Speaking Of Life 4009 | Practicing Christ in the Kitchen
Speaking Of Life 4009 | Practicing Christ in the Kitchen
In the summer of 1642, a young disabled veteran named Nicolas Herman took vows to join a religious community in Paris. He described himself as a “great awkward fellow who broke everything,” and was acutely aware of his humble, flawed stature.
He took the religious title Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, or Brother Lawrence as he’s widely known. He joined the monastery and was given a task to perform, and he did what he was asked. But he was soon seen to be a man of wisdom and he became sought by many visitors for spiritual counsel. Over time, even famous thinkers and powerful church leaders came to listen to him.
But they had to go to the kitchen to find him. Brother Lawrence washed the dishes.
This giant in the spiritual wisdom tradition, this sought-after guide in faith, was the cook who spent his days in the kitchen steam, among the pots and pans. And that was the key, he practiced the presence of Christ there in the smallest of tasks. Every plate he washed, every dish he prepared, he did so as if Jesus were right there with him.
One of his most famous quotes describes this:
“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”
Brother Lawrence washed dishes until his health no longer allowed it and then he became a sandal-maker. And that was his life; though he was one of the wisest of men at that time, he never left the kitchen or the workbench. Shortly after he died his letters were compiled into the enduring classic Practicing the Presence of Christ, and it’s been read and reread by millions of people.
Brother Lawrence’s story reminds us that God works through people we might never expect. And it helps us see how God uses every part of the body. As Paul wrote:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (ESV)
The body of Christ—interconnected, mutually supportive—needs every part to be whole. If this back kitchen cook had been ignored because of his humble position, we would have missed out on his message and edification for the whole body.
Brother Lawrence, like so many forgotten, “insignificant” people, turned out to be a light that shines through the centuries. May we continue to shine the light of Christ in whatever we are called or asked to do.
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.
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Jesus at the Wedding Feast at Cana
Good morning. Wasn't that good? (Speaking of Life video) Yeah, very good. Today is the second Sunday after the Feast of Epiphany. So, we're just getting started in this Season of Epiphany. I'm not sure if it's really considered a season. I saw some stuff about that, that said Epiphany was not a season, but it's long enough to be one. And it grows with where Easter is. I mean, Easter can vary from 21st or 22nd of March all the way to the 25th of April. So, Epiphany is that portion that takes up the slack on that. And we'll have a couple of extra Sundays in Epiphany this year because Easter so late on April 17th.
But here we are. We've celebrated Jesus’ birth, and we're at the point now to start looking at his ministry. And one of the scriptures in the Standard Lectionary for today is the story in the very first few verses of John chapter two. Very early in Jesus ministry, he attended this wedding feast in Cana, in Galilee. And this was a Jewish wedding, and Jewish wedding feasts lasted several days, maybe a whole week. So, they had to plan. They had to have lots of food, kill that fatted calf, or whatever else, and lots of wine to make sure that they didn't run out.
And I think you're familiar with the story. Here at the beginning of John chapter two, they did run out of wine. And Jesus performed his first recorded miracle by changing water into wine. And at the end of this recording in the story, in John 2:11, John said that by his miracles Jesus revealed His glory. And so I think that this is a good story to think about, and talk about in this Season of Epiphany. And since epiphany means “revelation,” we're in the season of the Christian year when we think about how Jesus revealed the glory of the life that he shares with his Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of how he is the one who draws us into that life, and includes us in that life that they share.
So, this story in John chapter two is about the Son of God in our flesh, as the man, the human being, Jesus Christ, bringing about the plan of adoption, and no one around him has a clue what's going on. That's why John said his glory was being revealed in the miraculous signs. And we know the Gospel of John only has eight of Jesus’ miracles included in it. It's very short on that. So, the ones that John put in there, he was inspired to think, “This is pretty important.” And this one doesn't appear anywhere else. The glory of Jesus Christ is the adoption of humanity as children of the Father of Jesus. Jesus, he's changing the world, the creation, and at the same time, all humanity with it. The glory of Jesus Christ is the inclusion of humanity in the whole creation, in that life that the Son has always shared with the Father in the communion and the love of the Holy Spirit. So, what we should expect to see here is a revelation of Jesus bringing all things together in reconciliation with the Father.
And as John records here in John 2:1, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there.” So, Mary's been invited, “and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Dear woman,’ he said, ‘Why do you involve me? My time has yet to come.’” John says this was on the third day. And if we look at the chronological record in John chapter one, and take it literally, Jesus returned from his 40 days in the wilderness. It doesn't say that, but he had to of, because he didn't start his ministry until he did that. And he's just started to gather his disciples. And we read that in John chapter one, where he meets Andrew and Philip and Peter and Nathaniel. He just started to get going here with the disciples when he's invited to this wedding feast at Cana.
So it says, Jesus’ mother, Mary, was at the wedding and Jesus and his disciples were invited guests. I think it's very likely there was some connection to Mary's family in this wedding that she's there helping. That would explain her Intel, as it were, on the situation with the wine. The guests don't seem to know that they've run out of wine. That’s the first thing that causes people to hit the door. Oh, the food is all done, the wine is all gone, I'm out of here. But they don't know. It's still going on. She's probably helping with the serving where Mary is. She certainly has the servants and her command, as we see.
And Jesus and the disciples are invited guests. That does seem a bit odd since he just has returned from 40 days in the wilderness. But Jesus would have been a sought after guest for dinner, or a party. Not because he was known for whipping up dinner for 5,000 from a few meager crumbs of food, but because he was known for his conversation, and his understanding of Jewish culture, and how to apply it. If you remember, Joe talked about this a few weeks ago. At age twelve, he was asking questions of the chief priest and the teachers at the temple. He must have been a real salt and light to these people. And that's why he's sought after to come in and be a part of the dinner. And I wonder if we can think about that in terms of our own selves. Are we salt and light to the point that people enjoy being around us? It's something to think about.
If this couple did have some connection to Mary, they were probably from the poor segment of society. That would explain maybe why the wine runs out. It would fit with Jesus’ own life in reaching out to the poor and the downtrodden. He's there at this poor couple's wedding, instead of being off someplace else with the rich people. And I'm sure there were other big parties going on here, especially if he wasn't in Galilee of the Gentiles here. If he was in Jerusalem, the seat of power and might, he could have been in a big party somewhere. But Jesus chose to attend this one in this mostly Gentile countryside of Galilee.
And we also noticed that Jesus is evidently sitting close to the servants area, at the lower end of the table, or maybe in the lower room, if this is a banquet hall. Mary is able to speak to him without the master of the banquet hearing. They're far away from that. The chief guest, the master of the banquet, would have been up in the upper end of the table or up in the upper room, if it's a banquet hall. And I think that it's sad that we don't have more documented interaction between Jesus and his parents. Of course, Joseph is not even around at this point. But this incident, and the one when he was twelve, are all there is for us to get any insight into Jesus’ life before his ministry. There is just not that much there.
Because I believe he and Mary had a good close relationship, this was his mother, and he would have bonded with her as any child does with their mother. He certainly would have been close to her., and that is why this way he addresses her has caused so much grief among people. The “dear” is not even in the original Greek. That's been added later, to try to soften up the way Jesus replied to his mother's question here, or comment, statement. And notice, that's all it is. It's a statement of the situation. She just says, “They have run out of wine. The wine is all gone.” What Mary expects is not clear, but she thinks there's something here. We miss a lot not having facial expressions and body language here, but she must have expected something from Jesus to tell him this, to state this fact. And the fact that Jesus refers to her as woman, and that's what the Greek word means, “woman” or “wife,” is not indicative of some lack of love or respect that Jesus had for his mother. I suspect we've lost something, translating the Aramaic that Jesus would have spoken this in, into the Greek. This is the same word Jesus uses from the cross when he speaks to his mother. And it's the word he uses when he addresses Mary Magdalene in the garden after his resurrection. I think we miss something in the translation that John made long ago into the Greek. Maybe it was different in Aramaic.
But Jesus says, “Why do you involve me?” And I think that's a bad translation, too. The Greek phrase could also mean, “What is that to you and I?” that they run out of wine here, which from the lack of any kind of retort from his mother is, to me, more likely the case here. She didn't say anything. I think Jesus was simply pointing out the situation with the wine was not theirs to take care of. That belongs to the family. And he was not yet to the point of his ministry to perform signs and miracles. But Mary evidently had faith. Maybe Jesus had done a few things before. She had faith that Jesus was going to do something. So, instead of replying to him, and saying, “Well, young man, you know, I'm still your mother.” She simply left it to him, whatever he would do, in verse five. His mother said to the servants, he didn't say anything to him, but she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She expects him to do something.
“Nearby stood six stone jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.” They were big jars. “And Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.” Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars, used for ceremonial cleansing, with water. Why would he not have simply said refill all the empty wine vessels? Got to be a lot of empty wine, whatever they came in. It probably was not in 750 milliliter bottles, like we're used to now. It would have been something much bigger. But we've got all those here. Why not reuse those? Bring the wine vessels in here and fill them up with water, and we'll start serving again. Why ruin containers that were meant to hold water for ceremonial purity by filling them with wine? It's going to stain them forever. If you think about it, these are stone jars. They're going to be stained purple or a rose color or whatever from the wine that's going to be put in here, forever. They're not, they're never going to be the same again.
But you think about it: Any vessel can be used for any purpose in the hands of our Father. Any vessel, and I think there's a reason that these Old Covenant jars of purification maybe we're what he sought to do here. Too often, we want to protest that I'm too young or I'm too old or I'm too uneducated or too whatever, and my health is not good enough. But, no. Any vessel can be used for any purpose in the hands of our Father. It goes back to what we saw on the Speaking of Life video there. You have something in your past that you think is a problem. So did many of the heroes within our scriptures. A lot of them would have been considered as a criminal past. Moses killed somebody and had to run away to get out of going to prison or being executed for it. Any vessel can be used for any purpose in the hands of our Father. And these vessels used for ritual washing of the hands are going out. They're being repurposed by our Father in a way to show the abundance of His Kingdom. This is a lot of wine. Even if they're just 20 gallons a piece and not 30, there are six. That's 120 gallons of wine. I mean, how much do these people need?!
But the first thing we see about the glory of Jesus in this story is that it's not nice, clean drinking water that has been treated at the treatment plant and flowed through clean pipes to your home, and then through your own personal water filter, because you don't trust the treatment plant. No, this is water that set in the jars for some time. Now granted, Jesus tells them to fill the jars with fresh water, but they're refilling jars that probably aren't empty. I mean, there's no reason for these to be empty. They would have had water in them. He just says fill them up to the brim. Let's top them off. Besides, they probably were never emptied. Something that's 20 or 30 gallons, it takes three guys to dump the thing over. They're sitting there in the house. You can't carry them outside. They're too heavy if they're full. So, you're gonna dump all the water in the floor? It doesn't make any sense. So, these probably were never emptied, the size they were. This is not nice, clean water. He's filled them up with fresh water. Filled the top of it off the water. It's water that sits around for days in an open container as they dip some of it out to wash their hands. This is the water that Jesus was about to change to wine. Jesus is taking, I would say ordinary, but it's not even ordinary, and he's making it extraordinary, as we talked about last week. Ordinary water is going to be transformed into something extraordinary.
And when we look around at our lives and we see how ordinary our lives are, day to day, same old thing. Sometimes, even how dull our lives are. Did I do anything exciting yesterday? No, it rained all or most of the day. I went to the post office. I stopped back by Hardee's. I wanted to get some hamburgers to take home, and their lobby was not open, and I don't use a drive-through. So, I didn't even get that. Dull, dull, dull, and sometimes even how seemingly meaningless. My day was pretty meaningless yesterday.
What's the point of all this? Jesus is changing the world. He's changing the creation. He's changing humanity. He's changing our ordinary lives into something extraordinary. He didn't start with things that are pure and clean and holy and perfect, and then make them more so, i.e., you really shine them up good. He starts with things that are ordinary, even messed up and even dirty, and he transforms them into something that's extraordinary. Remember the story of Adam and Eve and what happened there. Adam was created in the image of Jesus, basically, but Adam didn't act like Jesus, did he? He didn't live up to the image in which he was created. So, since his time, all down through our time, we as human beings look at Adam, look at Eve, and we see ourselves fallen and messed up and kind of dirty. But when we look at Jesus, we see our transformation. We see that the one who made us has taken hold of us, and He's restoring his image in us, and that's a lot about what this is foreshadowing here.
The very next thing you read in John chapter two, he goes into the temple and cleanses it, throws out the money changers, and the animals and things. He's transforming. He's bringing things back into the image. In Adam, the image of God has been marred and broken and faded in all of us. But when we look at Jesus, we see the vivid color and the reality of what human existence has always been meant to be, and what human existence will become, because of what Jesus has done. Jesus is the one who's transforming our ordinary, even messed up, lives into something extraordinary. And he's in the process of transforming the world. All the creation and humanity included, you and I, and everyone else, into something extraordinary.
So, John records in verse eight that Jesus told the servants, okay, so now that you fill these up to the brim, “‘draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now. This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” This is not a magician's trick. This is a revelation of who Jesus is to his disciples, and his disciples have an epiphany at that moment. And they don't fully realize or understand everything that's going on, but when they see this, they realize something extraordinary has just occurred, when they begin to trust him, to believe that He is who He says He is, the Son of the Father. And they begin to believe that we are who Jesus says we are, the beloved children, sons and daughters of our Father, Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
So, as his glory is revealed, it occurs to me that Jesus is changing our views of parties here. Jesus is changing the world. He's changing us from ordinary to extraordinary. And he's even changing the way we view happiness, and joy, and celebration. We think about this from a religious standpoint. Partying begins to look less and less religiously valuable to us. Now, what is religiously valuable is to go to church, to pray, to read your Bible, to remain sober and serious. But if people are having too much fun, that can't be religion, can it? Because the one way we know that something pretty well pleases our Father is if it doesn't please us, right? If I'm not happy in it, God's probably ecstatic that I'm doing it. That's the message of religion: Make yourself miserable, and God will love you. If I'm happy, and I feel free, and I'm excited, that can't be church. But Jesus is bringing God our Father. He's bringing church. He's bringing religion right into the middle of this party. Think about it. Here we are with all these hang ups about parties and partying, but Jesus is there right in the middle of things. And when the wine runs out, he makes more, much more! How much more do these people need to drink?! Granted that the Jew’s traditionally added three parts of water to one part wine at least at dinnertime, because water wasn't all that clean. They didn't have Coca Cola and Pepsi and Diet Coke. So, water and wine was about all they had, and the water was sometimes suspicious. So, they put wine with their water. Watered it down so every body didn't get drunk every day at the dinner. But evidently, this master of the banquet, this chief guest, he took his straight, and he didn't ask for it to be watered down. It was the good stuff. At least he tasted it undiluted.
I think this amount of wine, very good wine, might have lasted well beyond the needs of this party. They're a couple of days in, maybe it's going to go on for five more, but this would have been a very nice and valuable gift to this newly married couple, who evidently came from poor families. They got a 100 gallons of wine left over, and good wine at that. They would not have had too much trouble moving that stock. Somebody would come by and say, “Let me taste. Oh, yeah! I'll take that. I'll take the whole lot off your hands. And I'll pay in gold. I can move that.”
Now, obviously I don't think that Jesus thinks that alcoholism and drunkenness are good things. However, I do think that Jesus thinks that wine is a good thing, and wedding feasts, and parties are a good thing. And that he's participating in this with all the people there, as he participates in all things with us now. So, Jesus brings his life into the party. And in one sense, he becomes the life of the party, doesn't he? Because he restores the wine, the master of the banquet complements the bridegroom. Jesus brings honor to the situation for this young couple out of what would have been a very poor social disgrace, having run out of wine. Like I said, the guests would all hit the door.
The master of the banquet gives the groom praise for saving the best wine until last. The groom, he didn't have any idea what's going on here. What are we talking about? He had nothing to do with the new wine. But he still gets the praise and the credit. If he's smart, he just says, “Thank you.” Isn't that just about the perfect definition of grace? We get credit for something we neither did nor deserved. And that's what Jesus has done here, and what he does continually for us. And the Gospel tells us that Jesus showed up at so many parties and was so happy to eat with people and drink with people, that his enemies started accusing him of being a glutton and a drunkard. You have to go to a lot of parties for word to get around that you're an alcoholic, and one who just shows up for the liquor. Some of that might have been their attempt to latch on to something to discredit him, but Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Luke, uses the party, the celebration, as an analogy for Heaven. So, his enemies began to say, “You party too much. You need to slow down a little bit.” And he said, “Wait till you see the wedding feast of the Lamb. You think a party, you guys, your skin's gonna crawl if you feel that way that parties aren't good, we're going to trot out the good stuff.” That's his reply to them. In that case, you're not going to like Heaven very much because Heaven is like a party. It's like a party to which a man invited everyone, and people wouldn't even come to the party, even though it was free and he opened his doors and invited everyone in, Jesus said. Jesus is changing our view of what it means to celebrate and be happy and what it is that we've been created for. And I think in one sense, we could say that the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one eternal party, it's a celebration. It's a banquet that's been going on for all eternity. We've been brought into that celebration in Jesus Christ. We've been made a part of it. And Jesus is the life of the party.
One of the questions that Jesus is asking us, of ourselves, and of our human nature is, “Why the long face? Why aren't you seeing the joy of the life that I've drawn you into?” I don't think he's saying that to us when we're sick, or just had a car accident, or when our mom or dad just passed away. There's bad things that happened over us which we grieve, and Jesus did, too. He wept. He grieved. Still does, I'm sure. He grieves over us when things happen, but the troubles we're going through and the things that we're suffering are temporary. This party will last forever. I think there's an analogy in the wine that speaks to that: He saved the best wine until he came to the party. Jesus shows us that the best is yet to come. We haven't tasted wine yet. We will. Finally, we see Jesus’ glory revealed in the story, and it shows us that Jesus is including us in his work. He's changing the world and we get to be a part of it.
God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit never, they don't do things alone. They bring us in. The Father and the Son have always been together in the communion of the Holy Spirit. They've done everything together. So, when Jesus steps into the creation, when the Son of God becomes flesh and blood and lives among us as the human being, Jesus, he didn't do anything by himself, because he had never done anything by himself. That wasn't the way he grew up, so to speak. That's not the way they do things. Jesus could have levitated those jars, floated them down to the water source, the well or the spring, or whatever it was, filled them with water, floated them, levitating back to the banquet again, snapped his fingers, and dipped out a container of wine, and off to the guest of the ceremony. That's not what he did, did he? That's not the way he did it. First of all, it was his mother who made the suggestion to him. Second, he asked the servants to go and fill the jars with water. They're the ones who dipped the wine out. Jesus didn't do that miracle by himself. He included others in it. And it's Jesus and his mother and the servants and the disciples and the people at the wedding banquet and the master of the banquet, everyone's included. Everybody's going to get to taste this stuff for two or three more days. They want to drink this good wine that Jesus brought.
In fact, everything we do, is in communion, in relationship with Jesus. If you think about it, this is not the first wine that Jesus as Son of God and as Creator has made from water. All wine is basically transformed from water that falls to the earth as rain, and is soaked up by the roots of a plant. And in the glow of the sun, this fruit is formed that it's mostly water, but begins to grow some sugar content, and it eventually ripens, and it's pressed into juice that's fermented into wine. The Son of God has always been involved in the transformation of water into wine. He just sped it up at this particular time and event, quite a bit.
If I set up to make bread, put the yeast in the water with some sugar, and some salt and a little bit of oil. And I add a little flour to it and make sure the yeast is live, and then I add the rest of the flour, mix it up, and let it rise. That in itself is a miracle to me, how yeast works. This is a dry packet of stuff. How is this alive? How does it come to life when I warm it up with some water and give it a little sugar to eat? It's amazing. The Son of God is in that, sustaining that. And Jesus said to us, my body is the bread and my blood is the wine. He's in all that. Sometimes we look for miracles. We wait for miracles, thinking that they have to happen all by themselves. Jesus is working miracles all around us in everything we do, as he participates in our lives and allows us to participate in what he's doing. Our lives are just one miracle after another. And I think this story helps to remind us of that.
So, Jesus came into this world to reveal to us the glory of what he's doing. And he's bringing the whole of creation and all of humanity into the relationship that he's always shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He's changing the world. Some application, some things we can think about. Watch for experiences of God's abundant grace and hospitality in our own lives, because it's there. It's easy for us to overlook the minor blessings that come our way. You know what I'm talking about: the stranger who opens the door for you when your your hands are full at the store; that close parking spot that you happen upon when your knees ache, you've been out shopping, running errands and stuff; the sweet and tart taste of Grape Fruit when it's in season, the other things that He makes available to us. They could just be coincidences, but it's also possible that a loving God used coincidence to shower you with an instance of his loving grace. I think it happens more and more than what we know.
Notice our own tendencies to exclude those different from us and to favor those that the culture deems as worthy of acceptance. That is human nature. We gravitate toward those who look or think similarly. And it's easy for us to think highly of those that the culture has esteemed worthy of our attention, because of their power and their fame and their appearances. But that's not glory. Our Father's way calls us to expand our vision for who really is our neighbor. We go back to that story in Luke chapter 10. We're called on to reverse the cultural norms that exclude, and embrace our Father's way of loving acceptance. Jesus included the servants, his mother, the disciples in this. He didn't go up and get the master of ceremonies and the important people and have them be a part of this. They got to be a part of it. They got to taste and enjoy, but the ones that he included in the miracle were at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. When we have the opportunity to lift up those who are invisible, give them opportunities, those people that are overlooked or forgotten, that gives us a chance to participate with our Father in reversing the negative effects of the social constructs that are out there, that are so discriminatory, in a lot of ways.
We can read the story of Jesus’ first sign, as a miracle, and as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and just let it be at that. But we can also see the water turned into wine is indicative of Jesus’ mission itself, to reveal who our Father is, to reveal our Father's great abundant love and grace for all, to establish our Father's commitment to restore us as His beloved children, and to begin the great reversal. Showing that the cultural expectation about who is worthy and who is not, and who gets to participate and who's loved and who's blessed, is different than what human beings might think. Just as the disciples began to realize that their perception of who Jesus was, was a little bit limited. They hadn't seen it yet. We can understand the limitations we often place ourselves on our Father's willingness to love us, as well as the limitations we put on our love for others.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, we've looked at this sign, this miracle, this really, really awesome story, and it reminds us just how abundant your grace is, how over abundant it is. Jesus didn't fill up a 12 pack of bottles and say, “Here you go.” He made an overabundance of very good wine. And not only was all this wedding party blessed by it, but probably the young couple as well. We see that as what you're doing in our lives. We don't even know all the miracles you perform in us. Help us, not just to see those things, but to see others as just as beloved as we are. Help us to look beyond the cultural norms that we've had embedded in us that are highly discriminatory. Look past that as Jesus did, and then allow those that are maybe being pushed out, bring those into our circle and enjoy them. Make big of them as Jesus did with the servants, include them as we’re included. And help us to be salt and light. It'd be great if we were all at the top of the list to be invited to parties and things because people enjoy being around us. That should be who we are. We praise you and we thank you. We ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4008 | No Comparisons
Speaking Of Life 4008 | No Comparisons
Comparison is a trap that is so easy to fall into. It’s a cheap and easy ego boost to notice when we are bigger, better, faster, stronger than someone else we know. It can also be brutal, when we come across someone who effortlessly exceeds our abilities.
Human beings tend to compare themselves whether we know it or not. We compare our appearance, our intelligence, our personalities, and our perceived success. Comparing yourself with other people leads to dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem. The issue with comparison is that we are our own point of reference.
The wonderful truth is that we are made in God’s image. Our identity is not based on our performance or how we measure up to others. God created each one of us as his unique beloved child, with our own talents and gifts. Notice how Paul addressed this in his letter to the believers in Corinth.
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. … All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.
I Corinthians 12:4-11 (The Message)
And this is why comparing ourselves doesn’t make sense, because God isn’t holding out on any of us. He created you uniquely, on purpose, with a purpose. Each person has been given spiritual gifts that are intended to reveal God to others, and God decides how every person can best reveal the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the world.
Comparing yourself to others, or trying to be like someone else is ignoring the special gifting God has given you, and robbing the world of those gifts. In fellowship with one another, we reflect God’s love and glory into the world around us. And everyone benefits.
May you embrace your unique gifts from God as you share the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the people in your world.
I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.
Made Extraordinary By Jesus
Good morning. Isn't that a beautiful analogy he gave there? I think you can all remember that. Remember growing up, you knew your father, your father or mother's voice, among any of the other fathers and mothers in the neighborhood. You knew whose was yours and you knew to come home.
Today is the first Sunday of Epiphany in the worship calendar for the church. Last Thursday was actually the Feast of Epiphany. Although very few noticed it more or less than before, I think because January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany will always be, I think, remembered for the events last year at the US Capitol. But we've now entered the Season of Epiphany. And with the start of this Season of Epiphany, there are at least two separate events that are celebrated in the beginning of this. The first is the visit of the Magi to Jesus. The second is Jesus’ baptism. Obviously, this came years after Jesus birth. It says in Luke that he was about 30 years old. And obviously we don't know the exact day or even the year that Jesus was baptized or visited by the Magi because they came after his birth as well. But each of these events are important in our understanding of who Jesus is and what that means for us and for all humanity included.
The word “epiphany” simply means a revelation, enlightenment, awareness. It means coming to the realization of something you had not realized before. So, we might say we had an “Aha moment” or we had an epiphany, and we realized what was going on. I experience that from time to time myself. I have an epiphany, and usually it's God's revelation that brings it to me. That's the context of the epiphany that comes with either the visit of the Magi or the events of Jesus’ baptism. And we've covered the visit of the Magi in the past so I'm only going to briefly mention it today.
I love the way that this simple banner, though, here on the wall, and both of these, but especially this one, shows that moment. “Worship Him,” it says. The focus is on worshiping Jesus. They came to worship Jesus and the epiphany is not so much, I think, that they were worshiping this peasant baby as a king, although that's part of it. I think the more striking is who is worshiping Jesus in this case. The banner shows three men in very strange clothes, anyway you look at it. And one of them is depicted as being of African descent. That's traditional. These men were Gentiles. They came from the East, far away from Bethlehem, far away from Judea. And the term “Magi” indicates they were probably pagan astrologers. We tend to think that they will wet wise men, but Magi means an astrologer, and that would have been a pagan thing. They were looking to the stars, to reveal to themselves what was going on.
That's the epiphany in this moment, I think. That all of humanity is included in the kingdom of this king, not just this tight little group of Jews. And I was talking to Joe before the service, it's great that he came to shepherds that first night, but I don't feel very included when there’s Hebrew shepherds that come and everybody that's there is of Hebrew birth. This is what includes me. I'm a Gentile, just like these guys were. It's not just this tight little group of Jews, but the Gentiles as well. All humanity is represented in that scene that we celebrate on the Feast of Epiphany. Even though these were probably pagan astrologers, they're there. They're included. But we covered all that before. And that's all that I intend to say about the Magi today. It's one of my favorite, though, portraits of who's included, is that story in Matthew chapter two, in that vision of Gentile and Jew together, worshiping Jesus. The epiphany that we're going to celebrate today is the realization that this baby born of the virgin Mary is not just another Galilean peasant, not just another Nazarene. He's not just another human being, but is in fact the Son of God in the flesh. The adoption of humanity into the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And the Standard Lectionary for today always includes the account of Jesus' baptism. It's always if we're in Matthew, it's in Matthew, and if we're in Mark, it’s in Mark. Today, it's in Luke, because we're we're going to focus on the Gospel of Luke. So, it's in Luke chapter three. So, today, I want to look at the account of Jesus' baptism, and I want to look again at and how Jesus was baptized for us. And in doing so, I want to consider the vocations of both John the Baptist or John the Baptizer, more collectively, and Jesus. How his, John's, vocation led to that of Jesus. And finally, to all of us.
In Luke chapter three, we find that John was baptizing in the in the Jordan River because there was lots of water there. And he was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and people were coming to him in great numbers. If we backed up in Luke and read about it, he takes off on them real quick, says, “Hey, you. You generation of vipers.” Matthew makes it more clear what he's talking about because Matthew says, not only did all the people come out of Jerusalem to the Jordan River, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were coming out as well. And that's who he was calling “Vipers, you nest of snakes.”
But people were coming out in great numbers to be baptized. This was something new. The Old Covenant law does not discuss or require baptism. Baptism was used as an initiation rite of Gentile converts to the Jewish faith. It was something that Jews added. It wasn't in the law. But apparently the people sense the Holy Spirit at work here and John, and that this was something special. It was the fulfillment of prophecy in Isaiah. And John was preparing the way for Jesus, preaching the need of a Savior. And the people responded. They came out in great numbers. They were baptized. From Luke's account, it's not just the average Jewish people, but even the Pharisees that are coming for John's baptism. The tax collectors and the Roman soldiers were coming to John asking him about this repentance. What do we do? What should, how should we live? It's all there in the Gospel of Luke. And he was preaching a little fire and brimstone to all of them.
And Luke tells us the assembled group then was responding, here in verse 15, where the lectionary picks up, “The people were waiting expectantly, and we're all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all. ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I'm not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” There's a lot in those few verses. But I'm always afraid that all of it is missed because of the focus on the final “fire” images of this. That's the only thing that sticks in our minds. So, let's deal with that first.
Of course, John is speaking of Jesus, the one they had waited for, the Messiah. Was this good news? Was this what they were waiting to hear? How is, “Yes, he's coming, but he's coming with fire and he's gonna burn up all the chaff,” how's that good news? John just stood up in front of the multitude and said he's coming with unquenchable fire. He's going to keep the good stuff, the wheat. And he's going to separate it from the bad stuff, the chaff. And he's going to burn that bad stuff up. So, if I have an image of God as the great being in the sky, who's out maybe to get me, that doesn't sound like good news, because I have to assume that I'm part of that bad stuff that's going to get burned up. I know myself much too well to assume otherwise, if I'm honest with myself. But as soon as I begin to believe and understand that the Father of Jesus is our Father, who's drawn us into this life through His Son, then I realized that when John talks about getting rid of the chaff, getting rid of the bad stuff and leaving the good stuff, burning up the bad stuff in the fire, he's talking about the best news we could hear. Because our lives are filled with bad stuff that's out of rhythm with the Triune life and needs to be rid of. I make mistakes every day. I do things every day that I know in the depth of my soul are not right. I get up in the morning sometimes and I think, “This is not what life is supposed to be.” How do I know that? How do you know that? It's because our Father is sharing through Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit, his knowledge and his faith with us. His knowledge of what He created us to be. And I know deep down inside that I'm doing or have done wrong.
Now Jesus coming as the great thresher of humanity is the best possible good news. Finally humanity can be rid of all that's not healthy to our relationship in the Triune life and our relationships with each other. And that's John the Baptizer saying to me, “He's coming to take all that away. He's coming to bring you into rhythm with the Triune life. So, that is good news. And it all starts with who we think God is. Is God the Father, who loves the Son and has adopted humanity into the life of the power of the Holy Spirit? Or is God this cosmic policeman, this cosmic lawyer, who is out to arrest people, throw them into prison, and torture them forever. That's the fundamental decision that we have to make about who we believe God is. And it will run its course through our lives, on how we live and how we experience the life that we’ve been given to live, that Triune life, how we experienced that.
Jesus cries out to us every day in the power of the Holy Spirit. He says, believe that my Father loves you, and that the unquenchable fire is going to purify your life, get rid of the bad stuff, and leave only the good stuff behind: the love, the relationship, the connection to your Father in heaven, and all the relationships we have together. So having dealt with that, I hope, let's consider one of the other things we hear John say here, which is really the focus of our time here.
At the tail end of, I guess it's verse 16, he says, “But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John refers here to a slave’s work of untying someone’s sandals. Slaves were everywhere in the ancient world. And since everyone wore sandals, this would have been a common situation in those days, and one of the lower duties of being a slave. You come into the house, the slave removes your sandals, and they wash your feet or give you the opportunity to wash your feet. John says he isn't worthy to do this for Jesus. This is a verse we're familiar with, but it would sound completely strange to the audience. These people had come out to John. When he looked at them, he looked for all the world to them like a prophet, one of God's messengers. They hadn't heard from one in centuries, for a long time. It had been 400 years and since they had a word from God.
They even thought he might be the long awaited Messiah. He looked like everything they've been waiting for. And one of the first things he says is, “I'm not your guy. Someone else has coming, and I'm not even worthy to untie his sandals.” Now, this is an important moment. John embodied everything they had come to expect about God moving. He ate and dressed and talked like Elijah, the prophet hero of their culture. The great one. Only Moses was greater. And he says, John says, “It's not me.” There's an epiphany here for them, if they saw it. This meant that the new movement of God wasn't going to look like the old movement. The prophets of all the centuries, symbolized by John in this moment, were not even worthy to approach Jesus, only to point to him, then they got to leave the stage. They have to step aside and let him take over. The Gospel of John portrays John the Baptizer saying this with his trademark stylistic language, he says, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me,” in John 1:15. John the Baptizer is a prophet, just like the prophets of old, but he's not here to declare a political victory for Israel, nor is he here to declare the age of military peace and harmony as the prophets of old did. John's here, like the prophets, to declare the entrance of God. He's coming.
And we've seen this in our lives as well. Think of the times that we've been doing things like we always do, business as usual, going about our lives, and Jesus arrives on the scene in a new way. Maybe we've been praying for someone and you see that prayer start to take hold in their life, in their situation, then it begins to change. Are you ready then to walk away and give the glory to God? Or will you try to steal that moment for yourself and say, “Look what I've done.” Maybe you've been pouring yourself into someone's life, who's just learning about faith, and you see the Spirit really start to take hold of them. And they're given the energy and the insight and the freedom that comes with Jesus being present. Will you bask in that moment congratulating yourself for your evangelical efforts? I'm getting pretty good at this. Or we join the greater glory of giving that honor to God. We watch them grow and even surpass you and be used by God to do great things. Or will you sink away into jealousy? What have I created now? This guy is gonna take my job. Wish I hadn't done that.
At the same time, we've seen that rush of faith in our own lives. The way we used to do things has passed away. Behold, the new has come in. Over and over we see this throughout our faith as it lives in us, as we grow from glory to glory, as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 3:18. We see the old way we're doing things is no longer working. That old gossip, those gossip sessions out by the back fence, they ring hollow now. The drinking doesn't give us the same escape. It doesn't work anymore. We just wake up with a hangover and realize we've done wrong. We start to see our enemies as three dimensional people with their own problems, their own lives. Hey, maybe that's why that person does that to me. It's the approach of Jesus Christ and he's burning the chaff off of you. Behold, the new is coming. It has come.
We pick up in verse 18, here. And this 19 and 20 are not in the lectionary, but we'll read them anyway. “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” Like I said, it's the best possible good news, even if it is unquenchable fire. (Verse) 19, “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to all of them. He locked John up in prison.” And this is just Luke interjecting a little bit here, what's gonna happen to John. The footnote to this is that our lectionary reading actually leaves these verses 19 and 20 out, but Luke interjects that story of John's imprisonment by Herod right in the middle of this. It's strange. It's a strange interlude. It almost looks like, Okay, John's in prison now, who actually baptizes Jesus? And some people believe that this wasn't there in the original Luke and somebody else penciled it in the margin, and came down to us. I think it was there from the beginning. I think this is the way Luke couched it. John's imprisonment and death was tragic, but in the end, John wanted nothing more. His disappearance from the stage was certain to be violent, and the contrast is vivid here. The old way, represented by John, is dead. And the new way, Jesus, is alive and eventually proven unkillable.
In verse 21, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too” by John, before he went to prison. “And as he was praying,” as Jesus was praying, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” When scholars approach this moment in scripture, they often question “why?” Why was Jesus baptized at all? John's baptism, as it says in other places, is a baptism of repentance. It's a baptism of renewal and realignment with the purposes in the character of God. It's a revival of law keeping and walking away from sin. The issue arising is Jesus never sinned. So, why is he being baptized? He's the sinless Lord. Why would he need the baptism of repentance? He wrote the law. So, why would he need to re-declare his allegiance to it?
And we need to think about the purpose of John's baptism with a little more dimension here. Yes, he was offering them a way to declare their allegiance and turn away from sin. But all that was part of declaring they were part of what God was doing. John the Baptizer is orienting them toward God, calling them to pass through the waters as the ancient Israelites did on the way to the promised land. It's coming. Come and join and be a part of it. Jesus comes not as the detached observer or the gloved surgeon to the human story. He dives right in. For him to join in baptism was for him to declare that he was not only one with God's purposes in the movement in the world. He was declaring that he as the Son of God, and son of man, is one of us. Baptism, especially as John practiced it, is by immersing people in the water. It's a bit like death, and it was meant to be. We're never quite so helpless as we are when we're under the water. We can't breathe under there. And we have to trust in that person who just shove us down in there, will raise us back up. You're not going to hold us down until we bubble.
When we rise from that water, we're wet. For ladies, your mascara has run and streaked. My toupee is floating in the water, floating downstream. Where did that go? We're humble, and we're fresh, and we're a bit helpless. A lot like a newborn baby. For Jesus to participate in this death and rebirth symbolism was for him to declare himself part of the pathetic and beautiful story of humanity. He wasn't baptized just in the water. He was baptized into us, into humanity. This fact can be of immense comfort to us. When God became one of us, He didn't take the easy track. You can't read more than a paragraph of Jesus life in the Gospels in which he wasn't challenged, or exhausted, or misunderstood, and finally was killed. For him, to be baptized in the human condition meant that he was immersed in the fatigue and the boredom and the heartbreak that comes with it. We all experience that. And even more so, Jesus is as the one who represents all humanity, was baptized for all humanity. And we've talked about that before.
Verse 21, “And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven.” The Father speaking, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism was a frighteningly vivid, Trinitarian moment here for those that were there to witness it. The Father, Son, the Holy Spirit are right there next to each other. And Luke tips his hat in several directions to the Old Testament writers. He's accentuating the different imagery here that's present.
The heavens are open, it says. That is similar to the phrasing in the description of Genesis of the flood. The heavens were open and torrents of rain came down. Cleansing the earth of everything that was bad, and saving just eight people.
The dove descends, and that's very much like the dove returning to Noah after the flood with the olive branch in its mouth. Showing that the floodwaters have receded. There's life again. The promise was coming to be.
And the words, “I am well pleased,” echo the Genesis creation account, in which God says over and over again, “It is good,” and He was well pleased with all that He created. It was all fine. And all this Genesis imagery in one place speaks about Jesus’ vocation. He's here for re-creation. His job is not just to do everything better, but to start over again, and create it new. There are several examples of this kind of Genesis language used about Jesus. God starting over again, like the flood, like the original creation. He's giving us a new heart and he's putting his own Spirit into all of us.
One early indicator of the kind of world that Jesus is re-creating for himself is John the Baptizer, himself. Jesus is making a world in which the last shall be first, the weak will be made strong. He's making a world in which a powerful, popular figure like John, and I've said before, he's like a rock-star to those people. He would be a super-celebrity in our current culture. A rock-star or Kobe Bryant of the NBA, or Maguire, the St. Louis slugger. Like that. Just idolized by people. Michael Jordan, everybody wants to be like Mike. That was John. That's where John was. He lived that. He was a popular figure. But John lives his whole life simply to introduce Jesus, and then disappear. Unlike, and I don't mean to belittle Michael Jordan, he's a very generous person, and he's tried to do a lot for people, but he's not going to step away. He stays in the limelight. He wanted to be owner and manager, and do so as a player, to want to play with the Washington Wizards, and be the owner and manager too. He wouldn't step away. That's something maybe he'll learn someday. Jesus is the one that that gets the limelight.
John's one of the first residents of this new Jesus’ world. Instead of living for himself and his own ego, he lives only to introduce Jesus, and then he immediately goes to the sidelines. He doesn't say a thing. He's there in the Gospel when Jesus walked by, and he says, “There goes the Lamb of God,” and two of his disciples leave him and follow Jesus. What freedom! John's one of the first to be made free indeed, by Jesus. Delivered from his own ego, and drawn into God's amazing purpose as the one who introduces Jesus, and then steps aside and lets Jesus roll. This is the upside down kingdom of Jesus. Instead of being slaves to our own insatiable egos, like a former president, God delivers us to be part of His great plan. Instead of status, he gives us purpose. Instead of a solitary narcissism, He invites us to be part of a family. He is recreating, making all things new, and that includes the way that we as human beings interact with each other and treat ourselves.
And that brings us into application of this, our vocation. We looked at John's vocation. We looked at Jesus’ vocation. How about our vocations? It's been said very, very beautifully, “The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness, and the world's deep hunger meet. This is about vocation, which comes from the word, the root word “vocal,” meaning “calling.” That's where it comes from. This is much more than your job, although it could include your job. But it is what God has called you in his overarching purpose in humanity. The meeting of your gladness (yeah, I'm really glad to do this) with the world's deep hunger. That vocation can mean a history shaking post like John the Baptizer, or Billy Graham, or Corrie ten Boom. It can also mean joyfully serving that special needs child, or overcoming the abuse that you've endured in your life by stopping the cycle, and showing kindness where abuse and hatred was. Those moments of vocation can bring any of us to the rugged strength of John the Baptizer, the unflinching obedience of Peter, that joyful participation of Mary, Jesus’ mother. These were not extraordinary people. None of them. They were made extraordinary by Jesus.
So let me ask, “Where is the extraordinary that he's calling you to today, or tomorrow, or next year?” Look and see. Where is he calling you to be? Where does your great and deep gladness meet the deep hunger of the world? Where is that? What's that look like?
There's an old tradition for the for the Feast of Epiphany. The pastor would announce the date of Easter Sunday, because unlike Christmas and the Feast of Epiphany, which always arrive on the same date every year, Christmas is always December 25th, and the Feast of Epiphany is always January 6th, Easter Sunday is based on the moon phases. So, it comes a little earlier or a little later every year, depending on the moon phases. Therefore, people 1500 years ago, who didn't get a complimentary calendar from the bank or whatever else, with the date of Easter Sunday on it, you could go look somewhere in March or April here, one or the other, maybe you will find it. They couldn't know exactly when Easter Sunday would occur. Hence, the tradition of announcing the date. This year, Easter arrives rather late, April 17th. So, that means we'll have more time to celebrate the Season of Epiphany. And maybe it means that Spring is going to be a little later. We'll see. But we'll look forward to that. We have Epiphany and Lent to celebrate first before we get to Easter on April 17th.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you. Thank you that you're NOT a lonely figure and up in heaven somewhere waiting to do us in. Thank you that you're a loving Father. Father of billions of beloved children. And that you're cleansing us of all this stuff that won't fit in the Triune life. You're burning that away like chaff, and leaving only the good, the vocation that you've called us to, where our extreme gladness meets that hunger that we see in the world. Where we can meet that need and enjoy doing it. So, we pray in this new year that you would show us as a congregation here and individually where that is. Where does that meet? Where can we be about the things that bring us the greatest pleasure and gladness, but in the same way meet the needs of the world. We praise you and thank you. We want to be like John, willingly stepped up and went through the hardship, living out in the wilderness, baptizing everybody who came. I just wonder if his toes ever weren’t wrinkled from standing in water all the time. But once you came on the scene, he stepped aside. And we need to remember to do that when we're working in someone's life. Once you show up Jesus and start to take hold in their lives, we need to step aside and give you the credit. It's your work, not ours. So we pray for more of that kind of work. We need it. We need to grow our congregation, Father. We praise you for what we have. And just show us where you're working, where our great gladness could meet the hunger and the needs of the world, where we could be about your work. We praise you, and thank you, and ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4007 | God’s Whistle
Speaking Of Life 4007 | God’s Whistle
I can still hear dad’s whistle or mom’s call from the back porch when it was time to come home from spending the day outside. It’s a sound from a simpler time—when we worked and played outside until the sunset and were back out in the morning to watch it rise. That sound always meant it was time to come home.
Every child who hears that call knows which home to go to. We recognized the call because we knew who was making the call.
I see a similarity in the book of Isaiah. Here I see God calling to his children—not only reminding them where they are from, but whose they are. Reinforcing that they are part of his story.
Note Isaiah’s words in chapter 43:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43:1-2 (ESV)
You are mine, he says, and I will always be with you—even walking through fire with you. And when you go out on your own… Notice this next part when he says he will whistle them home…
Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth,
Isaiah 43:5-7 (ESV)
Israel did not stay true to God’s covenant and was carted away from home. They came to exile in Babylon. There they settled and became somewhat comfortable in exile. But true to his word, God called them to remember who he was, who they were in him, and to leave Babylon and come home.
Like a parent’s voice that reminds us who we are and where we’re from, God reminds them of their story. He whistles for them to come home.
Do you hear the echoes in this story? This is creation itself—he created you, he formed you. Then the next story—”when you pass through the waters, I will be with you,”—this is the exodus story.
God is reminding them who they are and calling them back home from the four corners of the earth.
Has God called to you like this? He is whistling you home. He’s calling you to come out of this disorienting, scattered world and return home to your story. Back to the story, he’s writing for you.
He’s calling you to be who you truly are—the beloved royal child of God. It’s time to respond to the whistle and come home.
This is Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.
Children of Our Father
Good morning. Today is the second Sunday after Christmas day. Even though the stores are having New Year's Day sales and clearance sales and your neighbors may have stopped turning on their lights and decorations as if Christmas is over, it's yet several more days of Christmas that we have yet to celebrate. On the Christian calendar, Christmas lasts from Christmas day until January 5th, which is the day before the Feast of Epiphany. So, we're still within the 12 days of Christmas. Centuries ago, before their cell phones and email and all those things that allow us to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, most people took a long vacation at Christmas. They relaxed and celebrated for the full 12 days. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th, is the day they celebrate Jesus’ birth. But in the western church, the Catholic and Protestant congregations, we celebrate on December 25th. So, I was still playing Christmas music this morning as you came in for breakfast. And we're still celebrating what our Father has done in sending Jesus to us so many years ago.
Scriptures in the standard lectionary for the second Sunday after Christmas Day are the same every year regardless of what the Gospel account is focusing on. We're getting ready to go from Mark into Luke. But it’s always the same for today. So, the theme for today in the scriptures is always our adoption as children of our Father. My favorite verses of the entire Bible, in Ephesians chapter one are included in the lectionary for today. So, we read starting in verse three, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For our Father chose us in Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love our Father predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he is freely given us in the One he loves.” Long before there was any human being, our Father predestined all of us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus. And I think the better translation of verse five is, “That gave him great pleasure.” Because that's why we do things in relationships, because it gives us pleasure. If we feel obligated in a relationship to do something for the other, we need to rethink that. The relationship is broken. That's the way it is for my earthly father and I. I do things for him just strictly for the pleasure of doing it for him. And he does the same thing for me. And we enjoy that doing for each other. And we've been adopted by our heavenly Father. That is one of the greatest things, the greatest truths of our existence. And it gave our Father great pleasure to adopt us in Jesus.
What I think I sometimes forget in all the Christmas season is the great expense. The great expense of all of it. Jesus did not come to us as we would expect the Creator of all the universe and all of humanity to do. He came as a baby born to poor peasants, very poor peasants. He put aside all the glory and all the honor and all the worship that he deserved. And he put on our broken human flesh. He became one of us, because that's the only way he could relate with us so that we would see the love, the mercy, and the grace of our heavenly Father for humanity. And just as important for all of us as his death and the death of human flesh for us and for all humanity, it's his recreating our fallen humanity by cleansing and healing and sanctifying it through the course of his redemptive life. That's the bigger piece. He healed all of us from the inside out by living a human life in perfect obedience and faith to the Father. Living the way that Adam and Eve and all of us who have lived after them have failed to do. He renewed that relationship with the Father that Adam and Eve had breached by running to hide, and, therefore, he restored the communion between the holy God and sinful humanity. Thereby reconciling all things to the Father. In the incarnation, the Eternal Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, the Son in whom all things were created and sustained, took on our poverty in order to share with us his great riches. He became what we are so that we might share and what he has always had with the Father and the Holy Spirit in wonderful relationship, communion, peace, love, joy.
Continuing in verse seven, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and in understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put in effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”
This first part of Ephesians is one big praise song. Again and again, Paul speaks of “to his great glory, in his great praise, his glorious grace.” Yes, in him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, but that of itself, if that's all we had, that would leave us here as forgiven human beings. And I'm not sure how many of us would understand it, and try to seek out a relationship with the Father. I think without his life, and his showing us the love of the Father, Jesus would always just be an example to us. And we've had a lot of good examples down through history that we've forgotten about.
In verse 10, it begins to be put in perspective, all things in heaven and earth will one day be put into the one head, even Christ. That requires that Christ is not the dead sacrifice that atones for all of our sins, but rather he's the living Redeemer, who has through his resurrection has set the stage for all humanity to receive that same life eternal. It's his birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection that bring about the very special result of our adoption by our Father.
I was thinking a lot about adoption this week, as I thought about our Father adopting us in Jesus. Adoption have always been a very special process. Someone who has no connection to the family at all, is suddenly brought into a relationship and receives all the rights of a family member. That doesn't make the birth of a child to his parents any less special. And I don't want to infer that. I believe life begins at conception. Just as the Holy Spirit imparted life to Jesus in Mary's womb, I believe that all life is granted by divine connection. There must be something very special that's conveyed in that exchange at conception. The spirit within us, that connects us to the Father and Jesus, must be imparted to us at that moment. So, to have a child of your own, to hold that newborn child that's a blessing from our Father in your arms, you must feel a very great connection to the Triune God in that moment. Here is new life. One who is just as included in the communion with our Father is any of us are.
But adoption is still very special. Today, because of the situation in our country both the scarcity of adoptable children, and we have a very, very low birth rate, and single motherhood now has lost the stigma it had just 30 years ago. So, there aren't many children given up for adoption. There's all this legal red tape that's required. Many, many parents, who want to adopt, travel thousands of miles in search of a child to bring into their family. They go to another country. And I see that and I have to marvel at that desire, that love they must have for a child they have not yet met, to set out on a long journey, deal with foreign governments that are capricious and want bribes and everything else. And if they're blessed, they find a child, and they're able to bring that child home. And I think it's probably never without some issues with language and culture and the things that go on there. But, eventually, that child grows up to be a part of that family and inherits all that they are entitled to as children and heirs within the family. And I think that's perhaps a very shallow and imperfect analogy of the love and desire that our Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit must have had long before there was any creation. But the best I can do.
They wanted to adopt sons and daughters, lots of sons and daughters, because they had a love that was big enough to share with tens and hundreds of billions of sons and daughters. And it's a sort of a crazy love by our standards, because from a human perspective, this looks for all the world like a broken and even an abusive relationship. We were hardly good children. God got a lot of abuse. But our Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit have that kind of crazy love for all of us. They would travel all the way from the very throne of the Creator, down to a tiny, insignificant town in a tiny, insignificant former kingdom that had been easily conquered by the Roman armies.
And the twist on the analogy is that the son became the baby Jesus who himself needed adoption. You remember the story. Joseph being an honorable man was not willing to risk the public stigma for Mary. He wasn't going to out her, and take a chance that they might start stoning again. They had given that up hundreds of years before, but he was not going to take that chance. He was just going to quietly divorce her and go on about his business. But what would that have done for her chances to ever marry again? Poor peasant girl with a child. She would have been placed in a situation of abject poverty probably. There probably was no safety net there for her. Jesus needed a father. Even the Son of God in our flesh needed a proper family with someone who would earn a living and take care of him. So, our Father stepped in, and he sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to explain to Joseph what the story really was. And Joseph did as the angel said, and he took Mary as his wife, and he raised Jesus as his son. And we know that. He adopted Jesus as his son because if you remember the people all assume that Joseph was Jesus’ father. Aren't you the son of the carpenter, the son of Joseph? We know who you are. Your brothers and sisters are here. If any of them had counted months on their fingers, figured out that Jesus was conceived before Joseph and Mary were together as husband and wife, they just assumed the worst. This young couple had been fooling around before they were married. It happened. No one saw the glory of the Triune God had come into their midst. They weren't looking. We've been adopted. The Father has stepped in and become our Father. He has poured out that crazy love and the Holy Spirit on all humanity and invited us to come into His presence as his beloved sons and daughters with all the rights of the family and inheritance.
As we finish out Christmas and Advent, this coming Thursday's the Feast of Epiphany, I want to take a moment and read to the first verses of John chapter one. It hasn't come up on the Standard Lectionary until today. And I really think it should be read every year in this season. Because we see right away that John was inspired to rewrite the creation account in Genesis chapter one in what he knew about Jesus. In John chapter one beginning in verse one, says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” This is the apostle John's Christmas narrative. There's no mention of angels or shepherds; no wise men, John actually seems to know nothing about a young mother giving birth in a stable.
He spends just two verses, verse one and verse 14, on the birth of Jesus. Yet, John's Christmas story focuses instead on the difference that birth made for all of us, for all humanity. John is seemingly less interested in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem than He is in the birth of you and I, as children of our Heavenly Father. And I love verses four and five that speak of the light that came into the world when the Son of God took up our humanity but I think the translation in verse five is a bad choice. Yes, the darkness of this world has not understood the light. That's pretty apparent. But I think the better translation for that is that the darkness of this world has not overtaken it, has not overcome the light.
Both meanings are possible here, but I think the real intent here is that that light that Jesus brought in the world would never be overtaken by darkness. Because that's the difference between light and darkness. Light is real. It’s a real entity. But darkness is simply the absence of light. But more than that, this is a promise that even when it seems otherwise, even when the scarcest scan of the headlines makes it seem otherwise, yet the light continues to shine, and the darkness has never overtaken it, has never understood it. And that's an active quality of this verse that captures the life of faith. We live confident of the promise that light is stronger than darkness, that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death. And that may not always seem apparent, even when we believe it, even when we believe it most competently, but that doesn't lessen the amount of struggle that comes with this life. But it's true nonetheless. That light that he brought will never be overtaken by the darkness.
Verse six then speaks about John the Baptist, John the Baptizer, coming before Jesus. “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” And again, the true light, the Son of God taking up our humanity, coming as one of us. Jesus gives light to all of us, to all of humanity. It was he, Jesus, the true light, who was coming into our broken world of darkness.
And then verse 10, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Adoption, our Father’s beloved children recreated, reborn in Jesus to live forever in that light, in that relationship with our Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and all humanity. Can we really grasp the significance of that? The Father, Almighty God, our Father, that the Creator, the Ruler of the universe, has called us his own beloved children, all of us, as individuals who hold infinite worth in our Father's eyes. All of us as individuals who deserve love and respect because of who we are, the Father's beloved children. Can we imagine that? Can we wrap our heads around that? That Jesus, the Son, Almighty God Himself, came and was born, lived, died and raised again and ascended back to our Father, not simply to pay some obscure penalty for sin, but rather to remind us and to convince us that our Father loves us more than anything, and to bring us into that life that we were created to share as children of our Father.
Then, we get back to the incarnation in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” He made his dwelling. He pitched his tent. Basically, the word there is “tabernacle.” I love the way The Message translated, “He moved into our neighborhood.” He became flesh and moved into our neighborhood. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning. He cries out, saying, ‘This is he of whom I said, He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” From the fullness of His grace, we have all received one blessing after another. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” I love verses 17 and 18, “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Grace, the forgiveness of sins. The truth, the truth about who we are, and who Jesus is and who our Father is.
Indeed, the One and Only, who came from the Father, has come into our humanity and he has made the Father, our Father, known to us because he knows the Father. Because of our limitations, the Son of God became human so that we may see God. In Jesus, the Father becomes accessible to us. The eternal and immutable Almighty Son of God became finite and vulnerable, in order to become truly available to us. Because we've seen the Father in Jesus were encouraged both to live with hope, as well, and to share with others that hope that we have and what the Father has done in Jesus.
I hope this has been a wonderful Advent and Christmas season for you. I wish it could be longer. We celebrate Epiphany and Lent and Easter and Pentecost for weeks on end. Weeks and weeks and weeks, but Christmas is only twelve short days. We still have a few days left, 1-2-3-4. We have a few days left to celebrate the greatest gift of adoption that a father could ever give. But, we can take the message of Ephesians one and John one all through the year, and keep it with us and remind us just who we are, our Father’s beloved children.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you. Thank you for that adoption. Thank you for making us the sons and daughters that we never could have been on our own. Thank you Holy Spirit for coming and bringing that light to us, opening our eyes to it, letting us see the reality of who you are, Jesus, what that meant for us. And, then, thank you for slowly and surely making us more and more and more as we were created to be like you, Jesus, the Son of God in our flesh. We praise you and we thank you. We ask that you would help us to just immerse ourselves in this truth. Let it soak all through us and share it with those that we come in contact with, the hope that we have in you. We praise you. We thank you. We ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4006 | Already a Good New Year
Speaking Of Life 4006 | Already a Good New Year
This week, we are blessed to celebrate the coming of another year with fireworks, parties, and cheers of “goodbye” to 2021 and “hello” to 2022. At the start of a new year, many people use the opportunity to take stock in their lives. They make resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, save money, and stop procrastinating. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a New Year’s resolution, however, have you ever noticed that resolutions are often focused on self-improvement?
Why do we often base our New Year’s resolution on things we do not like about ourselves or things we think will make us whole? Why, when reflecting on our lives, do we tend to look at what we do not have versus what we have?
The truth is, God wants something different and better for us. While we do actively participate in the work to become more like Christ, our Triune God invites us to be focused on the blessings we have already received and how we are being transformed by the goodness of God. Paul writes:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
The reality is that if we are in Christ, we have already been blessed beyond imagination. It is God’s pleasure to bless his children and he does not withhold his best from us. What would happen if we made our New Year’s resolution in light of what we have received in Christ? What if we saw ourselves as overflowing with blessings? What if we saw ourselves as already chosen and adopted in Christ?
For this new year, I challenge us to rest in the truth of what God says about humanity. Through Jesus Christ, we are holy and blameless in his sight. I pray that we will experience every spiritual blessing in Christ, no matter what this year has in store.
I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.
The Zeal of the Boy Jesus
Today is the first Sunday after Christmas Day. Most people will start taking down their Christmas tree, removing inside and outside lights, and box up their decorations today. And I also expect most of them will do so gladly and with a sigh of relief. Because, the holiday with all its disruptions, stress and rushing around with so many preparations, like grocery and gift shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, gift wrapping, etc, etc, has finally come to an end! Now, it is time to relax and welcome in the new year.
But Christmas is not just another holiday. It should not be so quickly dismissed. To treat it that way is missing the whole point. Christmas is about the incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity. We don't know the exact day when Jesus was born, but we do know his birth changed everything. God entered into his own creation and became one of us! The promised Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, was born to a devout teenage girl in a small village called Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. From that humble appearance, the name and fame of Jesus has been heard and celebrated around the world over centuries and billions of people have celebrated Jesus.
So, yes, Christmas is a disruption, but it should not be unwelcome or dismissed as just another holiday. Christmas marks the beginning of the end of the sin problem that has plagued mankind since Adam. Jesus came as the new Adam. The first Adam brought sin and death upon all of us, but Jesus brings life for all. (1 Cor. 15:22) And the worshipers of Jesus look forward with a lively hope to his return in power and great glory to rescue us from the constant dangers that we face in this world.
Now, today we have a real treat. The Gospel scriptures in the Standard Lectionary are about a time in Jesus' life for which we have very little knowledge. We will be reading in Luke chapter 2 about one incident in the life of the boy, Jesus. Luke is the only one of the Gospel writers who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to include this account.
LUKE 2:41 (NIV)
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.
The phrase “the Festival of the Passover” is used by Luke because he was not talking about one night for the Passover meal or one day for the Passover observance. Luke was talking about both the Passover and the seven Days of Unleavened Bread that follow it. The first and last Days of Unleavened bread were both annual Sabbath days, when no one could do any work or travel. And there were three different observances during the year that are recorded and required that all the men of Israel had to appear before the Lord.
23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel.
24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
It was not an easy process to travel to Jerusalem. In fact, it was quite costly for Joseph, a self-employed carpenter. It was not easy to abandon his trade for a day, much less a week or more. Leaving his home and livestock unattended would have been hard. Yet, God promised to protect their property.
Also, Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived in Nazareth, which was a long distance north of Jerusalem. The shortest route was over 80 miles, but that would take their caravan through Samaria. No devout, religious Jew would go that way, because no one would travel through Samaria. So, the Jews of Nazareth had to travel, not 80, but 120 miles on foot, leading children, and their pack animals across dusty trails for days and days on their long journey. Just one way. They had to do it again when they go back.
You might ask, “Why?” Why did the men go to Jerusalem? Didn't they have synagogues in Nazareth and the other Jewish communities? Yes, they did, but what was it the Old Testament command said? “Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel.” And where would a good Jew expect to find the residence of the God of Israel, i.e., the house of the Lord, the God of Israel? The Great Temple in Jerusalem, of course. That was God’s house. That’s were he resided on Earth. And that is where they would go to find Him.
So, we should be grateful to have roads and interstate highways that connect us to distant cities, and dependable vehicles that can drive and ride in to get us there quickly, safely, and in comfort. Also, we should be thankful, that in this age of God's Grace, which has been ushered in by the Christmas birth of Jesus our Savior, we do not need to go out and look for God. Jesus has gotten himself into us. And we are told in …
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Jesus is here right now with us. We do not need to look for him, or try to find God. God has found us, and Jesus is right here with us during this Worship Service, which we have dedicated to him.
One more thing to note in verse 41 is that both parents made it their practice to go to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. So, Mary's devotion to the God of Israel is repeatedly shown by her desire to take her family to Jerusalem. She didn’t have to go. It was the men who had to go. But she went anyway because she wanted to show her family, her children, what is to be a devout child of God. And we know she did not go alone. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus had four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. And both Matthew and Mark tell us that there were also sisters, plural sisters. We just don’t know how many or what their names are. So, Jesus had at least six siblings, and Mary and Joseph took them all to Jerusalem. Mary could have stayed home with her small children, but she chose instead to be an example to them of a godly women, devoted to the God of Israel.
So, now that we have established a little background, lets continue in Luke 2:
42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
We are reading here about Jesus as a tween. I think that is the term that is used. He is not quite a teenager, but he is no longer a little child, either. The fact that this incident happened when Jesus was 12 is significant. The 12th year was the final year of preparation for a boy before he entered full participation in the religious life of the synagogue. Up until that time his parents, especially his father, were teaching him the commandments of the law, but at the end of the 12th year the child goes through a ceremony by which he formally takes on the yoke of the law and becomes a bar mitzvah, which actually means “son of the commandment.” This was the year Jesus stayed behind in the temple. His last preparation year. Perhaps, at this crucial turning point in every Jewish boy's life, the Holy Spirit wanted to demonstrate for those who had eyes to see that Jesus would be more than an ordinary Jewish boy; his insight into the commandments was more profound than ordinary men, and his relation to God was, of course, unique.
43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.
45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
A day's journey! They traveled for a whole day with the caravan heading back to Nazareth before realizing the boy Jesus was not with them. This was worse than the Home Alone movie that was so popular, and still is popular today, when his parents left their young son, Kevin, at home and flew to France or someplace. At least Kevin was at home. Young Jesus was alone in the strange, big city of Jerusalem. All sorts of people, many foreign types were there. They lived in or visited Jerusalem. And don't forget that Jerusalem was a major garrison for the Roman soldiers who occupied the city. No telling what they would do. All these thoughts and more must have tortured Mary as she realized her little boy, Jesus, was left behind.
Now, one thing stands out here in this story. Mary and Joseph apparently had implicit faith in their 12 year son. If he had been an irresponsible child, his parents would never have gone a whole day without knowing his whereabouts. They trusted him and knew he had good judgment. This suggests that Jesus' motive in staying behind was not carelessness or disrespect. It is also consistent with the scripture. The verse just prior to today's reading from the Standard Lectionary gives us a summary of the life of Jesus from a babe in the arms of his parents up to this point in time for the boy, Jesus, that we are reading about now.
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
“The grace of God is on him” is another way of saying Jesus treated everyone with grace, with courteousness, with goodwill. A gracious person is someone you trust and enjoy being around. A gracious person shows honor and respect to all people, especially those they love, like their parents.
46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Some translations use the term “doctors” instead of “teachers.” That is because these were the ones who were known as the most renowned teachers of Old Testament Law, and Jewish history and tradition. These were the doctors of Jewish law who taught the other experts. They were the elite teachers of Israel. If you went to the equivalent of a Jewish university at that time, these would be your professors.
Many of these teachers have come together because of the recent Festival, and are lingering around for a few days enjoying being together because they are probably spread out during the year. Enjoying stimulating conversations with their colleagues, their mentors, and maybe some of their former students. And right in the midst of these highly respected doctors of Jewish culture and knowledge, these teachers of Israel, is the boy, Jesus. He is not just listening to the doctors debate and discuss God's law, he is also participating in their intellectual discussions. The Holy Spirit lead Jesus to this gathering place where these learned men are discussing God, law, and life.
The men quickly learned that the boy named Jesus was a child prodigy. A 12 year old boy who knew scripture as well as they did. Also, a boy who was mature beyond his years, who addressed them graciously as one with the grace of God on him. I image the teachers were mesmerized by Jesus and his knowledge. Verse 47 even states, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
This is the first time the Gospel account records Jesus interacting with the teachers of Israel. This time Jesus is well received by these doctors of the law. They are amazed and even glad to entertain this boy prodigy in their midst.
The temple courts were open to the public. The teachers were probably use to people lingering around as they talked about God and law and Jewish history, discussing things about God. Scripture does not explicit say, but it makes sense that word got out about this child prodigy who had so much knowledge about their God, who was always faithful to His promises, and was always faithful to Israel. And after three days, yes, I can see that there would be a large crowd in the temple courts listening to the boy explain scripture when Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus there, just like we saw in the short video.
Even Jesus' parents were astonished at the sight of their boy sitting in the midst of this august company of elite teachers, answering their questions with wisdom.
48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
When I read this account in the Gospel of Luke, I had the same question for the boy, Jesus, that Mary asked. Why did you treat your parents this way? Did you not know that they would be upset and anxious for your safety? How could a boy with the grace of God on him not see how this incident would worry his parents?
I did some research trying to find the answer to Mary's question, but I really didn’t find anyone who had a good answer. The best guess I read was on the Grace Communion International website where a person suggested that Jesus got separated somehow from the caravan and decided to wait for his parents to come get him, and Jesus thought the temple would be the first place they would look.
Well, maybe. We don’t know, but another thought came to me. Perhaps the Holy Spirit did not want Jesus' parents to know he was missing, and also hide this fact from 12 year old boy, Jesus. Now remember, Jesus was fully human. He had set aside his power and great glory so he could live as one of us, as a human being, experience everything we experience. Jesus showed us by his example what it looks like to live AS a righteous human being, in perfect harmony with God. Jesus' all important purpose as a human being was to do the will of his heavenly Father. And Jesus depended upon the Holy Spirit to reveal his Father's will.
Twenty years ago, it was widely assumed that the vast majority of brain development takes place in the first few years of life, when you are just a little child. Back then, we didn't have the ability to look inside the living human brain and track development across a human lifespan. Now, due to advances in magnetic resonance imaging or MRI, neuroscientists have started to look inside the living human brain of all ages and to track changes in the brain, its structure and its function. They have found that the brain continues to develop right throughout adolescence and into our late 20s. One of the brain regions that changes most dramatically during adolescence is called the prefrontal cortex. This region does many things for us, including involvement with social interactions, understanding other people, and self awareness.
What medical scientists have learned is that the ability to take into account someone else's perspective in order to guide ongoing behavior, which is something we do all day, everyday, is still developing into the mid to late adolescence. So, if you have a teenage son and you sometimes think they have problems taking other people's perspectives, you're right, they do. Son, or grandson. And this is why we sometimes laugh about the occasional absurd behavior of teenagers.
But Jesus here is only 12. A 12 year old boy. The part of his brain that allows him to take someone else's perspective is still immature, and undeveloped because of his tender young age. And the Holy Spirit has lead Jesus to the temple courts and to these learned men. The boy Jesus is excited by the opportunity to talk to these teachers of Israel. He is doing what he loves the most, talking about his heavenly Father in this center of Jewish thought with men who have dedicated their life to God's law. The boy Jesus is caught up in the zeal he has for his heavenly Father.
This scene reminds me of PSALM 69:9a, which says about Jesus in a prophecy about the Messiah to come, “For the zeal of your house consumes me.”
A preteen mind can be laser focused on one subject or pursuit without regard to anything else because their brain is not yet fully developed. Jesus needed the Holy Spirit to lead and show him the impact of his actions on others, just as Jesus depended on the Holy Spirit to lead him all through life. Just as we need to be led by the Holy Spirit in our Christian lives.
This was an act of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not know his parents were worried about him. We can see that from his response, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” And the NIV gives an alternate version of Jesus' question, “Didn't you know I had to be about my Father's business?” which is what the video version said. Jesus was doing the will of his heavenly Father. The boy, Jesus, assumed his parents were on board with this. The last thing Jesus wanted to do was to give his parents undo worry about his safety.
The Holy Spirit is showing us how Jesus, our Emmanuel, the Jewish Messiah, should have been received by the intellectuals, the learned doctors, the teachers of Israel. They should have been the first ones to recognized and welcome Jesus. And that was exactly what was happening in the temple courts. So, these teachers of the law talked with this boy prodigy, Jesus. They were amazed, and they can't get enough. They can’t get enough of this young Jesus, and his understanding of God as explained by him from holy scriptures. It was as if they were mesmerized by Jesus, by his vision, by his insights INTO the heart and mind of God.
What would have happened if the Holy Spirit allowed this scenario to continue? Well, it seems obvious that Jesus would have been sought out as a young disciple. He was just about to turn 13. He would be of the age to enter into the religious colleges they had in the day. And all the elite teaches of Israel would have been clamoring to make him their student. After all, the Gospel account states that “everyone was amazed,” not just a few or many, but “EVERYONE was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” But Jesus was not born to live with and to become one of the elite. Jesus was born to humble, but devout parents, who lived in a remote part of the country. Jesus lived far from the social elites of society so he could identify with all people, and with all humanity.
At this time, Jesus is just a boy. The next time, when Jesus starts his ministry, the relationship between Jesus and these teachers of Israel will turn hostile, and they will seek to kill the MAN, Jesus. Why? Because they fear the God they claim to serve. Because they do not know nor trust their loving heavenly Father. They listened to the boy, Jesus, with wonder and amazement when he talked so personally about the God of Israel. But out of anger fueled by fear, these same men refused years later to listen to the man, Jesus.
50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Things had been “normal” for 12 years. Joseph had secretly adopted Jesus and become his father, his dad. Mary loved her beautiful son, cared for him, birthed more children, and cared for them. Their family was growing, and life continued more or less normally for them. The memory of the extraordinary events of Jesus' birth had been fading now for a dozen years. So, they were not ready for the sight of their son, Jesus, conversing so easily with these esteemed men in this public setting with all these people enraptured with what was going on. They did not understand. The scripture says, “They were ASTONISHED!”
They also did not understand Jesus' response to their question. What was this about looking for him in his Father's house, doing his Father's business? Duhh, that's W-H-Y they were looking for him. That’s why they were searching for the boy. Jesus was missing! They did not know where he was, or if he was safe, or not. They wanted to find Jesus so they could take him home, TO THEIR HOUSE, HIS DAD'S HOUSE!
So, another reason the Holy Spirit orchestrated this event, it seems, was to remind Joseph and Mary that their son was God's gift to all Israel, and not just to them. Jesus was more than their son. He was the Messiah, the Savior of Israel and all of the world.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, who had been so frantic to find her lost son, learned a valuable lesson that day. She treasured all of the events that the Holy Spirit had set in motion, and took them to heart. In other words, she remembered that Jesus was more than her son. He had a vital destiny in God's plan of salvation for mankind. Even now and from now on, she would do whatever she could to help Jesus prepare to fulfill his destiny, even if it meant letting him go forward without her.
But the learned men who came face to face with this extraordinary boy, Jesus, did not treasure this event in their hearts, like Mary did. Twenty-one years later, having forgotten their former amazement of the boy, Jesus, they schemed about how to kill the MAN, Jesus. They dismissed Jesus' insights into the loving heart of God. Instead of trusting in God, they allowed anger fueled by fear, the fear of losing their highly respected offices in Jewish society, to blindly clamor for the death of their own Savior.
The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record this single event in life of the boy, Jesus, to show us how the Messiah could have been recognized and welcomed by the teachers of Israel. How wonderful that would have been. But they were blinded, instead, by sin and by fear.
Thankfully, Jesus came to open our eyes to a different way, a better way, the way of God's perfect love for us.
1 JOHN 4:18a
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...
Let's pray. Gracious Father, how good you are to us every day, all day. Our lives are filled with your blessings and your grace in our lives. Thank you for the scripture reading today. Thank you for this little insight into the life of young Jesus. We would like to hear more, but we'll have to wait till we are changed and with you in heaven to learn more details of that life. Thank you for revealing this to us, today, showing us, Father, that Jesus came, he came, he wanted to teach. He was eager to teach us about you, about your love, your heart for us, that would allow your only begotten Son to come and live amongst us in your creation, in us with us as human beings, and then be subjected to our fears, to our anger, and even to death at the hands of these angry men, who would not accept or trust in you. Father, help us to trust you now. To trust in your love, and let your love wash away and drive out all fear, and to be excited and feel the same zeal this boy, Jesus, had for you, and your will in our lives. We praise you for all you do for us, all you give us, for our families, for the blessings that we have in life, and look forward to this coming year, with you in it, you near us always. We thank you for that in Jesus name. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4005 | Just Like Mom Used to Make
Speaking Of Life 4005 | Just Like Mom Used to Make
One of the sweet memories I have of my college days was the care packages I got from my mom. I would show up at the student mail counter and get that much-anticipated box filled with fudge, no-bake cookies, a loving note, new socks, and a surprise or two—just a touch of home. As a young college student, I didn’t realize how important this kind of interaction was. My mom was connecting me with my family and the story I came from—the disorienting experience of young adulthood was relieved for a moment. This is who you are—not just words, but they gave me a taste and feel of home.
We can only guess, but the young prophet Samuel may have felt the same way. The high priest’s sons, who were supposed to be learning the arts of the temple, were distracted and sin-addicted. Samuel, at a young age, was already doing some of the priest work, as we see in this brief touching account of his mother’s visit:
Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
1 Samuel 2:18-19 (ESV)
Samuel’s mother Hannah had prayed for a child for decades. When Samuel was finally born, she dedicated him to the Lord—to live at the temple and assist the priest. She visited once a year and brought him the “care package” of a new robe she made for him every year. She only saw him once and she had to guess carefully how much he grew that year.
Hannah joins the great tradition of biblical women—powerful elegant ladies who are vital to the narrative of the gospel. In the ancient world where women were often disregarded, these heroic females stood out as examples of courage and rugged love.
Hannah knows that her boy is destined for great things and serves in the very presence of God, but she also knows he’s her boy. That he needs the touch of home and that God only calls real-life, momma-needing people to bring in his kingdom.
Has God ever used someone—be it your mother or someone else—to remind you of your frailty, but also to remind you that he cares about you? That he cares about your need for comfort and your need for love? Does he use those who can see right through us and yet still love us, like mom does? This “for-us,” unconditional Godly love is what our amazing Triune God wants for us all, and finds unique ways to provide—often through unexpected care packages.
May you experience the care packages he sends your way.
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.
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Rejoice With Mary
Good morning. Doesn't seem like it, but it was three weeks ago that we lit this first candle, which represents the hope that we have, still looking forward to the return of Jesus in power and glory, and bringing with Him the fullness of the Kingdom. A couple of weeks ago we lit this candle, representing the love, the love of that relationship that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always shared together, that overflowed into the creation of everything we see in all humanity, bringing us into that (love) when He came into our world and sharing that love with us. And then we've lit the candle that represents the peace that He shares with us, that peace that we can have when we come to Him. He's never, never far away. Come to Him in petition and pray and ask Him, not because He doesn't know, but because that helps us to hand it over to Him and not hang on to things ourselves. And finally, today we come and light this candle that represents the joy, the joy of that relationship, the joy that They share, the joy that They share with us, and knowing that we are included, that we are a part of that relationship. We've been forever brought into that through the birth of Jesus, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. And more than that for us today, we celebrate not only the joy that we have in this Advent season, the joy that Jesus shares with us, we also celebrate His birth as this is our Christmas celebration. We will not be here next Saturday to celebrate Christmas. And as I was thinking about this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, and all that it represents for us and everything we've gone through, I couldn't but think of what a contrast we have this season, from the joy that Jesus offers us. Because joy, as the apostle Paul was inspired to write in Galatians 6:22, is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. True joy is a part of that life that the Father, Son, Holy Spirit have shared for all eternity. They share that with us. It's shared with us as we've been adopted into relationship with our Father and the Holy Spirit through Jesus.
But as a nation, today we're seeing a major new surge of this pandemic virus and it doesn't look good. I don't see a lot of joy coming from people. Instead, I see a lot of people who are hurried, they're uneasy, they're worried. And add to that the massive tornado that passed through our area, as Deb said just a little over a week ago last weekend. And I have not myself found a lot of joy in that situation this week. That really kind of got me down. But thankfully as tragic, as the death of all those people and the great destruction of houses and churches and businesses is, it doesn't change who our Father is and what He has done in Jesus Christ. And even if the events of this past week have not seemed to give us a lot of reason to rejoice, what this season represents is still a source of joy to the world, to all of us.
So, one of the scriptures in the Standard Lectionary, it's actually for Christmas or Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, is Isaiah chapter nine. Since we won't be meeting on either one of those, I thought it would be appropriate to consider this today. Starting in verse two, the prophet Isaiah was inspired to write, this is all prophecy, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Does that sound a little bit familiar about where we've been this past week? Living in the shadow of death. “You have enlarged the nation and increase their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when they're dividing the plunder.” This is all very prophetic. Isaiah is writing about what was to come. Isaiah is anticipating the coming to humanity of the light of Jesus. And at the time, Isaiah is writing the people had been taken captive by the Babylonians and carried away into captivity. At the time of Jesus coming, they were under two or three kingdoms later under Roman rule and occupation. They were living in despair and darkness. Then, Jesus came to humanity and showed us the love of the Father for all humanity. And Isaiah speaks of their joy, and how they would rejoice using the images of joy of a farmer after completing a great harvest. He's had a wonderful year. Or, the soldier after a great military victory. They've conquered, and now they're sharing this, the spoils of that victory. There would be great joy and rejoicing in either case. And why, why, why such great (joy). Why is it like that?
Isaiah continues in verse six. He says, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah emphasizes both the humanity of Jesus: “For to us a child is born,” and the divinity, the deity of Jesus, “to us a son is given.” And He will not be simply a child, but will set up His government and will eventually usher in His peace and establish His righteous Kingdom with justice for all, for all humanity. And the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. These things are worth rejoicing about.
So, now that we've rehearsed a little bit of why we rejoice in this Advent season, I want to transition to one of the scriptures in the Standard Lectionary for today, the fourth Sunday of Advent. It's in Luke chapter one. Once Mary knew that she was going to become a mother and that her relative Elizabeth, her cousin, was going to give birth, too, a few months later, it seems she decided to go visit Elizabeth so they could rejoice together. Joy's the major theme of this section of scripture, all in chapter one of Luke. As we see here, three persons rejoicing together. Starting in verse 39, it says, “At that time, Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reach my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’” We notice Elizabeth refers to Mary as “mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth felt the unborn John, whom she was carrying, leap for joy in her womb at the sound of Mary's voice. Evidently, the Holy Spirit showed that still unborn John that this was to be the mother of the person whom he would devote his life to serve. And then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, so she understood who it was that Mary was to give birth to. Here we have Elizabeth, Mary, and the unborn John all rejoicing in this moment together.
And then Mary herself rejoices in song, verse 46, it says, “And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their in most thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.’”
We've come together today to rejoice and to celebrate. We've been doing that. We've already rejoiced in song as Mary did so many, many years ago. In a few minutes, we'll celebrate that great light that has come into the world and we'll sing again together. But before we do, I want to reflect a few moments on the words of Mary’s song here, and how she's saying it in joy, rejoicing in what our Father was doing for humanity. Notice, that according to Luke, when Mary sang she didn't just name those promises, but she also entered into them.
Notice for instance, the verbs in Mary’s song are all in the past tense. He has been mindful of the humble state. The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm. He has scattered those who are proud. He has brought down rulers from their thrones. He has lifted up the humble. And I could go on and on and on. They're all in the in the past tense. She's looking back, she's anticipating, but she's looking back at what He's already done. Mary recognizes as she sings that she's already been drawn into relationship with the God of Israel. The One who's been siding with the oppressed since the days of Egypt and who's been making and keeping promises since the time of Abraham. The past tense in this case doesn't so much signify that everything Mary sings about has already been accomplished, but rather that Mary is now included in God's history of redemption, as she was.
So, also I believe, with us, when we sing, “Oh, come, O come, Emmanuel,” for instance, we're drawn into the story of Israel's redemption, and not only longed for, but we also participate in God's promise to bring light and cheer, and dispel death and darkness. If similarly, when we sing, “Joy to the World,” that creates in us the very joy we've longed for of late, and maybe wondered whether we would experience again. Mary acknowledges that she has need of a Savior, that she's a sinner like all of us. She rejoices for the Mighty One has done great things for me. And I think the Holy Spirit was inspiring her and showing her the full extent of what the Father was doing in her life. That the child that she would deliver, would deliver all of us from the bondage of sin.
Even at this moment, considering that Mary was already pregnant, the Son of God had already come into humanity. That connection that we have to the Father had already been made. It was only that these three individuals, Mary, Elizabeth, and the unborn John, were aware of it. That had already been done. Mary exclaims her joy in God. She takes heart in the promise. Her son is a declaration of that promise that the Lord considers, He cares for, He acts on behalf of the lowly, despite what one might expect, and despite how we, as human beings behave to the contrary. It's not for the kings or the mighty or the powerful that the Lord has regard. Rather, it's for all the rest that God does great things. Mary identifies what God is doing as being not just for her, but also through her for the whole people, Israel and, for that matter, all of humanity. The promises that were given to Abraham included that in Abraham all of humanity would be blessed, not just his children, but all of humanity. So, it was not that just Abraham's descendants would be remembered, but that all of humanity would be blessed in the birth of Abraham's descendants through this young lady from Nazareth.
And all the references to Israel, and all the references to Abraham here, just remind us Jesus was a Jew. Just how human He was. He came from that line. He was a human being. He hangs on to that humanity. He's still a Jew. That's why I think it's so good to explore just briefly here, Mary’s song for all the lowly, to touch on the difficult emotions we've experienced over these last weeks, especially the last five or six days, to point out how the songs of this season include those emotions. They're a part of it. And also how they move us beyond them, then, when we sing them. Till all of a sudden amid our singing, we gather together not just as a collection of individual Christians here, but as a company. A company of saints that stretches from Mary, and Elizabeth, and John down through the ages to all of us who are gathered together, once again, raising our voices in hope and expectation, waiting once more for the presence and the comfort of our Lord and Savior.
So, as we lift up our voices together, we enter into the realm of faith and courage and love, that we sing as we witness and participate in God's promise to change our world. Mary sings a song that can be, or should be, our song in this Advent season as we have prepared for the coming of the Christ child. Now, we too can sing in thanksgiving and celebration in remembrance and in proclamation of the promise made to our ancestors. It’s sure. It's by His mighty power. It's been done. It's going to happen. Like Mary and John and Elizabeth, too, this is a time for us to indulge in an unadulterated, celebratory joy in the promises that come to us in Jesus. So, let us raise our voices in a great cry, magnifying our God and what He has done, and what he will do in the hope that we have in that. Truly, we have something to rejoice about!
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, it has been a rough week. None of us were impacted in the way all those poor people in Mayfield, and Dawson Springs, and everything in between, Casey. They lost their homes. They lost their family members. A lot of them lost their jobs. And we pray for them. We lift them up. We're gonna have to continue to do that because this is going to be a long term thing, long term problem they're going to have. And I hope most of them can see some of the joy in the season. And maybe can look to you for the promises you have that they're not alone, that you are near to all of them, even in this calamity, even in this major problem. You're there with them. So we praise you! And help us to to sing in that joy that Mary had, to join in that song, and sing because we have so much to be joyful for. Help us to remember what you've done in the past, and that you are true to do even greater things in the future. You've promised those things and you will fulfill them. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but you will do it. And we're safe in you, until you do. Thank you. We praise you, and we joyfully lift up your name, Jesus. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4004 | The Witness of Christmas Music
Speaking Of Life 4004 | The Witness of Christmas Music
Can you imagine the Christmas season without Christmas carols? The music of Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season. And I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t like Christmas music because it is virtually impossible to avoid as Christmas approaches.
In fact, I would imagine, if you never went to church and never looked at a calendar, you will still know when Christmas was close. Even in its commercialized ways, Christmas music has a way of announcing to the world that something exciting and celebratory is coming. As Christmas day approaches, the airwaves become saturated with the distinctive sounds of carols and music that pave the way for celebration. You can hardly turn on the radio without being greeted by some familiar Christmas jingle. And in the Church, music takes a deafening turn during the Advent season to usher in the celebration of the birth of Jesus. What an amazing witness Christmas music provides to the entire world of the coming of Jesus Christ, her rightful King.
Admittedly, some Christmas songs are better than others and not all reflect in their lyrics an accurate portrayal of what Christmas is all about. Some songs have nothing to do with Jesus. But this does not stop the witness that something in our world is about to change. The change in music anticipates the change that Christmas is bringing.
Did you know that this witness in music was also part of the first Christmas celebration? The Gospel of Luke in the first two chapters makes this very clear. There are five songs, two by men, two by women, and one by a host of heavenly angels. Each in their own way anticipates and announces the coming of Jesus. The witness is clear. When Jesus breaks in, worship breaks out.
Here is one song sang by Mary, as she awaits to give birth to Jesus:
With all my heart
I praise the Lord,
and I am glad
because of God my Savior.
He cares for me,
his humble servant.
From now on,
all people will say
God has blessed me.
God All-Powerful has done
great things for me,
and his name is holy.
He always shows mercy
who worships him.
Luke 1:46-50 (CEV)
Mary’s song anticipates and celebrates the wonderful changes that are coming with Jesus’ birth—changes for her, her people, and the whole world. We too can lift up our voices in praise and worship, joining with Mary, the angels, and others, as we witness in song to each other, and to the world, the glorious good news of the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.
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The Lord is Near
Good morning. Today, we light the third candle, which represents that peace that we have, that is a fruit of the Spirit. It's peace that the Holy Spirit shares with us, peace of that relationship. I won't go that far in the Scripture today, but if we read a few more verses here in Philippians four, Paul refers to God as the God of peace. At the time that he wrote that, the Greek and Roman gods, they both had a god of war in their mythology, and they were about as erratic and chaotic as you'd expect a god of war to be. But God never describes himself as a god of war. It's always as a God of peace.
So, today is the third Sunday of Advent. Of course, our theme for today is peace. And I think that's quite appropriate considering the catastrophic storms that passed through Western Kentucky Friday night. If ever in our area, our community needed peace of mind, it is now. And I pray that, and we prayed that, Joe and I were praying in the back room before services, and, of course, Deb prayed already, and I want to close with another prayer when I get finished here. But as we discussed a bit last week, when the Apostle Paul was in prison, he wrote a letter to this congregation at Philippi. This congregation had supported him monetarily. They'd sent probably food and comfort because in prison at their time you didn't get three square meals a day. You got whatever somebody else provided to you. You were just in a dungeon. You got all the beatings and mistreatment, but you got no food. So somebody had to be taking care of you. And this congregation, we read at the end of chapter four, he's giving them thanks for what they did for him, for providing for him. He wasn't asking for another handout here, but he was thanking them for what they've done in the past. If it's been me in prison, I would have had anything but peace, especially in prison like he was. Paul speaks a bit in that letter about peace in whatever circumstance we might find ourselves.
In the Standard Lectionary for this third Sunday of Advent, contains a portion of that letter. It's only three verses in the lectionary today. I want to go a bit beyond the lectionary today to look at the context of the verses that come before this because I think that's important. I won't read it. It's on your outline there and Joe's probably got it to put up on the screen. I'm not going to read verses two and three. This is the reason for Paul's words about peace. Paul had gotten word, I guess, that two of the women in the congregation, two that he had worked with when he was there when he started that congregation sharing the Gospel, had come to some kind of disagreement. It doesn't elaborate on that. It doesn't seem like much compared to being imprisoned. They were not talking to each other. That didn't seem like much when you're in prison, but it was a concern to Paul. And he addresses the situation, and he asked for others in the congregation to help them mend this relationship that it won't get in the way of presenting the Gospel to others. That, then, is the context for when Paul begins to discuss peace and we read in verse four, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding...” Surpasses all understanding. We don't even understand because it's a gift from the Holy Spirit. A fruit of the Holy Spirit. It will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And I think the key to this set of scriptures from the Standard Lectionary is the simple statement in verse five, “The Lord is near.” Paul uses just three simple words in the Greek. It's “ho kurios eggus.” But they're filled with a profound meaning in a world where our Father often seems absent. Where was he Friday night? Well, maybe it doesn't seem so apparent in that factory there, that candle factory, but if you listen to the stories the other people are telling of their survival: They were in the bathtub in the, well. The one lady left her trailer because she was not supposed to be there. She was in a wheelchair. She went over to her daughter's house and they huddled in the bathroom. And those two walls of the bathroom was the only thing left at the house. Everything else was destroyed. Now, in my mind, there were two angels that were holding those walls up when that storm came through. They probably didn't take time to stop and talk because they had to head on to the next area where that was going. But He was there. And He was there with every one of those who died in that candle factory, holding their hand in that last moment. And He ushered them into the fullness of His kingdom.
Our world desperately needs to hear this simply profound statement of Paul, “The Lord is near.” And I think this is really needed because if people genuinely believe that the Lord is really, really is near, then it will revolutionize our lives. We will rejoice always! We will be gentle to all! We will have an unshakable peace of mind if you imagine a world without sorrow, without violence, without anxiety. It's almost impossible to imagine, isn’t it? We've gotten so jaded by what we've experienced these last 20, 30, 40, 50 years. There's so much to grieve, so much aggression, so much to fear that Paul's three commands in these words surrounds his brief announcement of the Gospel that it seems almost ridiculous. Indeed, it's ridiculous to command joy and gentleness and peace, unless the Advent Gospel is true, unless the story is true. But if the Lord is near, then we can always rejoice, we can be gentle to all, and we can never worry about anything, trusting in our Father to care for us, no matter what our circumstances, as Paul did.
So, let's think about those three words, “The Lord is near.” The Lord is Jesus. That's almost always who Paul's talking about when he used those words in the Greek. And his words about Jesus, in the context of this verse, make it certain. Jesus is near. Not just the ambiguous God, not just the invisible one, the unmoved mover, the Universal Spirit, the guy upstairs, but the human being, Jesus, who is God incarnate. At the end of chapter three, Paul has talked about Jesus as the Lord Jesus Christ, as the king in whose Kingdom we have citizenship. And we live in a world where kingdoms are in conflict everywhere. We're sitting back braced for Russia to invade Ukraine. And I don't know if it's going to help or not, but President Biden has talked to Mr. Putin. There's conflict everywhere. It's wonderful Good News to hear that the human being who was crucified as King of the Jews, is coming as the King of kings to transform the world. Indeed, Paul says he's near. That's the Good News of Advent: Jesus is near.
And as I said before, the Greek word is “eggus,” which could refer to both spatial or temporal, space or time nearness. It could be either one. It could mean that Jesus is right next to me, right here standing next to me, or he is just around, right around my corner, or he's in my neighborhood as Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of John 1:14, when he wrote The Message Bible. He said, “The word became flesh...and moved into our neighborhood.” He pitched his tent right next door to us. That's what John one says. It talks about, he moved in and pitched his tent in our neighborhood, in our city. The angel told a skeptical Joseph that the child gestating in the womb of his presumably unfaithful fiance, he jumped right to that conclusion, was in fact, Emmanuel, God with us. It wasn't what he thought. God was coming near. And even when he left that neighborhood, and he went back home to his Father, Jesus’ parting words were “Lo, I am with you always, even to the ends of the world.”
With the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on humanity. Jesus is not just near us, he's living in us. That's how near Jesus is. Since our Father mercifully put Adam and Eve out of the garden to protect him from further damage, there has been this distance between God and humanity. It wasn't because of God. We chose to withdraw because of our perception of sin in mythology. We thought we were damaged goods. We couldn't be in His presence. But in Jesus, God has come to us as one of us. As One from whom we could not hide. We couldn't hide from him. He was there in the street. He came and invaded our dinner parties. In our Holy Days, he was there at the temple. He came and we couldn't hide from him. The closeness of Jesus Christ, who dwells in our hearts today, even as he sits at the right hand of the Father, is one of the deep mysteries and the high joys of the Christian faith. We don't know how that works, exactly, because we're not living on a spiritual, we only see the physical. I can see all that destruction down there, when they put the drone up above Mayfield, I can look at those videos and I can see all that destruction. But I could not see the angels that were there protecting that night and in saving those people, because we'd have had a whole lot more death. If you look at those pictures, there should have been a 1,000 of the 10,000 people in Mayfield should have died that night. And they didn't. There was divine protection there. Jesus was near.
It's also clear that Jesus is near in time, not just space. It's been over 2,000 years since Jesus’ birth, the incarnation. So, it's been quite a while. You and I have observed many Advent seasons. Always praying on that first Sunday of Advent, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” It's always hope. It's always the resurrection. It's always looking forward to his return. Year after year after year, we prayed that. And now says Paul, after all that time, after all those disappointing Advent seasons that we've gone through, the Lord is near in time. He's coming just around the corner in time, and we eagerly await the Savior of all humanity to arrive. Of course, Paul wrote this good news nearly 2,000 years ago, and Jesus hasn't come yet.
So, what possible meaning does near have in time? Well, it's all the matter of perspective. We understand with spatial perspective that sometimes what seems close (is not). If you've ever been out West to the mountains, you can see them from a long ways off, and it looks like, well, they are right there. And no, you’ve got to go a long way yet. It's a long way just to the foothills. And then, after the foothills, you get to the mountains. You’ve got a long drive yet, but it looks like they're looming right there. You could almost reach out and touch them.
The same thing can be for temporal nearness, as well. It's relative to our point of view. To the child who's waiting for Christmas, a day is an eternity. You get to the 23rd, you get to the 24th, it's still not Christmas. What is this? To the frazzled parents of that child, the day rushes by like a comet, like a freight train. They're trying to get everything ready. So, what seems like a 2,000 year delay to us, we the impatient child, may just be a short time to our Father and our brother in their perspective. Though we can't gauge time as God does, this Spirit inspired text urges us to keep believing that our Advent hopes are just about to be realized. The Lord is near! He's coming soon. And believe me, since Friday morning, and I understood what had happened, I've been praying nothing but, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
If we believe that, if we believe the Lord is near, then we'll be able to rejoice in the Lord always. Those central three words, they're all important to us. We're encouraged to rejoice in the Lord, not in the circumstances of our lives. And I guarantee Mayfield has people suffering terribly right now. I know it. There are still people down there at that candle factory waiting to find out is my loved ones still alive there in that, all that debris, holding out hope, praying this morning. They're filled with sorrow for what they've lost, with fear for what they could still lose, with the anger for the sheer randomness of the losses. Why them? Why did it have to hit Mayfield? I have asked myself that, and there but for the grace of God walks I. Twenty miles to the north that would have hit my house. It would be cruel and inhuman for me to urge them to rejoice in what they're suffering. And Paul doesn't do that. He didn't do that. He didn't ask us to rejoice in our suffering. He urges us to believe that Jesus is near, even in this time, and rejoice in him always. That's what Paul was doing. Writing this letter to encourage others while he himself was imprisoned. Paul was able to let your gentleness be evident to all, as he asked them to do. He's thinking about them.
The English word “gentleness” sounds like something from the Sermon on the Mount about the meek, but the Greek word is much richer than just mere meekness. Your dictionary has given an astonishing number of defining words. Its bigheartedness. Its forbearance. It’s yieldedness. It’s geniality. It’s kindness and sweet reasonableness and considerateness and charitableness and mildness and generosity. In a world filled with people who are pushing for their rights, fighting to get their way, and looking out for themselves, and running over others in the process, I think about certain loud and rude offensive politicians, those who believe the Lord is near don't have to resort to that behavior. There's a place for self defense, of course, and for seeking justice for the oppressed, and for battling evil. I talked a little bit about that in the men's breakfast last week. But if we truly believe that Jesus is the King, who has the authority to bring everything under his control, then we don't have to assume a belligerent stance toward the world. If we believe the Advent Gospel, our default position will be gentleness. The Lord is near! So, rejoice and be gentle, and be at peace in your mind. That's the positive side of this text.
If you believe that Jesus is near, you can enjoy the peace of God. You can let that flow in as the Holy Spirit gives it to you. Indeed, that peace will stand sentinel over your heart and your mind, over your feelings and your thoughts. Yes, you will still have anxiety, you will struggle with it, but the peace of God will guard you. Paul uses a military term here suggesting that overcoming anxiety is a real battle. God will give you peace, but we have to do our part to receive, and then enjoy the peace that he gives us. Blessedly, our part is relatively simple, but not always easy. We have to take our cares, all those cares that whirl around and around in our minds, that shift our focus off the nearness of Jesus and onto the nearness of trouble. My truck died on me Friday morning, five blocks from my house, just died, and I was able to coast it to the curb, and it would not restart. And I called a tow truck and then the dealer and said, “I'm sending it to you.” I hadn't really thought about that. It's still with the dealer. I got a text saying, “If you need anything, let us know.” I hadn't thought about that. I woke up Saturday morning with other things on my mind and I haven't even realized my is truck sitting over there at Royal Oaks.
There's going to be things there that that shift our focus to the nearness of trouble, but we have to take those cares and present them to our Father, or more accurately, we must make them known to our Father, not that he doesn't already know. That's a fascinating way that Paul puts it. Doesn't Almighty God our Father already know our cares and concerns? He does. Jesus assured us that our Father knows long before we ask, in Matthew 6:32. Then, why do we need to make them known? Why does Paul say that? So, that we can get them off our chest. So, we can get them out of our mind, out of our secret places where they drive us to distraction into depression and into anxiety. To enjoy the peace of God that the Holy Spirit shares with us, we must take each of those whirling thoughts and make them known to our Father so that we know that he knows. Paul used a wonderful vocabulary of the soul's inner life to help us understand how to let go of our worries. He said prayer, petition, requests, and thanksgiving. Peace will come to us when we don't just offer perfunctory prayers, just say some words, but we get passionate, we get needy, we get specific and direct our concerns, our anxieties, when we thank our Father even as we beg for answers. Why did this happen? Why did this have to happen to Western Kentucky? Why did it have to be so warm that day? By thanking God for past answers, for present grace, and for future answers that are coming even as we pray, we can let go of our worries. But none of that will work unless we actually believe the Gospel of Advent that Jesus is near. We aren't praying to a distant God. We're praying to Emmanuel, God with us, the coming King. In our anxiety, we fear the future. If we believe the Gospel, that our Father gives us peace because we know that the king is coming soon, with the power to bring everything under his control, even the weather. If you remember, he was able to still the storm.
It's ironic and telling that Paul penned these words from prison. Even in prison, it's possible to rejoice, to be gentle, to be at peace. Paul did so. That's because even when he was in prison with a trial and possible execution that was pretty near, and he knew what was coming, Paul was first of all, in Jesus Christ. Even with what he was facing, he was in Christ Jesus. It's no accident that Paul ends this simple profound summary of the Gospel, and it's attendant call to revolutionary living with these words. We can't really believe that Jesus is near unless we're in Jesus. Unless we're in deep communion with the living Christ by faith, the Gospel of His nearness will just seem like a fiction. It will blow over our heads and we won't get it.
Rejoice, the Lord is near! And our Father loves us so much, he wants us to communicate our problems, our concerns, our fears to Him, and put it aside, then. It's His. May this give us peace. May it change the way we live, becoming gentle persons, and non-anxious presences. And may others come to know that we're Christians by our love, and, even dare I say, by our joy. May they even be drawn closer to Christ Jesus because of the peace that they see in us.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, first of all, thank you. All of us who are here today were spared what they went through, you know, just a little further south from us with the track of that storm came through. Thank you for that, that grace, that chance, whatever it was that spared us, the calamity. We will forever praise you for that. We praise you for the very presence that you had there. You were near to those people. You saved lives. I know it. I know you were there. In the midst of that storm holding up walls and preventing things from falling in, so the people were safe and could get out of their homes alive. We do pray for those that are gathered there at that candle factory this morning. For those that are at his house for a bit of prayer and maybe some food before they go back out to their vigil. They're waiting for some word and it doesn't look good, Father. We pray there are still a cluster of bodies there who are just too weak and too knocked unconscious and can't call out. Pretty much everyone's given up hope, but we pray there's still a cluster of bodies there who still breathe, and can be taken from that rubble to the nearest hospital, and revived, and reunited with their loved ones. That's our prayer this morning. We pray that you come, Jesus, before we have another incident like this. We pray for the peace that you share with us, for all those people that they can in the church services they have in those those blown out churches there in downtown Mayfield that they can come together and voice their concern, their frustration, their anxiety that they have and give it to you and walk away with your peace. It is not going to be easy. It's not going to be an easy time for any of them. But we pray for them, that your peace and your joy would press through this time of great trouble and sorrow and anxiety and be a part of them as well. They're your children just as much as any of us are. We praise you for what you've done. And coming here as one of us, coming as someone we couldn't hide from, and showing us the great love and mercy and grace that you have for all of us. We praise you. Thank you. We ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4003 | The Myth of Instancy
Speaking Of Life 4003 | The Myth of Instancy
Most of us remember the dial-up internet of the past—and by past, we don’t mean very long ago, maybe a couple of decades ago. The website scrolled down the page at an incredibly slow pace. It was so frustrating to use, most of us kind of ignored the internet.
And good luck if anyone answered the phone and shut you down—you had to redial and start the whole thing over!
Now the target speed for a website download is two seconds. Information goes from our living room to a satellite and across the world as fast as light fills a room. We live in an instantaneous world. We can watch thousands of tv shows, several 24-hour news programs, and millions of hours of bad movies with just a click on a remote.
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to take this instantaneous attitude into our spiritual lives. We tend to think that Christlikeness will follow conversion, like some kind of simple equation. It’s almost like we want to download the character of Christ into our lives, and if it doesn’t happen right away there’s something wrong.
We might look at famous passages like this and see immediate spiritual gratification:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Philippians 4:4-6 (ESV)
A look at the language here helps us out:
“Rejoice in the Lord always… do not worry about anything…” These phrases are a grammatical construct called the present imperative. They point to prolonged habit, discipline—or as one theologian called it “a long obedience in the same direction.”
In other words, it takes time. The shifting and shaping into Christ-centered maturity doesn’t happen immediately. They aren’t meant to. The power of the Holy Spirit works in amazing and surprising ways, but so often it is the slow erosion and reshaping of day after day and year after year. Learning, relearning, and going deeper.
The point is, we don’t want to let the myth of instancy dictate the way we pursue Christ. Let’s stay in step with the Spirit, trusting that he will get us where we need to be, even if the journey is long.
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.
That Your Love May Overflow
THAT YOUR LOVE MAY OVERFLOW
Sermon by Tony Raney
New Covenant Fellowship of Reidland (Paducah, KY)
December 5, 2021, Second Sunday of Advent
This season of Advent is moving quickly. We are already to the point of lighting two candles. So, we light the candle that represents the hope that we have in Jesus. Looking forward now, not just as looking back at his birth, but looking forward to his return, and what that will mean not just for us, but for all the world. And then lighting the second candle today, which represents the love that we sang about. The love that our Father, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have for us. The love that overflows from them that they share with us.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. This day is traditionally associated with John the Baptist, or more properly, John the Baptizer, coming before Jesus to prepare the way. So, the Gospel account from the Standard Lectionary today is in Luke chapter three. It's about John the Baptist. It'll be the same thing next week, just be a continuation of it. And it's interesting, if you think about how differently John was received than was Jesus, his cousin. John was weird. I mean, let's just be plain it. He lived out in the wilderness. He ate locusts and wild honey. He wore animal skins. Yet, people flocked to him in huge numbers to receive the baptism of repentance. Even the priests and the Pharisees came. He was a celebrity, to use a modern term. He was only in prison because he spoke out about King Herod and the marriage that King Herod had. He killed off his brother and married his brother's wife. And he was only killed when King Herod got drunk and made a promise he shouldn't have.
Now Jesus, on the other hand, was a respectable teacher. He had respectable life, he gathered a few disciples and the only time that crowds came was when they needed healing, or when they expected a miracle. They saw Him feed thousands with a couple of loaves of bread and a few little bitty fishes. So, they came back again hoping for another free meal. In the end, the people were glad to see Jesus taken and executed. They wanted him dead.
John came to prepare the way for Jesus’ advent, his arrival, and we're still waiting for Jesus’ second advent, his arrival with all the fullness of the Kingdom. So this week, our theme is love. And we might say, we're waiting for the love of God. We're waiting and preparing to be loved in a way that we've never experienced it before. Because, I believe, and I've said this before, only Jesus, He's the only human being that really ever knows what love really is. He's the only human who ever experienced the love of the Father in its fullness, and recognized it and appreciated it. That's what we have to look forward to in our hope of Jesus’ return.
We've been adopted into that life that Jesus shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and that life is a life of love. The apostle John said in 1 John 4:8, that God is love. Not that’s all He is, but that is a good way to term the relationship that God has. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which was shared with humanity in the Holy Spirit, is love. It's perhaps the greatest of those fruits of the Holy Spirit. So, when we see love expressed, and I don't mean most of what's associated with the word in our culture, because I was thinking about all the songs about love, you know, what's love got to do with it? We don't understand. We don't understand. But when we really see love expressed, we know that is only by God, living in us, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ.
And thinking about love this week, I was reminded of the greatest commandment. I think we're all familiar. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he quoted Old Testament scripture. That's all there was at that time. But it wasn't one of those “thou shalt not” commandments. He didn't didn't say that was what love was. It was a love commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And Jesus added, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” because that is the Triune life of Father, Son, Holy Spirit. That's the way they always existed, and the way they always will. They brought us into that life.
The epistle scriptures in the Standard Lectionary for today come from Philippians chapter one. And, as with most of Paul's letters to the members of the early church, that he starts out with a greeting and a prayer for those at the city of Philippi, the congregation there. But, as this letter has been preserved for us in the Bible, Paul's prayer, by the power of the Holy Spirit carries on down to us among the rest of the communion of the saints through all time. And as we read this, I want you to notice how many times Paul writes “all of you.”
Starting in verse two, we read, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul had a very special relationship with his congregation at Philippi. They supported him in the Gospel, and he had been a great blessing in their lives, because he had brought them the Gospel.
What I want to focus on here for a moment is what Paul said in verse three, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” It's my hope that anytime you see the word “God,” or say the word “God,” or hear the word “God,” no other image would be in our minds except the image of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, because that's who Paul is talking about here. He may use the generic “God,” but he's talking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He makes that fairly clear in verse two. When Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” He's thinking of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, who flows out this relationship. There's no other God in the Bible. There's no other God revealed to us by Jesus Christ except God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And our understanding of love must begin with that Triune relationship, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. That's where we have to start. The Son has become flesh and blood, and He's united himself to humanity, united himself to the creation in the person, and the man, Jesus Christ. In doing that, he has brought all of us into that loving relationship that they share. There will never again be a God that does not include us.
Before we existed, God existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, those three were filled and full, and their life was complete. But out of the overflow of that life, humanity and the creation were brought into existence. The Father's commitment in Jesus to you and I, the Father's commitment to us in the flesh and blood and human nature of Jesus, is that the commitment that he will never be God the Father without also being your Father, your Dad and mine. We can doubt it. We can disbelieve it, we can fight against it. We can experience the hell that comes from being in Jesus and not believing that we're in Jesus. We can experience the torture that comes from being loved and included in the Father's life in refusing to believe it. But we cannot change the reality that we have been dropped right into the middle of THE loving relationship of the universe. The Gospel says to us because of who Jesus is, the Son of God and fully human as the Son of Man, because of who Jesus is as the union of God and humanity, we are immersed in love. And yet we don't always feel it, and we don't always experience it, do we? On a good day, our families tell us they love us. On a good day, our worship is inspiring and we feel washed in the Holy Spirit's love when we come to the service. On a good day, we feel it. But there are still a lot of bad days that we don't feel it, we don't experience it fully, aren't there?
Paul talks about this, or I think, at least he alludes to it here in Philippians chapter one. Continuing in verse six, he says, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work and you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart: for whether I'm in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul was suffering when he wrote this letter. We don't know all the details, but he was locked in a prison, maybe a dungeon, maybe in chains. Prisons were not the kind of clean sanitary law governed places that we have today in Paul's day. Paul is in the midst of suffering and trial. And in his suffering and trial, Paul looks around him and he sees four walls of a prison. He sees bars, maybe in chains. He sees bad food or probably the lack of food, they didn't feed you. Somebody else had to take care of you. That's why he loves this congregation at Philippi. He sees beatings from the guards, mistreatment. Paul didn't see the Triune life, but he believed the truth of the Gospel that he was included in that Triune life, even where he was in prison.
Look at what he said in verse six, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Part of the reason we don't feel and experience the love of the Triune life every moment of every day is because we're not finished yet. We're immature. We're not fully grown. We're incomplete. We’re growing up into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Jesus. We are included. We are children of the Father. We're loved even though we don't always feel it, and experience it. And we don't always do a good job of functioning in a healthy way expressing it to others in relationships or having it expressed to us in our relationships. But here's the Gospel. Here's the Good News about Jesus Christ. Paul says we're not done yet. We're not yet complete. We're still a bit broken and dysfunctional. We're immature, but a day of completion is coming.
Advent is about the coming of the Lord. That's what the word Advent means in Latin. It's about his first coming as the babe in the manger, but it's also about his second coming on the clouds in glory, because he didn't stay a baby. By the time the Magi got there, he was living in a house. We read later on that he's twelve years old and growing up. His second coming is the day that Paul is talking about here in Philippians chapter one, the day of Jesus Christ, when the Father's plan of adoption will find its full completion and expression, in our full completion and maturity as children of our Father. While we're included in the life of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and loved in Jesus, we're also growing up to learn to experience and to express it to others in that our relationships will reflect the functionality and the health that the Bible calls the holiness of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the wholeness of their love and their relationship.
In this context, then Paul prays for us verse nine, “And this is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Now, I know in the NIV translation it says “your love may abound,” but what that means is that your love may overflow. It's not that we don't have love or that we're not included in love. That's not what Paul says. Because of Jesus, we're in the Triune life of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. We have love, but we need that love to abound. We need it to overflow more and more out of us, the way it overflows out of the life of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Paul's prayer for us is that we will be growing up, that we will be moving toward completion. He says that your love may overflow more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, “so that you may be able to discern what is best.”
Isn't that one of the hardest things about loving relationships? How do I express love in a way that is helpful to others? Sometimes we think we're loving people, and all we're really doing is enabling their addictions or making their lives in the long term more difficult. Sometimes we think we're loving people, and we're actually hurting them. We need the wisdom and the knowledge and the insight of the love of the Holy Spirit to help us to know how to love each other. What's the proper way? That's the Good News of Jesus. Jesus, the only man, the only human being who knows what love really is, has come into our lives and into our world to share his knowledge with us, to share with us through the power of the Holy Spirit the knowledge and the insight of what love really is and how to really love others. And that's why the scriptures say, keep in step with the Spirit, surrender to Jesus, let Jesus work in your life, because he knows what love is. We don't. We need his knowledge and his insight and as Paul phrased it here, we need to abound or overflow more and more with the love that Jesus knows and shares with us.
Continuing in verse 10, Paul says that he prays that our love will overflow in love so that in “the day of Christ” on the day of His Second Coming, the day of his appearing and glory in the resurrection of the dead, we “may be pure and blameless ... filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory in praise of God.” And we say God, we think Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Father is bringing something wonderful out of each of our lives. He's bringing us to maturity in Christ that we might grow up to be children of the Father, who can participate in love and love others the way the Father and son love each other in the communion of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is the promise to us in Jesus Christ. It's the Good News to us through Jesus Christ, that that day is coming. And we're not there yet, but we're being made mature and complete and whole in Jesus.
Think about all this going on this Advent season. We have a new Coronavirus variant that they named Omicron. It has created a lot of worry among people. People who should know about these things. That's the ones I kind of get alarmed at, when the ones that should know about this are concerned. It's probably not good. And because of that, governments have immediately stopped accepting flights from countries in southern Africa. That might help, but the reports are that this new variant is already out. It's already spreading in other countries. So, stopping southern Africa is probably not going to help. It's not the only source that we're going to get it from someplace else. And while we can get whatever vaccine we want at the local Walmart, they've got them all. Those same countries in southern Africa, they have none. We're struggling. We're about 60% vaccinated in this country. They're about 6% vaccinated in those countries in southern Africa because they don't have the vaccine. We haven't shared with them, or we can't share with them because of the red tape. I'm not sure what it is. But if this new variant is a real issue, if it does turn out to be a real issue, then the disparity and vaccine availability is one of those key factors for it being there, because they didn't have the chance to get vaccinated.
My prayer for our government, our representatives, for our world, is that our love may overflow more and more by means of knowledge and full insight to help them determine what is the best thing to do. Not just the best for all of us safe here in our wonderful country, but for those who are fleeing the death and destruction and tyranny and terror in their own countries. My prayer is that we learn to put others before ourselves. My prayer is that we learn how to accurately assess risks, and when that risk is higher for another person than it is for ourselves, that we will become willing to take that risk out of love and concern for our fellow human beings. In essence, my prayer is that we begin to follow the example of Jesus so much that even when the risks seem to grow, we take seriously the full humanity and basic rights of all our Father’s children everywhere across the whole world, no matter what their nationality or religion or what their beliefs about us happen to be.
That's what Jesus did. His love was most prominently displayed the night in the Garden of Gethsemane when he accepted all that we had brought on ourselves into himself, because he, the Father, and the Holy Spirit willed that none of us should perish, but have eternal life. My prayer for this Advent season is that such love, born out of its true discernment, will indeed help us to determine what is the best, as he says in verse 10, not just for ourselves, but for our fellow human beings and for our world. So that we, continue in verse 10, “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes from Jesus” Christ to the glory and praise of God our Father. Again, it all comes through Jesus as a gift from the Father. But that fruit of righteousness can make a difference now for peace, not perfect peace. No, that's gonna have to wait for a righteous government. But for now, there will still be danger. There will still be terror. There will be injustice because hateful people in the world continue to resist the righteousness of our Father's peace. In my prayer for us as part of the Christian church universal is, as we wait the day of Jesus’ arrival, is that we number ourselves among those from whom love overflows rather than hate fueled by fear.
And let's finish with this thought. You realize, as I said before, that Paul is writing, he's writing this letter from within prison. This is late in his life. This one was written while he was imprisoned, and these are the first words out of his mouth. Such enthusiasm, such concern for these Christians at Philippi. I know if I was in prison, a prison like Paul was in, and I wrote you a letter. I can tell you what the first words out of my mouth would be. The food's horrible. I can't sleep. They leave the lights on all the time. There's noises everywhere. My roommate is twice my size and intimidates me. Someone get me out of here!!
Paul is locked in a dungeon in chains and all he can think about is the very future day of Jesus Christ, the coming of the Lord. All he can think about is how all this is moving towards the Father bringing his children home, in Jesus Christ, in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. I think what Paul had learned, and I think all of you are beginning to learn in your lives, too, is that sometimes it's the darkest, most painful, difficult experiences of our lives that really help us to begin to learn what Jesus already knows about what love is.
None of us want to go out and seek imprisonment or illness or family problems or any of the other trials or difficulties that come in this life. Those things come up often enough, we're not going to go around asking for them. But as we move through the experiences again and again in our lives, what we discover is that often times in those darkest, most difficult moments, is when we really see the Holy Spirit changing and shaping us, and moving us toward the day of completion, the day of maturity. And for reasons that I admit I don't fully understand, our suffering and our struggles that we go through are all a part of how the Father is growing us up to be His children. And I think one of the reasons that Paul could be so hopeful, so full of joy in this letter, even though he's in prison, is because he knows that none of this bad stuff is going to last forever. Whatever we're going through that is difficult or painful, the coming of the Lord Jesus is the promise of our Father in heaven given to us in the grace of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, that whatever we're going through, whatever it may be, it will not last forever. The prisoners will be set free. The sun will rise. The night will vanish. The glory of the Lord will rise upon us and we will see ourselves as we were always created and meant to be, the beloved children of our Father.
That's why Advent, the coming of the Lord, is such an exciting and special time of worship for the Christian church every year. That's why it lasts for four weeks because we're looking forward to His coming. If we had an image of God as an angry old man with lightning bolts, we wouldn't want him to come. Stay, Lord Jesus. Stay far away. But when we realize what the coming of the Lord means, our deliverance, our maturity, the completion of the Father's work in our lives, then we begin to pray: Come, Lord Jesus, come. We want you to bring your Kingdom into our lives right now. Transform us, Jesus. You know what love is. Come into our lives and teach us and help us to grow up to know what love really is. Help that love to abound and overflow in our lives. The love of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit for each other, and the love of the Triune God for humanity in Christ Jesus.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for the love that you have for us, the love that you share with us. Help us, as Paul prayed there, that we'd have the discernment, that our love not only would overflow, but that we'd have the discernment in how to love others the proper way. How to really impact their lives in a loving manner, and not just cause them more grief in problems down the road. Help us to see opportunities where others are at a worse situation than we are, take on their risk, and their problems when it's within our grasp to fix that. And not just be living for ourselves, holding everything, hoarding everything away as if we had some reason to use it later. We praise you Father. We thank you. Ask you to be with those that weren't able to be here with us today. We remember them. In your love, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4002 | The Sunrise of Peace
Speaking Of Life 4002 | The Sunrise of Peace
One of my favorite sunrise experiences was on a beach in Florida. As I looked across the Atlantic Ocean, there was just a faint glimmer of light on the watery horizon. It started as a small pinpoint of light, and then as if by magic, it grew, painting the sky with pink, yellow, and orange. As the light became brighter, the seabirds seemed to wake up and come to life. A new day had started, and I was there to see it.
One thing I really appreciate about the sunrise each day is the gentleness of how the sun rises. It’s not like a switch is flipped and the full light of day floods our homes, startling us out of our sleep. The sun rises slowly, peacefully, urging us to have hope for this new day.
Maybe you’ve had a special sunrise experience, too. Sunrise is a familiar metaphor, one often used to show the start of something new. In the Bible, the priest Zechariah recognized a “sunrise” moment when his son, John the Baptist, was born. If you remember the story, the elderly Zechariah couldn’t speak until John was born because he doubted the angel’s announcement that he and his likewise elderly wife Elizabeth would have a child.
When John was born, Zechariah prophesied about this child’s role in making people ready for the “mighty savior” Jesus, who would come through King David’s descendants:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1:76-79 (NRSV)
John the Baptist would make the people ready for the glory of God with us through Jesus’ arrival. God showed his mercy by gently moving people toward the possibility that true worship could be more than following the legalistic customs of the day.
Just as the sunrise begins slowly, with just a glimmer, so John the Baptist was that glimmer of God’s mercy and peace to those who were without hope, sitting “in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
The next time you’re awake for a sunrise, think of God’s gentle mercy that moves all of us toward the way of peace and hope. Watch with patience for that glimmer of light on the horizon, see the pinks and yellows grow, and notice how the birds lift their morning songs of praise.
Let us remember the hope of Jesus’ ultimate return and recognize God’s gentle, peaceful guidance each day.
I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.
Our Hope, The Return of Jesus
Good morning. Debbie mentioned a little bit about our Thanksgiving time together with family. I just wanted to add that as we were all sitting around the table, and we hadn’t seen each other in months because we live so far away from one another, it was such a joy to be together. And all that good food, we’ve got some good cooks in our family, and the rest of us really enjoy those fixings of those good cooks, and we just celebrated, it seemed like. We laughed and told stories and just enjoyed together the food and each other so much, I got to thinking, “This has got to be a little sliver of what the Kingdom is like.” And, it didn’t stop at the table. We went on, continued on, and even had some friends come over and shared in with us. We played games, and had a really good time with each other. So, that is the Kingdom of God, and I am thankful we have that picture.
Today, as Debbie said, is the first Sunday of the new Christian calendar, which is the First Sunday of Advent in the Standard Lectionary. The theme for today is HOPE. I think we have all got that now. Today, the Gospel scriptures from the Standard Lectionary are all about looking forward, into the future. That’s where our hope is, right? Into the future, that is part of what hope is. So, we are going to read words of prophecy. Not just any prophecy, but words spoken by Jesus, himself, and these were to his disciples at the end of his ministry. These scriptures are found in Luke chapter 21. The very next chapter begins the Passion of Christ with the last supper, the betrayal by one of his own disciples, Judas, the night-time arrest, and sham trial staged by the High Priest and council of elders, and Peter’s denial of even knowing Jesus, and the final condemnation by the teachers of Israel, who should have been the first to recognize and celebrate the coming of the Messiah.
But the beginning of the end of Jesus’ personal ministry, which is in Luke chapter 22, that is coming very soon. It is just the next chapter. But, today, we are going to start reading in Luke 21:5, for background, the lectionary starts later.
LUKE 21:5 (NIV)
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.
The Temple at Jerusalem was the most beautiful structure in that part of the world. Since it was dedicated to God, and it contained the Holy of Holies, which represented an earthly copy of the throne of God, the disciples considered the Temple to be the center piece of the coming Kingdom of God that the Messiah would establish on Earth. They knew that the Messiah was a descendant of King David, and they knew Jesus was that Messiah. After three and one-half years of ministry, they knew Jesus was the Messiah. At least that much they knew. So, they assumed that Jesus would throw out the Roman occupiers, and establish the former glory of King Solomon when all nations, and this time including Rome, would come to them with gifts, paying them taxes, instead of them having to pay the Romans, and submitting to the Jewish people for guidance and knowledge about the one true God, Yahweh.
The religious leaders, the teachers of Israel, did not understand the plan of salvation that would usurer in the Kingdom of God through the promised Messiah. They misrepresented and misinterpreted the scripture and made it all about Israel, about themselves, instead of about God. This is the story of man, is it not? We make it about ourselves. We make everything all about ourselves, our family, our lives, and those things that are part of our lives or extensions of our lives or families. That is a mark of immaturity. That is what a child does. In a child’s mind, it is all about me, what I want. That is also the mindset of many new Christians, babes in Christ. But we are told to grow in grace, and mature as Christians as we trust more and more in our heavenly Father, and seek understanding of His will for our lives. That is who we are as Christians.
The original idea for building a permanent Temple structure was not God’s. It was King David who asked God for permission to build an earthly house for God to dwell among His people. God answered King David through Nathan, the prophet:
1 CHRONICLES 17:4 (NIV)
Go and tell my servant David, “This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in.”
But God also proclaimed that he was with David. God promised that he would fight for the king and give his people victory over all their enemies. God promised all this because David was a man after his own heart.
God did not want an earthy house built by men. That was not on His agenda. That was not in His plan. Instead, God said through the prophet that he had something very different in mind.
1 CHRONICLES 17:10b-14 (NIV)
10 I declare to you that the lord will build a house for you.
This is different. God is going to build a house for David, not the other way around.
11 When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.
12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.
13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor.
14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.
King David was deeply moved by the words of God as spoken through the prophet, as you can read for yourselves in rest of the chapter. But did David understand the full meaning of God’s plan? Up to the middle of verse 12, it looks like David’s son would build an earthly Tabernacle or Temple for God. But then God changes the context by framing this whole scenario in the language of “forever.”
Forever language is transcendent language. We do not understand words like “forever,” and “eternal,” even though Hollywood has a new movie in theaters now called “Eternals.” Hollywood can try to entertain us, but they cannot understand and explain concepts like forever and eternity. Our physical universe has nothing that we can point to that lasts forever. Even the stars in the heavens, which are each one immense nuclear furnaces or a collection of stars in what we call galaxies, will eventually burn out. Scientists tell us that someday the whole universe will be dark as the last of these massive suns burns up its limited fuel supply. Leaving a vast, dark, and lifeless universe.
But in God’s concept of forever, there is life. God will be there forever. God’s son will be his throne forever. God’s son will build a house for his Father. The house will be filled with love forever. That house will become a vibrant kingdom, ruled by a loving king for the benefit of all those who live there forever!
It looks like King David did not fully understand God’s plan, but he very much wanted to honor God, and God had been so good to him and to the people of Israel. So, like an excited child or teenager, who is not quite yet mature, he pushes ahead with plans for constructing a permanent dwelling place on earth. And, God blessed David and his heartfelt efforts. The glorious first Temple was built under the administration of David’s son, King Solomon. But that first Temple was not permanent. It was destroyed and another one was built later in its place. That is the Temple that the disciples were admiring in Luke chapter 21.
LUKE 21:6-7 (NIV)
6 “As for what you see here, (this is Jesus talking) the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
Jesus answered the disciples’ questions. Luke does not record Jesus’ answer about the “when” question, though, but we do read Jesus’ response in the Gospel of Matthew, where it is also recorded:
MATTHEW 24:36 (NIV)
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
So, the answer to their “when” question is, “It is unknowable.” Period. End of discussion.
But that has not stopped speculations, and predictions, and analysis of scriptures, calculations, endless interpretations, and other zealous and arduous efforts by many, many people over the decades. It’s a mystery and we want to know! But Jesus plainly says, “The day or hour is unknowable.” So, stop wasting valuable time and get on with what is important in life.
The Gospel scripture reading from the Standard Lectionary today is about Jesus telling his disciples 2000 years ago, and all his disciples through the following centuries, what is the most important and beneficial things they can do in this life. Jesus shares with us a mystery. This mystery is much better than finding the answer to the “when” question. Jesus has already told us that mystery is a dead end. Trying to solve it only ends in frustration, confusion, and a bad reputation when your prediction that you make falls flat and everyone sees that you were wrong, and it always does.
In Luke chapter 21, Jesus gives us the answers to two of the greatest mysteries of life: Who am I? (and) Why am I here? Knowing these answers to these great, mysterious questions will gives us a lively HOPE that will grow in our lives as we grow in understanding of what Jesus tells us starting in:
LUKE 21:25-27 (NIV)
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.
26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
Here Jesus is telling us, or telling his disciples, which we are, about the end of the age. He had been explaining that the Temple and Jerusalem itself will be destroyed by a large military force, but now, Jesus looks even further into the future to a time that will usher in the forever Kingdom of God. The time when Jesus will return to establish the forever house of God, which will truly be permanent and lasting.
Now, the duality throughout this chapter is striking to me. I’ll just name a few here. We’ll name some more as we go along. Here we have the permanent and glorious structure called the Temple that represents God’s presence. God dwelling with the people. And next to the temple, we have Jesus, who is both fully human and fully God. Again, God dwelling with the people.
Now, the Temple itself seems so permanent. It represents the best that the people of God can achieve on their own. But their best is not permanent. The first temple was destroyed by enemies. And the second Temple is a lesser copy of the first, and it is also destroyed by their enemies.
Then, there’s Jesus, who seems so impermanent. He is just a man, a mortal human being. We know all men die, and he was killed by his enemies. However, the resurrected Jesus, who is a better copy, not a lesser, but a better copy of the first, has a glorified, permanent human body, which His enemies cannot destroy. This glorified Jesus is victorious over ALL His enemies. Jesus gives us His victories, and takes our humanity with Him to our heavenly Father God, where we now belong, and shall join Him someday. That someday is what Jesus is telling his disciples about here in the Gospel of Luke. Our only hope is in the second coming, the return of Jesus to rescue us from certain destruction.
Starting in the next chapter, Jesus will finish the work of salvation by willingly submitting himself to the hands of angry men. These men will ridicule him, lie about him, falsely accuse him, insult him, spit in his face, beat him with their hands, scourge him without mercy until his flesh hangs in taters on his bleeding body, and crucify him on a cross, surrounded by sinners who deserve death. Jesus willingly forfeits his life in a Roman style crucifixion that is designed not just kill the condemned person, but to do as much pain as possible over an extended period of time, and in a public display that strips the last vestige of human dignity from the condemned.
Jesus did what we could not do. He saved us by dying for us that tragic day 2000 years ago. The resurrect Jesus left the Earth to return to our heavenly Father, but He did not leave us alone. He also gave us his example of what a life well lived and pleasing to God looks like for a human being. And, he gave us answers to the greatest mysteries of life, which we will get to soon as we continue to read here in Luke chapter 21.
So, what about these signs in the heavens? The first thing you might notice is that Jesus’ words are a bit vague. The only detail that Luke records here is that “the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Now the signs do appear from the view point of the people who live on Earth. So, are the heavenly signs the result of atmospheric disturbances? Are they meteorites streaking through the sky? Are they comets? Well, no meteorite or comet has ever been recorded as “shaking.” The shaking of heavenly bodies is obviously something never seen before by mankind. But Jesus says it will be seen at the end of the age. And not by just a few people in Jerusalem or some other isolated places on Earth. Luke’s record of Jesus’ prediction is that the nations will see these signs in the heavens, and they will be in anguish at this unprecedented sight.
The word Luke uses for “nations” literally means “global community.” It is only the second time he has used it in his Gospel account. “Global community” showing that this is a worldwide phenomenon. It is happening all over the world, and is being witnessed by people all over the world. Whatever is happening in the heavens, will be accompanied by Tsunami like activity in the oceans and seas. It will be a frightening time. Nothing like this has occurred before. Jesus says, “People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”
The first and second coming of Jesus are both announced in the heavens and on Earth. The Magi followed a star in the heavens that lead them to Jesus. Shepherds in the fields on Earth were told by an angel how to find the new born, baby Jesus. These were special signs just for individual revelations. The world as a whole, though, did not even notice, or care.
For the second coming of Jesus, the whole world will be made aware of the great event, and they will care—a lot. The people of the world will be very afraid of the powerful, never before scenes and occurrences unfolding before them.
27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Jesus was born as a human baby to an average couple in his first coming. This devout couple was forced to journey far from family and friends, and could only find a barn to rest for the night, where Jesus was born in this humble manger, in a setting among the straw and farm animals. It wasn’t glorious. It wasn’t powerful. The King of the universe set aside his power and great glory in order to enter into His creation as one of us. He made himself helpless, and totally dependent upon his parents and his God.
But Jesus has returned to the throne room of his heavenly Father, and has been busy preparing a place for us in his eternal kingdom. The second coming of Jesus will be in “power and great glory!” The power and glory of Jesus will appear in the clouds, the clouds he disappeared in from the sight of the disciples so long ago, and expose a dark and wicked world to His glorious light.
The Gospel tells us something about that world that Jesus returns to at the end of the age.
MATTHEW 24:12 & 22
12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
22 If those days (those wicked days) had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
We are seeing a world that is becoming more and more secular. We are seeing that right now. A world that is less and less religious. A world in which Christianity is waning, instead of growing, especially in our western civilization where Christianity has its strongest base of believers. When people abandon God, they follow their own conscience, and do whatever they think is right. Which means, they do what seems right for them in any particular circumstance. There is no constant truth. No constant at all. No, they do that whether it is moral or legal. If this continues, it leads to chaos. As chaos continues, then selfishness prevails, human life looses its value, and wickedness increases.
A prevalently wicked society in which people only care about themselves and about their own survival is a terrible place to live. It would not say “live.” It is more of a place to “exist.” When that society has multiple weapons of mass destruction, like we have today, then the human race itself is in peril of self-destruction and extinction. That is why Jesus will return. That is why Jesus must return. His return will be a rescue mission to stop the madness. To stop us from rushing off a cliff into oblivion.
The secular world, in its insanity, will not want Jesus to intervene. As a matter of fact, they fear God’s intervention more than they fear their daily struggles to survive in a wicked world. But there will be those on Earth who celebrate the return of Jesus:
LUKE 21:28-36 (NIV)
28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
These are the disciples of Jesus, these are us, who know the answer to that great, mysterious question in life, “Who am I?” They are the ones who know they are the redeemed children of God, because their life is in Jesus. They are the ones who are anticipating Jesus’ return to rescue them from the growing troubles of this world, broken by sin. They know that Jesus will end the temporary insanity of a troubled world, and establish the permanent Kingdom of God forever and ever!
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees.
30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.
31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
We are in that dormant time of year when nothing outside is growing. Winter will soon be officially here. Even now, winter-like days are chilling us, although we are expecting some warmer weather soon. We can endure Winter a little better knowing that Spring and Summer will come. They will return. We can endure our trials and troubles in this life, knowing that it is all temporary. It will be Summer. And, eventually, Summer, with all its goodness and benefits that sustain life, will be permanent, as foretold in Jesus’ parable. Jesus clearly explains in his parable that, when he says “Summer,” he is taking about the Kingdom of God.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
This is a reference to the duality again of Jesus’ prophecy, since he started out answering his disciples’ questions about the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem. The terrible devastation was only some 40 years into the future, and that generation, many of them, would see it, see it happen.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
As I said, the physical universe, heaven and earth, are temporary and will eventually turn cold and lifeless. However, Jesus makes it clear that he is speaking about transcendent things, forever things. He is fully God so he can speak in transcendent language about things that will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.
Remember, Jesus is talking to his disciples and to those who will be his disciples in the future. When we become a disciple of Jesus, when we become a Christian, we are NOT turned into a robot that the Holy Spirit programs, and makes us behave in certain ways. No, Christians are human beings with free will like everyone else. Christians choose Jesus as their example for living the best and most rewarding life possible. We want to learn from Jesus. That is one reason why we are here today.
Yet, we are affected by the world that we live in. It is easy to be distracted by life. Our hearts can be drawn into other things, the temporary things of this life, like entertainment, I love to be entertained, we have so many different entertainment avenues, the latest shiny new products, seeking the approval of others, or just getting caught up in the many demands of this life. Life is busy.
In his caution, Jesus tells us how we can know if we are straying too far from him in our Christian life. We can know this when we begin to suffer from the “anxieties of life.” The Gospel of Jesus is the cure for anxiety, which is the fear of things that have not yet happened. When we find ourselves worrying about the future, then we need to go back to Jesus. Get back to Jesus and his perfect love for us, which casts out all fear.
35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.
All humanity, who is alive at the end of the age, will see Jesus return in the clouds in power and great glory.
36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Now, brother Tony has explained in recent sermons that end of the age scriptures, like this one, telling us to “watch,” do not mean to watch world events, and try to figure out when Jesus will return. We just read where Jesus said it is impossible for us to know the answer to the “when” question. No, Jesus is telling us to “watch” so his meaning must be in the context of his own life. What did Jesus watch for in his life as a mortal human being? Let’s look at John 6:38 that sums up that answer.
JOHN 6:38 (NIV)
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
Jesus tells to do what he did when he lived on Earth. Watch for the will of the Father. Pray to Father that he would show us his will, and direct our steps, give us our path. Then, choose to follow the will of the Father.
Jesus had a very big advantage over every one of us and every other human being who has ever been born. Jesus had seen our heavenly Father. Jesus lived in that transcendent place called heaven with God our Father. Jesus had a loving relationship for all eternity with the Father. Jesus IMPLICITLY, as a result, trusted his Father in heaven, because Jesus knew the goodness of his Father. He knew the unconditional, the unrelenting, the unfailing, amazing love of the Father.
We, on the other hand, are just beginning to experience this relationship through Jesus with our heavenly Father. It was not that long ago that we were alienate from God, like most of humanity. We didn’t even want to think about God. We feared the god of our imaginations. We did not trust God. We did not like to think about God, but that began to change when we started believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, now we are learning to trust God. It is a process. The more we know about our heavenly Father, the more we experience His Grace and goodness as He comes over and over into our lives to help us, the more we trust Him. And Jesus is with us every step of the way.
So, what is the answer to that other great, mysterious question of life: Why am I here? We are here to learn to trust our heavenly Father, and to do our Father’s will. Those who live in Jesus, who embrace the free gift of the saving faith of Jesus, will not fear like those who will be caught unaware at the return of Jesus. Those who know who they are, and know they are here to live in Jesus, and to do the will of the Father, will not fear the return of Jesus in power and great glory. On the contrary, we will stand up! We will lift our heads! We will shout with joy in the reality of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
Let’s pray. Gracious Father, and Jesus our Savior, and Holy Spirit our teacher, thank-you for these words of life, and encouragement, and hope. Today, as we celebrate hope in our life, thank-you Father that you have brought that hope in Jesus. We look forward to a future in which we will be rescued from the troubles that we are exposed to here in this life, the dangers that we must face weekly as we live in a society that is broken by sin. We thank-you that our hope is in the future that we know is coming, that Jesus is bringing, that permanent life, that transcendent life, that will bring us out of this temporary existence into a permanence with you forever in your Kingdom. We praise you for that knowledge and for that hope, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 4001 | Hope is the Final Word
Speaking Of Life 4001 | Hope is the Final Word
When we think of passages to read for Christmas, we usually don’t flip straight to Jeremiah. The “weeping prophet” spent most of his career watching Israel be brutally and violently cleansed by Babylon. He was imprisoned, kidnapped, and left in a cistern to die. Not the kind of thing that usually shows up in the kids’ Christmas pageant!
Yet that is where the Advent readings start this year, with a frustrated prophet watching his home burn all around him. Right in the middle of Jeremiah, chapters 30-33, is the strangest collection of songs of hope, surrounded on every side by proclamations of judgment and lament.
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”
Jeremiah 33:15 (ESV)
Jeremiah spent most of his career – forty years or so – delivering bad news. He’d rebuked the people and warned them over and over of God’s wrath to come. He’d written, spoken, and even done some memorable street theater in some parts to get them to turn around. And it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
But it’s here, in the middle of all this, that he brings a message of hope. He brings the message that this harshness, this brokenness all around them will not have the final word. They are in pain and danger now, but tragedy is not the bedrock of the universe. That bedrock is hope.
Jeremiah prophesies about the future day, and the harmony of Jerusalem. In this message of hope from the Lord, Jeremiah also speaks of the righteous branch that sprouts from David’s line. It’s unsure if he even had a dim idea that he was describing Christ, but he too must have been encouraged by this message of hope which speaks of the Lord, our Righteous Savior.
Jeremiah’s message fits perfectly in our advent readings! We see the prophecy, centuries away from the event, of that righteous branch who would one day show us God’s heart. And we still find encouragement today, even right in the middle of our own personal pain and tragedy, that all of the tears are temporary, and that our great hope is the final Word—Jesus.
May God bless your season of Advent with his hope.
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
Good morning. If that (the Speaking of Life video) seemed to kind of be out in left field for Thanksgiving, let me explain that today in the Standard Lectionary, the Standard Worship Calendar is Christ the King Sunday. It's the final Sunday before Advent. It's one last chance to celebrate. So, that's the reason that video was made the way it is. They're celebrating Christ the King. We choose, and it's been our tradition, to always celebrate Thanksgiving on this Sunday. So, I've never preached on Christ the King Sunday. We've always done Thanksgiving. For one thing, this is a tradition in this congregation that goes back a long, long time. Christ the King Sunday was established by the Pope in 1923. So it's not even 100 years old yet. So, I figured out our tradition trumps his.
Today is our annual Thanksgiving celebration, and shortly we're going to sit down to one of the best potluck meals we'll have you every year. The only one that rivals this is Mother's Day. We have a potluck on Mother's Day as well, and that's always a good one as well. But this will be a really good one. But first, I think it's appropriate, in accordance with the original ideals of this holiday, to stop and think about our blessings, and what we have to be thankful for.
And one of the scriptures this year from the Standard Lectionary for Thanksgiving, and yes, they do include Thanksgiving in the Standard Lectionary, is Psalm 126. This Psalm speaks of a particular event in the history of Israel. The tribes of Levi and Judah were conquered by the Babylonian Empire, and they were taken away into captivity to Babylon. And after the Babylonian Empire itself was conquered by the Medes and the Persians, the remnant of the Jewish people were allowed to return to their homeland, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple. So, we read in Psalm 126:1 at that time, says, “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” When they found themselves being allowed to return their homeland., they felt like it was a dream. They had to pinch themselves. Is this real? So, they were filled with joy. They laughed. It says they sang with joy. They had just spent more than 70 years in exile in Babylon. And now they endured a long trip, because it was a long way from Babylon back to Jerusalem, back home again after Persian King Cyrus had allowed them to go.
And perhaps you remember names like Ezra and Nehemiah, and as well as the prophet Haggai. And if you read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, nothing about that story generates the picture of people filled with laughter and singing. The picture in those books is more bleak. People lamented when they saw the fallen and decayed condition of Jerusalem, and that utterly destroyed temple. Even later, when the temple had been partially rebuilt, we're told that those who are old enough to remember, the really old ones, because it's been 70 some odd years, the really old ones remembered the splendor of Solomon's temple, the one that was there before, and they wept at the pathetic state of this new temple, when they remembered how grand Solomon's was. This doesn't even hold a shadow to it.
That's what I love about this Psalm. Even though the reality of the situation was not all sunny days of leisure, wasn't great things for them, the psalmist says they had reason to rejoice and give thanks. It was like a dream. They were finally free. Free to work for themselves. Free to enjoy the fruits of their labors. The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy. If the chronicles of Ezra and Nehemiah are not quite the same as what we read here in Psalm 126, perhaps what we find will bring this Psalm, together with the historical report of Ezra and Nehemiah, is that, as is often true in our lives, we encounter a mixture of emotions when we go through something. Yes, there was understandable lament and sorrow when the people returned and saw the devastation. Imagine what something looks like if's been left there, been torn down, left by itself for 70 years. The trees have grown up in the middle of all the buildings, and the ivy is all over everything. It's been overgrown. But surely, there was also understandable glee and no doubt laughter, too. We're free. We're free to come back and rebuild for ourselves. This will be our city again. We won’t be building stuff for the Babylonians. We'll be building ours. The exile was over. There had to been a palpable relief in that, as Nehemiah oversaw the rebuilding of the city's walls, and Ezra helped to rebuild the temple. Surely that there was hope in the air, too, in addition to the daunting sense of how much work was still ahead.
But the psalmist is not trying to just put a positive spin on their situation. He's not trying to just say it was all rosiness. Look at verse four. He says, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Again, that's the reason I like the first verses of this Psalm. The psalmist makes it clear in verses four through six they had real issues. That crop land had been left fallow for 70 years. It had to have been thick with thistles and thorns by that time. But look what they did. They prayed, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord.” After rejoicing just at the chance to return to their homeland and freedom, they now pray to the one who's led them this far, who's allowed them to go back.
They understood who moved in King Cyrus. That was God. He called it before. If you look back in the earlier prophecies, he called Cyrus by name. I'm gonna get King Cyrus and he's gonna let my people go. They prayed to the One for the very real needs that they had ahead of them. Thanksgiving has always been a time of rejoicing and prayer. We know that from the people in Massachusetts 400 years ago (from) this year. They were rejoicing and celebrating, but it's also recorded they spent time in prayer. And our culture has forgotten that aspect of Thanksgiving. It is now about eating and watching football on television. In recent years, it's about shopping for Christmas on Thanksgiving Day. But the Pilgrims, they celebrated. They gave thanks, and they prayed. The Pilgrims have been disparaged by the culture, that aspect of it anyway. We keep the turkey dinner and all that, but we kind of say well, those guys, we toss them out as not relevant. Few people who survived a brutal first winter were undoubtedly happy to have some food stores. They got to eat. But why did they arrive so late in the year was so little provisions to begin with that they all died?
If you want to toss the Pilgrims as irrelevant, I would offer the proclamation of President George Washington, who in 1789 called a special National Day of Thanksgiving on Thursday the 26th of November. If you're unaware of what that proclamation entailed, I want to read it this morning, because I was kind of blown away by it. How different it was 200 years ago than it is today. It says, “By the President of the United States of America. A proclamation.” And forgive me, this is 200 year old English. So some of it's not the same as what we've been saying, but I'm gonna read it verbatim.
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.” George Washington
President Washington made that proclamation at the request of both chambers of Congress. That blows my mind considering the backward battling we have now in both the House and the Senate. How divided they are. He did this after the US Constitution had been ratified and our nation had gotten off to a good start. So, both houses of Congress asked him to make a proclamation. I hope you were impressed as I was at his call for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed “by acknowledging with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God.” And he asked for blessings on our nation and on the other nations, and that everything would be good.
I want to finish today with a public prayer myself, and I would encourage each of you to be very public in your Thanksgiving as we share a wonderful meal together here in just a few moments. But before I do, before we get to that meal, I think there's one other thing that we need to be thankful for, and we need to be reminded of. And that is what we're about to celebrate, starting next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent: Jesus’ birth, or more importantly, the incarnation. You might wonder why we celebrate Advent for four weeks before we get to Christmas. Isn't this all about the birth of Jesus? We ourselves, sitting here 2000 years or more distant from that event, might think that this is just celebrating a birthday. We go to a party. We play some games. We give a gift, and then we eat some cake, and drink some punch, and we go home. It's all in an afternoon.
But this event that we celebrate, the Advent, the incarnation, is far more than a birthday. It's perhaps the most important event in human history. In that moment, when the Holy Spirit hovered over a young girl named Mary, the Triune God did something completely new. They brought humanity into the relationship they shared, into their inner circle. Father, Son and Holy Spirit had existed together for all time, but now they changed. The son took on our humanity, and by doing so, he lifted humanity into that relationship that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always shared. In essence, they, in the act of overflowing love, said to humanity, “We're not willing to exist, unless you are included. We would rather be changed for all eternity than to see you continue to suffer in your brokenness, your guilt, and your shame.” And the son knew what he was getting in to. He made God vulnerable to humanity. He suffered at the hands of humanity, and he died in order to convince us that we have no need to fear the Father. We never did. That's why we take four weeks to celebrate Advent, so that we have time to look forward, as in the first Sunday of Advent, and to look backwards and looking round, as well at ourselves. The incarnation impacts all of humanity. And that mercy, that grace, that love that the Triune God showed in the action of the Incarnation are the most important things to be thankful for. The Father has made great things for us, and we should be filled with joy as the psalmist said.
Let's pray. Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for the very, very many wonderful blessings we have received from you. Thank you that even after nearly a year and a half meeting together in cyberspace, and so many missed meals and activities together, we're now able to meet together and have enjoyed meals and activities, and are about to protect a very, very special Thanksgiving meal together. Thank you for bringing all of us safely through this COVID pandemic. We know there are many people still in the hospital. There are many more that have been taken from us by this virus. And we pray for those who are still hurting from this, and ask your continued protection and a decrease of the virus. Thank you for the freedoms we have in this nation. Those Jewish refugees we read about today would have been overjoyed at the freedoms we have, as they were still living as a conquered people of a foreign empire. Thank you for the bounty of our nation. We fret about supply chain issues and shortages and the inflationary price hikes, but we still have more food in our country than any other nation on Earth. We have truly been blessed by your providence in the resources of this nation as George Washington prayed. And Father, thank you most for all of your love and mercy and grace. Thank you for not leaving us to our own selves, afraid of you. But you came to us as one of us showing us just how much you love us. Thank you for the gift of your life, your death, your resurrection and your ascension, Jesus. We ask, as the psalmist wrote, that you would restore our fortunes, but not in the physical harvest of food to eat. You've given us so much of that. We ask that you restore our fortunes and allowing us to share what we've been given with others. Help us to see where you are working, Father. Allow us to join in that, in whatever way you see fit. We want to see your kingdom breakthrough in our communities, in the lives of our family and our friends and our neighbors, and our coworkers. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Speaking Of Life 3052 | Royal Flush
Speaking Of Life 3052 | Royal Flush
If you know anything about the game of poker, you are probably familiar with what is called, a “Royal Flush.” A Royal Flush is made up of the ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace cards that are all the same suit. What’s significant about this hand is that if you are ever so lucky as to have it, you are guaranteed to win…well, unless you were foolish enough to fold. But why would you fold when you are holding a Royal Flush. It’s the “king” of all hands and no matter what anyone else is holding or even if they try to cheat, you can’t lose.
So, if someone is holding a Royal Flush it’s pretty obvious what they should do. They should go “ALL IN”. Meaning, they should put everything they have in the pot because there is no chance of losing. The only reason you wouldn’t go “ALL IN” is because you don’t know what a Royal Flush is. Can you imagine how foolish you would feel if you folded only to learn later that
you couldn’t lose?
Permit me to make an unrefined metaphor: Jesus is our Royal Flush. When we know who Jesus is, we will know we can’t lose. No matter who is betting against you, you can trust Jesus gets the final word of victory.
It might be a crude analogy, but it does point to the reality the last book in the Bible makes. Picture with me a high-stakes poker game while hearing these words from the Book of Revelation:
Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Revelation 1:5-7 (NRSV)
Jesus being proclaimed as Lord of lords and King of kings is a “Royal Flush” proclamation indeed. Those who put their complete trust in his hands should always be confident to go “all in” with no fear of loss.
Sure, the poker analogy can break down in many ways seeing that nothing compares to the one who is has been crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. But don’t let that bluff you into believing that Jesus is anything less than your sovereign and sufficient King. With Jesus, you always win.
I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.
Watch (for the Father at Work)
Good morning. Today is the 25th Sunday after Pentecost and we're finally now finishing up our time with the Gospel of Mark. Next week is our Thanksgiving celebration and the week following that starts a new Christian calendar year with the first Sunday of Advent. We'll move on to Luke’s Gospel for next year.
So, this is our last chance in Mark for a long, long time, and the Gospel text for today is from Mark chapter 13. Now, this chapter of Mark is totally different than all the rest of the Gospel account that he's done that we've read up till now. In fact, you could probably remove it entirely. And really, the book would read from chapter 12 to chapter 14, and you'd never miss a beat. It wouldn’t be any problem there. You wouldn’t miss this. It's in a very different format than the style from the rest of the Gospel of Mark. The whole chapter is discussion of things that’s going to come on you later. It's prophecy type stuff. And I'll be honest, I'm not much of a fan of these kinds of texts. So, why was Mark inspired to go out to left field so to speak to include this chapter with all of its discussions? As we've discussed, Mark’s as the shortest of the Gospels. So, why was he inspired to include this and not some of the other material that we see in Matthew and Luke and John?
We have to remember this book was written many years after Jesus’ ascension to the Father. Even though it's probably the first one. it's still been quite a few years. And so, there wasn't a written account of Jesus’ life that Mark could draw on. This was the first one. And many of the things that Jesus was speaking about prophetically here in Mark 13 were already occurring when Mark is writing this. As we read earlier in this Gospel, people were already borrowing the name of Jesus, and working miracles in his name. The disciples kind of took offense at that. It's a short step from there, from borrowing Jesus’ name, to claiming that you are the Christ, yourself. And so there were always rumors, wars and rumors of war, the Roman siege of Jerusalem was imminent at the time this was written. This chapter would have been an encouragement to those who were already going through these things, the first century Christians. And I think that's why Mark was inspired to record this discussion.
Today, we only get the very first eight verses of it in the lectionary, and it sets up the question that leads Jesus to the long answer here. But we all remember that the ultimate answer to the question of “when,”which is what the disciples are asking, is that only the Father knows when. It's in his hands? What Jesus said was “watch.” Watch out that no one deceives you. And in previous years, we interpreted that “watch” to mean: Watch the current trends, watch the world news. We'll see what's going on. Focus on a worldview, so that we can see things coming and see Jesus’ return when it's imminent. And honestly, I don't think we should trouble ourselves. There are many people watching for us. If Jesus’ return is to be determined by watching current trends and world events, somebody is going to alert us to that. It'll be all over the news. All over the internet.
Now, what I think is clear, what Jesus is clearly telling us is NOT watch world news, but watch out that no one with a new book, or a new set of charts based on Old Testament scriptures, turns you from what is real, and that is Jesus. All the Old Testament points towards Jesus. He is the answer. And regardless of when he returns, if it's next week, which I doubt, or 20,000 years from now, we're simply called to be aware that there are people out there who will try to get us on board with some special knowledge that they've been given, and we shouldn't waste our precious time and effort because they don't know. Only the Father knows. If Jesus didn't know, then I doubt any other human being as a clue, either. Jesus, after all, implied his return will catch everyone by surprise. So enough of that.
In Mark 13:1, we read, “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus, ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’” And that had to have been a shock. The disciples were awed a bit by what large stones, what magnificent buildings were in the temple. And really, to give the disciples some credit, we see the ruins of Herod's temple today. And it still, there's some really massive stones still there. They had to work those stones. They had to quarry them someplace else. They didn't occur on that hilltop there where the temple was built. They had to bring them in from someplace else. They had to cut them to fit, and they had to lift them up, each one, into place. There wasn't a more magnificent building in the country. Perhaps there wasn't one more magnificent in the world at that time. The Romans weren't so much on splendor in their buildings. The Greeks were, but it rivaled the Greek structures, the ruins of which we still marvel at today. We go to to Athens and look at the Acropolis, and some of the other things there, and we marvel still at how they did that. Just the ruin of it. There's not that much left. Even though, from what we have recorded, Herod's temple could not hold a candle to the one that Solomon had built in all of its glory. If you remember, they wept when they set the walls about the new temple because it wasn't as good as what they remembered. That's the thing about our human nature that is still with us. We're drawn to the biggest and the best, or maybe today, very often, I think it's the smallest that we want. We think smaller is indeed better. We as consumers pay a premium for smaller, lighter and more powerful than before, when new stuff comes out.
But that wasn't what Jesus saw was it. We talked about this a bit last week, but I want to refer to it again because this sets up the discussion that comes after this in the scriptures. Jesus dismissed the massive stones in that magnificent building because he saw what stood behind all that perceived greatness. The disciples focused only on the greatness of the stones and the magnificence of the building. Have you seen anything greater? But Jesus perceived the backstory that's always present, but which we rarely ever see, when we just see the stones in the buildings. Jesus saw what made these magnificent buildings possible, and the result of their being in existence. And when we look with amazement at the newest, tallest buildings, and the newest, smallest iPhone, we can't see in our impressions, what made that possible. Those results or the efforts that were made to get there. We cannot know what it took to make our amazement possible.
In the previous chapter, Jesus was asking the disciples to consider what had been overlooked in the past for the sake of what was viewed in the present. Such large stones didn't come without a significant price. In the case of the temple, Jesus pointed out that widow’s offering. He sat down by the Treasury there and watched as people came in, and she's the only one he pointed out to. The temple was not even complete. They were still working on it at this time, and the upkeep of such a place had to be costly. A lot of what went in the coffers there was to keep the temple up. Those massive stones and those magnificent buildings were built, while people went without, while people lived in poverty. The least, the most vulnerable were not being cared for in the system that honored the massive and the magnificent. And Jesus saw that, and his answer to the disciples was don't focus on bigger and better. Don't focus on the magnificent. This is all going to be swept away. It's not going to be here anymore. And they really did miss the boat, didn’t they? They were looking with awe at this temple, at the massive stones that made it up, while the Son of God stood there before them in their presence. That was the miracle, the real magnificence of Almighty God.
For us, the lesson is the same: Don't focus on bigger and better to the demise of those that were called to minister to. Don't forget the least. Don't forget the most vulnerable. And don't let physical things take our focus from Jesus.
Of course, making such a statement about the demise of the massive stones and the magnificent building didn't go unnoticed by the disciples. It kind of floored them. So, we pick it up in verse three, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple.” He has left the city and he is sitting up on the Mount of Olives. Like we talked about before, he's got a wonderful view of it, sitting up there. You can see the whole temple. It is magnificent. “Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’” At least these four were listening. They understood from Jesus this was going to happen soon, and they wanted to understand the warning signs leading up to the destruction of the temple. That was gonna be something of a calamity to Jerusalem. And Jesus understood their question, but he gave them a much greater answer of what was going to occur in the next decades and on toward the end of the age when Jesus returns. In verse five, he says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginnings of birth pains.’” They are just the beginnings.
And, of course, Jesus went on in this chapter to describe a lot of the things that Mark’s audience in the first century were already experiencing. Long before the destruction of the temple in 70AD, Nero had been persecuting Christians, and it had been perilous times and in the 60s and 70s, before they got to this. Not that we don't live in perilous times ourselves. We just finally got free of Afghanistan. But 20 years of war there and conflict didn't seem to help the situation. Those poor people are right back where they started. The COVID-19 infection numbers are going back up. They've been decreasing for the last six weeks, but we're starting to see a little bit of an up tick as we get this colder weather. And we all grieve for those killed in that outdoor concert in Texas. I know there's well meaning people who have said that COVID-19 is a sign. This is God punishing humanity and just another reason that the return of Jesus Christ is near. And we've heard that.
And there is within all of us, I think, a desire to know when. Not so that we can be prepared. Not so that we can clean up our act like children waiting for Christmas. At least, I hope we're beyond that, but simply because it's in our nature to want to know when. Is it next year? Is it the year after that? Will I still be alive? And, like I said earlier, in our last day, and this is our last day in the book of Mark for a long time, but let's think back a little bit to the very first words of Jesus that Mark recorded in Mark 1:15. He said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.” We're not called to watch, and when we see the signs of Jesus returned, then get ready. We're invited to be ready right now, all the time, to see the Kingdom at work all around us. We're invited to live that life now, anticipating the activity of our Father. Not in a state of anxiety, that we have to mind our P's and Q's, or we're going to get zapped, fear that we're somehow going to fail some divine behavior test. No. We're called, invited as it is, to live in joy and confidence. Joy in the knowledge that Jesus has revealed the Father's grace, mercy, love and goodness to us all, in all of humanity in his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension. Knowing our Father's love in Jesus, we are called to joyfully share that love with others, and confidence from knowing and trusting that promise that our Father has given us. The One who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us, every one of us, in restoring all the creation to its intended glory, the way it was supposed to be. When? All the time. In our Father's time.
Sure we would like to know when that is. But that's not our calling. We're called to live in that kingdom now, allowing the promises of our Father about the future to infuse our every present moment. After all, Jesus said all these things that they would see in the middle of the first century would only be the beginning of birth pains. The kingdom was being born into the world.
And when I live, looking for the activity of the Father here now, I begin to see it. I see it in the Operation Christmas Child. That activity in the response of our congregation I see it in the work that the Washington Street Baptist Church is doing now, providing a warming center to some of the most vulnerable citizens in our area. As cold weather has dawned on us here. I see it in the acts of kindness of a friend. I see it in the opportunity to help another. I see it in the outreach ministries of this congregation. I see it as in the chance to listen deeply to the hurt of another. Our Father shows up in all kinds of places working with us, for us, through us, and in us. We just have to look. When will this happen? When will I see the Father at work? See the kingdom in real space and time? It's happening now. What will be the sign? When I see people acting as Jesus did? Even here, even now. That's my take on this text. To me, it's not so much a question of when will all these things come, but how are we witnessing the kingdom already come into our midst? The birth that Jesus was talking about. That was what Jesus’s ministry was all about. The healing of the sick and even the raising of the dead. The casting out of demons. The kingdom had already come to all these people impacted by Jesus’ ministry.
Mark was encouraging the Christians of his day, who already were experiencing the perils and persecutions to not worry about the “when.” The kingdom was happening now. Jesus’ ministry didn't stop with his ascension to the Father. Our Father is actively at work bringing the fullness of that kingdom to fruition. And I see it one situation at a time, but he's working all over, all over the world somewhat simultaneously. While I sleep, he's working. And Jesus will return in good time, our Father's time.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for these words of encouragement. Thank you for what you've done. This was only the birth pains, Jesus said. It's only the beginning of the kingdom breaking through, and we see it if we open our eyes and look. We see it present all around us today. Help us to see. Help us to open our eyes and see where you're working. See for signs of the kingdom here, and join in that, and be willing to allow that love that you've poured out into us to overflow into people's lives. That it would be a blessing to them. That they too can see where you're working. We praise you. We thank you. We ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Jesus Gave His All
Good morning. Today is the 24th Sunday after Pentecost. So, we're now just three weeks from the beginning of the season of Advent. And with it, a new Christian worship year. So, this one's winding down very quickly.
The Standard Lectionary for today includes another set of scriptures from the book of Hebrews. The letter of the unknown author to the basically Jewish people of their day. And we went through some of the scriptures from Hebrews last month. The author of Hebrews did repeat the concept of Jesus being the ultimate High Priest, again and again and again through that letter. I think the short set of five verses today does introduce some different ideas that are worthy of consideration, because today we meet here on this Sunday between All Saints Day and Veterans Day. And many of the original saints were martyred. So, they gave their lives for the cause. Something we often think about when we think about Veterans Day, the ones that didn't come home. The ones that died on the battlefield.
So, I want to think a bit today about another person, another one who gave his all for us. And we read in Hebrews 9:24, “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.” Again, Jesus is the ultimate High Priest, but there's really a difference here. In the verses leading up to this in this chapter nine, the author of Hebrews speaks about how the tabernacle and the temple, everything in them, was cleansed with sacrificial blood. The blood was sprinkled over all, everything in them in a ceremonial cleansing before they were used. And again, it was used every year on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies. He did not go into there without blood, and he sprinkled it all over the altar and everything else. Yet, the tabernacle and the temple, they were man-made. And they were, as the author of Hebrews said, only a copy of the true holiest place in the universe, the throne of Almighty God our Father. The High Priest in Israel entered the Holy of Holies. He took the blood to offer as part of his duties. Jesus enters THE Holiest of Holies in heaven, and now appears for US before All Mighty God our Father. Jesus, the son of man, appears for us before Almighty God our Father.
In verse 25, it says, “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the High Priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Again, the ultimate High Priest. The High Priest had to return to the Holy of Holies again and again every year on the Day of Atonement. He went into the Holy of Holies, and he always went that way with sacrificial blood. An offering for the sin of Israel. But Jesus doesn't have to suffer through crucifixion again and again and again. It's not the same. He has appeared once for all to do away with sin by his sacrifice. Nor does Jesus, not that Jesus doesn't have to continue to suffer. Remember, Jesus continues to live in flesh. He's the representative human being in the presence of our Father. But as the Son of God in whom we live and move and have our being, he shares what we go through. He shares in our suffering. I don't know. I don't understand that. I can't, in my limited intellect, understand how that's possible, but it is. That's the connection that Jesus has to us, to all of humanity.
Starting with the second half of verse 26 that we've already read, “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Verse 27, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrifice once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Now, it's interesting that the author of Hebrews begins this with our death and judgment, but then he says that Jesus, when he returns, will not do so to bear sin, but to bring salvation. When Jesus returns, it is not going to be to punish humanity.
What the author is saying here is that just as sure as death is for humanity. And I think everyone would agree that that is very, very sure. Well, then, so is the surety that we have in Jesus’ return to bring us salvation. And he's using something that's very, very certain, our death, in comparing that to the surety of which Jesus is going to come back. The author of Hebrews ties this to an aspect of the High Priest’s work that we may not have thought about here. When the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies each year on the Day of Atonement, there was some suspense in it. He was going into the very presence, the very real presence of Almighty God. So, everyone was relieved when he reappeared again. It meant the sacrifice for the people sins had been acceptable to Almighty God.
The author of Hebrews says that Jesus “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself,” and then he will appear a second time. He'll come back like the High Priest did. The sacrifice of his blood was acceptable. In that return, he will bring salvation for those who are waiting for him. Now, maybe that seems like a small group, those who are waiting for Jesus. But in reality, I think that's nearly a universal group. Many may not know what it is they're waiting for, but I think most people would tell you that they're waiting. They're waiting for something.
And I want to summarize and draw some other thoughts now about this, and think about Jesus giving his all for us. The author of Hebrews is convinced of the finality of what Jesus has done. He's given his all for us to do away with sin by giving his own life at our hands. So, Jesus gave his all for us, and it's made all the difference. Under the Old Covenant, the High Priest had to enter the Holy of Holies year after year after year. There was no end to it. Every year he went in there. But Jesus did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one. Jesus entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in Almighty God our Father's presence. And we talked about this. But when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he wore the priestly garment, the priestly breastplate that contain the twelve stones that represent the twelve tribes of Israel. He came into the presence of God alone, but he represented all the people of Israel. And even more so, when Jesus returned to the Father, and enter the Most Holy Place in the universe, he took humanity and human nature with him. He did so as Jesus Christ, the son of man, and Son of God, the incarnate Son of God, who even now lives in our flesh, and he stayed there. He stayed in our Father's presence. As the author of Hebrews states, he didn't enter heaven again and again, like the High Priests entered THE Most Holy Place of the tabernacle every year. He entered our Father's presence once and for all to do away with sin by giving of himself for us. And he gave his all for us, and it's made all the difference for all humanity.
Note that the High Priest did not make atonement with his own blood, but rather with the blood of an uncomprehending animal, a goat. You took the blood of a goat in there. And I realize goat has come to mean something else in our culture, but this is not the greatest of all time. It was not that goat. It was this four legged, smelly goat from the herd that we're talking about here. But maybe, maybe that's why the Triune God chose a goat on the Day of Atonement to symbolize the greatest of all time, who would give himself for us. Maybe, he saw that coming. I don't know.
Now, I guarantee the High Priest was pretty somber when he got all dressed up and he went behind the curtain into the presence of God. He was going into God's presence on Earth. He was warned not to mess up or he would die. And there were occasions of that. Some were struck dead. His companions tied a rope, they got to where they tied a rope to his leg when he went inside there, so if he did mess up, they could pull his body out. So he wouldn't just have to lay in there and rot. But the High Priest did not give of himself. He came back out again in one piece. Jesus, our new and ultimate High Priest under the New Covenant, gave himself as an atonement. His own blood was shed that we might be free. Not just for a few people, who are lucky enough to be born to one of those twelve tribes long ago, but for all humanity. Everyone who has ever lived. Everyone who will live.
No longer do we live with guilt and shame when we fall short, when be sin. We don't have to wait for the Day of Atonement to see our sins washed away by the blood of goats and bulls. Jesus’ blood, giving his all for us, has done what the High Priests never could. He's washed away our sins, past, present and future, and he's taken humanity with our human nature into the very presence of our Father in heaven. Jesus doesn't have to die again every year to cleanse our consciousness of things that we may have done. He has died once, given his all for us, and we stand free. Free from guilt. Free from shame. Free from the power that death and the grave held over humanity until Jesus came to give himself for us. And we're free from the fear of our Father in heaven.
We see now that there's nothing that our Father would not do to reconcile us to himself. There's nothing the Father would not do to convince us of the love that he has for us. The Son of God came to us in our own flesh and allowed us to kill him. What more convincing do we NEED that the Father is on our side? That the Father loves us. That the Father wants nothing more than to have a relationship with us. An intimate relationship. A real relationship with us! Notice in verses 27 to 28, that the author of Hebrews says, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” But, he uses the word “many,” and he didn't use the word “all”. But if we look at the context of this, what actually starts in verse 27, it contrasts the death that comes to each of us individually, with the death of Jesus, which impacts not just one, each of us, but the many, or all. The author of Hebrews is very excited about what Jesus did and the implications of it. I don't think it was his or her intention to limit this to a certain group of people, but not to all of humanity. When you think about it, the Son of God gave an awful lot when he took on our broken flesh and came to live among us, as we will celebrate next month. That was giving up an awful lot, even before the crucifixion. And he continues to live in our flesh, although now it's transformed by the resurrection. But he continues to live in the flesh for all eternity, so that humanity and human nature are caught up and included in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we have a connection forevermore. And now we wait, as the author of Hebrews was waiting, for Jesus’ return to bring us salvation, because Jesus has given his all for us and he's made all the difference.
So what can we take from this today? A couple things here. First, remind yourself of your value in our Father's sight, and let his love transform you. When we understand that the Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, know us intimately, they know the good and the bad, yet they love us without reservation. Even though in everything we do, every thought that we have, they still love us without reservation. Remember Jesus’ sacrifice. We should be able to allow that love to overflow in us to others. We're not known or identified in our Father's sight by sin or sinful behavior. That's not what he knows us for. That's all taken care of in Jesus Christ. He's not going to call us out for that, and give us a nickname because of something we've done. No! Our Father sees us in our true identity. What we are, his beloved children.
And secondly, as we participate with Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, he leads us to change. We become better people as a result of the Triune God's love flowing in us and through us. And part of that is remembering others are also our Father's beloved children. It's not just true for us. It's true for everybody. We can express transforming love to others, even in situations where holding them accountable is necessary. And we remember that shame and blame don't change people. It will not. (If) you want to ruin a relationship really quick, bring those two to the front, and it gets really icy and really cold and really belligerent, real fast. No, shame and blame don't change people. Only love can do that. Jesus’ second coming is not about sin. It's not about shame. It's not about guilt. It's not about blame. It's about love. A transforming love that looks forward to establishing our Father's kingdom here on earth.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for that love that you have for us, that you've shown for us. Help us. Help us to live in that love, first of all. Help us to put away the shame and the guilt and everything that we have inside us, and just realize that we are your beloved children. Put those things behind us. You don't hold those over our head. We shouldn't hold it over our head ourselves either. And then, living in that, should change us a little bit. Help us to remember to love others. To stop and think before we shame or blame someone. Just put that aside, and just love them, and see what kind of relationships result from that. We know that's the only way that anything can be done. And we thank you, and ask you to work through us to do those things. We praise you, and thank you, and ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Jesus Raises Lazarus Back to Life
Good morning. Today of course is All Hallows Eve, the eve of All Saints Day, which is celebrated every November 1st, tomorrow. All Hallows Eve has been shortened in the culture to Halloween. From the fourth century AD, Christians held annual celebrations to remember those who passed, especially those who were martyred. That was still ongoing in the 300s AD.
So remember, even in the first century, the apostle Paul had to address the fact that Christians were dying, while everyone was expecting Jesus to return any day. So, what's up here? Why are these passing away? Are they not going to be included? What's going to happen to them when he returns? So he wrote about that subject in 1 Thessalonians chapter four. I think we talked about that before. But with all those we lost this past year, I thought it was appropriate to think about All Saints Day today.
All Saints Day is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have passed from this life and who are now safe in Jesus. People like Harold Anderson, who I miss very, very much every time I come to this building. With every year, that list of saints from my life grows for me. And that's why All Saints Day grows in significance for me with each passing year. All Saints Day has been all but forgotten by the evangelical Christian church. It's still a Catholic thing, but not much in any of the other denominations. But prior to the Reformation, which is now 500 years past, everyone would have gone to church on All Saints Day. It would have been a common worship day. The Standard Lectionary always includes a set of scriptures for All Saints Day, but they also include a set for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost and we saw the Gospel scripture there and in the Speaking of Life (video) from Mark chapter 12.
The Gospel scripture for All Saints Day this year comes from John chapter 11. It's the raising of Lazarus back to life. We say he was raised back to life he wasn't resurrected. Because resurrection, Jesus resurrection, is to life that doesn't decay, doesn't end. Lazarus was just brought back to normal physical life again. So, he was raised back to life. He wasn't resurrected. And I want to start today several verses ahead of the lectionary scriptures. They don't start until John 11:32. Because the lectionary leaves out the very best parts of this story. It's Jesus interaction with Martha where he makes to me the greatest “I am” statement that he makes in anything. He says, I am the light of the world and other things, but this is the greatest one of them.
The story starts in John chapter 11:1, and I want to start in verse 17, just to cut some of that out. But to summarize the early parts of this story, beginning in verse one, Jesus receives word from Mary, the sister of Martha and sister of Lazarus, that Lazarus has fallen ill and says, Come. Come, my brother Lazarus, whom you love, is sick. And Jesus was concerned, and yet he waited two days before traveling to Bethany, which takes another couple of days to make that trip. There's an element of danger and going there because the last time they were there, the Jewish authorities were out to kill Jesus. They tried to stone him to death. But that's not the reason that Jesus waited. He tells the disciples that Lazarus has died, and they're going to raise him up. And he says it's for their sakes for the disciples sakes that Jesus was not there to heal Lazarus before he died. It was so they would believe.
So, we pick up the story in John chapter 11:17, and it tells us, “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” So, a little late. And it says that, “Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews have come to Mary and Martha to comfort them at the loss of their brother.” So, big crowd here. A lot of people mourning. And just like last week's verse in the Gospel account of Mark, when we were in at the very end of Mark chapter 10, the next part of John, in John chapter 12, is when Jesus comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He's here at Bethany, and he's very, very close to Jerusalem. He just goes on into Jerusalem and enters it on Palm Sunday. The crowds have gathered and Jesus has set this up, I think, so that no one can doubt. Four days in the tomb. Lazarus has spent four days in the tomb. Everyone knows Lazarus is gone. He's passed. So, all these people come out from Jerusalem to mourn with Mary and Martha. And it's almost, I think, that as he arrived, came into Bethany and toward their house, he heard this wailing and crying, the morning that was going on with this bigger crowd.
But verse 20, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’” Now I think it's clear from the rest of the story, even though Martha does say that I know you're sent from God, you can have whatever you want. There's still hope. For the rest of the story, Martha's kind of open to a miracle, but she doesn't expect one. She doesn't really. Everything else we read doesn't fit with that. She doesn't think anything can be done now.
Jesus is more positive in verse 23. He says, “‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’” I know he will rise again, Jesus, but I need help today. I'm hurting today, Lord. And that's when Jesus says as he fixes Martha in his gaze and he makes a claim so bold it brooks no middle ground in terms of being true or false. Either it's true, and Jesus is who he claims he is, or he's a raving lunatic and doesn't know anything about it. There can't be any middle ground in this. In verse 25, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’”
“The resurrection and the life,” no other words that Jesus could have spoken would comfort Martha like these. And she got it right. Jesus is the Christ. He is the Son of God, who's come into the world. These are words for us, for all of us. For all of us who've lost the ones we love. For all of us who've seen death come again and again and again into our lives. These are the words for all of us. Jesus is the resurrection and the life! In him, we live even though we die. So we have this assurance for now, for today, which is what Martha was looking for. When the hurt is fresh, we have these words from Jesus that we will see our loved ones again. He is the resurrection and the life. Anyone can make that statement. Anyone can stand up and say that. Anyone could have made that claim and that promise, “I am the resurrection and the life.” I could do it here today. But Jesus says it and then he proves it.
Verse 28, “After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had just been here, my brother would not have died.’” The same thing that Martha said. Again, Mary believes it's too late. Lazarus has been dead too long. No one has ever been brought back to life after four days in the tomb. It's just not possible. If only, Jesus, if only you had been here, my brother Lazarus would not have died.
In verse 33, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him! But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?’” And with the same accusation, Jesus, what took you so long? Where you been? And as I said a few weeks ago, when talking about Jesus’ humanity, Jesus felt the same emotions we did. He was overcome by emotion at the despair of the world. He wept just just like those around him. Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus back to life. This afternoon, all that wake food that we had, that's going to turn into a celebration of Jesus’ life. We're going to take the leftover wake food and it's going to be a celebration of what Jesus has done here. Lazarus is alive. He's back with us. It'll be a big party. He didn't weep for the loss of Lazarus like they were weeping. But he wept at the despair of the people who were weeping as if all was lost. Jesus was there when he was the one who spoke and Earth was created. He was the one that blew the breath of life into Adam. We weren't created for this. We weren't created to end us in his way. We weren't created for all this weeping and despair, that life has gone. He can empathize with us and whatever we're going through because Jesus has seen it. Jesus has experienced it. Jesus has lived through it. The people saw Jesus weeping. But others were almost blaming Jesus for taking so long. It was as if everyone believed, but they didn't believe. They'd seen him give sight to the man, who was born blind, but they could not see that he can also bring Lazarus back to life now. It's just been too long. And part of that problem is the Jewish tradition that the soul left the body after three days. They didn't have any reason to hope.
And I think all this going on before Jesus even turned to come to Bethany, and even Jesus’ prayer at the tomb, before calling to Lazarus, is Jesus attempt to keep everyone from missing the point here. And we get caught up in the miracle. And we see Jesus as the resurrection, and that's great. But I think Jesus is emphasizing he's also the life, because he said both. He wept. He had compassion when he saw Mary and the others weeping. John says Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. He's the resurrection and the life. He experienced all that life has to offer. He knows the triumph of seeing Lazarus come from within the tomb alive again, and he knows the tragedy of seeing those you love grieving as they were. Jesus is the resurrection and the life he shares that life with us. And that is infinitely of more importance to us than the miracle raising Lazarus from the dead. After all, Lazarus at some point, went right back to that same tomb again.
What Jesus wants for us is kingdom life. He wants us to join him and all the other people around us in a journey into kingdom life. Verse 38, “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there's a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’” Martha has spoken the words, but she just doesn't have the faith to believe. It's just not capable. By now, Lazarus stinks of death. You think about four days, I don't know about a human being, but an animal carcass after four days. Pretty rank. Especially, if the weather's not cold. This is early Spring. It is before the Passover, so maybe it's not too warm. But think about in summertime, it don't take anything very long at all. By now, Lazarus stinks of death. It will be embarrassing. Yeah, that's my brother that's smelling like that. Don't roll the stone away, Lord. Leave the dead to rest. Let's just let this be. It's been four days. It's too late for Lazarus. It's too late for our brother. But let's not mess with it.
In verse 40, “Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” As I said earlier, Jesus backed up his claims with action. We talk about that a lot on the football field or the basketball court. Guys will get up and make claims before the game. Do they really have the merit to get out there and play and back it up? Sometimes they do. There's been a few that could. I think about Joe Namath making that famous claim that he did before Super Bowl II, and then went out there, and the underdog Jets cleaned their plow. Now, he hypes Medicare. Poor guy.
But Jesus backed up his claims with action. His words weren't hollow. He wasn’t making a hollow claim. He came up and showed that, YES, he is the resurrection and the life. Others, Elijah and Elisha both raised somebody back to life. We have that in the Old Testament accounts. Jesus raised up Jarius’ daughter. Later on, the Apostle Paul resurrects a little girl, but all those situations were people who had just died. Lazarus left no question to whether he was really dead, or had just passed out, or was asleep. He was in the tomb for four days. Of course, yes, he was dead. He was gone.
I don't know if you remember, but these last verses were the text of the very first sermon I ever gave. and I still see in them something for us. After commanding Lazarus to come from the tomb, and I think Jesus was very specific, he didn't just say, Come out. I don't know if there were other tombs here or that there was more than one cave. I think maybe there were. If he just with his authority said, Come out, how many would have come up from the grave? He was specific. He said, Lazarus come out. He didn't make it a generic comment. Go out to the graveyard and say come out, and everybody's clawing and scratching to come up out of the ground. A horror film.
But after he did that, after commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb, then he turns and he issues a command to the waiting crowd, to everybody else that's there. He says unbind him and let him go. The community, in other words, is invited to participate in what Jesus has done here. What the Father has done here, and their actions, to bring this to its desired end and outcome, to join in completing what the Triune God has done in this redemptive act. Jesus could easily have walked forward and began to unwrap Lazarus’ funeral wrapping, take the thing off his face and start to undo that. But he chose to involve those who were present in the crowd and allow them to participate. Isn't that astounding when you think about it? That the community of faith gathered around Lazarus is invited to participate in his redemptive work. Yet the raising of Lazarus from death is entirely Jesus’ work. And yet Jesus invites the community to participate in it. That is to do something, something that's essential and meaningful and important here.
Lazarus, I imagine, came hobbling out. He's bound and gagged as it were, by the grave clothes they've used for his burial. And Jesus says, in effect, loosen from all that binds him, and set him free. He doesn't say unwrap him from the grave clothes, and then bind him up with all kinds of prescriptive commands. Make him one of the group here. No, that's not what we're here for. When we share the Gospel message, the Good News, it should be about loosening someone from the fear and the doubt and the guilt and the shame that comes from not knowing who Jesus is, or who we are in him. We can't then be turning right around, as soon as they come clear in their faith that they understand for the first time, and tell them all the things they now have to do after they've been loosed.
Was this enough to transform Martha, to bring her to the point of not only saying the words, but to believe them, to change her mind? I suspect it was. I think this was enough. In essence, Jesus was sharing his faith with her, in the action that he did. I suspect she began to see in Jesus’ words, the truth that she had here, that he was not just a future resurrection, but he was life now for all of us. And she believed.
But how about for us? What does it mean for us that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? In little ways and big, our Father is inviting us to make a difference in this world right here, right now. Our Father, in other words, is beckoning us to claim Jesus’ resurrection power by participating in the fantastic work that Jesus is doing all over the place. Jesus is beckoning us to live the life now. Opportunities to unbind and let go abound, but when you look for them, so that we might hear Jesus calling us by name to make a difference to those around us. And I want to encourage you to live your promised salvation now. Why? Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and has promised to give us not just more life, not just longer life, but life in all of its abundance.
Along those lines, just one more thought. While we call this scene, the raising of Lazarus it's striking to realize that the actual sign that Jesus performs takes just two verses of 45 n this story. We didn't read all of them, but it goes all the way back to verse one. Maybe that's because, as is typical in John's Gospel, what matters most isn't the sign, isn't the miracle, but rather Jesus’ interpretation of it, and our response to it. Lazarus will die again, but the community empowered to unbind and set loose will endure. Indeed it has endured. Persisting through the centuries in works of courage, and mercy, and just plain love, right down to this day with New Covenant Fellowship.
And I would encourage you all to celebrate All Saints Day tomorrow by taking some time to remember those that we've been parted from, and to think of Jesus as the resurrection and the life, and what that means for them and for all of us, as well.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit. Thank you. Thank you for these encouraging words that you saved for us, recorded for us, that you said, Jesus, in a time when everyone was mourning. We've seen death this last year in much greater quantities than what we wanted to. I think all of us have seen someone, we've all lost someone to this pandemic and more so, some that were closer to us than that, just from regular things, wearing out in this life. Thank you that you've given us the encouragement that you are the resurrection. We look forward to that, but we also look forward that we have your life, your kingdom life, your life that's abundant. And you're inviting us to live in that life and to participate in what you're doing in the lives of others. We praise you and we thank you and just help us to look, to listen to you for opportunities to participate in what you're doing, to unbind and let go. We praise you and thank you and ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Jesus at Jericho
Good Morning! As Joe said, today is the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. So, we're coming very near the end of the season after Pentecost and with it the end of this Christian worship year. As you saw here in the Speaking of Life video that Cara Garrity did very well alone, they took a break from covering Mark chapter ten this week. So, we have one more story from Mark chapter ten today that I want to consider.
If you remember, Jesus enters Jerusalem in Mark chapter eleven on Palm Sunday, and we celebrated that months ago. This section of the Gospel of Mark began with the healing of a blind man in Mark eight, and then it ends here in chapter ten, at the very end of it, with the healing of a blind man. Everything in between is about Jesus trying to help his disciples understand what's about to occur, and their reactions to his efforts. In essence, it was him showing again and again how blind the disciples were to what was going on. But I think this story of Jesus interaction with this blind beggar is quite a bit more than just a book end here at the end of the chapter to Mark's lesson on our own blindness, when it comes to life and the life especially that Jesus has drawn us into. And I think that is because of the details that that Mark includes here.
So, if we pick it up in Mark 10:46, Mark tells us that on the way to Jerusalem, because they're getting very close here, “Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd,” as he's gathered quite a bit of people, “we're leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.” Let's stop and think about this just for a minute. How long did Jesus and this large crowd that was falling him, stay in Jericho? It doesn't seem that they were even stopped for a water break. They arrive at Jericho, and then they're all together leaving Jericho. He's almost to Jerusalem and his arrival there is what he's focused on here. He's going to enter the city and start the final week towards his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. So, they came to Jericho and as they're leaving the city there's this blind man sitting there by the roadside begging. And in all the miracles that Jesus performs, how many of the people do we know names of? Not many. Not at all. We know that he healed Jarius’ daughter, but we don't know that little girl's name. But here's this blind beggar, and he has his name recorded for all who come after to remember. And we have to remember that although Mark's gospel account was evidently the first of the four that was written, it still was not written until about 20 years, at least 20 years, after Jesus’ ascension. So, we know very little about the members of the early churches. There's not much given. Acts does have some names, but only a few of those names survive in the Bible. So we don't know. This Bartimaeus may have been a well known member of the church at Jericho, or in Jerusalem, and that's why Mark mentions his name here. This fella may have turned out to be somebody important in the church, and that may be why he's given this name in the story because he doesn't do it much.
But I think even more so, this is something that Jesus came to proclaim that this grace, this mercy that the Father was holding out to humanity was for everyone, even for this poor beggar. The poor to Jesus are not some faceless category. They're all real persons. And beyond just a name, we know his father's name as well. And there's some interesting stuff in it. I'm not going to go into it because it's a whole sermon in itself. But it's a reminder to us that the people that Jesus healed during His ministry were flesh and blood human beings. They're not just mere symbols of this or that condition, this illness, or that disease. The poor and the impoverished and the disadvantaged were people with real feelings. They all had a family history. They had parents. They had a mother and father, who cared for them. They had brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, the whole thing. So, I think it's significant that the poor and disenfranchised, whom Jesus ministered to are not just this broad, faceless socioeconomic category or categories about whom we talk in the abstract, the way politicians tend to do. We see a lot of that in the current negotiations on this spending bill, or in the voting rights bill that they are jawing about today.
To Jesus, they were real people. They were real individuals. They bore the image of their Father, who Jesus knew and loved. So, he loved them as his own brothers and sisters, as our Father loves them as his own children. It's a great reminder to us that he loves each of us, too. And actually, I shouldn't demean the politicians because I think we ourselves are just as guilty of that. But give the person a name and they're not just a member of a demographic, or a member of a group. You make a connection. You can relate to that person as a human being and begin to empathize with their situation. And maybe you're more willing then to hear what they have to say, which is in line with the story here.
Because in verse 47, Mark tells us, when Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me.” And many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Son of David is another name for Messiah. The Messiah was prophesied to be the son of King David. He was going to be in that line. So, Bartimaeus is calling on the Messiah to have mercy on him. And in that moment, Bartimaeus probably didn't think of the implications of him shouting there. Jericho was a Roman outpost. It's close to Jerusalem here. And the Roman soldiers were on edge. Remember, this is just before Passover. The next, very next thing in Mark 11 is Jesus strolling into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. So, here Jesus is with this great crowd. No telling how many people this is. Traveling into Jerusalem. These Roman soldiers were very much aware of this. I'm sure the reports were coming in about this group. They're probably like the Capitol Police were last January. On January 5th, they were expecting something. They were probably expecting something from the Jewish people. So, when Bartimaeus starts shouting, “Messiah, Messiah, have mercy on me!” There were good citizens of Jericho, who were probably saying, “Hush! You're gonna get us all killed! You start yelling this, the Romans don't like this.” You start shouting, yelling for Messiah, Caesar is everything to the Romans. The Roman Emperor is god. You can worship as you want, but you have to call the Roman Emperor, god, in their way.
So, you have to admire Bartimaeus’ spunk, though. He wouldn't be quiet even when they told him to hush up. He shouted all the more, and Jesus noticed. He noticed this probably shabbily dressed beggar, who's calling for him over the people's cries for him to shut up. And Jesus didn't avert his eyes. He didn't pick up his pace and walk faster to get on past. Verse 49, “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.” And this is what I love about this story after apparently nearly bypassing Jericho. I think about the roads and things that I grew up with. When we traveled, you had to drive through those towns. Now, you bypass almost everything on the major highways. Now, they've built bypasses around them. After nearly bypassing Jericho, Jesus stops and calls to Bartimaeus. Our Savior always has time for us. He never overlooks us because of our situation, because of our sins. He calls to us. The moment that Jesus calls for Bartimaeus to come over, the same people who were trying to quiet him before are now encouraging him. Up! Up! He's calling for you. And I'm sure he's blind, so how did he get through this crowd? They had to help him. Somebody had to take him by the arm, and said, “This way. Come on!” Hustling through there. If he was blind enough to beg, he probably needed help on his way through the crowd to Jesus.
So, there was a lot of social dynamics going on here in the story, and I think most of them are instructive to the church today. We should not wait until Jesus calls a poor person over. And we should surely not in the meantime be silencing the voices of the voiceless. The Gospels show us that Jesus already has called all the world's disenfranchised, all the lowly, the marginalized, and invisible people. He's called them to himself. That's the reality in which the church exists. We're all beggars ourselves. We have no claim on Jesus, other than that we're in deep and desperate need for a Messiah, for a Savior.
And we don't have to wait to see if Jesus will notice the little people. He already has. What were to do in response I think is rather obvious. I had not caught the meaning of this detail before until I saw an artist's concept of this moment, a picture, a painting. It says Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside. He shed most of his outer clothing, everything that encumbered him. He jumped to his feet. And that's a pretty big kind of gamble if you're a blind guy and you throw this off. How are you going to find it again? But he jumped to his feet and he came through the crowd to Jesus. He was undoubtedly dirty, and partially naked, now that he's thrown the cloak off. Yet, welcomed by Jesus with open arms. That's the way they show it in the painting. He didn't have much on the upper torso in the painting.
Look at verse 51: Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus not only took the time to stop and to call to Bartimaeus. He treated him with respect and relationship just as he was, probably dirty and smelly and half naked as a beggar. Jesus asked him what he could do for him. And it was obvious that Bartimaeus could not see. Jesus could have just said, “Hey, I'll take care of your blindness here, but Jesus didn't presume anything. He asked, “What can I do for you?” That's a great lesson for us in our relationships. Because sometimes we take off. We see somebody, think we see the need. We take off. We try to help them in this situation without talking to them, without consulting. We're going to surprise them. We're gonna help. Have you ever decided to surprise someone and, then, were surprised yourself that they really weren't thrilled with what you had done, because you didn't understand their situation completely? Yeah, it happened to me. Jesus made it personal. He asked. He related to Bartimaeus. And, he gave Bartimaeus a chance to think about the implications here. Had Bartimaeus ever had his sight, or had he been born blind? We don't know. But either way, things are about to change for Bartimaeus and change drastically when he receives this healing of his sight. Obviously, he's able bodied. He's able to throw off the cloak and get up and come to Jesus with some help to guide him there. He's gonna be able to move about and do things he's only dreamed about. But he's also going to have to find a new way of earning a living. You can't beg anymore.
Bartimaeus wanted his sight. He wanted to see. In verse 52, “‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” Now, most of the commentaries make a HUGE focus on Bartimaeus’ faith here in this story. In fact, they'll write out four or five points on his faith and what that should mean to us. What did Bartimaeus’ faith do? It made him continue to call out to Jesus until he was heard. That was the extent of it. Bartimaeus was not healed because he was a good man of great faith. He was healed because Jesus is the Son of David, and the Son of God in our flesh, and reached out to this blind beggar on the outskirts of Jericho with the love of our Father, for all of humanity. Jesus is the focus of the story and should be with every story we see.
I will say this, though, for Bartimaeus. He seems to understand what was important. Did you notice what Jesus said to him? He just said, “Go.” Back to your family. Go back and show everybody this miracle. But what did Bartimaeus do? He stayed. He joined the crowd with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. I'm sure they were glad to have him now, another testimony to the reality of what this is. Come on in, Bartimaeus. Join us.
We didn't cover it two weeks ago, because in the Speaking of Life video, Jeff Broadnax did a wonderful job of covering it. But in this same chapter 10 of Mark's Gospel account is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. The young man's name was not recorded by Mark. He's just the rich young man or ruler. He asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. And do you remember what Jesus said to that nameless young man? He told him to sell all that he owned, give the money to the poor, and then come and follow him. And what did that young man do? He went away miserable because he had great possessions, and he was not willing to give them up. He didn't follow Jesus.
But poor Bartimaeus, who's told by Jesus to “Go,” immediately follows Jesus. Possibly because he had no other place to go, but I think he could have at least had some fun. Fooling his friends and his neighbors who aren't aware of the fact that he can see. He could pull some pretty good jokes, when people think you're blind. He probably had a home to go to. I think he probably had a place to share this miracle with others, and tell them about this son of David that came into this, but he didn't. I think he didn't because Bartimaeus really did see. Even though he had been blind, now, he really does see. He really did see who Jesus was and what that meant.
And it's interesting, too, if you think about it, what a miracle that Jesus performed here. In all the healing stories involving the blind in the Gospels, it's the same. Bartimaeus recovered his sight, and he immediately starts to walk around like a typical sighted person. Now, maybe he had been sighted when he was born and then he got blinded at a some former age. Maybe he did have his sight. We don't know. But if it really happened this way, then Bartimaeus was the recipient of a double miracle here. Not only had Jesus fixed his optical hardware, whatever was wrong here, but pardon my analogy here, Jesus must have also upgraded his mental software, as well, to allow Bartimaeus to make sense of the information that's coming through his eyes. If he'd never seen before, he wouldn't have a clue what this all meant. He apparently was able to access the correct visual experience in his brain, was able to walk, and function normally. When blind people do surgically receive their sight today, it takes them some time to learn, or relearn how to process that information in their brains. They have to learn depth perception. And what colors are. As it turns out, the matter of sight is a whole lot more complex than we sighted individuals might think. We don't remember because we learned all that at an early age, which is beyond our memory. We started learning that when we were born and started having to focus our eyes, and learn what colors were, and who mom and dad were, and those kinds of things. We don't remember any of that. But there's quite a bit to it.
One other thing I think that's interesting about this story is the location: Jericho. Other than this one trip through the city, or around the city or whatever it was by Jesus, it's not otherwise mentioned in any significant way in the New Testament. But as Jesus was leaving Jericho, what happens here? There is shouting. Blind Bartimaeus is shouting out. And, if you remember the Old Testament story of Jericho, the children of Israel circled the city for seven days and only on that seventh day did they all shout. And, of course, when they did, the walls lay down. And, of course, there was a lot of bloodshed that day. I wonder, is Mark showing us a Gospel reversal of all that Jericho mayhem that happened so many centuries before that? After all, here is Jesus, or Jeshua, his Hebrew name. The new Joshua outside the walls of this city of Jericho. There's a large crowd with him, and a lone beggar shouts to be heard. And there's people shouting back at him, “Hush! Hush!” When the people try to shut him up, he just shouts all the louder. And, amazingly, the shouting leads to the casting down of a different set of walls. This time it's the social barriers, and the walls that get erected in our societies between those who have, and all the down and outers who don't have, like Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus shouts outside of Jericho here, but this time the result is not a bloody battle and loss of life, but a restoration of peace and life. Bartimaeus gets his sight and his life back, and he's restored to society, and he joins that group that's following Jesus into Jerusalem. And we're reminded that it's not with swords and shields and bows, but with deeds of love and mercy and grace, that the heavenly kingdom came to this earth.
I'm afraid if ever the church needed a reminder of why we make a mistake when we adopt Old Testament imagery of ancient Israel, i.e., “Onward Christian Soldiers,” God's people engaged in a holy war, culture war. I think it is now that we need to be reminded of how the Kingdom actually came. That how Jesus and our Father work. I think the New Testament sequel to the battle of Jericho in Mark ten is always a timely reading here to remember what has been done. In a place that was renowned only for great carnage that happened there, we see a man with a real name, Bartimaeus, touched by the power of our Father in the person of the Son, Jesus, and of the good news that is for all humanity. Hope and joy flood through this story and reminds us today to look for places that may be filled with squalor and hopelessness, but into which even now the Holy Spirit is at work, to touch real people, with real names, with the very real power of the Gospel to change lives. And we're called simply to follow Jesus into those places and participate with him in what he's already doing.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit. Thank you. Thank you for all the blessing that it is that you have given us to be a part that great crowd that's following you, Jesus. Help us not to squelch cries of nameless people that are around us, but to take time to talk to them, and learn their names, and what their situation is, and if there's something we can do to help. At least encourage. And help us to remember that this is not a war. It's not a fight. We're not here to live that way. We're here to share encouragement and love and compassion with other people, other people with real names and real lives, and get to know them and welcome them into this great crowd. It's following you, Jesus. We praise you, and thank you. We ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
Jesus, the High Priest Made Low
Good morning. As we're getting to the end of another Christian calendar year, the Standard Lectionary takes a turn through the general epistle to the Hebrews. We saw that last week, and I want to continue today from where we ended last week. We were in chapter four. We'll look at the majority of chapter five today. This is maybe some of the strangest material of all the New Testament. Even the writer of Hebrews seems to sense that this section of his letter is difficult to understand. It's actually beyond the scope of the Standard Lectionary. They break it off and continue it. The chapters are not put in by the original author. So, where we break today in the lectionary, starts another section that that goes on in chapter six. Even the writer seems to say in the next sentence here from the lectionary in verse eleven, with reference to Melchizedek, he says, “This is hard to explain. This is something I want to go on with. I want to go on more of this, but this is hard to explain. And you guys need to bone up a little bit if you're going to understand it.”
The theme of Hebrews in this central section is that Jesus Christ is a superior high priest. That may not sound strange to us, with regard to Jesus as the Son of God, now seated at the right hand of the Father. Human, still, but he's there at the right hand. So, certainly he's our high priest. He's got the Father's ear. He's right there. He can intercede for us easily. But the author of Hebrews has been doing his or her best to remind us of Jesus’ humanity. We looked at that last week. Human just like all of us. And so this reference to Jesus as high priest may have seemed a bit strange to the original audience, these Jewish converts, who were reading this. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. He wasn't from Levi, where the priests came from. Nor did Jesus serve at the altar or perform any sacred rites in the temple, like Israel's high priest did. So, where's he getting any of this?
It's helpful then to note that the high priest was an intermediary between God and God's people. That was his business. People chose the high priests to act on behalf of them by offering God gifts and sacrifices for their sins. He offered all the sin offerings. The high priest, however, also represented God to God's people through his words and his actions. God, in fact, often spoke to God's people directly through God's chosen high priest. He did through Moses, who was of the tribe of Levi. He was probably more than high priest. He was a prophet.
So, we can begin to see more why Jesus, the human being, fits this role. He came and ministered, and through his actions and through his words, we see the Father. We see our relationship that we have with the Father. The author begins in Hebrews 5:1, “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” We talked about the weakness last week in depth. That's why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the sins of the people. He was human just like they were. He sinned.
Verse four, “No one takes this honor upon himself. He must be called by God, just as Aaron was.” He was the first high priest. Moses’s brother. “So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Now even though this thematic language of this chapter in Hebrews concerns the Jewish priesthood, specifically the high priest, it may seem a bit removed from our experience. If we look closely, we realize we're reading the story of Jesus very much as a human being here, as much so as any of us. Even in the midst of the complex religious language around priesthood here that we see, Jesus’ humanity comes through. He says, “With loud cries and tears” he offered up prayers and petitions, just like we do. Just like us in verse seven.
So, let's look at this passage today, even its most peculiar feature which is this reference to Melchizedek, and see what it means to have a high priest who came down from heaven as the Son of God and became that person in that role as a human being to us. It wasn't that high priests, human men who were chosen as high priests, were elevated. They came up from that tribe of Levi, and were made spectacular then. They became the highest person in that religious order. Jesus is the Son of God coming down to this role to us and he's made low before us. Most of us can't even quite pronounce the name of Melchizedek, or spell it, let alone understand why the writer of Hebrews is so excited about this person. He's mentioned so casually here that the readers must have had a strong Jewish context to even understand the reference that the writer of Hebrews is making here.
Melchizedek was a historical person who came, essentially, out of nowhere. We don't have any information. Who was he born to? Back in that time of the Bible, everything, all that genealogy there, and Melchizedek is not mentioned. But he comes out of nowhere to the comfort and encouragement of Abraham thousands of years before in Genesis (chapter) 14. Abraham had been through a brutal battle. He had gone out and had to rescue Lot, and a bunch of other people who had been taken away. This disorienting story shows Melchizedek walking up to him in the desert one day. If we read in Genesis 14:18, it says, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” He made a sacrifice. He made an offering to Him. Abraham, called Abram, at the time that this was written, was the start of the story of Israel. He's the father of Israel. He was the only one that we know of, at least in his time, who worshiped God, the God of Israel, and had heard from God, God speaking to him. It must have been very lonely. We don't have any other evidence that God was working with any other person. He picked Abram out of paganism and set him off on this quest that he's going to become the father of many, and he's going to inherit this great holy land and everybody on Earth is going to be blessed by him. It must have been very lonely for Abram. And I can imagine he was constantly having to convince his family members and others, that this God that he talked about was real and cared about them as well. Look at the promises he made. He cares about everybody. But he's all by himself in this. Apparently, God hasn't talked to anybody else.
And then this guy comes from nowhere, speaking the same language about God that Abram speaks. No one else had experienced that, at least that Abram knew. And suddenly this Melchizedek is there. And as suddenly as he appears, he disappears from the narrative. It's just this one time he comes, and brings out refreshments and blesses Abram, and Abram makes a big offering because whatever they took was probably worth a lot. This was a tenth of what he had from the raiders. The next place he appears is in Psalms (chapter) 110, and it's kind of a vague reference here in verses three and four. He says, “Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty from the womb of the dawn, you will receive the dew of your youth. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Now here the psalmist is writing about a conversation between God and this shadowy priest, king figure that is not explained. He then designates this figure, a priest in the order of Melchizedek. So we have this shadowy figure, who is somehow associated with a mysterious personage in an enigmatic exchange. There's nothing here really to go on that the writer of Hebrews has picked up. No wonder the author of Hebrews said this was difficult to explain to us. He doesn't have much he can explain to anybody. He's got two references back in the Old Testament about this.
Now, distraction is always a temptation here. It's innately human for us to want to explore this mystery. Let's get deep into this Melchizedek. Try to guess the secret code of scripture here, and unlock it better than what the author of Hebrews has done. But I think that's counterproductive and it leads us away from the heart of what's being told here to us in this passage. What we see in Hebrews is the writer trying to connect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel, and, therefore, the story of the world. He's simply interpreting it within the context that he knows about. He knows these references to Melchizedek, and that his readers would have been familiar with him. They know about Melchizedek, too. They're familiar with the Psalms and things. He's not trying to give us some mystic riddle here or answer some mystery.
Boiling it down, the author is saying that Jesus is not like the priests that they knew. Josephus said there were 83 priests, high priests, from the time of the exile at Moses time, beginning with Aaron, all the way up to AD70 when the temple was destroyed. There were 83 high priests during that time, and it turned over. These guys didn't didn't get to be high priest when they were kids. They ascended to this out of an elite group of people. So, they were appointed to it. So, they were probably pretty fairly old when they got to this point, and so they didn't live a long time. So, people living in the Jewish culture would have known several high priests. Kind of like how many presidents have you lived through in your lifetime. I don't remember President Johnson, but he was president when I was very very small. I might remember some things my mom told me that I won’t talk about here, because it's rather embarrassing. She was relating President Johnson to me (saying) that President Johnson was just as human as I was in what she was talking about, trying to potty train me. So, I don't remember him being president, but he was during the time there. And then Nixon and Ford and Carter and Reagan, and on and on and on, up to our present time with Mr. Biden. So, they would have had the same kind of context. They would have known a lot of high priests during their lifetime. They could remember, when they were a kid, it was so and so and then, he was ascended by someone else, and now it's this other guy. It's this story that they're familiar with, of the high priests and what's going on there. It's priests that they knew. They knew who that guy was. They saw him in public. He came from the family of Aaron.
But there's something else entirely, part of a larger and global and admittedly mysterious world of Melchizedek here. And essentially this story is bigger than all of us. The gospel is not just a story of the political situation of Israel in that day or the days before that, or time of Jesus. Nor is it a story of our own personal devotional journey today. It has to be bigger than that. It's not just my life and what I'm going through here. The gospel is much, much bigger. It pulls in everybody. It's all those things, and much much much much much much much more.
So that's what the author of Hebrews is doing here. He's tying Jesus back into this global story, as it was, tying him into the story of Israel. Jesus is our best friend who comforts us and loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives. He's also Lord of the universe who holds quantum reality together. And he strolls through the planets as we read last week as King. One of the best ways to express that to this audience of Hebrews was to identify him with Melchizedek. This figure, somehow, who was greater than Abraham, because this is a high priest of God, who comes out to Abraham, who makes a sacrifice to him, makes an offering to him. He's greater than Abraham, because that's something that they couldn't even understand. They couldn't even get their heads around. Abraham was it. To them, he was the person. He was the father of the faithful. To them, he was paramount. So, the author of Hebrews has to find a way here to show them that Jesus Christ is far greater even than Abraham. And that's what he's doing. He's going back to a literal allusion here to this shadowy figure that Abraham offered to. Melchizedek is much deeper, a much, much deeper theological discussion that we don't have the right to ignore, really, but because it's so complex, even the author of Hebrews said that, to err on the other side is to become obsessed with it, and the mystery that it is, and that will only distract us. So, neither extreme is helpful in this.
For now, the point is that the mystery of Jesus is greater than any system that we can try to cram him into. He's greater than the whole high priest system. We've discussed Jesus Christ as the high priest, who was of the shadowy order of Melchizedek. Now, let's look at Jesus right here and right now. Not this part of him, but where he is.
Chapter breaks, verse numbers, and subtitles weren't in the original manuscripts of the scripture. They can help us to call it out real quick, but sometimes they can be unhelpful. The discussion here of Jesus as high priest actually started last week in chapter four. We read about him being a high priest, then. In verse 15, he said, “For we don not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” We read that in Hebrews 4:15 last week. The author, then, in chapter five turns to discussing earthly priests, earthly high priest, which were probably a familiar class of people to the original audience that grew up with them. They saw temple life that was woven into their own lives. They went up three times a year to Jerusalem and made sacrifices. Their parents did. Took them up there with them. The author reminds them that a priest can identify with them. In verse two, he says, “He is able to deal,” this high priest “is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant,” or who are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. That's why he can. He has to offer his own sacrifices for his own sin as well as for the sins of other people.
So this human high priest is able to empathize with the people because he's one of them. The priests were the people's representatives before God and they kept the ritual connection to God that Israel had. Their role was vital, and it was highly respected. And the author here reminds the reader that these priests are just people, even to the point that they had to give sacrifices to cover their own sins. Because of this, they could very gently deal with the people because they were just like the people that they were serving.
Now, if we read just about any of the history of Israel. If you go back and pick up just about any book after Leviticus, when the priesthood is set up, you will find out that the priest often forgot that they were supposed to deal gently with the people, because they themselves sin and they let their pastoral spirit be choked by pride in other things. So, look around the greater church for a minute and we'll see examples of the greater church, meaning the whole body of Christ, we will see pastors who seem to forget to practice humility. They get on TV and get an audience and pretty soon they think they're infallible. But the author of Hebrews points to the true reality here that these people are just that, they're people. These high priests, these televangelists, whoever we want to say, they're just people. Greg Williams would agree. He is just a man, just a human being, even if people do want to come take selfies with him.
The exception is Jesus. The priests are just people because they're sinful and corrupt just like the rest of us, but Jesus never was. Jesus never sinned, and, therefore, didn't have the experience of sin. Ideally that birth was birthed into these priests. They grew up knowing what sin was. They got in fights with the neighbor kids and did all the things. Toilet papered people's houses and trees and stuff on Halloween. All the things that kids get in trouble with. They did all that. And so they could empathize with the neighborhood kids when they were high priest. Those guys are just kids and they're going astray. I need to deal gently with them. Maybe take them back to their parents and let their parents take care of it.
But what Jesus DID experience was the results of sin. He lived among humanity here and he saw the results of everything that went on. And that is the subtle theme of the author here that he's trying to get to. Jesus experienced the pain and the hunger and the sickness and the anxiety and the fatigue, and the fear, and every other aspect of living in a fallen world, though he never participated in the sin that brought it on. He didn't share our sin, but He did share our weakness. And we talked about that last week. He knew the limited, sometimes frightening life of living in this fallen world. Therefore, he knows us. He isn't a superhero who somehow dropped in here. He's not Superman from another planet who comes in here and tries to fix everything for us, who is immune from all of our failings. He was born into our world. He knew the fear and the weakness of our world to the point that it killed him. He experienced it.
When you're tired, you know that Jesus often grew tired as well. And we read about that in John 4:6, before he talked to the Samaritan woman, it says, “Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.” He was sitting there about noon, and he's tired, and he's thirsty, and he's hot and sweaty. He's been on a long journey up there, a long dusty journey, and he would like to wash his feet.
When you're scared, know that Jesus also knew what it was to be scared when we read just before the crucifixion in Luke 22:44, “And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” He knew. He went through it.
When you weep at the losses that we experience in this life. And when you lose your parents or your brother and sister or your spouse or your children, remember Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, were we to read John 11:35. He knew what it was. He lost his father, his father figure anyway. Joseph died at some time, evidently, when Jesus was fairly young, and he took on, then, the family work and kind of cared for the family at being the eldest.
Jesus was right here living and breathing and experiencing everything we do. He was and he is right here within us. We can truly say. He can truly say, I know how you feel with what you're going through. Now look back at Hebrews chapter five and see Jesus Christ out ahead of us now. In verse eight, it says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” That verse makes most of us do a double take. How could Jesus learn obedience? Wasn't he already perfect? What did he need to learn? But again, Jesus was one of us. He was born as a baby. A helpless little bundle of flesh and blood, it couldn't do anything for himself. Now although he never sinned, he learned what it was to be human by becoming one. He learned life by the same skin knees and sleepless nights that all of us experience. The false starts that all of us had. He had to learn to walk. And I'm sure he fell, and busted his little head in doing so. He had to learn to run. He learned his father's trade. He learned working with his hands. He had to experience all that. He went through the full experience of being prepared for his vocation as the savior of humanity. The uncertainty and the confusion of human life was just the way it was there, what he had to experience. The details of how all that exactly happened, we don't know, but we know he was thoroughly and completely one of us. He soiled his diapers. He had to be burped after he was fed. He experienced the pain of teething, just like all of us did.
Instead of scorching the earth and starting over after the fall, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked through our brokenness to heal it. Jesus blazed the trail of what it means to be human, to show us how to be who we were created to be, to live into that life that we were created for, and to make it possible through his death and resurrection that we will be those sons of the Father, daughters of the Father. This is Jesus out ahead of us fixing the world from the inside. Fixing the problem from the inside. As has been related before, inoculating humanity. Becoming one of us and giving us that inoculation that we needed. One commentator said it very well, “Creation got spoken into being.” We read the Word spoke and things were created. “Salvation was shrieked into being.”
The Triune God could have wiped all of us out and started over and it would have been much cleaner and easier. Just start again. If he had to do it a thousand times before, until he found one that would do it. I don't think he ever would have. He could have kept going over and over and over again. That would have been much, much easier. It's easy just to speak that into creation again, and form another man out of the dirt and dust, and let's see how this one does. But instead, our Creator, that Son of God, he brought and is bringing new humanity to birth with all the shrieks and the sweat and the blood that it takes for that to happen. He came and he became one of us, and went through all of that the dirty, dusty, bloody mess that it was. Jesus Christ out of nowhere, the mysteries of Jesus in the Gospel. They're far too big for us to understand, just like this Melchizedek reference that we have there. The Gospel isn't just a pleasant message telling us to love each other. It's a world transforming radioactive, super powerful, somewhat, somehow familiar and completely strange at the same, power that that is changing us.
And then we looked at Jesus Christ right here. Jesus walked among us in the very weakness that was caused by sin that he never committed. He knows what it means to be human. So, he still walks among us by the Spirit. Lovingly patient, there with us, calming us in our fears and our anxieties. He knows what we're dealing with in the human experience. He's been here. He's done that.
Then, we looked at Christ out ahead of us. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, didn't start over. They didn't start over completely and just blow this away and start all over. They wrote themselves into the story. The very creator of humanity became human himself, to show us what it means to truly be human. And Jesus blazed a trail that we could never have blazed.
And now, the point for all of us is simply to follow that, to live in that, the thing that we're already included in, the reality of what it is. Let's be a part of that. Jesus, the high priest, was made low. He was correcting and healing and recreating all of us to be who we were meant to be.
Let's pray. Our Father, and Jesus, Holy Spirit. We're not deserving of what you did. What it cost for all of you to come down here and go through the humanity that you did in a way that none of us has ever experienced. We didn't do it without sin. We failed. We've failed. But you didn't. And you've inoculated humanity with what we need. Holy Spirit, you're here among us, to help us to not fail as often, and to begin to glimpse a little more each day, the reality of what we live in. The true reality that you have won the war. You've vanquished the powers that are against us. They're still there whispering. Still tempting us. That's all the power they have. We need to weep, to the point of bleeding. We need to weep and accept what you've done for us, and want to be walking in that way that you made for us, and living in that reality that you've set apart for us. Thank you for all you did for us. Thank you for coming here and being our high priest forever in that strange order of Melchizedek. One who's not like the 83 high priests that went on before, the human ones, but still knows what we're going through and deals with us because of that. Deals tenderly with us, gently with us. Thank you. We praise you. We ask all this in your name, Jesus. Amen.