Why Christmas? #2 – To Redeem Us

Read Hebrews 2:14-18 in your Bible.

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      Wally was big for his age; few people actually believed he was only seven years old.  Until he opened his mouth, that is.  Wally’s halting speech gave away his age and the fact that he was a slow learner.  When it came time to assign parts for the annual Christmas pageant, his Sunday School teacher agonized over what to do with Wally.

      She seized upon the idea of giving him the innkeeper part.  He had but one short line, “There is no room at the inn.”  She would work with Wally to memorize this brief line.

      On the night of the performance, the young Joseph and Mary approached Wally the Innkeeper.  “Joseph” said clearly, “Please, sir, my wife is not well.  Could we have a room for the night?”

      All eyes focused on Wally and he was aware of every one of them.  He turned as white as the sheet he was wearing when nervousness drove the line right out of his head.  His mouth went dry as his mouth worked soundlessly.

       Wally’s embarrassment grew as someone chuckled.  Finally a sudden inspiration brightened his face.  He blurted, “Aw, why doncha come home with me?  We got plenty of room there!”

      Though he gave the wrong line, Wally had the right idea.  We must all invite Jesus to come live with us.  This Christmas will have real and lasting significance as we give Jesus room in our hearts.

Jesus became one of us to free all of us from slavery to sin.

1. We were slaves. (14-15)

      There are two reasons for our slavery to sin.  The first is our fear of death.  Fear is an inhibiting and enslaving emotion; it intimidates and coerces us to obey the object of our fear.  It can become a kind of idolatry.  Fear keeps us in service to the status quo; we prefer “the devil we know” to the unknown, even if it potentially good for us. The fear of death/dying can be especially debilitating.  If all you have is here and now, that is “the devil you know.”

      Hope is the antidote to fear as it causes us to look beyond self, here, now; to see opportunity. Hope is faith’s window; through it may look beyond death.

      A second reason for our slavery to sin is our appetite for sin.  Our appetite for sin comes from our SIN NATURE, which we inherit from Adam.  This is appetite that is neither emotional nor logical, seemingly having a mind of its own; it is akin to spiritual evil.  It is our SIN NATURE that is crucified with Christ on the cross (see Galatians 2:20).  A believer is so completely free from it we are dead to it.

      However, even as believers, we still have an appetite for sin that comes from our HUMAN NATURE, which we inherit from our parents and our culture.  In contrast to our sin nature, our human nature creates an appetite for sin that is emotional and logical; it must be controlled by means of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and spiritual maturity.  Regarding the struggle to resist this appetite, 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises a God-ordained limit to temptation to what we can overcome and provides a DOOR OF ESCAPE from all temptations.

      Similarly, the author of Hebrews asserts we have been ruled by two masters, the first of which is the devil.  The DEVIL wields a broken power, the POWER OF DEATH, that is, the fear of death.

      The good news is that Christ has DESTROYED the devil’s power.  In this case, the word DESTROYED does not mean to eliminate or annihilate; it means “to render powerless,” or “bring to naught,” as if it never existed.  As the POWER OF DEATH has been nullified, we have no reason to fear death.

      Our sinful nature is mentioned again as our second master.  Paul wrote about our SINFUL NATURE in Romans 8:12-13.

      The Bible teaches we have three natures – we’ve covered the sinful and human natures – the third is our spiritual nature.  Our spiritual nature is the point of our personal interaction with God.  When the Bible talks about our soul or spirit, it is referencing this immaterial part of who we are.

2. Jesus is our Redeemer. (16-18)

      Powerless to save ourselves, we need to be rescued.  A “redeemer” is someone who pays the purchase price for a slave and then sets them free.  THE ANGELS are mentioned here as a point of comparison.

      The first point of comparison is in the differing natures of the two races.  THE ANGELS are a race of spiritual beings, humans are a race of physical and spiritual beings. 

      The second point of comparison is that the Incarnation (Jesus as God becoming a human being) was not for the benefit of THE ANGELS, but for the benefit of the human race.  They didn’t need to be saved: we did.     

      The third point of comparison is this: all believers are CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM because we share his faith in God (see Galatians 3:7, 9 & 29).  This is a distinction THE ANGELS will never achieve.

      The author explains HOW Jesus saved the human race; He came to HELP us.  The word HELP means “to take hold of” or “hold by the hand.”  This word is used in Jeremiah 31:9 to show God as a Father leading His child Israel out of Egypt by holding his hand.

      Jesus rescued us by His atoning sacrifice.  Logically, He needed a physical body to have blood to offer as a sacrifice for atonement.  The text plainly says HE HAD TO do this; it was the Law and the will of God the Father.  In the original language, this phrase implies a moral obligation to do what was required.

      But there was also a legal obligation: according to the Law, blood sacrifice was required for the forgiveness of sins.  The blood of the sacrifice represented its life, a life given in exchange for the death penalty resulting from guilt of sin.

      Verse seventeen tells HE [Jesus] HAD TO BE MADE LIKE HIS BROTHERS IN EVERY WAY, but elsewhere in the New Testament, we’re notified of three exceptions; three ways in which Jesus is unlike the rest of us.  The first is Jesus’ Virgin Birth.  This circumstance meant that unlike us, He did not inherit a sin nature, which the Bible writers believed was inherited from one’s father.  Without a human father, there was no such transmission of a sin nature.

      Second, Jesus was tempted, but never gave in.  Jesus was morally perfect.

      Third, He died for our sins, not for His own.  His sacrifice will never be repeated.

      God’s Law required the high priest to conduct an annual sacrifice for the atonement of the people.  Jesus once and for all time accomplished our ATONEMENT with God.  Atonement is necessary because sin breaks relationships, especially our relationship with God.  Atonement restores our relationship with God and improves our relationships with one another.

      Jesus’ sympathetic experience qualifies Him to be our MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST.  He is MERCIFUL, in part, because he personally experienced temptation and knows how it feels.  He is FAITHFUL because He was obedient to God, even to the point of death.  Being both God and man, He mediates between us and God the Father, as a high priest was supposed to do.

      Having the experience of being human means Jesus shares our humanity.  Like us, Jesus SUFFERED.  He knew hunger, thirst, exhaustion, sadness, and pain.

      Like us, Jesus was TEMPTED.  Unlike us, He never gave into temptation and sinned, but He knows their persuasive power from firsthand experience. This means that the Incarnation was also necessary to qualify Jesus to be our High Priest.

Jesus became one of us to free all of us from slavery to sin.

      One of the enduring legacies of the ancient Roman empire is its cruelty.  For example, it is recorded that at times Roman authorities required a captive to be bound face-to-face with a corpse, condemned to carry it about for days.  The poet Virgil described this macabre torture with this verse:

The living and dead at his command

Were coupled face to face and hand to hand;

Till choked with stench, in loathed embraces tied,

The lingering wretches pined away and died.

      Apart from Jesus Christ, every human being is shackled to a corpse: their own sin nature.  Only God’s forgiveness sets us free from carrying around that deadly burden.

      Because Jesus was born a human being, because He lived a human life, and because He surrendered that life on the cross, we are free from the fear of death and the appeal of sin.  Our slavery to evil is ended and our service to God has begun.  We celebrate Christmas because the glorious light of Jesus’ birth banishes all the shadows of evil and gives us life!

Why Christmas?

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Read Romans 5:12-21 in your Bible.

      A website named Quorra asked the question, “What’s the worst thing anyone has ever done?” People gave various responses; one that stood out to me as being particularly evil was the verbal and physical abuse of Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski in 1965.  Time magazine called it “the most terrible crime committed in the state of Indiana.”

      Gertrude had taken Slyvia and her sister into her care after her mother had been jailed for shoplifting.  Sylvia lasted just three months before the abuse took her life.

      I will spare you the gruesome details of Sylvia’s suffering.  What makes this case particularly evil is not Gertrude’s abuse alone, but the way she enlisted her own children’s help in the abuse and also involved neighborhood children, none of whom told their parents about what was going on.  What makes this worse is that two movies have been made about Sylvia’s mistreatment: people have profited from offering this child’s suffering as “entertainment.”

      Gertrude Banizewski was convicted of Slyvia’s murder in 1966; she was sentenced to life in prison but served only 20 years before she was paroled.  She died of lung cancer six years later at age 61.

      As horrible as this story is, it is not the worst thing anyone has ever done.  Even Judas did not commit the worst sin ever when he betrayed Jesus.  No, as we shall see in this passage, the worst thing ever done was the sin of disobedience committed by our father Adam.  He ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and thereby brought sin & death into God’s good creation.

Jesus became one of us to save all of us from death.

1. Adam made a deadly mistake. (12-14)

      Sin brought death into the world. (12)  This is an unfinished sentence (hence it ends in a dash).  Did Paul assume the remainder would become obvious after reading this section?

      SIN ENTERED INTO THE WORLD THROUGH ONE MAN, namely Adam.  And as follows, DEATH THROUGH SIN.  The Apostle Paul made plain the doctrine of sin in 3:23, ALL HAVE SINNED and in 6:23, THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH.  DEATH here includes physical death, but it also refers to eternal separation from God after Judgment Day, referred to in Revelation 20 as the SECOND DEATH.

      The blame is not only Adam’s as ALL of us have SINNED; we are all guilty.  We cannot blame Adam as if we are otherwise innocent bystanders.  We have all committed sins for which each of us is personally responsible.

      As a pious Jew would, Paul’s thoughts turned to the Law of Moses and what role it played as Adam’s sin predated the Law, which is the “official” definition of sin. In verses thirteen and fourteen Paul showed the Law was not a factor in Adam’s sin nor his condemnation.  This fact does not relieve Adam’s guilt as he knowingly disobeyed God’s command, “Do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” which he received directly from God.

      In his disobedience, Adam was a PATTERN OF THE ONE TO COME, who is Jesus Christ.  That sounds strange; the connection between Adam and Jesus is this: just as Adam’s sin affected the entire human race, so has Jesus’ sacrifice made salvation available to all who receive it by faith.  This passage is a set of comparisons between Adam and Jesus, just as we see in 1 Corinthians 15. 

2. Jesus made a life-giving gift. (15-17)

      The gift is grace; Jesus gave it. (15)  GRACE is God showing mercy, even favor, to people who do not deserve it.  The GIFT and the TRESSPASS are similar in that they both came about through ONE MAN.  (The word for TRESPASS literally means “to fall aside,” a word picture of falling off the path God has set before us.)  Jesus’ GRACE affects MANY, only those who receive it by faith.

      Jesus’ gift is our salvation. (16-17)  Though they are similar in scope, THE  GIFT is unlike the TRESSPASS in its effect; the GIFT brings life, the TRESSPASS, death.  Adam’s SIN brought death, JUDGMENT, and CONDEMNATION.  Jesus’ GIFT brings GRACE, JUSTIFICATION, and righteous life.

3. Jesus’ gift corrects Adam’s mistake. (18-21)

      One sin has been made right by one righteous act.  Here Paul contrasted Adam and Jesus.  Adam’s sin resulted in the CONDEMNATION of all people but Jesus’ righteous act results in JUSTIFICATION THAT BRINGS LIFE TO ALL MEN (that is, it provides the possibility of salvation to all people but it must be received in order to take effect).  Adam’s DISOBEDIENCE made all of us SINNERS but Jesus’ obedience made it possible for MANY of us to be declared RIGHTEOUS when Jesus comes again and we face Judgment Day.

      The good news is that grace cancelled the Law.  The LAW INCREASED sin by defining it, applying a penalty to it (death), and by requiring sacrifice to fix it.  But the LAW also INCREASED GRACE by creating a need for it.  GRACE is the complete solution making it possible for us to have RIGHTEOUSNESS that brings about ETERNAL LIFE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.

Jesus became one of us to save all of us from death.

      When I returned to the internet to ask the opposite question to the one I cited at the beginning of this message, I typed in “What’s the greatest thing anyone has ever done?” I was unable to get a single reply to that question.  After surveying over two billion websites, the top responses were all answers to a slightly different question; “What is the greatest thing anyone has ever done for you?”  It seems we aren’t interested in great acts unless we are the direct beneficiaries.  Self-centeredness is alive and well in our culture, isn’t it?

      No matter.  By now the answer to my question must be obvious.  The greatest thing anyone has ever done was done by Jesus Christ.  He gave His life on the cross to provide forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  To do that, to have a life to give, to have blood to be spilled, Jesus had to be a human being.

      The question before us this Advent season is “Why Christmas?”  We are going to determine why was it necessary, in the plan of God, for Jesus to be born and live a human life.  As we see answers from God’s word, we will come to a deeper appreciation of the Incarnation and have more reason to celebrate Christmas.  We start here; Jesus was born to correct Adam’s deadly sin.

RESOURCES:

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-worst-thing-that-anyone-has-ever-done

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Romans, Leslie C. Allen

Better Days Ahead

Take a moment to read the book of Jude in your Bible.

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

  Last Sunday we looked at Four Guys who were present in a church under the authority of the Apostle John.  One of them was a bad actor, a church bully named Diotrephes.  I was a little surprised to find that the very next book, Jude, gives us instruction on how to deal with such people.

      Before we look at Jude, I want to borrow an example from an internet article I found on this subject.  On January 21, 2015 Joe McKeever posted an article to his blog entitled “How to Bring Down a Church Bully.” 

      “American history provides a near-perfect example of how to bring down a bully [is the case of] Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.  In his speeches, he would wave papers which he said contained the names of [hundreds of] known Communists working for this or that agency.  More than one person with a questionable affiliation in his past committed suicide rather than endure a public lynching at the hands of McCarthy’s team.

      “When he accused the Army of harboring Communists, the fight was on.  As the namecalling and mudslinging intensified, the Senate decided to hold hearings and settle the matter.

      “ABC-TV decided to do something unheard of in 1954.  They aired the senate hearing from gavel to gavel.  (Bear in mind, television was still in its infancy, there was no C-Span, and most network news programs at the supper hour ran for 15 minutes.) This is how the American people got to see Senator McCarthy exposed as the bully and tyrant that he was. 

      “Boston lawyer Joseph Welch was hired to represent the Army in the hearings.  He was a class act, a distinguished man, in high contrast to McCarthy’s approach was always to attack, attack, and then attack again.  On this day, he accused Attorney Welch of having a young lawyer with ties to a Communist organization working for his firm back in Boston.

      “With millions of Americans watching, Welch spoke the immortal lines that would ultimately end McCarthy’s career.

‘Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.’  Welch was soft-spoken and gracious. His words were like knives.

      “When McCarthy tried to interrupt and continue the attack, Welch softly but angrily continued: ‘Let us not assassinate the lad further, Senator.  You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?’

      “Historians tell us that overnight McCarthy’s popularity plummeted.  Not long after, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy and strip him of his chairmanship.

Ostracized by his party, ignored by the press, and abandoned by his supporters, McCarthy died 3 years later, a broken man, only 48 years old.  [America’s most feared bully was] brought down by public exposure and relentless, though gentle, questioning.

      “That’s how church bullies are to be dealt with. ‘Harmless as doves, wise as serpents,’ [Jesus said]. That says it all.

Jude promised better days lie beyond the bad actors.

1. Bring about better days by contending for the faith. (3-16)

A. Know the faith that saves you.

      1) THE SALVATION WE SHARE. (3)

      2) ONCE FOR ALL ENTRUSTED TO THE SAINTS. (3)

B. Identify and oppose those who want to promote a different faith. (4-13)

      1) WHOSE CONDEMNATION WAS WRITTEN ABOUT LONG AGO. (4)

      2) They had SECRETLY SLIPPED into the church. (4)

      3) They were GODLESS. (4)

      4) Their false teaching was characterized by two things. (4)

            a) They changed THE GRACE OF OUR GOD INTO A LICENSE FOR IMMORALITY.

            b) They denied JESUS CHRIST OUR ONLY SOVEREIGN AND LORD.

      5) They will SUFFER THE PUNISHMENT OF ETERNAL FIRE

            a) As have other enemies of God. (5-7, 11)

– Egypt = oppressors.

– Fallen angels = demons.

– Sodom & Gomorrah = sinful.

– Cain = religion w/out love.

– Balaam= perverts faith to gain.

– Korah = incites rebellion.

            b) They are guilty of the same sins. (8-10)

– They POLLUTE THEIR OWN BODIES.

– They REJECT AUTHORITY.

– They SLANDER CELESTIAL BEINGS.

– They SPEAK ABUSIVELY ABOUT THINGS THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND.

– They behave abusively regarding what they do understand.

      6) They act immorally, even at church. (12-13)

            a) They were BLEMISHES AT their LOVE FEASTS.

            b) They were worse than useless, making no disciples.

– SHEPHERDS WHO FEED ONLY THEMSELVES.

– CLOUDS WITHOUT RAIN, BLOWN ALONG BY THE WIND.

– AUTUMN TREES, WITHOUT FRUIT AND UPROOTED – TWICE DEAD.

– WILD WAVES OF THE SEA, FOAMING UP THEIR SHAME.

– WANDERING STARS, FOR WHOM BLACKEST DARKNESS AS BEEN RESERVED FOREVER.

C. Know that Judgment Day is coming; God will deal with them in justice. (14-16)

      1) A long time ago, Enoch prophesied their downfall. (14-15)

      2) Jude prophesied what Judgment Day would reveal about the false teachers. (16)

            a) They were GRUMBLERS AND FAULT-FINDERS.

            b) They would FOLLOW THEIR OWN EVIL DESIRES.

            c) They would BOAST ABOUT THEMSELVES AND FLATTER OTHERS TO THEIR OWN ADVANTAGE: occasions for lying.

2. Bring about better days by building up the brethren. (17-23).

A. Know the difference between people in the faith and SCOFFERS. (17-19)

      1) This is part of the true faith: WHAT THE APOSTLES OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST FORETOLD.

      2) Their evil nature was predicted.

            a) They would FOLLOW THEIR OWN UNGODLY DESIRES.

            b) They would have a divisive effect on the fellowship.

            c) They are characterized by following MERE NATURAL INSTINCTS because they DO NOT HAVE THE SPIRIT.

B. How people in the faith build each other up IN THE MOST HOLY FAITH. (20-23)

      1) PRAY IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.

      2) KEEP yourself IN GOD’S LOVE.

      3) WAIT FOR THE MERCY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST TO BRING us TO ETERNAL LIFE.

      4) Be MERCIFUL TO THOSE WHO DOUBT.

      5) SNATCH OTHERS FROM THE FIRE AND SAVE THEM.

      6) SHOW MERCY MIXED WITH FEAR of the corrupting effect of sin.

      Church life expert Thomas Rainer published an article entitled “NINE WAYS TO DEAL WITH CHURCH BULLIES” on April 1, 2015.  Even though it appeared on April Fools Day, this is a “no fooling” look on how to deal with bullies in the church.

“Fight bullying with the power of prayer.  Especially for the most common targets of church bullies are the pastor and church staff.

Seek to have an Acts 6 group in the church.  Referring to the manner in which the Jerusalem church dealt with complaining.

Have a high expectation church. High expectation churches don’t offer an environment conducive to bullying.

Encourage members to speak and stand up to church bullies.  Bullies tend to back down when confronted by strong people in the church.

Make certain the polity of the church does not become a useful instrument to church bullies.  Bullies take advantage of ambiguity and interpret things according to their agenda.

Be willing to exercise church discipline.  Bullies need to know there are consequences for their actions.

Have a healthy process to put the best-qualified persons in positions of leadership in the church.  There should be a spiritual and strategic process to choose and recruit people for leadership.

Have a healthy process to hire church staff.  A unified church staff is a major roadblock for a church bully.

Encourage a celebratory environment in the church. Joyous churches deter bullies. They like somber and divided churches.”

RESOURCES:

Four Guys

Read 3 John in your Bible. Go ahead. Read the whole thing. It won’t take you but a minute.

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      The title of this message is “Four Guys,” so we will begin with a story about four guys.  A doctor, a lawyer, a little boy, and a pastor were on a flight in a small airplane. Suddenly, the plane developed engine trouble. Despite the best efforts of the pilot, the plane started to go down. Finally, the pilot grabbed a parachute, yelled to the passengers that they had better jump, and he bailed out.
      Unfortunately, there were only three parachutes remaining. The doctor grabbed one and said “I’m a doctor, I save lives, so I must live,” and jumped out.
      The lawyer then said, “I’m a lawyer and lawyers are the smartest people in the world. I deserve to live.” He also grabbed a parachute and jumped.
      The pastor looked at the little boy and said, “My son, I’ve lived a long and full life. You are young and have your whole life ahead of you. Take the last parachute and live in peace.”
      The little boy said, “Not to worry, Pastor. The ‘smartest man in the world’ just jumped off with my backpack.”

      Tradition says 3 John was written after John was released from exile on the island of Patmos, between 80-95 AD.  If so, 3 John is the last book of the Bible.  At just over 200 words, it is a still-timely reminder of the importance of the testimony of our reputation.

The Elder offered four examples of different reactions to God’s love.

1. Gaius: the guy who got it right. (1-8)

Gaius was a common name at the time; there are three mentioned in the New Testament.

      The Elder’s love for Gaius is evident in calling him DEAR FRIEND four times in this letter. (1-2)  Love and truth make for a healthy body and soul; that was the Elder’s prayer for Gaius to ENJOY GOOD HEALTH and that his SOUL got along well.  In the Greek, the phrase THAT ALL MAY GO WELL is placed at the beginning of the sentence to give it emphasis.  In the Greek, the phrase GETTING ALONG is a word picture of a pleasant journey.

      Gaius was a good example; he walked in the truth. (3-4)  The word TRUTH appears four times in these eight verses.  Gaius’ truthfulness caused the Elder to feel GREAT JOY; in fact, there is NO GREATER JOY.

      People cannot read our minds, but they can easily see how we act.  If there is a big difference between a faith we claim and the way we act, the truth is not in us.

      Gaius was a good example because he served the Church faithfully. (5-8)  Gaius’ service was extending hospitality to itinerant preachers.  In this Gaius did not show favoritism; he was hospitable to STRANGERS as well.  The Elder knew this for a fact because those who had received Gaius’ hospitality came back with a testimony in his favor.

      In the culture of this time hospitality was a virtue and a necessity.  The itinerant preachers could not have visited around the churches without this hospitality.  Verses seven to eight give three reasons specific reasons hospitality was so important.

      One, FOR THE SAKE OF THE NAME.  By serving one another, we ultimately serve Christ.

      Two, they were RECEIVING NO HELP FROM THE PAGANS, which was good: we cannot expect or should even want help from unbelievers.  Heeding Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 6:14, we should avoid being UNEQUALLY YOKED WITH UNBELIEVERS.

      Three, SO WE MAY WORK TOGETHER FOR THE TRUTH. We cannot all go elsewhere to do Gospel ministry in person but by our gifts of support make us co-workers with those who do go.

2. Diotrephes: the guy with a harmful agenda. (9-10)

Diotrephes was the evil opposite of Gaius; selfish and inhospitable.  His name means “nourished by Jupiter,” the chief of the Roman pantheon of Gods.  This is the only biblical mention of the name.

      Diotrephes was a bad example as he put himself first. (9)  Colossians 1:18 says that only Jesus is to have FIRST PLACE in the Church.

      He also set himself apart from the larger church, the ones over which John was the Elder (HE WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH US). (9)  Diotrephes figured “his church” was better off without John and the preachers he sent.  The only reason we are given for Diotrephes’ standoffishness is that he felt too highly about himself.  We can speculate that he did not want competing views of how the church should be run and sought to eliminate the Elder’s influence.

      Diotrephes was a bad example as he was a divisive influence in the church. (10)  John predicted three instances of Diotrephes’ misbehavior.

      GOSSIPING MALICIOUSLY.  Sounds like politics in 2020, doesn’t it?

      REFUSES TO WELCOME THE BROTHERS.  As hospitality is a virtue, inhospitality is a vice.

      STOPS THOSE WHO WANT TO be hospitable AND PUTS THEM OUT OF THE CHURCH.  Arrogance is manifest in aggressive actions.  Bullies want to force their will on the typically passive church people.

3. Demetrius: the guy with a good testimony. (11-12)

A willful person like Diotrephes can impress passive people and accumulate a following.  The Elder would much rather have the church folks following the example of a good man like Demetrius.

      We are to imitate good people like Demetrius who set an example in godliness. (11)  The Elder kept it simple: there are only two kinds of people; those who are born again (FROM GOD) are characterized by doing GOOD. People who are not born again (have NOT SEEN GOD) are characterized by doing EVIL.

      Demetrius set a good example. (12)  His reputation was good: he was WELL SPOKEN OF BY EVERYONE.  You know how hard it is to impress EVERYONE.  It is harder still to be attested to BY THE TRUTH ITSELF.  The Elder also attests to Demetrius’ good character, and Gaius knew full well the Elder’s TESTIMONY to be TRUE.

4. John: the guy with a pastor’s heart. (13-14).

The three letters of John are concerned with truth and love.  These are pastoral concerns, especially in situations where they are colliding interests.

      The writer of this letter identified himself as the ELDER, not by name. (1)  Originally, the term “elder” referred to an older person.  In the Church, it was a title, a term of respect for persons who had a reputation of wisdom & integrity.  He is an example worth following because of these qualities

      John provides a worthy example as he desired fellowship with other believers. (13-14)  You know the Elder was a pastor because he had more to say: I HAVE MUCH TO WRITE YOU.  However, he did not want to commit such personal thoughts to paper.  That was wise.  He preferred to communicate FACE TO FACE.  In our time he might say, “I don’t want to use social media, but want to talk to you person-to-person.”

      More than fellowship, the Elder desired peace in the fellowship. (14)  For example, he gave the blessing of PEACE to Gaius.  He exchanged greetings between the members of his church and Gaius’ church.  Preachers prefer peaceful churches where everyone is FRIENDS.

The Elder offered four examples of different reactions to God’s love.

      We all need friends and family; people to love us in the truth.  I want to share a story that illustrates how we need each other.

      It had been a typical Vacation Bible School until midway through the Wednesday session when a late-comer was brought into Mrs. Tullis’ class.  The seven-year-old boy was missing his right arm.  There was only time for the briefest of introductions before Mrs. Tullis had to continue with the Bible lesson for the evening. 

      While she was teaching, Mrs. Tullis’ mind raced.  She was worried about how the other children would react to Davey.  She dreaded them saying something embarrassing that might hurt the boy’s feelings.  Six to eight-year-old children could be cruel even when they did not intend to be.

      She pressed through the Bible lesson without incident.  In her conclusion, she sought to illustrate what they had learned about the church with a simple rhyme and gestures.  She said, “Let us make our churches.  Here is the church and here is the steeple.  Open the doors…”  She realized, to her horror and shame, she had done just what she feared the children would do; she looked at her two hands together and saw too late she’d done something Davey couldn’t do and had drawn attention to his disability.

      She sat there speechless, uncertain how to get out of this situation, her face flushed.  A little girl seated next to Davey bailed Mrs. Tullis out.  She reached across with her right hand, and lacing her fingers between Davey’s said, “Here, let’s make a church together.”

      No surprise.  That is how churches have always been made.  Hand in hand.  Friends in relationship with truth and love.

RESOURCES:

Message #539

Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in 1, 2, & 3 John, Daniel L. Akin

I.F.F.

Read 2 John in your Bible.

IFF

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

                From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Identification, friend or foe (IFF) is a radar-based aircraft identification system designed for command and control. It uses a transponder that listens for an interrogation signal and then sends a response that identifies the broadcaster. It enables military and civilian air traffic control systems to identify aircraft, vehicles, or forces as friendly and to determine their bearing and range from the interrogator.

      “Despite the name, IFF can only positively identify friendly targets, not hostile ones. If an IFF interrogation receives no reply or an invalid reply, the object cannot be identified as friendly, but is not positively identified as foe; it may, for instance, be a friendly aircraft with an inoperative, unresponsive, or malfunctioning transponder. IFF is a designed to reduce friendly fire incidents, but also contributes to overall tactical decision-making.”

       Many people are familiar with Jesus’ words, “JUDGE NOT,” and take that command to forbid all kinds of judgments about other people.  That is a classic example about taking a verse out of context, as just a few verses later, Jesus gives instructions on how to tell the difference between a GOOD TREE (person) and a BAD TREE (person).  Spoiler alert: it is by their FRUITS (words and deeds).  Jesus forbade judgmentalism but commanded exercising good judgment in knowing the difference between good and evil in one’s self and in others.  John is certainly in line with the teaching of Jesus.

Believers are to be wise enough to know the difference between God’s friends and His foes.

1. Identify God’s friends by their love in word and deed. (4-6)

      Mark #1 = God’s friends love the truth.  WALKING IN THE TRUTH brings GREAT JOY to God’s friends. (4)  The author of this book identified himself as the ELDER, so that is what we will call him.  The Elder expresses relief and GREAT JOY to find that SOME of the CHOSEN LADY’s CHILDREN are still WALKING IN THE TRUTH.

      This is the Elder’s teaching, the truth revealed by the FATHER who commands His children to live in keeping with the TRUTH.  To walk in the TRUTH means to live in a way that is consistent with God’s commands, obedient to His will.  We are to keep all the truth, not just the parts we find convenient or compelling.

      Mark #2 = God’s friends truly love one another.  In verse five THE Elder developed the most important part of the TRUTH revealed by the Father: His command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  The Elder did not change his message; this is the same command he gave them FROM THE BEGINNING.  In his commentary Dr. Tom Johnson wrote, “Love is the vital power to keep Christians together amid controversy and conflict.  It can heal old wounds and keep new ones from opening.” (p. 153)

      God’s friends WALK in OBEDIENCE and LOVE. (6) To merely claim to have faith and feel love are insufficient.  Our daily living, our WALK, must be characterized by faith and love in action.  Love for God is manifest in and proven genuine by obedience.  Love for one another is manifest in and proven genuine by our words and deeds intended to build each other up in spiritual maturity.

2. Identify God’s foes by their falsehood & lack of love. (7-11)

      Mark #1 = God’s foes are FALSE (7).  The Elder called them DECEIVERS.  This Greek word is based on the word for “error.”  The DECEIVERS were not sincerely wrong, they were leading others astray even though they knew what their teaching was in error.  The Elder identified one important point of their deception: they did not ACKNOWLEDGE JESUS CHRIST AS COMING IN THE FLESH.

      Concerned for the spiritual life of the church, the Elder warned such DECIEVERS have GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD.  They misrepresent the Church and the Gospel.

      Mincing no words, the Elder correctly identified God’s foes as THE DECEIVER AND THE ANTICHRIST.  There is no middle ground: every person is either God’s friend or foe.

      Mark #2 = God’s foes split churches (9).  In a play on words, the Elder wrote that God’s friends WALK in love, but God’s foes “run ahead.”  Rather than stick with the faith passed down from the Apostles, they believe what they want.

      Their error in rejecting THE TEACHING OF CHRIST is that they do not HAVE GOD.  Regardless of what they claim, such people are not putting forth this teaching at God’s direction.  It is entirely their own doing.  By way of contrast, God’s friends continue IN THE TEACHING OF CHRIST, including that He came to this world IN THE FLESH, to provide life for us.

3. The importance of identifying friend and foe is found in the Elder’s warnings. (8,10-11)

      The Elder’s warned the believers to guard their REWARD against God’s foes. (8)  God has promised to reward His friends, the ones who remain faithful, whatever life or persecutors throw at them.  Their motive is not to LOSE WHAT YOU HAVED WORKED FOR, the full REWARD God offers, eternal life in heaven.  Daniel L. Akin wrote, “John believes perseverance is the proof of possession.” (p. 158)

      In 1 John 1:19 our author explained how people who had been in church could turn and become “antichrist:”

THEY WENT OUT FROM US, BUT THEY DID NOT REALLY BELONG TO US.  FOR IF THEY HAD BELONGED TO US, THEY WOULD HAVE REMAINED WITH US.”  In other words, it is not possible to lose your salvation, but it is possible to appear to have it and by giving up, lose the appearance of salvation.  By persevering we prove to ourselves and others our faith is real.

      The Elder also warned them against befriending God’s foes. (10-11)  When you recognize God’s foes, you are to cut ties with such a person.  The idea is not to punish anyone with rudeness, but to act to quarantine yourself against their falsehood like an infection.

      In a culture that emphasized hospitality (for example, in 3 John 8 the Elder commanded showing hospitality to faithful teachers), the Elder commands them to not be hospitable to such people.  In our time, this would take the form of quietly but firmly shutting the door on cultists at your home or hanging up on deceivers on your telephone.

      Speaking plainly, the Elder cautioned that anyone who welcomed God’s foes became an accomplice in their WICKED WORK.  This would be sufficient cause to lose one’s REWARD (v. 8).

      The Elder is simply being practical.  He is making it easy for the friends of God to maintain their faith, not taking the risk of contaminating the truth by giving them even an inch of the precious territory of their soul.  “Zero Tolerance” is the simplest, safest policy.

Believers are to be wise enough to know the difference between God’s friends and His foes.

      Daniel L. Akin offers a neat, “mathematical” way of understanding how the foes of God work against a church.

Addition = “They add an extra-biblical source of authority by prophet, pen, or professor.’

Subtraction = “They subtract from the person and work of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  They deny His deity and find inadequate His work of redemption.”

Division = “They divide our allegiance from God through Christ alone to others.”

Multiplication = “They multiply requirements for salvation.  All advocate some form of works salvation.” (Akins, p. 169.)

      Social media and 24-7 news media have created a “disinformation superhighway.”  It is simply too easy to throw out personal opinions and prejudices without any regard for others or for consequences.  The Elder says we who believe must do better.

      My advice is to disconnect until you can find reasonable sources of information.  Use social media to contact people you know and interact only positively and only with people you know and trust.

RESOURCES:

Message #538

New International Bible Commentary, 1, 2, and 3 John, Thomas F. Johnson

Christ-centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in 1, 2, & 3 John, Daniel L. Akin

The Nefarious Institution

Take a moment to read Philemon in you favorite Bible.

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

      One of the three things that has caused 2020 to be an historically awful year has been the rioting in American cities.  A reason offered for these mob actions is to force more attention and action on “race relations.”  In recent newsletter articles I have shown how the Church needs to actively promote the truth and decry the use of the word “race” to account for differences in skin color.  Science and Scripture both affirm that human beings are far more alike than they are different.

      A factor in this aspect of the “Cultural Cold War” is the enduring effects of the practice of slavery in this country.  Slavery has always been an offense to God who makes all people in His image and it has been a problem for our nation since before its birth.  It was debated during deliberations on the Declaration of Independence.  Sections of the document condemning slavery were edited out.  Ironically, a document proclaiming the right to freedom of every human did a hard pass on the freedom of humans who happened to be slaves.

      Later, after our revolution succeeded, our founders met to give form to our government: “That year, during debate on the Constitution, one of the most vocal opponents of slavery among the Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, called slavery a ‘nefarious institution’ and ‘the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed.’” (Quote retrieved from Britannica.com.)

      Today we will look at the Bible book that most directly and powerfully examines this topic.  It happens to be one of the “One Page Wonders of the Bible,” Philemon.  Here is the backstory before we begin: a slave ran away.  He ran into the Apostle Paul.  At some point this slave became a Christian and an important assistant to Paul.  Love and law collided in this situation.  Paul was forced to make a tough choice.  His response is instructive to us on slavery and in Christian conduct in general.

The Apostle Paul did not argue for abolition but attempted to persuade one owner (Philemon) to benefit one slave (Onesimus), both of whom were brothers in Christ.

1. Paul put Philemon in his place. (4-7, 21)

      Paul held Philemon to a high standard and wrote positively about his faith.  Paul commended Philemon’s faith in five ways.

      First (v. 4), in thankful prayers. In this culture, letters often began with this kind of greeting.  In this case, Paul is expressing more than the usual amount of love for Philemon.

      Second (v. 5), Paul’s thankfulness was based, in part, on the reports Paul had received about Philemon: his remarkable FAITH and LOVE.  Philemon had FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS and LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS.  The word ALL stands out here because there were many slaves who were numbered among the members of the Church.

      Third (v. 6), by noting in detail what he prayed for Philemon, Paul attempted to create these virtues in Philemon.  For example, the clause, THAT YOU MAY BE ACTIVE IN SHARING YOUR FAITH aims to encourage Philemon’s activity in witnessing.  Were Philemon to actively share his faith, that would put his Christianity in a more public place.  This would, in turn, have the effect of making Philemon virtually accountable to everyone he met.  Were he to behave poorly to Onesimus, there would be peer pressure of disapproval or at least the threat of it, to motivate him to behave more charitably.

            Another example of using prayer as a motivator, Paul prayed THAT YOU WILL HAVE A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF EVERY GOOD THING WE HAVE IN CHRIST.  This prayer acknowledges we learn by experience.  The aforementioned “active sharing” would be an experience that would impart a fuller understanding of faith in Philemon.  But Paul’s prayer is specific; that Philemon would better understand and appreciate EVERY GOOD THING WE HAVE IN CHRIST.  My guess is that Paul wanted Philemon to feel richly blessed so that he would feel he could afford to be generous regarding Onesimus.

      Fourth (v. 7), in personal gratitude for repeated expressions of love he had given the Apostle Paul: YOUR LOVE HAS GIVEN ME GREAT JOY AND ENCOURAGEMENT.  On a bigger scale, Philemon had also REFRESHED THE HEARTS OF THE SAINTS.  As he had proven himself to be a good man to the whole church, Paul hoped he would prove himself to be a godly man in his response to Onesimus, to the approval of the church.  Paul hoped Philemon would give him more reason for JOY AND ENCOURAGEMENT by showing LOVE to Onesimus upon his return.

      Fifth (v. 21), in his customary obedience to Paul’s instruction.  Based on previous encounters, Paul had reason to be CONFIDENT OF Philemon’s OBEDIENCE.  Paul pressed this point further.  He not only expected Philemon to as instructed, but to go beyond those instructions and showing initiative to do EVEN MORE THAN I ASK.

      I do not see this as flattery but as strategy.  The Apostle Paul never used flattery, he condemned it in 1 Thessalonians 2:5 = YOU KNOW WE NEVER USED FLATTERY, NOR DID WE PUT ON A MASK TO COVER UP GREED – GOD IS OUR WITNESS.  Instead, Paul used the strategy of holding up the ideal kind of behavior and attributing it to Philemon so he will be more likely to react to Onesimus’ return according to that higher standard, not according to anger or other vices typical to human nature. This was a positive use of peer pressure to bring into being the virtues you want someone to have.

2. Paul appealed to Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother. (8-21)

      Paul appealed to Philemon though he could have given him orders. (8-9)  Paul pulled rank without really pulling rank or even threatening to do so.  He took a gentle approach.  There is no abuse of his authority as an apostle. Instead of forcing a confrontation that way, Paul appealed to a greater power: the power of LOVE.

      Paul stressed how useful Onesimus had become to him; useful and more. (9-11)  As he had become an OLD MAN AND A PRISONER, Paul had need for a helper, a servant who could enter and exit the prison to get him things he needed.  Onesimus was of a practical value to Paul and yet Paul did not even consider keeping him but vowed to do the right thing.

      The value of Onesimus’ assistance and the depth of Paul’s feelings about him are measured by Paul’s reference to Onesimus as his SON.  In that culture, the teacher-student relationship was referred to as a “father-son” relationship. 

      We must also note the high human value Paul placed on Onesimus by referring to him as a SON, not a SLAVE.  Too often slaves are dehumanized, thought of as mere property, like cattle.  Paul humanized Onesimus by this reference.

      In verse eleven the apostle made a play on words.  The name Onesimus was a common name for a slave as it meant “useful.”  The fact that he had this name may indicate he was born into slavery or given this name as a dehumanizing act.  Paul said Onesimus became USELESS to Philemon when he ran away but became USEFUL to Paul in his imprisonment.  We cannot see it in English, but Paul is making a little joke here to try to draw out some of poisonous anger Philemon must have felt.

      Paul reluctantly returned Onesimus to honor Philemon’s legal authority as master. (12-14)  There are two contradictory truths here.

      On the one hand, Onesimus had been USEFUL to Paul as an assistant.  Moreover, Onesimus was in Paul’s HEART (v. 12) as a brother in Christ.  Paul held him in the highest value and hoped Philemon would see his true value as well.  On the other hand, the law was clear about fugitive slaves and God commands His people to follow the law.

      Feeling the sharp horns of that dilemma, Paul wanted to respect Philemon’s legal rights. (14)  Furthermore, he did not want to twist Philemon’s arm, using his authority or circumstance, or any other leverage to compel Philemon against his will.  Instead, Paul wanted to change Philemon’s will, so that his rights and freedom were respected and yet the best possible outcome achieved.

      Paul had to send Onesimus back.  But he used strategy, reasonable and emotional appeals, and relied on the Holy Spirit to change Philemon’s heart.

      Paul hoped Philemon would receive Onesimus as a BROTHER IN THE LORD, not a SLAVE. (15-16)  Onesimus broke the law by running away.  His service to Paul was given freely and appreciated, but Christian virtue does not allow us to break the law for matters of convenience or worldly gain.  There is the dilemma.

      Verses fifteen and sixteen are the heart of Paul’s appeal.  He looked at the situation from God’s perspective.  He speculated God may have intended to use Onesimus’ flight to provide for his ultimate freedom legally and spiritually.  We know God is powerful enough to take what men intend for evil and use it to bring about good.  In the long term, this letter definitively strikes a death blow against slavery.

      In his letter Paul redefined Onesimus.  He ran away as property; he was coming back as Paul’s SON, as a MAN, and best of all, as a BROTHER IN THE LORD.  Paul respected Philemon’s rights and his manhood but maneuvered around them in making his appeal.

      Paul put it to Philemon as a PARTNER, offering his own resources as compensation for any loss Philemon might incur by being faithful. (17-20)  Now Paul is being entirely practical.  The word PARTNER here has the sense of being a business associate. Rather than make this appeal and expect Philemon to write off his business losses, Paul offered, in several ways, to repay those losses so they may not be considered a “debt” that Onesimus would have to work off.

      Paul did this out of respect for Philemon but also to avoid any circumstance where Onesimus’ slavery would have to continue any longer.  He wanted Philemon to have no business reason to keep Onesimus a slave.  He removed any economic roadblock with this offer.

      We are told twice that Paul was a PRISONER.  What kind of financial resources could he have to back his offer?  I do not think he had much to offer, but the fact that he made that commitment speaks volumes about his character, his faith, and his desire to see Onesimus become a free man.

The Apostle Paul did not argue for abolition but attempted to persuade one owner (Philemon) to benefit one slave (Onesimus), both of whom were brothers in Christ.

      The irony of this letter is found in v. 1; Paul is a PRISONER (literally) trying to help a SLAVE (Onesimus) return to his servitude!  Because Paul is imprisoned by the Romans, all he can do to try to make this situation right is to write a letter.  I believe Paul poured his heart and all his persuasive powers in this letter because he loved both the slave and his master and he wanted to see them reconciled in the most legal and most Christ-honoring way possible.  Maybe Paul also hoped for a reconciliation scene that would forever be a testimony to the power of Christ to overcome the worldly things that try to separate us from one another.  Maybe he hoped that Onesimus might be remembered as a Christian who obeyed the law even when it cost him his freedom and that Philemon might be an example of Christ-like love and grace because he not only forgave Onesimus for running away but also rewarded his Christian faith with his legal freedom.  If Paul was not hoping all those things from his letter, then God had them in mind and that is why this brief letter is included in our Bibles.  It is a short note with a powerful appeal!  It is an example of how we believe, with Christ, that we can change society one person at a time.  Political power and media influence are worldly means of persuading people to change.  Our power resides in the Holy Spirit in us. 

      Paul was faithful to act to change the heart of one master, softening it to save the life of one slave, making them brothers in the family of faith.  He used a letter filled with love, not a picket sign or a media rant to do it.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, Philemon, Arthur A. Rupprecht

https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Founding-Fathers-and-Slavery-1269536

Loyalty Tested is Loyalty Proven

Read 1 Peter 2:13-17 in your go-to Bible.

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

       Here at Emmanuel Baptist Church we have been in the habit of setting aside the second Sunday in October as “Loyalty Sunday.”  It has been a time when we encourage our members to make a pledge, invite a friend, make a special effort to be in worship.  In the midst of the pandemic, those are things not all of us are going to be able to do, so this Loyalty Sunday I want to turn the emphasis a bit to thank you for the loyalty you’ve been showing.

       Emmanuel Baptist members and friends have maintained pre-pandemic levels of attendance in-person and online.  You have given generously and consistently to meet our expenses.  You have responded positively to the steps we have taken to create a safe environment in our building.

       On this Loyalty Sunday, I want to thank and congratulate you.  As a result of your continuing support, the ministry of Jesus Christ at Emmanuel continues.  Praise the Lord!

       Take a moment to look at the illustration in your bulletin.  It seemed to me if you want to illustrate the virtue of loyalty, the best place to start is with our race’s best friend (after Jesus, of course): the dog.  The dog in this picture is demonstrating his loyalty through obedience: he’s been taught to leave a treat on his nose and will resist centuries of instinct, not gobbling it down until his master gives permission.

       If you can’t see that picture at the moment, I offer a verbal illustration found at the website “DogTime.”  “In Siberia, Russia, a dog has been coming to a hospital every day for over 2 years, unaware her master died a year ago. Her owner was admitted 2 years ago and a patient for about a year. Masha has come every day in search of her owner, unaware the man has passed. She still comes, hoping to find him. A family tried adopting Masha but she escaped and made her way back to the hospital. Now the hospital staff makes sure she is cared for.

That dog’s loyalty extends beyond the grave!  What a great picture of the loyalty we are to demonstrate in our relationship with God.

Loyalty to God requires obedience.

      CONTEXT: In 2:9 Peter taught believers have God-given authority; he called us A CHOSEN PEOPLE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, and a PEOPLE BELONGING TO GOD. (9)  He went on to detail the responsibilities that go with such an exalted status in vs. 11+12.  In this context, to command submission seems almost self-contradictory.  Taken together these complimentary commands prove a full-featured 3D view of discipleship: we do not SUBMIT because we are doormats anyway.  Believers SUBMIT out of obedience to God and to accomplish things that are possible only by submission.  Now we’ll take a moment to explain how that works.

1. SUBMIT YOURSELVES. (13-15)

God commands us to SUBMIT to EVERY AUTHORITY INSTITUTED AMONG MEN. (13)  The Greek words for EVERY AUTHORITY can also be translated “every human creation” or “every fundamental social institution.”  Peter will specify the authorities to be…

The government (13-17).

Masters & slaves (18-25).

The family (3:1-7).

      THE KING AS THE SUPREME AUTHORITY.  Would’ve been the emperor in Peter’s situation.  GOVERNOR were the regional or local authorities charged with enacting the emperor’s will in their jurisdictions.

What underlies this command to submit to heads of state is to counter the understandable desire for rebellion as a response to suffering persecution.  These commands remove any excuse for retaliation for persecution, even though at that point the government is misusing its God-given powers.

There is also a theological argument for the command to submit.  Starting with creation where God imposed order upon chaos, the Bible makes it clear God is all about order.  He is an organizer who calls His people to join Him in bringing righteous order to a sinful disorderly world.

The reasons for our submission.  The first and most important of these reasons is FOR THE LORD’S SAKE (13), which means for the glory due His name and for the obedience He commands.  If you wouldn’t choose to submit, do it anyway; do it FOR THE LORD’S SAKE.

      Second, the authorities are SENT by God to accomplish two purposes, which, together, accomplish the fullness of God’s justice.  Purpose #1: TO PUNISH THOSE WHO DO WRONG.  Purpose #2: TO COMMEND THOSE WHO DO RIGHT.

      Third, it is GOD’S WILL that we should DO GOOD to SILENCE THE IGNORANT TALK OF FOOLISH MEN. Notice the word “rant” in IGNORANT.  Do you suppose that’s just a coincidence?  The word for IGNORANT is typically used in the Bible for stubborn unbelievers; people who reject God because they are unreasonable folk.  Words do not generally silence such people as words are a weapon they wield as part of their arsenal of evil.  What is more likely to silence them are good deeds. The point is that the lives of believers are to be as blameless as possible so that critics of the faith have no true basis for accusation.

2. LIVE AS FREE MEN. (16)

We are to be FREE, but without excuse: freedom is not an excuse for doing what you want.  Our FREEDOM is that we’re no longer slaves to our own sin nature.  We’re not free from rules or responsibilities; we are free to embrace God’s commands without the distraction and encumbrance of a sin nature.

Believers are to behave responsibly, not misusing our freedom to do evil.  Followers of Jesus live in the truth; we don’t make excuses to justify misbehavior.  Here Peter echoes Paul’s teaching in Galatians 5:13 = YOU, MY BROTHERS, WERE CALLED TO BE FREE, BUT DO NOT USE YOUR FREEDOM TO INDULGE YOUR SINFUL NATURE; RATHER, SERVE ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.

Our freedom exists to allow us to choose to love.  It is love that motivates and directs the free choices we make.

SERVANTS OF GOD exercise their true freedom in Christ; they are free in a way that an ungodly person is NOT free.  “Slave” is a more literal translation of the Greek word rendered here as SERVANTS.  Peter made a forceful comparison between slave and free.  Behaving like FREE MEN requires surrendering our FREEDOM in voluntary slavery to Jesus Christ.  In this, Peter and Paul are again in agreement: Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3; DO NOTHING OUR OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.

3. SHOW PROPER RESPECT. (17)

RESPECT involves recognition of another person as more worthy than self.  We show RESPECT by deferring to the other person and having sensitivity to them.

In this “Information Age” we are trying hard to be heard, so it is easy to resort to disrespecting other voices on the same subject.  A respectful person does the opposite; they are, as James wrote, QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY (James 1:19).

RESPECT is the foundation to all good relationships because it involves recognizing the worth of all people, based on the fact that God created them.  Note: this means that RESPECT is NOT always earned, it is bestowed as a matter of course, based on God, not on the person.  RESPECT can be as much an act of grace as any other human interaction.

The word PROPER means “appropriate to the type of relationship.”  Peter gave three examples of appropriate RESPECT.

      The first example is LOVE for THE BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS. When we think about God’s command to love our “neighbor,” our family of faith rises to the top of that list.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve special LOVE.

      The second example is FEAR for GOD.  Our relationship with God is not one of equals.  We must have awe for God, recognizing He holds us in His hands.

      HONOR for the KING as long as honoring the KING does not require disobeying God’s law.  When faced with that choice, we must agree with Peter and the Apostles in Acts 5:29, “WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN!”

Loyalty to God requires obedience.

      President Woodrow T. Wilson said, “Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” That is another way of stating what has been said in this passage regarding our loyalty to God: it is manifest in our obedience to His commands.  Obedience has the greatest value when it demands the most self-sacrifice.

      This loyalty is demonstrated in the big decisions of life, but it is more commonly and more importantly manifest in the minor and mundane decisions of everyday life.  Our judgments made in ordinary moments, our choice of words and deeds either prove our loyalty or betray its falsehood.  What’s needed is for each of us to slow down and in these ordinary moments, consider how we might act as a loyal follower of Jesus Christ.  The weight of those decisions will, over time, have the most impact.

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, James, G.J. Polkinghorne.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 1 Peter, Edwin A. Blum.

https://www.quoteambition.com/loyalty-quotes/

Don’t Give Up On #100

Please read Luke 15:1-7 in your favorite Bible.

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

       Here’s a backwards take on the parable we’ve just read:

       “A devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, ‘It’s a miracle!’”

       “’Not really,’ said the sheep. “Your name is written inside the cover.”
(Source: http://www.jokes4us.com/animaljokes/sheepjokes.html)

       How do you react when you discover something’s lost?  On the one extreme there’s the person who won’t give up the search for the lost thing until it’s either found or they’ve exhausted the places they can look.  On the other extreme is the person who’s ready to give it up right away.  “It’ll turn up,” they say, and continue on, unconcerned.

       I tend to the first type, but my general lack of patience kicks in and I say, “Whatever.”  My grandmother used to say, “Whatever the house takes the house will give back.”  I have a few orphan socks that argue against her theory, but why quibble?

       As we will see in this parable, our attitude toward lost people ought to be something like the first extreme: we never give up.

Genuine godly love never gives up.

1. The point of this parable.

The shepherd’s work to find his sheep and his joy afterward are indicative of his love.  God does not give up on people; He continues to seek and save the lost.

God’s love is universal, but not all persons will be saved; only those who receive it by faith.  2 Peter 3:9 explains this apparent contradiction. THE LORD IS NOT SLOW IN KEEPING HIS PROMISE, AS SOME UNDERSTAND SLOWNESS.  HE IS PATIENT WITH YOU, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, BUT EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.

2. The parable in its context.

At the center of this passage are the folks whom the religious leaders dismissed as TAX COLLECTORS AND “SINNERS.”  The religious leaders’ discrimination was the launching point for these three parables, all of which make the same point about the extravagant love God has for sinners.

       THE PHARISEES AND TEACHERS OF THE LAW had written off such people as “deplorables;” people whom they believed God had already given up on.  In fact, they had a name for such people; they called them “People of the Land.”  Here’s what their own rules advised: “When a man is one of the People of the Land, entrust no money to him, take no testimony from him, trust him with no secret, do no appoint him guardian of an orphan, do not make him the custodian of charitable funds, do not accompany him on a journey.”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, Luke, p. 199.)

Sin draws boundaries to shut people out.  These religious leaders were legalists and hypocrites, two things that often go together.  Their lack of love stands in stark contrast to the deep love demonstrated by the shepherd in this parable and the father in the Parable of the Lost Son.

       These “religious” men grumbled publicly about Jesus’ choice of students: “THIS MAN WELCOMES SINNERS AND EATS WITH THEM.”  EATS WITH THEM was a more involved level of association, an action unthinkable to these hypocrites.  They intended this to be a slur on Jesus’ character (“A man is judged by the company he keeps.”) and a reason pious Jews should not listen to Him.  They were also warning faithful Jews that association with this crowd would make the ceremonially unclean, a status that would bar them from entering the temple.

Sheep and shepherds were common Bible images for God and His people.  Jesus’ parables most often used common events.  For example, Ezekiel 34:12: [The LORD said] “AS A SHEPHERD LOOKS AFTER HIS SCATTERED FLOCK WHEN HE IS WITH THEM, SO WILL I LOOK AFTER MY SHEEP.  I WILL RESCUE THEM FROM ALL THE PLACES WHERE THEY WERE SCATTERED ON A DAY OF CLOUDS AND DARKNESS.”

       The size of the flock (100 sheep) was average; it was customary to count them as they entered the sheep pen for the night.  The shepherd was responsible for the sheep, even to the point of risking his own life for them.  When a sheep died, he was required to bring home at least the fleece to show how it had died.

       For shepherds, each animal was a significant financial and personal investment; the relief and joy expressed by the shepherd in v. 6 would be typical.  The FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS invited to share in his joy might include the shepherd’s partners or the owners of the flock.  Even the detail of carrying the sheep on his shoulders is accurate; it was the typical way to carry a sheep that was injured or too frightened to be herded.

One detail was exaggerated and atypical in order to draw attention to it: this shepherd went “overboard” in his search for the missing sheep.  The 99 sheep were left in the OPEN FIELD, not in the pen.  This indicates the shepherd’s overwhelming concern for the lost.  He does not give up the search UNTIL HE FINDS IT (4).

       When the shepherd finds the sheep, he lovingly carries it back to the fold and calls for a joyous celebration.  This image fits perfectly with Jesus’ mission as He identified it in Luke 19:10, “THE SON OF MAN CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE WHAT WAS LOST.”

God searches, finds, and all heaven rejoices.  In the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep in the OPEN FIELD, Jesus showed God had nothing to do with the self-righteous attitudes of the hypocrites.  As long as life remains, God will continue to seek and save people who are, at the moment, lost.

       In verse seven Jesus sharpened the point of the parable and stuck it to the complaining hypocrites, “I TELL YOU THAT IN THE SAME WAY THERE WILL BE MORE REJOICING IN HEAVEN OVER ONE SINNER WHO REPENTS THAN OVER NINETY-NINE RIGHTEOUS PERSONS WHO DO NOT NEED TO REPENT.”  He used their own word SINNER against them; this is dripping with irony.  Jesus turned their point of view inside out.

       HEAVEN is the throne room of God.  The REJOICING that takes place there defined God’s love as being directed at the ones who need it most, not the ones who mistakenly justify themselves.

       It sounds like Jesus is contrasting a new believer with existing believers, but in fact, He is contrasting a sincere believer (anyone of any background who repents) with a hypocrite (someone who sees no need to REPENT).

3. The parable in our context.

Godly love will not allow us to give up on people, even those who “disagreeably disagreeable.”  When I started in ministry, church growth experts advised churches to reach out to people just like the people already attending there.  Though I understood the practicalities of that strategy, I didn’t like it then and like it less now.  This strategy is akin to the attitude of the hypocrites that preface this parable.

       On the other hand, our culture holds up diversity as the highest possible goal.  The truth is in the middle: diversity is not an end in itself, but means to an end: we are more godly people when we invite everyone to our table.  The ideal is unity in theology, charity and diversity in just about everything else.  We are stronger when our differences multiply our understanding and patience.  We are to witness as God provides us with opportunities.  Even the difficult ones.

Godly love requires us to leave the FOLD to find the lost sheep.  The shepherd didn’t say “Oh well” and stay in the comfort of the sheep pen.  He left and searched until the lost was found.  So much of church life is focused on the members.  Look at where we spend our money and our time.  Like members of a country club, we emphasize our benefits and buy off our obligations.

       SO; let’s don’t be the disapproving hypocrites in vs. 1+2 or the grumpy older brother in vs. 28-29.  Instead, let us follow the example of the shepherd in this parable, the woman in the next, and the father in the third parable.  They eagerly sought to find what was lost.

Genuine godly love never gives up.

       I am the first to confess this passage troubles me.  I’m more comfortable around churched folk and my job puts me in contact with churched folk who are, in the majority, friendly and easy to get along with.  At the same time, I know that every week God gives me opportunity to practice what I preach, often in the days before I preach it.  This message is no exception.

       This week an unchurched person God put in my path was not the kind of person I would seek out for friendship.  This person required patience as their political, religious, and personal views were almost all contradictory to mine.  Without breaking any confidentiality or being unkind, I can say they needed a listening ear and I had two to offer.

       I prayed with the person and offered all the practical help I could.  What effect our conversation will have on their life is yet to be revealed, but God gave me a blessing of leaving the safety of the fold to be His spokesman to someone who may not have heard the truth from anyone else.  He will take it from there.

       I offer myself as just one small example of the truth taught in this passage.  Loving as God loves will require patience and persistence.  It will require the sacrifice of our comfort in order to be instantly obedient to His call to love someone different from ourselves – even someone disagreeable to us – so they can hear the life-changing truth that God loved them first and loves them best.  We simply can’t do that from a comfortable place of apathy or lazy indifference to the eternal destination of the people God sets in our day. The frequency and degree of effort we put into witnessing for Jesus is an indicator of our spiritual maturity.

Messages #262 & #1093

The World Must Know

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

          After more than two hundred years of American missions to foreign lands, it may surprise you to hear that there are still places on the earth that have not been reached by the Gospel.  If we define an “unreached people group” as a culture that has no indigenous churches and no self-propagating form of Christianity, then it’s safe to say there are millions of people who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

          Most of these people groups are located in what’s called the “10/40 Window,” an area of the eastern hemisphere that covers North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.  People groups within that area of the world have received about 1% of the missionaries sent into the world.  These and other factors account for the fact the Gospel has not taken root in these countries.

          The reason the “10/40 Window” has so captivated the attention of American missions is the verse we’re about to examine: Matthew 24:14.  Some people understand Jesus as teaching that if we can just preach the Gospel (the good news of salvation by faith in Christ) to all parts of the world, we can move the Second Coming closer.  It sees Jesus’ teaching as a goal to be met or a condition that can be fulfilled, and then Jesus’ Second Coming will happen sooner rather than later.

          I was surprised to find Matthew 24:14 is one of several Scriptures that address this point of preaching the Gospel to the entire world.  In order to understand this teaching, we need to survey what the whole Bible says about it.  Put them all together, and this is what you see:

World-wide missions are a prophecy, a command, and a promise kept.

1. Jesus predicted a world-wide witness as a sign of the “end times.”

          In Matthew 24:14 Jesus predicted a testimony of the truth to all the nations.  The verses that immediately precede verse fourteen (vs. 9-13) give warning of all kinds of persecution and trials afflicting the Church.  In other Scriptures we are warned that there will be an increase in wickedness as the time for the end draws near, but there will also be a parallel rise in the fervent faith and commitment of those who are truly Christ’s.  With this in mind, we might paraphrase verse fourteen to say, “But don’t you worry – the Gospel will be preached.”

          The object of the Church’s preaching is THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM of God.  This is the truth about the Kingdom coming with Jesus at His First Coming, to be consummated at His Second Coming.

          The scope of God’s offer of salvation is universal, but it must be accepted by each individual in order for them to be saved.  PREACHED IN THE WHOLE WORLD.  Notice WHOLE and ALL; no exceptions.  The offer of salvation is A TESTIMONY TO ALL NATIONS attesting to the power of God to save.

          THEN THE END WILL COME implies the PREACHING and TESTIMONY will either be a sign of the end or an event that brings it to pass.  As Matthew 24 is all about signs and nothing about triggers, I believe Jesus offered a sign of the coming of the end, the Gospel being made known to the entire world.  This sign implies that all people will be unable to claim ignorance as an excuse, proving God’s judgment to be just.

          Mark 13:10 is a briefer version of Matthew 24:14, but it also refers to worldwide preaching as a sign of the end being near: for that reason it must happen FIRST: “THE GOSPEL MUST FIRST BE PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS.”  The word MUST underscores that this prediction is sure; the Gospel being PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS is not optional.  It can be depended on as a sign of nearing the end of this creation.

          Mark puts this teaching in the same setting as Matthew; Jesus’ discussion of the end times as prompted by the disciples admiring the temple in Jerusalem.  Mark used fewer words and Jesus seems to be saying something slightly different here; “Stop worrying about when the kingdom will come and get busy building it by means of preaching.”

          In Luke 24:45-47 Jesus predicted the preaching of the Gospel would lead to a time of repentance and forgiveness as it must for people to be saved.  THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.  HE TOLD THEM, “THIS IS WHAT IS WRITTEN: THE CHRIST WILL SUFFER AND RISE FROM THE DEAD ON THE THIRD DAY, AND REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS WILL BE PREACHED IN HIS NAME TO ALL NATIONS, BEGINNING IN JERUSALEM.

          Luke puts this teaching in a setting that is different from Matthew and Mark: this is a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus.  On this occasion Jesus OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.  The Bible teaches that none of us can understand the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit.  What Jesus does for His disciples here, He also does for us today.  On that occasion, He first explained the prophecies of His death and Resurrection, why all the things they’d just experienced had to happen.  Second, He explained the need for preaching about the repentance and forgiveness of sins His death and Resurrection made possible.  As it happened historically, this preaching was done first in Jerusalem – to the Jewish nation – and then TO ALL NATIONS.”  The first explanation proves the reliability of biblical prophecy: the things predicted about the Messiah came true in the life of Jesus.  In exactly the same way, the things Jesus predicted about the End Times will come true.

2. Jesus commanded that the whole world must hear the Gospel.

          Matthew 28:19 is called “The Great Commission” and is the banner text for International Mission.  Jesus commanded preaching as part of  discipleship: “THEREFORE GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.”  The Greek word for discipleship is a word picture of introducing the disciple to the master.  As such, it is about forming a new relationship as much as it is about a formal relationship passing on technical content and creating expertise.  In that culture, being a disciple was a 24-7 commitment and a complete submission to one’s master.  An ox taking on a yoke was the frequently used expression.  Jesus invited people to take on His YOKE (see Matthew 11:29) and turned away those whose commitment fell short of this standard (see Matthew 10:17-31).

          Disciple-making covers all parts of the life of faith, from conversion through sanctification, all the way to death.  Jesus mentioned two aspects of disciple-making: teaching and baptism.  Baptism is the ritual of initiating new disciples, teaching the means of maturing the faith of existing disciples.

          Let’s not miss Jesus command to take our disciple-making mission to ALL NATIONS.  As we read in the book of Acts, there was some hesitation in the hearts of some of the believers to take the Gospel to any nation other than the Jewish nation.  God is sovereign and the Gentiles were included in the Church; her expansion to ALL NATIONS is something that is still developing.

          Mark 16:15 correlates to the Great Commission; here too Jesus commanded the Gospel be carried to all the world and to all creation.  HE SAID TO THEM, “GO INTO THE ENTIRE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOOD NEWS TO ALL CREATION.”  Notice the universal nature of the command: ALL THE WORLD and ALL CREATION.

          The GOOD NEWS is to be understood as God’s offer of eternal life in Jesus Christ.  The GOOD NEWS is that we no longer have to be estranged from God or from one another.  Instead, we can love one another and love God more fully.

3. God promised to complete this work.

          As we’ve just seen, the Church has been commissioned to take the Gospel to the entire world.  We’re blessed to not be left to accomplish this mission on our own; God considers this mission of the Gospel to the whole world as being so essential He partners His disciples with the Holy Spirit and with the angels to accomplish it!

          Jesus pointed to the Holy Spirit as our power source for witnessing in Acts 1:6-8.  He needed to remind His disciples their job was to witness, not to second-guess God’s timing.  SO WHEN THEY MET TOGETHER, THEY ASKED HIM, “LORD, ARE YOU AT THIS TIME GOING TO RESTORE THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL?”  HE SAID TO THEM, “IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW THE TIMES OR DATES THE FATHER HAS SET BY HIS OWN AUTHORITY.  BUT YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES ON YOU; AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES IN JERUSALEM, AND IN ALL JUDEA AND SAMARIA, AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

          This passage is found in a similar context to Matthew 24, where Jesus’ disciples ask a question related to the “end times.”  It is also similar to Luke 24, as it is also a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus.  These verses are also an apt summary of the entire book of Acts.  All that follows will in one way or another explain how Jesus’ words came true.

          The disciple’s question demonstrates they were still thinking of Jesus as a conqueror and king in the usual political sense.  This is significant; in spike of having their minds opened (Luke 24:45-47), they were still thinking of Jesus as leader of an earthly kingdom and they were eager to help bring it into reality.  Here we see Jesus sending them on an entirely different mission: they were to extend the Kingdom of God by means of witness, not establish the kingdom of Judah by means of conquest.

          This is why Jesus rightly told them the TIMES and DATES were none of their concern: those decisions were up to God the Father; He alone had the authority to make those decisions.  Jesus Himself did not know this (Mark 13:32).  The Apostle Paul got this message; he wrote NOW BROTHERS, ABOUT TIMES AND DATES WE DO NOT NEED TO WRITE YOU, FOR YOU KNOW THAT THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL COME LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)

          What they were supposed to be focused on instead of timing was the receipt of the Holy Spirit and their witness empowered by Him.  Historically, we know the advance of the Gospel occurred as Jesus predicted here.  It was offered first to the Jews in Jerusalem and their half-brothers in Samaria before it went out to the WORLD (including the Gentiles).  Our focus is on the role of the Holy Spirit in witnessing; we don’t have a witness apart from the Holy Spirit.

          Revelation 14:6-7 shows an ANGEL proclaiming of the Gospel.

THEN I SAW ANOTHER ANGEL FLYING IN MIDAIR, AND HE HAD THE ETERNAL GOSPEL TO PROCLAIM TO THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE EARTH – TO EVERY NATION, TRIBE, LANGUAGE AND PEOPLE.  HE SAID IN A LOUD VOICE, “FEAR GOD AND GIVE HIM GLORY, BECAUSE THE HOUR OF HIS JUDGMENT HAS COME.  WORSHIP HIM WHO MADE THE HEAVENS, THE EARTH, THE SEA AND THE SPRINGS OF WATER.”  Our focus here is on the ANGEL proclaiming the ETERNAL GOSPEL.

          The word ANGEL means “messenger” so it should be natural for us to think of angels bringing the Gospel.  However, this is the only Scripture of which I’m aware that an ANGEL does the proclaiming.  This does not imply God’s human messengers (the Church) had failed to reach all people groups, because the ANGEL witnesses to EVERY NATION, TRIBE, LANGUAGE, AND PEOPLE.

          The recipients of the angel’s proclamation are THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE EARTH: a phrase which – in Revelation – refers to the unrepentant, wicked people who deliberately revolt against God and persecute His people.  This is a last chance for them to repent and avoid judgment.

          The angel’s message is a good model for our message: “FEAR GOD AND GIVE HIM GLORY…WORSHIP HIM, your Creator.”  In Revelation, this passage is an example of last-minute second chances that God gives to the unrepentant, stubbornly evil people to be saved.  It is intended to illustrate the great mercy of God.  It is a good model for our witnessing as we tend to emphasize salvation without explaining why salvation is necessary.  We want to deal in Good News, but there can be no Good News if there is no bad news.  The aspect of warning must precede a call to repentance.  If our witness is only promises and positivity, we’ve failed to communicate the necessity of repentance by warning people of the consequences of unbelief and misdeeds.  A lopsided or incomplete witness may partially explain why so many new converts fall away from the faith: their knowledge is incomplete and under-motivated.

World-wide missions are a prophecy, a command, and a promise kept.

          I believe these teachings are given to motivate and encourage us to be full supporters of international missions.  We must be obedient to God’s command, intentional about fulfilling prophecy, and eager to be partners with God in bringing about His final solution to sin.

          To illustrate the necessity of a world-wide witness, allow me to share with you a story I read recently at the “Ministry 127” website.

          “In the 1840s, John Geddie left the pastorate of a church in Canada to take his wife and two small children to the South Sea Islands to begin a mission work there. After a voyage of more than 20,000 miles, they arrived in the New Hebrides Islands at Aneityum. The island chain was filled with cannibals, and more than twenty crew members of a British ship had been killed and eaten just months before the Geddies arrived on the mission field.

          “They faced the difficulty of learning a language that had no written form and the constant threat of being killed. Slowly at first, a few converts came, and then soon many more received the Gospel. Geddie continued his ministry faithfully, including translating the entire Bible into the native language and planting twenty-five churches. In the pulpit of the church Geddie pastored for so many years stands a plaque in his honor which says: ‘When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872 there were no heathen.’”

          Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of thing be said of each of us?

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vols. 8, 9, 12.

https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/evangelizing-cannibals

Both Taboo Subjects

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

Please read Jeremiah 22:1-5 in your go-to Bible.

       I recently read “Killing the SS” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.  It’s an account of the extraordinary measures some people took to bring former Nazis out of hiding and to justice.  The parts of the book I disliked the most were the descriptions of the atrocities the Nazis committed in and outside their concentration camps.

          I will spare you the details: believe me just reading about them casts a shadow on your soul.  I’ve wondered how such a situation came to be.  How is it that so many people would willingly participate in such evil?  How could they be so convinced that horrible injustice and violence were the right things to do?

          There is historical evidence that the Nazi movement was founded on pagan German religions that Christianity had nearly erased from the earth.  People cite the Nazis’ fascination with the occult as evidence that Nazi leadership in particular and perhaps the nation in general were possessed by the devil.

          While it is undoubtedly true that Satan had his way in Nazi Germany, demonic possession is not a good answer to account for their war crimes.  The reason some people want to put the blame on spiritual evil is they don’t want to face the evil in human nature.  They don’t want to have to think about this kind of thing ever happening again. 

          Turning a blind eye to evil is never a God-approved action.  The light of Christ is supposed to dispel the darkness.  His love must be apparent in the words and deeds of His people.

          The evil of Nazism is not confined to history books; it is an ever-present danger that will rise again if human nature is again unrestrained by the ethical life God demands.  Take for example, the flirtation with socialism we’ve seen in the last two presidential election cycles.  Remember that the word “Nazi” stood for the National Socialist Party of Germany.  We can’t put our future in the hands of such people.

          Today we’ll look at both politics and religion, both of them considered taboo subjects in “polite” conversation because people fear a difference of opinion will manifest in animosity.  I believe one must not exist without the other.  We’ll take a look at Jeremiah 22 where both subjects are met head-on.

Politics are unavoidable; the question is, does your faith make any difference in your politics?

1. The taboo subjects are politics and religion.

          Definitions matter in every conversation, so let’s start there.  Politics can be defined as the art and science of people getting things done. 

          In worldly politics, the ends justify the means, so morality is an inconvenience easily thrust aside to get results.  Worldly politicians may have high standards for results but low standards for their methods.

          In godly politics, the ends and the means are equally important, equally subject to God’s commandments.  People who act politically following God’s way have the highest possible standards.

          Actions matter more than words in both politics and religion as actions are a window into the soul of the actor.  What we say and do – especially when we think no one is looking – are indicative of our true spiritual state.

2. Politics and religion in Jeremiah 22: the king was supposed to set an example worth following.

          The rulers of Judah at that time are listed in verses one and two.   The KING of JUDAH was Jehoiakim. He reigned briefly, from 609 – 597 B.C., in the middle of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry.  2 Kings 23:37 says HE DID EVIL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD, JUST AS HIS FATHERS HAD DONE.

The OFFICIALS includes the king’s officers, members of the court, and members of the royal family.

          THOSE WHO COME THROUGH [the] GATES of the city of Jerusalem may depict the elders of the city, as they held court at the city gates.  I prefer to take it to take the words to refer to the people: everyone who entered the capitol city.  There is a very real sense that all the people – not just the leaders – have responsibility for the moral condition of a government.

          Leaders and followers alike share the core political responsibility of verse three: DO WHAT IS JUST AND RIGHT (“fair dealing”).  Jeremiah develops this foundational responsibility by giving three specific commands, three examples of what justice and righteousness look like.

          The first example was to RESCUE the robbery victim FROM THE HAND OF HIS OPPRESSOR.  Here’s where the priest and the Levite did wrong by the man injured by robbers in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Law required them to stop and RESCUE that robbery victim.  In disobedience, they walked on by him.

          The second example was to DO NO WRONG TO THE ALIEN, THE FATHERLESS OR THE WIDOW.  These three classes of people, the ones at the bottom rung of society’s ladder, enjoyed specific protection according to the Law (see Exodus 22:21-26; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 24:17).

          The third example was to NOT SHED INNOCENT BLOOD.  Worship of idols sometimes involved the live sacrifice of one’s own children.  This command forbids all actions that involve the murder of innocent people.

          If these commands were obeyed, the reward would be an eternal dynasty. (4)  Prosperity and peace are implied in this verse: the leaders will come & go in peace.

          If these commands were NOT obeyed, t dynasty of David would come to RUIN. (5)  The prophecy mentions the PALACE several times, but the warning is not about a single building, but the nation it symbolized.  The nation would be ruined by rulers like Jehoiakim who did evil in both their politics and religion.

          God underscored the seriousness of this warning by swearing an oath on Himself.  This is the highest possible oath since there is nothing greater than God upon which He could swear.  They were to take this warning very seriously.  A day would come when there would be no more second chances and RUIN would fall.

Politics are unavoidable; the question is, does your faith make any difference in your politics?

          How about using v. 3 as one’s standard for determining which candidates and which party (if any) are worth supporting?  The main question is based on the overall command: “Do they DO WHAT IS JUST AND RIGHT?”  If a candidate or a party is willing to say anything or do anything to get elected or pass legislation, they are not worthy of your support.  More seriously, they may require the opposition of conscientious Christians.

          Jeremiah offered three examples, three applications of the main question.

          Do they RESCUE the robbery victim FROM THE HAND OF HIS OPPRESSOR? Candidates and parties that are more concerned about the rights of offenders than the rights of victims are not worthy of your support.

          Do they DO NO WRONG TO THE ALIEN, THE FATHERLESS OR THE WIDOW?  An important measure of any civilization is the degree to which the people protect the most vulnerable people among them.  Candidates and parties that want to marginalize or mistreat the unborn, the elderly, the ill, or dying are not worthy of your support.

          Do they NOT SHED INNOCENT BLOOD?  The sacredness of human life is the most fundamental truth on which civilizations are built.  Politics can be simplified, but it is always at the expense of freedom.  Candidates and parties who are willing to condone rioting and overlook murder are not worthy of your support.

          I must make it plain to you that in these comments I am not endorsing any candidate or party.  My intention is to help you make political choices that line up as closely as possible with what Scripture teaches.  People who practice worldly politics aren’t shy about showing their scorn for people who practice their politics and religion together.  That’s exactly backwards.  God has scorn for people who claim they keep them separate.  A candidate or party that claims any kind of faith but does not practice it in the exercise of their politics is not worthy of your support.

          We must be Christians in the voting booth as much as we are Christians in the sanctuary.  To be one and not the other proves the lie of both.  Vote according to the Greatest Commandments and the Golden Rule, and pray hard before you vote and pray harder afterward.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, Jeremiah, Charles Lee Feinberg

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Jeremiah, J.A. Thompson

https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/nazis-occult?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4