Ephesians to tell me who I am in Christ, to tell me who is living inside of me, and to tell me that it is not by my strength or my wisdom or my power or my love that I can do any of this. But if the resurrected Christ, who died on that cross for me is now living inside me, then I am empowered love with his love.

It’s not just about me and my happiness. Marriage is bigger than that. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church.

Are there any reasons where divorce is an option? There may be situations where that is appropriate, but recognize, that is the Pharisee’s question. Jesus holds up the original intent, the ideal, the way God meant it to be. We shouldn’t aim for the exception, we should work hard with all the grace of God that he supplies to us to to hold up that picture of Christ loving and pursuing and laying down his life for his church.

Our culture is broke and bankrupt. We have an opportunity to be different than the world, to show by our examples that there is a different way, a better way, we are to shine brightly in such a way that they see our marriages and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

***

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

July 12, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethnic Unity and the Global Gospel

06/07 Obey Jesus; Go Global with The Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200607_global-gospel.mp3

We are disciples of Jesus who obey everything Jesus taught, who are called to make disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus taught. In light of the deep divide that is tearing at our nation today, I want to look at what Jesus taught about ethnic divides.

A Syrophonecian Gentile Canaanite Woman

I want to start with a troubling story from Jesus’ ministry found in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Jesus had fed 5,000, and Pharisees and Scribes had come from Jerusalem to criticize his ministry. After confronting and offending them, pointing to their heart issues that make them unclean, it says

Matthew 15:21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus went away and withdrew. Mark tells us that Jesus ‘entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden’ (Mk.7:24). Jesus is attempting to withdraw with his disciples, to get out of the spotlight so he can invest in them.

Matthew 15:22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

Mark records that this ‘woman was a Gentile, a Syrophonecian by birth’ (Mk.7:26). The Gentile Canaanites were one of the peoples God commanded his people to drive out under Joshua as they went in to possess the land, lest they be ensnared by their worship practices;

Deuteronomy 12:31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

This woman was descended from some of those people that Israel failed to drive out, that became ‘a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes’ (Josh.23:13). This ethnic divide ran deep, and understand, it was an ethnic divide that God himself created when he chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be his own people.

Matthew 15:22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word.

This woman is crying out to him for mercy, and he is silent. But she is persistent. His ignoring her becomes so awkward, that his disciples attempt to intervene.

Matthew 15:23 …And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus continues to ignore her and answers his own disciples. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Remember Zacchaeus, the filthy tax collector?

Luke 19:9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus described his own mission as ‘to seek and to save the lost. And Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham. He was one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

When Jesus had sent out his twelve back in Matthew 10, he instructed them:

Matthew 10:5 …“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This Canaanite Gentile is outside the scope of his mission. He was not sent to her. But he had come into Gentile territory. He was there. And something we can’t see through the text is his facial expression. We can’t hear his tone. It’s like reading a text message. Be careful not to misinterpret the words.

And pay attention to what he does not do. He does not send her away, as his disciples suggested. It is not clear whether they meant to send her away with or without the miracle she requested. They may have wanted him to just give her what she asked to get rid of her. They were clearly annoyed and didn’t really care about her.

But Jesus cares deeply about people. He is having this conversation in front of her. He makes her feel that she is outside. He did not come for her. But he is not only pushing her, he is pushing his own disciples to deeper understanding.

Matthew 15:25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

She will not relent. She has a need, her daughter. His words didn’t drive her away, rather they drew her closer. He was sent to sheep, lost sheep. She is willing to humble herself, to come close to him and kneel. She originally addressed him from a distance as ‘O Lord, Son of David,’ but she has no claim to access him as the Davidic king, so she simply addresses him as Lord, ‘Lord, help me.’

Matthew 15:26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Ouch! This sounds so harsh. It comes across as if he is calling her a dog. But something that doesn’t come through clearly in our English translation is that he uses the diminutive form of the word ‘dog’ in the original, which softens the blow. It is still a blow, but it is softened. He uses the word ‘little dog’ or puppy. Most dogs in Israel were wild scavenging mangy street dogs, but his reference is to a house dog that is part of the family. And he is answering her in a parable. The children are God’s chosen people. The bread is the blessings and provision of God for his people. She understands his parable and offers no objection. She agrees. But even the house dogs in their turn are fed.

Matthew 15:27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus said that it would not be right to deprive the children in order to feed the dog. She agrees, but argues that there is no deprivation with Jesus, but rather excess. The table he sets is full and overflows. She meets his diminutive ‘little dogs’ with her own diminutive ‘little crumbs. Little crumbs for little dogs. She implies that the casting out of a demon and the healing of the sick was for Jesus merely a little crumb, something small from his overflowing surplus, that took nothing away from the children. She would be content with a little nothing of a miracle.

Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus not only healed her daughter from a distance, but also commended her faith. This Canaanite Gentile believed in Jesus to a greater extent than so many of his own people.

A Roman Centurion

This story is parallel to Matthew 8, where another Gentile, a Roman Centurion came to Jesus seeking healing for his servant. It would be Roman soldiers under the direction of a centurion who would nail him to the cross. We are not told the ethnicity of the servant, but Jesus does not object; he offers to come to his house to heal him.

Matthew 8:8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.’ This centurion was also willing to humble himself. He willingly acknowledged his own unworthiness, as well as the omnipotent power of Jesus’ word. He believed in him.

Matthew 8:10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

The only two people commended in Matthew for their great faith were a Roman centurion and a Canaanite woman. And Jesus goes so far as to say that the unbelieving sons of the kingdom will be thrown out to make room for those coming from the east and the west who will eat at the table in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus pictures an ethnically diverse crowd of those who truly believe in him seated together around his table.

House of Prayer for All The Nations

The thing that stirred Jesus to anger, that stirred him to drive people out of the temple with a whip was that his ‘house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers’ (Mk.11:17). Jesus passionately opened access to every nation to seek the Lord in prayer.

Any who come to Jesus must acknowledge that they have no right to him. We must humble ourselves and ask for his mercy, a good gift we don’t deserve. We don’t demand or presume, we plead. Lord be merciful to me a sinner! Lord, please do not give me what I deserve! I humbly ask for mercy, a good gift that is the opposite of what I have earned.

First Jerusalem

Jesus was sent first to seek and to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But his mission was bigger than that. He commissioned his disciples to

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, …

Luke 24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus intended his original Jewish disciples to make disciples beginning in Jerusalem but extending to all nations, to the end of the earth. And his disciples followed this pattern, ‘to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ (Rom.1:16). Even Paul, who was commissioned to preach the good news to the Gentiles, started by reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jews in the synagogue, but when the good news was rejected by them,

Acts 13:46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

The good news of the Jewish Messiah was to be proclaimed to the Jew first, and then to the non-Jew.

Other Sheep Not of This Fold

In John 10, Jesus uses a different metaphor.

John 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Jesus has sheep of another fold. But they are all just sheep. And what characterizes his sheep is that they listen to his voice. His diverse sheep included a Canaanite woman and a Roman centurion. And he intends for us to be one flock under one shepherd. He intends for us his sheep to be one.

Ethnic Reconciliation and Unity

The revelation worship song to the Lamb is this:

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

As it says in Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

He has made us both one. In his own flesh he has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. He has reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross. He has killed the hostility. This is the good news. We must all humbly receive it as a gift we don’t deserve. How dare we try to resurrect ethnic hostility that he was crucified to abolish?

***

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

June 7, 2020 Posted by | church, discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Beware on Guard against Covetousness

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

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

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

Be Rich Toward God

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Be Anxious but Generous

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

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

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

Treasure in Heaven

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

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

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

The Lost Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Cannot Serve God and Money

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

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

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

Rich Man Lost; Drop Your Baggage and Follow Me

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

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

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

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

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

Impossible With Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Man Saved

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Obey Jesus; Find Me in Scripture

04/26 Obey Jesus: Find Me in the Scriptures; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200426_find-me-in-scripture.mp3

This is the second Sunday after the resurrection. Acts 1 tells us Jesus

Acts 1:2 …had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

This is day 15 of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances to his disciples. Before he ascended he charged his disciples to make disciples who would make disciples who would make disciples,

Matthew 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

So we are looking at what Jesus commanded his disciples. Last week we looked at Jesus’ appearance to doubting Thomas, where he presented him with the evidence and commanded:

John 20:27 …Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Jesus commands us to come to him, to believe that he is the I AM, the Word who was with God and who was God, come in the flesh to rescue us. He requires that we turn from whatever else we are trusting in and depend on him alone, that we trust him completely.

The Emmaus Road

Today I want to look at Luke’s account of Jesus appearing to some disciples on the road to Emmaus that first resurrection Sunday.

Luke 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

Do you hear where these disciples are at? They are lost, confused. They had hoped that Jesus was the one they had hoped for, but then the Jewish leaders had him crucified. Now his body is missing, and there’s some crazy rumors that he is alive. We just don’t know what to believe.

Luke 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

Do you hear what Jesus says? He rebukes them for being slow of heart to believe the prophets. He says they should have known that the Christ must suffer these things before entering into his glory. He rebukes them for not knowing their Bibles better. Not just that they didn’t understand something they should have known, but that their hearts were slow to believe. They were slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets had spoken. They embraced some of it, but not all.

The Scriptures Fulfilled; It Is Written

If we look back early in Jesus’ ministry, in Luke 4

Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 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.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah, and claims to be the fulfillment of that prophecy. Today, this has been fulfilled!

When Jesus was coming down with his three disciples from the transfiguration mountain in Mark 9, he charged them to tell no one until he was risen from the dead, and they were wondering what this ‘rising from the dead’ might mean. He said:

Mark 9:12 … And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?

He just revealed to them his glory, and now he asks ‘how is it written that the Son of Man should suffer?’ He is pushing them to believe all of Scripture. It is not going to go the way you think. The Son of Man should suffer. What do you do with these Scriptures? Where do they fit?

At his last supper, when he predicted that he would be betrayed by one of them, he said:

Mark 14:21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but 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.”

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him. When they went out to the Mount of Olives,

Mark 14:27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 and says it is pointing to what is about to happen. Then, after Judas betrayed him with a kiss, and he was taken,

Mark 14:48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”

Let the Scriptures be fulfilled. The Scriptures must be fulfilled, and they were being fulfilled in Jesus.

Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for breaking the commandment and making void the word of God for the sake of their traditions (Mt.15:3,6). He 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. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He came to accomplish every dot, every iota of the Law. He came to be the summation, the culmination, the end goal of all the Scriptures.

The Central Focus of the Scriptures

Notice the central focus of the Scripture according to Jesus is his suffering and death in place of sinners. His work as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is why he came and what it all was pointing to. Listen to what he said in Luke 18 on his way to Jerusalem.

Luke 18:31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

It is the sufferings, the death, and the resurrection of the Messiah that is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms.

To the disciples after his resurrection, on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24,

Luke 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Imagine being in on that Bible study! The risen Lord himself, the very Word incarnate, taking them through the word written, interpreting to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Jesus taught that all the Scriptures were meant to point us to him.

Obeying Jesus about the Bible

We are looking at what it means to be a disciple, a learner, a follower of Jesus. We are looking at what it means to obey all that Jesus commands. We need to follow Jesus on what he teaches about the Bible, the word of God. Jesus commands us to find him in the Scriptures, to meet him there, the living Word in his word written. It is all about him, and to rightly use God’s word, we need to see Jesus there.

Spiritual Blindness and Inability

But we have a problem. We can’t. We can’t see Jesus. We are unable. We are blind to him. And it is a satanic blindness. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4 that

2 Corinthians 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Remember, Jesus told his disciples plainly what was about to happen to him,

Luke 18:34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

The risen Lord walked with these two disciples on the road and gave them Bible study,

Luke 24:16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

When they arrived at the village of Emmaus, Jesus went in to stay with them. It says:

Luke 24:30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?

Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. Him!

These disciples rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples,

Luke 24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Then Jesus appeared to the whole group gathered there in Jerusalem.

Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He opened their eyes to recognize him! We can’t, we can’t see Jesus in all of Scripture unless and until Jesus opens our blind minds. This is a sovereign creative act of God, illuminating our minds. Remember, God loves to give good gifts to those who ask. He loves to pour out his Spirit on all who ask him (Lk.11:9-13). If you are struggling to understand the Bible, ask! If it is confusing, a big book of rules and regulations, if it is heavy and oppressive, full of duty rather than delight, ask! Ask him to open your mind to see that it’s all about Jesus. That he came to do what you could not and to fulfill every command so that you could enjoy him in relationship. Ask that the promised Holy Spirit would show you Jesus (Jn.15:26). Ask God to do a supernatural creative act in your heart.

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God is the one who gives this light, and you and I are blind without it, so ask!

How To Find Jesus in The Scriptures

In John 5, Jesus rebuked the Jews for missing the main point. He said:

John 5:37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The Scriptures bear witness about me. They studied the Scriptures, but they failed to hear the voice of God. They memorized the Scriptures, but they failed to have God’s word abiding in them, because they failed to see that the Scriptures were meant to point to Jesus, to bear witness about Jesus. They failed to believe in Jesus. The point of the Scriptures was not to try to earn life by obeying all the Scriptures, but to come to the only one who could perfectly fulfill all the Scriptures. They refused to come to Jesus and find life in him.

So, be ready to believe in Jesus. Put your trust in him completely. Recognize that it is all about him, and seek to meet him in the pages of his word. And ask. Ask God to show you Jesus in all of Scriptures.

That is the most important instruction I can give you.

See Jesus in All of Scripture

Get to know Jesus in all of Scripture. Get to know him through the gospels. They are eyewitness accounts that invite you in to his life and teaching. Sit at his feet and listen to him. Learn from him. Watch him interact with real people, people like you, people with needs.

But Luke tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t end with the ascension. In Luke volume 2 (or the Acts of the Apostles) he tells us that his gospel was about all that Jesus began to do and teach until he was taken up (Acts 1:1-2). The book of Acts is about what Jesus continues to do and teach through his followers in his church. And the book of acts doesn’t end. It actually leaves us hanging in chapter 28 with Paul in prison in Rome awaiting trial and likely execution, for two whole years,

Acts 28:31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Like Mark’s gospel, the story is left hanging. And you are invited in. We, the church, are the continuation of the story of what Jesus began to do and teach.

The New Testament letters are instructions to the church on how to follow Jesus, what the gospel is, what is central, what to believe, and how to live life walking with Jesus, in step with the gospel.

But the New Testament also gives us a lens with which to read the Old Testament.

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.

Jesus was active in Creation with his Father. Throughout the narratives we see people like us, struggling to believe the promises, some turning their backs, some believing, and we see the consequences of those decisions. Paul tells us (1Cor.10:4) that the ever present life giving Rock in the wilderness that accompanied the wandering people of God was Christ. We see the Lord make extravagant promises to his people, and we learn that “all the promises of God are ‘Yes’ to us in Jesus Christ (2Cor.1:20). We read laws we can’t keep, showing us our need for rescue, and creating a desperation for one who would keep them in our place. We see the tabernacle and temple, the one place people can meet with God, but only through the appropriate sacrifice. And we see that Jesus came to pitch his tent among us, came to be God with us, came to give his own life as the once for all sacrifice that would finally take away our sin and conquer death forever. We read poetry that expresses discontent with the way things are, longing for things to be made right, and we read poetry that expresses hope, a longing for the one who would come to set all things right, for God himself to come down. We read disconcerting things about a suffering servant who would bear our sins and be punished for what we deserve, (Is.53) and we hear him cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Ps.22:1). We read the prophets, rebuking the people for their hard hearts and wandering lusts, telling them to turn back to the Lord, telling them that one day he himself would come,

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.

And we see in the final Revelation, that Jesus is coming back, and he will wipe every tear from our eyes, and we will join the angelic hosts through eternity worshiping,

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

***

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

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

Resurrection; Boldness or Fear?

4/12 Resurrection Sunday; Boldness or Fear? The Short Ending of Mark; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200412_resurrection-sunday.mp3

Today is Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. And I have to warn you; if you are hoping for a message that will be uplifting, comforting, a little shot in the arm pep talk to encourage you to hang in there and everything will be all right, then you’d better sign out right now.

My prayer for today is that this will wreck you, shake you, challenge you, stir you up and make you uncomfortable. Today I want to invite you in to a choose your own adventure story – you know, one of those interactive stories where you play a part, a story that has decision points that you have to make, and what you choose affects how the story line unfolds.

We are going to look at Mark’s gospel. We’ll start with chapter 8, where Peter acknowledges Jesus as ‘the Christ’,

Mark 8:30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly.

Jesus tells his closest followers that he is headed to the cross, and Peter doesn’t like that direction.

Mark 8:32 …And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Peter misunderstood the whole mission of Jesus. He thought the story would end a different way. But Jesus is taking it in a very different direction than Peter is comfortable with. Then Jesus,

Mark 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Here’s the key. Here’s what it means to follow Jesus. You have to risk everything. The goal in the choose your own adventure is to stay alive as long as possible, to survive. Here Jesus tells us that that is not the goal here. Success in Jesus’ context means following Jesus whatever the cost, losing your life for his sake and the gospel’s.

The Textual Problem

I want to look at Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus today. What I’m about to say might make some of you nervous or uncomfortable. This might seem like I’m airing dirty laundry; but I think it’s best to be open and honest with the evidence. And really it is no secret, so it’s best to deal with it head on rather than try to brush over it or just look the other way and pretend its not there. If you have almost any current translation of the Bible, you probably have a note after Mark 16:8 that reads something like this:

ESV note: [Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20]

What do you do with that? I believe that the Bible is God breathed, God’s very words, without error in the original manuscripts. But we don’t have the original manuscripts. We have copies. The fact is we have more copies than any other ancient document, more copies than we can keep on top of cataloging. And we have very early copies, copies closer to the date of writing than any other ancient document, and we have copies that are scattered over wide geographic areas. Manuscripts, which by definition are hand written, have mistakes. But with the sheer volume of manuscript evidence that we have access to, any errors are self-correcting. We can examine the evidence and see what kinds of mistakes were made in some of the copies, and why they were made, and what the original reading was.

The ending of Mark is one of the biggest textual problems we have, because it affects 12 whole verses. Here’s an overview of the issue: over 90% of the manuscripts in existence today contain verses 9-20, so it is clearly the majority; many of the early church fathers knew of these verses, and most of the early translations contain these verses.

But our two earliest and best manuscripts, Codex Siniaticus (aleph 01) and Codex Vaticanus (B 03) (4th cent.) both end at verse 8. In addition to this, the oldest of the translations into Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Sahidic Coptic end at v.8. As for the early church fathers, neither Origen (d.339) nor Clement of Alexandria (d.215) seem to know of this passage. Both Eusebius (265-339) and Jerome (347-419), who had access to extensive libraries state that the accurate copies and the majority of copies that they had access to ended with what we know as verse 8. Jerome mentions that almost all the Greek codices are without the passage. So although the majority of manuscripts that we have today include these verses, that was not always the case. A number of the Greek manuscripts and the translations that do include verses 9-20 have markings or notes that express doubts concerning the authenticity of these verses.

And we don’t have only two options here, we have five. There is the short ending, which simply ends with verse 8, and there is the longer ending that includes verses 9-20. But there is one manuscript that adds several lines between verses 14 and 15, and there are other manuscripts that contain an alternate intermediate length ending, which is clearly late. Some manuscripts have this intermediate ending followed by the longer ending. We see evidence with this of the scribal tradition, when in doubt, preserve everything.

[If you want to know more about this, I talked about the transmission of the New Testament and specifically about the ending of Mark’s gospel in the second session of our Foundations study, which is available online.]

So what do we do with this? The longer ending is very early, and it is included in the majority of manuscripts that we now have. But many even of those who think it should be retained recognize that grammatically and linguistically it doesn’t fit with Mark’s style. It is evidently tacked on later, and not very smoothly. It seems to be a patchwork compiled from pieces of Matthew, Luke/Acts, John and some of Paul’s writings. So if this longer reading is included, we don’t have anything added to God’s word, and if this is left out, we aren’t missing anything that we don’t already have elsewhere in the Bible.

So what should we do? When in doubt, preserve everything, as many scribes did, but be honest and include it with a note that warns the reader that the earliest and best manuscripts end at verse 8 and don’t include this addition.

It seems that many were uncomfortable with Mark’s gospel ending at verse 8, and so a more fitting ending was pieced together to make it more like the other gospel narratives, and more comfortable.

But I believe Mark intended to make us uncomfortable. Let’s look at what Mark is doing in his gospel.

Response of Fear and Failure

Mark is widely recognized as Peter’s gospel, assembled by Mark as he ministered alongside Peter and listened to his preaching. Peter would have been looked on in the early church as a hero. But the portrait painted of Peter here is anything but glamorous. We already looked at Peter’s greatest moment in Mark 8, acknowledging Jesus as ‘the Christ’ followed immediately by Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, for which he was called ‘Satan’ who has his mind set on the things of man, not the things of God.

When Jesus calmed the sea with a word in Mark 4, his disciples:

Mark 4:41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

In Mark 6, when he came walking on the water in the storm,

Mark 6:49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

In Mark 9, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain

Mark 9:5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Later in chapter 9, Jesus was teaching his disciples that he would be killed and after three days he would rise,

Mark 9:32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

In chapter 10, Jesus, resolutely marching toward his death,

Mark 10:32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,

Peter, after boldly arguing in the garden that even if all the rest of the disciples abandoned Jesus, he would follow him to death (14:27-31), could not even stay awake one hour (14:37, 40-41). And when Jesus was betrayed, ‘they all left him and fled’ (14:50). Then, having followed from a distance, when Peter was accused of being one of Jesus’ followers by a servant girl and then by the other bystanders (14:66-72)

Mark 14:71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark’s narrative paints the disciples as ignorant, arrogant, bumbling, misunderstanding; deeply flawed failures. They respond to supernatural events not with faith but with fear. Jesus’ greatest miracles evoke trembling and fear even in the crowds.

It seems that only the women (and John) were bold enough to watch the crucifixion even from a distance. (15:40), or to visit the tomb on Sunday morning.

Mark’s gospel is a chronicle of flawed followers, characterized by fear and failure.

Without Understanding

In Mark 4, when his disciples asked him privately about the parables,

Mark 4:11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Jesus was giving the secret of the kingdom to his disciples. He contrasts them with those outside, who would ‘see but not perceive’ ‘hear but not understand’ and would miss forgiveness.

Mark 4:13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

To them it had been given, and yet they were as outsiders, not understanding. When Jesus walked on water, they were terrified. After they took him into the boat and the wind ceased,

Mark 6:51 …they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

In Mark 7,

Mark 7:18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? …

In Mark 8,

Mark 8:17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, …Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? …21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

When Jesus’ disciples ought to have understood, they didn’t. He entrusted to them the secret, and they still missed it.

Keep it Secret Until…

That brings us to another theme that emerges when we look at Mark’s gospel. From chapter 1, when Jesus cast out demons who knew who he was, he commanded them to be silent; he would not permit them to speak (1:25, 34, 3:11).

In 1:43, after Jesus touched a leper and healed him,

Mark 1:43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Do you see what is happening here? Jesus is going to desolate places, praying alone, leaving town when everyone is looking for him. He commands silence to those he heals, but the healed disobey and instead talk freely and spread the news.

When he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, he did it privately,

Mark 5:43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this…

When he healed the deaf and mute man away from the crowd,

Mark 7:36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

When he healed the blind man outside the village,

Mark 8:26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

When Peter made his confession of Jesus as the Christ, what was his response?

Mark 8:30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

When Peter, James and John were coming down from seeing Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses and Elijah,

Mark 9:9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

Keep it secret until… He charged them to tell no one until. Until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. And their response? What might ‘this rising from the dead’ mean? Again they don’t understand.

He Is Risen!

Jesus’ closest disciples see his greatest wonders and are filled with fear not faith. He reveals to them the secret of the kingdom and their hearts are hard and they are without understanding. Those Jesus heals are commanded to be silent, but they talk freely and spread the news about him everywhere. Even the demons are declaring who Jesus is. He reveals his identity to his closest followers and commands them to keep it quiet until… until he has risen from the dead.

With this background in mind, let’s look at how Mark ends his gospel. Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee, not one of the disciples, ‘took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus’ (15:43).

Mark 15:46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

The women go to the tomb to pay their last respects to the corpse of Jesus, doing what they didn’t have time to do earlier. But they didn’t think through how they would even get in. None of his male disciples were willing to come with them to move the stone.

Mark 16:4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back— it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

They see a robed young man, probably an angel, who tells them not to fear (as angels often do), who declares to them that the crucified and buried Jesus not in the tomb. He is risen. He is alive, just as he predicted he would be. Come see, then go tell. You will see him. He is alive! He is on the move!

Mark 16:8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Period. Full stop. The End. Now you see why people have been uncomfortable with that kind of ending? We scream out ‘No!’ You can’t leave it there! They’re supposed to go and tell! The restraining order has been lifted. He is risen! Now the disciples are free to tell everyone who Jesus really is!

A leper is commanded by Jesus not to say anything to anyone, and he goes out and ‘began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news’ so that everyone was coming to Jesus. And now these women who have heard the greatest news of history, that Jesus is risen, who are commanded to go and tell, they flee, afraid, they are seized with trembling, and they say nothing to anyone? Do the disciples ever find out? Does anyone go to Galilee to meet with their risen Lord? Does the message die with them? The disciples were clearly inclined to fear rather than faith, they were hard hearted and without understanding. But now do the women fail him too?

Mark’s style is to invite the reader into the story. It’s full of action. He ends abruptly with the witnesses to the resurrection not telling anyone, and the reader cries out ‘No! But you have to tell someone!’ and then the reader is forced to ask, who have I told?

The Beginning of the Gospel

Mark starts his gospel with these simple words:

Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

And Mark leaves us asking, how does it end? What is my part in advancing the gospel. How will I advance the story? Will I be filled with fear and say nothing to anyone? Or have I been so transformed by Jesus that I cannot be silent, but talk freely and spread the news everywhere?

And we know the rest of the story. We know that these women may have been silent and afraid for a moment, but they did go and tell, even though they were not immediately believed. We know that Jesus keeps his promises, even in spite of the flaws and failure of his followers. His gospel, the good news that he died in the place of sinners and rose from the grave, has reached even to us! This unstoppable message can’t even be frustrated by our fears and failures. Jesus is risen! Has he changed your life? Will you go and tell?

***

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

April 26, 2020 Posted by | occasional, passion | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palm Sunday; Sin and Repentance

4/05 Palm Sunday; The Sinfulness of Sin; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200405_sin.mp3

Palm Sunday vs. Good Friday

This is Palm Sunday, 5 days before Good Friday, one week before Resurrection Sunday. This is the day we celebrate Jesus riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey, hailed as king by the crowds who spread their cloaks and branches cut from the trees in the road before him, shouting out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”(Mt.21:8-9).

But a few short days later, when the Roman governor offered to release to them the ‘King of the Jews’, the crowds shouted out “Crucify him!” When Pilate asked them “Why? What evil has he done?” …they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” (Mk.15:9-14).

What happened that the crowds who received Jesus with joy only a few days earlier were now shouting out demanding his execution? And how can we avoid the same tragic mistake?

Crowd Dynamics

One thing we see going on here is a crowd dynamic. When a crowd gathers, people join in and they don’t always know why. It says in Matthew 21,

Matthew 21:10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

There was a buzz in the air. Something significant was happening. And nobody fully understood what. They sense the excitement and ask, who is this? The prophet Jesus. That is true, Jesus spoke on behalf of God, he spoke God’s words; he was a prophet, but he was so much more. They didn’t fully understand who he really was. They didn’t understand that he was God come in the flesh to save us.

We see this same kind of crowd dynamic in Acts 19, where Demetrius, a silversmith, perceived his business was being hurt by Paul’s preaching against idolatry and gathered a group and stirred up a crowd. It says ‘the city was filled with confusion’ (19:29) and when they gathered in the theater, it says ‘the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together’ (19:32). This is often the case; enthusiasm without understanding.

There is a danger in the enthusiasm of the crowds, because enthusiastic responses to Jesus are often short lived. John records at the beginning of his gospel that in the large crowds in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast ‘many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people’ (Jn.2:23-24). Jesus was wary of the enthusiastic response of people. Jesus taught multitudes, but he also said hard things that challenged them to think, and even caused many to be offended and leave.

The excitement that caused the crowds to cry out ‘Hosanna’ can quickly turn to ‘Crucify him!’

Save… From What?

What the crowds said was true, but they failed to grasp the full meaning of what they said. Jesus was indeed the much anticipated promised Messiah, King of the Jews. They shouted out “Hosanna!” which means “Save Now!” and Jesus was indeed the one who had come to “seek and to save the lost” (Lk.19:10). But when the crowds cried Hosanna, what were they asking to be saved from?

Even Jesus’ own disciples misunderstood his mission. In Mark 10, on the way to Jerusalem, immediately after Jesus told his disciples clearly and graphically how he would be executed, James and John come with this request: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They want seats of prominence in his kingdom. They weren’t listening.

They thought he was about to save them from Roman oppression, and rule as their Jewish king. Luke 19:11 says ‘they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.’ Their hopes were temporary, earthly, physical. Save us from this oppression. Save us from the danger we can see. Save us from the enemy that is right there in front of us.

Saving the Lost

But Jesus was marching in battle toward a different enemy. Jesus was about to conquer a different foe. And this enemy is within. Jesus described his rescue this way:

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

He said this in the context of a man who was lost in his greed, his pursuit of worldly possessions and pleasures. A tax collector, a Jew who had sold out to the Romans and was getting rich by extorting his own people. The people grumbled “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (Lk.19:7). Zacchaeus wasn’t being oppressed by the Romans; he had sided with the Romans in oppressing his own people. What happened? This greedy man’s heart was changed by and encounter with Jesus. He became generous that day. Salvation came to his house. He was rescued, not from the Romans, but from himself.

On another occasion, eating with another tax collector,

Luke 5:31 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.”

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came to call sinners to repentance. He described himself as a doctor. A good doctor doesn’t go around giving out medicine to healthy people. His rescue is not for righteous people, people who think they are righteous, who think they are OK.

Jesus came for sinners. He came for the lost. Hosanna; save now. So many have a superficial understanding of what they needed saving from. Many people call out to Jesus in times of crisis asking for his help. They are asking for rescue from a difficult situation. Heal my sick relative, help me get a better job, get me out of financial trouble, fix my relationship mess. Fix my circumstances.

Mark 8:36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

You see, Jesus is more concerned about fixing you than he is about fixing your circumstances. He may be using your difficult circumstances to get your attention, to show you that the real problem is you.

What Do You Mean I’m Lost?

You might be saying, what do you mean, I’m the real problem? You don’t know what I’m dealing with. People who know they are lost don’t take offense at someone offering directions, but in Jesus’ day, and today, people resent being told they are lost. If your defenses are rising up against what I am saying, it indicates that you have an even more serious problem. Not only are you lost, you don’t even know you are lost. Most people think they are OK. But are you OK with God? Are you OK according to his standards?

The Greatest Command

When the religious leaders asked Jesus:

Mark 12:28 … “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus said the greatest command is to love the one true God. Our greatest sin is distorting and misrepresenting God. We want to be able to define God, to say what he can and cannot do, what he can and cannot be like, what he can and cannot require of us. In our arrogance, we have the audacity to set the parameters for what God can require or do or even be like.

Jesus tells us that we must love the God who is, not the god we imagine to be. And we are to love him with heart and soul and mind and strength. All our energy, all our thoughts, all our affections, our very existence is to be characterized by love for God. God is to have first place in every waking thought, he is to be desired above every other good, all our actions pursuing his pleasure.

And love neighbor as yourself; putting his needs at least equal to if not above your own.

So friend, how are you? The Rev. Edward Payson in the early 1800’s wrote:

Every moment of our waking existence in which we do not love God with all our hearts, we sin; for this constant and perfect love to God His Law requires. Every moment in which we do not love our neighbor as ourselves, we sin; for this also we are commanded to do. Every moment in which we do not exercise repentance, we sin; or repentance is one of the first duties required of us. Every moment in which we do not exercise faith in Christ, we sin; for the constant exercise of faith the gospel everywhere requires. When we do not set our affections on things above, we sin; for on these we are required to place them. When we are not constantly influenced by the fear of God, we sin; for we are commanded to be in the fear of the Lord all day long. When we do not rejoice in God, we sin; for the precept is, “rejoice in the Lord alway” (Phi 4:4). When the contents of God’s Word [do] not properly affect us, we sin; for this [lack] of feeling indicates hardness of heart – one of the worst of sins. When we do not forgive and love our enemies, we sin; for this Christ requires of us. [Rev. Edward Payson 1783-1827]

Be Appalled, O Heavens!

Listen to God’s opinion of his people.

Jeremiah 2:11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 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.

We have God belittling God neglecting, God forsaking thoughts. This is something to be appalled at, to be shocked over. This is evil. God is the all satisfying source of all good. And we forsake him and turn away to empty worthless things that cannot satisfy.

We ought to look at our own hearts and be appalled and horrified at our tendency to seek satisfaction in things other than the true source of all good.

Listen to what John says:

1 John 3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

Are you in the habit of ignoring God? John says ‘you are of the devil.’ The work of the devil is to undermine God, to defame God, to question his word, his goodness, his love, to cause us to turn away from God.

Paul says in Romans 7 that the purpose of the law, and my rebellion against it, is

Romans 7:13 …in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

As you look at your own heart, do you see your sin as sin, a rebellion against a good and loving God, is it to you sinful beyond measure?

Repentance

Jesus said:

Luke 15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to save sick sinners. What does it mean to repent?

Jesus proclaimed the good news of God,

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

Jesus charged his disciples:

Luke 24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Paul was sent with his gospel both to Jews and Gentiles,

Acts 26:20 …that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Repentance is a change of mind or heart. To repent is to have a change of heart and mind about your sin, to come to see it as God sees it. It is to be appalled, to see it as sinful beyond measure. To turn away from sin as abhorrent and turn to God in faith. Confession means to say the same thing. To confess your sin is to say the same thing about your sin as God says about it. Confession is the opposite of excusing. Our tendency is to make excuses, to make allowances for our sin.

Repent of dead works

But what are we to turn from, to have a change of mind and heart about? This may be a surprise, but Hebrews 6 lays the foundation.

Hebrews 6:1 …a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

Repent of your dead works. When our works are dead works, they don’t please God, rather they defile us. Isaiah tells us that our righteousness and our deeds do not profit, they are offensive in God’s sight. (57:12; 64:6) When we do good things to impress God or earn his favor, we offend him. We must change our mind and see our human effort to please God as God sees it, as an offense against his grace.

Repentance is a Gift

What if we don’t feel this way about our sins? Naturally, I am pleased with myself and my good works. Naturally I am appalled at your sins, but I tend to make allowance for my sins. In fact, I take great pleasure in some of my sins. How do I change how I think and feel about my sins?

True repentance is a gift. In Acts 11, Peter described the gift of the Spirit poured out on the Gentiles, and

Acts 11:18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (cf. 5:32; 2 Tim.2:25)

God is glorified because it is God’s gift. If you don’t feel the way God feels about your sin, ask God to give you his gift of repentance. God loves to give good gifts to all who ask. Ask God to allow you to see your sin as he sees it. Ask God to give you the faith to trust Jesus completely.

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.”

***

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

April 5, 2020 Posted by | occasional, passion, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Peace of Christ (Colossians 3)

03/22 The Peace of Christ (Colossians 3:14-17); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200322_peace-of-christ.mp3

The Peace of Christ

There’s a verse in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that I want to look at with you today. Colossians 3:15 says

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. The peace of Christ. Peace that comes from Jesus; Jesus’ very own peace. I want the peace of Christ to rule in my heart. I want your hearts to be ruled by the peace of Christ, no matter what we face in the days ahead.

In John 14, Jesus said to his fear-filled and troubled disciples (14:1, 27), whose hearts were filled with sorrow (16:6, 22) because he had told them he was leaving them and life for them would be hard,

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

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Jesus promised to give them his own peace. Peace in the midst of affliction. Peace in adverse circumstances. Peace when death is looming large. Peace that is able to think of others above self even while being crucified.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In the world you will have tribulation. But in me you can have peace.

Paul instructs the Philippians

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. We need God’s peace to replace our anxiety and guard our minds and hearts. We need the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts. How does this work?

Peace Commanded

Notice, this is a command. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule’ is a command for us to obey. For you grammar geeks, it is a present active imperative. It is not something that happens automatically. We need to obey this command. We need to let the peace of Christ be our umpire, to decide, to determine, to direct and control. So how do we do that?

If Therefore; Gospel Transformation

This verse appears in Colossians chapter 3, which gives instructions for Christian living. This is the third chapter in a letter, so it’s not fair just to jump in here without following the logic of the letter. Chapter 3 begins with ‘If therefore’. ‘Therefore’ is a connection; because of everything I have already said, therefore, do this. ‘If’ assumes something is true of you. ‘If therefore you have been raised up with Christ.’

If this isn’t true of you, you can’t go any further. You can’t obey the command to let the peace of Christ rule if you haven’t been first raised up with Christ. What is this talking about?

At the opening of this letter, Colossians 1:4 says:

Colossians 1:4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,

This letter is written to believers, people who have put their faith in Christ Jesus. This is written to those who have heard the gospel, the word of truth, to those who understand the grace of God, his free gift to those who couldn’t earn it and will never be worthy of it.

He says in 1:12 that the Father has made us sufficient; He

Colossians 1:12 …has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 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.

This is written to the redeemed, those who have been forgiven of all their sins, who have been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

He addresses us in 1:21

Colossians 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

He addresses believers, those who are trusting in, depending on, holding fast to the good news that Jesus’ death is sufficient to reconcile sinners to God and make us blameless in his sight.

In chapter 2 he cautions against false teachers and exhorts us to remain anchored in Jesus, walking in dependence on him alone.

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

He refers to circumcision and baptism, two symbols of putting off or putting to death our old way of life:

Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

The debt is canceled. We died with Christ, and we have been raised again through faith to a new kind of life.

It is to those who have embraced Jesus by faith, who have believed the good news that all our sins were legally once for all dealt with at the cross, who have died and been made alive with Christ by God’s resurrection power; it is to those that he gives his instructions in chapter 3.

So I want to invite you, if you are listening right now, and this is not true of you, right now, turn and cry out to Jesus, a sinner in need of forgiveness. Ask him to cancel your debt and make you new. Believe him. Trust him, that what he accomplished on the cross is everything necessary for you to be rescued from what you deserve. You can’t add anything. Receive his gift.

Setting Mind and Heart on Christ

Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Because of what is true of us in the gospel, because we have been raised with Christ to a new kind of life, our hearts and our minds should pursue different things. Seek the things above; seek Jesus, set your mind on Jesus. Your life is hid with Christ in God; Christ is your life. Christ is your treasure. Set your mind and your heart on him.

Remember, these are active commands. Seek the things above, set your minds on things above. What are you looking at? What are you reading? What are you thinking about? What are you listening to? This does not mean that we have our heads in the clouds and are oblivious to the things happening around us. But it does mean that our attention, in the midst of breaking news, is fixed on the one who is sovereign over life and death, on the one who is upholding all things by his powerful word, on the one in whom is our only hope in life and in death. This means that we need to keep the gospel always in front of us, to consciously set our highest affections on Christ, and to filter every headline through the gospel truth that we believe. Our hope is a gospel hope, a firm assurance that looks beyond the grave.

Put Off / Put On

Because of this hope, because of what is true of us in Christ, because we have died and been raised to a new kind of life, because our hearts and our minds are pursuing a greater affection, we should live differently than we once did. Paul says that because we have died to our sins, we should now put to death the actions that are consistent with our old dead desires. He says

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: …

And he gives a laundry list of what is earthly, the way we once walked, because of which the wrath of God was coming. He instructs us to put this kind of lifestyle to death, to put it away, to strip it off like a contaminated set of clothes. He uses this metaphor of clothing; putting off and putting on. We have been washed clean on the inside; it doesn’t make much sense after taking a shower and getting clean to then put back on the same reeking, filthy, germ ridden clothes you were wearing before bathing. We are to put on a fresh set of clothes because we are clean.

Colossians 3:9 …you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, lying. Don’t wear that around any more. Those things bring God’s wrath, and you are dead to that.

This is the new set of clothes that we are to wear after having been cleansed by the blood of Jesus:

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

Notice, that is who we are. Chosen by God. Holy, set apart by God. Loved by God. We have been forgiven of all our trespasses through trust in Christ. We have been raised with Christ. Our life is hidden with Christ in God. That is our new identity.

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

This is the context where he says:

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

The peace of Christ is now to arbitrate every response, every word, every reaction. ‘Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.5:1). Because we are now at peace with God, peace should rule our hearts and emotions. We are no longer at war, in fear of death; rather death has lost its sting, and we are forever secure and at peace with God.

Peace and the Body of Christ

Because we are at peace with God, because the peace of Christ is arbitrating in our hearts, we can be at peace with one another. See the community here? You were called to the peace of Christ in one body. You are called not only to be at peace with one another, but to promote the peace of Christ. This is so important.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

We are to set our hearts and minds on Christ, we are to have the peace of Christ be the deciding factor in our hearts, and we are to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly. Only then are we in a position to encourage the community of believers. And that is what we are called to! Teaching one another, admonishing one another, singing with one another, giving thanks with one another. In this time, especially, that one another ministry is so vitally important!

-Set your mind and heart on Christ

-Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart

-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

***

March 27, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gospel Hope in a Broken World

03/15 Gospel Hope in a Broken World; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200315_hope.mp3

Our president announced this week a state of national emergency. The World Health Organization has officially designated the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic; as of yesterday there were 142,539 confirmed cases and 5,393 deaths worldwide [who.int]. There are currently around 2,000 confirmed cases in the US and 41 deaths, and those numbers are expected to rise. In response to identifying the first case of community spread in Utah, our governor announced the ‘dismissal’ of all students K-12, and colleges and universities are closing campuses and moving classes online. There is not a roll of toilet paper to be found in stores. Many people are afraid.

Suffering is Not New

How are we to think about all this? What do we as followers of Jesus do? Today I want to bring a message of hope to a hurting and broken world. But first we need to step back and look at where we are at and how we got here. Before we get to the good news, we should look at some bad news. Let’s give this some historical context. I found this list of 10 of the worst pandemics in history, and their death toll:

165 AD – Antonine Plague – Smallpox or measles? – 5 million

541-542 – Plague of Justinian – Bubonic plague – 25 million

1346-1353 – the black death – Bubonic plague – 75-200 million

1852-1860 – third Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 1 million

1889-1890 – ‘asian/russian’ flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

1910-1911 – sixth Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 800,000+

1918 – flu pandemic – influenza – 20-50 million

1956-1958 – Asian flu – influenza – 2 million

1968 – flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

2005-2012 (peak) – HIV/AIDS pandemic – 36 million

[https://www.mphonline.org/worst-pandemics-in-history/ ]

These are some staggering numbers. Why point this out? I am not at all trying to downplay this current pandemic. What I want us to see is the prevalence of death throughout human history. Remember this is just a top ten list; it obviously leaves a lot out. Suffering and disease and death is not new. We are not the first to face things like these. And we can learn a lot from history.

The Root of All Suffering

But to put this in an even broader context, I want to look at the global pandemic, the root cause that underlies all of these.

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—

The Bible has the answers to our deepest questions. Why? Why do terrible things like these happen throughout human history? Sin entered God’s good creation through one man. Death entered this world through Adam’s rebellion. Death spread to all people because all sinned. The wages of sin is death. The spread of contagious diseases that wipe out entire populations are not new. Fear and suffering and death are not new. God warned our first parents that enjoying relationship with him is life, but turning from him to follow other voices results in death. The death rate of COVID-19 is estimated at somewhere around 3.5%. The death rate of sinners throughout human history is 100%. Death is a fact we must face as humans living in a broken, fallen, hurting world. Let me give you a sobering word of encouragement; if the Corona virus doesn’t get you, something else will.

The Good News

We rebelled against a good and loving God. We brought the promised consequences down on our own head. But here’s the stunning thing. God himself came down. God entered into our disease ridden sick and dying world, not in a hazmat suit with a respirator, but in a susceptible, vulnerable human body. He actually took on flesh, he became one of us. In fact, he came so near to us that he contracted our disease. Galatians 3:13 says:

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—…

1 Peter 2:24 tells us:

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, …

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he [the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus himself told us:

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is staggeringly good news. The God who we rebelled against and offended has come down,

John 3:17 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.

God came down on a rescue mission, to lay himself down, to actually contract our disease, to die our death so we could live.

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.

Just stop and breathe that in. Whoever – believes – has – eternal – life. Eternal life. It will last forever. It cannot be lost or taken away. All who trust only in Jesus will enjoy his presence forever. Let that truth sink in deep and shape your souls and overcome your fears.

Here’s how the apostle Paul responded to this truth.

Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. …23 …My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Genuine Belief

Do you believe this? Do you really believe this? Has this truth sank down deep to the gut level where it influences every decision you make? Is this what you know is the right answer if your pastor were to ask you, or is this a truth that fleshes itself out in the way you live your life day to day? You see, a crisis, a tragedy, a global pandemic shows us what we really believe.

Cyprian (d.258); Dionysius (d.264)

In the plague of Cyprian, 249-262, at the height of the outbreak 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. Cyprian’s (Bishop of Carthage) biographer wrote of the plague at Carthage:

Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house. All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience. [/wiki/Plague_of_Cyprian; Pontius of Carthage, Life of Cyprian. Transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885. Online atChristian Classics Ethereal Library. ]

One eyewitness of the plague in Alexandria, Bishop Dionysius records:

At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/ ]

While the response of many to the plague was characterized by self-protection, self-preservation, avoiding the sick at all costs, the response of Christians was different. Dionysius recounts:

Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/; https://erenow.net/common/the-history-of-the-church/8.php]

The conduct of believers so impacted the culture, that a century later, the emperor Julian wrote (AD362) to exhort the pagan priests to imitate the Christians in their charity:

For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort… [https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Julian/Letter_22 ]

1527 – Luther

In August of 1527 the Bubonic plague struck Wittenberg and numerous people fled in fear of their lives. Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, who was pregnant at the time, remained in their beloved city in order to treat the infected. Luther responded to a fellow pastor and friend in another city: [https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/martin-luther-and-the-black-plague/ ]

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together …so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another.”

Luther saw one purpose of an epidemic as

also to test our faith and love — our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. “

He says we ought to:

serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner as St. John teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” [1 John 3:16].

He goes on to address our fears:

When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart. He …takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles.”

[https://blogs.lcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Plague-blogLW.pdf ]

It is out of this period that Luther penned his famous hymn:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

1854 – Spurgeon

In 1854 Cholera broke out in London in the Broad Street neighborhood, just across the river from the New Park Street Chapel where Charles Spurgeon was newly called to minister. He was busy preaching, serving his people, visiting the sick and dying. In 1866, amid another cholera outbreak, he gave this charge to Christians:

You cannot stop their dying; but, oh, that God might help you to stop their being damned! You cannot stop the breath from going out of their bodies; but, oh, that the gospel might stop their souls from going down to destruction! It can do it, and nothing else can take its place.

Just now, the cholera has come again. There can be little doubt, I suppose, about it being here already in some considerable force, and probably it may be worse. The Christian need not dread it, for he has nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by death. Still, for the sake of others, he may well pray that God would avert his hand, and not let His anger burn. But, since it is here, I think it ought to be a motive for active exertion. If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad.

I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then. All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face! When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine.

And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that —

There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

Tell them that He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. Tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “to-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

[https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-autobiography-of-c-h-spurgeon-volume-i#flipbook/380; Autobiography 1:371 ‘in sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, July 29, 1866’]

2019-2020 Wuhan China

On January 24, 2020 Pastor Paul Peng shared the gospel over the phone with a Zhang, a woman from Wuhan who while visiting her son in Chengdu, China, had become ill and was quarantined. Five days after putting her trust in Christ, she became the first coronavirus fatality in Sichuan province. Peng held a memorial service over a videoconferencing platform, preaching to about 100 of her friends and family that ‘calamity should lead people to pray not only for God to rescue them, but also for people to repent and turn to God’ [https://world.wng.org/2020/02/seeking_peace_in_sickness ]

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

I want to close today with the first question from the Heidelberg Catechism, a teaching tool for Christians in the form of questions and answers.

Q1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own (1Cor.6:19-20), but belong—body and soul, in life and in death (Rom.14:7-9)—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ (1Cor.3:23; Titus2:14).

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood (1Pet.1:18-19; 1Jn.1:7-9; 2:2), and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil (Jn.8:34-36; Heb.2:14-15; 1Jn.3:1-11). He also watches over me in such a way (Jn.6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2Thess.3:3; 1Pet.1:5) that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven (Matt.10:29-31; Lk.21:16-18); in fact, all things must work together for my salvation (Rom.8:28).

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life (Rom.8:15-16; 2Cor.1:21-22; 5:5; Eph.1:13-14) and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him (Rom.8:1-17).

***

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

March 16, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 10:2-6; The Spiritual Battle for the Mind

03/08_2 Corinthians 10:2-6; The Spiritual Battle for the Mind; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200308_2cor10_2-6.mp3

For two years, John Calvin preached regularly throughout the week in the church in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1538 the city council, resisting his ideas of reformation, kicked him out of the city. Three years later, they begged him to return, about which he wrote to a friend “There is no place under heaven of which I can have a greater dread.” After several busy years of ministry in Geneva, in 1546 he wrote this in his commentary on 2 Corinthians:

The life of the Christian, it is true, is a perpetual warfare, for whoever gives himself to the service of God will have no truce from Satan at any time, but will be harassed with incessant disquietude.”

The life of the Christian is a perpetual warfare. He goes on:

It becomes, however, ministers of the word and pastors to be standard-bearers, going before the others; and, certainly, there are none that Satan harasses more, that are more severely assaulted, or that sustain more numerous or more dreadful onsets. That man, therefore, is mistaken, who girds himself for the discharge of this office, and is not at the same time furnished with courage and bravery for contending; for he is not exercised otherwise than in fighting. For we must take this into account, that the gospel is like a fire, by which the fury of Satan is enkindled. Hence it cannot but be that he will arm himself for a contest, whenever he sees that it is advanced.” [Calvin, p.321-322]

The life of the Christian, especially the Christian involved in ministry (and we are all called to minister) is war. Paul describes this warfare in 2 Corinthians 10.

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Walking In the Flesh not According to the Flesh

Paul is being accused ‘walking according to the flesh.’ Back in chapter 1, when he was faulted for changing his travel plans he asks:

2 Corinthians 1:17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.

Paul concedes, he does walk ‘in the flesh.’ Paul is human. He is not superhuman; he has a normal human existence. Galatians 2:20 he says:

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

He lives life in the flesh. He walks in the flesh. But he does not walk or make plans according to the flesh. He is using ‘flesh’ in two different ways here. He does lead a normal fleshly human existence with all the frailties and hardships of life in a fallen physical body, but he does not live according to the flesh; he does not follow his sinful fallen human thinking to make decisions. We do not walk according to the flesh; we do we walk in the flesh, but ‘we are not waging war according to the flesh.’

Waging War

Here he switches metaphors from walking to waging war. Paul is not walking, he is not running, he is on the warpath, he is on the offensive. He is in a battle. He is waging war. But he is clear; he does not wage war according to the flesh.

Supernatural Weapons in Both Hands

The weapons he uses in his warfare are not of the flesh. They have divine power to destroy strongholds. He doesn’t here tell us what those weapons are. We could look to the gospel armor in Ephesians 6; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of gospel peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God; together with all-prayer. We need to have on the full gospel armor to stand against our supernatural enemy. But we don’t have to leave 2 Corinthians. We could look back to 6:7 where he mentions the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left. Paul uses both right-handed and left-handed spiritual weapons. On the one hand:

2 Corinthians 6:4 …by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

On the other hand:

2 Corinthians 6:6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

There are two sides to his weaponry:

2 Corinthians 6:8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

This kind of warfare doesn’t make human sense. That’s what he means when he says that he does not wage war according to the flesh.

Have you ever seen a physical battle that is won by meekness and gentleness? But that is exactly how Paul wages war. By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, he tears down strongholds. He battles by dying, and behold we live.

In chapter 4 he says

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He battles (4:2) ‘by the open statement of truth’ . God opens blind minds through the proclamation of (4:5) ‘Jesus Christ as Lord.’

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

You see the kind of weapons he uses? They are not what we would expect, according to the flesh. He wins the war like Jesus did, by laying down his life, to show us life that is life indeed.

Tearing Down Strongholds

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

The weapons we use have the divine power to destroy strongholds.

A stronghold is a defensible place stocked with supplies where people could retreat from an attacking army. A stronghold at best would serve to delay the inevitable conquest. An attacking army with siege weapons, given enough time would be able to conquer the stronghold and take captives. In Judges 9, Abimelech ambushed many of the people of Shechem, captured the gate of the city, and when he was told that the leaders of the tower of Shechem had fled to the stronghold, he and his men set fire to it and killed them. But when he captured Thebez and attempted to do the same thing to their strong tower, a woman threw down an upper millstone and crushed Abimelech’s skull.

Battling Proud Arguments

What are the strongholds Paul refers to? He tells us in the next verse.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

Paul is in a war against arguments, ideas, opinions. He is in a battle for the minds of people. His objective is to take the minds of people captive to obey Christ. What he tears down is anything that is raised up against the knowledge of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing.. 5 For what we proclaim is …Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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.

He wants the Corinthians to know God, to know and experience the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He wants them to see the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the very image of God. He wants them not to regard anyone according to the flesh (5:16), no longer to boast in outward appearances (5:12). This is a spiritual battle that requires spiritual weapons.

Forsaking Pride to Know Him

He tears down every exalted thing. We tend to lift up so many things. We lift up wisdom and power and position and status and appearance. We lift up ourselves. We don’t think we’re really that bad. We think we are enough, that we are OK, that we can do it, maybe with God’s help, but we can do it. Our opinion of ourselves is often lifted up against the knowledge of God. We can’t even believe in God without the gift of his grace! Paul says that he is not sufficient in himself to claim anything as coming from himself (3:5).

You see, to believe in God, to really trust him alone, we have to come to the end of ourselves. As long as we think we can contribute something, we won’t trust. Not completely. And God requires us to turn. Turn away from whatever you were holding on to, to throw down as worthless whatever you were clinging to and cling only to him. This is biblical repentance.

Paul describes his own experience in Philippians 3. He said ‘if anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more (3:4) and then he lists his credentials. And when he gets to the end he says:

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Paul took everything that lifted him up, all his own accomplishments that were lifted up against the knowledge of Christ, and counted them all as loss, filth, refuse. He turned to Jesus empty handed, open handed, ready to receive a gift he didn’t deserve. He emptied his hands so that he could know Christ.

Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

I Must Die

Paul wants to build up the Corinthians, but first he must tear down everything that is lifted up against the knowledge of God. Paul wants them to truly know Christ, but first the demonic wisdom that lifts itself up against knowing God must be destroyed.

Mark Seifrid writes “this violent conquest is achieved by means of weakness. It …is contained within the paradox of the cross, where God’s weakness is manifest as more powerful than human beings (1Cor.1:25).” [PNTC, 381]

His authority as an apostle is for the edification of the Corinthians, not for their destruction. He must, however, first destroy the Corinthians in their false imaginations (every exalted thing) in order to take captive every mind (including the Corinthians) in obedience to Christ. The Spirit gives life only to that which has been put to death (3:6). Paul’s calling as apostle is not to effect merely a change of minds, but a change of persons. The cross of Christ does not merely do away with the world’s wisdom, strength, and boasting. It does away with the wise, the things that are strong, and the exalted (1Cor.1:26-31).” [PNTC, 382]

Paul wars against this, and we must war against it in our own hearts and minds. I must reckon myself dead, dead in trespasses and sins, if I am ever to experience the resurrection life that Jesus gives (Rom.6:8; Eph.2:5). I need to embrace – to really believe – the gospel. I must be crucified with Christ so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal.2:20). I must abandon my pride and own my need so that I can truly know Christ. The gospel is good news for sinners.

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

March 9, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 10:1-2; The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ

03/01_2 Corinthians 10:1-2; The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200301_2cor10_1-2.mp3

Overview of 2 Corinthians 1-9

We are going to jump back in to 2 Corinthians at chapter 10 today, but since we’ve been away from this book for some time, we will start with an overview to orient ourselves on where we are at in this book.

Chapters 1-7 expound the characteristics of genuine Christian ministry; gospel ministry is ministry that looks like the gospel and is shaped by the gospel. Real ministry is loving service that embraces suffering for the good of others.

Chapters 8-9 encourage an experience of God’s grace to overflow in practical generosity to others.

Chapters 10-13 confront the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

In this final section of the book, Paul employs biting sarcasm, thick with irony. He is directly confrontational, even threatening. His tone is so markedly different from the rest of the book that it has become popular among scholars to see this section as a sloppy cut-and-paste job, attaching something else Paul wrote to the end of this book. Some guess that chapters 10-13 contain the severe letter that he mentions in 2 Corinthians 7:8 now appended to the body of his current letter. Others hypothesize an interruption between the writing of chapters 1-9 and 10-13 where Paul received disturbing news from Corinth that caused him to change his tone. All this is conjecture, for which there is zero evidence in the manuscripts of 2 Corinthians.

The letter as it stands is cohesive and builds on itself. Throughout the book, Paul has been alluding to those who undermine his integrity and authority, and patiently teaching what authentic Christian ministry looks like.

The Opponents in 2 Corinthians

In chapters 1 and 2 Paul defends himself against the criticism that he makes his plans according to the flesh, vacillating, saying Yes yes and No no at the same time. ‘it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth’ (1:23).

In chapter 2 he distances himself from those who peddle God’s word for profit.

In chapter 3 he denies that he needs, like some do, letters of recommendation. The Corinthians themselves are the proof of his authenticity. He claims no competency for ministry in and of himself, but he has been made competent by God as a minister of the New Covenant through the Spirit.

In chapter 4 he renounces ‘disgraceful, underhanded ways.’ He says ‘We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (4:2). He implies that there are those who do tamper with God’s word, who cunningly use disgraceful underhanded ways.

Throughout he re-frames their thinking about adversity and suffering, showing them that it is not evidence of the Lord’s disfavor, but rather it is exactly the pattern Jesus set for us at the cross, when he came to rescue us by laying down his own life. Authentic gospel ministry is ministry that is shaped by the gospel.

In chapter 5 he warns against ‘those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart’ (5:12).

At the end of chapter 5 and into chapter 6 he implores them to be reconciled to God (5:20), he appeals to them not to receive the grace of God in vain. ‘Behold, now is the day of salvation.’ He says ‘We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry’ (6:1-3).

He understood how big a deal this was. This is a salvation issue. To reject the apostolic witness to the gospel is inextricably linked to that gospel the apostle proclaimed. To undermine the apostle is to undermine the gospel. It’s no different today. To undermine the trustworthiness of God’s word is to undermine the good news it communicates.

He says his heart is wide open to them but they are restricted in their own affections, and he invites them in return to open their hearts to him (6:11-12). He warns them not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, which is what they were doing by putting up with false teachers, and he urges ‘go out from their midst and be separate from them’ (6:14, 17). He again invites them to make room in their hearts for their true apostle, and he says ‘We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one’ (7:2). Either some were accusing Paul of taking advantage of them, or Paul is contrasting himself with what he sees going on in this church, that the false teachers are wronging and corrupting and taking advantage of them.

At the end of chapter 7 he rejoices over their response to Titus and the severe letter, that they experienced godly grief that led to repentance. He says in 7:12 that he wrote as he did ‘in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.’ He wrote as he did because he wanted them to see that they really did have a place for him in their hearts.

He goes on in chapters 8-9 to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their love by extending grace to others; through their generous giving. He closes chapter 9 pointing to the glory God will receive through their giving:

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Paul’s Authoritative Introduction

And then he says:

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

I Paul myself. This is rare, and it is emphatic. Through most of this letter Paul has been using the apostolic ‘we’. Here he switches to first person singular, and makes this emphatic with two personal pronouns ‘I, myself’. The other place that comes closest to the emphatic nature of this is Galatians 5:2

Galatians 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

And if you are familiar with Paul’s letter to the Galatians, you understand the precarious position of that gospel abandoning church. Here in 2 Corinthians the situation is no less grave, and Paul is no less emphatic.

The Authoritative Appeal; Bold Begging

We would expect ‘Now I Paul, myself command you.’ Instead he says ‘I Paul, myself, encourage you or entreat you. This is the word comfort or encourage that he uses 18 times in this letter. He started this letter by pointing us to ‘the God of all comfort’ or encouragement, ‘who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. This is the word ‘to call to one’s side.’ Paul musters all his authority to encourage them, to appeal to them, to call them to his side. He starts the next verse with ‘I beg of you’. He asks; this word is also used for asking in prayer, it expresses desire. He boldly begs them. Bold self assertion and begging. This doesn’t seem to fit. This sounds paradoxical. That’s the point. Paul uses his authority to to call them to his side and plead with them.

I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!’ This is the accusation of his detractors. They say he is lowly and meek when present but bold in his writing to them from a distance. He has a loud bark but no bite. In verse 10 he quotes his critics directly:

2 Corinthians 10:10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.”

So here, in his letter, he authoritatively appeals to them. He boldly begs them that when he arrives he won’t have to show his confident boldness.

The Gospel Illustrated (In The Apostle)

This is actually how Paul operated. He did change his travel plans and forego a visit to them, but instead wrote a severe letter.

2 Corinthians 1:23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.

2 Corinthians 2:3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, … 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

The letter was painful, painful to write, and it caused pain to the hearers.

2 Corinthians 7:8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

This was Paul’s stated intent. This is how he operated. To attempt to remedy the situation by writing, so that his visit could be pleasant and not painful, so that he could be gentle among them and not forceful. He writes at the end of this section:

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

This was Paul’s purpose, Paul’s M.O. Paul patterned his ministry this way after the Lord himself. God thundered fearfully from atop Mount Sinai with the absolute standard of his law, together with the punishment for disobedience. And then God came down in the person of Jesus, to seek and to save the lost, the hurting, the broken. This is the good news. That God is holy and his commandment is holy and righteous and good (Rom.7:12) And when we see ourselves as desperate and cry out ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ (Rom.7:24), then God responds in mercy, puts himself forward as the propitiation for our sins to be received by faith (Rom.3:25).

The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ

With all his authority, Paul entreats them ‘by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.’ The meekness and gentleness of Christ. Jesus said

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

Jesus is gentle -that’s the root of the word ‘meekness’ here in 2 Corinthians. Jesus uses this word ‘lowly’, a derogatory word on the lips of Paul’s detractors; ‘I who am humble or lowly when face to face’ In taking the lowly place, Paul was following his Master.

John 13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.

Notice the paradoxical combination of omnipotent authority and abject humility.

John 13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus very literally stooped to take the lowly place.

Philippians 2:5 …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.

Paul was showing them what real leadership looks like. He is inviting them in to see Jesus, to follow Jesus with him. With all authority, he was calling them to his side by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He was taking the way of the cross.

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

March 9, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment