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Category: Sin of idolatry

Jesus is the problem

Over the years, I have seen t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., which express a simple thought about Jesus in order to appeal to the un-churched.  One of them goes like this; ‘Jesus is the answer’.

While I don’t disagree with this statement, it doesn’t do too much to connect everyday people with their Savior.  Most people probably read this and then go about their day.

Let me offer an alternative, ‘Jesus is the problem’.

At first blush, this looks blasphemous.  Yet, let’s consider how Jesus was received by the Pharisees of his time:

 10Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9, NASB).

They had a problem with Jesus.  He wasn’t holding to the Law in the way that they were.  They were holding Him to a standard that focused on outward righteousness and adherence to the Law.  They expected Him to be ‘squeaky clean’.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Jesus touched the sick.  This was enough to make a person unclean!  An unclean rabbi?!! Perish the thought!  Jesus was their problem.

The Pharisees were caught up in their own righteousness defined by external law-keeping.  Instead of leading them to Christ, they were offended, no, scandalized by Jesus.  They couldn’t conceive of a God-man who was able to infect the sick with health, infect the blind with sight, infect the dead with life.

Their Law-observance led them away from the God who gave them the Law.  Law observance leads to two main directions: 1. Self-righteousness and unwillingness to become unclean, or 2. Despair and rejection of God’s Law (rebellion).  It lead the Pharisees to condemn Jesus and plot how they might destroy Him.  That’s one way to get rid of the problem!

You would think His disciples were better at understanding who Jesus was.  But, they were constantly jockeying for position:

35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10, NASB).

They believed Jesus would enter Jerusalem and fulfill the ascension Psalms (1 and 2).  They were about to have a great king, and they were on the inside!

So, Jesus corrected their thinking with the Servant Songs from the last portion of Isaiah (just read Isaiah 53).  Jesus had to become the scapegoat for human sin before He ascended to the throne.  Jesus was their problem.

Both the Pharisees and the disciples were Theologians of Glory.  The Pharisees were invested in their self-righteousness, position and power to be pleasing to God.  The disciples were invested in their sacrifice and in the ‘big pay off’ from following Jesus.

But, Jesus introduced a new Theology into the world.  Jesus was THE Theology of the Cross.  His death meant the end of the Law because He fulfilled the Law and swallowed the consequences for law-breakers.  The Pharisees who had believed that they were ‘pulling it off’ could now find the consequence to their behavior on the Cross that Jesus hung on.

The disciples, hopelessly defeated at Jesus’ death would find out that the truth was much deeper and greater than their own ambitions.  Jesus’ resurrection was the demonstration of the power of God.  It also meant that they lived in the reality of a new life; a new creation.  And, as the Spirit was poured on to them, they experienced the beginning of this new creation.  They became self-less, pouring out their lives in true sacrifice, rather than self-serving ambition.

We don’t want to think about this.  Christians don’t want to believe that they have a problem.  They’d rather go to their Christian chiropractor, their Christian dentist, and their Christian plumber and keep clean.  This is much easier than finding our righteousness was never ours from the start.  So, we return to our own vomit.

That’s why Jesus gets in the way of the things we really want to believe.  He gets in the way of what we really want to do.  All of the religious observance meant to earn God’s favor.  All of the brown-nosing ambition.  It’s all rooted in the same beetle-ridden dead tree; the self.

So, Jesus came.  The only way to end our self-idolatry was to die for it.  And in His death, at His cross, He frees us from bondage to law-keeping and selfish ambition.    He did this by becoming sin, being crucified and crushed for your sin and mine by God the Father.  He buries you with Him in Baptism.  And, the coup de grace was that he was justifying you in His resurrection.  He has made you a new creation through this work.

Therefore, there is no reason to return to the Law for righteousness.  Christ, Himself is your righteousness.  Live in the light of the Son of God who gave Himself for you.  The problem has become the answer.

Amen

 

Bound or free?

Why do I do what I do?

Over the short course of my career as a bi-vocational pastor, my eyes have been opened to the nature of sin.  It is not that I am pre-occupied by it.  The Lord made me in such a way to desire more than the simple answer.  I always want to know the answer to “why?”

It might go something like this; I see someone gossiping.  I understand that gossip is a sin, but if you simply address the surface-level sin, then you are treating the symptom, not the illness.  Other pastors might say, “Well, the root is sinfulness!”  That is true, too, but this statement doesn’t address the issue.

In my experience, it is helpful to consider the factors which lead someone to behave in this way.  I want to understand human behavior.  Buried under the human psyche, the surface sin might be emanating from something much deeper.  Maybe some kind of pain or trauma that the person has had.  Maybe a feeling of vulnerability that lies just beneath the surface.

So, whatever the case, I have come to realize that a person who spends their time gossiping is in bondage.  Just as a person who rebels against God’s Law is not free, but in bondage.  Just as another who judges their fellow man is in bondage.

A person can recognize that they are bound; they can clearly see their own issue(s).  They can even feel guilty or convicted by their behavior.  Yet, they are unable to change their behavior.  They are slaves of sin.  This understanding helps me to be compassionate towards the person.

Hiding from ourselves

It would be easy to separate and divide others outside the church from those inside the church.  We could say, “Yeah, but look at what they do!  They’re much worse than I am!”  Religiosity blinds us from the fact that “YOU are the man!”  We don’t want to admit that we Christians are the ones who need to be set free from the “law (read rule) of sin and death”.

In order to do this, we set up complex structures of excuses, justifications or claims of ignorance.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to see our sin.  To be honest with you, it’s because the old Adam (or Eve) in us doesn’t want to be seen for who he/she is.

We are so bound by desire to preserve the old Adam , that we will pretend to be faithful on the outside just so the old Adam never gets exposed from the inside.  Let’s face it, the old Adam is good at hiding.

As sons and daughters of Adam, we hide behind piety which keep us in control.  Instead of letting God have His way with us, we have strengthened ourselves against the God who would save us from sin.  In reading the Gospels, you will find that it was the religious leaders, so invested in their own piety, who resisted the free Gospel of Jesus Christ.

No Surprise

It comes as no surprise, then, that the most Christian among us display these ‘cracks in their armor’.  Why?  Because they are not cracks at all.  Gossipers, rebels, the judgmental all see themselves as righteous, not really needing God at all.  All of these manifestations of sin are the evidence of bondage to sin.

This principle can be applied to nearly anyone who displays gross sin.  Please understand, I am not saying that we are excused from sin because we are enslaved by it.  All of these behaviors emanate from our own hearts, not someone else’s.  The devil didn’t make me do it.  It’s in my blood and in yours.

Our hope isn’t in our piety or religious observance, in fact, these are contributing to the problem.  You and I are tempted to overcome sin by behaving in a “Christian” way.  It won’t work.  Our good behavior cannot end our bad behavior.  It simply keeps the old Adam in control.  Instead, we need to find outside help.

“Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death?”

Paul the apostle writes the above in Romans 7:24.  In fact, He uses the present tense verb, am in the phrase, “wretched man that I am!”  Paul is describing his present condition in relation to the law.  What is this Holy Apostle to do?

He writes this, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”.  Paul has abandoned himself (and his impeccable reputation) in light of his awareness of depth of sin.  He looks to the outside savior.  He looks not to the old Adam for overcoming sin that he sees in himself.  Instead, He looks to the New Adam, who overcame sin for him.

The experience Paul writes about is meant to help his readers identify with his plight and his salvation.  We are inside the struggling heart and mind of Paul, the Apostle.  And, he is not too proud to share his struggle with us.

His salvation came from the outside.  His Savior came from the outside.  Your Savior is completely outside of you, too.  He is on the cross dying for all of your sin and mine.  He is the only sacrifice for sin.

The church is where the outside work of Jesus makes a difference on our insides.  Not because we are religious or faithful, but because He is faithful to come to us in the proclamation of His Gospel.  He is faithful to be present in, with, and under the bread and wine (or, grape juice).  He is both the author and perfecter of our faith.  His forgiveness is a living forgiveness that is distributed by both word and sacrament.

Start new again.  In fact, start new every week.  Come wicked sinners.  Because, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15).  And, in the end, He will have His way with you anyhow (Forde).

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Fantasizing about proclaiming the Gospel

Long before I began taking classes leading to ordination, I fantasized about what it would be like to proclaim the Gospel.  Some people might call this “vain imaginings”.  They might be right, but I was interested in the message I could bring to people.

Well, it’s been 18 months since I took a call, and a self-evaluation is in order.

Proclaiming the Gospel every Sunday is very difficult.  I thought it would be easy, but the opposite is the case.

I have made the following errors in preaching:

  1. Mistaking intellectual titillation for proclamation.  That is, if I learned something about the history, traditions, Greek or Hebrew, or the literary style of a passage, I thought this would provoke deeper faith in the hearers
  2. Having an axe to grind.  I have been through many denominations and movements as a Christian, and some of the resentment I felt toward their theological errors worked itself into the sermon and poisoned it
  3. Having a chip on my shoulder.  In the first year, I was trying to prove that I was qualified to be in the pulpit.  Overstatements, provocative thoughts, accidental heresy 😦  , even raising my voice were the outworking of my effort to prove I was ‘good enough’ to be there.
  4. Replacing clichés for the gospel.  These phrases had a lack of depth, but I was determined to bring Christ into the picture.  I can’t tell you how many times I used the word “forever” or “Jesus died for you”
  5. Overcomplicating the sermon.  I wanted to put everything I learned into the proclamation.  If you have never seen a group of people be confused before, this is the way to go!

I have been very fortunate to have a forgiving and grace-filled community to lead.  Just as a doctor has a ‘practice’, because s/he is always improving, so it is with the pastor.

Here are a couple of recommendations for recovering from these mistakes:

  1. Theology is for Proclamation by Gerhard Forde – In this work, Forde talks about the ‘Preached God’ and the ‘God not preached’.  Systematic theology, exegesis and history are the God not preached
  2. Glenn L. Monson’s blog, Law and Gospel Everywhere:  http://gluthermonson.blogspot.com/  He also has a great book that leads one through lectionary preaching; Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
  3. The Holy Spirit.  Ask Him to guide you back to proclamation.  Ask Him to help you see the law/gospel couplets in a passage.  Ask Him to help you see Christ in the passage.  Otherwise, you will wear out your brain trying to figure things out.  These are God’s people, ask HIM to feed HIS sheep

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Psalm 19:1:

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Romans 1:20:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

These verses would seem to imply that Scripture is not necessary to know God.  Additionally, it calls into question the need for church, not to mention the sacraments. In fact, any intermediary could be perceived as an obstacle to seeing God for who He is.

But, what is perceived about God?  His Glory, His eternal power, and His divine nature.  Can you and I find comfort in these things?  We might be awed by this creation, feeling very small and insignificant, but not comforted.

The God perceived in nature never leads us to Jesus.  It never leads us to a justifying God.  It never leads us to forgiveness.  For that matter, it never leads us to seeing our sins for what they are.

Where does one learn of these things?  Where does one find salvation from a Glorious, eternally powerful, divine God?  Only in the church where Christ is rightly proclaimed, where the law and Gospel are rightly divided, and where the sacraments are given for you.  Now, that’s Glorious!

Unwilling

Tullian Tchividjian wrote a book called, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”. I have taken a look at it on Amazon to see if it would be an interesting read. I began to look at the comments to see what others said about this book.

I looked at the lowest scores and saw that my former pastor, Michael Fabarez had critiqued the book. His criticism was a clear example of conflicting theologies. His comments attacked the type of sanctification Tullian proposed. Pastor Fabarez employed scriptural ‘proof texts’ to refute the non-‘biblical’ view of sanctification that Tullian was supporting.

To understand why Pastor Fabarez did this, one needs to explore the foundation of his thinking. He is completely invested in Lordship Salvation theology.

Lordship Salvation theology teaches that from beginning to end, our faith works synergistically with God’s grace in obedience so that we can be Holy Christians. The presupposition is that we have enough good in us to say yes to God by making a decision for Him. Our will has the ability to say yes to God. In fact, the human will is seen as a sort of ‘neutral agent’ or even a positive, sinless agent in relation to God. Thus, the synergy of human will and God’s demands in Scripture continues throughout the Christian life.

The reformers of the 16th century dealt with similar theologies. Luther used the term ‘Semi-Pelagian’ to characterize the Roman Catholics who held this view. Calvinists had to confront Arminians who held to the synergistic model, as well. Lordship Salvation may appear to be evangelical, but this is an illusion.  It is nothing more than a re-hash of the medieval ‘divine spark’ theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

With such a strong faith in human will, it is also a rejection of the biblical concept of total depravity as seen in the letters Paul wrote to the Colossians and Ephesians. What can this mean, ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1) or, ‘And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses’ (Colossians 2:13). Neither of these verses supports the idea that we have the smallest ability to ‘repent and believe’ by an act of will.

The other significant issue is that of sanctification. This is where Lordship Salvation proponents really dig in their heels. Sanctification is a matter of total surrender and obedience to the commands in Scripture. The Reformed call these ‘imperatives’. These imperatives fit into a model of biblical interpretation.

Lordship Salvation adherents interpret their Bibles more than literally, however, they interpret their Bibles literalistic-ally. That is, everything, even poetry, analogies, metaphors and parables are bent into shapes they were never meant to hold. Anything that is not a command or directive is seen as secondary to the life of the believer.

Scripture is used aggressively within the church and against those outside of Lordship Salvation. Instead of examining the hermeneutics one uses, adherents simply assert, “the Bible says it”. Context, original purpose, audience, and the overall narrative of Scripture are minimized for the argument one makes from a single verse.

And, the overall narrative is misunderstood, as well. It is a narrative of Law as lord. It is important to remember that there was a 400+ year span between Abraham (faithful) and Moses (thus, the giving of the Law) when faithful people had no Law.

It is also lost in the discussion that Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law for you. Instead, the emphasis is on the ability one has to repent, believe, and obey. In short, Lordship Salvation is an invitation to centering your belief on … yourself. The reformers called it, ‘incurvitas en se’, or ‘being curved in on oneself’. It is the perfect theology for the self-centered people of our present-day culture. You are still in control. No need to be crucified and resurrected, just dusted off and shined up a little. No need for Jesus, just a strict moral adherence which will make you right as rain. The ultimate goal is the binding of the will to God’s commands.

The Law is not used properly in such a hermeneutic. Instead of being a mirror by which one sees his/her own sin, the Law is tailored and pacified into achievable goals to live by, instead of the raging lion that reveals our total sinfulness.

Contrary to Lordship Salvation’s foundational belief about the human will, the will is neither neutral nor good. Jesus says so in Matthew 23:37 and in John 5:40. Contextually, the latter verse is addressed to the ‘religious’ people of Jesus’ day (read Pharisees) who “… search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life …” However, they missed the point, “… and it is these that bear witness of me” (emphasis mine).

To believe that the will is somehow entirely sanctified after one repents and believes is to deny the reality of sinfulness. It is to say that when we sin, it is not sin, but just a mistake.

It is no wonder Pastor Fabarez must aggressively attack Pastor Tchividjian’s book. He isn’t just fighting for his ideas, he’s fighting to keep the Old Man (read ‘Old Adam’) in control. He’s fighting to keep the Old Adam alive. He’s fighting to keep the Holy Spirit’s work of magnifying Christ out of his church. He’s fighting to continue being god, as are all those who hold to Lordship Salvation.

The cultural re-definition of sin

English: This is the top left photo of File:Wa...

English: This is the top left photo of File:Washington for Jesus 1980.jpg uploaded by User:SoftAnswer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was bound to happen.  In a culture that rejects God (and therefore, objective right and wrong), man has taken on the role of god.  Whether it is the anti-theist camp, environmental saviors, or “breast milk is the best milk” crowd, someone is out to judge your actions.  This proves that there are no true relativists when it comes to morality.

I have read and heard these judgements in various forms.  Health-obsessed people judging overweight Christians for having potlucks.  A man in a park judging me vocally for giving a duck a french fry.  In these cases, and others I have heard about, people have assumed godhood and the right to judge and condemn others based on whatever modern attitude prevails.

But before I get to far in the cultural analysis, it is important to note that judgmental attitudes can be found everywhere.  It is not simply a modern movement.  In fact, it might be fair to say that Christians in the U.S. have had their fair share to play in creating judgmental and condemning attitudes.

Judgment and condemnation of others has existed throughout human history.  The Pharisees condemned Jesus for eating with “sinners”.  Judaizers in the early church judged gentile believers, thus prompting Paul to defend the gentiles in the book of Galatians.  In the early church, rich Christians judged their poor brothers, prompting James to write the book named for him.

Ultimately, both Jews and gentiles judged condemned and executed God in the person of Jesus Christ.

There is a place for judgment.  In fact, both Galatians and James are written to utterly destroy the false judgments of Christians criticizing one another.  But, what is the point of the judgment of judges?  Both Paul and James were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write scathing condemnations of other believers.  The end goal was to bring these judgmental people back into the church with a more humble attitude and a recognition of their utter need of Christ for forgiveness.

John 7:

16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” [emphases mine]

When confronted by religious people who judged and condemned Jesus, Jesus points out their sin.  The fundamentalists who condemned people over and over again without reflecting on the fact that judgment doesn’t bring about repentance are now the brunt of the anti-theist movement (for good reason).

Romans 2:

1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? [this was written to Christians]

And where do we see God’s kindness?  In God’s total judgment of human sin by pouring out all His wrath upon Jesus.  He has died for our judgmental attitudes.  In fact, He has died for all judgment.  He, Himself, is the mercy of God for Christians, anti-theists, environmental saviors and the “breast milk is the best milk” crowd.  Now and forever.  Amen.

The Law self-improvement program

scaled

scaled (Photo credit: wader)

People are using the opportunity of the new year to start a new program.  It might be to lose weight, learn more, become more positive, or even get a better job.  Television is inundated with infomercials for exercise, diet and other programs all aimed at helping you “reach your goals”.

Within the Christian community, many people are already feeling a little overwhelmed with their goal to read the Bible in a year.  It’s a resolution that requires much discipline, effort and time.

Other Christians are thinking more about their “sanctification”.  They are re-doubling their effort to overcome “sins of the flesh”, and other moral failings.  In some cases, this means that they are turning to the objective words of Scripture, especially, the Law.The law I am referring to is not merely those set forth in the Old Testament, but even and especially those commands found in the New.  Many modern evangelicals are directed there by their pastors to find a “Jacob’s Ladder” of rules which will help them in their efforts towards religious self-improvement.

Inevitably, like other resolutions, the one to “work out your sanctification” becomes burdensome.  But the burden is not external failure, it’s internal judgment.  The Law cuts through joints and marrow as mentioned in Hebrews 4:12:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

A steady diet of rules to follow will lead to starvation of the soul.  In fact, it will lead to bitterness, resentment and hatred toward God.  It is much like the judgment Martin Luther experienced at the hands of Medieval Roman Catholic rules for living the Christian life.

What Luther found (as other Christians have also found who have read his works) was that their is no “self-improving” through Law.  There is only death to be found there.  And the God who has given these laws and commandments has also resolved to fulfill them.  He did this only one time.  He did this by sending His own Son to fulfill them.  It was a resolution that was kept, fulfilled and finished by Jesus alone.  Any other antidote to the problems of ongoing sin rests in our own anthropocentric self-idolatry.

We think we need a “fix”; a repair job for those parts of us which are less becoming.  As Christians, this is actually walking away from the Sanctifier.  It is the rejection of Jesus in favor of self-made religion.  Following the Law for personal sanctification feeds the Old , sinful Adam.  The Adam that Jesus came to drown.

Jesus has drowned him.  And, He continues to drown him as we read Scripture, hear Scripture, are baptized, receive communion and listen as the pastor rightly divides Law from Gospel.

Here, then is the resolution I hope for all Christians this year:  Allow the Good News of Christ’s utter fulfillment of the Law and bestowing His total holiness upon us poor, miserable sinners renew us in the faith once delivered to the saints.  He alone completely fulfilled the resolution to rescue us from our sin.  We cannot and should not attempt to replace Him with our own efforts.

Amen

 

 

Children of promise

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (...

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (Gen. 21:14-20) Русский: Агарь и Измаил в пустыне (Быт. 21:14-20) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Galatians 4:

24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

If you’ve read much of the Old Testament from Exodus on, you might get the impression that God is really interested in Israel.  And, you’d be right.  He spent a lot of time making a people His own who had no claim on God whatsoever.  God called them out of Egypt by Grace.

They wandered in the desert and were provided for directly from the hand of the Lord.  Yet, God took the time in the midst of this “transitional period” to give them the Ten Commandments.  Why?  Weren’t they getting along?

But before the ink on the stone had dried (figuratively speaking), they were building a golden calf to worship.  Israel was a nation of … idolaters.

Of course, that is symptomatic of mankind in general.  Israel, like Adam, were the best possible representatives of the human race.  But they couldn’t remain loyal to Yahweh or Moses long enough for them to “finish business”.

As time went by, Israel broke these and many other laws that the Lord gave them.  Time after time, they would be taken by other nations into slavery as punishment.  Eventually, they added more laws to God’s laws so that they wouldn’t get close enough to break the real thing.

It’s like if you told a child, “don’t pick up that vase”.  The real problem is you don’t wan them to drop it, but to make sure this doesn’t happen, you anticipate and give them a command that subverts their intent.

This was the situation with Israel as Christ entered the picture.  The Pharisees asked why the disciples of Jesus broke their rules.  Jesus would respond by asking them why they broke the rules of God.

And so, Israel was at it again, making a golden calf out of man-made laws.  They were worshiping their own obedience, their own morality, their own righteousness.  They became living idols to themselves.

This Pharisaic form of Judaism crept into the church, as well.  Paul, who was a Jew of Jews, absolutely rejects the notion that returning to law will “right” the behavior of the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.  He asserts that the judaizers in the church were sons of Hagar and Ishmael rather that Sarah and Isaac.  Why?

Because they held that their sonship was maintained by their efforts to hold to God’s Law as revealed in the Old Testament.  They had forgotten the foundation of the Ten Commandments which read “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt.  They had forgotten that they were not a people before God chose and rescued them.  They had forgotten how He parted the Sea.  They had forgotten how the Israelites were fed by bread from heaven and water from a rock.  They had forgotten that they stood on the mercy of God.

They were children of promise who sold their birthright for the bitter meal of Law-keeping self-idolatry.

But, Paul speaks to the gentile converts and says that they (like Israel) were children of promise.  They were children of old, old Sarah.  They were the last born.  They were not the “seed”, but were children of Ishmael who were transplanted into the stump.  They were adopted by God Himself in Jesus Christ.  They were now sons of the living God.

The laws that they lived under were slavery to every form of gross sin under the sun; temple prostitution, orgies, drunkenness, jealousy, envy, etc.  They were slaves to their desires.  Their gods were their stomachs.

But it was for freedom that Christ had set them free.  Was He setting them free to observe the Pharisaic morality invading the early church?  No, He was setting them free to live in the constant light of God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace distributed through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  He was setting them free from gross sin, so why would he want them to learn the Pharisaic idolatry of the judaizers?  That is religious sin.

We face this today in the church.  Many would like to enslave you with demands, guilt and manipulation.  These vipers should not think that they will receive one thing from God.  They have become idolators of the worst sort.  They have abandoned Christ and all His mercy.  They have returned to the vomit of self-righteous living.  And they want you to follow along.

I suggest telling them this, “Get behind me Satan!  The Son has set me free.  He has fulfilled all of the Law’s demands and has been fully punished for my sin.  There is no other name on earth or in Heaven by which a man may be saved, including yours.”

Life in the Middle

Life in the middle

 

Have you ever seen the show, “In the middle”?  It’s about a family who lives in the mid-west and they are middle-classed.  The parents are middle-aged and they struggle through life.  Their appliances are continually breaking down, their kids have quirks and issues and their furniture is run-down.

 

They accept their middle of the road lifestyle.  Yeah, sometimes the mom has aspirations to live a more productive life, but eventually all her best efforts lead her to the same place she began.

 

In the New Testament, Acts stands out as an interesting book.  It is a series of stories, like the Gospels, but it’s not a letter like the epistles.  It’s smack-dab in between the Gospels and the epistles, too.

 

Our passage in Acts today tells us about a time in between two important events in the New Testament.  The first is the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven which we celebrated this past Thursday.  Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of sight.  He ascended to His throne in Heaven.

 

The second important event, which we will celebrate next Sunday is Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  After this event, began the greatest missionary effort of the Christian church in history.  This wasn’t a lukewarm experience for them.

 

But, the time between these two incredible events was a little … slow.  The disciples went back to Jerusalem and waited at the place they were staying.  They reunited at a central location.

 

We can get into a rut, too.  The Sunday after Easter isn’t as well attended.  The flowers don’t have quite the same glory as before, and everyone seems a little bit run-down.  We gather to pray and hear God’s word, but it just isn’t the same thing.

 

It’s kind of like high school graduation.  You reach the top of the platform to receive a diploma, but by the next week, you’re thinking about the next step in life.  You’re beginning again.

 

Maybe you’ve just lost your job, or are newly retired.  You’re thinking, “now what?”  It’s that sense of being lost, in limbo, but not quite in purgatory.  It’s the doldrums.  At times like this, we “re-assess” and “consider our options”.  We want a new life, a strong and stable identity.  You might pray more, and read the Bible more in order to find “God’s will” in the situation.

 

In our passage, the disciples began to pray.   They were praying together as one body including Jesus’ mother, Mary, and His brothers.  And Jesus was there, too.  Matthew records Jesus saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”(18:20).

 

This was the beginning of a community.  And this community wasn’t so small.  In fact, when Peter stood up to talk, there were 120 people present.  He stood in the middle of them and spoke about Judas.

 

He was putting things into perspective.  After Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter realized how the prophecies by King David in the Psalms were fulfilled by Judas.

 

And, who was better to realize this than Peter, who denied Jesus, and may have realized that He was this close (finger gesture) to being counted with Judas.  If it wasn’t for the intervention of Jesus praying for Peter before the Father, we might have had a different story.  Acts might have focused on John, or James, or Andrew instead.

 

But, Jesus did intervene.  He knew Peter would fall.  He knew he would deny Jesus.  Despite this, Jesus steps into the gap and prays for Peter: Luke records in Chapter 22, verses 31-32:

 

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

 Jesus gave him the promise that Peter would turn again, despite his falling.

 

Peter’s sin lead him to weep bitterly for his betrayal.  It’s a sin that repeats over and over again.  If you consider the Old Testament Israelites and how they so readily worshipped the golden calf Aaron made.  God was so angry that He basically told Moses to step aside while he destroyed the entire nation.  Thankfully, Moses intervened and Israel was spared.

 

At other times, God simply struck down those who would betray Him by following other gods.  The sacrifice of animals was not enough to intercede on their behalf.

 

You and I, too, have a tendency to go astray.  Maybe we fall into a form of worship of personalities, politicians or our own position in life.  We get caught up in money, importance and security.  But our God is a jealous God.  He will not share His glory with anyone, including you or me.  In fact, Jesus Christ has stepped into the middle of human history for one purpose; to kill us.  Because, unless He drowns the Old Adam in the waters of baptism, He cannot resurrect us.  If we remain hopeful in one work to make ourselves right before God, then we are making ourselves god.  In a word, we commit idolatry.

 

We are made aware of this idolatry and other sins through the preaching of the Law.  The law, though, is not the sum and total of Christian preaching.  A preacher who only tells you about the Law and what you should be doing is leading you into the bondage of self-righteousness.

 

Jesus has come and fulfilled all righteousness for you.  He has obeyed His Father perfectly for you.  He was the “middle man” who defended you and I before the damning testimony of our sin.  He has set you free from the rule of sin and death.  And He has come to begin the final assault on our greatest enemy; our own sinfulness.

 

The beginning of this assault was at the waters of your baptism.  It continues every time a brother or sister pray for you and with you.  It continues as Christ is present in the communion for the feeding of your faith.  It continues as you hear the word rightly preached.  And, when we go astray, make no mistake about it, the good shepherd is willing to leave 99 other sheep to find you.

 

Jesus is the intervening God who died on a cross in the middle of two criminals to become our eternal intercessor.  And, He didn’t stop there.  Jesus Christ still stands before the Father, praying on our behalf as the great high priest.  The lot has been cast in your favor in Christ. He never ceases, continually working for our salvation.

 

And He has given you a new identity; you are a son or daughter of the living God.  We have been made the children of God through His blood.  Because of this, we can pray with Jesus, saying “Our Father who art in heaven”, all in Jesus’ name.

 

To God be the glory now and forever,

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is the Gospel

The gospel is not:  a decision to receive, believe, retrieve your own personal Jesus.

The gospel is not: making Him Lord, re-dedicating your life, saying a “sinner’s prayer”

In fact, the Gospel is completely outside of your (or my) activity.

The Gospel is ALL God’s activity through Jesus Christ.

What is ‘Gospel’?  It means ‘Good News’.

It is Jesus dying on the cross for your sin and my sin, and being raised in resurrection, so we can have the gift of resurrection in Him.

What’s the bad news?

First, the world is fallen and it can’t get up

Second, the devil is a fallen angel, not an archaic, pre-logical myth

Third, we have fallen into our coffin, and are bound to a horrible eternal end unless there’s an intervention

In other words, the situation is hopeless.

God loves hopeless situations.

God loves hopeless sinners.

Because Jesus was given as a sacrifice for sin.  He came to seek and save that which was lost.  Jesus came for sinners (including me).

And, He continues to be the good news for us.

When we confess our sin (not a feeling), He is faithful and just to forgive us based on His bloody death.

When we have doubt (by the way, doubt means you have faith to begin with), He remains faithful as a priest before the Father in Heaven.

When we are hungry for good news, we can find it in the promise that God has sent a deliverer in Jesus.  He hasn’t come for “good people”, but for those who have no hope in themselves.

He is hope fulfilled.  Both now and forever.  Amen.

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