Fitted for Hard Times (2 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:16-25 & 34-39 in your Bible.

Fitted for Hard Times_v02 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW: Part One was the Conditions of Discipleship

There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that cannot be proven he either said or wrote.  Nonetheless, it is amusing and has a good truth, especially in these times of overreaching governments: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

In our passage today Jesus is still preparing to send out the Twelve Apostles on their short-term missions project.  He is completely honest, even brutally honest, in warning them what it will cost them to follow Him.  They will be the lambs contesting the wolves of the world around them.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

NEW: Part Two is the Cost of Discipleship

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your innocence but not your virtue (vs. 16-18)

By “innocence” I mean naiveté; you will see the world as it truly is.  For the sake of our own comfort and sanity we tend to assume people are most often have good intentions and that the world is safe.  Jesus shattered any false sense of safety by saying He was sending the disciples out LIKE SHEEP AMONG WOLVES. WOLVES is an oft-used image for persecutors of the Church (for example, Matthew 7:15; John 10:12; Acts 20:29).  SHEEP is an even more frequent biblical symbol of God’s people (for example, Psalm 23).  Even though He sent them to THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL (v. 6), the disciple were not assume everyone they meet will accept or even tolerate their message of repentance.  In v. 14 He warned them some people would not WELCOME or LISTEN to them.

By “virtue” I mean a refusal to hold a grudge, get revenge or in any way compromise God’s standards.  SNAKES were an Eastern symbol for prudence.  Though DOVES are used otherwise in the Bible, Jesus used used it as a symbol of innocence.  Disciples are not to close their eyes to evil, but are to deal with it directly and even assertively.  We keep our virtue after our innocence is lost by being smart, which is exactly what Jesus is teaching here.

The effect of this transformation is for you to BE ON YOUR GUARD.  Be prepared; as sure as sparks fly upward, so will disciples suffer persecution.  Jesus’ teaching about His Second Coming required His disciples to be on their GUARD.  You do this by never giving up.  They were warned to be ON GUARD AGAINST MEN (v. 17) because men are prone to prioritize self-interest.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you your freedom (vs. 18-19).

Persecution can come from the top down as well as the bottom up.  V. 18 is a contrast with v. 17.  In. v. 17 Jesus warned them against local level persecution: city government (COUNCILS) and Jewish SYNAGOGUES.  In v. 18 Jesus warned them against persecution brought by GOVERNORS AND KINGS. In v. 21 Jesus warned a third group – family members – may be among a disciple’s persecutors.  God’s purpose in their being persecuted is to give them an opportunity to be WITNESSES to the Jews and eventually to the GENTILES too.

Is your freedom – your rights – more precious than your salvation?  Is your search for personal comfort more important to you than your duty as a disciple?  If the priority is on salvation and discipleship, you’ll be encouraged by Jesus’ promises and commands.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause you to suffer persecution and rejection (vs. 22-25).

Persecution comes to Jesus’ people because evil people hate Jesus.  I wonder how much persecution the Apostles actually faced when they went out?

It’s clear He prepared them to face opposition in vs. 17-20 just as He did in vs. 11-16.  But vs. 17-20 have a feeling of looking further into the future; that Jesus is speaking here about circumstances long after His death, things the Twelve will have to face as they represent Jesus in other parts of the world.

This interpretation is based on more than intuition; in v. 18 Jesus promised they’d be WITNESSES to the GENTILES as well.  But at this moment their mission is to the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL exclusively (v.6), the GENTILES are not included.  This warning is more appropriate to the decades after Jesus’ Ascension than this immediate situation.

To the degree that it helps to know your persecutors are not making it a personal issue, Jesus warned, ALL MEN WILL HATE YOU BECAUSE OF ME.  These words also take a broader view than just this short-term mission.  This is their future.  ALL MEN should not be understood as “everyone.”  It can be translated as “all kinds of men,” which takes in the locals mentioned in v. 17, the VIPs in v. 18, and family members in v. 21.

Jesus said, “A STUDENT IS NOT ABOVE HIS TEACHER, NOR A SERVANT ABOVE HIS MASTER,” explaining why hatred for Him automatically becomes hatred for His disciples.  Jesus did not die on the cross to make us happy or feel fulfilled, or to improve our self-esteem.  Jesus suffered and died to save us.  As His disciples we must share in His sufferings if we want to also share in his glory (Romans 8:17).  Our attitude toward suffering should be the kind expressed by the apostles in Acts 5:21 who were overjoyed to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name.

Jesus has provided us with recourse to persecution: a promise, path, and a finish line.

His promise: v. 22 promises those who remain ON GUARD and STAND FIRM TO THE END they will be saved.  This command is similarly expressed in…

– Philippians 3:16 = ONLY LET US LIVE UP TO WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED.

– Revelation 2:25 = ONLY HOLD ON TO WHAT YOU HAVE UNTIL I COME.

Disciples experience seasons of growth and seasons which threaten us and/or tempt us to give up.  In those seasons, it is perfectly acceptable to dig in and prevent losing any ground, to cling fiercely to the measure of faith we have, and refuse to be moved.  To be faithful TO THE END means to the end of one’s life or to the Second Coming, whichever comes first.

Jesus’ path = In v. 23 Jesus advised the Twelve, “WHEN YOU ARE PERSECUTED IN ONE PLACE, FLEE TO ANOTHER.”  In other words, “You don’t have to stand there and take it.”  In this teaching and in others, Jesus authorized the use of passive resistance and non-violent protest as responses to persecution.  He did not call His disciples to be door mats: He commanded us to be as SHREWD AS SNAKES but as INNOCENT AS DOVES.

For example, a SHREWD alternative to just standing there and allowing yourself to be persecuted is to get out of the way of your persecutors.  We have an example of this happening in the history of the Church: Acts 8:1 says the members of the church in Jerusalem scattered into neighboring provinces in the face of persecution in the city.

Jesus’ finish line = YOU WILL NOT FINISH GOING THROUGH THE CITIES OF ISRAEL BEFORE THE SON OF MAN COMES.  This is Jesus’ promise that He would not leave any of His disciples to suffer their fate.  He did the opposite: He promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).  This is an occasion where it’s especially important to be aware of the context of the verse.  Jesus has just instructed them to flee persecution.  What is he saying here is that there will always be a fall-back position, until Jesus comes again, and fall-back positions will no longer be needed.  We’ve already observed that Jesus’ instructions look beyond the time in which they were given.  This statement looks forward to the end of time.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause a loss of false peace (vs. 34).

Jesus didn’t come to be “nice,” if that word means being completely benign, inoffensive, no trouble, no confrontations, or no harsh words of any kind.  Jesus said it plainly, but people don’t want to hear it, so they start off a comment with “Well…” and proceed to make excuses to water down Jesus’ radical statements.  To them I say, “Grow up.”

Jesus said “DO NOT SUPPOSE THAT I HAVE COME TO BRING PEACE TO THE EARTH.  I DID NOT COME TO BRING PEACE, BUT A SWORD.”  Similarly, in Luke 12:49-51 He said, “I HAVE COME TO BRING FIRE ON THE EARTH AND HOW I WISH IT WERE ALREADY KINDLED.  BUT I HAVE A BAPTISM TO UNDERGO, AND OW DISTRESSED I AM UNTIL IT IS COMPLETED! DO YOU THINK I CAME TO BRING PEACE ON EARTH?  NO, I TELL YOU, BUT DIVISION.”  This is not Jesus’ desire to be a troublemaker nor is he authorizing us to merely be troublemakers.  Instead, He is offering another explanation of why people hate Him.

Telling the truth has a polarizing effect on people.  People who are living a lie hate the truth because it exposes them as liars and thereby feels like an accusation.  People who live in the truth love the truth because it encourages and affirms what they’re doing.  Jesus told the truth, but more than that, He IS the truth (John 14:6).

Discipleship is following Jesus’ example in seeking the truth, which will produce both peace and judgment in a single circumstance.  Jesus is called the PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6-7) because He brings inner peace to His disciples (Philippians 4:7).  At the same time, He is a galvanizing figure whom people will love or hate.  Hear this: the most faithless reaction to Jesus is apathy (Revelation 3:14-16).  Just as history has been divided by Jesus (A.D. versus B.C.), so are people divided into for or against.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you some family relationships (vs. 21, 35-37).

Our first family is our church family.  We’ve observed Jesus’ warning in v. 21: “BROTHER WILL BETRAY BROTHER…A FATHER HIS CHILD…CHILDREN AGAINST THEIR PARENTS.”  This is such an important point, it is essentially repeated in vs. 35-37.  Note the deadly consequence of these betrayals: TO DEATH.  Jesus is offering families as an example of people we would normally expect to trust, but as we know family members are not any more likely to agree or be agreeable than complete strangers.

Jesus’ attitude toward family may surprise you.  In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8, Jesus responded to a call to join His family by saying, “MY MOTHER AND BROTHERS ARE THOSE WHO HEAR GOD’S WORD AND PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.”  Verse 37 is a similarly provocative statement: “ANYBODY WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.”  The Bible does place a high value on family relationships, but in terms of priorities, it is clear our church family comes before our birth family.

Even in families, some people will react to your discipleship with division.  Discipleship demands extreme devotion to Jesus, a situation that will not sit well with all the members of one’s family.  The polarizing effect of Jesus and the followers who imitate Him can be deep enough to part close but superficial relationships.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your life (vs. 38-39).

Salvation is free and it costs you everything.  Salvation is FREE in the sense that it cannot be earned.  It is available to us only because of God’s grace.  Salvation COSTS us everything in the sense that following Jesus must be our first priority.  Anything that is more important than loving God is actually an idol: including family.  We can claim anything we want, but we can’t actually be a disciple of Jesus if we prioritize anything else above Him.

There are three aspects of discipleship Jesus mentioned in this passage.

Take up your cross.  In Jesus’ culture, the cross was a symbol of shame.  Jesus transformed it into a sign of victory, but He did so only by means of sacrifice.  Taking up our own cross means to do a similar thing, to sacrifice self on the altar of devotion to God.  In our culture, this will involve the sacrifice of choice, convenience and comfort, things we insist upon.

Follow Jesus.  Finding something to die for is, in some ways, easier than having something to life for, because living requires the hard work of being faithful in the mundane details of everyday life.  Following means letting Jesus lead.  Whenever we want to dictate the terms of discipleship or tell Jesus what we’re willing to do, that’s where falsehood enters in.

Lose your life for His sake.  This is obviously a figure of speech but it describes the radical depth of commitment a disciple shows.  Disciples are mostly unconcerned about their own rights.  They give evidence of humility and a servant’s heart in word and deed.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

In this second of three installments, we have observed Jesus preparing His disciples by frankly telling them what it will cost them to follow Him.  In all the years since, the cost of discipleship has not changed.  The rewards are literally out of this world but they are realized only by faith and sacrifice.

One place where discipleship can become difficult is when the faith collides with the world.  Jesus did not want to send His people into the world naively expecting to be appreciated.

I read recently that expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are “good” is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.  The bull simply does not care.  In all walks of life, in all situations and experiences, you will encounter resistance against your faith.  People will not care.

In those moments, Jesus does not expect us to be a witty debater, a fiery preacher, or anything other than our selves, clinging resolutely to what we know to be true.  We do not require the world’s agreement or approval to be disciples; with the Holy Spirit in us, we operate under a greater authority.  Quiet confidence and a ready reply is what’s needed when the world starts knocking our faith down.

PREVIEW: Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

RESOURCES:

Message #1322

Fitted for Hard Times (1 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:1-15 in your Bible.  Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Fitted for Hard Times (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

In the white collar world of professional businessmen, there has been a lot of popular press written on the subject of leadership.  In the Bible, a lot is said about discipleship and service.  How’s that for an illustration of the clash of cultures?

The subject of discipleship, of training and being trained in following Jesus, is so important we’ll devote the next three weeks to studying Jesus’ method of discipleship in Matthew 10.  It is a rich vein of teaching, so we are going to sink a deep shaft into it.

To stimulate our thinking, it want to share a few insights into the subject of discipleship, representing varied viewpoints.

Nineteenth century Danish theologian Soren Kierkagaard wrote, “I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, “If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.”  Kierkagaard’s comment?  “And no one laughed.”

The reformer Martin Luther wrote, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

American evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “It is better to train ten people than to do the work of ten people. But it is harder.”

These three men all observed, in their different ways, the essential nature of discipleship in the Christian life.  Real belief is manifest in spiritual growth, as haphazard as it may look from the outside.  There is no choice in this matter; Jesus’ followers are disciples or they follow someone else.

CONTEXT: In Matthew 9, Jesus has called Matthew to be a disciple.  He is the last one to be called to follow Jesus.  Then, at the end of the chapter, Jesus looked compassionately on the crowd gathered before Him and urged His disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more workers in the field.  These two chapters have a focus on Jesus’ disciples, His partners in ministry.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. To be a disciple you must first be named as one of His people (vs. 2-4).

The Twelve are named four times in the New Testament.  The four lists are here in Matthew 10, Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13; there is no listing in John.

This is the only time in Matthew and Mark they are called APOSTLES. The word itself has a specific meaning: “messenger, envoy, ambassador.”  Hebrews 13:1 refers to Jesus as an APOSTLE.

When the word came into use as a title for a church officer, its meaning widened.  At first, only the Twelve were called Apostles.  Then Paul and five others were called APOSTLES.  Then leaders over groups of churches got the title.

Regardless of one’s title, every believer is first called by God.  We are saved because God decided to offer salvation to us.  Here are some general observations about the original twelve Apostles.

– The Twelve were all laymen; there were no priests among them.

– They were not chosen because they gave Jesus any advantage.

– They were a mix of personalities w/ some opposites.  (For example, the opposing political views of Matthew the tax collector versus Simon the Zealot, the opposite personalities of Peter and the “Sons of Thunder” versus “Doubting Thomas.”)

– They were called to follow Jesus, they didn’t volunteer.  Some of Jesus’ followers did volunteer, but they are not called APOSTLES.

The Apostles were ordinary men whom God empowered to extra-ordinary things.  They were so important to the plan of God that Revelation 21:14 tells us that the foundation stones of the heavenly city are inscribed with their names!

  1. To be a disciple you must come under Jesus’ authority (v. 1)

JESUS CALLED HIS DISCIPLES TO HIM: Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, called each of these men individually.  It was His decision that made them disciples; it was their decision to accept.

To be CALLED is to be invited by God to accept His will.  Everyone is CALLED to be saved.  In 2 Peter 2:9 we are told it is God’s will that no one should perish, that all should repent.  This is a universal calling.

Those who accept God’s call to salvation receive an additional calling to do a specific kind of ministry in a specific time and place.  In the modern Church we have mistakenly used the language of “calling” for professional church leaders.  That is unbiblical.  All disciples are CALLED to minister for Jesus.

HE…GAVE THEM AUTHORITY = On this occasion, Jesus delegated to the Twelve His AUTHORITY to do two things in particular.  One: TO DRIVE OUT EVIL (“unclean”) SPIRITS.  These spirits are in opposition to God.  They do evil and tempt people to do evil.  They were to be driven out because their evil is toxic to humans, separating their victims from God.

Two: TO HEAL EVERY DISEASE AND ILLNESS.  As Jesus gave the Twelve AUTHORITY to do these two different things, it is plain that not every physical illness is a result of demonic activity.  Matthew Henry’s comment is good: “The design of the gospel is to conquer the devil and cure the world.”  Last week we saw Jesus doing both these things in Luke 4.

On other occasions (i.e., Matthew 19:28) Jesus’ delegated authority would take other forms.  What’s important for us here is to note that His disciples do not exercise their own authority.  Instead, they minister under His.

  1. As a disciple you must do service and witness at the same time (vs. 5-8).

Jesus sent out the Twelve after giving them INSTRUCTIONS.  This is a potent word, used in a variety of situations: the commands given by military leaders to their subordinates, the rules or principles given by a teacher to their students, and the word of a king or emperor as laws put upon the people.

This emphasis on service and witness means the object of ministry is not self or other believers, but others, and particularly the LOST.  In this case Jesus’ command was to minister only to their fellow Jews: the Gentiles and Samaritans would be reached at another time.  Jesus’ command to GO… TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL fulfilled the Old Testament promises that a Messiah would be sent to Israel.  This is an example to us that ministry is not about gratifying self, but is focused on meeting the needs of others.

Our ministry of witness is to PREACH…THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.  Repentance is the response for which we’re aiming as we witness, because repentance is necessary for salvation (Mark 6:12).  THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN refers to the people of God, distinguished by true faith.

To say t KINGDOM is NEAR means two things.  One, it is close enough to be recognized by those who have faith and the Spirit to see it.  Two, that a decision is demanded: don’t procrastinate.  The KINGDOM is NEAR in time; the opportunity to join it is now.

Our ministry of service is to relieve all kinds of distress.  SICK…DEAD…LEPROSY…DEMONS are a representative sample of all the kinds of ills human beings can suffer.  Jesus gave His disciples AUTHORITY over them all!  Following the example of the Apostles, we are to provide the material and spiritual service that results in healing other’s suffering.  The Apostles returned later and testified that they had received power to accomplish these works of service.

Witness and service are to be given generously.  As Jesus said, “FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED, FREELY GIVE.”  God gives to us with grace and generosity; it reveals a lot about the true state of our faith when we don’t show that same kind of grace and generosity to others.  In this, the apostles were to follow God’s example and thereby set an example for us to follow.  This instruction also helps us avoid the temptation to build our own ”empire” instead of building God’s Kingdom.

  1. As a disciple you must depend on God, not yourself (vs. 9-11).

This requires you to not trust in your worldly resources.  There is a personal reason Jesus gave this command: the Apostles were to trust God to provide for their material needs.  To teach them this, Jesus instructed them to take no provisions for themselves: no money, no bag for carrying an extra tunic or sandals, nor even a staff.  If they took it along, they were depending on their own resources, not on God.  The phrase TAKE ALONG meant “procure.”  It was about going out to get all the stuff a person might need for a life on the road.

Jesus had a theological reason for this teaching.  If you and I do only the things we know we can do, then we get the glory.  On the other hand, if we do the things that only God could do, He gets the glory.

Jesus had two practical reasons.  First, if you know you’re going to depend on others for all your material needs, you have an obvious motive for ministry.  If your next meal depends on you witnessing, you’ve got some urgency in your belly that doesn’t depend on “willpower.”

Second, this was a short-term “training” mission, not an extended trip.  They were not going to the Gentiles or Samaritans.  There was no need for the extensive preparations that a lengthier journey would require.  Ministry was the priority.

Disciples trust God to equip them through the people He has prepared.  Notice the principle behind Jesus’ instruction in vs. 9-11: worthiness.  The worker is a worthy person.  FOR THE WORKER IS WORTHY OF HIS KEEP.  Those who sacrifice themselves to do the work of ministry deserve our support.

The worker is to search for a WORTHY PERSON to supply His needs and stick with them.  The worthiness of this person would be spirituality first and material support second.  Also, because the Apostles would be associating with that person throughout their stay, their worthiness would be measured by their reputation in the community: would association with them help or hinder their witness?  Jesus told them to STAY AT HIS HOUSE UNTIL YOU LEAVE.  It would be tempting to “trade up” to a nicer house or better food, but that would be ungrateful to someone who’d been generous and might have impaired the reputation of the Apostles.

  1. As a disciple you must practice peace and judgment (vs. 11-15).

Begin new relationships with peace, but be prepared to render judgment.  Remember that the home in this example belongs to a WORTHY PERSON, so it is reasonable to expect a peaceful greeting.

The first step, then, is to give the household a peaceful GREETING (12).  In Jewish culture, that was “Peace to this house” or “Shalom.”

The second step was determined by the response of the household.  If they responded to the greeting of PEACE with PEACE, then they were deserving of PEACE.  In that case, the Apostles were to STAY AT THAT HOUSE until they left, and allow their PEACE to REST ON IT too.

On the other hand, if they responded to the greeting of PEACE by not welcoming them or not listening to them (v. 14), then the Apostles were to LET their PEACE RETURN to them and shake the dust of that house or town off their feet.  In Jewish culture, shaking the dust off one’s feet or clothing was a nonverbal curse (Nehemiah 5:13; Acts 18:6).  For example, it was their habit to shake the dust off before entering Gentile lands so as not to carry any of the soil of the Promised Land with them.  Before leaving Gentile lands, they would shake the dust off to avoid bringing any of that unclean soil with them into the Promised Land.  This was a curse that would come to pass ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.

Realize that not everyone will accept your witness and service.  These instructions make the most sense when we remember Jesus was preparing His disciples for the possibility of rejection and acceptance.  He was sending them out of the safety of their group and the world was as likely to show them the back of its hand as offer a hand in fellowship.

His other purpose is to demonstrate this is serious business.  To reject God’s ambassadors is a rejection of God; to reject God is to put one’s self under a curse that will come to full and deadly fruition on Judgment Day.  As Jesus explained in verse 40, “HE WHO RECEIVES YOU RECEIVES ME, AND HE WHO RECEIVES ME RECEIVES THE ONE WHO SENT ME.”

Though we come peaceably to witness and serve, there is no guarantee we will be received peaceably.  When people make up their own minds, their response is their responsibility, not ours.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

We observed earlier the Twelve were called to follow Jesus, they did not volunteer.  The difference between the two is instructive:

  • Disciples surrender their rights in service to their master, but volunteers retain their rights and some are quite likely to bellyache at perceived violations of their rights.
  • Discipleship is an act of complete self-sacrifice while volunteers offer only a portion of their resources, often what they can easily spare.
  • Discipleship is a way of life while volunteerism is more like a hobby; something we enjoy but is not central to our survival or growth.
  • Disciples live to serve while volunteers expect to be rewarded for their service.

While it is true that the church needs workers, God calls all of us to be disciples.  The difference between the two makes all the difference.  A person can be a volunteer in the church without being a disciple, but a disciple will always be a gracious volunteer.

 

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1321

http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/d/discipleship.htm

The Matthew Henry Commentary, Matthew Henry

Advent Angels Sighting #4

Advent Angel Sightings 3_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

          Please read Luke 2:8-20.

Our focus during Advent has been on the angels.  But this week I’ve read and heard a lot about the shepherds.  One fellow said they were servants of the temple, tending the sheep used for the sacrifices.  Another said they were hiding out, complaining and maybe even plotting against the census that had been ordered by Rome.  I suppose either, neither, or both of those things could be true.

What I believe is indisputable, however, is that these were ordinary joes, working men suddenly overtaken by God and by history in the course of their ordinary lives.  It ought to serve as an inspiration to all of us that God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to ordinary folks.  The angels bypassed the palaces and temple and went to a work site.  The good news came first to people much like us.  That’s God’s justice and maybe His sense of humor.

CONTEXT: The scene is a countryside, which fits with Bethlehem as a rural village and with Luke’s theme of the most important birth happening without the notice of the world’s rich and powerful.  KEEPING WATCH means they were taking shifts looking out for predators and keeping the flocks together.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

  1. Luke reveals information about angels.

A single angel appeared first and delivered the message.  The angel is not named, but it might have been Gabriel who did all the talking in chapter one.

The situation starts out very much like the other angelic visitations: sudden appearance, glorious light, fearful response, angel says, “Don’t be afraid.”  Another consistent feature is that the message is GOOD NEWS.  Contrary to the angelic message delivered to Mary and Zechariah, this one is not going to affect the size of the shepherds’ families.

It is GOOD NEWS FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.  That is, for all the people of Israel, as directly stated in 1:17, 68, 77.  On the other hand, Luke tended to use this expression to refer to the “common people” as opposed to their religious and political leaders.

It will occur IN THE TOWN OF DAVID; a hint that it will fulfill prophecy.  As we see later, Jesus did not fulfill popular expectations of the Messiah, but He was obedient to fulfill prophecy and the will of God the Father.

A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU indicates that this baby will be more than just another heir of David.  He will play the pivotal part in God’s salvation.  This is an exceptional verse.  There are three titles mentioned in v.11; SAVIOR, CHRIST (“Messiah” or “Anointed One”), and LORD.  This is the only New Testament text where all three titles appear together.  This is the only time in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is referred to as “Savior.”

THIS WILL BE A SIGN: a circumstance so unique that it will be possible to identify the individual child.  A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER are a mixed message; the CLOTHS imply the baby is wanted and cared-for, but LYING in a manger feels like abandonment. Verse sixteen makes it clear the when they arrived, the shepherds found MARY and JOSEPH there, so the baby was not abandoned after all.

Once the message is delivered, A GREAT COMPANY of angel APPEARED.  A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST uses military terminology, but their activity is not military, it is worship; they glorify God.  Worship of God in heaven seems to be the primary activity of angels and we see it here for the first time.  Given the importance of Jesus’ birth, it makes sense to worship God on this occasion.

The worship promotes the idea that PEACE is the thing God is attempting to achieve here.  The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Peace is much more than the absence of conflict, a temporary ceasefire.  It is a state of prosperity, security, and harmony, a degree of well-being, a taste of heaven on earth.  In Old Testament prophecy, a state of shalom is associated with the kind of kingdom the Messiah would bring to pass.

Who are the recipients of this peaceful kingdom?  The angels’ hymn says cryptically, MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.  We don’t have enough information here to know whether this meant the Jews or the Church or both, in their turns.  It doesn’t really matter as the emphasis is not on the MEN, but on God’s FAVOR, or His grace.  Neither the Jews nor the Church deserve God’s FAVOR, so it is purely grace.

The message delivered, the angels returned to HEAVEN.  After all, they came from heaven.

  1. The shepherds responded faithfully.

They responded immediately.  In the same sentence that reports the angels’ return to heaven, the shepherds have decided to go to Bethlehem to check it out (verse fifteen).  Verse sixteen states they HURRIED OFF to Bethlehem.  This detail conveys an immediate response but also implies an enthusiastic one too.

They responded enthusiastically.  All that is reported about the shepherds conveys people who were understandably enthused to have been visited by angels and saw for themselves that the angel’s good news was perfectly true.

They responded worshipfully.  Verse twenty tells us the shepherd glorified and praised God, just as the company of angels had done in verse sixteen.  What they thought was praiseworthy was that God had kept His promises.  Everything the angels announced had come to pass; they had HEARD and SEEN it for themselves.

They responded evangelistically.  Verses seventeen and eighteen tell us the shepherds SPREAD THE WORD.  They reported their encounter with the angels and their meeting the baby and His parents. These verses also report the reaction of those who heard the shepherds’ testimony: ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED.  As we’ve seen, amazement is the usual reply when people perceive God at work.

God sent an army of angels and an army of shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth.

What strikes me about Luke chapter two after verse two is that the only people mentioned who are “high and mighty” are the angels.  The HEAVENLY HOST appear in contrast to the powerless people who are named in this chapter.  Jesus is a baby; Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and literally everybody else are peasants.  This alone ought to squelch our ambition to “be somebody” or even get noticed.  We can get tired of our routine, long to escape our ordinariness.  Have you ever been greeted by someone who asked, “What’s new and exciting?”  What did you answer?

The shepherds had an answer to that question.  “Let me tell you something!” they’d say with excited voices.  Here’s something new and exciting: we have exactly the same good news that they did!  Jesus is born!  God has kept all His promises and delivered life and light to everyone in the dark shadow of death.

The angels and the shepherds had the same job, only the shepherds were volunteers.  Their job was to tell the GOOD NEWS.  That is our job too.  We have news to share and in this season we have an abundant opportunity to share it!

 

RESOURCES:

Word Biblical Commentary, Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

More Than the Sum of Our Parts

Moses Aaron Hur at Rephidim (1)

Please read Exodus 17:8-16.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, we’ve had the birth of a royal baby in England.  I heard Prince Harry’s remarks after the blessed event, and he sounded pretty giddy about it.

As many of you have experienced, however, childbirth isn’t all cigars and flowers.  It can cause problems in family relationships.  I read an article published a year ago by Terra Marqutte, citing a study in Evolutionary Psychological Science.  The article is titled, “Study Finds Spats With Your In-Laws Increase When Children Enter The Picture.”

“What many of us have long suspected is true: Becoming a parent really does alter family dynamics, especially with in-laws. Researchers at the Academy of Finland found people with children experience more tension with their spouse’s parents than couples who have yet to enter parenthood.

“It seems that when children are added to a family, the in-laws begin to feel more of a direct kinship to the other side of the family. The ties that bind bring help to young parents, but also new conflicts.

“The biggest source of conflict comes when grandparents provide childcare, the authors say. Although very helpful, the degree of interaction involved is almost bound to lead to areas of disagreement.

“Researchers say the conflicts arise because grandparents begin to see themselves in an expanded role, sort of like investment bankers. In this case, though, the investment is in the future of the offspring.”

https://www.studyfinds.org/couples-children-in-laws-conflicts/

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day are all days created to celebrate relationships.  So the Lord lead me to this passage that demonstrates in a plain way how cooperative relationships can win the day.  When we cooperate with God and compromise with one another, we will see our homes, our communities, and our nation become more peaceful and productive places.  Let’s study up on how Moses accomplished it.

Compromise and cooperation create peace.

  1. The problem: Moses’ arms got tired. (8-11)

Verse eight sets the event in its context. This is a passage that is very dependent on its context for us to understand it properly.  The freed Hebrew slaves had just got out of Egypt by miraculously crossing the Red Sea. They have not yet got to Mr. Sinai, where they’d receive the 10 Commandments.

They had been fed with manna for the first time and were miraculously given water to drink at Meribah.  However, these gracious acts had come in God’s gracious response to their sinful bellyaching.  It was providence – not coincidence – that this military emergency comes immediately after two bouts of bellyaching. The Israelites have been testing God’s patience and are now going to be tested by God’s discipline.

The Amalekites were descendents of Jacob’s brother Esau.  Their attack at Rephidim, is a large-scale family feud.  The reason for the attack is not stated in the text, so we are free to speculate.  One reason is to continue the family feud between Jacob and Esau.

Of more immediate importance, the Amalekites would have known the ancient promises that Jacob’s offspring would inhabit Canaan.  So they knew where this group was headed and that they’d go right through their territory to get there.  The Amalekites wanted no part of that.

The Israelites were still a long way south of Amalek.  There was no immediate need for a direct assault.  To go out of their way like this implies the leaders of the Amalekites were intimidated and they didn’t want to suffer the same fate as Egypt.

Finally, there are limited resources in the desert.  The Amalekites were clearly in no mood to share.

That’s on the human side.  On the divine side, why would God allow an attack to take place?  I can imagine at least two Providential purposes.  One, God sent the Amalekites to test His people.  This experience would be an opportunity to prove they were ready to trust Him in battle.  They would have to trust Him fully when they got to Canaan.

Two, the Amalekites had chosen to do evil to God’s people before they launched the attack.  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 tells us Amalekite soldiers had begun hostilities by attacking the stragglers among the Israelites.  They picked off the sick, aged, and disabled people who lagged behind the main group.

The text does not give any divine directive, so we can assume Moses came up with this unusual battle plan on his own (9+10).  Moses decided it would be a good idea to stand on a hill overlooking the battle site with his shepherd’s crook – now known as the STAFF OF GOD –  upraised.  As this is the same staff and the same gesture that preceded their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, perhaps Moses assumed it would have a similar effect in that battle.  Also, standing with hands upraised to heaven was a typical posture of prayer for Jewish men.

Moses chose Joshua as his general and selected his brother Aaron and brother-in-law Hur (Miriam’s husband), to go up the mountain with him.  In retrospect, that part of the plan turned out to be a stroke of genius.  Moses would need both of them later.

From their vantage point on the high ground, Moses, Aaron and Hur could see the battlefront and easily tell how the tide of battle was going.  They saw that when Moses held the staff aloft, the Israelites turned back the Amalekites.  But when Moses lowered his hands for any reason, the battle went the other way.  The problem became how to keep those 80 year-old arms up in the air long enough to win the battle (11).  I suspect Moses did not foresee having to keep his hands in the air any length of time, certainly not all day.  Anyone’s arms would tire of being kept in that position.

  1. The solution: a support group. (12-13)

Moses may have bit off more than he could chew, physically speaking.  Try holding a staff over your head from sunup to sundown sometime; see how you do.  When it became clear that they would win the battle only if Moses’ arms were aloft, these three guys devised a plan where Moses was seated on a rock so Aaron and Hur – while standing – could take the burden off Moses’ arms (12).

Their plan succeeded.  As the sun set on the battlefield, the Amalekites were defeated (13).  This outcome does not prove there was something magical about Moses’ staff.  As is always the case in the Bible, the object used is merely a symbol of God’s power.

There are two clues in verse thirteen that this was Moses’ plan, not God’s. The first: JOSHUA OVERCAME THE AMALEKITE ARMY.  Normally, God got the credit for military success (for example, see Deuteronomy 20:1-4.  Here in verse thirteen, Joshua is credited.  How did Joshua do it?  WITH THE SWORD; a phrase implying this was a victory achieved by strength of arms.  There is no acknowledgement of God delivering the victory.

This will be the first time Moses would learn a lesson on the value of partners in ministry.  In the very next chapter, his father-in-law gave him sound advice about the folly of trying to lead what may have been 2-3 million people by himself.  Elders were appointed to help Moses administrate the immense group of people.

  1. The command: write this down. (14-16)

For the first time in this passage, we hear the Lord’s voice.  He commanded the event be recorded as He would otherwise blot out the memory of the treacherous Amalekites (14).  This is the first time in the Bible that there is a reference to writing things down. These things will eventually become the Bible.

History tells us the Israelites did not obey God in destroying the Amalekites, because they become a problem again during the reigns of Kings Saul and David.  Hundreds of years later, while the people of God were in exile in Babylon, an Amalekite named Haman very nearly eliminated the Jews!  (See Esther.)

Moses apparently learned his lesson (15-16).  He gave glory to God by building an altar as a memorial to the event.  He called the altar THE LORD IS MY BANNER, signifying that the LORD needed to be lifted up, not any staff.  Moses’ new motto should’ve been “The power is in God, not the rod.” (As if to underline this point, God commanded that Aaron’s staff be preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, not Moses’.)  And, as previously noted, the lifting of his hands TO THE THRONE OF GOD describes the posture of prayer.  In prayer, Moses gave all future battles with the Amalekites to the LORD.

Compromise and cooperation create peace.

          Whether Moses acted on his own initiative or not, the chief lesson of this passage is recognizing that God and His people must work together to achieve His will.  It is an interesting illustration of the power of good relationships.  The Israelites won a victory in their first battle because God, their leaders, and the people all cooperated.

This is not going to happen if we allow our sinful or selfish impulses rule our emotions and decisions.  Peace comes to our situations when we all work at it.  The work of peace is sacrifice and love; we love and obey God, we love and cooperate with each other.

Pursuant to Peace

peas

Please read Psalm 34.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          In days gone by, a young boy was driving a hayrack down the road when the wagon fell over.  It tipped backwards right in front of a farmer’s house. The farmer came out, saw the young boy crying and said, ”Son, don’t worry about this, we can fix it. Right now dinner’s ready: Why don’t you come in and eat and then I’ll help you put the hay back on the rack.”
The boy said, ”No, I can’t. My father is going to be angry with me.”

Trying to soothe the boy, the farmer said, ”Now don’t worry, just come in and have some lunch and you’ll feel better.”

The boy said, ”I’m just afraid my father is going to be very angry with me.”
The farmer finally convinced the boy and they went inside to eat lunch. Afterwards, as they walked outside to the hayrack, the farmer said, ”Now, son, don’t you feel better after that great meal?”
The boy said, ”Yes but I just know that my father will be very angry with me.”

The farmer said, ”Nonsense. Where is your father anyway?” The boy said, ”He’s under all that hay.”
CONTEXT = According to the heading, this was NOT a peaceful time in David’s life.  It refers to a time when he was being pursued by King Saul, who really was crazy and wanted to kill David.  In 1 Samuel 21, David pretended to be crazy so he would get kicked out of a city rather than be put in custody and fall into Saul’s hands.  The fact that David could write a song about peace during a time like that says a lot about the depth of his spiritual life.

COMMENT = Four points to be made in looking at the psalm from the peace-making perspective.

  1. Pursue peace by continuous praise. (1-3)

“Continuous Praise” is indicated in verse one.  The words ALL TIMES and ALWAYS clearly indicate worship is not limited to Sunday mornings but is meant to be a feature of daily life.  This virtue is challenging to practice; indeed, it would be impossible to do without the Holy Spirit.  Consider this: doesn’t a life of praise make sense if we are truly grateful for what God has done for us?  Wouldn’t praise come to mind more often if our focus is truly on God?

“Continuous Praise” is also indicated in the verbs in verses one to three.  There’s little difference between these words; they are synonyms.  And yet, they are all here in God’s inspired word, presumably to give us a full-featured definition of continuous praise.

EXTOL = “bless, praise, give thanks.”

PRAISE = “glorify; tell of God’s excellence; an act of worship.”

BOAST = “cheer; display positives.”

REJOICE = “be glad, delighted, happy.”

GLORIFY = “make great; honor; lift up.”

EXALT = “express pride; raise up.”

  1. Pursue peace by praying for divine deliverance. (3-7, 17, 19-22)

God answers all prayers. Note the personal pronouns in vs. 4-7; David speaks here from personal experience.  May all of us have this quality of personal experience of God.  I SOUGHT THE LORD: Jesus commended seekers in Matthew 7:7-8, promising a successful outcome to their search for God.  Deniers and evil-doers have no hope.  HE ANSWERED ME: there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer;” God always answers, even if it is “Hold please.”  THOSE WHO LOOK TO HIM: people who look to the LORD expectantly have sound reason to hope and be satisfied.  THIS POOR MAN CALLED AND THE LORD HEARD HIM: David thought of himself as a POOR MAN and even so, the LORD HEARD his prayer.  THE RIGHTEOUS CRY OUT, AND THE LORD HEARS THEM (17) = RIGHTEOUS folks have good reason to hope the LORD hears and heeds their prayers because they are His children.

God delivers those who seek Him.  The psalm is rife with promises of deliverance.  HE DELIVERED ME FROM ALL MY FEARS (3): Worry is one of the two big opponents of peace.  Anxiety is surrendering our God-given peace without a fight.  They are RADIANT (5): what a great picture of joy!  Those who know the Lord have reason to have a certain “glow” about them.  They are unashamed (5): whether it’s true of false, guilt is also a roadblock to peace.  The righteous are SAVED from all their troubles (6+17+19): if we stop and think about it, we can all testify to God’s deliverance from something.  They are protected by God’s angels (7): Angels operate inconspicuously, so we are most often unaware of their assistance.  But many believers can recount a time when the received some kind of miraculous assistance.  None of their bones will be broken (20): in John 19:36, this promise is seen a prophecy fulfilled at Jesus’ crucifixion.  In general, it is a metaphor of God’s care for His people.  THE LORD REDEEMS HIS SERVANTS (22): to REDEEM someone was to buy them out of slavery.  This image was taken up by Paul in the New Testament as a way of explaining how Jesus saved us.  NO ONE…WHO TAKES REFUGE IN HIM…WILL BE CONDEMNED (22): looking ahead to Judgment Day and in agreement with Paul in RMS 8:1, those who trust in God will escape His wrath.

WICKED people are slain by the EVIL they practice (21).  Life in this world and the next can be understood as choices and consequences.  Justice will be done.

  1. Pursue peace by trusting God’s provision. (8-10)

God provides more than refuge for those who take refuge in Him (8+22).  The word REFUGE implies a place apart from the pressures and problems of life; a spiritual retreat from the world to rest in God and commit ourselves to Him.

God’s goodness can be tasted and His provision proven (8).  To “taste” something means to have a real and personal experience of God.  Merely agreeing with a set of Bible teachings is not the sum total of faith.  God must be known in one’s head and heart.

The LORD’S saints LACK NOTHING (9).  Hearing that, we might be tempted to list all the things we feel we’re lacking right at the moment – that’s human nature.  Truth be told, God provides all we need all our lives.

Even LIONS can get famished, but people who seek the LORD will LACK NO GOOD THING (10).  The LIONS here in verse ten are a metaphor for rich or strong people; those who have much in worldly terms but are poor in the things of God.

  1. Pursue peace by righteous living. (11-20)

Aspects of righteous living in these verses include fear of the Lord, virtuous speech, seeking peace, and having full-featured godliness (avoids evil and does good).  FEAR THE LORD (9+11): In Proverbs, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  FEAR refers to awe and reverence, but it also includes the kind of wary respect that the all-powerful Creator of the universe deserves.  KEEP YOUR TONGUE FROM EVIL AND YOUR LIPS FROM SPEAKING LIES (13): of all kinds of sin, sins of the tongue are the most pervasive and the most overlooked.  They are the quickest way to ruin peaceful relationships.  TURN FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD (14) are the two sides of righteousness.  Some folks pride themselves on the obvious evil they don’t do and mistakenly believe they have exercised their duty to God.  However, the truth is, that’s only half of being a godly person.  When we fail to do good, that’s sin.

SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT (14).  This is our keynote verse on this Peace Sunday.  Peace is something God gives to those who promote it; who are peacemakers, not peace-breakers or peace-fakers. To PURSUE something indicates a deep commitment, a motive to work at it and perseverance to stick with it.

Psalm 34 promises six rewards for righteous living.  Long life (12) may not mean living to old age, for the unrighteous do that.  It more likely refers to a quality of life, a blessing of one’s days.  The LORD is sensitive to the righteous (15+17): God’s EYES and EARS are sensitive to the plight of His people.  Their suffering is not lost on Him.  The LORD is against the unrighteous (16). According to Matthew 7:23, God will turn away from all evil people, saying, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.  AWAY FROM ME, YOU EVILDOERS.”  According to verse eighteen, the LORD saves hurting people.  The words BROKENHEARTED and CRUSHED IN SPIRIT describe people who look honestly on their flaws and troubles.  They are not defeated by them, but neither are they able to find victory in their own strength.  Instead, as this psalm repeatedly says, they trust in the Lord for the strength to overcome trials and temptations.  Deliverance from all troubles (4, 17+19): the word deliverance is used a lot in this psalm.  In His grace, God lifts us out of our discouragements, giving us victory.  Physical protection (20) is a metaphor of surviving this world, being delivered whole into God’s eternal presence.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          Norman Vincent Peale said, ”The word ‘worry’ is derived from an Old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to strangle or to choke. How well-named the emotion – it has been demonstrated again and again in persons who have lost their effectiveness due to the stifling effect of anxiety and apprehension.
A story is told about a man who came face to face with the dangers of worry: Death was walking toward his city one morning and the man asked, ”What are you going to do?”
”I’m going to take 100 people,” Death replied.

”That’s horrible!” the man said.
”That’s the way it is,” Death said. ”That’s what I do.”
The man hurried to warn everyone he could about Death’s plan. As evening fell, he met Death again in the same spot outside the city limits.
”You told me you were going to take 100 people,” the man said. ”Why did 1,000 die?”
”I kept my word,” Death responded. ”I only took 100 people. Worry took the others.”

Our peace can be threatened and broken by others; we have no control over them.  What we can directly manage is our own inner state.  Peace is something we receive by faith because we are God’s children.  There are some things we can do to preserve and promote peace within ourselves, then encourage it in others.

  • Most importantly, forsake worry. Trust in God instead.  Anxieties occur when we don’t trust God to keep all the promises in His word.
  • Second, forsake anger. An over-emphasis on self promotes anger, so spend your days in continuous praise and your temper will improve.
  • Third, guard your tongue. Your own peace is disrupted and the peace of others threatened when your tongue is too loose in your head and you say ungodly things.
  • Fourth, pursue peace. Your devotion to peace will be measured by the things you give up to possess it.  A God-centered heart will pursue peace instead of railing about one’s rights.
  • Fifth, seek justice. Treat others right and expect right treatment from them.  Work to see justice practiced in your home and in our community.  Let love guide you.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, George A.F. Knight

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Willem A. VanGemeren

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/22695/finding-peace-in-anxious-times/

 

Breathe in Peace

Please read John 20:19-23.

Jesus Exiting the Tomb

It’s been nearly a week since the world saw images of the cathedral Notre-Dame engulfed in flames.  As you are no doubt aware, there has been no shortage of reactions to the fire and opinions about rebuilding the historic building.

On one side you have the architectural experts who have already submitted unsolicited opinions that the cathedral should be renovated to reflect modern, politically correct sensibilities.  I heard one man condemn the cathedral as oppressive to non-Christians and non-whites.  His solution sounded to me like a kind of “religious mall” that accommodated worshippers of all faiths and no faith at all.

Chowderheaded notions like that betray the sad state of the PC crowd.  To have these thoughts, let alone express them in a public forum, is ridiculous.

On the other side I offer Mel Lawrenz, Minister-at-Large at Elmbrook Church and director of The Brook Network.  He wrote, “Notre-Dame de Paris is a church building, but also a landmark of civilization whose construction was started 858 years ago, taking 200 years to build. When its construction began, Paris only had 100,000 residents.

“What do the great cathedrals represent? Churches are built to facilitate worship. A church is a gathering place for the people of God. They stream to

it from the surrounding neighborhoods, and so enjoy a connection with each other, the basic movement that forms community and society.

“When I saw Notre-Dame burning what came to my mind was the great loss of this symbol, but also the fires burning up our civilization today.  Philosophies that deny the possibility of truth, the abnegation of morality and ethics, the devaluing of community and the descent into lonely isolationism. Churches settling for superficial sentimentalism and church leaders trading integrity for fame. Government leaders forgetting the very idea of selfless service. The laziness of crude social communication. There are dozens of fires smoldering among us, and none of us know when [one] will flare up & make us less civilized.

“A mason who worked on the beginnings of Notre Dame in AD 1160 knew he would not see it completed, nor his apprentice son, nor his son, nor his son. They all worked on something that God and the world could see 200 years after it was started. The most important things we work on in our lives will never be completed within our lifetimes.  And the most important things we will build are not buildings.”

<https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2019/04/the-notre-dame-fire-civilization-burning/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=59057872&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1622644128&spReportId=MTYyMjY0NDEyOAS2&gt;

The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

  1. They were afraid of the Jews.

They were afraid even though Peter and John had already seen the empty tomb (vs. 1-9) and Mary of Magdala had seen Jesus Himself (10-18).  If they’d understood from the evidence and eyewitness Jesus was raised from the dead what reason did they have to be afraid?

Clearly, they didn’t understand.    Peter and John saw only the empty tomb; they didn’t see Jesus.  This was evidence they’d misinterpreted.  They may have been concerned that the Romans or Jewish leaders were convinced Jesus’ body had been stolen, they would likely be blamed, sought out and arrested.   Without His body they had no way of proving their innocence on a grave-robbing charge, a crime that met with severe penalty: death.  The empty tomb may have added to their fears, not diminished them.

Mark 16:11 says the disciples found Mary of Magdala’s account to be unbelievable.  To be fair, Mark 16:12-13 says they didn’t believe the testimony of two others who said they’d met Jesus walking in t country.  This is nothing new; in the gospels Jesus rebukes the disciples several times for their being slow to believe (Luke 24:25).

Their fear was demonstrated in two ways (19).  One, they were gathered together, possibly believing there was strength in numbers.  Of course, they gathered for reasons other than fear; surely grief bound them together as well.

Two, they had locked the doors.  The motive for doing this is specified as FEAR OF THE JEWS.  John’s reference to THE JEWS probably meant the Jewish religious and civil authorities; the Sanhedrin.  What did the disciples fear THE JEWS would do to them?  Probably some version of what they’d done to Jesus, perhaps more quietly.

  1. Jesus replaced their fears with blessings.

He replaced their fear with peace by being among them (19). Jesus’ means of entry into their locked room is not specified, so we are left to imagine how it happened.  The point is that He STOOD AMONG THEM.  He was with them again!

Surely His presence among them, say nothing of His sudden appearance, would have been startling to already nervous people.  To calm their fears, He pronounced PEACE to them for the first of two times in this passage.  This expression is often used in response to angelic visitations and other situations where a startled, fearful response would be understandable.

He replaced their fear with joy by confirming His identity and His still-human nature (20).  Jesus SHOWED THEM HIS HANDS AND SIDE: two of the three places where His body had been pierced during His crucifixion.  This allowed them to recognize Jesus as a man, not a ghost (see Luke 24:37-39).

We could paraphrase this verse to say, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw He was the Lord.”  It was really Him!  A small part of their joy may’ve been relief that He wasn’t a ghost, but the major portion must have been that He was not dead.

He replaced their fear with peace by pronouncing peace to them (19+21).  Jesus blessed them with His peace a second time (a reminder of the peace He’d promised them in John 14:27).  Part of this PEACE was an assurance that their story was not over.  Quite the opposite, Jesus was sending them into the world as God the Father had sent Him. The commissioning we see here fits with Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 18, “AS YOU SENT ME INTO THE WORLD I HAVE SENT THEM INTO THE WORLD.”

At that time, this was a typical greeting in the Hebrew language; shalom alekem.  In a situation where they felt anything BUT peace, it was a familiar-sounding and calming blessing.  The fact that Jesus bid them PEACE twice supports the assumption that He appeared suddenly and miraculously among them, startling them.  As this is something people aren’t normally able to do, He also had to reassure them He was a man not a ghost.

He replaced their fear with the Holy Spirit by breathing on them (22).  They would go into the world to continue Jesus’ mission.  As He had, they would carry on under the power of the Holy Spirit.

The matter of Jesus’ breathing on them seems strange to us.  Consider the following:

The sight, sound, and feeling of Jesus’ breath were more proof that He had risen bodily from the dead.  Ghosts do not have breath.

In both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the word we translate as “spirit” can also be translated as “breath.”

Both of them are required for life but are invisible to the naked eye.

This action is meant to remind us of a couple Old Testament passages.  First, Genesis 2:7; how God created humans by breathing THE BREATH OF LIFE into the nostrils of the man He’d created from the dust of the earth.  Second, the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37), where God breathed new life into the dead men’s bones.

We can understand Jesus’ action of breathing on them was a kind of demonstration, given the layers of meaning we have just noted.

He replaced their fear by delegating His authority to them (v. 23). As Jesus’ opponents acknowledged, only God has to power to forgive sins (for example, see Mark 2:7).  Jesus repeatedly exercised this power, demonstrating He was God as well as man.

In this verse He is delegating to His disciples the divine authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness.  The word FORGIVE literally means “to let go, to release.”  In this way it reminds us of the “binding and loosing” promise Jesus made in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18.

The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

A mother and her four-year-old daughter were preparing to retire for the night. The child was afraid of the dark. When the light was out, the child caught a glimpse of the moon outside the window. “Mother,” she asked, “is the moon God’s light?”

“Yes,” said the mother.

The next question was, “Will God put out His light and go to sleep?”

The mother replied, “No, my child, God never goes to sleep.”

Then out of the simplicity of a child’s faith, she said that which gave reassurance to the fearful mother, “Well, as long as God is awake, there is no sense both of us staying awake.”

<http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/faith-to-sleep&gt;

Fear is one of the things Easter has done away with.  As we’ve seen this morning, fear has been defeated.  It no longer holds any mastery over us.  In Jesus Christ, our fear of death, in particular, has been put to rest.

The resurrected Jesus Christ relieves us of fear and replaces it with courage based on the peace, authority, joy, and Holy Spirit power.  Yes, fears still arise, but their voice rings false.  The world’s threats are empty.  Because we share in the Resurrection Day victory of Jesus, we shall overcome all our fears.

 

Resources

The Anchor Bible, Raymond E. Brown

Message #180

Zondervan Bible Commentary, David J. Ellis

When You’re Rubbed the Wrong Way

Please read Colossians 3:12-17 in your Bible.  I used the NIV for this post.

Successful conflict resolution (peace-making) is the work of all genuine disciples.

The ability to get along with others requires a great deal of effort.  Our natural tendency is to push for our own way, even at the expense of relationships, and that’s where unity dies.  Whether in good times or in bad, it takes intention and effort to get along.

How do we resolve conflicts and settle disagreements before unity is lost.  We learned Wednesday night that God’s word suggests casting lots to decide the winner (see PBS 18:18).

In other cultures, differences were sometimes settled by fatal duels.  As odd as this may sound, there was a time in history when two men attempted to settle their dispute by casting lots AND having a duel!

French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas, best known for his novel, The Three Musketeers, once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician.  It was decided that the only way honor could be satisfied was by a duel.  However, the problem was that both men were excellent shots and they feared a duel might result in both of them being killed.  For this reason, they cast lots to determine which of them would be spared, the loser was to shoot himself.

Dumas lost the drawing.

Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him.  The rest of the group waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his brilliant career.  It rang out at last.

His friends ran to the door and flung it open.  They were shocked to see Dumas standing there unharmed, the smoking pistol in his hand.

“Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced.  “I missed.”

Fortunately, God has given us better ways to resolve our differences.  In Jesus Christ we have the ultimate means of getting along with one another, even with people who rub us the wrong way.  Let’s learn about Jesus’ way of peace as we look at Colossians 3:12-17.

  1. Take the high road (12-14).

God chose you to take the high road.  Paul’s teaching about God choosing His people (for example Romans 8:33; 16:13) is always for the purpose of emphasizing grace.  Verse twelve describes our God-given identity in three terms:

– CHOSEN = God chose us to faithfully represent Him in this world & be rewarded in heaven.

– HOLY = to be set apart from the usual, worldly uses to serve God in unusual, spiritual ways.

– DEARLY LOVED refers to the love God has for His children; unconditional love, full of grace.

Verses13-14 describe our God-directed activity

– BEAR WITH EACH OTHER is an important biblical command. See 1 Corinthians 13:5 = [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Proverbs 12:16 = Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.  Proverbs 19:11 = A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

– FORGIVE AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU. Follow His example; forgive and forget.  See Psalm 103:8-12 = THE LORD IS COMPASSIONATE AND GRACIOUS, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE.  HE WILL NOT ALWAYS ACCUSE, NOR WILL HE HARBOR HIS ANGER FOREVER; HE DOES NOT TREAT US AS OUR SINS DESERVE OR REPAY US ACCORDING TO OUR INIQUITIES.  FOR AS HIGH AS THE HEAVENS ARE ABOVE THE EARTH, SO GREAT IS HIS LOVE FOR THOSE WHO FEAR HIM; AS FAR AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST, SO FAR HE HAS REMOVED OUR TRANSGRESSIONS FROM US.

– OVER ALL THESE VIRTUES PUT ON LOVE, WHICH BINDS THEM ALL TOGETHER IN PERFECT UNITY. LOVE “binds” all virtues together because it is the chief virtue.  It is what motivates us be virtuous.  PERFECT UNITY is the outcome.  It is the condition of the fellowship in which people love one another.  See 1 Corinthians 13:13 = AND NOW THESE THREE REMAIN: FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE.  BUT THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.

Peace cannot be forged if your mind is on “getting even.” Taking the high road sometimes requires letting go of our “rights.”

God has demonstrated the way he wants us to live.  God always acts in holiness and love in perfect balance.  He always does what is best for us.  The entire Bible is a record of the various ways God has demonstrated these attributes.  He calls us to follow His example because He knows then we will truly act in ways that are in our best interests.  When we choose self-interest instead, when we prefer our petty dramas to His high standards, then we’re walking the toxic road of sin.

  1. Actions are more important than feelings (12).

We act differently because we live in our NEW SELF.  In v. 10 Paul wrote about “putting on” our NEW SELF, as if this new life in Christ were a change of clothes.  He continues that image in v. 12.  However, unlike a change of clothes which we can easily see, this improvement of character may be a little more difficult to perceive.  Here’s how we know we’ve made the switch; we know it’s happened when the virtues listed in verse 12 become part of our character.  These virtues closely resemble the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 and there we learn that these marks of godly character are a gift from God by means of the Holy Spirit.

– COMPASSION = is one word made by combining the Greek words for affection and sympathy.

– KINDNESS is a friendly willingness to help the needy.

– HUMILITY involves seeing yourself as God sees you, not falling into the extremes of narcissism or self-loathing.

– GENTLENESS is consideration for others that goes so deep one is willing to waive one’s “rights” to revenge.

– PATIENCE endures trials without exasperation.

It’s genuine because it comes from God.  It’s true that putting on a red hat does not make me a fireman.  Similarly, verse twelve is not about putting on these virtues in a hypocritical way, to make others think we are God’s children.  These are all virtues that come forth through action and we all know actions speak louder than mere words.

  1. Make Christ the center of every conversation (16).

Verse sixteen is not limited to worship though it sounds like it, with the mention of teaching, admonishing, & singing.  It’s really about consistency; if our conversations have a different moral character inside and outside church, what does that say about the genuineness of our faith?  It says, as James taught, that we all struggle with our tongues (see James 3:2).

In the very next chapter Paul wrote, LET YOUR CONVERSATION BE ALWAYS FULL OF GRACE, SEASONED WITH SALT, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW HOW TO ANSWER EVERYONE. (Colossians 4:6).  This is what Paul meant by LET THE WORD OF CHRIST DWELL IN YOU RICHLY.  THE WORD OF CHRIST doesn’t only mean the Bible, but also the person of Jesus Christ.  The word RICHLY means “having ample room,” or “having great treasure.”  Jesus should dominate our thinking and as He does, He will be expressed more abundantly in what we say and do.

We should ask “WWJD?” and “WWJS?”  S = SAY.  If we would ask ourselves, “What would Jesus say in this instance?”  The act of stopping to think about it would help us avoid sins of the tongue.

  1. Passionately pursue personal peace (15+17).

We’re promised peace the passes UNDERSTANDING.  This is obviously not the kind of peace the world can give, the kind that is more than avoiding conflict or calming fears.

Instead, it is a settled state of mind, a feeling of contentment, and an attitude of patience that is BEYOND UNDERSTANDING because it is from God, not our circumstances.  This kind of PEACE is so profound that it cannot be lost because troubles or trials appear.

Peace is to RULE over us and our relationships.  The word RULE originally meant “to act as an umpire.”  This means every situation that pits Christians against one another must be resolved in a way that leads to PEACE.  There is nothing fake about this; this is the highest-possible-standard PEACE described in verse fifteen.

We are called to PEACE.  We are called to PEACE as much as we are called to salvation: PEACE is the foundation of our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.  If we truly follow Christ we will value this peace much more highly than we will the little things that tend to divide us.  We will prize this PEACE and guard it against self-interest and factions.

This kind of PEACE always produces a grateful response as it directs our attention to God: this response is described in two phrases in verse seventeen.

– WHATEVER YOU DO, WHETHER IN WORD OR DEED, DO IT ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. In these three different ways Paul expressed one thought; all that you do, do it as a disciple of Jesus should.  (This will logically exclude sinful activities.)  This includes all parts of our daily living but excludes all things that are not of Christ.

– GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER THROUGH HIM. When you think of this fantastic PEACE God gives, gratitude is the most appropriate response.  Plus, when we express our thankfulness, we direct the attention of others to God.

ENCOURAGEMENT AND ACTION:

  1. YOU ARE LOVED = Loving God leads to loving others
  2. THERE IS HOPE = Home and Church are the training sites for love and the world is the place where we practice love. With God, we can DO THIS!
  3. HOW TO GET STARTED = take the steps of “UNITE.”

U = “U” as in You (in texting language). Unless you seek peace, it will not happen.

N = Note your feelings & own them by talking about them with “I” statements.

I = Inform the other person about your desire for peace.

T = Talk about how to avoid this situation repeating itself in the future.

E = Enjoy a healthier relationship as you put your solutions to work.