Woe or Wow #2

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

        In an article updated just a month ago (January 27, 2021), Sarah Pruitt wrote on History channel website “5 Things You May Not Know About the Challenger Shuttle Disaster.”  We all know the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after lift-off on January 28, 1986.  All seven astronauts on board were killed.

1. The Challenger didn’t actually explode.
The shuttle’s demise looked like an explosion, the media called it an explosion and NASA officials described it that way at first. Later investigations revealed that seal in the shuttle’s right solid-fuel rocket booster was weakened by frigid temperatures and failed. Hot gas poured through the leak. The fuel tank collapsed and tore apart.  The resulting flood of liquid oxygen and hydrogen created the fireball many thought was an explosion.

2. The astronauts aboard the shuttle didn’t die instantly.
After the fuel tank collapsed, the Challenger was momentarily intact, and actually continued flying upwards. Soon, however, powerful aerodynamic forces pulled the orbiter apart. Frightening as it is to say so, it’s likely that the Challenger’s crew survived the breakup of the shuttle but lost consciousness from loss of cabin pressure but likely died from hitting the water at more than 200 miles per hour.

        I won’t trouble you with the other three lesser-known truths. My point in all of this is that seven people trusted their lives to technology and lost.  What brought this to my mind is the central point of God’s message to us today:

God calls you to trust Him, not anything else.

Worldly things are not prone to fail, they are bound to fail.  We have to trust them to a certain degree, just to live and work in the world.  But ultimately, spiritually, nothing in this world is worthy of our complete trust.  God alone has earned that position.

1. Matthew 23:16-22 = Woe to Those who Trust in Worldly Things

        Woe #3 in Matthew 23 is directed at those who, as shown by their oath-taking, put more importance on the material wealth of the temple than its spiritual wealth.  Among the Jews, swearing an oath was an important issue.  To swear an oath but not keep it was considered perjury.  To swear by God and then fail to keep your word was blasphemy.

        I believe swearing by the GOLD or the GIFT played upon a natural but spiritually immature tendency to value material things over spiritual things.  Jesus exposed the worldliness of this approach by reminding them that the spiritual, transcendent things were of greater value.  He said it was the TEMPLE that made the GOLD SACRED, not the other way around.  It was the ALTAR that made the GIFT SACRED, not the other way around.  Just because you can put a price on something, that does not mean it is more valuable than something literally priceless, like our faith and relationship with God.

        The whole matter of oath-swearing may sound petty in our ears, but we need to think about it.  Swearing oaths receives a fair amount of instruction in the Bible and is important for that reason alone.  Also, that culture did not have the benefit of signatures, fingerprints, paper records, computers, etc. – all our modern means of verifying identity.  In that culture, swearing an oath took on a similar function, binding the parties in a contract to keep the contract.  Oath-taking had an important legal function in their society and pious people were also under divine directive to keep the oaths they swore.

        Jesus’ solution to this problem was to do away with oath-swearing entirely.  In Matthew 5:33-37 He instructed them to be honest and have integrity; “LET YOUR ‘YES’ BE ‘YES’ AND YOUR ‘NO’ BE ‘NO,’” He said.  To underscore this point He added, “ANYTHING BEYOND THIS COMES FROM THE EVIL ONE.”

        These days, this same kind of materialism is manifest in the American Church in at least two ways.  One, by their primary/sole concern for buildings, budgets, bodies, and by-laws and neglect of the Bible, beliefs, and blessings, some church-going folk betray their hypocrisy.  Like the GOLD and the GIFT these are concrete things that can be counted, measured, seen, and potentially controlled.  What a person values reveals a lot about the depth of their spiritual maturity.

        Two, by their primary/sole concern for the approval of politically correct culture, immersion in social media, and trust in technology to the neglect of biblical morality, theology, and integrity.  People who allow their beliefs to be determined by the culture, creed, or circumstance instead of Scripture are hypocrites.

2. Psalm 20:1-9 = Blessed are Those who Trust in the Lord.

        There are several promises made in this Psalm, all of them indicate the LORD hears and saves His people (1-6, 9).  We’ll take a look at these promises and then at the caution against trusting in worldly things.

        To those in DISTRESS, He offers protection (1). Perhaps the most sincere prayer is one uttered in a time of DISTRESS.  The NAME of God is a way of referring to His character and power; God Himself will PROTECT the pious pray-er.  The word PROTECT is based on a root word “to make high, inaccessible.”  The picture here is God putting His people someplace safe, removed from harm.

        The reference to the GOD OF JACOB looks back as Exodus 3:14-15; 6:2-3.  This was the name God gave Moses at the burning bush.  It is also a reminder; “God saved Jacob from Esau’s wrath and other things.  He will save you too.”

        From His temple, God promises HELP and SUPPORT (2).  THE SANCTUARY and ZION are references to the temple and the “mountain” on which it was constructed.  Historically, the kings of Israel who cared most about God’s temple were the ones who prospered.  The Old Testament affirmed that God’s presence was localized at the temple but not limited to it.  God is present everywhere, but He is especially present in those sacred spaces that are truly dedicated to Him.

        The word SUPPORT meant “strengthen” and could include provision of food and drink (Judges 19:5, 8; Psalms 104:15) or other means of assistance that give evidence to God’s loving care for His people.  He kept His part of the covenant.

        God promises to REMEMBER your SACRIFICES and ACCEPT your OFFERINGS (3).  The Law of God required His people to make animal sacrifices for various reasons.  On the surface, this looked like the same thing as the sacrifices offered to idols by the pagan nations.  The difference was the people of Israel were to offer sacrifices out of faithful hearts, demonstrating love for God and obedience to His commands.  On the other hand, the pagans were attempting to buy the favor of their false gods or appease their anger.  Their motives were entirely different.  In God’s eyes, the value of the sacrifice didn’t determine His response, it was the integrity and motive of the person making the offering that mattered.

        The word REMEMBER may be another way of saying ACCEPT, or it may be an assurance the godly behavior will be met with godly reward.  ACCEPT is based on a root word which meant “be fat.”  This is God showing His favorable response to their sacrifice because it was offered with a good motive and a true heart.

        He will reward you with THE DESIRE OF YOUR HEART and with success (4).  1 Kings 9:4 = INTEGRITY OF HEART was one of the conditions God gave Solomon to qualify for an everlasting throne.  We know Solomon lost that integrity over time and his kingdom was split in the next generation.

        It is God who decides rewards and punishments in perfect proportion to a person’s faithfulness or lack thereof.  Additionally, God has created the world in such a way that there are natural and more immediate rewards and punishments for our attitudes and actions.  Implied in this verse is the natural understanding that godly people are wise people and wise people tend to make better plans and are more likely to succeed.

        The references to HEART and PLANS seem to include the emotional and intellectual sides of human personality and decision-making.  The real recipe for success is to use one’s heart and mind to perceive the will of God and to seek it.  If we make God’s will the DESIRE OF our HEART and the center of our PLANS, the obviously we are more likely we will receive “Yes” answers to our prayers.

        God said He will award victory that will be an occasion for JOY and praise to God (5).  The BANNER mentioned here may be a reference to Exodus 17:15-16 where Moses set up an altar and called it “THE LORD IS MY BANNER.”  Its purpose was to remind Israel they were at war with the Amalekites FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION because of their treachery against Israel.  This was a demonstration of loyalty to God and that may be the point here as well. The psalmist is saying the proper response of faithful people is JOY because they know it is God who has delivered the victory.

        He will GRANT your prayer requests.  Verse five says MAY THE LORD GRANT ALL YOUR REQUESTS.  Note the verse ends with a reference to prayer.  That implies even after God has given the victory, His people are to continue praying.

        Verse six says God will answer His people FROM HIS HOLY HEAVEN.  Though God is HOLY and has His throne in HEAVEN, He is not so far removed that He is ignorant of what we are going through or does not care.  HE ANSWERS the prayers of His people.  We need to get this straight and help others understand; when God’s people are praying there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer.”

        Verse nine says God will ANSWER US WHEN WE CALL. This also repudiates the notion of “unanswered prayer.”  God may respond with a “Yes,” in agreement with our prayers; He may respond with a “No” because what we asked for is not His will; He may respond with a “Wait” because the time is not right.  Those are all legitimate answers.

        All the resources of heaven will be deployed in defense of the LORD’s ANOINTED (6).  The word SAVES in verse six is from the same root as VICTORIOUS in verse five. The psalmist wrote of victories yet to come, but is so confident he speaks of his grateful response as if they’ve already happened.

         “The Anointed One” is the ultimate meaning of the word “messiah” and Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises in that regard.  However, the promises of God’s victory are also given to God’s people through the Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

        He will SAVE the leaders of His people (9).  The reference to the KING in this verse makes some commentators think the whole psalm is about the king.  Even if the king is the person in view, these principles still apply to all God’s people.

        And now for the warning; those who trust in anything else are headed for a fall (7-8).  People trusting in CHARIOTS and HORSES will be BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL.  Even though there was no king over Israel at the time Moses spoke these words, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 commanded the king not to accumulate horses or wives. (You guess which was used in war and which in peace!)  The reason for this was to avoid trusting in worldly things.  Instead, the king was to keep the commands of the Lord always before him and obey them.

        It is tempting to be self-reliant.  It seems easier to rely on worldly preparations.  But God wants us to rely on Him instead.  Though everyone else may TRUST in worldly things and stake their future on their own preparedness, God’s people are to be distinguished by their reliance on God.

        Think of it this way; when a war is won by having more CHARIOTS AND HORSES, that glorifies the king and his generals.  But when a tactically inferior force defeats a greatly superior opponent, it is God who is glorified.

        In contrast to those who think a stack of worldly goods is all they need, people trusting in THE NAME OF THE LORD will RISE UP AND STAND FIRM.  They face doubts and discouragements, sure, but are always lifted up and encouraged by God’s sovereign hand.

God calls you to trust Him, not anything else.

        In this situation, a hypocrite may be defined as someone who claims to trust God but actually cares more about worldly things.  Remember, if God is not first in your life, He isn’t in it at all.

        What does trust in God mean?  What does it look like in daily living?

1) You are not going to panic when finances and circumstances go against you or don’t go the way you want.

2) You are more prone to pray and to consult the Bible before making decisions.

3) Your character will be increasingly marked by positivity and peace.

4) You will not be driven by greed or pride; love will more often motivate your words and deeds.

5) Your contribution to church meetings will more often be praise, less often complaints, corrections, or drama over details.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Psalms, Willem A. VanGemeren.

Hard Sayings of Jesus, F.F. Bruce

https://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-challenger-shuttle-disaster

Message #394

Woe or Wow #1 – Gatekeeper or Gatecrasher?

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

      What we read in Matthew 22 + 23 is the climax of a running battle between Jesus and the chief opponents to His ministry, the TEACHERS OF THE LAW and the PHARISEES.  Jesus threw the gauntlet down early in His ministry: MTW 5:20 quotes Jesus as saying, “FOR I TELL YOU THAT UNLESS YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS SURPASSES THAT OF THE PHARISEES AND THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW, YOU WILL CERTAINLY NOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.”  I’m sure they thought NO ONE was more righteous than they were and took exception to this from the beginning.  Their opposition was a necessity in the plan of God as the party of the Pharisees would lead the charge to call for Jesus’ crucifixion.  One can explain Jesus’ butting heads with the hypocrites as Him working the situation to bring about the right amount of antagonism at the right time.

      I’ve titled this series of messages “Woe or Wow” to contrast Jesus’ identification of their hypocrisy with another Bible passage that encourages the opposite virtue.  This series is a call to avoid the vice of hypocrisy and to seek out godly virtues instead.

God commissioned you to invite people to join the kingdom, not to keep them out.

      Context – When used in the bible, the word WOE can be a compassionate, “Alas!” or a warning, “Watch out,” or a mix of the two feelings.  In this chapter Jesus pronounced seven different woes and given what He said with them, these are of the “Watch out” variety.  In v. 2 Jesus specified the target of these rebukes as being the TEACHERS OF THE LAW and PHARISEES, but these warnings apply to everyone guilty of hypocrisy.

1. Matthew 23:13-15 = “Woe to Those who Keep Others Out of the Kingdom”

A. Woe #1 – Woe to those who shut the door of heaven in people’s faces (13).

      1) YOU SHUT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IN MEN’S FACES refers to their opposition to Jesus.

            a) Jesus came to God’s people, the Jews, to be received as their Messiah.

            b) Instead, leaders like the TEACHERS OF THE LAW and the PHARISEES, rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and actively campaigned against Him, seeking to reduce Jesus’ reputation among the people.

      2) YOU YOURSELVES DO NOT ENTER, NOR WILL YOU LET THOSE ENTER WHO ARE TRYING TO means the hypocrites compounded the error of their unbelief by actively misleading those who might have believed in Jesus if left to decide for themselves.

      3) Since the Pharisees are so often the villain of the story in the Gospels, we wonder why anybody in that culture listened to them. 

            a) The historical truth is the Pharisees were the religious leaders who were closest to the common person. 

            b) Of the other religious parties, the Sadducees and Herodians were too elite and too political to bother with commoners and the Essenes had effectively checked out of popular culture entirely.

B. Woe #2 – Woe to those who have a zealousness that does more harm than good (15).

      1) Their zeal to expand their faith and influence was misguided but undeniable.

            a) Historical sources describe the years from 1-72 AD as being a period of intense missionary effort on the part of the Jews, resulting in the expansion of the Jewish faith around the Roman empire.

            b) This means Jesus is not exaggerating too much in His description of the effort they would put into winning A SINGLE CONVERT. 

      2) The wrongness of their cause and the harm they inflicted on their converts was powerfully expressed by Jesus when he said, “YOU MAKE HIM TWICE AS MUCH A SON OF HELL AS YOU ARE.”

            a) He did not criticize their zeal so much as what they did with the CONVERT once they had one, which was to subvert him to their party platform and make him an even greater slave of legalism than they were.

            b) All falsehood has its origin in Satan, so Jesus was not resorting to hyperbole when he identified those who accept and propagate falsehood as a SON OF HELL.

2. John 1:43-51 = “Blessed are the Inviters”

A. Philip as an example of an inviter (44-45).

      1) Philip invited Nathanael to COME AND SEE that God’s promised Messiah had arrived.

            a) In lists of the disciples Nathanael is listed as Bartholomew, but that’s really a last name (“Son of Tolmai”) so we expect this is Nathanael.

      2) Philip’s approach was positive and personal, and Nathanael’s response was curiosity; he went to see.

            a) The LAW is reference to the first five books of the OT.  Along with the PROPHETS, this was the way Jews referred to the entire OT.

            b) Though he must’ve been curious about Philip’s claim, Nathanael expressed some skepticism about Nazareth (46).

– The word of GOOD here refers to a person of high worth and merit.

– Both Philip and Nathanael came from Bethsaida, which was, along with Nazareth, located in Galilee, so we may have Nathanael talking smack out of a local rivalry.

– Historically we know that people from Judea looked down on Galileans and Galileans looked down on people from Nazareth.

B. Jesus is THE example of an ace inviter (43, 46-51).

      1) Jesus invited Philip to “FOLLOW ME.”

            a) In JHN, Philip is the only person Jesus invited to FOLLOW Him.

            b) This simple invitation is extended to others in other Gospels.

      2) Jesus’ approach to Nathanael was to reveal God’s power and promise; Nathanael’s response was to believe in Jesus.

            a) In the original language, Jesus’ greeting is a play on words; he starts the conversation having a bit of fun with Nathanael. Also, Nathanael’s earlier comment on Nazareth and his response in v. 48 both reveal the kind of bluntness that is characteristic of a totally honest person.  Nathanael didn’t sugarcoat his words.

            b) – The phrase UNDER THE FIG TREE can be taken literally or figuratively or both:

– Nathanael may’ve been literally sitting under a FIG TREE when Philip approached him.  Jews of the time customarily sat under a tree to pray and meditate privately.  Fig tree can produce a lot of shade and low branches offer some privacy.

– In the OT, a FIG TREE is a figure of speech, a symbol of shelter the Messiah would provide for true Israelites (MCH 4:4; ZCH 3:10), a place of peace and safety (1KS 4:25).

            c) However you explain it, this statement revealed Jesus’ possession of supernatural knowledge that convinced Nathanael that Philip’s claims were true: he quickly expressed faith in Jesus:

– RABBI was a common title of respect.

– But THE SON OF GOD and KING OF ISRAEL were both titles reserved for the Messiah.

            d) In vs. 50-51, Jesus accepted Nathanael’s faith and offered a vision of greater things to come.

– Heaven will be OPEN.  For 400 years, heaven was closed to God’s people; they went without new revelation that entire time.

– ANGELS are a supernatural race that live in heaven.  Because they serve God as His messengers, their appearance ASCENDING AND DESCENDING ON THE SON OF MAN show a lot of attention being paid to Jesus; He is clearly the center of God’s will being revealed to the human race.

– This image would also remind Nathanael of the “ladder” Jacob dreamed about in GNS 28:12, a vision God gave to the patriarch that reassured him of God’s care and plan for his life.  The difference here is that Jesus replaces the ladder; the angels ascend and descend ON Him.

– People suppose – wrongly – that the title Jesus used for Himself (SON OF MAN) refers to His humanity or is in some other way less impressive than the title Nathanael used for Him (SON OF GOD).  The opposite is true.  The title SON OF MAN is simply a reference to a divine figure in Daniel 7; it is a more specific way of saying the same thing about Jesus.

      A new pastor arrived in a small town on Monday and spent the rest of the week making personal visits to each of the members, inviting them to come to his first service.   

Imagine his disappointment when, the following Sunday, the church was all but empty. Accordingly, the pastor placed a notice in the local newspapers, stating that because the church was dead, it is everyone’s duty to give it a decent Christian burial. The funeral would be held the following Sunday afternoon, the notice stated.

Morbidly curious, a large crowd turned out for the “funeral.” In front of the pulpit, they saw a closed coffin, smothered with flowers. After the pastor delivered the eulogy, he opened the coffin and invited his congregation to come forward and pay their final respects to their dead church.

Filled with curiosity as to what would represent the corpse of a “dead church”, all the people lined up to look into the coffin. Each “mourner” peeped into the coffin then quickly turned away with a guilty, sheepish look.

In the coffin, tilted at the correct angle, was a large mirror!

RESOURCES:

The Story of God Bible Commentary, Matthew, Rodney Reeves.

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study: Matthew, David K. Lowery and John, W. Hall Harris.

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur.

https://www.pastoralcareinc.com/resources/sermon-helps/jokes-for-sermons/

Messages #299 + #394

Why Follow a Glutton, Drunk, and Friend of Sinners?

Please read Luke 7:26-35 in your friendly neighborhood Bible.

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      Preparing and giving messages from God’s word is a great privilege, one I take seriously.  Every week I learn new things about the Bible.  Some weeks I learn new things about our human world too.

      For example, this week’s passage is about reputation.  Jesus and John the Baptist, as public figures, had reputations.  Their reputation differed according to whom you were listening.  As is my custom, I about to search for illustrations that help illuminate the week’s core teaching.  What I learned this week is that reputation is big business.

      Believe it or not, there are profession reputation builders in man’s world.  You can buy their books and/or utilize their services.  For a fee, they can create a new reputation or rehabilitate a bad reputation.

      It appears much of this business is founded on social media, the new gossip and legal spots on the “information superhighway.”  When your reputation takes a hit on social media, these professional reputation rehabilitation specialists know just how to go to bat for you and restore what internet trolls have taken.

      Wow.  It has come to this.  A person’s reputation is no longer based on what they’ve said or done but on the way they’ve been portrayed by anonymous strangers on social media.  This is incredible, that an industry has arisen around recreating a person’s image in the fake digital world.

Live the life to which God is calling you.  Don’t let others choose your life for you.

1. We are NOT who others say we are.

      Just as John the Baptist was not who they said he was. They said John was possessed by a DEMON because he lived an ascetic lifestyle (33).  I suppose the logic was, “You’d have be possessed to be crazy enough to live on locusts and wild honey.”  More damning was his refusal to preach the “party platform” (31-32), another reason they accused him of having a DEMON.  They would accuse Jesus of the same thing in Luke 11:15.  I speculate a third reason they didn’t like John because of his confrontational approach: he called them a BROOD OF VIPERS (Matthew 3:7) and they probably didn’t think highly of that.  Come to think of it, Jesus levelled the same accusation at them (Matthew 12:34; 23:33).

      Just as Jesus was not who they said He was.  Jesus did not have an ascetic lifestyle, so they accused Him of being a GLUTTON, DRUNKARD and FRIEND to folks they deemed outcasts (34).  Here are three examples of Scriptures that seem to support their exclusionary attitude.

            On the subject of gluttony, Ezekiel 16:49 pairs gluttony with societal injustice and identifies them as two of the sins of which Sodom was guilty.  Regarding drunkards, Proverbs 23:20 says the wise person will not JOIN people WHO DRINK TOO MUCH WINE.  One might say Psalm 1:1 directs the faithful to avoid being a FRIEND OF TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS as it offers a blessing for those who do not keep company with the WICKED, SINNERS or MOCKERS.

      While you could argue these passages command us to not join people in their sin, the Pharisees took verses like these to mean avoiding all association with “sinners.”  Or they were implying Jesus was just like the people He spent time with, condemned by sharing in their sins.

      Jesus refused the standards set forth by His pious-sounding critics.  He appealed to true WISDOM which is proven to be true by the outcome of its exercise.  He was content to be PROVED RIGHT by the fruit of His life (35).  For example, John’s followers affirmed true wisdom by saying GOD’S WAY WAS RIGHT (29-30).  True wisdom also stands in contrast to the hypocrites’ immaturity as illustrated by the pouting MARKETPLACE CHILDREN of vs. 31-32.

2. We are whomever God says we are.

      For example, Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest of the human race but least in the KINGDOM OF GOD (28).  How are we to understand this difficult verse, which seems to demote John the Baptist?

      We must see Jesus did not denigrate John’s contribution to the Divine Plan.  Go back to verses 26+27 to see John’s two roles.  He was a PROPHET; the last of the Old Testament-style prophets.  Historically, John was a bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament. The quote from Malachi 3:1 points to John’s unique role; the MESSENGER proclaiming the Messiah.  The word MESSENGER here is normally translated “angel” and means “envoy.”

      Verse 28 is meant to be one of the great affirmations of the status of believers.  As important as John was to the plan of God, even the least-known saint takes on a greater importance.  This is really a comparison of the Old Covenant to the New.  John is offered by Jesus as the pinnacle of the Old Covenant, but he is eclipsed by the least-known New Covenant saint.  We shouldn’t take this to mean that John was not a participant in the Kingdom of God, as in Luke 13:28 Jesus said ALL THE PROPHETS are included.  John recognized Jesus as the Messiah and in so doing, saw the truth that the Old Testament prophets and angels longed to see (1 Peter 1:9-10-12) but his life ended before he could see Jesus raised from the dead, fulfilling prophecy.  

      Verses 29-30 reveal the love-hate reactions John inspired in others.  The PEOPLE loved John and agreed with Jesus’ assessment of John because they had been baptized by him.  They ACKNOWLEDGED GOD’S WAY WAS RIGHT.  The religious leaders hated John and rejected his message and refused his baptism.  In so doing, they REJECTED GOD’S PURPOSE FOR THEMSELVES.

      This is a reversal of what one might’ve expected.  The “religious rejects” were the ones who recognized God speaking through John while the “most religious” people missed it entirely.

      Jesus rejected their hypocrisy.  In verses 31-32 He compared them to a bunch of complaining kids.  They rejected John because he didn’t dance according to their tune.  They didn’t acknowledge their need to repent and thereby rejected John’s baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 19:4).  They rejected Jesus for the same reason – He refused to conform to their erroneous expectations of how the Messiah would act.

      It didn’t matter what kind of tune they played – a DANCE tune or a DIRGE – he refused to play along with them and they were in a huff about it!  The FLUTE is a reference to John’s austere lifestyle and aggressive message.  He refused to DANCE to their immature demands.  The DIRGE is a reference to Jesus’ joyous message and loving lifestyle.  He refused to CRY just because they wanted Him to.

Live the life to which God is calling you.  Don’t let others choose your life for you.

      This may be the only time you hear me quote a rapper; Christian hip-hop singer LaCrae has made a sage observation about reputation. “Some of us are more concerned with our reputation than our character. The latter takes care of the former.”

      In this passage Jesus rejected and refuted the slanders made against John the Baptist and Himself.  Religious hypocrites, possibly jealous or wary of their popularity among the common people, tried to ruin the reputations of each man.  Jesus’ teaching was that godly wisdom will manifest in one’s character which will, in turn, be substantiated by one’s words and deeds.  He didn’t allow His detractors to define Him but instead remained faithful to the mission God set before Him to do.

      This is appropriate for Church Vocations Sunday as we must expect and assist our church leaders in following Jesus’ example.  When we make demands of church leaders to suit our selfish interests, we’re behaving like the CHILDREN in the MARKETPLACE.  We must support leadership in the church by encouraging and assisting our leaders in doing what God wills.

RESOURCES:

The NIV Application Commentary, Luke, Darrell L. Bock

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, The Gospels, Darrell L. Bock

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Luke, Walter L. Liefield

https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/character-and-reputation.html

Good and Pleasant Days

Please read Psalm 133 in your favorite Bible.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

      One of the things affected by the pandemic was family vacations. You remember family road trips? Lengthy road trips, especially with young children are a fine example of the way unity can be broken down. 

      Let’s consider: the first stage of a family trip is anticipation and excitement.  Unity is high in the first stage because we’re all committed to the trip and looking forward to reaching the destination.  Excitement was built with the preparations made for the trip.

      The second stage is the distraction stage.  Here impatience and boredom are starting to form cracks in our unity.  In order to make good time we are getting out books and games and snacks and all sorts of diversions to occupy our minds.  Assaults on our good humor occur in the form of teasing, tantrums, impatience, the need for potty breaks, disagreements about navigation; all these things begin to take their toll.

      The third stage is called “Are We There Yet?” after the question frequently posed to the driver.  In this stage unity is largely absent; its every person for themselves.  There are no distractions, not even fighting, that can cure the monotony of the road.

      The fourth stage is stupefaction.  Everyone is either asleep or in an entirely private world of their own thoughts.  The only sound we hear is that of the tires on the pavement.  Unity is not an issue since we are each in our own little world.  We share a space in the car but are emotionally isolated within the overwhelming sameness of sights and sounds.  If you are the driver, this stage is the sweet spot of the trip: the distractions in the vehicle are gone and you are in the zone for safe driving.

      The final stage occurs upon arrival.  Everyone awakens – either from the trance of the road or actual slumber – and unity is restored as you are able to exit the vehicle at last.  You have all survived the trial of the trip.  The sense of shared achievement and relief restore good humor and camaraderie.

      PSS 133 is about ancient road trips.  It is one of the “Song of Ascents;” hymns that worshipers sang as they walked up to the temple and by pilgrims as they traveled together to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts (EXS 23:14-17; LVS 23:4-22, 33-43; NBS 28:16-31; 29:12-39; DTY 16:1-17).  It prefaces worship with the blessing of the Lord that is evident in UNITY.

Unity is part of the Lord’s blessing.

1. Unity is precious.

      Unity is GOOD AND PLEASANT (1); it is something that feels so good is worth celebrating.  Fellowship characterized by UNITY is a taste of what heaven will be like.

      When we read the word BROTHERS from our New Testament perspective we think of church.  Obviously, “church” was not in David’s mind as he wrote this.  I’d guess he was thinking more “countrymen” as BROTHERS.  So let’s say this word includes families and churches, anywhere God’s people are joined together for worship or service.

      Unity is PRECIOUS, like the oil used for the anointing of Aaron (2).  A unified fellowship is related to the Priesthood of All Believers, a doctrine with its origins in Exodus 19:5-6 and renewed for the Church in 1 Peter 2:9-10.  I believe UNITY and the Priesthood of All Believers is connected by the mention of Aaron’s name and the reference to his consecration to be the original high priest.

      The Priesthood of All Believers is an important doctrine for at least three reasons.  One, it identifies our role in this world: as priests we represent God to those outside the faith.  We are mediators of Christ in the sense that we are His hands and voice.  Two, it is an expression of our sanctification; we are set apart to God’s service as OT priests were.  Three, membership in the church is strictly limited to believers.  We must exercise caution in extending membership and in maintaining standards for members.

      The occasion of Aaron’s anointing was important on its own merits but the OIL itself is also said to be PRECIOUS. This was a sacred OIL prepared with certain ingredients (Exodus 30:22-33), a formula that was not to be used for any other application, only for the consecration of priests.

      This OIL had two GOOD and PLEASANT associations in the minds of the OT saints.  It had a unique aroma.  Even the memory of that scent would stay with them and the mention of it would help them recall the scent.  It was a unique situation.  The anointing of Aaron was the event that instituted the priesthood.  It set apart an entire tribe for holy service (Exodus 29:44-46; Leviticus 9:22-24; Numbers 6:24-26).  In their experience it would have been associated only with the consecration of a priest.

      The way the OIL is described is an extravagant abundance, an overwhelming experience.  This OIL was POURED on Aaron’s head; not dribbled, not splashed.  The fact that a great quantity of the special OIL was used is evident in that it overflowed the crown of Aaron’s head, RUNNING down to his BEARD, then over his beard on to the COLLAR OF HIS ROBES.

      Unity is a BLESSING like the DEW that falls on MOUNT ZION (3).  Because of its high altitude, (10,000 feet above sea level), Mt. Hermon was known for abundant precipitation in all seasons.  Even during the dry season (May – Oct.) lush vegetation could be found upon its peak.  Mt. ZION (Jerusalem) would have little or no precipitation during these months.  The description of the blessing of unified fellowship was that it was so GOOD and PLEASANT, it felt refreshing as if Mt. HERMON’s DEW had fallen on Mt. ZION instead.  Just as the DEW refreshed and revived the plants atop Mt. Hermon, UNITY has the effect of refreshing and revitalizing the spirits of the saints.

      The word THERE may refer to the mountain and/or to the gathering of God’s people and the revitalizing power of His BLESSING.  Some people generalize and say the promise of life after death is absent from the OT but here it is: LIFE FOREVERMORE.

2. Unity is worth protecting.

      Protecting unity starts with loving God first and foremost.  This Psalm rightly identifies God as the source of life and UNITY.  It is His gifts that bring us the most profound joy.  The basis of fellowship is our shared relationship with God.  Because we have one Father, we become brothers and sisters.

      Protecting unity happens when we love others ahead of self.  The NT repeatedly lists various sins and identifies them as unity-busters.  Sin is the product of evil desires that are expressions of selfishness; putting more value on self than on others.  To preserve unity we must humble ourselves and defer to others.  Unity requires self-sacrifice on most occasions.  On more rare occasions, unity may require the sacrifice of persons who are distracting or disruptive.  Unity should be a greater priority than the personalities involved.

Unity is part of the Lord’s blessing.

      Like our salvation, UNITY is not something we create by our good works; if it is true, it is God’s gift. However, UNITY is expressed and enjoyed in loving, gracious, and good works.  Unlike salvation, UNITY can be quickly undone by sinful, selfish, and divisive actions.

      In part because UNITY is so easily broken and also in part because it is intended to be a means toward encouraging spiritual maturity, UNITY is something God values very highly.  Psalm 133 is one of many Bible passages that make this truth plain.  UNITY is not “optional” to one’s Christian experience, it is essential.

      We get a sense of the importance of UNITY among God’s people from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  In MTW 5:23-24, Jesus taught, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

      Here Jesus says that UNITY must precede worship!  God cannot be legitimately approached in worship until we have done all we can to restore UNITY.  Healing a broken relationship is to be attempted before worship is offered.

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5 – Psalms, Willem A. VanGemeren

The Daily Study Bible Series, Psalms Vol. 2, George A.F. Knight

The Folly of a Self-Made Man

Please read 2 Chronicles 26 in your Bible.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

      Have you heard the word “hubris?”  It means arrogance, overconfidence, and foolish pride.  Because it comes from a Greek word that had connotations of shame, this word can be defined as a shameful degree of pride.  The person with hubris is setting themselves up for a fall.  In the Bible “hubris” parallels the Hb word pasha, one of the many words for sin.  In this case, it is a sin motivated by pride.  It is an inflated view of self that motivates a person to defy God.

      I asked the internet for two examples of hubris.  The first example was politicians.  Imagine that: politicians with hubris?  C’mon…really?  Jon Lovett is a podcaster, comedian, and former staff member of the Obama administration.  His quote on the subject of hubris is as follows: “America needs a strong, rational, positive, practical conservative movement. It needs that bulwark against liberal delusion and hubris. It needs a voice that says we are imperfect, that life is complex, that government can create need even as it meets need, that you can’t fix everything, and freedom is worth some danger and sorrow.”

(www.brainyquote.com.)

      The other example is Pepe LePew, the cartoon skunk who thinks he is such a lover he courts every black cat in sight.  Over the course of each cartoon, he gets in all sort of zany misadventures trying to woo black cats that he, in his hubris, are deeply in love with him and just playing “hard to get.”  So there you go – don’t be like a bad politician or Pepe LePew!

Don’t idolize yourself: trust God instead.

1. Uzziah’s biography. (1-5)

      Uzziah was his father’s son: He had his good points and his bad moments. (See 2 Kings 14:21-22; 15:1-7.)  Uzziah was apparently his “throne name” but was known as Azariah personally.

      His father Amaziah’s report card shows an “I” for ”incomplete.”  In 2 Kings 25:2 we read; HE DID WHAT WAS RIGHT IN THE EYES OF THE LORD, BUT NOT WHOLEHEARTEDLY.  2 Kings 14:4 tells us his reforms were incomplete; he did not remove the sites where idol worship was conducted.

      Uzziah’s report card would show the same grade.  2 Kings 15:3-4 tells us Uzziah did exactly the same that his father had done; he did RIGHT except for failing to remove the HIGH PLACES where idols were worshipped.  Though he didn’t worship idols himself, he allowed the people to do so.

      Now we will take a look to see how 2 Chronicles 26 develops this “grade.”  First, a look at Uzziah personally.  Verse three tells us he became king at a relatively young age (16) and had a long reign (52 years).

      His mother’s name is listed in v. 3, a rather unusual thing.  This might be because He was a young king and Jecoliah had a lot of influence on him.  The verse tells us she was native to Jerusalem which may be an explanation of her loyalty to the capital and to Judah.

      Another influence on Uzziah is named in verse five; Zechariah was the source of Uzziah’s instruction in the fear of God.  This is not the same Zechariah who wrote the Old Testament book of that name.  That Zechariah came 200 years later.

      Verse five also contains a spoiler: AS LONG AS HE SOUGHT THE LORD, GOD GAVE HIM SUCCESS.  Before his story is told, the blame for his failure is put where it belongs.

2. Uzziah’s success as the “Commander in Chief.” (6-15)

      Uzziah’s successes in battle are listed in verses six through eight.  Uzziah went to war to strengthen Judah’s borders.  He enjoyed military success against the Philistines, Arabs, Meunites, and Ammonites.  Even as far south as Egypt they knew about Judah’s victories.  The text sums it up saying, Uzziah HAD BECOME VERY POWERFUL.  The writer explains the reason for Uzziah’s success on these battlefields: GOD HELPED HIM (v. 7).

      Uzziah also enjoyed success in agriculture (v. 10).  TOWERS were erected for the protection of herds and crops.  CISTERNS a water supply water for cattle and crops.  Uzziah had a lot of LIVESTOCK and hired people to work the cattle and the crops.  Part of the reason for Uzziah’s economic success was that HE LOVED THE SOIL.

      Another reason and/or effect of Uzziah’s victories was his extraordinary military preparedness as detailed in verses 2, 9, 11-15.  He reclaimed, rebuilt, and restored the city of Elath to Judah’s territory (v. 2).  He repaired and improved the fortifications around Jerusalem (v. 9).  In those days having a professional standing army was unusual.  Uzziah’s was especially well-prepared (vs. 11-14).  

      His innovations in weaponry (v. 15) are a subject of speculation.  There is no archaeological evidence of siege weapons like catapults or ballistae existing at this time, so some scholars think this was more likely a kind of fortification that repelled enemies trying to scale the walls.  I think it may be possible Uzziah’s engineers did develop siege weapons like this, but they were later destroyed and lost to history.  In any case, this was some kind of new tech.  Perhaps no king since Solomon had enjoyed fame and power equal to Uzziah’s.

3. Uzziah’s failure as a self-appointed priest. (16-23)

      As frequently happens, success created hubris and Uzziah’s PRIDE LED TO HIS DOWNFALL (v. 16).  The text presents just this one incident.  It is more likely this incident was a good example or part of a pattern of behavior where Uzziah forgot the Lord and all His benefits.

      After all, pride can come on a person slowly.  Uzziah’s success slowly caused him to lose his FEAR/vision of God.  He stopped seeking the Lord and cared only for his own opinions.

      Being self-sufficient is a virtue only in worldly thinking.  People of faith realize everything comes from God.  They give Him glory and cultivate dependence on Him.

      Offering incense to God was the ministry of the priests (see Exodus 30:7-8; Numbers 18:7).  Pride caused Uzziah to defy God’s law and act as a priest.  Maybe he wanted to be like the pagan kings who did priestly things (see Genesis 14:18; Numbers 12:10).  This led to a confrontation in the temple (vs. 17-19).

      It took courage for Azariah (he might be the Azariah II listed in 1 Chronicles 6) and the other priests to stand up to the king as they did.  Uzziah was plainly in the wrong but hubris made him stubborn; his desire to be a “self-made man” brought him low.

      God condemned Uzziah’s sin and disciplined him with leprosy (vs. 19-20).  Hurt pride easily turns to anger and Uzziah refused to listen to the priests: LEPROSY was the result.  The biblical word for LEPROSY is not the same disease as the modern illness; it referred to all kinds of skin disorders.

      What’s important is not the medical nature of the illness but the theological outcome.  God had declared such skin disorders made a person “unclean.”  Unclean persons were not allowed to be in the temple or in the community at all.  Because of the contagious nature of such diseases, persons having it were quarantined.

      The fact that the disease began on Uzziah’s FOREHEAD is important because it would have been immediately noticed.  It wasn’t there one second, and the next it was.

      Because of his proud defiance, Uzziah’s life ended tragically (vs. 21-23).  The nature of the illness required Uzziah to live separately from the palace and the temple.  Leviticus 13:46 required persons with this kind of disease to be quarantined outside the community.  The phrase SEPARATE HOUSE is full of meaning: there’s the NIV marginal note and the equivalent phrase in Ugaritic (a contemporary language to ancient Hebrew) meant “house of pollution.”

      It may also have so adversely affected his health that Uzziah could no longer rule the country. (See the NIV marginal note.)  In any event, Uzziah’s throne was taken from him and his son Jotham required to rule in his father’s place.  Thankfully, Jotham learned from his father’s predicament and ruled Judah more wisely.

      After his death, Uzziah’s illness may have prevented him from being buried in the royal tombs.  In that case, he was buried in a cemetery owned by the crown but probably provided for burial of similarly unclean corpses.  The original language remains ambiguous on this point; either he was buried with the previous kings over the people’s objections (they said, “HE HAD LEPROSY”) or he was laid to rest in the equivalent of a “potter’s field.”  Which seems a more tragic end from your point of view?

Don’t idolize yourself: trust God instead.

      The scary thing about hubris is that the people who suffer from it the most are the people who are least aware of it.  Pride is a deceptive vice and its most powerful deception is self-deception.

      This means we must do two things.  One, we must be on guard against pride in ourselves more than we are sensitive to pride in others.  We are too likely to overlook our pride and too likely to find the fault in others.

      Two, since it has such deadly consequences, we need one or more accountability partners who will speak to us honestly and identify blind spots created by pride.

      But I believe our job is bigger than just avoiding pride.  We must also cultivate the virtue of humility.  One way we can do that is to put into practice what Paul wrote in PPS 2:3-4; DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.  EACH OF YOU SHOULD LOOK NOT ONLY TO YOUR OWN INTERESTS, BUT ALSO TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, 1 and 2 Chronicles, J. Keir Howard

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1 and 2 Chronicles, J. Barton Payne https://http://www.brainyquote.com/topics/hubris-quotes

Dinner Etiquette

Please read Luke 14:15-24 in your Bible.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

      This is yet another example of truth being stranger than fiction: there is a thing on the internet called a “random excuse generator.”  There are several of them, actually.  A Random Excuse Generator is something to use when you want to get out of a social event but you don’t really have a good reason.  Your brain freezes every once in a while and you get stuck. No fear, just tap the button on the website and a random excuse will be generated in seconds!

      Naturally, not all excuses are created equal, so you might want to read it first before saying it out loud.  Here are some obviously lousy excuses for backing out of a commitment:

      I have a friend who defines an excuse as “the skin of a truth stuffed with a lie.”  That is an apt description of how we deliberately mislead others, attempting to cover up rude behavior.  Today’s Scripture centers on some folks who were making excuses.  Jesus told this parable to illustrate this point:

Eternal life is found in faith, not excuses.

1. The point of the parable: only the faithful have a place at the feast.

      While seated at an actual banquet table, Jesus affirmed the necessity of true faith by telling a story of a greater banquet.  At that time, the Jews ate only two meals a day: one at 10 am and the other at sundown.  The setting for this meal was presumably sundown Friday night. (Ancient Greeks ate 3 meals a day, Romans 4!)  The concealed purpose of the event was to trap Jesus in a controversy about the Sabbath, so it’s safe to say there was a lot of tension in  the room.

      In that vein, in verse fifteen someone made a statement to attempt to relieve the tension created in verses 1-14.  Darrell L. Bock paraphrased it; “Despite our differences, won’t it be nice for all of us to experience the blessing of sitting in fellowship with God when he reasserts his rule fully?”  A “let’s get along” remark. He was expressing a commonly held hope among the Jews that the age of the Messiah would begin with a fantastic banquet.  Among other things, roast sea monster would be on the menu and that was a sign that there was no longer anything to fear.

      Jesus was having none of it.  His parable was a warning that not everyone at that table would be seated at the heavenly feast.  His parable is a rebuttal of the gross assumption made in the statement and elaborates on His teaching in verses twelve through fourteen.

2. The parts of the parable: making excuses is not the same as having faith.

      The excuses made by the invitees (the people “worthy” of an invitation) disqualified them from attending the feast. This was a GREAT BANQUET; while we’re not told the occasion, one measure of the size of the greatness of the banquet is that MANY GUESTS were INVITED.  It was customary in that culture to send guests an invitation in advance and a reminder on the day of a special event.  This is similar to the “Save The Date” invitations you may have received.

      The persons being contacted in verse seventeen knew in advance of the date.  It implies they had time to send their regrets in advance or prepare to come.  The invitation did not catch them by surprise.

      Failure to do either of these respectful things makes their EXCUSES more intolerable and justifies the anger of the MASTER. To simply refuse to come when called and told dinner was ready was rude, a gross breach of etiquette.  Regardless of how reasonable their excuses may sound and how politely they are worded, it was too close to dinner time to make excuses.

      These three excuses are only a representative sample of what appears to have been the entire guest list cancelling at the last minute: verse eighteen says THEY ALL ALIKE BEGAN TO MAKE EXCUSES.  If that seems unrealistic, remember a parable is a story; it does make sense but isn’t historic and doesn’t have to be completely realistic.  It just has to serve the point.

      The first excuse (18) sounds similar to a condition to allow one to be excluded from a draft, according to Deuteronomy 20:5-7.  The second excuse (19) indicates the man was wealthy; a YOKE OF OXEN was five animals.  This was a big purchase but a petty excuse.  The third excuse (20) has some legitimacy in OT Law: Deuteronomy 20:7; 24:5 did allow newlyweds to beg off some responsibilities. 

      The MASTER ordered that his house be filled, so a different set of invitations were made.  Rather than postpone and waste all that food, the MASTER decides to go ahead with the banquet.  Who is left to be invited? All the previously invited guests have taken themselves off the guest list.  The kind of people who would be available at the last minute would be precisely the kind of people Jesus suggested in verse thirteen: the POOR, CRIPPLED, BLIND, and LAME.  This list represents people at the bottom rung of that society’s social ladder.  Their social calendar was less likely to be already filled and they were not out buying land or oxen or having lavish wedding feasts of their own.

3. Applying the parable: Invite and serve.

      Our part is the same as that of the SERVANT in the parable: we are to invite many people to the feast.  The master’s intent was that the banquet hall be filled.  It should be our desire to have company in church and in heaven.

      The fact that two separate invitations were made implies the merciful nature of God; there will be second and third chances to have faith.  2 Peter 3:9 declares that God wants all people to be saved, so He gives us many chances to repent.

      We can assume a second responsibility for the SERVANT.  Once the banquet hall was filled, it was his job to serve dinner to the guests.  This is a picture of service to the needy.  While Jesus’ main point looked to the Great Banquet, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19), this detail is also a reminder to minister to society’s neediest members.

Eternal life is found in faith, not excuses.

      The people sitting around the table that night were Jews.  They were probably pious, law-abiding, respectable people.  If anyone believed they had special status before God, they did. 

      Jesus exposed their confidence as false.  Though their status as Jews did get them an invitation to the FEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD, they were making excuses that would result in their being excluded from the great celebration that will occur at the end of this age.

      Instead, the people they decided were outcasts, unclean, pagans – a real “basket of deplorables” – those humble folks had genuine faith.  They were included in the subsequent invitations and accepted their place at that GREAT BANQUET.

RESOURCES:

The NIV Application Commentary, Luke, Darrell L. Bock.

Message #30

Made Very Good

Please read Genesis 1:24-31 in your Bible.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021

      Have you ever read the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who?  It has a memorable line, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

      The line comes from Horton the elephant who heard tiny Whos in Whoville perched on a dust ball sitting on a flower. Horton suffers persecution when he acts to protect the Whos, explaining “Even though you can’t see them, or hear them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.” The book is a pro-life primer!

      This message so simple Dr. Suess taught it to toddlers; every person has value, whether they are like us or not.  As simple as this principle is, our culture fails to uphold it.  We shall see the creation account is the first affirmation that human life is sacred.  This is a core belief of our faith and we must stand against the corrupted culture of our time to promote this doctrine and safeguard human life.

Human life is sacred because it was created by God in His own image.

1. Day six: God created the land animals first. (1:24-25)

      As the text says four times, God created the land animals EACH ACCORDING TO ITS KIND.  Having been repeated so often, this must be important.

      The significance of the phrase may be because there is a slight difference in the kinds, based on their utility.  LIVESTOCK may refer to all the land animals that could be domesticated.  CREATURES THAT MOVE ALONG THE GROUND may refer to insects and or smaller animals (because they are closer to the ground) or animals that are prey.  WILD ANIMALS may refer to larger undomesticated animals, perhaps predators.

      Considered in context, it is more likely the phrase was used to distinguish animals from human beings.  Animals were created in their “kinds,” but humans were created in God’s IMAGE, two different things.  Modern culture, idolizing science, says human beings are only another kind of animal.  This lessens the value of human life and is contrary to this passage.

      God declared His creation GOOD BEFORE He created human beings.  This is an overlooked detail we should notice.  Contrary to our usual assumption that creation is all about us, God added human beings to a world that was ALREADY good.  We are special, but not the center of creation. 

2. Then God created human beings as unique among the rest of creation. (1:26-27)

      Only humanity was created in His IMAGE and LIKENESS.  No other part of creation is distinguished in this way.  There may be a slight difference between the meanings of these two words.

      Ironically, LIKENESS is meant to distinguish humans from God.  We are not God, we are merely a LIKENESS of God, a physical and spiritual token of God in creation. LIKENESS is also meant to distinguish us from the animals.  Though there are obvious physical similarities between humans and animals, mental and spiritual differences are implied in this word since we are “LIKE” God but not “like” animals.

      IMAGE is meant to show our similarity to God.  As a child bears a resemblance to its parents, so do all humans bear a resemblance to our heavenly Father.

      There has been a lot of speculation about the IMAGE. This Hebrew word is used seventeen times in the Old Testament.  Five of them refer to this special quality or status of human beings, the rest to a physical object that bears a resemblance to something else (like a statue or portrait bearing resemblance to a person).  This means God created human beings to represent Him in His own creation.

      I will not take space to list all the notions about the IMAGE.  I believe there are lots of valid aspects to the IMAGE.  The rest of the Bible is, in a sense, an explanation of the IMAGE of God.  Anyone who says it is any one thing is exaggerating.  If we interpret the term in context, the IMAGE is delegated authority God gave us so we can have the dominion over creation He commanded Adam & Eve to exercise.  God delegates part of His authority to us to rule over creation; that is the responsibility side of the IMAGE.

      Verse twenty-seven affirms both male and female human beings as being created in God’s image.  This means at least three things.  One, men and women have, from the beginning, been of equal status in the eyes of God.  In every way that really matters, men and women are equal because they were created that way.

      Two, in a culture obsessed with validating all kinds of lifestyles, there is a wrong-minded denial of the fundamental difference of maleness and femaleness.  As this passage affirms both genders as being created in God’s image, we must be critical of attempts to say that gender is a matter of no consequence; it is interchangeable.

      Three, in the next verse God blessed the human beings and commanded them to be FRUITFUL and INCREASE IN NUMBER; make more people.  This is possible only with both genders involved.

3. Being created in God’s IMAGE carries serious responsibilities. (1:28-31)

      The first responsibility is productivity or “fruitfulness.”  This is a blessing and a command all in one.  When God said, “BE FRUITFUL, INCREASE IN NUMBER and FILL THE EARTH,” those are all ways of saying “Make more humans.”

      In 2:24 it is explained to us that this command is the foundation of marriage.  A new family is created when a man and woman marry; children are welcome additions to it because they represent God’s blessing of the couple and their obedience to His command.  Because Adam and Eve sinned, even this fundamental relationship has suffered.

      The second responsibility associated with the IMAGE is that of delegated authority.  God expressed human authority over creation in two “no-nonsense” terms.

      The word to SUBDUE literally means “stamp on.”  The word translated as literally means “to tread upon.”  These words imply a complete domination and assertive rule over creation.  God put complete trust in human beings.  How have we rewarded it?  In many instances, we have not taken good care of our Father’s house.

      As He did with the land animals, God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “I GIVE YOU EVERY SEED-BEARING PLANT” (29).  The key word in that phrase is GIVE.  Before Adam sinned God gave him a fruitful earth.  After he sinned, Adam would have to work hard to get the earth to be fruitful.  The point here in chapter one is that God the Father, being the ultimate parent, took good care of His new children.  This relationship dynamic is also contrary to pagan religions that said the gods made people to provide food for the gods.

      Creation is good because God said so. (31)  In the Hebrew, the sense of approval is stronger than it is in English.  Verse 31 should read, “it was really very good.”  In comparison, the other six declarations are merely GOOD, whereas here after humans were created, it says that creation was VERY GOOD.  In this passage, GOOD means it is in conformity with God’s plan; it was just as God wanted it to be.

Human life is sacred because it was created by God in His own image.

      One of the reasons we have the creation account in the Bible is to provide evidence contrary to the pagan cultures of that time.  We need this section of them Scripture for the same reason: to counter the pagan culture of our time.  When you think about it, social issues from abortion to zemiology (the study of social harms) are based on making human life cheap, even disposable.  If we accept as true the belief that human beings are just another kind of animal, all kinds of evil can be justified.

      We observe the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because this is a core doctrine.  Human life is sacred because God said so, not because of anything we’ve done to earn it, but simply because we are made to be His representatives, the benevolent rulers of creation.  We are not just at the top of the “food chain,” we are at the top of creation with the authority of God delegated to us.

      That’s the message we have to get out to our pagan culture.  What believers need to hear in Genesis 1 is that our sacred status comes with important responsibilities.  We are to be God’s representatives, His IMAGE and LIKENESS in the way we live.  EPS 2:10 puts it plainly: FOR WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Genesis, H.L. Ellison.

Genesis, Bruce K. Waltke & Cathi J. Fredricks.

Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, Gordon J. Wenham.

Are We Saying Two Things By One Spirit?

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2021?

“How to resolve conflict?” a story by Malik Mirza (posted 26dec10).

      “There was a father who died and left 17 camels to his three sons. When the sons opened the will they found it stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels while the middle son should be given 1/3rd (one-third). The youngest son should be given 1/9th (one-ninth) of the 17 camels.

      “As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, three sons started to fight with each other. How can they divide their father’s inheritance?

      “Finally, the three sons decided to go to a wise man to decide how to do it.  The wise man listened patiently about the whole matter and, after giving careful thought, brought a camel of his own and added it to the 17 left by the father. That increased the total to 18 camels.

      “Then he read aloud the deceased father’s will and apportioned the camels as follows:

Half of 18 is 9, so he gave the eldest son 9 camels.

1/3rd of 18 is 6, so he gave the middle son 6 camels

1/9th of 18 is 2, so he gave the youngest son 2 camels.

      “Now add this up: 9 plus 6 plus 2 is 17 and this leaves one camel, which the wise man took back.

The attitude of conflict resolution is to find the ‘18th camel’ (i.e. the common ground). Once a person is able to find the 18th ground by using his or her intellect, the issue is resolved. The first step to conflict resolution is to believe that there is a solution.

https://wisdomfrombooks.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/how-to-resolve-conflict-a-story/

      Today we observe the Epiphany, the visit of the wise men to the child Jesus.  They claimed to have been led to the newborn King of the Jews by a star.  Similarly, we are to be directed by a heavenly guide, the Holy Spirit.  Often, however, the Spirit’s leadership is not as obvious as a bright star indicating our destination.  Writing to a divided church in 2 Corinthians the Apostle Paul twice affirmed all believers are given the same Spirit.

4:13 = IT IS WRITTEN: “I BELIEVED; THEREFORE I HAVE SPOKEN.”  WITH THAT SAME SPIRIT OF FAITH WE BELIEVE AND THEREFORE SPEAK.

12:18 = I URGED TITUS TO GO TO YOU AND I SENT OUR BROTHER WITH HIM.  TITUS DID NOT EXPLOIT YOU, DID HE?  DID WE NOT ACT IN THE SAME SPIRIT AND FOLLOW THE SAME COURSE?

      What are we to do when church people oppose one another, both claiming the direction of the Holy Spirit?  We have this example from the book of Acts to instruct us.

The Holy Spirit speaks with one voice, leading the church to a unified expression of faith.

1. Paul said the Spirit led him to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 20:22-24)

      Paul said he was COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT to go to Jerusalem (22).  Previously, in Acts 19:21 = Paul was in Ephesus when he DECIDED TO GO TO JERUSALEM.  Ironically, he also announced he was to go to Rome, which is where Paul would end up, and there surrender his life for his faith.  We don’t know when Paul received the Spirit’s instructions to go to Jerusalem, here he announced his decision to go.  He had organized a big collection of funds from the Gentile churches he founded and wanted to deliver it personally to the church in Jerusalem

      He also said the Spirit warned him that PRISON AND HARDSHIPS awaited him (23).  These warnings came in EVERY CITY, including the ones mentioned in these chapters.  Paul was not deterred by these  warnings, as His ambition was to FINISH THE RACE AND COMPLETE THE TASK THE LORD JESUS HAS GIVEN ME – TESTIFYING TO THE GOSPEL (24).

2. The Syrian believers said the Spirit led them to urge Paul not to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:1-17)

      After a tear-filled goodbye with the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:36-38), Luke and Paul finally arrived at Syria (1-3) and spent a week with the DISCIPLES there (4).  We don’t know if the Syrian church had the same emotional attachment to Paul as the Ephesian elders did, but they URGED him THROUGH THE SPIRIT NOT TO GO ON TO JERUSALEM (4).  Paul continued to Jerusalem anyway (5-9).

      Caesarea was the last seaport on Paul’s journey to Jerusalem.  I was there A PROPHET NAMED AGABUS prophesied Paul’s imprisonment, quoting the HOLY SPIRIT (10-11).  This is serious because ten chapters earlier, Agabus predicted a severe famine across the empire.  This prophecy prompted Paul’s work to collect funds from his Gentile churches to support the mother church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30).  This prompted additional pleading with Paul not to go (12-14).

      Resolved, Paul went on to Jerusalem (14-17).  Verse fourteen reports they finally gave up trying to persuade Paul, saying, “THE LORD’S WILL BE DONE.”  It sounds like there was a disagreement over which prophecy came from the Spirit.

      In the end, Paul had to decide for himself, as all of us must.  People have debated whether he made the right choice or not, given all the trouble he experienced; his lengthy imprisonment followed by his execution.

3. How we are to understand and obey the Spirit’s leadership.

      When there are conflicting claims of the Holy Spirit’s leading, there are 4 possible explanations.

      First, one claim is wrong, the other right.  We must discern which is right.  Instinct compels us to think this the obvious explanation, especially if we have a stake in one side or the other.  We should avoid the temptation to make this conclusion but should first discuss the matter. We must never fall out of fellowship over matters like this.

      Second, both claims to being led by the Spirit are wrong.  We must expose falsehood and prevent its recurrence.  This is the most troubling possibility as it means misunderstanding the Spirit is more widespread.

      Third, both claims are correct.  We must discern a divine reason for what seems to be a mixed message.  This is the least likely explanation.  We need to be careful; the Spirit will never contradict the written word, nor will He lead us into sin.

      Fourth, both claims have a portion of the truth; together they tell the whole story. This is what I believe we see here in Acts 20-21.  For his part, Paul correctly discerned the Spirit’s guidance directing him to go to Jerusalem.  For their part, Agabus and the other believers correctly discerned this would be Paul’s last days of freedom; Jerusalem would be the beginning of the end for him.  This news dismayed them and they understandably mistook it for counsel not to go at all.  Instead, God was preparing Paul for what he would have to face.  This is clearly how Paul understood the situation (Acts 20:23).

      When seeking God’s leading through the Spirit we must pray, listen, wait for wisdom, discuss it with maturing believers, test what’s being said against the Bible, make a decision, then try it and see what happens.

      The apparently contradictory prophecies we see here in Acts could be troubling but we need to remember that prophecy by nature can be somewhat enigmatic; it often requires some interpretation to understand it.  After that, prophecy requires application; we have to decide what to do with it. 

      Interpretation and application are both processes where the human element comes in.  The message is purely of the Spirit, but after it has been interpreted and applied, some of the message may be changed in the process.  (This is true of all kinds of human communication so it shouldn’t surprise us if it happens in divine-human communication too.)

The Holy Spirit speaks with one voice, leading the church to a unified expression of faith.

      In these chapters of Acts, we see what seems to be opposing counsel from the Holy Spirit is actually two parts to a single message: Paul was to go to Jerusalem, but he was to go with his eyes open, aware of what it would cost him.  The churches, likewise, needed to know they could never again count on Paul to be with them; they needed to develop leadership within their own members to go forward.

      If we consider the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy to be available today, we have to understand how it works and how to use it.  On a bigger scale, the Bible teaches all claims to speak for the Holy Spirit need to be subjected to scrutiny (1 Corinthians 14:29-30).  We must not be content only to separate true from false but must also correctly interpret God’s message and how to apply it.

RESOURCES:

More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Acts, Ernest H. Trenchard

https://wisdomfrombooks.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/how-to-resolve-conflict-a-story/

Of Pandemics and Exiles

Please read Isaiah 54 in your Bible.

Image by James Best, (c) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      In the OT – almost from the very beginning – God warned His people Israel that if (when) they had disobeyed Him for generations, for their lack of repentance and idolatry, they would one day be exiled from the land He gave them.  He even warned them it would last 70 years and then they would be allowed to return.

      God’s warnings were ignored, the people were condemned by their own sin and the prophecy was fulfilled.  In the year 586 BC, the Babylonians captured the city of Jerusalem and carried off the better part of the people to be slaves back in Babylon.  Daniel, Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah are some of the Bible personalities who were part of the people sent into exile.

      Let’s think about that.  Put yourself in their place.  I believe the Communists in China are the personification of evil in these days.  Imagine the United States taken over by the ChiComs.  Imagine being among a group of Americans deported to China to serve in labor camps.  You have been ripped from your home, your possessions taken, and distanced from your family.  Can you get a sense of how horrifying that would be?

      Historically we know that the warning of exile was not enough to persuade these people to repent.  Losing their place in the Promised Land – even temporarily – was surely the most difficult disciplinary action the Lord ever applied to His people.

      The most recent leader of our denomination, Dr. Lee Spitzer, has compared our recent experience of the coronavirus pandemic to being in exile, like the Babylonian Captivity.  Because of the quarantine and the contagious nature of this disease, relationships have been strained by everyone being kept at a distance from one another.  Though we have all the modern means of communication, the pandemic has required a kind of exile from one another.  Let me ask; how has that felt to you?     

Our experience of the pandemic is somewhat like Israel’s experience of exile.

Disclaimer for persons legalistic about “political correctness:” the following descriptions are entirely appropriate in Isaiah’s culture.  Rather than waste time to make them appropriate in “PC” culture – which runs the risk of being misleading – we will examine them at face value and understand them in their original context before applying the principles derived to our own culture.

1. Both a pandemic and an exile are miserable experiences. (1, 4, 6-8, 11, 16)

      The first of these politically incorrect images is in verse one, revealing that both a pandemic and being in exile feel like the desolation of a barren woman.  A frequently observed part of ancient culture was the way a woman felt – or was made to feel – who NEVER BORE A CHILD, WERE NEVER IN LABOR.  Isaiah used the word DESOLATE for the feeling, BARREN for the childless condition that occasioned the feeling.

      A second example is found in verse four, where persons in exile and/or in a pandemic might feel the shame of an unfaithful woman.  A BARREN WOMAN was the object of shame, an adulterous wife more so.  Note the emotionally laden words the prophet attached to the unfaithful wife: SHAME, DISGRACE, HUMILIATED.  Also in verse four; widowhood felt like a REPROACH.

      Being in a pandemic or in exile can feel like the distress of a deserted woman (vs. 6-8).  The negative emotions of an adulterous wife are identified as fear, shame, disgrace, humiliation, rejection, and reproach.  In His justified ANGER at their sin, the LORD ABANDONED His people, hiding HIS FACE from them.

      The fourth example leaves distraught women behind.  In verse eleven, people in exile or in a pandemic can feel AFFLICTED without comfort.  The phrase LASHED BY STORMS conveys a helpless and chaotic experience of distress, like being caught in a tornado.  Worse, they are NOT to be COMFORTED.  The Lord withheld His comfort and surely no one else comforted them either.

      Verse sixteen explains these kinds of experiences are the LORD’s discipline.  In the Bible, “discipline” is the word for God’s aggressive actions toward His people that are designed to teach them and promote repentance toward maturity in faith.  On the other hand, “punishment” is a word for God’s aggressive actions toward unbelievers, designed to motivate them to repentance toward salvation.  The word “wrath” is God’s final solution for the unrepentant.  Depending on who the individual is in relation to God, a pandemic or exile may be “discipline” or “punishment,” but is never “wrath” and is always intended to move us closer to God.

2. God promises deliverance from both exiles and pandemics. (1-6, 9-17)

      The first promise is found in verses one through three, a promise of a season of increase.  Back to the ladies again; this is a figurative promise of a fruitful womb. Those delivered from exile will want to BURST INTO SONG and SHOUT FOR JOY because like a DESOLATE WOMAN, they will become fruitful, even more fruitful than a woman WHO HAS A HUSBAND.  In fact, you’d better plan ahead and enlarge your tent because you’re going to need the extra room, that’s how fruitful you will be!  The restored people of God will prosper and fill the cities left vacant by their dispossessed enemies.

      The second promise, found in verses four through six, is a promise of restoration: a happy ending!  God’s people will know the joy of truly holy matrimony as YOUR MAKER IS YOUR HUSBAND.  He also promises to be our REDEEMER.  The GOD OF ALL THE EARTH will call us BACK to him in the way a husband will take back an unfaithful wife.  Because of this restored relationship, we will no longer feel DESERTED, DISTRESSED, or REJECTED.  We will experience the DEEP COMPASSION (7) of God, which will relieve us of those depressing feelings.

      The third promise is in verses seven and eight.  It is a promise of eternal compassion. Verse seven says God is capable of feeling A SURGE OF ANGER, so anger itself is not a sin; what you do with it can become sinful.  His anger lasted only A MOMENT, His favor is eternal: EVERLASTING KINDNESS and COMPASSION.  This is an extreme contrast and good news for us.

      The fourth promise is in verses nine and ten: a promise of unfailing love.  In this passage, the similarity between the great flood of Noah’s time and the Babylonian Captivity is that both experiences will not be repeated.  A dissimilarity is that the Flood was an act of WRATH against sinful humanity while the Babylonian Captivity was an act of DISCIPLINE (REBUKE) of God’s rebellious people.  Though creation itself will one day be SHAKEN, God’s LOVE for His people and His COVENANT OF PEACE with them will never again permit that kind of REBUKE.

      The fifth promise is one of rebuilding; it is found in verses eleven and twelve.  We know these verses are not to be taken literally as PRECIOUS STONES are valuable as jewelry but worthless as building materials.  These verses are figurative; they put the highest possible on the CITY God will restore and emphasizes the beauty of His gracious provision of a new home for His people.  This image of a city made of PRECIOUS STONES would be used in Revelation 21 to describe the New Jerusalem, the “forever home” of God’s people.

      Promise number six is a promise of peace (vs. 13-15). We are directed to think of the next generation: YOUR SONS WILL BE TAUGHT BY THE LORD AND GREAT WILL BE YOUR CHILDREN’S PEACE.  This peace originates in God: IN RIGHTEOUSNESS (which comes from Him) YOU WILL BE ESTABLISHED.  Isaiah listed three benefits to this God-given peace:

      Freedom from TYRANNY.  In our case, we can stop wringing our hands about elections and trust that regardless of who governs, tyrants will not have the last word.

      God’s people have NOTHING TO FEAR (which I would say is a reference to anxiety) and we’re promised TERROR WILL BE FAR REMOVED (TERROR being a reference to actual reasons for worry).  In the latter case, we can be assured of two things:

One, if evil comes against us, it is not God’s doing; there is some other agency at work.  It is not God’s discipline; it is someone else’s opposition.

Two, regardless of how intimidating evil appears, you will not be defeated; WHOEVER ATTACKS YOU WILL SURRENDER TO YOU.

      On that line, the seventh promise (vs. 16-17), is a promise of victory.  This promise is trustworthy because our victory is based on God, who is in charge of every outcome.  For example, God has created both our allies and our enemies.  As Creator, He rules over all creation.

He created THE BLACKSMITH to forge our weapons of war.  Sometimes they will be used against us.  He created THE DESTROYER to cause HAVOC that motivates us to rely on God, not ourselves.

      No matter what kind of conflict in which we find ourselves (including exile and pandemic), God promises to deliver us.  Be it war or persecution, we are assured NO WEAPON FORGED AGASINST [us] WILL PREVAIL.  Or it may take the form of politics – a war of words, verbal persecution, but God still promises YOU WILL REFUTE EVERY TONGUE THAT ACCUSES YOU.

      Our victory is based on the certainty of God keeping His promises, not on the uncertainty of us keeping our promises to God or anyone else.  God’s aim is to create a HERITAGE OF THE SERVANTS OF THE LORD.  I believe HERITAGE refers to eternal life in heaven.  God also aims to vindicate our faith in Him.  He proves Himself reliable and our faith to be grounded in the truth.

Our experience of the pandemic is somewhat like Israel’s experience of exile.

      If we accept Dr. Spitzer’s comparison of the pandemic as a form of exile, what are we to do about it?  Rather than just an interesting intellectual exercise, what difference does it make?  How do the biblical examples of exile inform our response to the pandemic?

      First, accept the fact that like the Exile, the pandemic has exposed our idolatry.  It is a disciplinary action God has allowed to turn us to Him.

      For the unsaved, this means God is giving them a chance to repent of their devotion to worldly things, including their blind faith in  science.  For followers of Jesus, this means we must forsake our idolatrous devotion to the worldly aspects of church life.  We acted as if maintaining a building, paying our bills, and keeping our traditions going was the same thing as discipleship.  To our shame, when the economic and relational costs of the pandemic threatened these things, we cared more about keeping them than hearing the voice of God and repenting of these hypocritical affections.  What may be startling to hear is that finances and property are means to an end, not an end in themselves.  Further, we don’t do these things for ourselves, we do them for the people who are not attending, especially those who have never attended any church.  We are not the “customers” of this of this organization; we are its “custodians.”  Our “customers” or “clients” – the objects of our ministry – are not one another, but those on the outside, our neighbors who need Jesus.

      Second, we must repent and return to God.  It is clear whether we’re talking about believers or unbelievers, the thing we are all most concerned about is getting back to “normal;” to the way things were before COVID-19.  For shame: the way things were before COVID is part of the reason we HAVE COVID!  We must take a hard look at the hard truths about ourselves that the pandemic has exposed and deal with them.  We have wasted this experience if it does not turn us back to God.  If the pandemic ends and we have not become better people, then we have compounded our sin and failed to gain wisdom from the experience.  The pandemic is hard.  If we are paying attention, the recovery will be harder.

      Finally, let me spell out some of the things we need to learn from this deadly and difficult time.  Borrowing from Dr. Spitzer’s remarks, let me suggest three items, all of them a call back to basics.

1. We need to get back to our priorities: Love God, love neighbor, love self.

2. We need to recover our identity as Bible-based challengers of culture, not sentimental chaplains of culture.

3. We need to live sacrificially to be disciples, nurture discipleship, and call the unsaved to become disciples.

      In hard times especially, this culture does not need another cliquish club, service organization, or small business.  People need Jesus to lead them back from exile, new and improved.  For better or worse, God has picked us to be Jesus in this situation.  Let’s give Him reason to rejoice over choosing us.

Why Christmas? #3 – To Reveal the Father

Read Hebrews 1:1-4 in your favorite Bible.

Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      “In 1868, Bret Harte wrote a short story called ‘The Luck of Roaring Camp.’ It turned Mr. Harte into an internationally known writer. The story was written about a mining town in California called Roaring Camp. The only woman in the town was a Cherokee named Sal. She became pregnant but died while giving birth to a son. This left a baby in a town full of single men. Not just men, but rough, tough, rude, crude men of the WILD west. What are THEY going to do with a baby?

      “The child was thought to be a sign of good fortune so they gave him the name Thomas Luck. They put him in a dirty box, wrapped in dirty clothes. But that didn’t look right, so they ordered a rosewood cradle with satin sheets and a soft pillow. The best room they had was filthy, so these men got on their knees and cleaned the floors and the walls. Then they decided that if they were going to take care of a baby, they needed to start using soap. They needed to wash their hands and bath more often. And then they said, ‘Maybe we don’t need to be gambling so much. Maybe we don’t need to be fighting so much. Maybe we don’t need to be drinking so much.’ And as the story progresses, the entire town of Roaring Camp was transformed by the arrival of a single baby boy.”

(Retrieved from illustrationexchange.com.)

      This story is a humorous parallel to the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth.  The Bible recounts the story of a baby boy who came along and changed everything.

      There are other answers to the question “Why Christmas?” but today we’ll examine the third of three:

Jesus became one of us to introduce all of us to our Heavenly Father.

Fun Fact: In the original language, these four verses are all one long sentence!

1. We used to have a partial revelation. (1-2)

      The Father’s original revelation came THROUGH THE PROPHETS to the Jews’ FOREFATHERS.  From the very beginning the author of Hebrews engages in what will be his method throughout this book: comparing the Old Covenant to the New Covenant to spotlight the superiority of the New.  This first example is how God used to reveal His will THROUGH THE PROPHETS.

      God spoke through these men AT MANY TIMES AND IN VARIOUS WAYS, in contrast to the New Covenant, where He spoke through one person, HIS SON, not many prophets.  He revealed Himself in MANY WAYS in the Old Covenant, but established the New Covenant through a single witness, Jesus Christ.

      The writer’s purpose may be to convince the reader of the greater reliability of the New Covenant as it was delivered to us by a more authoritative source, God’s Son.  At the same time, he argued for continuity between Old and New, as both come from God and the New completes the Old.

      The Father’s final revelation came to us BY HIS SON. The word SPOKE is in a tense that this revelation is the final and complete one.  This final revelation has been given IN THESE LAST DAYS.  LAST DAYS is another contrast with the phrase IN THE PAST.  It is also a reference to the times in which we live, the “Millennium” described in Revelation 20.

      In His life and ministry Jesus perfectly represented the Father.  The word PROPHETS should be understood as a broad reference to all exemplary men of faith in their various situations, not just those called to the role of a prophet.  These men expressed the promises of God and Jesus fulfilled them.  As human beings, the prophets presented the will of God to the limits of their ability and obedience.  But Jesus Christ, being both God and man, was the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God.

2. Jesus is the full revelation. (2-4)

      These three verses give us eight descriptions of Christ that contribute to a full-featured revelation of God the Son, the Revelator of God the Father.  The first of these descriptions is in verse two where we are told Jesus is the HEIR OF ALL THINGS (3). The important part is ALL THINGS: as Romans 8:16-17 attests, Jesus has authority over all of creation.

      His authority comes from His nature, being very God.  It also comes from His role as Creator: THROUGH WHOM [God] MADE THE UNIVERSE.  The word UNIVERSE here is synonymous with ALL THINGS in verse two.  Jesus has authority over all of creation because He was the creative means used by the Father (see John 1:3).

      Jesus is THE RADIANCE OF GOD’S GLORY (3).  Light is the visual representation of God’s glory and the emotional response of worship as we feel awe in His presence.  RADIANCE is a reflected light.  You cannot look directly at the sun for very long without risk of injury to your eyes but you can look all night at the sunlight reflected from the moon without fear of injury.

      Jesus is THE EXACT REPRESENTATION OF [God the Father’s] BEING (3).  The word REPRESENTATION pictures a stamp, an impression made in some object to verify its authenticity, a wax seal.  Jesus verified all that had been previously revealed about God the Father.  In John 14:9 Jesus told Philip, ”ANYONE WHO HAS SEEN ME HAS SEEN THE FATHER.”

      Christ is constantly SUSTAINING ALL THINGS THROUGH HIS POWERFUL WORD (3).  The word translated as SUSTAINING is not just preserving creation, it is also managing it to its intended end.  It can be translated “bearing” or carrying creation forward.  All human history has been used to direct humanity to the victory of God and invite us to join God in it.

      In this phrase – HE PROVIDED PURIFICATION FOR SINS (3) – we get to the heart of the passage.  Seven of the eight things revealed about Jesus have to do with the salvation He offers us.  Notice PURIFICATION FROM SINS can only happen in this life.  Our Catholic friends believe in a second kind of afterlife called “Purgatory” where purification from sins can take place.  That is not biblical.

      What isn’t translated from the original language (Greek) to English is the personal involvement of Jesus in purifying us from our sins.  This is the chief goal of the Incarnation and Jesus’ personal mission.  And it implies He did it Himself; there was no other agency.

      This ended in Jesus’ glorification: HE…SAT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MAJESTY IN HEAVEN (3).  This is a posture of rest in a position of honor.  It shows that Jesus accomplished everything the Father intended by His Incarnation and now occupies the place of high honor and authority.

      This is also a way for the author to show how Jesus fulfilled the OT prophecies about the Messiah.  The phrase is a partial quote of PSS 110:1, a verse the Jews believed to be a prediction about the Messiah.

      In returning to heaven victorious, [Jesus] BECAME SUPERIOR TO THE ANGELS (4).  This is another instance where the writer compared the Old Testament ways with the New Testament ways, pronouncing the New Testament ways SUPERIOR. SUPERIOR is a word used often in this letter (13 out of 19 New Testament uses of this word are found in Hebrews).

      In this case Christ is SUPERIOR to THE ANGELS in glory and authority because He is their Creator too.  He is also SUPERIOR because Jesus had an experience of humanity and transcended it by obedience.

Jesus became one of us to introduce all of us to our Heavenly Father.

Pastor Joe McKeever wrote about the Incarnation in his blog:

      “In a different way and to a lesser degree, Jesus is incarnated in the lives of humans who turn to Him in repentance and faith.  ‘Christ in you’ is the mystery that was hid from the foundation of the world, said the Apostle Paul to the Colossians (Col. 1:27). ‘Christ in you’ is the essence of the Christian life. ‘Christ in you’ is the open secret of the disciple’s life on earth.

      “Salvation is when Jesus Christ is ‘born’ in you. It is your own individual incarnation, to stay with the metaphor.

Now, if God had something to say to our world which He could say only by being incarnated in human form in First Century Galilee and Judea, it is no stretch to conclude that by being incarnated in you and me, He’s also trying to say something to our world.

      “Your assignment is to find out what the Lord is saying to your world–your family, your circle of friends and acquaintances, your co-workers–through living inside you.

You are God’s answer to the questions of the skeptic.

The skeptic wants to know: Is God real? Are the promises of God true? Does Jesus truly live? Does He answer prayer? Is this ‘for real?’

You are the answer.

      “We are Exhibit A of Jesus Christ. Like it or not. The burden of that is staggering; the blessing is wonderful.

That has to mean something.

      “Let us pray that in beholding us–listening to us, seeing how we behave and talk and move–that outsiders will feel they have come into contact with the very grace and truth of God.”

(Retrieved from joemckeever.com.)

RESOURCES:

Message #728

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Hebrews, Gerald F. Hawthorne.

Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Thomas Hewitt.

https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=537