LENT #6: THE UNEXPECTED GRACE OF WAITING FOR GOD

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

The devil knows scripture, but he cannot understand it. To understand the Bible, we have to receive it with a heart of faith. Satan’s temptation to Jesus was to force God to prove himself. We too, are tempted at times to insist that God prove that he loves us. However, He has already proved his love for us, through the cross.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Lent Part 6

Let’s start with the facts. The “pinnacle of the temple,” could refer to a couple different places. One is the east wall. Ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (who was born only a few decades after Jesus) describes the drop along the east wall as being six-hundred feet. Another possibility is the southeast corner, which was at the edge of the Kidron valley. From that part of the temple, the drop to the floor of the valley was at least three hundred feet. Even in our age of modern medicine  and emergency services, 90% of people die after a fall of 84 feet. So, without miraculous intervention, there was no way Jesus would survive jumping off the temple with that kind of height.

Jesus has been repudiating the devil by quoting scripture. Now, the devil shows just how nasty and how devious he can be. He makes his suggestion that Jesus throw himself down, and then the devil himself quotes scripture as a justification for the sin.

If this shocks you, it shouldn’t. People have been committing sins in the name of God all throughout history. Some of them even use the Bible to justify their sins. They do so because the devil has misled them. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you, reading this, were tempted to throw up your hands and say, “Forget it! If the devil can use the Bible against, me I’m a goner. If he knows the Bible, I’ll never be able to know it well enough to fight him.”

If you have a reaction like this, I want to say, with fatherly kindness (but also with fatherly firmness): “Please don’t be childish and immature.”

First consider this: Yes, the devil knows the Bible. But he doesn’t understand it. To understand the Bible, you have to receive it in faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. The devil rejected Jesus long before any part of the Bible was formed. So, the brand new follower of Jesus who only knows a few Bible verses understands what those verses mean better than does the devil.

Second, I have spent a lot of time recently encouraging you to read the Bible regularly. This is just one more reason why you ought to do so. It’s not that difficult, especially with modern translations. Seriously, thousands of people have died, and thousands more risked their lives, so that we could have the Bible in our own language; so we could read it and understand it. It is childish to claim to follow Jesus, and yet not be bothered to read the Bible. It’s like saying you are really into soccer, but in reality, you only kick the ball around with friends once in a while, and you don’t even know the rules. This is basic Christianity. It’s part of the deal. It is as important as being part of a church, as important as praying. If you have questions, you know I will help you. You know your house church will help you. Come on, people: Figure – This – Out.

If you are tired of me repeating this sort of thing about the Bible, I want you to know that I will continue to do so until I am convinced that most of you do, in fact, read it regularly. By “regularly,” I mean at least several times a week, week in, week out, year in, year out. Until I am sure of that, you will hear more of this sort of thing. Put a reminder on your phone. Ask a friend to bug you about it. Tell everyone you are going to read the Bible, so you are motivated to read in order to not be a hypocrite. One thought might be to agree with a group of friends that you will pick a book of the Bible together – say, Luke – and you all read the same chapter, or half a chapter, each day. You could encourage each other, share your favorite part of your reading, and things like that. Whatever it takes – come on, please, do this!

The better you know what the Bible says, and the better you understand it, the more easily you will be able to defeat the devil when he tries to misuse scripture. It is not remotely an impossible task, because again, you will have a better understanding than the devil of every verse you read.

While we are on this subject, I want to give us some basic tools that will help us to avoid the traps of the devil concerning the Bible. Satan quotes Psalm 91 (one of my favorite psalms, by the way) to try to convince Jesus to do his bidding. How can we know that Psalm 91 should not be used this way?

The truth is, it isn’t that difficult. If you read Psalm 91, it is obviously not an invitation to try suicide in order to prove God’s faithfulness. All you have to do is read it, and you can see that the devil has no case. Instead, Psalm 91 is clearly an invitation to trust in God’s faithful love and care for those who belong to him. Again, all this is obvious if you read the psalm with the eyes of faith, using ordinary common sense.

What the devil wants Jesus to do is the opposite of trust, the opposite of the message of the psalm. He wants Jesus to try to force God into keeping the promises of the psalm. Instead of trusting, the devil wants Jesus to make the Father prove his faithfulness. So the devil is trying to use psalm 91 in a way that twists its clear message.

The devil is still doing this kind of thing with scripture, inspiring people who do not have genuine faith to suggest meanings for Bible passages that are twisted and wrong. To keep people from doing that, early Christians developed a few simple rules for interpreting the Bible. Theologians call these rules hermeneutics. At their heart, Christian hermeneutics are not complicated. I want to share these rules with you, in case you wonder how to interpret certain Bible passages.

1. Read the Bible in context. In other words, don’t take one little verse out of a Bible passage and use it to say something that the passage does not mean. So, for instance, Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We could take that out of context and say that Christians should never be found guilty in court. More realistically, someone might take that verse to mean that we are now free to indulge every sinful desire we have, since we are not condemned. But if you simply read for several verses before and after, the passage very clearly says that we should set our minds on the things of the spirit, not the things of the flesh (sinful things). You can’t misunderstand it if you just read the previous few verses, and the following ones. This is one reason I fervently recommend reading whole books of the Bible. You learn to see what a verse means in the context of the whole book.

2. The Bible is explained by the Bible. The majority of the Bible is quite clear, as long as you read it in context (see above). But there are a few parts that are more difficult. When you encounter part of the Bible that seems obscure, or hard to understand, use the more clear parts to help you understand. If that doesn’t help you, and you still can’t understand, then leave it for now, and trust the scripture that you do understand.

3. The Bible does not contradict itself in any important matter. Last time we looked at an example of a “contradiction,” in the Bible: Matthew wrote the temptation about worshipping Satan in third place, and Luke records it as second. But there is no contradiction concerning what the temptation was, nor when it happened, nor how Jesus responded. Most of the so-called contradictions are things like this, that have no bearing on the meaning of the Bible. There are other places where the Bible seems to contradict itself in terms of meaning. However, in those places, we find that we have a choice. We could interpret certain passages in a way that causes a contradiction. Or, we could interpret them in a way that brings no contradiction. When we are faced with such choices, common sense says that we should use the meaning that causes no contradiction. We normally do this, without even thinking about it, with every other book we read. It is plain common sense.

4. Pay attention to the genre of what you read. In this case, genre just means the “type,” or “style,” of writing. So the genre of 1 Peter is instruction. It is a letter written to encourage and teach others. Therefore, we don’t treat it like a poem, or an allegory, or a song. It’s a straightforward presentation of ideas and thoughts. The book of Psalms, however, is a collection of worship songs and poems. Because they are songs and poems for use in worship, we don’t treat them like a straightforward book of instruction. We can learn things from them, but we should keep in mind that there are word-pictures in the psalms that are not meant to be taken at face value. Some books, like 2 Samuel, are historical narrative. They record what happened. Again, we can learn things from reading about what happened, and how God interacted with human beings in various circumstances. However, historical narrative is not the same as instruction. So, when 2 Samuel 11 records that David committed adultery with Bathsheba, that is not teaching us that adultery is acceptable. It is recording what actually happened, not necessarily what should have happened.

All this can be summed up in the idea of reading the Bible literally. What I mean by that is, we read it objectively and inductively in order to find out what it says. We don’t read it with a plan to make it say what we want it to, or what we think it should say. We let the Bible speak on its own terms.

Imagine you want to find out about penguins. You get a book from the library that is all about these fascinating creatures. You don’t pick isolated sentences out of the book here and there – you read it chapter by chapter, the way the author presents it. You assume the author won’t contradict herself. You read the book in a straightforward way, to find out what it says,

Again, I want to emphasize that most of this is just plain common sense. This is how we read almost any book. If you keep these things in mind, and above all, retain your common sense, you will be able to spot it when the devil is tricking someone into misusing the bible.

By the way, the response of Jesus used all four of these simple rules. The context (first rule) of Psalm 91 has nothing to do with suicide, or forcing God to keep his promises. Jesus employed the second rule when he quoted scripture back to the devil. He uses a very clear passage to demolish the devil’s rather strained and murky interpretation: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, (Deuteronomy 6:16, ESV).” This is a clear instruction, that can be used to interpret things that might be less clear. Third, he paid attention to genre. Psalm 91, quoted by Satan, is poetic. It was probably originally a song. It is not an instruction. It uses word pictures that should not be taken exactly straightforwardly. Jesus quotes from a passage of instruction to clarify things.

I want to revisit the central temptation here. What Satan was trying to do was to get Jesus to quit living in faith, and instead, to demand proof from God. I think this sort of temptation entices all of us from time to time. It might even sound reasonable on the face of it: “God, you say you love me, so prove it by healing my husband of cancer.” Or, “God, you say you care for every detail of my life. I’ll believe it, if you will only give me money to meet my bills this month.”

I have known a number of people who have given up their faith because God did not act the way they expected him to. They thought he should do a certain thing, or prevent something, and enticed by the devil, they made their faith in him conditional upon his acting according to their expectations.

One man I know claimed he was an atheist. He said, “I believe in science.” I said: “So do I. That doesn’t stop me believing in God.” As we conversed further, I found out that at some point in his life, God had disappointed him. He wanted God to do something for him, and God didn’t come through in a way that the man could accept. So he abandoned God. It had nothing to do with science. It was because he believed the lie that God has something to prove to us.

God has no obligation to do anything for us whatsoever. Yet, he shows us his love for us in a multitude of ways every day. Every good thing we ever experience is proof of God’s love and goodness. As Ben Franklin whimsically quipped: “Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to enjoy life.” By the way, that’s not an excuse to abuse alcohol, but rather a reason for gratitude. We can and should apply it to every good thing in our lives.

In addition to all the good God showers on us, and in spite of the fact that he does not owe us any kind of proof, he did prove his love for us through Jesus Christ. He proved his love even before anyone had turned to him:

6 For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

(Romans 5:6-8, HCSB)

At the cross, Jesus proved God’s heart toward us. Christ did prove God’s love and care for us – but not in the way the devil wanted him to. Like Psalm 91 obviously says, like Jesus shows us, we are called to trust God’s love. We are called to ask God to intervene, yes, but also to wait on him to show his love in his own  way and in his own time. God grant us the ability, by the Holy Spirit, to wait on him in trust!

LENT #4: THE SURPRISING GRACE OF TEMPTATION

Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Pexels.com

Whatever our temptations, and whatever our failures to pass the test, remember that Jesus faced the same temptations, and for our sake, he did pass every test. He accomplished what we could not, and he did it on our behalf. Because we cannot live perfect lives, Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. Now, we are released from having to meet that standard of perfection on our own. Instead, through faith, by God’s grace, we are judged not on our own performance, but the performance of Jesus.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Lent Part 4

LENT #4. LUKE 4:1-14

We have been using our passage as a jumping off point for various topics that are associated with the season of Lent: Suffering, Fasting, and Solitude. Now, we will return to the text and consider the encounter Jesus had with the devil. Most translations make it seem like Jesus spent forty days in solitude and fasting, and then, when he was just about done, the devil came and tempted him. That is a possible interpretation – there is room in the Greek for that. However, in Greek, it looks much more like the devil was bothering him the whole time. Apparently, when he came back, he told his apostles about three particular kinds of temptations that he faced. The NET captures this fairly well:

1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil. (Luke 4:1-2, NET)

I want to say a few words about temptation. In the first place, the Greek word normally used for temptation has a wider range of meaning than we typically give to our English word. It seems to me that we think of “temptation” as being enticed into doing something we should not do. We’re tempted to eat ice cream when we are on a keto diet. We are tempted to lust, or to have an affair. We are tempted to cheat or lie when it seems clear we could get away with it. In English, temptation is all about an alluring opportunity to do the wrong thing. Temptation attracts us toward the wrong thing, the sinful thing.

This is part of the meaning of the Greek word. But in Greek, the main emphasis is not about desire, or enticement. Instead, in Greek, the idea of temptation is about testing something to prove what it is made of. Another good word might be trials. When engineers make some new kind of device to make cars more safe, they have to do safety trials in order to find out if their device works. When scientists develop a new drug, they have drug trials, to test it, to make sure it does indeed work. That idea of a trial – putting something through a test, to see how it does – is the essence of the New Testament word for temptation.

Now, of course, the test does consist of being enticed to do something that God says we should not do, but we should keep in mind that temptation is not all negative. When we pass the test, it glorifies God, and brings grace to us. Temptation has a positive outcome in mind. It isn’t just about avoiding evil – it is about proving what is good.

This brings up something very important: temptation is not the same as sin. Jesus was tempted in every way, but was without sin:

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV

7 Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Hebrews 2:17-18, HCSB)

And yes, the word the HCSB translates “tested” (above) is the same word many Bibles translate as “tempted.” So, if Jesus was tempted/tested in every way, but did not sin, that means that being tempted to do something is not, in and of itself, sinful.

I’m going to use a particular temptation that I am familiar with as an illustration. It is generally more true of men, but I think you women can still understand it, because the main points apply to both male and female. Over the years I have spoken with many men who struggle particularly with the sin of lust. I myself have had a significant battle with it at times. I think many men who struggle this way fall prey to a trick of the devil. It is normal male biology to notice attractive women – that’s part of the nature of male levels of testosterone. It is especially normal for men to notice women who are displaying a lot of skin, or emphasizing their various physical “assets” in some way. A lot of men look at such women more or less involuntarily. In some cases, it’s very hard to avoid looking twice.

Now, having seen a woman in such circumstances, the temptation comes along. The devil, or our own flesh (it doesn’t really matter which) raises up these kinds of thoughts: “Let’s think about what she would look like if she was wearing even less. Let’s think about what it would be like to be with her.” Most of the time, such things sound like our own thoughts.

Here’s the important part: so far, the man has not sinned. It is not a sin to be tempted. But I know many men who think they have already failed at this point, simply because they have looked, and were tempted by such thoughts. What often happens then, is the guy thinks, “I’ve already blown it. I might as well go ahead and enjoy the fantasy.” And then, of course, he does sin. But I want to reiterate: temptation is not sin. Jesus was tempted, but did not sin. So, the fact that such things interest or entice you does not mean you have failed.

Now, I got very specific there, but this applies to any temptation we might experience. Perhaps you struggle with gossip and slander – this could be equally true of men or women. You are tempted to use your words to cut other people down, to show the world that they are not so great after all. You hear something about someone you know, someone who is far too uppity. It’s a juicy bit of information, and you could use it to teach that person a little much-needed humility. In fact, you want to use the information, you want to say something. But you haven’t yet sinned. You have been convinced by the devil that you want to use your words in a hurtful way, but you haven’t done it yet. Don’t be discouraged: temptation is not sin. You haven’t sinned yet. The attraction you have to do the wrong thing is not the same as actually doing it.

We face temptations from three sources: The world, the flesh and the devil. They are all connected. Perhaps we internalize messages from our ungodly culture. Or maybe something in our sinful flesh draws us toward sin. It might also be the devil, or one of his servants – and they use our sinful flesh to whisper into our minds. Either way, scripture makes it clear that the primary battle takes place in our minds:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, ESV)

On the positive side, this is a test. By not doing the wrong thing, by doing what God wants instead, you are accomplishing good things spiritually. You are bringing glory to God. By using the resources of the Holy Spirit to battle the tests of the world, the flesh and the devil, we show the world the greatness of Jesus Christ. And of course, all sin is ultimately very bad for us, so we help ourselves when we pass the test.

Let’s look at the first test that Luke records for Jesus:

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:1-4, ESV)

There is a lot of significance packed into these few words. Of course, Jesus was hungry, but the temptation was not really for Jesus to break his fast. Instead, there were two things the devil was trying to do here.

Remember, before Jesus went into the wilderness, he was baptized, and God spoke from the heavens, saying “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” After being in the wilderness with no food, the devil came at Jesus. He wanted to place doubt in Jesus’ mind about what God had said. If you are the son of God…prove it! Turn these stones to bread.

The devil was saying: At your baptism, it was one quick sentence. Did God really say that? Wasn’t it maybe just a rumble of thunder? If God is pleased with you, why are you out here all alone and hungry? Can you really believe what you heard?

This temptation to doubt God’s word is the very first way in which Satan assaulted human beings:

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1, ESV)

This temptation comes in many flavors, but underneath it is one of the most common attacks of the devil: casting doubt on what God has revealed through his Word.

  • How can God actually love you? You know you aren’t loveable, so what it says in the Bible about God loving you can’t really be true, can it?
  • Does God really forgive your sins? Isn’t that too easy? You can’t really trust what the Bible says about this, can you?
  • It’s not really a sin to get drunk is it – does the Bible really say that?
  • Did God really say you should save sex for marriage?

And so on. There is a place for honest questions. It is normal to want to understand where the Bible – God’s Word – comes from, and why we should trust it. If you have those honest questions, please contact me about a sermon series on that subject. Also, feel free to check out my book: Who Cares About the Bible?

However, this temptation of Satan is not about asking honest questions. At the heart of it is a desire to doubt, a desire to believe that the Bible is not trustworthy. There may be a lurking bitterness, almost an eagerness to say: “See! I told you that you couldn’t trust God to be good, told you that you couldn’t trust what God says!”

So the first part of the trial/test/temptation is to doubt God’s word. The second part is this: because you doubt God’s word, you really should take matters into your own hands. So, in the case of Jesus, first the devil casts doubt on what God clearly said to Jesus. Then, he says, “Since you can’t trust God, you better take care of yourself. Don’t wait for God to provide for you, don’t wait for God to show the world who you are – make your own bread. Prove to yourself and to the world that you are God’s son, and satisfy your hunger the same time.”

The devil offers a “solution” for both problems. First, if Jesus were to turn the stones into bread, it would prove that he is indeed God’s son. Second, it would provide what Jesus needs (food) since (according to the devil) God won’t provide it.

Again, remember that Jesus was voluntarily limiting himself to the resources of only his human nature. The devil was trying to get him to stop living in that human dependence on the Father, and instead tap into his own divine nature, his God-nature. If Jesus had done that, he could not have been the perfect sacrifice for human sin. It would have undone the whole reason he was here on earth.

If all of that sounds really tricky and nasty, you are getting the idea. The devil’s tempting can be deep and complex, and he doesn’t play fair.

Jesus’ reply to the devil destroys both lines of temptation. He says: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” Let’s unpack this. Remember, the devil is trying to get Jesus to doubt what God says. Jesus responds with “It is written.” In other words, he is reaffirming his trust in God’s Word. It’s almost like he is saying: “You want to talk about what God said? I can do that: What God said is written down.”

The second part of what Jesus said – that is, the scripture he quotes – is also a deadly response to the devil: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Actually, Luke gives us the shortened version. Matthew adds the next phrase. I think it is useful for us to see the specific passage from Deuteronomy that Jesus is quoting, because both Jesus and the devil knew it well:

3 He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3, HCSB)

Jesus is reaffirming his dependence on God. As we saw in the message about fasting, this is the essence of fasting: to recognize our dependence on God, to recognize that we actually need God even more than we need food. More specifically, the scripture quoted by Jesus says that we need the Word of God even more than we need food. So, he is telling the devil: “Yes, God did say those things, and I believe him. In fact, I count the Word of God as more important than food. I am hungry because God is in control, and His Word says he wants me to wait patiently, learning that I can trust him not only for physical food, but for spiritual food, His Word.”

This is a massive reaffirmation of Jesus’ trust in the Father, and of his intention to live, like all human beings, in dependence on the Father.

Where are you tempted to doubt what God has said? Is it what the bible says about what is right or wrong? Or are you tempted to doubt God’s word about forgiveness and love?

In what ways are you tempted to satisfy your own needs apart from the provision of God? There are scripture passages that say everyone who is able should work and provide for their family, so it isn’t wrong to work to provide for your physical needs. But I think some people are tempted to trust in their own finances more than in God. Others are tempted to  satisfy their relational needs in ways that God says are sinful. Or, here’s one that I have struggled with: Like every human being, I have a legitimate physical need to eat. But I am often tempted to eat more than I need.

Whatever our temptations, and whatever our failures to pass the test, remember that Jesus faced the same temptations, and for our sake, he did pass every test. He accomplished what we could not, and he did it on our behalf. Because we cannot live perfect lives, Jesus did live a perfect life in our place. Now, we are released from having to meet that standard of perfection on our own. Instead, through faith, by God’s grace, we are judged not on our own performance, but the performance of Jesus.

1 Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, GNT)

Let us remember that God has indeed told us these things, and let us cling to them, even when the devil tempts us to doubt what God has said. Let us remember, when we are tested, that God has already provided all we need. Once again, look at what God’s Word says:

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:15-16, NLT)

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about all this, today.

1 PETER #11: DELICIOUS WORDS

Photo by Flo Dahm on Pexels.com

God’s Word is life to us. Without it, we die spiritually. Though it takes time and energy, when we regularly read the Bible and ask God to speak to us through it, it becomes delicious spiritual food to us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 11

1 PETER #11: 1 PETER 2:1-3

Last time, Peter laid the foundations for authentic Christian community: Truth, and Love. Every Christian is called to be involved in the lives of at least a few other believers in authentic love and the truth of God’s word. He continues the same theme in these verses. (Remember, chapter and verse markings are only there to help us navigate around the Bible. They are not part of the Word of God, but were added almost a thousand years later). Peter begins by describing some of the implications of truth and love. If we are to be in Christian community, we can’t have malice toward one another. We cannot deceive one another, or regularly practice hypocrisy, or envy, or slander. These things destroy both Truth and Love, and they make real Christian community impossible.

All of that is a great example of how our beliefs are connected to our behavior. This isn’t a list of dos and don’ts; it’s not another set of laws to follow. But as sure as night follows day, you cannot Love other Christians in Truth if you are nasty or mean toward them, or deceive them, or live as a hypocrite, or envy, or slander them. Our behavior naturally lines up with what we really believe, and what we really think is important. Our behavior does not save us, but our behavior does tell us how much our faith is having an impact on our lives. If we cannot see any impact at all of faith on our behavior, then we need to revisit faith first. Trying to change our behavior without changing our beliefs, or what is important to us, is doomed to failure.

Peter revisits the truth aspect in verses 2-3: He tells us to crave God’s word like newborn infants crave their mother’s milk. By the way, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews, also talk about “spiritual milk.” But both of them describe it as only for spiritual babies, and they rebuke various people for still needing milk when they should be eating solid food. (1 Corinthians 3:2, and Hebrews 5:12-13). Don’t let this confuse you – there is not some universal spiritual meaning for the word milk. Even within the Bible, writers do use the same words in different ways, sometimes, and they use the same words to create different word-pictures. Paul and Hebrews are using the picture of babies and milk to make points about spiritual immaturity. However, right here in our passage, Peter is using it in a different way – to show that we are in desperate need of God’s Word, and we should crave it, and that we need it in order to grow.

This is a powerful picture. In the first place, in those days, there was no such thing as infant formula. A baby needed mother’s milk, plain and simple. Without it, the baby would die. Milk was life to the baby. So, God’s Word is life to us. Without it, we die in our sins. Paul explains it like this:

13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”
14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “LORD, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

(Romans 10:13-17, NLT)

We have to have the Word in order to have faith. And Peter adds that we need it “so that by it you may grow up into your salvation.” Many other verses also explain that even after we initially have come to Jesus, we need the Word to develop and sustain our faith.

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

4 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:14-17, HCSB)

12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.

(Hebrews 4:12-13, CSB)

We are only one quarter of the way through Peter’s letter, and we can see that God’s Word – that is the Bible – is a major theme. That’s because it is a major theme to Christianity as a whole. Without God’s word, we have no truth, no reality. With God’s word, when we trust it, we have salvation, and instruction about how to know God better, and how to live as we were intended to live. If you are struggling in your Faith, or struggling to live as a Christian, the very first question I have is this: what role does God’s Word play in your life? Do you read it regularly? Do you ask God for help in understanding when you read it? Do you seek to live by it? Are your values and priorities formed by what you read in the Bible, or by other things? In short: Do you regularly feed your soul on God’s Word?

If you are serious about God’s Word, but you don’t really know how to read it properly, or understand it, PLEASE reach out to me! We can have an email conversation, if that would help you. Or, if you are interested, I have written a book to help regular people understand the Bible, called: Who Cares About the Bible? It doesn’t cost that much, but, in case anyone thinks I’m pushing this in order to make $1.75 (the amount I get, if you buy a copy), I will give you a free copy, if you ask for it. It is also available in ebook form. If you want a free copy, contact me. Or, you can buy it from amazon.com.

Peter adds another thought about God’s word. He says: if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:3, ESV) This a theme that recurs throughout the Bible – that as we engage in faith, and particularly as we receive the Word of God, it brings a sweetness and joy to our souls:

8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

(Psalms 34:8, ESV)

When Ezekiel was called by God to become a prophet, God gave him a special vision involving His Word:

1 He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find here. Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. 3 “Son of man,” he said to me, “feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving you.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.

(Ezekiel 3:1-3, CSB)

The scroll, is of course, a pictorial representation of God’s Word. When he ingested God’s word, when he took it into his soul, it tasted sweet to Ezekiel. Jeremiah had a similar experience:

16 Your words were found, and I ate them.
Your words became a delight to me
and the joy of my heart,
for I bear your name,
LORD God of Armies.

(Jeremiah 15:16, CSB)

The writer of Psalm 119 felt exactly the same way:

102 I have not turned from Your judgments,
for You Yourself have instructed me.
103 How sweet Your word is to my taste —
sweeter than honey in my mouth.

(Psalms 119:102-103, HCSB)

Let me put this all together by telling you what happened this very morning. I was doing my normal Bible reading – in which I read through a book of the Bible, a little bit each day. Currently, the book I’m reading is Proverbs. I prayed briefly before I started – something like: “Lord, I need to hear from you right now. What do you want to say to me?”

Then, I started reading from where I left off yesterday. Here’s what I read:

11 I am teaching you the way of wisdom;
I am guiding you on straight paths.
12 When you walk, your steps will not be hindered;
when you run, you will not stumble.
13 Hold on to instruction; don’t let go.
Guard it, for it is your life.

Proverbs 4:11-13

This verse tells me about wisdom. I know the historical context, and I know the context of the verses, because I read the previous chapter yesterday. I know that in general, these verses are telling God’s people to pursue the wisdom that comes from God, which, actually, goes along well with this sermon I am working on. That’s all very great. But this morning, God made this word living and active to me. As I read this with a heart of faith, a heart that said, “I want to hear from God,” these words became God’s word to me, today. It was as if the words in Proverbs were addressed right to me. It felt like God was saying:

“Tom, I am pleased with you. I am here. I am teaching you. I am guiding you. Your spiritual steps will not be hindered, your way is clear. I am bringing you deeper into my Life, my ways. You are on the right path, I have given you wisdom, and will give you more. Don’t be worried – continue on this path. I am pleased with you.”

It’s hard to describe exactly what it means to me, but the main point is this: I felt like God spoke to me directly and personally. He imparted his favor and love to me through the words of the Bible. It was food and drink for my soul; it was sustaining substance for my spiritual life.

I have actually read those verses in Proverbs many times. Certainly, I’ve read the entire book of Proverbs at least four times, or more. But today, verses that I have read before became living and active. The Holy Spirit applied them to me, personally in a fresh way. What I heard this morning was not the universal meaning of those verses for all people and all time. What I heard was God’s Living Word to me, for today.

I have experienced this sweetness, this “taste of God,” many times in my life through studying the Bible. Lest you think that means you need to become a Bible scholar to achieve it, let me say that I experienced it first when I was only a teenager, as I tried, for the first time, to seriously engage with what I read in the Bible. I continued to experience it as a college student. In other words before I could have been called a “Bible scholar” in any meaningful sense, God used His Word to let me “taste and see” that He is good. Even today, what I received from God was not about intellectual understanding, but about receiving His Living Word in faith.

So, if you are a teenager, with no college education, God can still give you tastes of His goodness if you engage with the Bible. If you are an adult with no college education, the same thing applies.

It isn’t about us knowing a lot, but rather, it happens when we genuinely want to know God better, and we seek that knowledge through His Word, and through the community of believers. It happens when we read the Bible with faith that God is indeed imparting His life to us through it.

I invite you, too, to immerse yourself in God’s Word so that you can taste and see that He is good!

1 PETER #5: THE KEY TO THE BIBLE: JESUS CHRIST

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 5

1 Peter #5. 1 Peter 1:10-12

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:10-12

Our next section might feel like just a little transition between main points, and in some ways, it is. Even so, I believe the Holy Spirit can use these verses to strengthen our faith. Peter has been talking about the wonderful promises that are ours in salvation, promises that are so glorious and wonderful that even suffering on earth is nothing in comparison to what is coming to those who receive that salvation. Peter now briefly mentions something of the history of those promises. In short, Peter is telling his readers something about the Bible. We can learn several important things here.

First, remember that at that point in time, the only Bible that they had was the part that we Christians call the Old Testament. Peter was a Jew, and in the Jewish thinking of those days, there were two main parts to the Bible/Old Testament: “the Law,” which was the first five books, written by Moses; and “the Prophets,” which is, essentially, everything else. It also helps to know that though the first five books are indeed called “the Law,” Moses himself (who wrote those books), was also considered to be a prophet. So when Peter talks about “the prophets,” he doesn’t just mean Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and so on. He means every single book of the Old Testament.

Peter tells us something very important about the Old Testament: it is ultimately all about Jesus Christ. Peter makes it clear that the prophets themselves did not entirely understand this – they wondered about what God was inspiring them to write – as he says in verse 10, they questioned what it was all about. Even so, Peter says it was the Spirit of Christ in them who inspired them to write, and what he inspired them to write was ultimately all about Christ, and the suffering, grace and glory of the salvation that he won for us, even though the writers did not understand that at the time.

Elsewhere, the New Testament affirms this. After his resurrection, Jesus walked with his disciples one time, but prevented them from recognizing him, initially. He gave them the same lesson about the Old Testament scriptures:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, italic formatting added for emphasis)

Notice here, again, the idea that “the prophets,” begins with Moses, and includes all of the rest of the scriptures. So, even the Old Testament scriptures are about Jesus. Jesus made this same point about the bible, more than once. Talking to the Pharisees who rejected him, he said:

The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.  (John 5:37-39, HCSB)

The Old Testament speaks about Jesus in some more or less direct ways. What I mean is, there are texts that were understood to be predictions about the coming Messiah for centuries before Jesus was born. When he was born into humanity, through Mary, his life fulfilled those prophetic utterances. We know that the last Old Testament book to be written was finished about 450 years before Jesus was born. The Greek translation of the Old Testament appeared 250 years before the time of Jesus.

Let me give you a  brief, faith-building taste of those fulfilled prophecies. According to various places in the Old Testament, the Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of King David, and born in Bethlehem. But though he was to be born in Bethlehem, he was also supposed to be from the region of Galilee – which is far north of Bethlehem. Yet also, he was supposed to have come from Egypt. In addition, noblemen from the East were supposed to bring him gifts.

Jesus, of course, was born in Bethlehem. Some time later, the Magi from the East came, bringing gifts. Within two years, his parents fled with him to Egypt. Before he was twelve, they returned from Egypt and moved permanently to Nazareth, which is in Galilee. Jesus himself, if he was merely human, had no control over fulfilling these prophecies – no baby gets to choose the place of its birth, or where it is raised. Those are either gigantic lucky coincidences, or they are fulfilled prophecies.

Just a few more. The Old Testament predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin, that he be innocent, yet suffer for the sins of the guilty, that people would gamble for his clothing. It says he would be pierced in his side with a weapon. Again, Jesus had no way of arranging these things, if he was merely human. All of the evidence shows us that the New Testament developed so rapidly, that it isn’t possible to imagine that centuries later the church made up stories about someone who wasn’t real, and made him to fit the prophecies. That idea is based upon the fiction novel, The DaVinci Code, and it is indeed fiction. Also, Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies in ways that Jews at the time had not expected.

There are over three-hundred Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus (and in no one else). If you want a simple, easy taste, read Isaiah chapter 53, and ask yourself what it says about Jesus. Then recognize that it was written about seven hundred years before Jesus was born.

In 1963, Mathematician Peter Stoner published a book called Science Speaks. He used the science of probability to calculate how likely it was that one person would fulfil just eight of the three hundred prophecies about the Messiah. Remember, all eight (to say nothing of all 300) have to be fulfilled in the same person. His calculations were reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation, and found to be correct mathematically. He found that the chance that one person would fulfill just those eight particular prophecies about the messiah was 1 in 1017. That’s 1, followed by 17 zeros. As an illustration, if you had that many silver dollars, you could cover an area the size of Texas (that’s larger than either France, or Spain) two feet thick with silver dollars. Paint one more silver dollar red, drop it in and mix it with all the rest, and have a blind man randomly travel to somewhere in Texas, and plunge his hand into the silver dollars and pick one. The likelihood that he comes out with the one red silver dollar is the same as the likelihood that Jesus was not predicted by those eight Old Testament prophecies. When you throw in the other 292 prophecies, there is virtually no chance that Jesus fulfilled them by accident. What a treasure we have, to know that God planned it all!

Even when we aren’t talking about predictions of the Messiah, the Old Testament reveals Jesus to us, and helps us understand what it means to live as his follower. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to talk about this same way of seeing the Old Testament:

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

I think the words of Jesus that we read earlier can be understood this way, also. When we realize this, we find that Peter and the others have given us the key to getting the most from the Old Testament. Yes, there are complex historical and cultural situations in it. Yes, we should seek to understand culture, and context and history. But the bottom line is, it is all about Jesus, and all we really need, when we read the Old Testament, is to let it teach us something about Jesus, or about what it means to follow him. So, when your read your Bible, ask these sorts of questions:

  • What does this passage show me about Jesus?
  • Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like?
  • Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)?

In addition to directly revealing Jesus to us, the Bible explains things about God, human nature, and what life is like, and could be like, for people who follow Jesus. So we should also ask some questions like this:

  • What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character?
  • What does it show me about sin?
  • What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace?
  • What does it say about human beings?
  • What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others?

If you want to get more out of your Bible, I know of no better way than to ask questions like these, and, actually any other type of significant question that occurs to you. If we don’t ask questions, we don’t learn much. If you know of anyone who really knows not only a lot about what the Bible says, but also a lot about what it means, and how to apply it, that kind of wisdom almost certainly came about from asking questions, including hard questions, about various parts of the Bible.

As a practical exercise, let’s use this wonderful gift that Peter has given us to tackle a difficult text in the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy chapter 20. We’re doing this just as an example of what it means to recognize that the prophets of old were actually writing about Jesus. Moses was speaking to the people of Israel about wars. He instructed them that when they fought with people who were not in their homeland, they were to first try peace, and then ask for a surrender, and then, if battle was necessary, they were to show mercy once they had conquered the enemy city. Next, he talks about the wars they must fight with people occupying the promised land:

15 “But these instructions apply only to distant towns, not to the towns of the nations in the land you will enter. 16 In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. 17 You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 20:15-18, NLT

This sounds horrible and brutal, right? There certainly are issues here to think about with regard to the history of Israel. However, for Christians, we know that this passage is not about fighting Hittites, Amorites and all the other “– ites.” We know that this passage is about Jesus. It tells us something about Him, or about how we should or shouldn’t behave as we follow him. It might tell us about sin, or salvation or human relationship. So, let’s ask our questions:

Where is Jesus? I don’t know about you, but the only place I see Him directly is in the name “the Lord.” So it seems to be Jesus who is talking to us through this passage. He is giving instructions, teaching us.

Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like? Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)? Easy. No, and no. Maybe another time I’ll come back to this text, and see something about these questions, that I hadn’t seen before, but not this time.

What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character? Ahh. Here we go. It shows me that God’s holiness is very serious. It is a deadly serious thing to contradict his holiness, which is what sin does. His holiness is extreme, and calls for an extreme response to avoid unholiness.

What does it show me about sin? Sin is deadly serious. It requires death. Idolatry (having something in your life that is more important or valuable to you than God) is the problem in the text. We Christians still sometimes make things more important than God, so it is speaking to that tendency. This passage shows me that it is so important to have Jesus first, that I need to eliminate anything that might get in the way.

What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace? If God’s holiness is so serious, and idolatry is so bad, that in those days it required the death of every living thing, then I am in serious trouble. I am lost without God’s grace. I need a savior to save me from my sin, my laziness and my tendency to value things more than God. Oh! Now we see Jesus. I need a savior. I need Jesus!

What does it say about human beings? Human beings cannot do what is necessary to be holy. Again, we need a savior!

What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others? I think we can use this question to put it all together. Whatever the text may have been about in the past, today, it is about Jesus, and what it means to follow him. So first, it leads me to repent of my own sin, my own tendency to let other things become more important in my life than God. Idolatry is nothing to mess around with. It leads me to my desperate need for Jesus to save me, to provide forgiveness, mercy and grace.

It also shows me something else. The people of Israel were supposed to take radically extreme action to avoid idolatry and sin. Their relationship with God was so important that they literally had to kill anything that might lead them astray. Today, because the text is about Jesus, we know it is not about hurting other people. But we should make implacable, unrelenting war on anything in our lives that tends to lead us astray from Jesus. I should show my own sin no mercy. I should be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Jesus is first in my life, now and always. If something threatens that, I need to eliminate it. Again, I am talking not about other people, but my own attitudes and actions. It is true, there may be a time when I need to back off from a relationship with a person that is damaging my faith in Jesus, but we do that sort of thing in accordance with the rest of the bible, which tells us it must be done graciously and with patience and love for the other person.

Now that we see this about Jesus and following him, we can find many other verses that teach this very thing:

29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30, NLT)
37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39, NLT)
4 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14, NLT)

So this little transitional verse in 1 Peter helps us understand the entire Bible!

A final thing. Peter mentions that people came and preached to his readers, and that their preaching was inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. No preacher is equal to the Bible. All of us make mistakes, whereas God provided the Bible as a foundation for all time, so that no generation can be led astray if they know the scriptures. But Peter shows us that the Holy Spirit also uses preachers who deliver the Biblical message to specific people, at specific places and times. The work of a preacher is not to add to the Bible, but to help us unwrap God’s Word to us in a way that helps us see how it is relevant to our lives here and now.

Peter’s main point is that God has gone out of his way to make sure that we heard His Word. We can count on it. We should delight in it, and learn from it.

Imagine the song “Silent Night.” Like many Christmas songs, it has been arranged in many different ways, and played by many different groups and performing artists. Think of it being played instrumentally, by an orchestra. You’ve probably heard it that way. Now, imagine how it sounds sung by a full choir, with no instruments at all. It’s the same song. The same music is being conveyed, and yet, it sounds very different. Now, hear a twangy, country-western singer singing Silent Night, maybe featuring a pedal-steel. Next, try to imagine someone singing it as a kind of operatic solo. Picture it done to swing-rhythm. Now imagine it as “muzak” or “elevator music,” played at the mall. Think of a rendition of the song by a 1940’s “big band.” Hear it done by Reggae artists.

All of these are the same song, conveying the same “musical message.” And yet each style and performance conveys that same “musical message” in a very different way. We can appreciate some of those ways better than others, but it all goes back to the same composer, the same basic set of notes, the same lyrics.

This is kind of how the Bible is. Sometimes, God conveyed his message about Jesus through the life of an old man, or a young princess. Sometimes, he sent it through laws that helped people at that time understand him better. At other times, God’s message came through prophets, or teachers, or letter writers, kings, or musicians. Sometimes, it is hard to recognize as the same message, because three-thousand year-old laws require more work to understand than clearly written letters from more than a thousand years later. But the messages about God, human beings and relationships are consistent throughout the Bible. As with Silent Night, though the “performances” are widely varied, the basic underlying message is the same. Different musicians may play the music, different instruments may create it, but at the same time, the music is, and always was, the product of the original composer.

Take joy and delight in reading the Bible and finding Jesus everywhere!

1 Peter #1: A LETTER FOR HARD TIMES

Photo by Davi Pimentel on Pexels.com

This time we look at the history and setting surrounding the New Testament book of 1 Peter.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 1

1 Peter #1. Introduction

We are starting a new series, today, on the first letter of Peter. I am not utterly against doing topical sermon series’, but I’d like to encourage you to think a little differently about that. As we look at First Peter, the text will introduce a number of different topics. When we do things like that, then I am not deciding which topics to preach about. Instead, the text of the Bible tells us which topics to consider. So, this is a topical series, in a sense. It is just that the bible itself will determine the topics.

Peter wrote only two letters that have survived. We will be looking at the first of these. I’ll take this opportunity to give a reminder about how the New Testament came to be. In addition to the New Testament, we have some of the writings of Christians who lived immediately after the time of the apostles, as well as writings of later Christians, down through the centuries. All of the books of the New Testament are mentioned, referenced and/or quoted from the time of the very earliest writings of Christians. So, for example, the first generation of Christians after the apostles mention 1 Peter, and quote from it. Of course, later generations do as well.

About two hundred and fifty years after the time of the apostles, when Christianity became legal in the Roman empire, a large body of leaders, representing most Christians in the world at that time, gathered together. Among other things, they compared notes about which writings were clearly from the apostles (or others who knew Jesus, like Luke and Mark). To be included in the “canon” (later called the Bible) a document had to have evidence that it was considered genuine since that first generation of Christians, as evidenced by early Christian writings. In addition, it had to be recognized by virtually all Christians in the world at that time as having been used by churches for the previous two-hundred and fifty years. So, if a book was only used, for example, in Alexandria, Egypt, but nowhere else in the world, it would not have been considered a true part of the New Testament. Or, if one group claimed a book was written by an apostle, but no other Christian traditions had a record of it, it was not included.

It is quite clear that very early on, all Christians were aware of 1 Peter, and considered it to be genuine, and were using it to encourage one another in following Jesus. In other words, it is a genuine part of the New Testament, as are all of the books in our modern Bibles.

As is true of many of the books of the New Testament, we have a very good idea of exactly when and where Peter wrote this letter. At the end of the letter, at 5:13, Peter writes:

13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. (1 Peter 5:13, ESV)

“Babylon,” is almost certainly a code-name for Rome. Well before the birth of Jesus, the literal Babylon in Mesopotamia was in ruins. The majority of those living within its ancient walls were goats and their herders. There is no evidence that Peter or Mark ever went there, and there would be no reason for them to do so, seeing as there were almost no people remaining there. However, in the Roman Empire, persecution was beginning to become more and more of a reality, as the words of this letter will show us. Probably less than a year after Peter wrote, the Emperor Nero instigated a vicious persecution against Christians in Rome, in which Peter himself was killed. I’m sure Peter could tell that things were getting more and more dangerous. If his letter was intercepted by the government, it would have been disastrous if he explicitly mentioned a Christian church in Rome. So, Peter uses the word “Babylon,” which Christians would have understood to mean “a great city that is opposed to the people of God;” or, in other words: Rome. “She, who is likewise chosen” means, of course, the church. So, to make it plain, Peter means: “The church in Rome sends you greetings.” In keeping with the dangerous times, he mentions only two personal names, Mark, and Silvanus. To name others would be too risky.

Mark is also known as John-Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, and sometime companion of Paul. Most scholars believe that he spent several years also with the apostle Peter. He wrote the gospel of Mark.

Mark would have been quite young when Jesus was crucified – possibly a teenager – but he was probably one of those in the larger group of Jesus’ followers; some people think he was the young man who ran away naked at the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52).  In any case, one of the house churches in Jerusalem met at his mother’s home (Acts 12:12), and he would have known Peter for most of his life. Much of Mark’s gospel is likely based upon the stories and teachings of Jesus that Mark learned from Peter.

I mention Mark, because his presence with Peter in Rome helps us set the date for 1 Peter. Mark was in Rome with Paul when Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. If Peter had been there then, Paul surely would have mentioned it. So Peter cannot have been in Rome, nor written his letter before Paul wrote those letters, which would have been AD 62 at the latest. I would guess that Paul left Rome in 62, traveled in Asia minor, and then returned to Rome, probably at about the same time Peter arrived there, either late AD 63 or early in 64. After a brief reunion, Paul traveled on to Spain, while Peter stayed in Rome, along with Mark and Silvanus (also called Silas). Peter wrote his first letter after Paul left, or he, for his part, surely would have mentioned Paul’s presence with him. A few months later, Peter wrote his second letter.

In any case, we know that in July of 64, the city of Rome burned, and the emperor Nero used that as an excuse to start a horrifying persecution of Christians. He blamed Christians for the fire, and it is possible that he executed some Christians by burning them alive in his palace gardens as human torches. Whether or not that last is true, he most certainly sought to kill Christians and destroy the church. At some point during Nero’s persecution, Peter was found and executed. Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down, though I have my doubts about how that actually works. There is no doubt, however, that Peter perished in Nero’s persecution. Many people think that Paul returned to Rome during this time, and was also killed by Nero.

Peter addresses his letter to Christians in a number of different Roman provinces (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia). All of these are found in modern-day Turkey, and cover the northern three-quarters of that country. Some commentators think that Peter was writing mainly to Jewish Christians, but the text of the letter makes it clear that he was writing to both Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians. In fact, it is likely that the Gentile believers outnumbered the Jewish believers in those areas.

The Christians in those areas were living in uncertain times. Christianity was already getting noticed by the Roman authorities, and the emperor Nero was increasingly unfriendly to it. The rest of the empire took their cue from the emperor. Although the recipients of the letter were probably not persecuted as brutally as the church in Rome (until about thirty years later), it was clear that Christians were not welcome in the general culture of the world at the time. In addition, Peter was writing to people who were experiencing struggles and difficulties of all different types, including things that didn’t have much to do with persecution. In short, 1 Peter is a book written to Christians who were facing hard times. As such, I think its message is very encouraging to us today.

For the rest of this sermon I want you to read the entire book of 1 Peter in one sitting. It isn’t long. Or listen to it, as I read it on the recording above, here at clearbible.blog. I think it is often helpful to start a book by reading the whole thing at once, so we can see how one part flows into another. Without further ado, let’s do it.

COLOSSIANS #38: JUNK TIME?

Photo by Pamela Marie on Pexels.com

If we move over them quickly, many of the verses like these today seem to be “junk verses,” or “junk time.” They contain greetings and suggestions for people who have been dead for many centuries. What is the point of having them in the Bible? But when we listen to the Holy Spirit, even such verses as these can be used to encourage us, and strengthen our faith.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Colossians Part 38

COLOSSIANS #38  COLOSSIANS 4:7-18

We have come to the end of the book of Colossians. Paul closes this letter, as he does many of his other letters, with greetings from specific people, to specific people. He also adds a few personal instructions.

7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:7-18, ESV)

I like to watch American Football, both college and the NFL. Sometimes, one team completely dominates in a game, so much so, that the outcome of the game is already decided several minutes before it technically ends. The losing team may score, and other types of things might happen, but it won’t change who wins or loses. Football people sometimes call those meaningless minutes “junk time.”

It might be easy to think of our verses today as “junk time,” (or maybe, “junk text”). There are greetings passed back and forth among people who have been dead for almost two thousand years. Many of the New Testament letters include these sorts of things.  There’s another “junk time” text at the end of 2 Timothy, where Paul tells Timothy to travel and join him, and when he does, to bring the cloak he left behind, and also some scrolls and parchments:

9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:9-13, ESV)

At first, those sorts of verses seem a bit difficult to apply to our lives in the 21st Century. What do we do with “bring my cloak?” And yet, I think that the Holy Spirit wants to speak to us even through such texts as these today.

One thing we can get out of these verses is that the New Testament is exactly what it appears to be, and it is historically valid. The things we read about in “junk time” ring true for people who lived in the First Century Greco-Roman world. Think about Paul’s concern for scrolls, and a cloak. This is exactly the sort of thing real people at that time in history would have been concerned about – books and scrolls were not mass produced, nor was clothing. They would have been valuable, and hard to replace. These “junk time” verses show us that the books of the New Testament are clearly not made-up stories, but rather, real letters, written by real people to real people in a real time and place. We can also be encouraged (or warned) by learning about some of the people mentioned in our text today.

Let me start with the very end, where Paul says: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” Paul typically used an amanuensis (like a secretary) to write his letters. He would dictate, and the secretary would write down his words as a rough draft in wax (because paper and ink were expensive). The two of them would discuss the text, and when they had it the way they wanted, the secretary would carefully copy it down on paper/parchment and ink. At the end of several of his letters, Paul personally signed his own name in ink. That’s the meaning of “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.” In the original letter, you would have seen a difference in the handwriting. “Remember my chains” is about the fact that Paul was a prisoner at the time, chained to a guard during the daytime, and in a house at night. He is reminding them that he so thoroughly believes in Jesus that he is willing to be a prisoner, and even, perhaps, to be executed, for his faith. He wants them to be strengthened and encouraged by his example, and he also wants their prayers for his situation.

Next, let’s consider some of the people involved in this “junk time.”

TYCHICUS

A trusted traveling companion of Paul, mentioned a few times in the book of Acts. He was from the province of Asia. Paul wrote the letters to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and to Philemon all at the same time, and Tychicus was entrusted with task of delivering each one of them. If he hadn’t done his job as a messenger, we would not have those parts of the Bible today. It is also possible that Tychicus was the “secretary” to whom Paul dictated the three letters I just mentioned. If so, he would have been the one to write down the words. Tychicus shows us that even mundane jobs like “secretary” or “delivery person” can be very valuable and important.

ONESIMUS

A slave from Colossae. Though slaves were in a much better position in the ancient world than in ante-bellum America, a slave was not free to leave without permission from his master. Much like someone in the Army going AWOL, a slave leaving without permission was a big deal. Unfortunately, Onesimus went AWOL. He ended up with Paul in Rome, where he became a Christian. Since his master, Philemon, was also a Christian in the city of Colossae, Paul sent Onesimus back, along with the letter to Philemon, which instructs Philemon to remember that Onesimus’ new status as a brother Christian cancels out his status of slave. Philemon was one of the parts of the Bible used by abolitionists to bring about the end of slavery. Onesimus, by prompting Paul’s letter to his master Philemon, helped bring about the eventual downfall of worldwide slavery.

ARISTARCHUS

Another of Paul’s traveling companions and fellow-ministers. He was from Macedonia (Possibly Philippi, Berea, or Thessalonica). He was among those who suffered at the hands of a mob in Ephesus. He is mentioned several times in Acts, and in Paul’s letters. We don’t know exactly what he did, but he encouraged and assisted the work of the Lord through Paul.

MARK

Mark (John-Mark), the cousin of Barnabas, has one of the great redemptions stories of the Bible. He started out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, and then chickened out, and deserted them to go back home. Later, Paul and Barnabas quarreled about it, because Paul judged Mark to be weak and useless, but Barnabas wanted to give him another chance. It turned out Barnabas was right. Mark repented, learned from his mistakes, and matured in faith. Now, several years later, Paul says that Mark has been a comfort to him. Even later (about 3 years after Colossians), in 2 Timothy, Paul asks Timothy to send Mark to him as soon as possible, because he feels he can rely on him. So he went from being a burden to Paul to becoming one of Paul’s most trusted companions. Finally, Mark is also the same man who wrote “the gospel of Mark.”

JESUS/JUSTUS

Though there are several people with the name “Justus” in the New Testament, this appears to be someone in Rome, and not one of the others of the same name elsewhere.

EPAPHRAS

Apparently from Colossae. He was probably the person who brought the gospel of Jesus to the Colossians. After doing so, these verses tell us that he continued to pray for them diligently, and to represent the Colossians in the ongoing work of God with Paul in Rome.

LUKE

Luke is the author of the gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts. He was also a doctor, and a frequent companion of Paul.

DEMAS

Probably from Thessalonica, a traveling companion of Paul. A few years after the writing of Colossians, he deserted Paul, seduced away by loving the things of the world more than Jesus. Perhaps, however, like Mark, he too, may have ended up as a redemption story, though we don’t know that.

ARCHIPPUS

We only know his name because it is mentioned here, and in the letter to Philemon. He was apparently married to a Christian woman named Apphia. Together, they hosted one of the Colossian house-churches in their home. Apparently, from this brief text, he was called to some sort of ministry. Even this brief statement that he should fulfill the ministry given to him might apply today to someone else who reads this text. Perhaps the Lord is calling you to do something more, (or different) than you are yet doing. See to it that you fulfill his calling!

NYMPHA

Hostess of a house church. Possibly there were only two or three house-churches in Colossae at the time, and Paul’s letter was sent to the group at Apphia & Aristarchus’ house, so he also greets the church at Nympha’s home.

CHURCH AT LAODICEA

Apparently there was another letter from Paul, written to the church at Laodicea. It was lost very early on, and only this mention of it remains. That gives me a great deal of confidence in the New Testament. Paul was not infallible. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the scriptures. I assume that there were things in the letter to the Laodiceans that ought not to be in the Bible, so the Holy Spirit allowed it to be lost. It appears that Paul also wrote two additional letters to the Corinthians which have been lost, as well.

Another one of the companions of Paul who is mentioned in the book of Romans “junk time” section is Clement. Clement also wrote his own letter to the Corinthians. Though Clement’s letter has been preserved, it has never (even since the earliest days of the church) been considered to be part of inspired scripture. Clement wrote many good things. He also wrote some things that we know are wrong. For instance, he wrote about the legend of the phoenix, which he apparently believed to be true, which today we know to be false.

I find it very helpful to see that even though one of Paul’s companions (Clement) held this belief which has been proven false, no such misplaced belief or false legend ever made it into the pages of the New Testament. Perhaps in his letter to the Laodiceans, Paul also wrote about the Phoenix. But the Holy Spirit made sure no such thing entered the Bible. So, even the mention of a lost letter can be used to encourage us and strengthen our faith.

Also, we can see how the New Testament was preserved and spread throughout all Christian communities. Paul tells them to pass the letter on to Laodicea. No doubt, they would have copied the original “letter to the Colossians” and sent that copy to Laodicea. Probably they sent a copy to Ephesus as well, and received from Ephesus a copy of the letter to the Ephesians. Apparently, churches all over began to do this while the apostles were still alive: copying their writings and teachings, and sharing them with other churches. In some of the other ancient documents, like letters between early church leaders, the people who copied them wrote down the history of the document. For instance, the Apostle John trained a leader named Polycarp. Polycarp trained Irenaeus, who wrote down an account of how Polycarp was martyred (that is, murdered for being a Christian). At the end of that written account, we find this in the ancient text:

These things Caius transcribed from the copy of Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp), having himself been intimate with Irenaeus.

And I Socrates transcribed them at Corinth from the copy of Caius. Grace be with you all.

And I again, Pionius, wrote them from the previously written copy…

So we see that that they were first written down by Irenaeus, then copied by a Christian named Caius. Next, a Christian named Socrates (not the famous philosopher) copied the text that was transcribed by Caius. Then Pionius copied out what Socrates had passed own.

This sort of the thing was also down with the things written by the apostles, but even more frequently, which is why we have almost six-thousand ancient copies of New Testament writings.

Suddenly “junk time” turns out to be a treasure trove. We have an example (as a warning) of one person was faithful and then turned away (Demas). We have another example (as an gracious encouragement) of a believer who failed, and then repented, and was used by God to do wonderful things (Mark). We have others who started faithful, and remained so (Aristarchus, Timothy, Luke and several others). Luke & Mark were used by God as writers. Tychicus was used by the Lord as a secretary, and a specialist in travel and delivery. Epaphras came to Jesus, and then went home and told others about him. Onesimus made a big mistake. But God called him to Himself, and then used his mistake to ultimately dismantle slavery.  Archippus & Apphia, as well as Nympha, allowed their homes to be used for church. We have believers who are encouraged to step deeper into the calling that God has for them (Archippus). Even the mention of a lost letter can encourage us to trust the writings that were never lost, and reminds us how the New Testament was passed on to us by faithful Christians making copies of the writings of the apostles.

Once again we are reassured that all scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and equipping us for service to Jesus and love for one another (2 Timothy 3:17). Every bit of the Bible is written to teach us, so that through endurance and through the encouragement of  the scriptures, we will have hope (Romans 15:4)

  • What did you find most surprising in these “junk verses?”
  • Of all the people mentioned, who do you identify with the most?
  • Whose “back-story” gives you the most encouragement?
  • What is the Lord saying to you through these verse today?

THE BEAUTY OF MALE AND FEMALE, PART 2

Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya on Pexels.com

These instructions to men and women teach us to die to our own self-centeredness, and live for others. They also they point us to the incredible love and sacrifice of Jesus.

COLOSSIANS To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Colossians Part 33

Colossians #33  Col 3:18-19 PART B

Last time we looked at Colossians, we considered the fact that God created our genders deliberately, and with a purpose. The Bible teaches us how to work with that fact in loving each other and following Jesus. The latest science decisively confirms that human beings are gendered to the core. However, because we are all made in the image of God, gender is something even deeper than biology. Women and men are made to relate to one another in a way that shows the world something of the glory of God. This happens in all sorts of contexts, not just marriage.

By the way, I want to be sure we acknowledge and recognize that some people have difficulties in coming to terms with their biological gender. As Christians, we must have compassion and grace for people who have these difficulties. Our churches should be safe places for such folks, places where there will be no insults or cruel words. The facts of science and biology do not change the very real emotional struggles that some people have.

At the same time, as Christians, we should not compromise what the bible says. In the case of gender, science is also crystal clear. Our call is to speak the truth, but to do so in love. Simply agreeing with whatever anyone thinks is not loving– often that is actually cowardice. We are afraid of getting flak, or of being seen as hateful, or we want to be “on the right side of history.” But it is when we disagree with someone that true love can be shown. Jesus pointed out that naturally, anyone loves his friends. But real Christian love can occur when we care for people and respect them as human beings even when they disagree with us, even when they make choices that we think are wrong. Real love, deep love, always wants the best for others, even when those others may not recognize or agree with what “the best” means. So it is my ongoing hope and prayer that anyone at all would feel welcomed by our house churches, and also that in our house churches anyone at all would come face to face with the truth of the gospel, which is that we need to repent, turn away from all sin and self-centeredness, and surrender all to Jesus, receiving his grace and forgiveness.

The Bible claims to be God’s special revelation to humankind. It comes through human authors, but it originates with God. In short, it is God’s Word to us. One of the things the bible tells us is that all human beings have sinned, and our thoughts, attitudes and desires are often corrupted by sin. If this is true, it means that the bible will contradict and challenge some of our thoughts, attitudes and desires. Since every human culture was developed by sinful human beings, the Bible will challenge every culture at some point or another.

One of the most difficult things in understanding the Bible is learning to recognize our own cultural biases, and being willing to consider things that challenge our “normal” way of looking at the world.

The culture of Papua New Guinea when I was growing up was one that highly valued both debts and vengeance. The economy of that culture was based upon people owing each other favors, and sometimes people owing each other revenge. For that culture, accepting what the Bible says about forgiveness – especially forgiving and loving enemies – was challenging and difficult.

Texts like ours today in Colossians about men and women present a challenge to 21st Century Western culture. Our culture does not see gender the way the Bible teaches us to see it. In addition, our society encourages us to be highly sensitive about the possibility that someone or something is oppressing women (or, in fact, oppressing any one of several different categories of people). I’m not saying that is always a bad thing to be sensitive to this, but we should be aware of our own biases  when we read a text like this one. In case you think I am wrong, and you believe that our culture is more likely to oppress women than to be worried about oppressing them, let me give an example.

There has been a great deal of awareness raised about the fact that more men than women are involved in Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM). More men than women get degrees in STEM fields, and work in those types of careers.

A few years ago the Microsoft Windows lock screen was used to raise awareness about the fact that the STEM fields are dominated by men. These days, scholarships, internships and opportunities abound for women interested in STEM education and careers. In addition to all that, there are vast numbers of organizations and foundations which exist to help women especially get both bachelor’s and graduate degrees in all fields. There is constant awareness-raising for women’s education.

However, the truth is, women have far outpaced men in education for more than forty years. Since 1980, far more women than men have gone to college and received degrees at all levels. Women dominate many different academic fields. On average, female college professors make more money than their male counterparts with the same qualifications and experience.

The average male high school senior reads at the same level as the average female eighth-grader. Grade school boys are disciplined and reprimanded more than twice as often as girls. Boys and men have fallen far behind in every academic area except STEM.

So, where are the organizations and foundations trying to create more opportunities for men in the arts and humanities? Where are the endowments for specifically male writers, or the scholarships for men to make up the gap in literature, or sociology or history? Where are the windows lockscreens agonizing over the fact that men don’t even go to college as often as women, let alone graduate with a degree?

I will say it again: our culture is primed to expect women to be oppressed. Am I saying that women are never oppressed? Of course not! But I am saying that when it comes to gender and sexuality, our culture has a chip on its collective shoulder. We are waiting to get angry about gender injustice, even in cases where the facts say there is no issue there. So, take a deep breath. Recognize that we may not be totally objective about gender issues. Try to be conscious of our cultural biases while we deal with these verses.

In order to avoid knocking the chip off our shoulder, I will deal first with what these verses are telling men to do and be. Again, however, I want to make sure that we recognize the cultural biases that make it necessary to take these verses out of order. For you women, as you read, look past these instructions to men, and recognize and remember the great love that Jesus has for you.

With that long introduction, let’s look at this verse, and then one that says the same thing, but with more detail. For our verse today, I provide my own translation:

You husbands, love your wives sacrificially, and do not cause them to be grieved, or make their lives bitter.

And then, the expanded instructions come from Ephesians 5:22-33:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (ESV, Ephesians 5:22-33)

The New Testament uses three different Greek words for love. There is eros (air-rohs), which is romantic/sexual love; phileo (fil-lay-oh), which is brotherly/friendship love; and agape (uh-gah-pay), which is self-sacrificing love. Husbands are told to agape their wives. Agape is the way God loves us. Jesus provided the ultimate example of agape when he suffered on the cross, died, and suffered hell on our behalf. He did not need to do any of it for himself. It cost him everything to love us this way. This, my dear brothers, is how we husbands must love our wives. We love, even when it costs us dearly, when it costs us our own comfort, our own desires, yes, even if it costs our own well-being.

We men are to sacrifice for our wives. We are to cherish them and nourish them physically, spiritually and emotionally. Jesus is not passive in the way he loves the church. He pursues us. He gently, but purposefully moves into our lives, giving us opportunities to trust him. So we too should relationally pursue our wives, purposefully seeking to deepen and strengthen our connection. As Jesus led through self-sacrifice and service, so we too are called to lead – not by commanding or controlling, but by serving like Jesus did.

Men are often consistent in pursuing their wives sexually, because that is something that we want. But we must also pursue a deep relational and emotional connection with our wives, to seek to meet their needs as diligently and consistently as we seek to meet our own.

Just in case we miss the point, let’s use some concrete examples. You are both tired from a hard day. You sit down together, with no energy, but someone needs to do something about supper. As a husband, loving your wife like Jesus loves the church, what is your response to this situation? I think most often it should be that you, called to love sacrificially, take responsibility for dinner. Now, that doesn’t rule out ordering pizza, but it should mean that you serve your wife by taking care of the thing that nobody wants to deal with.

Or suppose your wife feels the need to talk about something, even perhaps, just how her day went. You are tired, or there is something else you want to do, or maybe even the game is on. Sometimes sacrificial love means giving her time and attention when you really don’t feel like it. By the way it wouldn’t be wrong to ask her if you could have the conversation after the game you want to watch is over, but be sure she’s OK with that, and be sure to follow through.

Sacrificial love for your wife may mean that you get up and deal with your daughter’s nightmare, or the cat’s throw-up. It may mean that you take responsibility for caring for the house, or doing the finances. In our case, Kari wants to be part of handling the bills, but we discuss our finances and make decisions together, and it is understood that if she doesn’t want to work (and is willing to take a hit in our standard of living) she doesn’t have to.

Above all, sacrificial love means you men accept responsibility for your life together as husband and wife. Leaning on Jesus and all of his power, you do your best to make sure that your wife feels loved, safe, and secure, to the extent that you can. I can’t make Kari feel at peace with everything, but I can make sure that her lack of peace isn’t because of me. I can’t make her feel secure, but I can ensure that she isn’t insecure because of me.

One aspect for men of loving sacrificially is that this also encourages men to be actively involved. If we are supposed to love like Jesus, it means we ought to be pursuing our wives, and actively leading our families closer to Jesus. Obviously, we won’t do those things perfectly, but we are to try. Coming home, watching TV and offering up one-syllable responses to your wife’s conversation are not usually consistent with loving your wife sacrificially.

Too many men prefer not to take a stand, or take ownership. Sometimes, we’re afraid of messing up, and we think our wives probably know better than us anyway, so let them do it. But that is not legitimate sacrificial love. Sometimes we don’t really know what to do, and we forget to ask Jesus. Sometimes, we’re just plain lazy, and it’s easier to be passive than to try, and then fail anyway. It feels safe if we don’t have to lead. But we men don’t have that luxury. We are supposed to love our wives to such an extent that they are the ones who feel safe, because they know that we will care for them as much as we care for ourselves, we will love them, even if it means hardship for ourselves.

By the way, women, you don’t get to take these words and taunt your husband with them. These words are not here for you to say: “Hah! You are supposed to love me sacrificially, so here’s my honey-do list, and be sure not to wake me up from my nap when you’re done.” These words are spoken from the Lord to the men, and I think it is meant for men to struggle through what it means to apply them. Your turn will come next.

The biggest threat to any marriage (actually to any relationship at all) is the fact that all of us are deeply self-centered. We are focused on ourselves, on our own needs, what we want, and what it takes to get our wants and needs satisfied. The verses here are meant to destroy our self-centeredness. Men, you don’t get to be passive and coast through life doing as little as necessary. You don’t get to demand whatever you want from your wife. Neither do you get to check out, and ignore your responsibilities. Instead, you die to yourself by loving her sacrificially. You allow the Holy Spirit to put to death your self-centeredness by learning to love your wife selflessly. When you do that, you are doing your part to show the world the glory of God.

The model for men is Jesus Christ. Now of course, husbands, you will never be able to love your wives as well as Jesus loves all of us. However, Jesus invites you to lean on him, and allow Him to work through you and in you, so that you don’t love your wives from your own strength, but from all the resources that Jesus has. Ask him to help you, and lean on him as you love your wives.

For both men and women, our attention is supposed to be directed away from ourselves, and to Jesus. Like a perfect husband, he makes us, his people, secure. We know we are loved, and safe. He has provided all that is needed for forgiveness and a life of eternal joy in Him. He is patient with us, and He loves us, not because of what we do for him, but rather because he has decided to do so, and nothing will sway him from that commitment. He didn’t wait for us to come to come to him – he died for us while we were still enemies of God. Let’s remember God’s grace to us through Jesus, and thank him for it.

COLOSSIANS #32: THE JOY OF MALE AND FEMALE

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

God created our genders deliberately, and with a purpose. The Bible teaches us how to work with that fact in loving each other and following Jesus. The latest science decisively confirms that human beings are gendered to the core. However, because we are all made in the image of God, gender is something even deeper than biology. Women and men are made to relate to one another in a way that shows the world something of the glory of God. This happens in all sorts of contexts, not just marriage.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Colossians Part 32

COLOSSIANS #32  Colossians 3:17-18

Before we address our specific verses for today, let’s remember the context. Throughout the end of chapter two, Paul was addressing the problem of legalism. Legalism is all about performing well in order to manipulate God into accepting you, and doing what you want him to do. He explained that in Jesus we have died to performing well in order to get God to approve of us. We do not have what it takes to get God to do our bidding. Instead, we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, trusting in what Jesus  Christ did for us, rather than our own efforts. Next, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, detailed several things from which we are free, because of the death of Christ.

Then, in chapter three, he addressed the problem of lawlessness. Because we have died to the things of this world, and because we have already been included spiritually in the resurrection of Jesus, we are called to live a certain way. We are supposed to draw on the life of the Spirit, and avoid the life of our dying flesh, which is incurably self-oriented.

Paul then explained we need to put off our old sinful flesh, and no longer participate in the sins that we used to love, no longer insist on getting our wants and needs met in our way. He moved on in verse 9, and said we have put off the old sinful self and put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of Jesus.

In verse twelve, he started to tell us what this new life looks like. He explained that the character of Christ wants to shine through us, and what it means to live according to the character of Christ. We considered the several aspects of living that way, like having compassionate hearts, and forgiving each other, and so on.

Last time, we considered that everything we do, all that we say and whatever we’re about, we do it in the name of Jesus Christ.

Now, we are going to get specific. We are still talking about what it looks like to let the character of Christ shine through us. We are still talking about how to do everything in the name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit through Paul, now begins to explain what all of that looks like for different groups of people: Wives, husbands, children, fathers, servants and masters.

When we understand the context, we realize that these are not just random, isolated instructions that cropped up out of nowhere. These verses are there to help us think about how we do everything in the name of Jesus in different parts of our lives. They are not given to help the Colossians fit in with culture of their city – nothing at all in this letter is about how they can be better citizens of this world. It is all about living this life with an understanding that we are already full citizens in the life to come.

So, with that understanding, I give you our verses for the next several weeks:

You wives, put yourselves under the authority of your husbands, because this is what is right in the Lord.

You husbands, love your wives sacrificially, and do not cause them to be grieved, or make their lives bitter.

(My own “amplified” translation from Greek, Colossians 3:17-18)

The more direct translation of verse 17 is: “wives submit to your husbands…”

I want us to take our time with this subject. These are short sentences in both English and Greek, but they represent something that is very deep and far reaching. “Jesus died for your sins,” is also a short sentence, but it might take years of thought and study to “unpack” all of the meaning in those five words. So, these verses are also short, but they represent the end-product of a deep and important subject.

In our culture today, verse 17 sounds ridiculously old fashioned. To many people, it might seem oppressive, and even perhaps hateful toward women. When we encounter any bible passage that disturbs us, we can take one of three possible approaches:

  1. We can study and pray and press into what the Holy Spirit is saying through such verses. With the faith that God knows best, and wants to speak to us through the Bible, we humbly approach the text to learn from it. We may be surprised by what we find, or we may find what we want or expect, but either way, we let the scripture set the agenda.
  2. We can decide that we don’t like it, and so we study and think and work on ways to make the verses irrelevant or meaningless to our life today. Or, we might try and find ways to show that the meaning of the verse is something other than what it seems to say so obviously. But we start with our own agenda, and try to make the scripture conform to that.
  3. We simply dismiss the verse. We ignore it, or we simply decide that we are not going listen to it, or apply it to our lives. We might even try to say that it shouldn’t be in the Bible.

Because our culture automatically rejects verses like “wives submit to your husbands,” many Christians have taken approaches #2 or #3. They start with the desire to make the Bible conform to 21st century Western cultural ideas about gender. This is a very flawed way to read and understand the bible. Instead of letting the text lead them wherever it goes, they already know where they want it to go, and so they try to make it go there. Or, they find ways to say that we don’t need to pay any attention at all to such teachings. Christians who want to “neutralize” bible verses like this believe that they are champions of gender-equality, and so they call themselves “egalitarians.” Sometimes they also call themselves “evangelical feminists,” or “Christian feminists.”

Christians who read these verses in a basically straightforward way call themselves “complementarians” because they believe that the bible teaches that men and women were created uniquely different in order complement each other. I believe that gender is all about reflecting the image of God to the world, so I call that idea “imagism.”

I have studied the issues surrounding this verse, and the other verses like it, for a long time. In fact, I wrestled with this subject for fifteen years before finally submitting to what I believe the Bible teaches. I desperately wanted to be able to be an egalitarian in good conscience. I did not want to appear to be oppressive to women, and I wanted this subject to be a non-issue. I wanted to fit in with our culture, including a lot of church culture, and not rock the boat.

Unfortunately, what I have learned convinces me that egalitarians are wrong. Even worse, the way they treat the Bible in order to make it conform to their ideals is extremely flawed, and dangerous to true Christianity. If we treated the entire Bible the same way egalitarians treat just these texts about men and women, it would make Christianity meaningless.

Now, of course, I might be the one who is wrong. However, if I am wrong, it is not because I have failed to be truly open to the alternatives. If I am wrong, it’s not because I have a prejudice against women. if I had any prejudice to begin with, it was in favor of feminism. If I am wrong, it is not because I have failed to diligently study what the  Bible says about gender, nor have I failed to study and understand what egalitarians say, and how they interpret the scriptures. If I am wrong, it is not for lack of wrestling in prayer and crying out to the Holy Spirit to speak to me about this subject. In fact, I have prayed numerous times, over a period of years, “Lord, change my heart and my mind! Show me how I can return to being an egalitarian!”

As I say, all of my study and prayer doesn’t automatically make me right, but  I would like to challenge those who disagree with me to put in some significant time and effort on this subject before dismissing what I say, and to have the integrity to let the texts lead you wherever they go, regardless of whether or not that’s what  you want. If you want to learn more about why I think egalitarianism is such a problem, or if you want to discover, in depth, what the Bible says about gender, please get a copy of my book, In God’s Image,” available on Amazon (kindle version also available). The link will take you there.

Although these are just two simple verses, they represent an understanding of human nature that is rapidly being lost in today’s world. These verses tell us that men and women are different in certain ways, and so as we relate to one another, we should be conscious of those differences, and live accordingly. In short, the Bible teaches that God created human beings in two genders, male and female, and both of the genders are vitally important for human flourishing, and also for showing the world what God is like. Consider Genesis 1:26-27

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

(ESV, Genesis 1:26-27)

You see that God intended human beings to display “his image;” that is, show the world what he is like. It sounds at first like it is only talking about “man,” but verse 27 makes it clear that in order for the image of God to be displayed in the world, both male and female are important and necessary. This comes in the very first chapter of the Bible, and we learn several important things:

  • Human beings are created to display what God is like
  • In order to show the world what God is like, both male and female are necessary
  • Therefore male and female are not the same, and the differences between them are important
  • Since God does not have a body, our gender, to display his image, must be at least partially spiritual.
  • Male and female are therefore equally important, equally valuable.

One of the great weaknesses of egalitarianism is that it confuses “equal” with “the same.” But, if the Bible is true, our masculinity and femininity make us different, and those differences are good and right and important and valuable. We aren’t just androgynous souls poured into either male or female bodies – we are male and female right down to our essence. We are male and female, even spiritually. The way that we relate to each other is supposed to be a reflection of image of God.

I realize that to write this in 2020, I sound like a horrible bigot. This is one of the areas where Western culture has been running away from God at a screamingly-fast pace. Even ten years ago, very few people would have found what I just said to be offensive. Twenty years ago, people would have told me I was crazy if I thought that in the year 2020, people would call me a bigot for saying that the male and female genders were intentionally created by God, and that the differences between the two is profound.

Am I just a bigot? Are Christians crazy to say that men and women are deeply different? Thankfully, whatever the culture says, facts are facts. Today, we know more about the physical facts of being male and female than ever before, and the more we learn, the more it is confirmed that humanity is gendered to the core, and the differences are profound. You can choose to believe the earth is flat, but that does not make it so. You can choose to believe that genders are fluid and there is really no such thing as male and female, but that does not make it so.

Dr. Leonard Sax, a researcher and clinical child-psychiatrist, presented some of the recent research in his 2005 Book, Why Gender Matters. Boys and girls, women and men, are profoundly different at a fundamental, biological level, and the biggest differences are found, not in sex organs, or even hormones, but in our brains. The very tissue of our brains is different, depending upon our sex. Sax writes:

Scientists analyzed thirty samples of human brain tissue collected from different areas of the brain and different individuals. The scientists were not told the sex of the individuals from whom the specimens were taken. But just by analyzing the expression of two different genes in the brain tissue, they were able to correctly identify the sex of every one of the thirty specimens, female versus male. Female brain tissue and male brain tissue are intrinsically different.

Sax cites research that demonstrates that girls and women see color distinctions that boys and men are incapable of perceiving. This is not because of socialization – it is the result of different nerve and brain pathways that are hard-wired by the time babies are born. Every step in every neural pathway from the retina to the brain is different between males and females. That means that men and women literally, physically, see the world differently.

Females have more sensitive hearing. This is simply fact. Also, the mechanisms for sensory perception, particularly pain, are different between females and males. To put it another way, men and women experience pain differently, at a cellular level.

Not only is our brain tissue different, but the brain is organized differently. Men seem to have a distinct division in brain function between the left side of the brain and the right. The left side of the brain, in men, is the center for language. This is not the case for women, who seem to distribute functions equally between each side of the brain.

Dr. Sax, who is both a clinical child-psychiatrist and a scholar, writes:

Girls and boys play differently. They learn differently. They fight differently. They see the world differently. They hear differently. When I started graduate school in 1980, most psychologists were insisting that those differences came about because parents raised girls and boys in different ways. Today we know that the truth is the other way around: parents raise girls and boys differently because girls and boys are so different from birth. Girls and boys behave differently because their brains are wired differently.

Later, he adds:

Human nature is gendered to the core. Work with your child’s nature, work with your child’s innate gender-based propensities, rather than trying to reshape them according to the dictates of late-twentieth-century political correctness.

What is true of boys and girls is, obviously, also true of women and men, perhaps even more so. Our verses today start with that understanding: Women and men are gendered to the core. Therefore, the Bible teaches us how to work with our innate gender-based propensities. In our text today, the instructions to wives are different from the instructions to husbands. God understands our gendered natures – he created them for a purpose! Therefore it should be obvious that men and women need to focus on different things in order love each other well, in order to do all in the name of Jesus.

We have a lot to chew on so far, but we have only just laid the foundation. Don’t worry about the s-word (submit) for now. Instead, for this next week, take time to thoughtfully appreciate the gift of your gender, and also the unique things about the opposite gender. When we do this with an awareness of the Holy Spirit, we can appreciate without either lusting, or wonder without getting frustrated with things we don’t understand.

We are both indispensable to God’s plan to show his glory. Not only that, but each gender needs the other in order to fulfill that purpose. Men cannot display the image of God without women. Women cannot do it without men.

Women: know, and enjoy that God created you to bless the world as a woman. Men: know and enjoy that God created you to bless the world as a man. Both women and men: know that you cannot bless the world the way God intended without your opposite gender.

By the way, when I say that, I don’t mean that everyone has to get married, or they won’t be fulfilling God’s purpose. Jesus himself never married, nor did the apostle Paul, and maybe not Barnabas either. Jesus also taught that some people are called to be single (Matthew 19), and Paul passed on that teaching in 1 Corinthians 7.

When it comes to displaying the image of God through male and female, even single people are usually connected to families, and singles also have friends of the opposite sex. The point is, the way men and women interact with each other in all sorts of different contexts shows the glory of God, if we let Him.

COLOSSIANS #30: WORD.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Our lives are to be centered around, and built upon, the Word of God. Let it sink deeply into your bones through music and songs. Let it sink into your mind through hearing and reading and talking with each other about it. Let it be the focal point of your “life together” with your family, and with your Christian community. Let it permeate your life with wisdom by doing what it says. This is no empty or idle word: this Word is Life to us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Colossians Part 30

COLOSSIANS #30. COLOSSIANS 3:16

The word of Christ – let it dwell in all of you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing yourselves with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, with grace, singing in the hearts of you to God.

Colossians 3:16, my “literalish” translation

I’m giving you my own more or less literal translation again. There are two things that are here in the Greek that most English translations don’t capture very well. Since I am not a professional translator, I did check myself with some of my most trusted language resources, and as best as I can understand, I do have it correct. As I have said before, professional Bible translators are trying to make the Bible readable in English, and you can see that my translation is somewhat incorrect in English, and not as readable as most translations. But there is an important nuance that I want to capture here.

Most translations make it seem that wisdom is attached to teaching and admonishing each other. In other words, they make it sound like we should teach and admonish each other with wisdom. Obviously, that’s not wrong as a general principle. However, there is a judgment call here in translation, and I think in this case, the more accurate way to put it is the Word of Christ should dwell in us with all wisdom. So, wisdom (in this verse) is about how God’s word dwells in us, more than it is about how we teach each other.

Some of you know that I’m not a fan of the old KJV (King James Version). However, the NKJV (New King James Version) actually gets that part of it quite right, and almost “literal” to the Greek:

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Col 3:16, NKJV

Another way of saying it would be, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and wisely.”

Wisdom is not just knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge, and to apply it in a right and thoughtful way. Jesus had some very specific instructions concerning wisdom and his word:

7 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

(ESV, Luke 6:47-49, bold and italic formatting added for emphasis)

Jesus makes it quite clear: To have His Word wisely means we do what he tells us to do. It means we must thoughtfully apply His Word to our lives in practical ways.

It’s not complicated. There are two parts: if the word is to dwell in us richly, we have to know it. In order to know it, we must read it and study it regularly and frequently. Secondly, if we are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us with wisdom, we must apply the Word to our lives in diligent, thoughtful ways. We can’t just know what it says, we must also live it, through the help of the Holy Spirit.

It is when Christians fail to apply the Word of God that they give Jesus a bad name. We’ve all met people who know the Bible well, but who are angry, bitter, unforgiving and so on. The fact that they know what the word says but don’t live it often turns people off, and makes them disillusioned with Christianity.

I want to make sure we get the importance of everything here. The text is talking about “the Word of Christ.” What is that, exactly? Remember, when Paul wrote, there was no “New Testament,” because it was actually being written at that very time. By saying Word of Christ, and not just “Word of God,” I think Paul is saying: “all of the Old Testament, plus the teachings of Jesus.” The Old Testament was already complete, and we have all sorts of evidence that the first followers of Jesus believed it to be God’s Word. Paul is saying, “the teachings of and about Jesus Christ are also part of God’s Word.” I doubt Paul knew that some of his own writings were going to be included in a “New Testament.” Even so, it is clear that fairly early on, Paul and the other Apostles had a set of core teachings given to them by Jesus. The New Testament is simply the written record of the teachings of Jesus handed down to us through the Apostles. The apostles wrote about the importance of the Word of God, and speaking prophetically, their words also refer to the teachings of Jesus which they passed on to us:

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

(ESV, Hebrews 4:12)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(ESV, 2 Timothy 3:14-17)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(ESV, Romans 15:4)

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

(ESV, 2 Peter 1:20-21)

Colossians tells us to let this Word of Christ dwell in us richly with wisdom. What that means is that the Bible should shape our lives. It should be one of the primary forces that influences who we are and how we live. Our verses today also give us some practical ways to let the Word dwell in us richly with wisdom: “teaching and admonishing yourselves with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, with grace, singing in the hearts of you to God.”

I am still using my own translation. It says (literally) teaching and admonishing yourselves. Paul is writing to them as a group of people, and I do think he means that we should be teaching, admonishing and encouraging one another in the Word. Obviously, that is what I am doing right now by writing this. But I also think he means that we should each individually be involved in personally learning and growing in the Word of Christ. We should be teaching ourselves, and getting the Word into ourselves through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

In the Psalms, sometimes the psalm-writer speaks to his own soul:

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The LORD preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

(ESV Psalm 116:5-7)

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation 6 and my God.

(ESV, Psalm 42:5-6)

It is a good thing to “speak the Word” to yourself. In fact, I often read the Psalms out loud, so that I get the Word not only “in my head,” but also in my ears.

So, we have a responsibility to others, to encourage them to let the Word dwell in them richly with wisdom. We also have a responsibility to our own selves to do the same. It is no accident that the Holy Spirit tells us through these verses to use psalms, hymns, and songs in connection with helping the Word to dwell in us richly with wisdom. When we sing, we are “preaching” to each other, and also to our own souls. Sometimes music helps the Word to sink deeply into our hearts in a unique way.

By the way, it is possible to “sing the psalms.” People have done a great deal of work to create versions of each psalm that can be sung to various hymn tunes. If you are interested in singing the psalms, please check out: http://psalms.seedbed.com/  I have no connection with this site and I get nothing from them for my endorsement. I just think it is a terrific, free resource for helping the word to dwell in us richly.

In addition to singing the Word, we must also read it, or listen to an audio version of it. But it goes far deeper than simply reading a chapter a day or something like that. Our lives are to be focused on and built around God’s Word. It should be something we talk about in our families. It should come up as a normal part of conversation with our fellow Christians. It should be with us at home, and when we travel. Moses spoke the Word of God to the people, and then added this:

18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,

(ESV, Deuteronomy 11:18-20)

We are to lay up the word of God in our hearts and souls. We aren’t supposed to literally bind them on our hands, but God’s word is supposed to let them affect our actions ( that is the meaning of “bind them on your hands”) and our thoughts (the meaning of “between your eyes”). The Word is supposed to be present in our homes, when we are resting, and present when we are walking and traveling. It accompanies us to sleep, and greets us when we rise. As we go about our normal lives, God’s Word should be in the midst of us. We should be thinking about it, learning it, listening to it, and talking to others about it.

Later Moses emphasized again how profoundly important God’s Word is:

5 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life.

(ESV, Deuteronomy 32:45-47)

It is no empty or idle word – it is our very life. I am going to quote to you from one of my own books:

Imagine there was a food that would make you lose weight, and help you maintain your ideal body weight. Suppose that same food cured cancer, and prevented any new cancer. It would help you sleep well at night, and give you energy during the day. It would help your body regulate your hormones properly, and be a big factor in preventing heart disease. Eating this food would be the best single thing you could do to maintain or gain health. If you ate this food regularly, long term, you would lead a healthy, vigorous life well into your nineties.

Now, there are two catches. The first is that you have to eat this food regularly, and long term, for the health benefits to really kick in. Second, the food has a funny taste. It takes a little getting used to. But there are all sorts of people and books that are available to help you appreciate the strange flavor, and learn to actually enjoy the way it tastes. Millions of people testify that after eating it regularly for a long period, they actually love it.

You struggle with your health in all of the areas helped by this food. But when a friend asks if you eat this miracle-food regularly, you say, “Yeah, I know I probably should, and I do occasionally, but I just can’t get over the flavor.”

To quote Forrest Gump: “My Momma always says, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.’”

Reading the Bible is the single-best thing you can do for your spiritual life and health. Sometimes, at first, it isn’t fun or easy. But if you do it regularly, and for the long term, it will profoundly shape and change your life for the better. It will build up and secure, not your physical health, but the eternal health of your very soul. The benefits of reading the Bible far outweigh those of a super-food that will only keep you healthy for ninety years or so.

Far too many people say, “I know I should, and I do occasionally, but I just don’t have the time.” Or, “…but I just can’t get into it,” or, “…but it’s kind of boring to me.”

Once more, I remind you of Forrest Gump’s mother. This is foolishness. If you want to be a Christian, you must immerse yourself in the Bible. It is life to you.

If you are struggling in your life as a Christian, is it possible that at least part of the problem is that you spend very little time reading, learning and soaking in the words of the Bible? If you don’t have much peace, or joy or love in your life, could it be that part of the issue is that you are starving yourself spiritually, by not reading the Bible regularly?

Now, I want to make sure you understand, I am not saying that reading the Bible will automatically cure every mental and emotional obstacle you struggle with. Sometimes the Christian life is just difficult. But even then, the Bible encourages us by reminding us that following Jesus does indeed involve suffering and loss, and giving us hope to persevere. And often times, we make it unnecessarily and especially difficult for ourselves, because we do not spend much time or energy dwelling on God’s very Word to us. (Tom Hilpert, Who Cares About the Bible, pg 183-184)

Let me make sure we have the basics down. The Bible is not a magic eight ball. We should not just flip it open, and start reading at some random place. The Bible is made up of 66 individual books within the whole Bible. The best thing is to read it book by book. If you have not regularly read the Bible, I encourage you to start with one of the books of the New Testament. Pick either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. On Monday, read Matthew chapter 1. On Tuesday, read chapter 2, and on Wednesday the next chapter, and so on. Each day before you read, ask the Lord to speak to you. You may be aware of him speaking through the Bible, or you may not. The influence and message of the Bible gets more powerful the more time you spend with it, so don’t stress if at first you don’t get a lot out of it. Stick with it. It is your life. When you finish with Matthew, start reading Acts, and then Romans, and then the next book all the way through to the end. Over time, you will begin to develop a more spiritual mind, and you will become more sensitive to God. But it happens with time and regular, frequent reading. This is not a quick fix for anything. The bible should be a lifelong spiritual diet. I don’t remember every meal I’ve eaten in the last month, but I know that each one has played a part in nourishing my body. I know I enjoyed the curry I had last week more than any other food I’ve had in a while. That doesn’t mean I stop eating anything but curry. It doesn’t mean that only the curry helped my body. The spiritual food of God’s word is like that. It is all nourishing. We may remember some parts more than others, but it s all good for us.

My dear friends, the Word of Christ is your life. Have you ever wondered what life is all about? This is it. Center your lives around God’s word. Let it sink deeply into your bones through music and songs. Let it sink into your mind through hearing and reading and talking with each other about it. Let it be the center of your “life together” with your family, and with your Christian community. Let it permeate your life with wisdom by doing what it says.

Revelation #49. THE END.

sea of clouds sunrise wallpaper
Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

Remember the first readers of this book? They wondered if Jesus had forgotten his promise to return. They wondered if God had forgotten about them. They wondered how God could possibly be involved in the crazy, brutal, senseless, evil world they lived in. Sometimes we want to know God’s plan. Revelation shows us that we may not understand God’s plan, even if he reveals it to us. But what we can understand is that God is in control, and one day he will finally defeat all evil, make all things right, and bring his people to be with him in the New Heavens and New Earth where there is no more sorrow, death or suffering. He has promised, and he will do it.

I strongly encourage you to listen, even if you normally read, because we have a special treat at the end of the audio.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Revelation Part 49

Revelation #49. Revelation 22:18-21

 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Let’s consider this warning. Let me start by being very clear about what this does NOT mean. It does not mean that we cannot ever talk about the bible, or the book of Revelation. It does not mean that it is wrong to write books (or sermons!) about the Bible, or Revelation. I say this because sometimes, Christians in the Western World have come to think religion is something intensely personal, something that is really all about you. Nothing could be further from the perspective of the Bible itself. Every part of the New Testament assumes that believers are living in fellowship with each other, and that they are led by people who are teaching them the Word of God.

To put it another way, teaching people about the Bible is not the same as “adding to, or taking away from the Bible.” The Bible itself is very, very clear that some people have been called by God to teach others the truth of God from the bible.

Now, certainly not everyone is called to this ministry. In fact, James warns that the gift of teaching is somewhat rare, which is why it should be respected. He says:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (Jas 3:1, ESV2011)

However, it is still very clear that some people do have that calling, and gifting. Consider these verses:

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. (NLT Romans 12:6-8)

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (NLT Ephesians 4:11-12)

God gives people gifts to use so that his people can encourage one another, and follow Jesus better. One of those gifts is that of teaching Bible truth to other Christians. In fact, teachers are part of a special group that is supposed to help other Christians to live for Jesus.

Also, consider these verses about church leaders:

1 This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.” 2 So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. (NLT, 1 Timothy 3:1-2)

7 A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.
8 Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9 He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong. (NLT, Titus 1:7-9)

Christians are supposed to respect those who teach God’s word, and to support them financially, because they are doing part of God’s work:

Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:13-14, ESV)

6 Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. (NLT, Galatians 6:6)

17 Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. (NLT 1 Timothy 5:17)

God would hardly want his people to pay those who teach His Word unless he really wanted them to teach. Just one more verse:

7 Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. (NLT Hebrews 13:7)

So, we should not think that this verse here in Revelation means that when someone teaches about a Bible passage, that person is somehow “adding to” or “taking away” from the Bible. That cannot be what this verse means, or it would contradict all those other verses I just gave you, and many more that I didn’t share here.

But it does mean something important. This statement is first and foremost about the book of Revelation, but it is not wrong to also apply it to the Bible as a whole. No teaching is at the same level as the Bible. No teacher is at the same level as the Bible. No other book should be considered as on the same level as the Bible. The Bible stands alone as the Word of God. It alone has the authority to tell us about God, humanity, salvation, and how then we should live.

Good teachers are important, and the good ones will encourage you to read the Bible for yourself. Even so, every person including Bible teachers, is flawed. I am bound to make mistakes. If I say one thing, and the Bible clearly says something very different, then I am the one who is wrong. How will you know if I’ve made a mistake about the Bible? Only if you read it yourself.

Mohammed (founder of Islam) both subtracted from, and added to, the Bible. So did Joseph Smith & Brigham Young (the founders of the Mormons). The Roman  Catholic Pope claims to have authority to add to what the Bible says. This gives Christians a clear basis for understanding where we stand in relationship to  these people – they are bringing down plagues upon themselves. We should not listen to them.

But there is something else. Many individual human beings are guilty of adding to, or taking away from the Bible for themselves. If you have decided that you will keep the parts you like, and ignore the parts you don’t, then you are doing the same thing as Mohammed and the Pope, even if you don’t lead a world religion.

There are some other implications, about the book of Revelation itself. Over the years, many people have added their “end-times-system,” to the book of Revelation. I have spoken about this before. They take this book, and make it fit into their ideas concerning what will happen at the end of the world. They speak confidently of the rapture, and the one-world-government, and one-world-currency as if those things are actually found in Revelation. This warning is for them, also. Those things are not in this book.

So once, more, we find that among the last things Jesus tells his people is to read and know His Word.

He closes with this:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (ESV Revelation 22:18-21)

Remember the first readers of this book? They wondered if Jesus had forgotten his promise to return. They wondered if God had forgotten about them. They wondered how God could possibly be involved in the crazy, brutal, senseless, evil world they lived in. Jesus revealed this vision to them.

Sometimes, we want to know what God’s plan is. Well, here’s God’s plan to return to this world and make everything right. How do you like it? It’s not very easy to understand all of it, is it? Since it is God’s plan, that ought not to surprise us. We shouldn’t expect to understand it all, since we are not God. But here, Jesus is saying, “Yes, you have heard the plan. I will return. I will make everything right. You are not forgotten. I will come back, and save my people, and bring them into a beautiful new creation where there will be no more sorrow, where the past suffering is not worth mentioning compared to the present glory. If you want to be a part of it, all you have to do is trust me, surrender your life to me, and your name will be in the book of life. I have said it, and I will do it.”

I hope and pray that you have a better understanding of the Book of Revelation. I hope and pray that especially, you have a sense of peace and joy about Jesus coming back, and that it becomes something that you long for, and pray for.

We have spent almost one year worth of sermons, and two years real time, in this book. I hope it was helpful. Because, we could have done the entire book of Revelation in just two minutes, like this: (credit goes to my dear friend, pastor Peter Churness, of Gig Harbor, WA, for making my work meaningless. This is at point 24:48 in the audio):

The Apostle John sees a vision of Jesus, Jesus gives him messages to give to seven churches, then he sees the throne room of God, and there are four mutant creatures having a worship jam, and they all see this scroll, and then they are whining, “who can open the scroll?”  John then hears the lion of Judah but sees the Lamb of God, he can do it!  But first they have to break these seven seals that are sealing the scroll.  And four seals are these four horsemen dudes representing bad stuff, and the fifth is the martyrs, sixth is Day of the Lord, part one, then there’s intermission and we get to see a multi-ethnic party in heaven, then seventh seal broken, but before scroll is opened seven warning trumpets come, and fire from altar shoots up and casts to earth bringing more Day of the Lord judgment stuff.  Then these seven trumpets start going off bringing more bad stuff like hail and poison water and blood and locusts and county music, then there’s another intermission as the scroll finally gets opened, and then John eats it, and then he has two more visions, one of a bunch of dead Christians hiding under an altar, then of two Jehovah witnesses guys getting killed by this Beast thing, but then come back as zombies.  Then the last Trumpet sounds, and God’s kingdom comes and shakes the nations like a shake n bake chicken.  Then comes a bunch of signs, one of this cosmic battle, and this pregnant lady floating in space comes down and has a baby, and this space dragon comes over and attacks it, but the baby grows up and defeats the dragon. Then there are two more beasts and everybody has to get the number 666 tattooed on them if you want to eat, or use the Apple store, then the Lamb comes again, fights the beasts and wins.  Then comes these seven bowls of wrath with things like sores and blood and fire and more blood and darkness.  Then the dragon and beast hook up together and fight one last great battle of Armageddon.  Then there’s this Day of the Lord scene… again.  But this time nations defeated for good.  Then there’s this woman riding the dragon and she’s really bad, and she fights God’s kingdom and loses.  Then comes this sixth bowl of wrath and this final final battle (in addition to the “first final” battle of Armageddon).  Then Jesus comes and he has this sword sticking out of his mouth and he wins, locks up Satan, and then Jesus and us Christians rule for 1000 years.  Then Satan makes a jail break, though Jesus really let him out, but not sure why, possibly for good behavior, seems unlikely.  Anyway he deceives everybody again.  Then there is a final final final battle, in addition to the other two “final battles” that previously happened.  Then there’s a wedding, and earth gets rebuilt, and heaven gets remade, and Jerusalem gets a makeover and comes down out of heaven like a spaceship, and all of us live there happily ever after.  And that’s the book of Revelation.