No Foolin’

Easter

Please read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 in your favorite Bible.  FYI: I use the NIV (1984).

As we observed weeks ago, the conjunction of Resurrection Sunday and April Fools Day is something that only comes along every 20 years, give or take.  It seemed to me that this is my only shot at preaching on this occasion and the Lord gave me a passage that has elements of both Jesus’ Resurrection and April Fools.

The history of April Fools’ Day is uncertain, but many believe it began in 1582 in France when King Charles IX required a switch to the Gregorian calendar; the one we currently use.  This makes today the 436th observance of April Fools’ Day.

The change was invoked on April first.  People who weren’t informed of the change were ridiculed as fools and that’s how the day was named.  As the new calendar took hold around the world, so did the custom of April Fools’ Day as a time of playing pranks and practical jokes to have a laugh at others’ expense.

This morning we’re going to take a look at the worst kind of foolishness; rejecting God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Don’t be fooled by lesser offers; find life in Christ.

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

  1. Folks who were fooled crucified Jesus.

The first comparison of the passage: two kinds of WISDOM are contrasted: worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom.  Heavenly WISDOM is only for the MATURE (6).  Who are MATURE people? They are people who have accepted God’s gracious gift of salvation by faith.  And they go further, continuing to learn by study and practice in daily living.  MATURE people have received salvation and are undergoing sanctification.  This WISDOM is centered on the cross and the empty tomb; it is summed up in what we have gathered to celebrate: Easter!

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE and the RULERS OF THIS AGE are both futile; they inevitably come to NOTHING (6).  Why are they doomed to failure?  Because they refuse God’s gift of salvation by faith and stubbornly insist on works to earn it.  To these people the message of the cross is FOOLISHNESS.  (Here is our first tie-in to April Fools Day.)  So it comes down to a distinction between believers and unbelievers.

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE fooled some folks into crucifying THE LORD OF GLORY (8).  The RULERS OF THIS AGE probably refers to the leaders of government and religion at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  But based on how Paul used this phrase elsewhere, some scholars think he is referring to spiritual beings.  If the devil thought he could silence Jesus by killing him on the cross; boy was HE FOOLED!

Whether leaders or devils or both, the powers opposing Jesus fooled themselves when they guessed the cross would be the end of the story!  This is our second tie-in to April Fools’ Day.

Because they operate without the Spirit, God’s truth seems like FOOLISHNESS to unbelievers (14).  Here’s our third tie-in to April Fools’ Day and our second contrast.  The contrast here is between material things and spiritual things.

People who only believe anything their five senses can verify do NOT ACCEPT truths that come from spiritual sensitivities; such things seem foolish to them.  Spiritual discernment is a kind of “sixth sense” and is available only as the Spirit reveals it.

  1. Believe the truth and be saved.

God’s truth is quite different from the world.  It is for the spiritually MATURE (6).  It might help to think of the word as “maturing” instead.  That way, we realize the Christian life is a life-long process of growth in wisdom.

The truth is, salvation is the destiny of God’s chosen (7).  It is clear that the Bible writers want to say that God knew and chose those who would be saved, and that people have to choose to accept God to be saved.  It is appropriate to say that God knew from before the creation of the world who would receive His salvation.  I want you to take this promise personally: GOD DESTINED this wisdom FOR OUR GLORY BEFORE TIME BEGAN.  BEFORE TIME BEGAN God knew you and loved you and did all of this so you could be part of His big heavenly family.

The truth is a SECRET, HIDDEN thing (7, 9).  It is SECRET and HIDDEN in three senses.  One, God revealed the truth over the course of several centuries of human history.  What is promised and hinted at in the Old Testament is fulfilled and declared openly in the New Testament.  Two, it can only be perceived by faith.  The Holy Spirit guides believers into all truth, but unbelievers’ minds are clouded by their own choice to reject God.  Three, in verse nine, Paul quoted Isaiah 64:4 to show that God’s plans are too wonderful for the human mind to grasp on its own.  We just can’t “get it” on our own.

God’s truth is revealed only by the Holy Spirit.  Paul wrote; GOD HAS REVEALED IT TO US BY HIS SPIRIT (10).  The Spirit replaces ignorance with knowledge.  God reveals Himself to us very plainly in the Bible, the word of God.  The Spirit helps us to be sensitive to the words in the Bible, to understand and apply them.

The SPIRIT knows this wisdom because it SEARCHES ALL THINGS, EVEN THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD (10).  God knows ALL THINGS, revealing to us even the DEEP THINGS OF GOD by means of the Spirit.  This will sound crazy to people still stuck in a worldly frame of reference, but it is true because God said so.

Paul offers an example in v. 11: it is true of human beings that we can’t read each other’s minds.  THANK GOD!  Am I right?!  If we can’t read each other’s minds then it is impossible for us to know the MIND OF GOD.  Only the Spirit KNOWS THE THOUGHTS OF GOD.  It’s obvious we need help: that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in to reveal truth to us.

God gives us His Spirit to know His truth.  In verse twelve we find a second comparison.  On the one hand, we have NOT been given THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD. The WORLD is the system that opposes God.  It relies on human reasoning, senses, and even lies to dispute God’s word.

On the other hand, we HAVE received THE SPIRIT WHO IS FROM GOD.  Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given to all persons of sincere faith.  True faith originates in, and is perpetuated by, the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of God the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD HAS FREELY GIVEN US.  The Spirit helps us UNDERSTAND the love of God expressed in Jesus. Don’t overlook the word FREELY.  It is Paul’s reminder salvation is by grace, not by works.

By the Spirit we express SPIRITUAL TRUTH IN SPIRITUAL WORDS [variant text: “men”] (13). SPIRITUAL TRUTHS must be expressed in SPIRITUAL WORDS by spiritual people.  How can we possibly do that?  We can do it only as the Holy Spirit teaches us how to do it.

By the Spirit we show good judgment (15).  In our culture the word “judgment” has been misidentified as a vice.  However, the fact is that we must show good judgment in the choices we make.  The Holy Spirit informs our morality as it does our spirituality.  People of faith are to be more loving in word & deed.

By the Spirit we share THE MIND OF THE LORD/CHRIST (16). This is a staggering claim: we who believe have the MIND OF CHRIST! On an individual level, this measures our kinship with Christ.  We can think as He thinks, share his attitudes, and do what Jesus would do in every situation.  On a church level, this measures our unity.  We talk about being “like-minded,” referring to agreement on a particular issue.  But this is a more significant depth of relationship.

Our life with Christ is not an overlay on our personality, but a shared personality, a level of accord and maturity that will be unmatched by anything on earth!

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

How do we take part in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  In what way is Easter our victory, shared with Christ?  What does God ask of us?

God asks us to believe.  He has already done the 99% necessary for us to be saved.  Our 1% is to believe.

We receive His salvation by faith, not by works.  It is an act of grace He prepared even before He formed the universe.

Salvation is free, but it will also be the first step in a lifetime of change, a continual pursuit of maturity.  Salvation is free, but we gladly exchange all the world offers in order to attain more and more to a life that follows Jesus’ example.

Receive this gift this morning.  Make it the best day of your life, one that has eternal benefits.  Receive the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, and one day, you will be raised with Him!

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Last Supper, Last Words, (3 of 5)

opposition-300x239

Retrieved from http://www.newlife4kokomo.org/unfazed-how-to-deal-with-opposition/.

Please read John 15:18-6:4 in your version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Opendoorsusa.org compiles a “World Watch List” that reports on countries where persecution of Christians is strongest.  According to their most recent report, the top five worst places to be a Christian are, in order, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan.  Probably no one is surprised to hear those names.  You may be surprised to hear that India is 11th on the list, Ethiopia 39th, our neighbor Mexico is 39th and Columbia is 49th.  When you see them on a map, these countries circle the middle part of the globe, with more tolerant countries to the north and south.

Christians have established and enjoyed freedom in America for so long we find it hard to imagine state-sponsored or societal persecution of the Church.  In our own country, what I would call “practicing Christians” number only 20% of the population.  Given our cultural situation, this is not a statistic we can just ignore.  It is not impossible to believe that persecution is ever more than a generation away.  Whatever form it may take, Jesus’ followers should expect opposition from the devil and his people.  At the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing His eleven disciples to deal with opposition on a worldwide scale and to a lethal degree.  His teaching?

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

  1. God’s people will be opposed by the world. (15:18-25)

We can be sure the WORLD will oppose Jesus’ people as it opposed Jesus.  He gave us six reasons for this persecution.

#1 – IT (the world) HATED ME FIRST (v. 18).  Jesus is first in all things, including being hated.  In the Gospels we see hatred being directed at Jesus, not the disciples.

#2 – You don’t belong to the WORLD (v. 19).  This word for WORLD in New Testament era Greek does not refer t0 this planet, but to human culture and systems that set themselves against God. Commentator William Barclay has a great definition of the world: the WORLD is “human society organizing itself without God.”

When we are born again we are born into God’s heavenly rule and our primary citizenship is there.  This is why the Bible tells us that we have been called “out” of the world though we still live in it (see John 15:19).

#3 – The relationship between SERVANT (us) and MASTER (Jesus) in verse twenty.  They persecuted Jesus; they will PERSECUTE us.  The SERVANT (or disciple) identifies with the master and shares the master’s life, so what the MASTER faces, the SERVANT does also.

That can work advantageously too.  If they had OBEYED Jesus’ teaching, they would obey ours too.  Saved folk don’t immediately go to heaven because God wants to use us to bring others to faith.

#4 – They don’t know God the Father or recognize God the Son (5:21+6:3).  Sometimes it’s hard enough to remember the names of people you’ve met, say nothing of recognizing people you don’t know.  What’s true in earthly life can also true in spiritual life; it’s impossible to know God without faith in Jesus (see John 14:6).

#5 – Because Jesus exposes their sin, they are GUILTY (22+24).  In John 3:19-20 Jesus taught that evil people prefer the darkness because it hides the evil they do.  We’ve all seen how hypocrites hate to be exposed for what they really are.  They react negatively and strongly to the one who has exposed them.

Jesus exposed their sin indirectly in His teaching.  He set forth God’s righteous standard and they fell far short of that.  He exposed their sin indirectly in His living, as His moral and spiritual life was in perfect conformity with God’s standard.  Jesus exposed their sin directly by publicly condemning their hypocrisy .

His most vicious enemies were hypocrites who resented His teaching because it blew up their self-deceptions and their public perceptions.  Ironically, hypocrites don’t feel guilt because their self-deception goes so deep, but Jesus said in both these verses that they are, in fact, GUILTY people.

#6 – Because they hate God the Father and we are related to Him (vs. 23-24).  There is no separating God the Father from God the Son; nor is there any way to separate God the Son from His people.  The hypocrites would soon display hatred of God the Son by having Him nailed to a cross.  Jesus wanted them to know hatred of Him was the same thing as hating the Father.

The WORLD will HATE God’s people.  To HATE means to dislike so much persecution is the result; detest or abhor.  The tense of the verb indicates the WORLD’s hatred is ongoing.  In this case, Jesus and His Church are hated undeservingly.

They HATED Jesus even though He did MIRACLES among them (24).  In the Bible, one of the purposes of MIRACLES is to validate the message of anyone who claims to speak for God.  Jesus’ MIRACLES validated His message and still some people HATED Him.

Let’s go one further: most of Jesus’ MIRACLES were acts of kindness.  He did healings and exorcisms by the dozens.  He raised the dead and fed thousands.  These were never displays of power intended to impress.  Jesus used divine power to help people.  What kind of a person is going to HATE Him for that?  Not a good or godly person.

Their hatred fulfills prophecy (v. 25).  Jesus quoted Psalm 35:9 & 69:4.  We don’t normally refer to that part of the Old Testament as LAW, but Jesus saw it that way.  It was a “law” in the sense that you could expect hypocritical people to behave this way just about every time.  Notice Jesus said “THEIR LAW” to make it clear that the hypocrites do not even keep their own standards, say nothing of God’s.

  1. The Holy Spirit helps us keep our testimony in spite of opposition. (15:26-16:4)

He is the SPIRIT OF TRUTH (26).  The Holy Spirit gives us opportunities to TESTIFY to the TRUTH, the words of testimony, and courage to speak them.  Our part is simply to follow through and do it.  The Holy Spirit also helps us under-stand and apply the Bible to our own lives and use it to help others.  To what the Spirit provides, we add our personal experience, Bible knowledge, personality, and inner convictions.  Put it all together and we are a witnessing MACHINE!

The Holy Spirit will TESTIFY about Jesus and with His help, we will also TESTIFY about Him (26-27).  We can and should use the communication tools and technology available to us, within reason.   However, we tend to think that mass media is going to be sufficient for our outreach.  I have said this before, publicity and programs will never replace people.

The vast majority of people (more than 80%) who are in church are there because someone invited them personally.  God has chosen you and me to make personal invitations and I fear we are not keeping up our end of the deal.

As we saw in 14:29 and in 15:19, 16:1+4 are part of Jesus’ purpose in these last minute instructions: to prepare His disciples to stand firm in the face of what was about to happen to them.  Jesus’ teaching here is for His disciples in the first place.  We do well to note the original context, as always.  But we also need to understand the principles and apply them to our own context.  This means Jesus’ words prepare us for two things: to be a witness and to suffer worldly opposition for our witness.

Opposition will even come from seemingly religious people (16:2-3).  Jesus’ strongest opposition came from the Pharisees, people who were highly esteemed in their culture as scrupulously religious folk.  But it’s not hard to be very religious yet not possess a bit of love: that’s hypocrisy.

Jesus warned His disciples that violent opposition will come from people who’ve convinced themselves their violent acts are a form of service to God.  In the book of Acts we see how Saul persecuted the Church until Jesus confronted him on the road to Emmaus.  He fulfilled this prophecy, as have other religious people in all the times since Jesus said these words.  It’s particularly disappointing when family members betray one another, but Jesus wanted us to be sure that we had been warned; to expect opposition and thereby not be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

Last Supper, Last Words (2 of 5)

Swaney

Please take a moment to read John 14:15-31 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.

If you’ve been watching the Olympics for the last EIGHTEEN DAYS, you’ve been treated to some pretty amazing athletic performances.  However, the biggest controversy may be over an Olympic skier who became an internet sensation for her horrible performances.

Hungarian freeskier Elizabeth Swaney is the subject of some angry athletes’ social media posts, accusing Swaney of “scamming” her way into the Olympics.  Under heavy criticism about her qualifications to even compete in the Olympics, Swaney told CNBC on Wednesday she was “striving to achieve” the level of an Olympic skier.  Swaney became a sensation when she came in last place in the women’s ski halfpipe for Team Hungary.  She was unable to complete even the most basic tricks but did succeed in not falling down.

In an interview Swaney said she is capable of landing tricks on waterski ramps, but “I just haven’t been comfortable enough yet to land those tricks on snow.”  Swaney’s grandparents are from Hungary which allowed her to compete for that team.  That’s one loophole in the rules.  The other loophole was that Swaney “competed” in World Cup events and by finished in the top 30 by only going to events that had less than 30 competitors! <Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/21/olympic-skier-elizabeth-swaney-i-did-not-scam-my-way-into-the-games.html on 2/23/18.>

Let me tell you some good news: there will be no “scammers” in heaven.  There are no loopholes to exploit, no way to cheat, and no fooling God, who knows our hearts.

Everyone in heaven will be there because they walked in Jesus’ footsteps.  They received His gift of salvation by faith.  Having been adopted into God’s family, we show forth God’s love, following the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives us leadership in loving.

  1. Our love FOR God is manifest in obedience. (14:15, 21, 23-24)

Jesus started this section with the word IF.  “IF” is a little word with big implications.  With it Jesus effectively says, “You can claim to love me, but those who really love me will obey my commands.”  Obedience is keeping God’s commands to love.  Remember them?  Love God first, others second, self last.  Easy to say, harder to do, yet it is the doing – not the saying – that really counts.  God gives us the Holy Spirit to encourage, empower, and guide us into keeping these commands.

  1. The love OF God is manifest in the Holy Spirit.

We get the Spirit through our faith-connection with Jesus = “I WILL ASK THE FATHER…” (16).

We understand the Holy Spirit Jesus by studying what Jesus told us about Him.  For example, there are five things we can learn from this passage.

First, the Spirit is ANOTHER COUNSELOR (16).  The Greek word for COUNSELOR is paraclete.  It is such a rich word in the original language, it is difficult to translate into English and do it justice.  It means “a person summoned to one’s aid,” but can be translated as “Comforter, Helper, Advocate, Teacher, Mediator, Legal Advisor, Intercessor,” and “Friend.”  All that means the Holy Spirit is our greatest supporter and our most capable assistant all rolled into one!

Why did Jesus refer to Him as ANOTHER Counselor?  There are two reasons I can think of: because He continues the work of Jesus in the world.  Also, so we can see all the members of the Trinity expressed in this passage: God the Father sent God the Son into the world.  When God the Son returned to heaven, God the Spirit was given to help Jesus’ disciples.

Second, because He is the SPIRIT OF TRUTH (17).  The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth but unfortunately, not all people will accept that truth.  In fact, our culture is increasingly hostile to two assertions that are central to our faith: one, that absolute truth exists and two, that God has revealed it to us.

Third, because the WORLD cannot know Him (17).  Jesus – the first Counselor – came to us in a physical body.  Because of that, He occupied time and space and could be perceived by the five senses.

The Holy Spirit – the second Counselor – exists as a spirit.  As such, He is not limited to a single time or space and cannot be perceived by the five senses; this is one reason the WORLD cannot know Him.  The WORLD only trusts what it can physically perceive.

There are more than eyeballs and ears involved here.  In John’s writings, the word WORLD refers not to this planet, but to the system that pervades all worldly cultures and is contrary to God. Satan is identified as the “PRINCE OF THIS WORLD” (30) and he exerts his influence to oppose God and His people.  However, Satan has NO HOLD on Jesus because three years earlier, Jesus endured Satan’s temptations and stayed faithful to God.  It is only by faith that any of us can perceive God.  People who love the WORLD have rejected God and thereby will not/cannot see Him.

Fourth, because He lives in Jesus’ followers (17).  “BUT YOU KNOW HIM,” Jesus said.  As we have faith in Christ, we have the Spirit.  Jesus declared, “HE LIVES WITH YOU AND WILL BE IN YOU.”

God has chosen to partner with His people in order to share the good news with people who have not yet believed.  The Spirit will guide and help us; this news is too good to keep to ourselves.

Fifth, because He WILL TEACH YOU ALL THINGS and REMIND YOU OF EVERYTHING I HAVE SAID TO YOU (26).  The word TEACH implies the Holy Spirit helps us understand Jesus’ teaching, eternal truths.  The word REMIND makes me think this isn’t knowledge for its own sake but it must to be applied to our daily lives, helping us make godly choices.  The word EVERYTHING means that this promise of the Spirit is unconditional.  The Holy Spirit will provide us with all we need to keep God’s commands.

  1. Jesus comforts us with His promises.

“I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU AS ORPHANS,” he declared; “I WILL COME TO YOU” (18).  This promise will be completed at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Instead of being ORPHANS or treated like orphans, we’re adopted into God’s family.  More than that, we are one with God as Jesus described in v. 20.

“YOU WILL SEE ME” is such an important promise, it gets two mentions (19, 28-31).  Verse nineteen is a promise set in Jesus’ day.

He said, “BEFORE LONG, THE WORLD WILL NOT SEE ME ANY MORE.”  Jesus lived in the world 33 years.  After His death and Resurrection, He went back to heaven.  It is to His Resurrection and Ascension Jesus referred.  “BUT YOU WILL SEE ME,” Jesus promised. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 we are told Jesus appeared to more than 500 of His followers after His Resurrection!

On a broader scope, this is a promise for us (28-32), referring to the Second Coming when we will all see Jesus (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16).  In these verses Jesus comforted His disciples saying His departure is good news because He is going to God the Father.

This is a reference to Jesus taking the seat of honor and authority in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father (see Romans 8:34).  From that advantaged point Jesus acts as our Mediator, speaking to God the Father on our behalf.

“I HAVE TOLD YOU NOW…SO WHEN IT HAPPENS YOU WILL BELIEVE” (29).  – This statement is virtually a word-for-word repeat of 13:19, which we read last week. When things get repeated, we should pay close attention.

One of Jesus’ aims in His Last Supper teachingswas to prepare His disciples so that when events unfolded as He predicted, they would keep their faith in Him.  But His intended audience was much bigger than those eleven men: “THAT THE WORLD [would] LEARN THAT I LOVE THE FATHER AND DO EXACTLY WHAT MY FATHER HAS COMMANDED ME” (v. 31).

Here is a third fantastic promise: “BECAUSE I LIVE, YOU WILL LIVE” (19).  In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul identified Jesus as the FIRSTFRUITS of the resurrection of all who believe.  Jesus’ statement here establishes a link between Jesus’ Resurrection and ours.  Because Jesus won victory over death and lives forever, so will we who are in Him.

We are promised fellowship with the Father (20).  The word “Trinity” is the name the Church has given to the three-part nature of God.  Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons in one personality.  It is not a doctrine we have embraced because it is easy, but because the Bible affirms that Father, Son, and Spirit are all God, but there is only one God.

The point is, being three-in-one, God exists as a community within Himself.  His very nature is to be in relationship.  Jesus

invites us to join Him in this close relationship, the ultimate version of community.

Jesus promised, “I WILL LOVE AND SHOW MYSELF” (21).  Love is the divine standard and brings us into relationship with God.  Love was the reason Jesus came to Earth and did all He has done for us, including giving us the Holy Spirit.

Verse twenty-seven is a classic promise, one that through the ages, has uplifted people of faith: “MY PEACE I GIVE YOU” (27).  Jesus’ PEACE is contrasted with what the WORLD calls “peace.”  Jesus’ PEACE is lasting and independent of circumstances.  It is a PEACE that banishes troubles and fears from our HEARTS.

The Holy Spirit gives us leadership in loving.

Jesus spent the last hours before His arrest preparing to live in a world that was going to be turned upside down.  He predicted the events of the next few days so His disciples would be ready to trust Him to fulfill all God’s promises.

Today these words serve a similar purpose for us.  Jesus speaks to prepare us to live in the WORLD, in a system dominated by evil that is hostile to the truth.  The best thing we have to counter this system is love.  The best source of love is the Holy Spirit.

Let us live in love by living in Jesus and following the Holy Spirit.

Saved and Showing It (1 of 3)

Please read Titus 3:1-15 in your preferred Bible.  I’ve used the NIV this week.

We are saved to do good works.

Salvation is by grace.  It is not earned. The devotional magazine Our Daily Bread gave this definition of grace; GRACE IS EVERYTHING FOR NOTHING TO THOSE WHO DON’T DESERVE ANYTHING.

(Our Daily Bread, Sept.-Nov. 1997, page for October 31, retrieved from http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/2873/a-definition/ on 1/12/18.)
“A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII.  One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

“A tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper refused to drop the charges.

“‘It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.’ the man told the mayor. ‘She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.’

“LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said ‘I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions; ten dollars or ten days in jail.’  But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and said: ‘Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.’

“The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

(Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp. 91-2, retrieved from http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/2891/mayor-laguardia/ on 1/12/18.)
1. How we get saved.

Paul reveals four reasons God had for reasons for saving us.

The first is KINDNESS (verse four).  Historically speaking, salvation started in the mind of God.  He acted first to save us.  We saw this truth previously in Titus 2:11 =THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED THAT OFFERS SALVATION TO ALL PEOPLE.

God hates sin but He loves sinners and works to bring all of us to salvation.  In Romans 5:8 it is written, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

KINDNESS is this attitude manifest in good deeds.  It bestows forgiveness and blesses others.

The second reason is God’s great LOVE (verse four).  This is God’s prime motive and the prime aspect of His character.  All other aspects of His personality are expressions of His LOVE.  Love is an unconditional state or attitude and action that seeks the spiritual maturity of the beloved.  That is God’s character and how God has acted toward us.

This is not one of the usual three words for LOVE in the NT.  This is the Gk word philanthropia, which meant “love for humanity.”  It appears only in this verse.  This is LOVE directed at the welfare of others, especially supporting people in need.

A third reason is God’s MERCY (5).  Because we are unable – on our own – to meet God’s standard of righteousness, MERCY is an absolute necessity; otherwise we have no hope.  MERCY makes a way for people who have no way of their own.  God decided to show us MERCY; we did not deserve it.  God’s MERCY is the standard for our treatment of one another; as we pray every Sunday and Wednesday, “forgive us as we forgive others.”

The fourth reason isn’t really a reason but a clarification that merit is NOT a reason: God did NOT save us BECAUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS THINGS WE HAVE DONE (verse five).  We are not saved BY good works; we are saved FOR good works.  In Isaiah 64:6 the prophet wrote that the most righteous things we do based on our own strength are like FILTHY RAGS; worthless.  Personal merit is simply not a factor at this stage.  We do not understand the grace of God if we believe we can earn salvation by good deeds or if we believe we can lose salvation by doing evil.

Through Paul, the Holy Spirit reveals not only why God saved us, but also how God saved us.

The first of these three salvation acts is THE WASHING OF REBIRTH (verse five).  The literal meaning of the Greek word for WASHING is “bathing.”  This implies a total cleansing; the whole person is made free from the dirty guilty mark of sin.

REBIRTH refers to Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus in John 3; a person must be “born again” to be saved.  It is a restart to life, an opportunity to live right.  Baptism by immersion is the way we enact this WASHING, demonstrating outwardly that this inward change has happened.

The WASHING refers to the moment of salvation, the time we genuinely receive Jesus as Savior, the RENEWAL to the life-long process of sanctification, where the Spirit helps us become more like Jesus.

Another means of salvation is the RENEWAL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (verse five).  God does not expect us to find out all this on our own.  He sends the Holy Spirit to unsaved folk to direct them to the truth and bring them to a point of decision.  I would say the term “Filling of the Spirit” is equivalent to RENEWAL.

A third thing God did to save us was that He JUSTIFIED us BY HIS GRACE (verse seven).  GRACE is undeserved favor as we learned last week.  It come from God’s LOVE and is expressed in His MERCY to us.  The word JUSTIFIED refers to our legal standing.  God graciously removes the judgment of death that we deserve.  When God justified us He declared us to be righteous because the righteousness of Jesus covers our sin.  He also makes us His children by the “legality” of adoption: HEIRS OF THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE (see Romans 8:15 and Ephesians 1:5).

Our part is simply having faith: Trusting GOD (verse eight) that all His promises will be fulfilled in our experience.

Finally, Paul elaborated two things that salvation has done for us.

First, in recognition of authentic faith POURED OUT the Holy Spirit GENEROUSLY (verse six).  Notice the Holy Spirit works on us in both our “BC” (Before Christ) and “WC” (With Christ) states.  In our “BC” state the Spirit brings conviction of the guilt of sin and guides us to believers who will witness the truth to us.  In our “WC” state the Spirit provides understanding of the word of God, strength to perform the will of God and Gifts to enable us to work together to see the Fruits of the Spirit manifest in each believer.

GENEROUSLY can also be translated “richly.”  The point is that God gives us all we need to succeed in our spiritual life.  Failure can’t be blamed on Him.  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in this passage and all three have a role to play in our salvation.

Second, as already observed, God saved us so WE MIGHT BECOME HEIRS HAVING THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE (verse seven). Obviously, this looks to the future; it is a HOPE.  But our status as HEIRS is in the present moment.  So our faith looks ahead to a glorious future but also confers on us the privileges and responsibilities of being part of God’s family.

We are saved to do good works.

There was a beautiful summer day when a Baptist church had scheduled baptisms down by the riverside.  A drunk stumbled on to the Sunday afternoon service and proceeded to make a pest of himself.
The minister turned to the drunk and said, “Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?”      The drunk noticed the preacher for the first time and said, “Yessir, I sure am.”
The pastor motioned him to come into the river and then the minister then dunked the fellow under the water and pulled him right back up. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked.
“No, I didn’t!” gasped the drunk.
The preacher dunked him again, this time for quite a bit longer.  Bringing him up, the preacher said, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?”
“No, I did not Preacher.”
In disgust, the preacher baptized him a third time holding the man under for a bit longer still.  When he brought him out of the water, he inquired, “Have you found Jesus this time?”

The drunk spat out a bit of river water and said, “If it’s all the same to you, preacher, I’d like to quit lookin’!”

(Adapted from  https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jeff-strite-humor-baptism-2578?+ref=TextIllustrationDetails, retrieved on 1/12/18.)

PREVIEW:

  1. How unsaved folk act.
  2. How saved folk act.

Reality Sets In

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 21-23 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The Internet search company Google is probably the world’s biggest data collector.  No surprise there.  It may surprise you to hear they have spent millions of dollars measuring their own employees, attempting to learn how to compile “the perfect team.”

They assumed building good teams required combining the best people, but it wasn’t that simple.  In 2012 Google started Project Aristotle.  Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division “We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

The study concluded that in good teams, members show sensitivity, listening to one another.   This lead to a concept called “psychological safety;” a belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.  That feeling of safety allows all members to contribute to the conversation knowing that their ideas and emotions will be respected.  Putting together a successful team has less to do with who is on the team, more with how the members interact.

(Adapted from https://www.scoro.com/blog/teamwork-stories-importance-of-teamwork/ on 11/3/17.)

Once again, this is a case of science affirming what was already revealed to the writers of Scripture.  We see affirmation of the fact that being a church requires an agreement to love one another.

Love forbears, forgives, and forgets.  Love welcomes the practice of trial and error as a means of discovering God’s will and is never guilty of putting someone on trial for making an error.

In Christian families and churches we are called to create the kind of safe environment that Google’s data revealed as the most productive type of environment.  Psychological Safety will exist among people who emphasize grace and gentleness.  People who follow Jesus and who want their church to grow begin with love, which is manifest in purpose tempered by positivity, success achieved by means of interpersonal support.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

NEW:

b. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

First, godliness involves knowing who you are.  According to this passage, you are GOD’S TEMPLE (16) and YOU TOGETHER ARE THAT TEMPLE (17).  The Gk word for TEMPLE (naos) refers specifically to the building itself; the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, not the whole temple campus.  This gives the analogy a depth of meaning.

Here in 1 Corinthians 3, believers joined together in a church form GOD’S TEMPLE.  (See Ephesians 2:21-22 and 1 Peter 2:5.)  Later, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul’s emphasis seems a bit more centered on individual believers as God’s dwelling-place:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Individual believers being “little temples” (God’s “mobile homes,”) going about the world is a thought that follows Jesus’ description of Himself.  He said His earthly body was a TEMPLE (JHN 2:19-21).

Whether together or apart, believers are God’s dwelling-place.  That fact alone makes us responsible to behave like a believer everywhere we go.

How do we know we’re His temple?  We know it is true because God the Father has given God the Spirit to us.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote: GOD’S SPIRIT DWELLS IN YOUR MIDST.  In 2 Corinthians 1:22 & 5:5, Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit is our GUARANTEE that all God’s promises are true; they will be kept.

Part of God’s guarantee is His promise to protect us.  GOD’S TEMPLE is SACRED as indicated by His promise to avenge us against all who DESTROY us.  The word SACRED means “holy” and “set apart.”  It is a state of moral/spiritual purity and a state of separation from sin and worldliness, as we saw last week.  DESTROY also means “to defile or corrupt,” so it doesn’t only mean persecution in the form of acts of physical violence.  It includes spiritual corruption.  This warning is not limited to persons outside the church.  People inside the fellow-ship who are divisive or in any way impede the ministry of the church are in trouble.

Paul was concerned this is what was happening at Corinth.  He didn’t exaggerate the situation: they were dividing over flagrant

immorality, idolatry, relationships between WEAK and STRONG members, Spiritual Gifts, mis-practiced communion and the resurrection, just to hit the highlights.  Competitiveness and false doctrine had created separate parties in the church and anyone who pushed the success of their party over obedience to Christ was destroying the church.  God Himself opposed them.

People of faith should be encouraged to know that God will defend His own.  Justice will be served.

YOU ARE OF CHRIST AND CHRIST IS OF GOD explains how it is that ALL THINGS belong to God’s people.  This is a theological statement that reveals the fact that God the Son and God the Father are one, just as Jesus said (see John 10:30).

– It is through our faith-relationship with Jesus Christ that the unlimited resources of God the Father are made available to us.

– In His death and resurrection, Jesus redeemed us.  That is, He paid the price for our sins; He bought us out of slavery to sin.

– Through Jesus Christ – God the Son – we have access to God the Father, and that is the life-giving chain by which all this is possible.

Second, godliness involves knowing what is in store for you (21-23).  Good things are in store for those who wait upon the Lord.  Paul’s words ALL THINGS ARE YOURS (22) and ALL ARE YOURS (23) leave nothing to worry about.  Because we have God’s unlimited provision in the PRESENT and FUTURE, we can obey God’s command in Philippians 4:6 = Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Your future does not depend on any of your leaders; WHETHER PAUL OR APOLLOS OR CEPHAS.  This should be obvious; God is in charge.  Church leaders have their roles to play, but God decides whether a church will be fruitful or not (as we’ll see in v. 7).

Your future does not depend on the WORLD’s approval or support.  That’s good news because we can generally depend on the WORLD’s disapproval and, in some places, outright persecution.

Everything – LIFE and DEATH, PRESENT and FUTURE – is in God’s hands.  God is going to work in favor of His family.  He is going to work for the betterment of His children.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Last week we observed that one of the appeals of the Christian faith is that we offer the world something real.  We hold forth words of assurance that there is more to life than what the world offers.  We can make such claims until we run out of breath, but when our actions are merely worldly, then the claim is denied.

We need to work at having a culture of safety in our church.  Competition and condemnation shut down imagination and  experimentation, which forbids the innovation we need to succeed.

Churches tend to fall into one of two extremes just because it’s easier to think in extreme terms.  The one extreme exalts innovation.  With an evolutionary point of view, the assumption is that newer is always better.

The other extreme is imitation.  People in these churches have an opposing view that older is always better.  They assume that if we better imitate the way we’ve always done things, recreating the good old days, they better off we will be.

A more biblically realistic view, but one that is more difficult to achieve, puts imitation and innovation on an equal level, understanding these are both merely tools to achieve what is our true goal: pointing people to God.

Philosophies and programs are not goals; they are means to the real goal, which is making Jesus Christ apparent in our lives, whether we are together in this building or apart from it.  Good builders know how to use a variety of tools to complete their job.  If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, then hanging pictures is easy, but sawing wood is practically impossible.

What we see here in 1 Corinthians 3 is that God’s people use God’s methods and His tools to faithfully build more of Jesus in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

b. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).

Turns Out Samson Had Parents

Please read Judges 13 in your well-worn Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson James Dobson told about a mother who was sick in bed with the flu. Her little daughter wanted so much to be a good nurse, she brought mom an extra pillow and a magazine to read. And then she even showed up with a cup of tea. Her surprised mother took a sip and said, ”Wow! I didn’t even know you knew how to make tea!”

The girl said excitedly, ”Oh, yes. I learned by watching you. I put some water in the pot, put the tea leaves in, and I boiled the water, and then I strained it into a cup. But I couldn’t find the strainer, so I used the flyswatter instead.”

Her mother set the tea cup down and said, ”You what?!”

”Oh, don’t worry, mom,” the little helper exclaimed.  “I didn’t use the new flyswatter; I used the old one.”
Being a mom is not easy! One woman who said, ”Before I was married, I had three theories about raising children. Now, I have three children and no theories.”
Moms know motherhood can be everything from exhilarating to exhausting.  So today it is very appropriate to pause and say ”Thank You” to our mothers and thank God for them.

Tdoay we’re going to hold up Samson’s mother as a good example of motherhood.  Even though we don’t know her name, she distinguished herself as a quick-witted, faithful, and reasonable woman.  Samson became a biblical hero because of his mother’s obedience to the revealed will of God.

  1. Context: what’s happening in that part of Judges?

On a national level, we look to verse one and find that Israel was virtually hostage to the Philistines.  Israel’s cycles of evil resulting in suffering, crying out to the Lord, and deliverance are so typical verse one is almost formulaic. The cycle went from Idolatry to Oppression to Repentance to Deliverance, then back to Idolatry.

The EVIL they did was part of worshipping idols; forsaking the true God for false ones.  The discipline they suffered as a result was being DELIVERED into the hands of one of a pagan nation.  The length of Philistine domination – 40 years – is the longest such period in Judges.

The people cried out in their distress and God bailed them out once again.  At this stage of their history, the people God used to bail them out were called “judges:” that’s where the title of the book comes from.

On a personal scale, we turn to verse two to find out about Samson’s parents and Samson’s divine origin.  The surprising part is that they were childless at the time.

Strange as it may seem, biblical accounts of childless women are typical Mother’s Day sermon material: think of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth.  (We save Mary for Christmas.) The Bible says that children are a gift from God.  That’s true.  However, people of that time assumed that the opposite must also be true; that being childless was a sign of God’s disfavor, a mark of shame, maybe even an indication of hidden sin.  (In fact, a later Jewish reference, the Talmud, proverbially state that people who were blind, leperous, in slavery, or childless were “dead.”

The family lived in ZORAH, a town into which they relocated to escape the oppressions of the Philistines.  It was located 15 miles west of Jerusalem.

They were DANITES; descendents of Jacob’s son Dan.  Calling them a CLAN instead of a “tribe” may imply there weren’t too many DANITES left.  To be frank, the Danites were the “outlaw”  tribe of Israel.  They had a history of betraying the other tribes and were often at the pointy end of the oppressions of pagan nations.

  1. Samson was to become a Judge and Israel’s Deliverer (sorta).

The angelic messenger promised Mr. and Mrs. Manoah a child in verses three, six, and eight to fourteen.  In v. 3 he said, “YOU ARE GOING TO BE PREGNANT AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON.”

In v. 6, in the way she summarizes her encounter with the angel, we see that Mrs. M was mostly clued in: She referred to the angel as a MAN OF GOD, a phrase usually used for prophets, judges, and kings.  Wrong, in this case.  Se said “HE LOOKED LIKE AN ANGEL OF GOD, VERY AWESOME.”   AWESOME is a word that meant “fear-producing;” it was often used to describe God.  But Mrs. M may have been so intimidated by her visitor that she was afraid to ask his name.  This is something Mr. M would do in v. 17, when the angel returned.

For his part, Mr. Manoah only slowly caught on.

One teensy detail Mrs. M did not tell Manoah as she recounted the instructions of her visitor was the matter of their son leading God’s people in overthrowing the Philistines.  So it’s clear that Manoah was sufficiently intimidated by the idea of fatherhood alone, and prayed to God for some guidance in how to BRING UP THE BOY WHO IS TO BE BORN.  In verses nine and ten, Manoah’s prayer was answered with a “Yes;” the angel came back.

In verses 11-14, Manoah asked the obvious questions first.  The more intrusive questions came later.

“ARE YOU THE MAN WHO TALKED TO MY WIFE?” and “WHAT IS TO BE THE RULE THAT GOVERNS THE BOY’S LIFE AND WORK?”  (The kid isn’t even born yet and dad is already putting him to work!)

The angel only directly answered the first question.  In answer to the second, he repeats only the instructions given to Mrs. M and also does not mention the whole “lead deliverer” thing either.  This may indicate the angel thought Manoah was showing a lack of faith and/or “the paralysis of analysis.”

Conditions that were attached to the promise; God required the male child be a NAZIRITE from birth to death and for his mother to be a Nazirite throughout her pregnancy (4-5, 7, 13-14).  (See Numbers 6 for the full set of Nazirite regulations.)

The name nazir (Hb) means “dedicated” or “consecrated.”  In general, being a NAZIRITE required keeping an extra set of laws to achieve a higher level of holiness.  In such a role Samson was said to be “DEDICATED TO GOD FROM THE WOMB.”  According to Numbers 6, a Nazirite vow was made by an adult man or woman and was to be kept for a limited period.  To make this vow on behalf of an unborn child and to make it for life are both unique to Samson.

The specifics included: “DRINK NO WINE OR OTHER FERMENTED DRINK” (in Numbers 6, all fruit of the grapevine is prohibited), “DO NOT EAT ANYTHING UNCLEAN,” and no trips to the barber; “WHOSE HEAD IS NEVER TO BE TOUCHED BY A RAZOR” (interestingly, the Nazirite’s head was shaved clean at the end of his or her time of commitment).”  The main concern about Samson was that he didn’t get a haircut (verse five).  I assume we all know how that worked out…?

Mrs. Manoah was commanded to observe these regulations because God knew what the mother consumed would become part of the child’s body as well.  He wanted Samson to be fully pure from birth.

God’s purpose in these extraordinary arrangements was pronounced by the angel: “HE WILL TAKE THE LEAD IN DELIVERING ISRAEL FROM THE HANDS OF THE PHILISTINES.”  God intended Samson to provide leadership for His people in overcoming their oppressors.  It also means he would not accomplish this deliverance alone; Samson was supposed to unite the people under his leadership and they would overthrow the Philistines by working together.

  1. Mr. Manoah misunderstood, then overreacted.

Biblically, angels never tolerate worship that belongs to God.  Mr. Manoah learned that lesson.   Whether or not there was an ulterior motive behind his offer of hospitality (15-16), what’s clear is that MANOAH DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS THE ANGEL FROM THE LORD to whom he was speaking.

The question about the angel’s name (17-18) is not necessarily as innocent as it may appear.  In this culture, to know someone’s name was viewed as being able to somehow exercise power over them or know something special about them.  This made people in general reluctant to give out there name, just as we are supposed to be reluctant to give out personal information on the Internet (especially to Russian hackers).  As is always the case in the Bible, there is a refusal to answer that question directly; the angel replied, “IT IS BEYOND YOUR UNDERSTANDING.”  Or, “It is too wonderful for you,” a hint at his heavenly status.

If is only after the angel’s dramatic exit that Manoah understood, but then he overreacted a bit.  It took an over-the-top demonstration (19-21), but Mr. & Mrs. M were finally convinced.  After all, it’s not every day you see a blast of fire that reaches heaven AND your dinner guest ride it out of sight!  (Something similar happened when an angel appeared to another judge, Gideon, in 6:20-23.)

In verses 22-23 we read Manoah’s overreaction.  Everybody knows that if you see God, you are burnt toast because no one sees God and lives.  So Mr. M panics; “WE ARE DOOMED!”  (Think C3PO in all the Star Wars movies.)  But Mrs. M is a sensible sort and reasons that if God had only wanted to blow them up, He would not have accepted their sacrifice, nor would He have given them the promise of a child and instructions on her pre-natal behavior.

  1. God’s promise was kept.

Mrs. Manoah birthed a boy and named him Samson (24).  The name SAMSON is related to the Hebrew word for “sun,” but is exact meaning is not clear to us today.

What is clear is that the LORD was with him: HE GREW AND THE LORD BLESSED HIM (24).  Sounds a bit like Luke’s summary of the Jesus’ growing-up years: JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MAN (LKE 2:52).

The second detail in this line is also exceptional: THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD BEGAN TO STIR HIM (25).  That word STIR is from the Hebrew word salah (Hb) which meant “to rush upon; trouble.”  This is the only use of this word in the Bible, which is part of what I mean by “exceptional.”  IMHO, this word has a more aggressive sound to it than I would normally associate with the Holy Spirit.

It is also exceptional in its irony.  Of all the Judges, Samson is the one most often empowered by the Holy Spirit (see 14:6+19; 15:14) in the most unusual way and yet was the worst-behaved.  More on that as we develop this series of messages on Samson.

Ted Sutherland wrote an Internet account of a Mrs. Monroe who lives in Darlington, Maryland. “She’s the mother of 8 children. And except for a few interesting experiences, she’s just like any other mother across America.

“She came home one afternoon from the grocery store and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, doing something with an object in the middle of a circle. So she put down the sacks of groceries and walked over closely and looked and saw her kids playing with 5 of the cutest skunklets you can imagine.
“She was instantly terrified and she said, ‘Run children, run!’ Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. She was beside herself and screamed louder, more frantically, with great gusto. It so scared the children that each one squeezed his skunk! Guess what? Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-ted-sutherland-humor-mothersday-discipline-3704 on 5/13/17.>

As much as we love mom, we realize she’s only human and doesn’t always give good advice.  However, godly moms like Mrs. M. have God’s help to transcend their humanity and obey God’s commands.

Samson had godly parents who loved him a great deal.  But were they always good parents?  You’ll have to come back next week to find that out.

Under the Influence

At Emmanuel Baptist Church, we combined our Pentecost and Memorial Day observations in the “Pastoral Prayer” section of our worship service.  I was particularly happy with the way it turned out and offer it as an addition to your own Memorial Day observances.

“Since 1971 Memorial Day has been observed annually on the last Monday in May. The purpose is to honor the nation’s military personnel killed in wartime.

“The holiday was called Decoration Day at first, because people decorated soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags on that day. Today it is also marked by parades, memorial speeches and ceremonies.

“Waterloo, New York, was the birthplace of Memorial Day.  On May 5, 1866, the people of Waterloo placed flowers on the graves of northern soldiers who had died in the Civil War. In 1868, Major General John Logan declared May 30 as a day for honoring soldiers who had died fighting for the North.             “After World War I ended, in 1918, Decoration Day became a day to remember everyone who died fighting in U.S. wars – the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. The observation now also includes World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf wars.” <Bobby Scobey; retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-bobby-scobey-stories-59644.asp on 05/23/15.>

Decoration Day has become Memorial Day, a time to remember all our loved ones and the sacrifices they have made for us.

“It’s honorable and fitting this morning we remember the sacrifice of our nation’s great veterans, who gave their lives on battlefields abroad and here at home. By some estimates, nearly 1.3 million Americans have shed their blood and died for freedom’s cause. Still, as magnanimous as this number is, it pales in comparison to the number of men, women, and children who have given their lives for freedom’s eternal cause.

“Michael J. McClymond, writing for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, wrote in its December 2002 edition: ‘The total number of Christian martyrs during the 20th Century is reported at 45 million.’ He finished his though by defining Christian martyrs as ‘believers in Christ who lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility.’” <Jason Bonnicksen; retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jason-bonnicksen-statistics-holidayscivic-79109.asp on 5/23/15.>

As we memorialize all who have made a sacrifice of life itself for our benefit, it’s important we remember the One who shed the purity of his blood for freedom’s cause. For without the sacrifice or our Jesus on the cross, we would have no means of celebration today.

Stand, then call out simultaneously the names of anyone you’re memorializing today.

VETERANS

MARTYRS

MISSIONARIES

DEPARTED SAINTS

“One of the great preachers in U.S. history is D. L. Moody. He pastored in Chicago and there is still a wonderful Bible College there that bears his name and values. Mr. Moody was a successful minister, but by his own admission, he lacked the power in his ministry. One day two women came up to him after a service. They said, ‘We have been praying for you.’

“‘Why don’t you pray for the people?’ he asked.

“‘Because you need the power of the Spirit.’ “In relating the incident years after he writes, ‘I thought I had power. I had the largest congregation in Chicago, and there were many conversions.’”

“Moody also said that in a sense, he was satisfied. He was in a comfort zone. But these two praying women rocked the boat. They told him that they were praying for an anointing by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Moody could not get this off his mind and he wrote, ‘There came a great hunger in my soul. I did not know what it was and I began to cry out to God as never before. I felt I did not want to live if I could not have this power for service.’”

“Rev. Moody began crying out for God to fill him. He withdrew, prayed, and sought it over a period of time. He writes the following: ‘Well, one day, in the city of New York — oh, what a day! — I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be put back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world.’”

<Ken Pell, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-ken-pell-stories-blessing-curse-esau-81534.asp on 5/22/15.>

(Please read Romans 8:1-4.)

Message: Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the sin nature and its deadly outcome.

  1. The outcome is NO CONDEMNATION!

THEREFORE indicates a new section beginning.  This is the third time this far in the book of Romans that Paul has made this kind of transition.  It covers chapters 6+7, where Paul’s written about slavery to sin.  We are all born with a sin nature.  That is the legacy of Adam.  The sin nature is an appetite for disobedience to God; it makes us especially vulnerable to temptation.  On our own, we can only hope to restrain the sin nature.  The sin nature carries so great a degree of influence that we are ultimately powerless to resist it – we are in “slavery” to it.

Though the sin nature is deadly, the situation is not hopeless – God provided a way out!

Let’s go out of order a moment and note the condition – FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS.  This condition begins with confession – admitting that sin is a personal problem.  It continues in the personal belief that Jesus Christ is the sole solution to the problem of sin and accepting Him as my Savior.  It is perpetuated and validated by the ongoing decision to live for Jesus as Lord; submitting all my days and ways to Him.

Before explaining how it’s possible, Paul sets forth the good news: THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION!  NOW indicates the situation has changed.  A new possibility has emerged: NO CONDEMNATION.  We are no longer condemned to death as law-breakers (see 6:23).  There is only one condition and no qualifiers, no exceptions to the rule!

So who are we to bring condemnation against those beloved of God when HE has chosen not to?  How false it is to say that we are too far gone, too guilty of evil to be forgiven by God?  Faith brings us to the point where there is NO CONDEMNATION.  In both these examples, the Enemy wants to distract, discourage, and disable believers, but his accusations are false, because God has said there is NO CONDEMNATION.

  1. Jesus made that possible by His death o/t cross.

Verse two makes it plain; this was accomplished THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.  He is the means of our salvation.

Verse three tells us, WHAT THE LAW WAS POWERLESS TO DO… GOD DID BY SENDING HIS OWN SON.

– THE LAW WAS POWERLESS means that there was no permanent solution here. God provided t Law for 3 reasons.

— To define his standard (everything outside what God approved is sin).

— To motivate restraint of the sin nature.

— To provide forgiveness when we fail, through the blood of the sacrifice.

While the Law was effective for those purposes, it was unable to destroy the sin nature.  It was a temporary fix until Jesus came.

– The sin nature weakens the Law by making it impossible for us to keep it; our nature condemns us to always fall short of God’s standard.

– GOD SENT HIS SON…

— IN THE LIKENESS OF SINFUL MAN.   Don’t let the word LIKENESS make you think Jesus was anything other than fully human.  He lived in every way as we do, with the exception of sin – He was not guilty of sin (see Hebrews 4:15), nor did He have a sinful nature.  (This is because He had no earthly father to pass it on to Him.)

— TO BE A SIN OFFERING. Since sin brought the penalty of death, a life was due.  God, in His mercy, did not require the life of the sinner, but allowed a substitution.  When an animal was sacrificed, the pouring out of its life was in the loss of its blood.  Blood symbolizes life, a life wasted by defying God.  Jesus’ blood was the ultimate sin offering that once for all time paid the debt of the guilty sinner.

– HE CONDEMNED SIN IN SINFUL MAN.  Notice He condemned SIN, not the sinner.  Sin is a defeated enemy; new life is available.

Verse four explains the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice: THAT THE RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US.  Jesus, being fully God and fully man, fulfilled with His blood, what the Law required for the forgiveness of sin.  Notice three particulars:

– The requirements of the Law are RIGHTEOUS.

– The requirements of the Law were FULLY met.  Again; no conditions, no exceptions.

– The requirements of the Law were fully met IN US – or for us – but not by us!

  1. The Holy Spirit provides a new life for us.

Verse two shows that THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE SET ME FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.  The main contrast here is between the old and new covenants. But there is another contrast here, between the LAW and LIFE.  While the LAW gives regularity, LIFE gives the flexibility to show grace.  This shows the superiority of the Spirit’s operation.

According to verse four, being thereby freed from the death penalty, we DO NOT LIVE ACCORDING TO THE SINFUL NATURE BUT ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT.  Paul will spend the rest of this chapter detailing what life ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT is like.  For now, what’s important to us: We are NO LONGER under the influence of the sin nature but are under the influence of the Holy Spirit instead.

For the believer, the goal of life changes from self-satisfaction to satisfying God under the direction of the Spirit.

“There’s a story told of a husband and wife both of who were doctors – one a doctor of theology and the other a doctor of medicine. When their doorbell was rung and the maid answered, the inquirer would often ask for “the doctor”. The interesting reply was: “Do you want the one who preaches or the one who practices?”

We know the theory of Christian living but what we must do is to practice it!

<Owen Bourgaize, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-owen-bourgaize-humor-holyspiritbaptism-pentecost-2971.asp on 5/22/15.>

What we’ve learned is that the Holy Spirit makes all the difference.  We can’t preach or practice with any eternal effectiveness apart from the indwelling Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the agency of salvation, the part of God that resides in us and provides the information and power we need to live beyond what is merely natural and merely normal; to experience God in living moments, great and small.  The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to truly LIVE!

On Pentecost (known to the Jews as the Feast of Weeks), God’s promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled.  On this day hundreds of years ago, the first disciples became the Church as they received the Spirit as Jesus had personally guaranteed they would.

Personally, I like the fact that Memorial Sunday, Pentecost Sunday and Graduates Sunday have all come on the same day.  One aspect of Memorial Day is to celebrate our freedom as Americans.  In a similar but more important way, Pentecost is a celebration of our freedom in the Holy Spirit. These are both celebrations of past events, while our graduates remind us that we have reason to celebrate the future as well.  It’s been a fulfilling experience. But in the midst of it all, remember: under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the sin nature and its deadly outcome.