PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Rest, Recharge, Worship

07/12 Rest and Worship (Exodus 20:8-11); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200712_rest.mp3

I spent last week at Grace Haven Bible Camp with 50 of your teens, and teens from several other churches, and I want to let you in on some of what we talked about. Lincoln, the youth leader from Alpine, and I went through the Ten Commandments together. When Lincoln first suggested the topic to me, I was hesitant. I texted him back ‘we are not under law…’ But the more I thought and studied, the more excited I got about the topic, and today I want to include you, because, Lord willing, some of what we talked about at camp will spill over into your homes. And I believe this fits well with what we have been studying the last few weeks about families and raising children. Today I want to look with you at the purpose of the law, and the fourth commandment specifically.

Jesus and the Law

Here are some things Jesus said about the Old Testament law.

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 did not come to abolish the law. When Jesus addressed God’s law, he lifted it up. He never tossed it aside. He raised the standard, he never lowered it. In fact he continues:

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I don’t want to be one who relaxes one of the least of these commandments, or one who teaches others to do the same. In Jesus’ teaching on the law, he always drove it deeper, to a heart level, dealing with inward desire, not merely external conformity. Not just the outward act of murder, but what about the hatred in your heart? Not just the outward act of adultery, but what about the lust in your heart? Jesus lifts up the law to show us the spiritual intent, to show us (using Paul’s language from Romans 7) ‘the law is holy and righteous and good’ (Rom.7:12).

Use the Law Lawfully

Paul writes:

1 Timothy 1:8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully,

Paul, writing to a young pastor in the New Testament, says that the law is good. But he clarifies, you must use the law lawfully, which implies that there is an unlawful use of the law, a misuse of the law that we must guard against.

Paul is warning against false teachers who teach the law but they don’t know what they are talking about. We must understand the purpose of the law in order to not misuse the law. He clarifies in the following verses:

1 Timothy 1:9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,

The law was given for sinners, not righteous people. People that drive slow don’t need the speed limit sign. The guy driving the farm equipment down the highway going 12 is not concerned when he sees the state trooper hiding behind the 65 mile an hour sign. The sign is posted for those who like to drive too fast. It holds up the standard and holds them accountable.

To misuse the law is to rely on it to establish your righteousness before God. Our inclination is to use the law as a checklist. 8 out of 10 ain’t bad, right? 80%, that’s a passing grade! When we use it as a checklist to attempt to show how good we are we misuse the law. We use it unlawfully.

The first use of the law is to show us the perfect standard, a mirror to show us how far we fall short, and to drive us to Christ who is merciful and eager to extend grace to lawbreakers who run to him for rescue.

James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

If you keep God’s law perfectly, except for just one thing, you are a lawbreaker and you are guilty. You are a sinner, and the wages of sin is death. Paul sums it up in Galatians:

Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

If you rely on the law as a checklist by which you seek to impress God, then you have to abide by all of it perfectly. No one ever has, so that makes us all lawbreakers and places us under the just punishment for lawbreakers. The law was never intended to make anyone righteous. By nature it cannot make anyone righteous any more than a speed limit sign can make your car stay within the posted limit. It simply points out where you are in violation of the standard.

That is the first use of the law, to make clear God’s perfect standard, to hold up a mirror to show us our sin, and thus drive us as guilty sinners to Christ to seek a gift we don’t deserve.

The Third Use

But there is another use of the law. The reformers referred to this as the third use of the law. The first use is to stop every mouth and hold the whole world accountable to God (Rom.3:19). The second use is the civil use; that God’s law is an objective standard by which we can discern right and wrong, and it is a good foundation on which to build any society. The third use is the primary use for followers of Jesus. Paul talked about it in 2 Timothy 3.

2 Timothy 3:15 …you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

That’s the first use; to drive us to Christ, trusting him alone for salvation. Then he goes on.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

That’s the third use of the law. God’s law has a training and equipping function for the one who has been saved by grace from the consequences of the law. We are no longer under law, as a schoolmaster to drive us to Christ; now that we are justified by grace, now that we have Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to us as a gift, now we can be trained by the law for righteousness, equipping us for every good work.

The First and Second Table

The Ten can be divided into the first and second table, summarized by Jesus as loving God and loving neighbor (Mt.22:36-40), the vertical and the horizontal. Loving God looks like worshiping God alone and having no other gods, worshiping God rightly by making no images to worship or serve, honoring God’s name by not using it worthlessly, remembering God’s day with worship and rest. The fifth command is a hinge that connects the two tables. We honor God’s authority by submitting to God given authority – honor father and mother. We love our neighbor by not taking a life wrongfully, by not taking someone’s wife, by not taking someone’s possessions, by not bearing false witness, by not desiring that which belongs to another.

With this third use of the law in mind, training in righteousness, to learn what love for God and love for neighbor looks like, let’s look together at the fourth commandment.

Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. What does this mean for the follower of Jesus? How can this commandment train us in godliness?

Sabbath Shadow

First, it is important to keep the gospel clear. We cannot impress God by any religious observance. Galatians is clear that ‘no one is justified before God by observing the law’ (3:11), and observing days as a way to be justified by God is deserting Christ and turning to a different gospel, going back into slavery (1:6; 4:10-11).

Romans 14 is clear that esteeming one day above another or esteeming all days alike is a matter of conscience for the believer, and ‘each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.’ We are not to pass judgment on a brother, and we are not to despise a brother (Rom.14:1-19).

Colossians 2 makes it clear that ‘the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands’ has been canceled, nailed to the cross (2:14).

Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

The Sabbath is a shadow pointing us to Christ. The substance belongs to Christ.

The Fourth Commandment

So what do we do with the fourth commandment? The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, what we call Saturday, technically from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. But Christians distinctively gather on the first day of the week, or the Lord’s Day. This seems to have been the practice of the church from earliest times. Some are legalistic about what you can and can’t do on the Lord’s day. Many treat it no differently than any other day, a common work day; a day to catch up on projects, or as merely another day off, part of the weekend that belongs to us for recreation and pursuit of our own pleasure. Some say Jesus did away with the Sabbath and now every day is holy, but holy means set apart for God, and very few people actually live like that.

Burden or Blessing?

Let’s attempt to listen as if we were in the sandals of a Hebrew slave who had just come out of Egypt. My people have been in bondage for 400 years. Forced labor for a cruel taskmaster. No relief. They ruthlessly made us to work as slaves and made our lives bitter with hard service (Ex.1:13-14). God heard our cry for rescue from slavery and he came to our rescue. He crushed our oppressors and brought us out by mighty demonstrations of his sovereign power. He fed us and cared for us in the wilderness, and then he gives us his law.

Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Hebrew word ‘Sabbath’ means ‘stop’ or ‘cessation’. Memorialize the stop-work day. God set us free from Egyptian bondage and says ‘I’m your new boss now, and I demand that you take a mandatory day off every week’. Imagine their response: ‘Do we have to? We like working 24/7, 365 days a year. Rest? What kind of a master are you, demanding that we rest?!! We want to neglect our families, abuse our bodies, ignore our God, we just want to work work work!

Why is it that God offers us a blessing, he invites us to a holiday, and we bring our excuses and look for a way out? God frees us from slavery and offers us rest, and we find reasons to justify our desire to keep right on in our everyday busyness. Wouldn’t you think that we as Christians would come to God and say “I know that we are not under law but under grace, and I know that in Christ Jesus we are set free from the demands of the law, and that we cannot possibly earn your favor by any kind of law-keeping, that the Sabbath was a shadow that points us to rest in Christ, but would it be okay if in that freedom, we still took a day off to enjoy rest from our labors and focus our hearts toward you in worship? Can we use our blood-bought freedom that way?”

Rooted in Creation and Redemption

This idea of stopping to enjoy, as the fourth commandment tells us, is rooted all the way back to creation:

Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

God rested. He didn’t need to. He wasn’t tired. He stopped to enjoy what he had made. By his own example, he built that in to our seven day weekly rhythm.

And this idea of stopping to enjoy is also rooted in redemption. In Deuteronomy, when Moses retells God’s law to the next generation before they enter the promised land, he says it this way:

Deuteronomy 5:12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Rest, remember God’s awesome power in the six day creation. Remember his awesome power demonstrated in your salvation. As God graciously has extended to you rest and enjoyment, you in turn extend it to those God has entrusted to your care. The Lord invites us to delight in the day because we delight in him. Set aside time to enjoy your blood-bought relationship with him. (Is.58:13-14).

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 invites us to rest. Jesus completed the work his Father sent him to do, and from the cross he cried out ‘Tetelestai’; ‘It is finished!’ Do you long for rest? Do you need a break? Are you weary? Jesus calls us to come. Come to me and rest. You will find rest for your souls.

Honor God With His Time

So often I hear (or I say) I just don’t have enough time. I have a list of all these good things I want to do, but I just don’t have enough time. I want to read my Bible more, I want to pray more, I want to get well grounded in theology, I want to reach out and serve. But I just can’t seem to fit it all in. Let me pitch to you a radical crazy idea. Not to put you under law, but to invite you in to rest.

What if you set aside one day out of seven to meditate on, to memorize God’s word, to dig deep, to study theology, to read a Christian classic? What if you set aside a whole day to seek the Lord in prayer and feed your own soul?

What if you set aside one day out of seven to train up your children, to get together with other believers, to practice hospitality, to share a meal, to listen to one another and encourage one another, to disciple and to be discipled, to pray with one another and worship together? Not just an hour or two, but a whole day?

What if you took one day a week to serve others, to extend Christian love to the needy, to the least, to bind up the broken hearted, to pursue justice for the oppressed, to set captives free? What would it look like if you built those Christian disciplines into your weekly rhythm?

Something radical happened at the resurrection. Believers began to gather together on the first day of the week instead of the last (Acts 20:7; 1Cor.16:2). They called it ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev.1:10). The day is not yours, it belongs to the Lord. Not the Lord’s hour; the Lord’s day. We in America are so crazy blessed and spoiled by our historic Judaeo-Christian heritage; many of us get two days off; Saturday and Sunday. Remember, every breath you breathe is a gift. God owns all time. He asks you to give him back some of it for your good and for his glory. Ask him how he would have you spend it. It is holy, set apart, and it is meant to be a blessing to you and to those around you.

***

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

July 15, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds… (Matthew 5:14-6:21)

06/21 [Father’s Day] Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200621_righteousness-exceeds.mp3

Today is Father’s day, and I want to look at Matthew 5-6 where Jesus teaches us about our relationship to our Father. We are all in different places regarding our relationship to our fathers. Some of us have lost a father, some never knew their father. Some love and admire their father, others have been deeply wounded by their father. Some of us are fathers of young children, some fathers of adult children. But Jesus points us to the perfect Father, his Father in heaven, and he addresses us who have been adopted into his family, who can now also call God ‘Father’.

The Light of Our Works Give Glory to Our Father

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus is teaching us what our lives are to look like as his followers. We are to be like a city set on a hill, like a lamp up on a stand, giving light to the world. Children are often scared of the dark, and life is hard when you stumble around in the dark and stub your toe. But understand, not everyone loves the light. When the lights are turned on, the cockroaches scurry for cover. Jesus said ‘the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil’ (Jn.3:19). We are to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand. We are told to ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ Let the light of your commendable conduct shine in such a way that people see you and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How does this work? I remember (and it has been a long time since this has happened), when our children were younger, and we would herd them into a nice restaurant to have a special dinner together as a family, when we entered you could feel the people we were seated near brace themselves as this large family intruded on their otherwise peaceful dinner. On several occasions, as a neighboring couple would finish their meal and get up to leave, they would come over to Deanna and I and say ‘your children are so well behaved!’ Like I said, this was a long time ago. We would thank them and let them know that it was by the grace of God. But what they were doing was exactly what this verse is talking about. Sometimes they would direct a complement toward our children, but they would always bring it back to the parents, recognizing that we were ultimately responsible for our children’s behavior. ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ When our conduct is like a light shining in a dark place, it reflects on our upbringing, on our parenting. It reflects on our Father in heaven. We are always representing our adopting Father in heaven. We are either bringing him honor and glory or we are shaming his name.

The Heart of the Law

Jesus continues by pointing us back to the law of God.

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. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill the law of God. He came to do what we cannot. He says that we are to do and to teach the law of God. He condemns those who relax one of the least of these commands. And he says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, or we will never even enter the kingdom of heaven. God’s children must conduct themselves as his children. And then Jesus goes on to expound some of the commands of God.

In verses 21-26 he reminds us of command #6 in the 10 commandments, ‘you shall not murder,’ and he addresses the root of anger in our heart, and commands us to seek reconciliation.

In verses 27-32 he reminds us of command #7 ‘you shall not commit adultery,’ and he addresses the root disease of lust in our heart.

In verses 33-37 he reminds us of command #9 ‘you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor’ and he tells us that we should not even have to take an oath; that we should be known always to speak the truth.

In verses 38-42 he reminds us of the law of retribution; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Ex.21:24) and he teaches us that rather than demanding and exacting the justice that is due to us, we should rather be wronged and go the extra mile to serve others.

In verses 43-48 he reminds us of the requirement to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev.19:18), and he extends this to love of even our enemies.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Jesus doesn’t relax the requirements of the commandments; he says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. He digs down to the heart issues that underlie the outward actions. The religious leaders, seeking to justify themselves by their conduct, made them merely about outward observance, and defined exactly when and how far and to what the commands did and did not apply. Jesus says the issue is our hearts; what do you love? Is your heart formed after the heart of your father? Do you bear the resemblance of your Father and his heart toward people?

Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Our hearts must be reshaped by the new birth to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Our hearts must grow to resemble the heart of our heavenly Father.

Not Works Righteousness But Real Spirit Wrought Righteousness

Please don’t misunderstand, Jesus is not driving us to pursue a righteousness that we earn by our good performance. The point of the law is that we can’t, that we fall short. The standard is absolute. The standard is perfection. The law teaches us that we need a hero that fights the battle for us; who can fulfill the law for us and give us his perfect righteousness as a gift that we don’t deserve. This is exactly what Paul understands in Philippians 3. He counts his earned righteousness under the Law as loss and rubbish,

Philippians 3:8 …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— 10 that I may know him…

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them, to accomplish them. He fulfilled the commandments in our place, as our hero, and he clothes us in his perfect righteousness as a gift, received by faith. He makes us his own.

But do not make the other mistake that because Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf that it no longer matters how we live. Now that we have been clothed in his perfect righteousness as a gift, now that we are reconciled to God through the death of his Son, now that we have received the gift of the Spirit of the living God through faith, now, the Holy Spirit living inside begins to transform our hearts to make us into what we are. We are perfectly righteous before God by faith in Jesus’ finished work, and we are becoming righteous day to day, as the Spirit brings about his holiness in us as we let our light shine before others.

Seek the Reward of your Father

Jesus goes on in Matthew chapter 6 to warn us:

Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

And after teaching us to pray to our Father in heaven, he continues:

Matthew 6:16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

At first read this passage seems to directly contradict what went just before. In 5:14 he said ‘You are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand;’ in 16 he said ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ Now in 6:1 he says ‘Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.’ Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works,’ and ‘beware of practicing you righteousness before others in order to be seen by them.’ How do we put these together? Do we let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works, or do we beware of practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them? Do we let our light shine before others, or do we only practice our righteousness in secret to be seen only by our Father who is in secret? Do you sense the problem here?

Jesus is cautioning us against a dangerous and seductive motive. He is commanding us to let our light shine before others, but he is warning us not to do so in order to pursue the praise of others. Our hearts love praise. We want to be praised by others. We want the affirmation and approval of people. How many people desperately seek the affirmation and approval of their earthly fathers? How many people have been deeply wounded because no matter what they did or how hard they tried, they could never measure up and never feel the approval of their father? We naturally long for the approval of those who are important to us. Jesus is warning us against the danger of seeking the praise and approval of people.

I want us to see something here. Do you see how repeatedly Jesus encourages us to seek the reward? He warns that if you pursue the praise of people, their praise will be all the reward you ever receive. But if you seek to glorify your Father, if you give in secret and pray in secret and fast in secret, then your Father who is in secret and sees in secret will reward you.

This is the context of verse 19:

Matthew 6:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Do not seek the praise that comes from people. Seek the reward that comes from your Father who sees in secret.

Here’s the thing, we do long for approval, especially approval from those who are most important to us. If we live to pursue the affirmation of people, that will be all we get, and that won’t last. But if we seek the approval of our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God, we are guaranteed to get it, and it will last forever!

Remember the parable of the talents?

Matthew 25:14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

Two of the servants put what he had entrusted to them to work. The one buried what he had been given. When the master returned, the servant who distrusted his master and did nothing with what he had been given was thrown out, but the two who had put what they had been given to work both experienced exponential increase, and heard these words:

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

The reward we are to pursue is the approval of our Father who loves us and who has freely given us much. Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it must be a righteousness that flows out from a Spirit transformed heart, who does not practice righteousness in order to be praised by other people, but rather ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’

***

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

June 22, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obey Jesus: Love Others

05/24 Obey Jesus: Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Enemy; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200524_love-others.mp3

We are called to be disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus commanded; so what does he command us as his disciples?

In the past weeks we have looked at what we love. Jesus demands that we love him more than father, mother, spouse, son or daughter. Giving to him our primary allegiance may prove very costly, even alienating the closest of earthly relationships. But our allegiance to him must run deeper than blood.

We saw that he warns us to beware what we treasure, because some loves are treacherous and will seek to displace him as our primary affection. We cannot serve both God and money. He commands us to drop our baggage, the things that hold us back from following him wholeheartedly, and come, follow him.

Today we are going to look at another command of Jesus regarding what we love. Let’s start with the greatest command according to Jesus.

The Great and First Commandment

In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked a question by a religious expert to test him.

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.

Which is the great commandment in the Law? The question suggests that we ought to go to God’s top ten list, the Ten Commandments, and pick one to hold up above the others. But Jesus doesn’t even go to the big ten. He goes to Deuteronomy 6, the ‘Shema’; a regularly recited passage well known to every Jew. Love God with your whole being. The law is not so much about keeping commandments, following rules, prioritizing which rule to put above others. It is really about affections. It is about what you love. And you must love God above all. Your primary allegiance must be for God alone. All your emotional energy, all your mental capacity, your whole inner being must be fully engaged in loving God. This is the great and first commandment. Love for God is foundational. Above any commandment keeping must stand our treasuring of God, our love for God.

The Second is Like It

But Jesus makes this a two-for-one deal. He was asked which is the great commandment, and Jesus gives him two. The second that he pairs with the first comes from Leviticus 19:18, 34.

Matthew 22:39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The second is like it. We must love neighbor as we love ourselves. We are commanded to expend the same mental and emotional energy, the same impulse to self-preservation, the same commitment to the good of others that we naturally give to ourselves.

All The Law and the Prophets

Jesus pairs loving God with loving neighbor, and says that on these two together hang all the Law and the Prophets. These two sum up the entirety of what the Old Testament Scriptures taught.

God created man to be in loving relationship with himself, and to care for his creation under him. But we rebelled and loved the things he created more than himself. Our lust for power and possessions spiraled so low,

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land…

He chose one man and called him out of his idolatry to follow him, and promised that through his descendant he would bless the nations. He gave his chosen people his commandments, but they continuously went astray. He sent prophets to call them back to himself, to love for God and neighbor, to be blessed in relationship with himself, and to be a blessing to others.

Love God and love neighbor. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Every other command is expansion, clarification, application of these. As Paul says in Romans 13,

Romans 13:9 …and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And in Galatians 5,

Galatians 5:13 …use your freedom … through love [to] serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

All the commandments are summed up in this one word. The whole law is fulfilled in one word.

John, in his first short letter to the churches, says

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

It is easy to say you love God, but that is difficult to prove or disprove. But how you treat your brother is easily seen. And John says, if you claim to love God but hate your brother, you’re a liar.

Who Is My Neighbor?

In Luke 10, Jesus is being put to the test by another religious expert. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”(10:25). Jesus pointed him to the Law and asked him how he understood it. This man replied with the same summary Jesus gave: to love God with heart and soul and strength and mind, and neighbor as self.

Luke 10:29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor. He wanted to justify himself; he wanted to feel that he was doing well. He wanted to limit the scope of God’s command to make it doable. Define who it is I’m to love, and I’ll work hard to do it. If my neighbors are the two people who live on either side of me, it will be hard, but I can suck it up and tough is out and show love and kindness to them, if that’s what it takes to gain eternal life.

To answer his question, ‘who is my neighbor, Jesus paints a picture of a man in desperate need, and a priest and Levite come across his path, both interested in pleasing God through ritual purity, but not willing to compromise their purity to help a man in need. The shocking hero to Jesus’ story is a Samaritan low life half-breed good-for-nothing, scorned and despised by the Jews. Samaria was the northern neighbor to Judea, who after Israel had been conquered by Assyria in 722BC had intermarried with pagans and integrated their pagan worship practices (2Ki.17). The Samaritan in Jesus’ story is the one who had compassion and went far out of his way to put the needs of this man above his own. Jesus concludes:

Luke 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Your question should not be ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The question must not be one of limiting the scope to justify yourself. That is wrong-hearted. The question is ‘Do I prove to be a neighbor to those around me, those in need? Do I seek to show mercy or do I steer clear?’

The way Jesus framed his story using a despised Samaritan as the hero stirred up all kinds of resentment and animosity and show them their hearts and how they really felt about their neighbors.

Notice how this man answered. The three characters in Jesus’ story were a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. But this religious expert couldn’t even answer Jesus’ question by uttering the name ‘Samaritan.’

Luke 10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. Be a neighbor to those in need. You, show mercy to others, even if they are different from you, even if they are your enemies.

Love Your Enemies

Jesus takes this up a notch in Matthew 5 and Luke 6.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Jesus says,

Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Love, do good to, bless, pray for. When Jesus says ‘love’, he doesn’t have in mind a mere emotion. That is part of it, but it is more. The good Samaritan saw the need, he had compassion, and his compassion led to action, he invested time and energy and his own resources. Loving involves doing good, praying for, and seeking to bless others.

Jesus commands that this kind of love be extended even to our enemies, those who hate and persecute and curse and abuse you. Seek to bless them, to do them good, pray for them.

Actions have consequences. Evil actions will be punished. So Jesus is not saying that when it is in our power to escape from or stop the evil action, we allow an abuser or persecutor to continue. That’s not loving. Jesus is saying that we do good to them, we pray for them. This means that our prayer ultimately is that they would turn from their evil deeds and find forgiveness and freedom and new life in Jesus.

Impossible Love

Luke 6:29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Matthew 5 has:

Matthew 5:45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. …48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

You must be perfect. Love your enemies. Be kind, even to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful to the just and the unjust.

If you are honest with yourself, you know this is impossible. But as we have seen throughout this study, that’s what Jesus’ commands are. Impossible. It is impossible to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. It is impossible to love neighbor as self. It is impossible to love, do good to, pray for and seek to bless our enemies. That is humanly impossible. This requires the work of the Spirit of the living God inside of us.

Corrie ten Boom

I want to end with a story from Corrie ten Boom, who was arrested for hiding Dutch Jews from the Nazis, who survived the horrors of a concentration camp (although her sister Betsie did not). She went on to share God’s love and forgiveness with many. She writes

It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.

It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. …

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.

“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”

And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.

Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 5 says:

Romans 5:5 …God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. …8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. …10 …while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…

***

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

May 30, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:12-16; Unveiled Boldness

06/03_2Corinthians 3:12-16; Unveiled Boldness ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180603_2cor3_12-16.mp3

Sufficient to Speak God’s Word

Paul has said that through us God in Christ is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere (2:14); that he is the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing (2:15). To one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. And he asks; ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ (2:16) He claims to handle God’s word sincerely, from God, in the face of God, speaking in Christ (2:17). And he says:

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul claims to speak God’s word from God in the presence of God in Christ. And he has confidence through Christ toward God, because his sufficiency does not come from himself; his sufficiency comes from God. He is competent to be a minister of the new covenant, a minster of the Spirit, because God has made him competent. He contrasts the glory of these two ministries; the letter and the Spirit

2 Corinthians 3:7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Letter vs. Spirit; stone tablets vs. tablets of flesh hearts; that which kills vs. that which makes alive; a ministry of death vs. a ministry of the Spirit; a ministry of condemnation vs. a ministry of righteousness; that which is abolished vs. that which is permanent. Although Moses’ ministry came with great glory, the ministry of the Spirit comes with such surpassingly greater glory that Moses ministry has come to have no glory at all in comparison.

He goes on in verse 12:

2 Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Such a Hope

Having this kind of hope, we have much boldness. What hope is he talking about? Remember, hope in the Bible is not wishful thinking, but solid confident expectation that God will do what he said. He has hope in the life giving ministry of the Spirit. He has hope in the ministry of righteousness. He has hope in the lasting glory of the transforming power of the new covenant. He has hope in God, who through his ministry spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. He has rock-solid expectation that God is leading him and God is at work, even in the middle of afflictions and burdens and despair.

Bold Openness

He says this hope leads to boldness. What does he mean ‘boldness?’ In verse 4 he spoke of his confidence of sufficiency in ministry that comes from from God, confidence that is through Christ, confidence that is toward God. In 2:17 he claims to handle God’s word with sincerity, speaking in Christ in the sight of God. This word ‘boldness’ is the unhindered confidence to speak what is true regardless of the outcome. It refers often, especially in the gospels and Acts to a plainness of speech, a freedom or openness of speech, out in public; in contrast to a self-conscious shyness, secrecy, or a desire to hide or conceal, to speak in riddles or parables. Paul says that genuine apostolic ministry is plain, up front, honest, clear speaking, nothing to hide. This fits right in with what he said in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Paul said it straight, told it like it is. The gospel is the gospel; it offends many, it turns many away. The apostles refused to water it down, change it up, repackage it to make it more palatable.

You are a sinner. You deserve hell. But God loves you, he sent his only Son Jesus to become a man to die in your place to rescue you. If you turn away from your pride, from your merit, if you come to him needy, as a taker, to simply receive what he freely gives, he will forgive you and save you and transform you and make you his forever.

The gospel is not about me. It is all about Jesus. It is all about Jesus Christ and him crucified. It is simple. It is so simple a child can receive it. It is so simple you can tell it to your friends.

This is the main point of this passage. Paul goes on to illustrate this from Moses in Exodus, and there is a lot of debate over exactly what he means in the illustration, but I don’t want to miss the main point. Paul is defending his apostolic ministry and he says ‘because we have this kind of hope we are very bold, open, plain.’ We are not like Moses.

Moses’ Veiled Glory

Last time we looked at Exodus 34, the narrative Paul is drawing from. Moses asked to see the glory of God; God said he would make all his goodness pass before him and put on display his grace and his mercy (33:18-19). He proclaimed his name, his character, his mercy, grace, patience, love, faithfulness, forgiveness, and his justice and righteousness. It says Moses ‘was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights’ (34:28). And it says

Exodus 34:29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Paul has already drawn attention to the shining or glorious face of Moses in 3:7.

2 Corinthians 3:7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,

Now in verse 13 he draws attention to the veil that Moses used to hide his face.

2 Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.

Both verses talk about what was being brought to an end. As we saw last time, this word literally means being abolished, extinguished, destroyed, or done away with. This word shows up in verses 7, 11, 13 and 14. The glory of Moses’ ministry is rendered inoperative or ineffective.

In verse 7 the Israelites were not able to give attention to Moses’ face because of its glory. In verse 13 the veil blocked the Israelites from giving attention to the goal or outcome. So the glory is parallel to the outcome. This word outcome is the point aimed at or the termination. We could think of the finish line of a race. It is the end point where the race concludes; it is also the goal or purpose, the thing aimed at. The veil prevented them from fixing their eyes on the goal of what was being abolished. What was the glory and the finish line of Moses’ ministry?

I think we can find the answer in this passage in Exodus. After the rebellion of Israel with the gold calf, God said depart, go to the land I promised to you, ‘but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people’ (Ex.33:1-6). Exodus 33:7-11 described how Moses would enter the tent to speak with the LORD, and how “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex.33:11). In verses 12-16 Moses asks God in his grace to go with his people. “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found grace in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” The Greek version of Exodus 33:16 has

Exodus 33:16 (LXXE)“And how shall it be surely known, that both I and this people have found favour with thee, except only if thou go with us? So both I and thy people shall be glorified beyond all the nations, as many as are upon the earth.”

The goal and the glory of Moses’ ministry was the presence of God with his people. This was visibly displayed in the pillar of cloud and fire, and the glory cloud resting on and filling the tabernacle. The goal of Moses’ ministry pointed beyond itself to the greater presence of Immanuel, God with us.

It was this glory that the Israelites, because of their hard hearts, could not bear, but requested that Moses speak to them, “but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Ex.20:19). When Moses came down from talking with God, the people were afraid because of the glory of his face. This glory of God, the very presence of God with his people, Moses concealed, hid, blocked with a veil to prevent the Israelites from fixing their attention on the goal of his ministry. They were unable to look past the letter to see who the letter pointed to. They were not able to look, and then they were blocked from looking.

Hardened Minds

Paul says in verse 14 ‘But their minds were hardened.’ The fault was not in Moses. The flaw was in the people. They rebelled. They rejected and fell short of the glory of God. God offered to be with them as their God and take them to be his people, but they refused. And so their minds became like stone.

Jesus, in John 12,

John 12:37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

Unbelief in the face of God’s proof becomes an inability to believe, and this is a divine act of judgment to ‘entrap them in their very defiance’ (Seifrid, p.167), to keep them from seeing and understanding and turning.

The Veil Abolished

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Paul says that the same veil conceals the goal of Moses’ ministry today whenever the Old Testament is read. The old covenant, in contrast to the new covenant in Jesus’ blood. The Torah or the books of Moses are equated with the old covenant. Moses pointed beyond his own ministry to the full manifestation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. Why was Paul run out of so many synagogues? Why was his ministry so ineffective among his own people? Because there is a veil blocking them from seeing the true goal of the Scriptures. There is a hardness of mind, a veil draped over their hearts.

Jesus said to his disciples on the road to Emmaus:

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.

Paul says ‘only through Christ is it taken away’. Only in Christ is the veil abolished, destroyed, brought to nothing, made ineffective. It is in relationship with Christ that the veil disintegrates. We can expend a significant amount of effort attempting to lift veils. We can become very clever at dismantling the things that prevent people from seeing. But the problem is they don’t want to see. It is not an eye problem so much as a heart problem. Paul was content to proclaim Christ and him crucified. Because Christ is mighty to save. Jesus destroys veils. He rips open veils top to bottom.

‘When one turns to the LORD, the veil is removed.’ Moses took off the veil when he entered the presence of YHWH, the LORD in the tent in the wilderness. When he turned away from the people and toward the LORD, he removed the veil. Moses is a picture. Moses, the one through whom the law was given, spent time with the Lord, without a veil, and he was transformed. He was able to look beyond himself to the goal, to the purpose of his ministry, to the one his ministry pointed to, he one he wrote about, to Jesus. Only in Christ is the veil abolished. When one turns to the LORD, the veil is removed. Jesus is the LORD, YHWH of the Old Testament. When anyone turns to Jesus Christ as the LORD, the veil is removed.

When Saul, on the road to persecute followers of Jesus, was struck blind by the glory of God, he asked ‘who are you LORD?’ When the LORD answered ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ the spiritual blinders fell off and Paul began to really see. This is the ministry of the Spirit, this is the hope that gives us boldness, freedom to speak openly and plainly the simple veil-rending gospel message that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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

June 4, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Exceedingly Glorious Ministry

05/27_2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Exceedingly Glorious Ministry ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180527_2cor3_7-11.mp3

In 2 Corinthians Paul is defending the authenticity of his ministry. He says that the church of God in Corinth and the transformed lives of believers is authentication of his ministry.

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Then he answers the question he raised back in chapter 2, who is sufficient? Who is competent for this ministry, ministry that introduces some to eternal life, but is the stench of death to many. He says:

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Who is competent? We are, but not in and of ourselves. We cannot claim anything as coming from ourselves. All our competency comes from God who makes us competent. Not ministers of the old , the letter, not ministers of death. Competent to be ministers of a new covenant. Ministers of the life giving Spirit.

Moses and Paul

Then he contrasts the glory of Moses’ ministry with that of his own apostolic ministry.

2 Corinthians 3:7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

This is absolutely staggering, and it would be startling to anyone with any Jewish background. Paul is commending his apostolic ministry, and arguing that his ministry is more glorious than Moses’ ministry. Moses! The one God raised up to lead Israel out of Egypt, the one who received the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone at Mount Sinai. Moses who led the children of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness. Moses who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses, who Deuteronomy 34 says there is none like him, whom the Lord knew face to face. Moses, who according to Acts 15:21 has been proclaimed in every city from ancient generations, and who is read every Sabbath in the synagogues. Moses was one of two who appeared on the mount of transfiguration to speak with Jesus. How shocking for Paul to even put himself in the same sentence with Moses.

What is Glory?

Paul tells us some amazing things about his ministry, and consequently about our ministry as well.

He mentions ‘glory’ no less than 10 times in these 5 verses. What is glory? He mentions the glory of Moses’ face, glory the Israelites could not look at, glory that was being done away with; exceeding glory, much more super-abundant glory in the ministry of the Spirit. What is glory?

In this passage Paul is teaching out of the text of Scripture; he is explaining Exodus, specifically chapter 34. In the context of Exodus, we see God get glory over Pharaoh and over the armies of Egypt (14:4, 17-18) by displaying his power and superiority. We see in Exodus 24

Exodus 24:16 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

God displayed his glory in the cloud and in devouring fire on top of the mountain. And Moses went up into the cloud to meet with God and receive his commands. By the time he came down, the people were involved in idolatry with the golden calf. In Exodus 32, God threatened to destroy the people for their rebellion and sin, but Moses implored the Lord and he turned from his wrath. In Exodus 33, God said he would fulfill all his promises to the people, but he would not personally be with them, because of their rebellion. But Moses prayed that the presence of God would go with them, and God extended grace and granted this request.

Then Moses asked this daring question: “Please show me your glory.”

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

God instructed Moses to make a second set of tablets to remake the covenant, and

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

The glory of God is the visible manifestation of his character and attributes, an outward display of his inner characteristics. His name, his goodness, his grace, his mercy, his steadfast love and faithfulness, his justice. The glory of God is who he is.

The Glory of Moses’ Face

This next section in Exodus 34 is the passage Paul is teaching from in 2 Corinthians 3.

Exodus 34:28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. 29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

The radiant or beaming or shining face of Moses, in the Greek translation the glorious face of Moses, is the transformation that came from spending time with God. He radiated out the absorbed glory of God.

This is the glory of the Old Covenant. Moses’ ministry was glorious. This is the foundation of Paul’s argument. He moves from the lesser to the greater. The ministry of Moses was unquestionably glorious.

We read the account in Exodus and think, wow, I would love to have been there to see that! The triumph over Egypt, the cloud and consuming fire that engulfed the mountain, the beams of glory coming from Moses

skin. I’ve never seen anything like that!

Paul argues: No, you have something better, something greater, you have experienced something supremely more glorious.

2 Corinthians 3:7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Contrast The Letter and The Spirit

Look at the contrasts he draws in these verses:

[Old Covenant]- Moses——–New Covenant – Apostles

Ink——————————Spirit of the Living God

Letter—————————Spirit

Letters on Stone Tablets—–Letters on Tablets of Flesh Hearts

Kills—————————-Gives Life

Ministry of Death————Ministry of the Spirit

Ministry of Condemnation–Ministry of Righteousness

Abolished———————-Permanent

We have already looked at how the ministry of the Old Covenant brought death, where the ministry of the Spirit of the Living God makes alive. Let’s look at some of the other contrasts Paul highlights.

Condemnation vs. Righteousness

2 Corinthians 3:9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.

Paul calls Moses’ ministry a ministry of condemnation, and he calls the apostolic ministry of the Spirit a ministry of righteousness. This is what we see in Romans 3.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Moses’ ministry was a ministry of condemnation, to stop every mouth and hold the whole world accountable to God’s perfect standard. Moses’ ministry was not a ministry of justification or righteousness. These words, justification and righteousness, are the same. One is the noun, one is the verb form. We might make up a new word; righteousness and righteous-ified; to make just or righteous. No person will be justified or righteous-ified by the law, by the ministry of Moses. This word ‘righteousness’ actually shows up in the Greek translation at the beginning of Exodus 34:7

[LXXE] Exodus 34:6 And the Lord passed by before his face, and proclaimed, The Lord God, pitiful and merciful, longsuffering and very compassionate, and true, 7 and keeping justice [δικαιοσύνην] and mercy for thousands, taking away iniquity, and unrighteousness, and sins; and he will not clear the guilty; bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and to the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.

This self-description of God in Exodus causes problems for anyone who thinks carefully about it. God says he is merciful and gracious and that he forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. But in the same breath he says he is righteous or just, and he will by no means clear the guilty. How can God possibly be both gracious and just, merciful and righteous? How can he forgive and yet by no means will he ever clear the guilty? Romans 3 goes on to answer this question.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified [righteous-ified] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness…

God’s righteousness is put on display apart from the law. God is righteous, and God declares righteous those who believe in Jesus. God’s righteousness comes to believers as a gift, a grace-gift purchased by the blood of Jesus, who fully satisfied the just wrath of God by taking on himself all my sin, and receiving in himself the just penalty I earned. John 1 says

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

If the ministry of Moses that brought condemnation was a glorious ministry, how much more glorious the ministry of the Spirit that makes sinners righteous!

Abolished vs. Permanent

Paul also draws a contrast between the duration of the ministries.

2 Corinthians 3:7 …the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? … 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

The ministry of Moses was being brought to an end, being abolished, extinguished, destroyed, done away with. The ministry of Moses by design was to be superseded. It was glorious, but it was not intended to be the final word. Thank God, condemnation was not the final word. Condemnation was to be swallowed up in righteousness and life. The apostolic ministry of the gospel, however, remains. It stands. It is lasting.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Although the ministry of Moses, the ministry of death, the ministry of condemnation came with glory, that which was glorious came to be not glorious because of that which so far surpassed it in glory; the life giving ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of righteousness. The ministry of Moses had an outward glory, but it was utterly overwhelmed and out-shined by the much more super-abundant glory of the ministry of the apostles, the proclamation of the gospel, the seemingly foolish message of the cross. The far-surpassing glory was hidden in a ministry characterized by suffering, by affliction, by persecution. This ministry was not outward; lightning and thunder, fire and cloud, but quiet, even inconspicuous, the inner transformation of people by the Holy Spirit of the Living God through the foolishness of preaching. The ministry of death and condemnation has been swallowed up by the exceedingly more glorious ministry of the Spirit, giving righteousness and life to those who were dead in trespasses and sins.

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

May 29, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:6; The Letter Kills, The Spirit Makes Alive

05/20_2 Corinthians 3:6; The Letter Kills; The Spirit Makes Alive ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180520_2cor3_6.mp3

What we want to be about, what we must be about as followers of Jesus, is spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. We have seen in 2 Corinthians 3 that the sufficiency, the competence for this kind of ministry comes through Christ and toward or in the presence of God. We must recognize we are not competent in ourselves. We cannot claim anything as coming from ourselves. Anything. Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’ But then Paul says we are competent, because of God,

2 Corinthians 3:6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

This raises some questions. What does it mean to be a minister? What is the new covenant? How do we minister not by the letter, but by the Spirit? What is the role of the letter and the role of the Spirit?

Ministers

As we saw last time, a minister is simply a servant. One who serves others for their good. If we are all called to be ministers of a new covenant, we need to know what this means.

Covenant

Paul introduces this concept of a new covenant here. He says that he has been made sufficient to be a minister of a new covenant. What is the new covenant? We began to look at this when we were exploring the contrast between letters on tablets of stone with letters written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of fleshly hearts.

A covenant is a binding contract, an agreement between two parties. God made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, after he freed them out of slavery in Egypt.

Exodus 24:3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.”

Deuteronomy says:

Deuteronomy 4:13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.

God gave Israel his covenant, his commands, his requirements. This was a binding agreement written on stone. He says in Leviticus:

Leviticus 18:5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

If a person does them, by them he shall live. Obedience equals life. Jesus affirmed this. When he was asked by a lawyer ‘what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus responds ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it? The lawyer summarized the law by the two great commands; love God and love neighbor as yourself. Jesus said:

Luke 10:28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Do this and you will live. The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked ‘and who is my neighbor?’ He wanted to check off a box to show that he was good enough. Jesus gave him the parable of the good Samaritan. Everyone you come in contact with is your neighbor. Keep the law and you will live. Obedience to the law equals life.

The Letter Kills

The flip side of that, of course, is disobedience equals death. And that’s what we see if we look back to the giving of the law. Exodus 19-31 record the giving of the law to Moses. It is interesting to look back and see the difference before and after the giving of the law.

-In Exodus 14:6-14, at the Red Sea, before Sinai, Israel cried out to the Lord and complained that they would die in the wilderness; God parted the sea and rescued them. In Numbers 11:1-3, immediately after leaving Sinai, the people complained about misfortunes and the fire of the Lord burned among them. In Numbers 16:41-50 the people grumbled against their leaders, and 14,700 died in plague. In Numbers 21:4-9 the people become impatient and discontent; and the LORD sent fiery serpents to kill many.

-In Exodus 15:22-27, before the law, the people grumbled because the water was bitter; and the bitter water was made sweet. In Exodus 17:1-7 people grumbled and quarreled because they had no water; God instructed Moses to strike the rock and water came out from the rock for the people. But in Numbers 20:2-13, after the law was given, when there was no water and people quarreled, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, he disobeyed and struck the rock. Water came out, but because of their disobedience, Moses and Aaron would die in the wilderness and not enter the land.

-In Exodus 16:1-18, before the law, the people grumbled because of hunger; God provides manna and quail for them to eat. But in Numbers 11, after the law came, the people grumble about no meat, and God sent quail until it came out their nostrils, and he sent a very great plague to destroy them.

– In Exodus 16:19-30, before the law, the people are instructed to rest and not go out looking for manna on the Sabbath, but they disobey. Nothing happens. But in Numbers 15:32-36, a person caught gathering sticks on the sabbath is stoned to death for breaking the law.

– In Exodus 17:8-14, before Sinai, God defeats Amalek before Israel. In Numbers 14:39-45, after Sinai, Israel is defeated before the Amalekites and Canaanites.

Some of the very same things that had no consequences before the law, after the law brought death. The history of Israel after the giving of the law is a chronicle of disobedience and death. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that the letter kills. This is very literally true.

Romans and the Law/Letter

Paul gives us more systematic teaching on the role and purpose of the law in the book of Romans. It will serve us well to look there to fill out our understanding of what he means when he says that ‘the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.’

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

The Jews prided themselves on having the law. But as we have seen, unless the law is obeyed, it brings death.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The law was given to shut every mouth and hold all people accountable to God. The law shows us our sin; it does not make us righteous. This is made even more clear in chapter 4.

Romans 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

The law brings wrath. We see this graphically displayed in the history of Israel after Sinai. Romans 5 tells us

Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass…

The law did not create righteousness; it actually did the opposite; it served to increase trespass. Romans 7 tells us how.

Romans 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

The law actually stirred up our sinful passions. Paul gives a personal example:

Romans 7:7 … if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

He is describing what he said in 3:20 that ‘through the law comes the knowledge of sin.’ The commandment that promised life; the law says ‘do this and you shall live’ proved in his own experience to deliver death.

If the law produces death, does this mean that the law is bad? Paul answers:

Romans 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 … It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

The law is holy, righteous, good, even spiritual. But the law puts on display the sinfulness of sin. The law’s good purpose is to show us our sin, to stop our mouths, to hold us accountable to God, and to put us to death. I said that is the law’s good purpose. How is that good? Good is not determined by what is good for me. It’s not all about me! Good is what is good absolutely. It is good and right for God to display his justice and to punish sin. But this is good for me. It is good for the law to show me my sin, because only sinners who confess their sin can be forgiven. It is good for the law to put me to death, because only those who are dead can be raised to newness of life. Only those who are shown their desperate need will cry out to God for rescue. Jesus said

Mark 2:17 …“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The law plays a vital role in showing us God’s justice and our need. This is what makes the good news so very very good! The law brings us to the end of ourselves, and that is very good. The letter kills but the Spirit makes alive.

A New Covenant

This is where the new covenant promises come in. As we looked a few weeks ago, God promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel to make a new covenant with his people, a covenant different from the covenant he made with the fathers, not like the covenant that they broke.

Jeremiah 31:33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This is the contrast Paul draws in 2 Corinthians; They old covenant was written on tablets of stone, and the result was disobedience and death. The new covenant of which he is a minster, is a heart agreement. No longer is it an external standard, which we may even agree is good, but our competing desires and inclination to disobedience thwart our best efforts to keep it. Now in the new covenant God writes his instruction on our hearts. It is part of us. It is internalized. It is who we are. It now defines us.

forgiveness

A critical component of this new covenant that God works in us is that he says ‘I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more. This is powerful. This is so powerful for obedience. If we feel like a failure, if we feel like we have already disappointed him, we feel defeated. The guilt and shame are disabling. It’s like an overwhelming record of debt that stands against us. When you’re in debt and really see no way out, it’s easy to just give up and spend even more, run the credit card again, dig the hole deeper, We feel crippled to ever be good enough, to ever measure up. But in the context of forgiveness; this is so beautiful, so powerful, let this sink in an saturate your soul and transform everything; God says he remembers your sin no more. If you are in Christ, you always, always have a clean slate. You are always accepted. You are always good enough. You can’t sin fast enough to make the record stick. Do you see how powerful this is? Try to fight when you are all tied up and ensnared and weighed down. You can hardly even move. But God cuts the cords and sets you free and keeps you free so that you can fight.

This is so powerful, and I pray it shapes the way we relate to each other, to our spouse, to our children. Shame and guilt can be a motivating factor, but it is disabling. Forgiveness is so much more powerful.

they shall all know me

Notice another key aspect of this new covenant in Jeremiah 31. it says ‘they shall all know me.’ Paul is spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. The new covenant is built on relationship. Intimacy. This is not second-hand knowledge. I know God and I have to tell you, God says what you’re doing is wrong. Someone stands between. You’re not hearing it first hand. It’s not direct. Someone is in between. That’s exactly the way it was at Sinai with the law. The people said ‘don’t let God speak to us directly. Moses, you go listen to God and then come tell us what he said.’ When I send one of my kids to pass along instruction to one of their siblings (and this happens a lot in our house) it doesn’t carry much weight. They say ‘hey, you need to do this’ and it’s easy to ignore. They might even say ‘hey, dad said you should do this’ and that carries a little more weight, but it’s still easy to ignore. Sometimes something gets lost in the delivery. The messenger got sidetracked and never delivered my message. Something got lost in the communication and something different than what I asked gets done. Is it the messenger who failed or the one who was supposed to receive the message who didn’t listen? It’s easy to shift blame. But when I show up personally, that’s completely different. It’s no longer someone passing along second hand information about what I said. Now it’s me, in relationship, really present, it’s direct. That’s what the new covenant does. It brings each of us into direct relationship with God. It’s no longer someone else telling you what you ought to be doing. It’s no longer mediated. It’s God himself communicating directly.

And it’s within the context of loving relationship. It can try to tell someone else’s kids what to do, but if the relationship isn’t there, if the accountability and love and respect in relationship hasn’t been established, it isn’t very effective. They run to mom or dad and say ‘that weird guy just told me what to do.’ In the new covenant, God brings us into relationship with himself. They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

a new heart and God’s Spirit

Another piece of this transforming power of the new covenant we see in Ezekiel.

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.

God gives us a heart transplant. Our hard rebellious heart needs to be removed, and replaced by a soft, tender heart, a heart capable of love, a heart receptive to the Lord. But he doesn’t stop there. In the New covenant he puts his Holy Spirit in us. This is the aspect that Paul highlights in 2 Corinthians. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. O hear this! Let the truth of this sink in! The Holy Spirit of the living God; God the Holy Spirit, comes in, takes up residence in us. He lives in us and makes us alive. He transforms us from the inside. He will never leave!

Romans 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

We are released from the law to serve in the new way of the Spirit.

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

This is the message we are called to minister! This is the good news of the gospel! Through the cross there is forgiveness, no matter what you have done. You can know God yourself, you can enjoy relationship. God the Spirit comes to live inside and make you alive, truly alive, eternally alive! So walk in the Spirit and spread the knowledge of Jesus everywhere!

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

May 23, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation

04/29_2 Corinthians 3:1-3; Letters of Recommendation ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180429_2cor3_1-3.mp3

Paul gets to the heart of the issue here. He lays out his credentials as a minister by pointing to the transformation that has happened in the lives of his readers.

Paul Commends Himself (Again!)

Paul has described the apostolic ministry in 2:14 as ‘ through us God in Christ always …spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.’ In 2:17 he contrasts himself with ‘so many,’ who peddle God’s word for profit. We are not like them; rather we are men of sincerity, our source of authority is God, everything we do is in the presence of God, and it is in Christ that we speak. Back in chapter 1:12, Paul boasted ‘in the testimony of his conscience, that he operated with simplicity and godly sincerity, by the grace of God.’

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

This first phrase of chapter 3 should probably be read as an exclamation, not a rhetorical question. We are beginning to commend ourselves to you again! Paul is making a case for his integrity; he is laying before them the evidence of his authenticity. He even contrasts his ministry with those who are in it for profit. We, who planted the church, who spent 18 months with you investing in you, who visited you in the past and plan to visit again, who sent letters and messengers to you, we need to go over the formality of introductions all over again!? You, who experienced new life as a result of our ministry among you, now we are forced again to present evidence of our authenticity!

The letter to the Romans is a letter of self-commendation; Paul writes to believers he has never met, introduces himself and his ministry, and lays before them the gospel he preaches. In chapter 15 he outlines his plans to visit them, and his desire to be supported by them in his mission to Spain. In Romans he is commending himself to a church he has never visited.

In Romans 16, he says:

Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

We call this a letter of reference or a recommendation. A trusted person writes to affirm the character of another. Do you recommend this person as a student in our college? Would you recommend this person as a good fit for this particular job? Paul is not against letters of commendation; he writes them himself. In fact, in Romans 5:8 he says:

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

The death of Christ for sinners is a commendation of God’s love for us.

Paul uses the word ‘commend’ or ‘recommend’ twice in 2 Corinthians 3:1, and 7 more times in the rest this letter. He says in the next chapter

2 Corinthians 4:2 …by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

In chapter 5 he says that his character should be well known to them; he is not really commending himself again, but giving them reasons to defend against those who boast in outward appearances and not in the heart. In chapter 6 he says:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

And then he lists not only his positive character traits, but also his hardships, afflictions, persecutions, his weakness. In chapter 10 he clarifies:

2 Corinthians 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Paul is not against letters of recommendation. He is not even against presenting one’s own credentials to establish credibility. 2 Corinthians could be seen as an extended commendation of authentic apostolic ministry. The issue is not in the necessity of introductions. The problem lies in the ‘again.’ His point here in chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians (in actuality his fourth correspondence to this church) is that they ought to be well beyond the stage in their relationship that requires formal introductions.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:1 …Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.

If I am not to others, at least I am to you! They were believers in Jesus because he had traveled to Achaia and preached the gospel in Corinth. They owed their very existence as a church to his apostolic ministry. In chapter 12 he says:

2 Corinthians 12:11 …I ought to have been commended by you. …

The Corinthians, who ought by this time to be Paul’s loudest fans, now need to be re-acquainted with what genuine Christian ministry is all about.

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

This second question is rhetorical, and it is framed to demand a negative answer. We do not need letters of recommendation to you, and we do not need letters from you. The Corinthian church had the audacity to place themselves over apostolic ministry as if the final authority to evaluate apostolic ministry was with them. Paul expected them to be able to discern between a true apostle and a false one, but they were flirting with false apostles and rejecting the one they knew to be true.

You Are Our Letter

2 Corinthians 3:2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.

The Corinthians don’t realize they are the letter. They are the objective evidence of Paul’s apostolic ministry. The fact that there are now followers of the Jewish Messiah gathering as a church in the pagan city of Corinth is evidence of a genuine work of God.

But notice where this is written. It is written on the heart of their Apostle. In this he is like his Master. In a similar metaphor Isaiah looks forward to Jesus “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (49:15). In the Song of Solomon we find this language of love:

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.

Paul communicates not only that the Corinthians are a letter of reference, an authentication of his apostolic ministry, but also that he carries them always with him, not in his travel bag, but in his heart. As he says in chapter 11,

2 Corinthians 11:28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches

As we saw at the end of chapter 2, Paul carries the Corinthians so close to his heart, that the relational tension prevented him from taking full advantage of an opportunity to preach the gospel.

And this is no secret. They are written on his heart, but he wears it on his sleeve. His heart is an open book, and anyone can read what is written there. Anyone who knows Paul knows of his affection for his churches. Certainly those in Troas would be aware of his great affection for them.

A Letter From Christ

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

‘You show that you are’; this is the same word from 2:14 that the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is put on display or made manifest through us in every place.

Paul’s primary concern is always making Christ known. The Corinthian church, for better or worse, whether they know it or not, puts Christ on display. They put on display that they are a letter from Christ. This is the highest authority. This letter originates from Christ Jesus himself.

And this letter, Paul says, is ‘delivered;’ literally ‘ministered’ by us; this is ambiguous. It could mean that Paul pictured himself as the one delivering the letter, or it could mean that Paul is the amanuensis or scribe writing down every word Christ dictates to him. Because the Corinthians are the letter, it seems to make more sense to see Paul holding the pen, or possibly Paul is the pen in the hand of the Lord Christ. Either way, Paul is in a subordinate role to Christ. Scribe or errand boy, Paul is in service to Christ, ensuring that the message of Jesus is scrawled in large letters on the hearts of the Corinthians.

Ink / Spirit

Written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. This is that which is actually applied to the page; not ink but the Spirit of the living God. Paul is instrumental in applying the ink of the Spirit to the page of the Corinthians lives in order to make Christ known.

Here we see the triune God at work in the ministry of the apostle. The letter originates from Christ, it is written with the ink of the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is the Spirit of the living God, sent out by the Father.

Heart of Stone / Flesh

The next contrast is what is written on. That which is written on is not tablets of stone, but tablets of human (literally ‘fleshly’) hearts. Normally in Paul’s day we would expect ink on papyrus. But Paul mixes metaphors once again; it is ink on stony tablets contrasted with the Spirit on fleshy heart-tablets.

Paul is linking several Old Testament themes; the tablets of the covenant given to Moses on Sinai, tablets of stone written on with the finger of God, and the hard stony hearts of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 9, when Moses recounts the initial giving of the law, he rebukes Israel for their stubbornness and rebellion against the Lord. While he was on the mountain with God receiving the tablets of stone, the people were provoking God to wrath by their idolatry. God’s law was written on stony tablets corresponding to the stony rebellious hearts of his people.

But Paul also has in mind the promise of the Spirit poured out in the New Covenant, promises we find in Ezekiel and Jeremiah

Ezekiel 11:19-20 says:

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

And again in Ezekiel 36:26

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.

God knows that his people need a heart transplant. The heart of stone must be removed and replaced with a responsive fleshy heart. Ezekiel goes on in verse 27

Ezekiel 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Not only will God remove their hearts of stone and give them a fleshy heart, he will put his own Spirit in them, enabling and empowering them to walk in his ways.

Just as the law written on stony tablets corresponded to the stony hearts of the people, so now the New Covenant work of the Spirit of God corresponds to the new fleshy hearts given to his people.

New Covenant Writing

Another New Covenant passage, Jeremiah 31, is the piece that gives the picture of God writing on the hearts of his people.

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The content of what is written is not different; God writes his law; a law summed up by Christ as

Matthew 22:37 …“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

(love fulfills law: Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14; Mt.7:12)

But God has written, no longer on stony tablets, but on the newly given fleshy heart-tablets of the Corinthians, not with ink, but with his own Holy Spirit. As a result, Christ is put on display in the lives of the Corinthians. In this New Covenant transaction, Paul is a minister of Christ, facilitating their transformation. Paul’s evidence of authenticity is this very transformation that has taken place in the hearts of the Corinthians. And this has affected the heart of the apostle as well. These struggling new believers are written on his heart.

Application

What is your heart like? Is it hardened toward God? Ask him for a new heart; a heart that is tender toward him. Has your heart been transformed by love to love? Has God’s own self-sacrificial love written love for him and for others on your heart? Do you have people written on your heart? Is the Spirit of the living God bringing about real heart transformation in you?

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

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

April 30, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 12; Born of Woman

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

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

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

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

←← SACRIFICE ←←

Sanctify             Cleanse

HOLY           COMMON/CLEAN           UNCLEAN

Profane             Pollute

→→ SIN and INFIRMITY →→

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duration and Severity of Uncleanness

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

Unclean Not Evil

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

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

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

Blood and the Sanctuary

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

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

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

The Snake Crusher and the Curse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth.

Women in Worship

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

Jesus and the Law

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

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

Luke 2 records the fulfillment of this law in Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

The staggering truth is how our rescuer claimed the victory

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

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

Jesus told his followers:

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

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

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

John tells us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leviticus 11:1-23; Making Distinctions

07/31 Leviticus 11:1-23; Making Distinctions; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160731_leviticus-11_1-23.mp3

Be Holy for I Am Holy

Peter, in 1 Peter 1:14-16 says:

1 Peter 1:14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Do you know where that is written? That actually shows up twice here in Leviticus 11.

Jesus, in the context of teaching us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, alluded to this passage. He said:

Mathew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Leviticus 11 is a chapter on various food laws, what can and cannot be eaten, what is clean and what makes one unclean, and how to handle various kinds of contamination. Leviticus 11-15 is a section that deals with all manner of things that make one unclean, in an order of increasing duration of uncleanness; from eating the wrong kinds of animals and contact with dead animals, to childbirth, to various skin diseases, to mold in a garment or a house, to bodily discharges. The reason God gives for these various laws is here in Leviticus 11:44-45

Leviticus 11:44 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

This is a big deal, because we just saw in chapter 10 two guys, newly ordained priests, set apart for the ministry, were torched by the LORD because they failed to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, and to treat God as holy.

Leviticus 10:3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified [or treated as holy], and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron [their father] held his peace.

Making Distinctions

In Leviticus 10, Aaron was instructed:

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

A primary role of the priest was to teach the people, and to help them distinguish between holy and common, clean and unclean. Chapters 11-15 deal with the distinctions between clean and unclean, and chapters 17-22 deal with the distinctions between holy and common. These chapters climax with the great day of atonement in chapter 16, which takes away the defilement of the people.

Holiness and Election

The main point of this section is that God’s character is to be reflected in his people. He his holy, he is separate, he is totally other, unique, in a class by himself, no one is like him; so his people are to be holy, separate, distinct, set apart, in a class by themselves.

Leviticus 11:45 For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Deuteronomy 14 also deals with food laws. It starts this way:

Deuteronomy 14:1 “You are the sons of the LORD your God. …

2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 3 “You shall not eat any abomination.

The reason for making distinctions between unclean and clean food is ‘the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.’ The election of Israel as a distinct people who belong to God is the reason for distinguishing between clean and unclean.

Noah and Clean Animals

This distinction between clean and unclean animals is not new. We see this distinction all the way back in the account of the flood in Genesis 7-9. God commanded:

Genesis 7:2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate,

After the flood subsided,

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

Only the clean animals were offered to God as sacrifices. But notice that Noah and his descendants were not restricted to eating only the clean animals.

Genesis 9:2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

Noah was allowed to eat bacon, shrimp, lobster, catfish, rabbit, albatross, spotted owl, whatever he wanted. Remember, Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything,

Genesis 1:21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Clean, Unclean, Detestable

Everything God created was good. But now in Leviticus 11, as a reflection of his own holiness, God is restricting the diet of his chosen people. The first 23 verses of Leviticus 11 deal with distinguishing between clean and unclean land animals, aquatic creatures, birds and insects.

Land

Leviticus 11:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. 3 Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. 4 Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. 5 And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. 6 And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. 7 And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. 8 You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

Waters

Leviticus 11:9 “These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. 10 But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. 11 You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. 12 Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you.

Air

Leviticus 11:13 “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 14 the kite, the falcon of any kind, 15 every raven of any kind, 16 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, 18 the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, 19 the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.

Insects

Leviticus 11:20 “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22 Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. 23 But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.

There is a lot of speculation on why God makes the distinctions he does. Some suggest health reasons and avoiding diseases, but that doesn’t fit with the fact that Noah was permitted to eat any animals after the flood, and that Jesus declares all foods clean in the New Testament. Some suggest creatures that don’t fit well into their environment or class are considered unclean, like water creatures without fins or scales; but this seems to miss the fact that God created all things good, according to their kind. Some think the unclean animals are those used in pagan worship, but if that were the case, the bull should certainly be unclean. Many have tried to find symbolic meaning in the kinds; for instance a divided hoof pictures the ability to distinguish between good and evil; and chewing the cud pictures those who meditate on God’s word. But this can be as creative as the interpreter’s imagination. Some feel the distinctions are purely arbitrary; as God established one tree in the garden as a test; a tree that was pleasing to the eye, good for food, and desirable to make one wise; this tree was off limits because God said so. In the same way, there was nothing inherently bad about the unclean animals; it was merely a test of obedience.

It seems in general, that the creatures which are considered unclean are those that have to do most with death, decay and destruction; results of the fall. God breathed life into his creation; man through his rebellion brought death, decay, and destruction and it tainted all of God’s good creation. Most of the unclean animals are either carnivores, preying on blood and the carcasses of other animals, or they are wilderness animals, associated with wild uninhabited places. The birds listed as unclean are birds of prey. Rodents, lizards, snakes, worms, flies are all associated with death, disease and the grave.

Jesus and the Law

Be holy because I am holy. This is quoted in the New Testament. Does this mean that we should avoid pork and seafood and start eating locust? Jesus was rebuked by the Pharisees for not following the washing traditions of the Jews. Jesus said:

Mark 7:15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

That is a radically comprehensive statement, and it sets aside the Leviticus distinctions. When his disciples asked him in private about what he said,

Mark 7:18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” ( Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

In Luke 11,

Luke 11:38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

Does this mean that Jesus changed God’s law?

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 not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. These food laws, like the entire Bible, points us to Jesus

Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Jesus is the substance of which the whole levitical system was a foreshadowing. Jesus is what the law was teaching about.

Paul warns Timothy of the danger of those who try to put us back under obligation to follow the

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

So how did Jesus bring fulfillment to the food laws? In Acts 10, Peter

Acts 10:10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

The context of this event is Cornelius. Cornelius was a Gentile. God sent an angel to tell Cornelius to send for Peter. In Acts 11, responding to criticism, Peter relayed what happened next.

Acts 11:11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. …

Peter went to a Gentile’s house

Acts 10:28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

Peter shared the good news about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles. In Acts 15, there was debate over the need for Gentile converts to submit to the law. Peter referred back to this incident

Acts 15:8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Jesus declared all foods clean. He invited Peter to eat all manner of Levitically unclean creatures, and when Peter refused, the Lord said ‘what God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times to make the point clear. Although the surface meaning of this statement is that God has cleansed all creatures for even a Jewish believer like Peter to eat, the point God was making was that the distinction between Jew and Gentile, which was evident in the dietary restrictions, had been erased. The Levitical law made distinctions between clean and unclean. Peter was told to make no distinction, because God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile in salvation. Even Jews can be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus just like Cornelius and other Gentiles had. Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Gentile church in Ephesus.

Ephesians 2:12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 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.

Galatians 3 says

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The distinction of Israel as the chosen people of God out of all the peoples of the face of the earth ended at the cross. Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility and abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.

Do we tend to build back up the walls that Jesus came to tear down? Do we tend to draw distinctions between people? Not Jew/Gentile distinctions, but distinctions between people we like to be around, and those we just don’t connect with? Do we draw distinctions between social status, appearance, those who are different from us, those we consider unclean? Jesus came to kill the hostility and make peace. He came to bring us near. ‘Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.’

We no longer need to be ritually clean by keeping dietary laws in order to draw near to God. Jesus cleansed us once and for all by his shed blood on the cross. Now he is calling to himself people from every nation and tribe and language and people (Rev.5:9; 7:9).

The holiness he demands is not outward conformity to a list of prohibitions, but an inward Holy Spirit transformation of desires. What does your heart love? What does it go after? Jesus wants to change your heart!

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

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

August 2, 2016 Posted by | Leviticus | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Freedom; Galatians 5:1-6; Matthew 11:28-30

1/24 For Freedom! ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160124_freedom.mp3

The last two messages I gave were on two of the most important spiritual disciplines; meditation on the Word of God and prayer. If we want to be fruitful, effective in the ministry God has called us to (and we are all called to minister), then we must be listening to God and enjoying our relationship with him. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said in John 15 that we must abide in him. Apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him, he promises that we will bear much fruit. It is vital that we as followers of Jesus evaluate and re-evaluate what we are doing to grow in our walk with the Lord, and discipline ourselves to reinforce good habits and form new ones that will enrich our relationship with God. Daily Bible study and constant prayer are essential to the health of the believer, and consequently to the health of the church body.

I want to balance this teaching on the spiritual disciplines with some teaching on Christian freedom, because it is possible to misunderstand Bible meditation and prayer in such a way as to view them as a duty by which we earn favor with God. This would be a terrible misuse of good gifts God has given.

Two Extremes

There are two dangerous extremes to avoid. I’ll tell you my own experience to help illustrate what I mean. When I was very young, I had a well meaning Bible camp counselor give me a little tract on having daily devotions. I think it was titled ‘7 minutes with God’ and I was told how important it was to read my Bible and pray every day. I can still remember what the tract looked like, the big ominous red number 7, and the picture of the hourglass with the sand slipping away. There was probably nothing wrong with the tract itself. I’m sure had some helpful suggestions on how to get started in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. But I felt the weight of the obligation. I needed to pick a special place to have my quiet time. It was strongly suggested, if not explicitly mandated that this be the first thing you do each and every day. It had clear instructions on how to structure and spend your 7 minutes. I acknowledged how important this was to do, and I committed myself to doing it. I did great… for a day or two. Then I would wake up late and have to cut the 7 minutes down to 1 or 2 or skip it altogether so I wouldn’t be late for school, and I would feel like a failure. Sometimes I would try to make it up in the evening, but I wasn’t sure if that really counted, because really spiritual people do it in the morning. Guilt. Shame. You can’t even faithfully give God 7 minutes of your day? God gave his only Son for you! Surely you can afford to give him 7 measly minutes? Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in each day? 7 minutes is less than half a percent of your day. I just can’t measure up. This thing called the Christian life, I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. Even when I worked really hard and disciplined myself to sit down and dig in, often my 4 minutes of Bible reading landed me in some endless genealogy of the Old Testament, and somehow I’m supposed to feel closer to God by trudging through a long list of names I can’t even pronounce? Or reading about skin diseases and what to do if the hair in a wound turned white or black? I’m clearly not very spiritual, because as I read, I just wasn’t sensing God’s presence (it actually kind of grossed me out). And then, in the 2 ½ minutes of prayer, my mind would wander incessantly. What am I supposed to say? Did you know that you can see little floating specks on the insides of your eyelids when you have your eyes closed for 2 ½ minutes? Do you know how disheartening it is when you open your eyes after what seems an eternity to peek at the clock and only 45 seconds have elapsed? After dutifully plodding along checking off the boxes for a short while, I gave up. I just couldn’t do what was expected of me.

When God got a hold on my heart, I wanted to spend time with him. I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before. I set my alarm early so I would have time to spend with God, and I enjoyed sweet communion with him, listening to his voice in his Word, pouring out my heart to him in worship and thanksgiving. I was hungry for truth. I would meet with other believers my age and we would sing worship songs together, and we would go out on the streets of the city to tell people about Jesus, just out of a natural overflow of joy in Jesus. Those were some of the sweetest moments of my life.

Then a well-meaning college professor told our first year Bible class that we didn’t need to have quiet times. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to ‘do our devotions’ or to ‘have a quiet time each day with God’. After all, most believers throughout history didn’t even have daily access to a Bible. And I was in Bible college, so all my studies were in the Bible. My reading load for classes was heavy enough. And we are under grace. Some daily religious ritual doesn’t earn you any points with God. So I ditched my habit. Looking back, although I got a lot out of Bible college, my spiritual life suffered. I got distracted. I began to justify sin.

Galatians 5 – For Freedom!

Galatians is a letter written to believers who were in danger of abandoning the gospel by heading back to a form of law-righteousness. Paul warns that by doing this they are deserting Christ. Justification, our right standing before God is not earned by us. That is what it means to believe – we depend on Jesus who substituted himself for us, kept perfectly the law that we could not keep, and died the death that we deserved to die.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The issues today are different, but the principle is the same. I don’t know of anyone today pushing circumcision as a means of gaining a right standing before God. But there are a lot of people pushing a lot of different things, even good things, as a means of gaining favor with God. Today’s issues range from whether you smoke or drink to how you vote or where you stand on particular issues, or what you wear or don’t wear or what movies you watch or what kind of music you listen to or what you do on Saturdays or Sundays or with your spare time or how often and how long you read your Bible and pray.

I’m not saying that none of these are important questions. A lot depends on how they are asked. If we are investigating to see if someone makes the grade, passes the test, lives up to a standard, there is a problem. Paul contrasts freedom in Christ and a yoke of slavery; the advantage of Christ and obligation to the law. Like oil and water, these two cannot be mixed. The danger of the Galatians, and the danger for us, is that we understand justification by faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone. We understand that we cannot pay the price for our sins, and that Christ alone paid our debt in full. Where we go awry is when we begin look at the Christian life as the obligations of slavery rather than the freedom of sons. He says back in:

Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Here is another contrast, between the Holy Spirit and our flesh, between how we began and how we finish. How do we live the Christian life? It is clear that we ‘must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt.5:48) and there is ‘holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb.12:14). The question is how do we come to be righteous? There is the imputed righteousness of Christ which is credited to our account when we believe. But there is also the practical righteousness of a a daily walk of sinning less and loving God more. Of course, we are counted righteous in Christ when we let go of our own efforts toward righteousness and depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. But how do we daily fight the battle with sin and deepen in our affection for God? This is where discipline and structure and clear boundaries and focused effort will help, right? Be careful, you who received the Spirit by hearing with faith, lest you now seek to be perfected by the flesh. To begin by the Spirit and then seek to be perfected by the flesh means submitting to a yoke of slavery, where you are obligated to keep the whole law, where Christ is of no advantage to you, it means falling from grace, being severed from Christ. This is serious stuff! In 4:9, he warns against turning back to weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. He lists the observation of religious rituals – the observation of days and months and seasons and years. He calls this slavery! Knowing God, being known by God, relationship with God, this is freedom! In Colossians 2 Paul uses this same word ‘the elementary principles of the world’ and draws a contrast between captivity to human tradition, to human regulations and self-made religion and asceticism, and on the other hand, walking in Christ.

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. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

…20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Man-made religious laws like ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ sound good. They have the ‘appearance of wisdom’, but they are slavery. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him. Having begun by the Spirit, having received the Spirit by hearing with faith, do not seek to be perfected in the flesh, by observing law.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free” and he exhorts us to stand firm and not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Christ set us free to be free, to live in freedom.

Yoked Together with Christ

You understand what a yoke is. If you have two oxen and you are going to plow your field, you connect the two oxen together with a wooden beam, a yoke, so that together they can pull the plow. A yoke in the Old Testament was an image of slavery. When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he said:

Leviticus 26:13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

In Numbers 25, when God’s people indulged in immorality and idolatry, God describes it this way:

Numbers 25:1 … the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

In the early church, in Acts 15, there was debate over the relation of the Old Testament law to non Jewish believers in Jesus. Must they subject themselves to the laws in order to follow Jesus?

Acts 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

[James concluded] …19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Notice the argument? God cleanses the hearts of Jew and Gentile alike by faith. The law is a yoke that neither Jew nor Gentile could bear. Both Jew and Gentile alike are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus. The decision was not to trouble the believers with unnecessary rules or regulations. Simply recognize that following Jesus is inconsistent with idolatry, immorality, or giving unnecessary offense to Jewish brothers. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus says something very interesting about a yoke in Matthew 11.

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

Jesus invites us to come to him if we are weary of work, not to work, but to receive rest. And then he invites us to take his yoke on us in order to find that rest! This seems contradictory. Find rest from labor by being yoked with Jesus. How can this be? This picture is powerful. Think of the yoke that has made us weary, labored and heavy ladened? The law was ‘a yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear’. We have been yoked to tablets of stone, and we have been attempting unsuccessfully to drag them around. Jesus invites us to leave the yoke of the law, and join him in his yoke. If I am in a yoke with Jesus, guess who is pulling the weight? Not me! I’m along for the ride, so to speak. Jesus is saying the same thing when he commands us to abide in him.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

We can’t pull any weight on our own. But when we are yoked together with Jesus, he pulls all the weight, and we get to walk beside him. In fact the yoke keeps us close to him, in step with him. He works, we rest, we walk by his side, we enjoy his company. And at the end of the day, we receive the reward that he earned, simply because we were in the yoke with him!

Jesus says this at the end of Matthew 11. Halfway through Matthew 11, Jesus says that he came eating and drinking and he is being accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (11:19). Right after this teaching, in chapter 12, Jesus’ disciples are plucking heads of grain and eating them, something the religious people said was not lawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Application to Spiritual Disciplines

Let’s bring this back around to where we started and make some application to the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. We started with the two extremes of being crushed under the obligation of performing religious duties, and on the other end of neglecting good things that are beneficial to our growth in grace.

Let’s look at the issue of prayer. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2 and Romans 12:12 to pray without ceasing, to continue steadfastly in prayer, to be constant in prayer. What does this mean? Does this mean conscious articulate prayer 24/7? Does this mean that we are incessantly verbalizing either audibly or at least mentally our prayers to God? Do you know anyone who is always talking and never shuts up? That is annoying. By saying we should pray without ceasing, does it really mean that we need to run our mouths to God non-stop? Aside from being annoying, it would be difficult to ever read the Bible and really pay attention and listen to what God is saying if we are talking over him the whole time. It would be virtually impossible to do anything at all. I don’t believe this is what it means, and I don’t believe we need to live under the weight of bondage to some religious performance. As believers, we are yoked together with Jesus. He will never leave us or forsake us. Live with a constant awareness of his nearness, of his intimate involvement in all things, knowing that the line of communication is always open. I think that is what it means to pray without ceasing. Live in his presence.

Think of it this way. God is the giver of all good gifts. If I buy my son a bicycle and give it to him as a gift, how should he respond? I hope he would express his gratitude. But do I expect that he stand in front of me saying ‘thank you thank you thank you, you’re the best dad ever. Let me sing you a song – you are the best dad, you gave me a bike, you are so awesome, I’m going to tell all my friends about you, you must be really rich and really smart and really strong, you are the greatest dad ever! I just want to sit in your lap and stare into your awesome face forever and ever and ever’ and all the while, his new bicycle sits in the corner, untouched? Go! Ride the bike! Enjoy the gift! The giver finds pleasure when you take pleasure in his gift. Don’t use the bike to hurt yourself or others or use it to ride off into evil. Later in Galatians 5 Paul says ‘do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (5:13). But enjoy the good gifts that he gives. Know that he is with you always, enjoy his presence, and enjoy his gifts in his presence.

We could compare prayer and Bible intake to breathing and eating – stop breathing and you will die. Stop eating and you will die. Eat poorly and your health will suffer. Breathing and eating are necessities for life; not obligations. Breathing we often don’t even consciously think about – we just naturally do it. We don’t view it as a duty. If you focus too much attention on your breathing, you will probably hyperventilate. But if we are deprived of air, if we are underwater, we quickly become aware of the urgent necessity of breathing; we become desperate for air. Eating is different. Sometimes we skip a meal. Often we don’t eat as healthy as we should. Sometimes we pay more careful attention to what we eat. But we still don’t view eating as a chore. Normally, we take pleasure in eating. We enjoy a good meal. We get hungry and crave certain things.

We wouldn’t think of being underwater without access to air as freedom. We wouldn’t view being out in the desert without water or food as freedom. Develop good habits where you eat and drink and enjoy God’s presence with you always. Don’t get ritualistic or legalistic about it. Live in freedom! If you are a work weary pilgrim, come to Jesus, abide in Jesus, be yoked together with Jesus, allow him to pull your weight, and enjoy waking side by side in constant fellowship with him.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

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

January 26, 2016 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment