COLOSSIANS #19: BAD NEWS, AND GOOD NEWS

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The gospel is made up of two parts: Bad news, and good news. The bad news is that there is something fundamentally wrong in every human heart. If you don’t believe this, just read or watch the news. The stuff that makes the world a scary and bad place is also inside of you and me. If we don’t believe this, we don’t believe the gospel.

The good news is that Jesus Christ has made a way to take care of that deep and universal human problem. His actions, his death and resurrection, are the only way to bring evil to justice, and, at the same time, save those who want to be saved. If we don’t believe this, we don’t believe the gospel.

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Colossians #19. Colossians 2:13-15

 Colossians 2:13-15 provides a clearly laid out message. There are two pieces to it: 1. Our situation. 2. What God did about it. You could picture it like this:

US GOD
Dead Made us Alive with Christ
In trespasses (sins) Having forgiven our trespasses
In the uncircumcision of our flesh Canceled the written code with its requirements
Nailed our sins and the written code to the cross
Disarmed spiritual forces of evil
Put the evil spiritual forces to shame
Triumphed over evil through Jesus

This is the gospel in a nutshell. We need to trust the truth of both sides of the equation. We believe that we are dead apart from Christ, that we are sinners who have no way to make good with God. If you looked up the record of good and bad in our hearts (not just in our outward behavior) we would stand officially condemned. If everyone could see into our hearts, no one would call us truly good. If you still think that somehow you can please God yourself, then you don’t believe the gospel. If you think “I’m no worse than most people, so I’m probably OK,” you don’t believe the gospel. The power that makes some people serial killers and rapists lives inside of each human heart. We might control it better than criminals, but it is in there.

After WWII, the Allies held trials in order to bring to justice the Nazi’s who had done such horrific things to Jews and others. At one such trial they brought in a Jewish man named Yehiel Dinur to testify. He saw the Nazi Adolf Eichman sitting in the defendant’s chair, and broke down into uncontrollable sobs. Everyone thought that seeing the Nazi had brought back the terrible memories and losses suffered by Dinur. But Dinur explained. He said when saw Eichman sitting there, looking so ordinary, he realized that the same horrific evil that lived inside of Eichman lived also inside himself. He realized that all humans, given the right circumstances, were capable of such atrocity. In believing this, Dinur was right in line with both the Jewish and Christian faiths. The Old Testament teaches us that human evil is universal:

5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, ESV)

 9 Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;
I am clean from my sin”? (Proverbs 20:9, ESV)

9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)

The New Testament affirms it as well. Romans 3:10-18, quoting several Psalms, says this:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18, ESV)

Also from the same chapter of Romans:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23, ESV)

John puts it plainly several times in his first letter:

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8, ESV)

10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:10, ESV)

So, if we believe that we are basically OK, we don’t believe the gospel. In this day and age, a lot of people like to focus on the aspects of the gospel that lead us to help others. That’s good, and we should look for ways to serve other people. But if we think that is all it’s about – just being kind, and helping out where we can – then we don’t believe the Bible and we don’t understand the gospel. The evil of sin lives inside of every human heart, and we are powerless to remove it for ourselves, though we often dress it up, and hide it well. If you don’t believe me, just go find any normal news site, and you will see how pervasive and universal and damaging and disgusting is human sinfulness.

In some ways, sin is like a virus. Take for example Coronavirus-19. Some people get it, and have very few symptoms. Others have it, and die from it. Even if you have few or no symptoms, you are a carrier of the disease, and you might pass it on to someone else, and that person will die from it. Though it may not affect you as much as someone else, it is the same disease. Sin is like that, but it is worse, because it might lie dormant within you for years, and then, if you relax your vigilance, suddenly rise up within you and lead you to ruin your life and those of others around you.

I’ve lived a pretty good life, outwardly. But I know that inside me are lust, and rage, and self-centeredness, and pride. I can hide them, but I can’t eliminate them by myself, and I know I am capable of doing some awful things, and capable of hurting those I love. If I gave myself permission to give in to my impulses, it wouldn’t be long before others could see more of the dirty muck of sin that lives inside of my flesh.

If you don’t believe that sin is real, and that it is a terrible problem for you personally, and for the world generally, than the good news about Jesus will not be particularly good news. Jesus came to save us. If we don’t believe we need to be saved, we might think it’s a nice gesture, but it really doesn’t mean that much to us. So we must understand and accept this first part of the gospel. We must recognize that we need to be saved from the sin that lives within us, and we must want to be saved from it. In addition, we need to recognize that we cannot save ourselves. Many people, both believers and unbelievers alike, have the mistaken impression that Christianity is all about behaving well so God loves us. That is absolutely false. True Christians know that they are sinful, and utterly lost without Jesus. True Christians know that they aren’t better than anyone else. They know that even if they are no worse than anyone else, that is not good enough. The sin and selfishness that live inside of us separate us from God and true goodness.

There is a second half to the gospel. Just as we don’t believe the true gospel unless we accept that sin is a huge problem that we cannot overcome, so we must also accept and trust the second part: Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has paid the price for our sins, and through that, has obtained eternal life for us. Jesus, and what he did for us, are the only way we can be made right with God and receive eternal life.

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (ESV, John 14:6)

10 All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.
11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. (NTL, 1 John 5:10-12)

Some people say, “Why can’t God just sort of wave his hand, and say, “forget about it?” If no one is really capable of measuring up, why not just change the standard? Let’s start with this thought: Imagine someone raped you (guys can be raped, as well as women). Or maybe someone did that to a person that you love. Why can’t you just wave your hand, and say “forget about it?” Not so easy, is it? Instinctively, deeply, something inside of us cries out for consequences to evil, for justice.

Let me give you an analogy. Suppose your house is somewhat close to the street. One night a woman gets drunk, and rams her truck right into the middle of your living room. Your outside and inside walls are in shambles. You have three broken windows. Some of your furniture is trashed, and a piece of artwork is ruined. One of your pets was killed. And the drunk woman was driving without insurance. Now, you aren’t going to leave your house this way. It has to be fixed in order for you to live there. So somebody has to pay for the damage. You can wave your hand and say “forget about it,” but that doesn’t change the fact that the damage has to be repaired, and it costs a fair amount. That cost has to be covered by someone. If you were to truly forgive the woman for her drunken accident, it would mean you pay. Forgiveness says: “I will pay the cost for something that is your fault.”

This is exactly what God did for us in Jesus. The damage caused by the sin that lives in every one of us is death and hell. That is what it costs. By the way, that is one reason the world so often looks like it is going to hell – because it is. But Jesus stepped in and said “I will pay.” He suffered death, and he suffered the torment of hell, so that we don’t have to. He gave us life when our future was death. He paid the price that we were obligated to pay. In doing so, he triumphed over the forces of evil which encourage us in our sins and evil behavior.

If Jesus did all this for us, then why doesn’t the world look better than it is? There is a “catch,” if you want to call it that. We can’t hold on to our sins; we can’t keep living for ourselves, and also, at the same time, receive what God offers. One cancels out the other. So we need to turn away from living for our desires and pleasures, turn away from the sin that lives inside of us, and also the individual sins that we commit, and turn toward God. That is called “repenting.” By the way, this is a lifelong process, and no one does it perfectly. We fall down as go forward, but at least we are now moving forward toward God, not away from him.

Next, we receive what Jesus did for us – that is we trust that it is true, and we act like it is true. People generally act according to what they truly believe: that is why faith is so important. There are many ways our faith can be strengthened: First, by thanking God for what he has done for us. Next, reading the Bible, praying, listening to Bible teachers, “doing life” with other believers, listening to music that uplifts us, maybe even using ancient prayers and ceremonies written by other believers. I guarantee one thing: if we don’t take steps to maintain and strengthen our faith, it will most likely get weaker, because the world around us is mostly influenced by those who don’t believe.

One reason the world remains a crazy place is because many, many people reject the forgiveness and grace offered by Jesus. They would prefer to be the Lord of their own lives. When we do that, human beings generally make a mess of things, and so, things are a mess. If you want to go back to “the car-crash in the living room” analogy, imagine a very kind, very rich person stepped in and said: “I’ll pay to have this fixed. But I want you trust me. I made my first million as an architect, and if you let me pay for this, I’ll rebuild it better than it has ever been.” But many people are too proud to admit their need for help, or they don’t want someone else involved in designing their life, so instead, they live with a gaping hole in their living room, with broken glass and ruined furniture, because at least that way they remain in control. Though, of course, they aren’t really in control – that’s an illusion. There is an unimaginable number of things that we cannot control. As Jesus put it:

27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:27, ESV)

The whole paragraph of what Jesus says there is useful to our discussion:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33, ESV)

The key is at the very end: seek first the kingdom of God. In other words, don’t first seek what you want, or what you believe you need; instead, start with seeking God and his kingdom. When our priorities are straight in that way, everything else false into place.

We start that seeking journey with the process I have just described: repenting of our sins, and trusting in the incredible love and grace of God. We can know that God is loving and gracious toward us because of what Jesus did for us. If we learn to treasure Jesus above all else, no matter what life throws at us, we can be secure.

REVELATION #47. PARENTHESES: SEX, MARRIAGE AND CIVILIZATION

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Even here at the end of Revelation, Jesus mentions the problem of sexual immorality. The Bible’s teaching on sex is much greater and deeper than simply “don’t do it.” In fact, the Bible tells married couples that they should “do it.” Let’s investigate the importance of Biblical sexuality together. Many people have failed in this area, but Jesus offers forgiveness and holiness to everyone who trusts in him, no matter what they have done, or not done.

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Revelation #47. Revelation 22:12-15

The second declaration of Jesus is this:

12 “Look, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to repay each person according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (CSB, Revelation 22:12-13)

I have spoken several times in this series about the preciousness of God, reward in heaven, and having Jesus as your desire, and reward. So, I won’t reiterate all of that here. Just understand that Jesus felt that it was so important, it was one of the last seven things he said to his people on earth. We should focus on the joy and fulfillment we have in Jesus, even here and now in this life.

Now we move on to the third Declaration of Jesus:

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (ESV) Revelation 22:14-15

Here we have a reiteration of what a blessing it is to have your name in the book of life. There is once more, a reminder – from Jesus himself, that not everyone is willing to have Jesus make them holy. You may have noticed that Revelation frequently mentions lists of sins. In almost every list, among other things, you have sexual immorality. I want to spend the bulk of the time talking about this, because it is very important. Some people say that Christians talk about sexual immorality too much. I say, we don’t do it often enough. Here’s why: In our culture today, no one  saying that murder is not a sin. No one is going around saying, “Hey, it’s no big deal if you lie. In fact, if you lie in a loving way, it’s a beautiful thing.” But our culture is saying that sexual immorality is no big deal, when, according to the Bible, it is such a big deal that it keeps getting mentioned, even here in the very last section of Revelation.

By the way, of course I know that this is a sensitive subject. I know that some people have already failed in the area of sexual immorality. But please stay with me as we go through this topic together. Where there is Jesus, there is always hope. He suffered and died so that you could be not only forgiven, but made holy. If you are tempted to feel ashamed, let that lead you to repentance. If you have already repented, trust what Jesus says, that he has forgiven you, and cleansed you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9)

Sometimes, we Christians make the mistake of simply saying, “Just don’t have sex until you married.” That’s true and right, as far as it goes. But it might be helpful to talk about the big picture, about why sex within marriage is good and right, and why sex outside of it is wrong and destructive. It isn’t just about sex – it is about our whole view of what it means to be a human person, created by God.

Our culture does not believe that God made the world, and everything in it. Sex, therefore (according to them), is not from God, it is just a desire to be satisfied. In our present culture, most people think that the highest good is for each individual to satisfy their own desires in whatever way they please. Therefore, telling someone whom to have sex with (or whom not) is ridiculous and offensive.

But Christians believe that God created the world, and human beings, and that he has a purpose for everything he created. Sex is part of God’s creation, therefore it has meaning, and purpose, given to it by God himself. The Bible is clear about the meaning and purpose of sex. It is a shadowy reflection of the joy that we will have when we have true intimacy with God. It is inextricably bound up in love, no matter how much people don’t want to accept that. And one of the main purposes for sex is the formation of marriages, and then families, and then societies.

When sex is channeled into love and marriage, men and women are bound together with one of the strongest forces in creation. They work together to create families, and homes. When they do that, they ally themselves with other families and homes, and become communities. Communities come together to form societies. Societies based on strong marriages in this way have always, throughout history, created stable places where human beings thrived and bloomed. Of course, no society has ever been perfect, but strong sexual morality has been the basis for the greatest civilizations of the world, benefiting millions upon millions of people. You might say that the sex-drive, channeled in a Biblical way, builds great cultures, and allows the largest number of people to be safe and happy.

If this is the first time you are hearing this, please understand that this is not a new idea. Sir Edward Gibbon’s famous work The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire outlines this quite clearly, as do other respected scholars throughout history. Gibbon, by the way, was not a Christian, and so was not biased toward this idea in any way. Instead, he simply found these facts to be true. In modern times, however, this is something no one wants to hear, so the truth has been ignored, mocked, and even suppressed.

Now, on the other hand, where sex has not been confined to marriage, societies typically come apart.  We are witnessing that very thing today in Western culture.

In ancient cultures, sex was something that strong people inflicted on the weak. The result was a lot of pain and misery. The Judeo-Christian value of sex-only-in-marriage protected women from being used and cast aside. It created a stable environment for children to be raised in an emotional healthy atmosphere. It was the Christian sexual morality that changed the world, and made it a better place for all people, whether Christian or not.

Again, today, in Western culture, we think that the highest good is for each individual person to be satisfied however they see fit. For most people, that means using sex in such a way as to be personally satisfied. That separates sex from love. It creates situations where children are raised without strong men in the picture. That alone makes those children far more likely to be poor, uneducated, and involved in criminal activities. It makes them more vulnerable to abuse. It is not an exaggeration to say that the increases our culture is experiencing in violence, drug-use, suicide, the erosion of work ethic, the general rudeness – all these are, in one way or another, largely due to sexual immorality.

As Rod Dreher, author of the Benedict Option puts it:

Unbridled erotic passion creates chaos and disintegration. Eros that submits to Christ bears fruit in the gift of children, stable families and communities.

You might say, “But I’ll use birth control until I’m married. That will fix the problem.”

However, there is more to the story. We are spiritual beings, and everything we do has a spiritual aspect to it. Paul writes that if we engage in sexual immorality as Christians, we are actually somehow joining Jesus to the act.

15 Don’t you know that your bodies are a part of Christ’s body? So should I take a part of Christ’s body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not! 16 Don’t you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, The two will become one flesh. 17 But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
18 Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. 19 Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB 1 Corinthians 6:15-20)

Sex is a deep, powerful, even spiritual connection. When you have sex, the Holy Spirit is there, within you. If it is with your spouse, this makes it a powerful force for the good of your marriage. If it is with someone else, you are literally dragging the Holy Spirit along with your sin.

When you recognize that God himself is there in the middle of sexual activity, it becomes a powerful force for blessing in marriage. When you recognize that you are dragging God himself along in the middle of your sexual sin…well, you see why the Bible mentions it so often.

Also, when you have sex with multiple partners, you bring a lot of baggage to the relationships you have. Eventually, when you get married, you are bringing all of that baggage to your spouse, and to your marriage relationship. That tends to make things difficult and complicated. On the other hand, when you follow God’s plan, you can truly say to your spouse: “You are truly my only one.” That is a tremendous gift of love, a gift of self-denial and self-sacrifice for another. It is a gift that echoes with the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Which is another point: Marriage intended to give a picture of the relationship that God has with his people. When we have sex with multiple people, we are totally ruining that picture.

There is another thing that strikes me as ridiculously unrealistic. In today’s culture, we have the idea that before marriage, sex is more or less just about personal fulfillment. People are expected to fulfill themselves sexually when and how they please. Then, suddenly, after marriage, people who have maintained that sex with multiple partners is normal and good, suddenly have to live with only one sexual partner for the rest of their lives. This makes monogamy meaningless for all, and very difficult for many people.

Sexual immorality strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a human being, created and saved by God. God will not allow his New Creation to be destroyed by the kind of self-centered use of sex so common in our culture. It is one more warning for people to abandon the idols of self-fulfillment, and pursue the joy that God has for us when we submit to His plan.

One other thing that often does not get said. This means that sex between married people is good thing, thing that can bring powerful blessing to a marriage and family. If you are married, don’t use sex as a tool for manipulation, and don’t regularly abstain unless the two of you agree to, for a definite reason. I’m not saying that on my own: I am summarizing 1 Corinthians 7:1-7. Here is one piece of it:

2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (ESV, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5)

Go read the Corinthians passage, preferably with your spouse. Most spouses have differing levels of desire, and that is something to work through lovingly. The spouse who is more eager for sex must be willing to work on other parts of the relationship. However, God’s plan is that was sex was supposed to be a normal, regular part of marriage.  Sex should not be used for leverage in your relationship. That isn’t what it is for.

There is nothing in the Bible to say that God’s plan for sex has changed. In fact, the idea that spouses should not have sex with each other is just as wrong as the idea that they should have sex with other partners.

By the way, some people try to get rid of that passage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, because at the very end, Paul, referring to only one part of what he said, writes, “I say this as a concession, not a command.” The Greek there is very clear that the “concession” is only his idea that the couple abstain for mutually agreed upon periods for prayer. All of the Greek verbs in the rest of that passage are imperative commands, given in the present tense, meaning “this is what you should be doing.” They are clearly commands, not concessions. The only thing that is not a command is the idea that you abstain for a while for prayer.  Flatly refusing your spouse is no part of God’s plan for marriage. Listen to a few of the ancient Christian writers:

You have given up your wife, to whom you are bound. This is a big step you have taken. You are not abusing her, you say, but claiming that you can be chaste and live more purely. But look how your poor wife is being destroyed as a result, because she is unable to endure your purity! You should sleep with your wife, not for your sake but for hers. (Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians)

This applies equally to husbands and wives, of course.

If a woman stays away from her husband, she will make him angry, and vice versa. That is why Paul insists that [abstinence] must be by mutual consent. (Theodoret of Cyr. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians)

Theodoret also makes it clear that these things apply equally to husbands and wives. There are not two sets of rules, one for men, another for women. We both submit to the same command of God. One more:

Great evils spring from this sort of continence [that is, married couples not having sex], if it is overdone. Adulteries, fornications and the destruction of families have often resulted from this. If a married man commits fornication, how much more will he do so if his wife denies herself to him? Unless there is mutual consent, continence in this case is really a form of theft. (John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians)

The scripture is clear. The wisdom of the ages concurs. Sex in marriage is a blessing that is not to be denied each other without mutual consent. Now, that may cause tension and friction in some marriages. In fact, it is normal to have to work through relational issues in order to have good sex. This means that God’s plan uses the power of sex as a motivator to work out your issues. It forces couples to deal with their issues, and this ultimately leads to greater intimacy and happiness in marriage.

I am not naïve. I’m sure that a great many people reading this this have already sinned in the area of sexuality.  If you have not repented, and started down a new road: well, let this be a warning to you. The passage is quite clear – if you choose to hold on to sexual immorality rather than Jesus, you will not enter the New Creation.

On the other hand, if you have repented, if you are trying to walk in the Spirit, on the path of Jesus, then listen:

3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift ​— ​ 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. (CSB, Ephesians 2:3-10)

God can redeem the past. Jesus came for this very reason: to forgive us, to cleanse us, and give us a new nature. If you have repented for your past sexual sin, then receive God’s grace and forgiveness, and move on. Trust that he has made you holy, and rely on Him to help you work through the issues you may have caused by your past behavior.

GRACE: FREE TO US, COSTLY TO HIM

crucifixion

God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever.

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Matthew #97  Matthew 27:11-50

[This is a slightly longer message than usual. Be prepared, if you are listening, to take 35 minutes or so. If you are reading, please be ready for just a few more words than normal.]

At this point, I want to consider the extreme suffering of Jesus – all of which was for us. Some of you will read this long after I post it. In “real time,” as I write, it is only a few weeks until Christmas. This may seem like a weird topic to cover during this season of joy and goodwill. But consider this: I have already mentioned that in Jesus’ life on earth, every single moment that included physical or emotional pain, was suffering on our behalf. Even a stubbed toe was suffering that Jesus did not have to experience, but that he endured for our sake. So, in a way, his atonement for our sin began with his birth.

Of course the atonement could not be complete without his death. He came into the world for exactly this purpose: to die, to receive in himself what we deserved. Let’s consider what that meant for him, physically, spiritually and emotionally. As always, many other sermons might be preached on these same verses. I am choosing to focus on just the one thing, although I do think it is the most important thing in this text. By the way, even if you don’t normally “share” things online, I think this would be a good one to share.

Jesus was killed by torture. There is really no other way to say it. It began with three beatings during the course of about eighteen hours. First, Jesus was taken to the high priest’s house – and you can bet they weren’t gentle in the taking. Most likely they pushed him and perhaps even struck him on their way there. After the mock trial, he was surrounded by an angry mob, and beaten with fists (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-64). At least some of the blows were to his head. This kind of beating alone would probably put most of us in the hospital, at least overnight. Picture an LA street gang finding the member of a rival gang alone, and deciding to teach him a lesson. You can imagine several people holding the poor man up, while others took turns punching him. It is possible that Jesus sustained a concussion from this, and certainly he received multiple bruises; possibly even broken ribs or teeth. Remember, there was no pain medication in those days.

Next, they took him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who did not live in Jerusalem, but was there to try and keep the peace during the Passover festival. A standard Roman response to suspected trouble makers was to have them “scourged.” Pilate had this done to Jesus. In common language, this means he was whipped – that is, beaten with an instrument designed to inflict pain on human beings. Instead of one “tail” to the whip, it had several strips leather. At the end of each strip was fastened rocks or bits of glass or even pieces of lead. So each strike of the whip caused multiple gashes, laying open the flesh, and bruising the muscles as well. Most probably Jesus was given the 39 lashes, which had been known to kill people occasionally. Remember, Jesus had been beaten up by a mob, just hours earlier. In addition to his other injuries, Jesus certainly lost a lot of blood from the whipping, and perhaps sustained more broken ribs. Between these two beatings, the overall physical shock to his body was enormous. Coming so close together, there is no doubt that many men would have died from the combination of these two traumas.

After that, Jesus was turned over to the Roman cohort for crucifixion. Before they did their job, however, the entire cohort had fun mocking him; a cohort was made up of about 500 brutal, hardened soldiers. They jammed a crown made of thorns on his head. They took a staff most likely made out of a cane stem (something like bamboo, but smaller in diameter) and gave it to him, and then took it away and used it to beat him over the head. This cane rod would probably not have created any serious injury, unless it was used to strike Jesus on the face, and thus open up cuts on his cheeks. Even so, they were likely hitting the crown of thorns, driving thorns into his head, and the direct blows themselves would have been very painful.

But all that stuff – physical punishment which could easily have killed many men – was only preliminary to the suffering which killed the Son of God. After these severe beatings, they strapped a big beam to his back and made him carry it a mile or two. The beam was likely equivalent to a 4”x4”, perhaps six or eight feet long. Considering what he had been through, it was no wonder he needed help. When they got to the place, they put metal spikes through his hands, into the crosspiece. Though tradition pictures these as going through the palms of the hands, it is more likely that they put the spikes through his wrists between the two bones of the forearm, so that the flesh would not tear away and drop him from the cross. Either way, that alone would have been painful beyond belief. His legs were slightly bent, and then they pressed his feet, one on top of the other, and drove a spike through them into the upright beam of the cross. Tradition pictures a kind of triangular piece of wood for his feet to rest on, but this is doubtful. Then they raised it up.

At this point, Jesus had two choices. He could let the weight of his body hang from his wrists, tearing away at the flesh, and rubbing on bare bone. Or he could straighten his legs, and push up against the spike driven through his feet, inflaming the wounds there, and grinding against broken metatarsals and tendons. Each movement probably drove splinters into his raw, lacerated back. If he had an itch, he couldn’t even scratch it. If he had to go to the bathroom, it would be right there in front of everyone.

Over time, victims of crucifixion spend more and more time hanging from their arms, since pushing up on the spike through the feet was intensely painful, and required effort. As Jesus’ body weight pulled on his arms, and kept them above shoulder-level, his lungs gradually began to fill with fluid, and breathing became difficult. The only relief for this came from thrusting against the spike in the feet. By pushing himself up this way, he could straighten his body and breathe more freely. But the pain was such that no one could endure this for long. It also required strength and energy. He was undoubtedly weakened by his beatings to start with, and as his body grew weaker through this torture, he got less and less air. In this position, fluid also collected around his heart, putting pressure on it. As a result the organs slowly got less blood and oxygen.

Incidentally, this was why, late in the day, they broke the legs of the other men who were crucified alongside Jesus. By breaking their legs, it became impossible for them to straighten up and get air, and so they died more rapidly.

Jesus was taken to the Roman governor early in the morning. He was put up on the cross before noon, possibly as early as eight or nine in the morning. He endured this suffering until it killed him, about eight hours later. It killed him, either by filling his lungs with fluid and suffocating him, or by the pressure of the fluids surrounding his heart, which could have caused it to stop.

This was actually a relatively short time for death by crucifixion. When we read the gospels, we find that Pilate was surprised when he heard that Jesus had died by late afternoon. But then, most people being crucified were not beaten three times within hours before they were put on the cross.

But the suffering wasn’t only physical. He also went through emotional and spiritual agony.

First, he endured the anticipation of suffering. He knew, long before what happened, what was waiting for him. When I have some special event approaching in the future, anticipation is almost half the joy of it. I enjoy the feeling of looking forward to a good thing coming. But the reverse is also true. If you know about something you dread that is coming up, part of the negative experience is anticipating what you don’t want to go through. It is clear that Jesus knew about his approaching suffering, and that he dreaded it. That is why he said hours before he experienced any physical torment:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39)

He also experienced humiliation. He was the King of the Universe, the very One whom everyone around him professed to worship. And yet, in order to accomplish his purpose, he had to allow them to mock him, to spit on him, to humiliate him as if they were right and he was wrong. There was a physical aspect to the humiliation as well. It is a terrible experience to be a man, and be struck, and yet not be able to strike back. Also, they almost certainly stripped him completely naked when the put him on the cross, again a humiliating experience.

In addition, Jesus experienced abandonment. All his followers ran away and left him to his fate. His faithful lieutenant, Peter, denied him publicly. But even worse, he was abandoned by God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says this:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God the Father abandoned Jesus the Son in a way that he has never abandoned any human being, ever, nor ever will. The bible teaches us that if we choose to reject God’s grace through Jesus, then ultimately God allows us to do that. In other words, God doesn’t reject us, but he gives us the freedom to reject Him. If we choose that, we will experience what it is like to be without God – but it will be our doing not His. He does not willingly forsake us. But in the case of Jesus on the cross, it was the opposite. Jesus never turned away from the Father. He followed him obediently, and perfectly to the end. But when the Father made Jesus into sin – for our sake – He turned away and abandoned him. He had to, if Jesus indeed took our sin on himself. This is why Jesus cries out:

46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46, HCSB)

Now, I want us to consider something. When I think about the horrible suffering that Jesus experienced, it’s hard to contemplate. But there are many other things in this life that are hard to contemplate as well. For instance, it is hard to contemplate the horror of rape. It is hard to truly grasp the awfulness of murder. We don’t like to think this way, but even the sins which we think aren’t so bad are so far removed from God’s holiness that they are as fully horrific to God as the suffering Jesus experienced. The extremity of Jesus’ suffering shows us the extremity of our sin. All this is the depth of God’s love for us. This is picture of the true horror of our sin. This crucifixion is the gulf that would exist between us and God if Jesus had not taken our place.

The cross is also justice for sin. This is what makes forgiveness possible. We can’t just wave our hands and say “it doesn’t matter.” When we hurt others, it matters. When we offend God, it makes a difference. There are a lot of people who like to say, “It’s OK to do whatever you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” But what if you hurt God? He has told us, in the bible what matters to Him, what drives a wedge between us and him. Why is it OK to hurt him, but not anyone else? A sin that is only against God is just as much a sin as something which hurts another person.

Jesus, by his suffering, has endured what sin deserves – all sin. I can forgive the person who did something horrible to me because there was punishment and suffering for the evil that was done. It was made right, and justice was done for that sin, to Jesus, on the cross.

23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:23-26, HCSB)

No other faith takes sin or forgiveness seriously enough. You can’t just wave your hand and say, “it doesn’t matter,” as Buddhism does. One reason Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to separation from the world and to meditation is that you have to concentrate very hard and remain very isolated to believe that the suffering caused by sin in this world doesn’t matter.

You can’t say, “You’ll make it up next time you’re re-incarnated,” as Hinduism does. Since nobody is perfect, all you would do is rack up more “karma-debt” with each new life. Even Islam and Judaism say, essentially: “Well, you do your best, and God forgives the rest.” But why? On what basis can God allow un-holiness into his holy presence? If he could do such a thing, it means that God isn’t really holy, and therefore that moral standards are not actually real; in short, that anything goes. We like “anything goes” if it means we can do whatever we want, but it becomes intolerable when someone else can do whatever they like to us with no consequences. If there is no moral standard, we live a world of senseless brutality, and all kindness and love mean nothing. Even what think of as moral good is meaningless. If nothing is evil, nothing is good either.

That is why it was necessary for sin to be accounted for. Justice must be done. Sin must have consequences. If not, there is no such thing as goodness or grace. If not, we cannot survive in the presence of a holy God. It is only through this extreme suffering of Jesus that sin could be dealt with. The Lord has made a way to take away the power of sin, and still allow goodness and grace and love to flourish.

There is one more thing about the cross. Scripture tells us that there is a mysterious spiritual truth: when we trust that Jesus did this for us, it was not only he who died there. We too, died with Jesus to sin.

Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (Rom 6:3-11, HCSB)

This cross that killed Jesus also killed our sin. This is now also our death. This is why we can be free from guilt – our sins were punished with this severe and just punishment. About a year ago, I was speaking with a murderer. I mean it, this man was just released from prison after doing time for murder. He was marveling at the fact that he could be forgiven. It was this horrible crucifixion death that punished his terrible sin of murder, and he is putting his faith in Jesus that this is so. He doesn’t need to feel guilt anymore, because his murder was paid for – not by his ten years of prison time, but by the death of Jesus. I think when we feel guilt, it is usually because we have not considered how fully our sin was punished on the cross. The extreme suffering of the Perfect Man was enough for you, for me, for the world.

As we consider all this, I want us to be very aware of one thing. God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever. A single woman doesn’t accept a diamond ring from the man she loves and then go on in her life without him, except for maybe occasionally remembering him fondly. No, the diamond is not just a gift – it is an invitation to a new life. When she accepts that gift, she also accepts that invitation, and enters a new relationship, a relationship that is strengthened and reaffirmed daily as they make their lives together. The acceptance of that gift is life-changing.

What Jesus did for us on the cross – the grace that God offer us – is far more precious than any diamond ring that ever has, or ever will, exist. It should not be received any less casually than a marriage proposal. To receive this gift is also to accept the invitation to a new life. It is to give your life to Jesus, to commit to Him for forever, to live in a daily relationship with him. It is life-transforming.

If you’ve never received that gift, never really accepted that invitation to a new life, now is the time. Pause and do it now. There are no special words, just your willingness and acceptance and surrender to God’s love.

Let us thank him for that gift today!

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PETER AND JUDAS?

peter-denies

Peter is my hero. He seems to mess up more than any of the other disciples, but he is my hero because of what he does after he makes mistakes. Every time, he repents, and goes back to Jesus in humility and faith. It’s not about how often you fall down: it’s about what you do after you fall. And Peter always does the right thing after he falls. He’s a terrific example for us.

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Matthew #96. Matthew 26:69-27:10

There is a lot going on here. Matthew tells the tale as it happened, so we are jumping back and forth between various events. So far, I have not spoken about the physical suffering that Jesus experienced, beginning with his arrest. I will continue to put that off until another message, and this time, instead, we will concentrate on Peter and Judas.

In the book of Acts, Luke describes the fate of Judas in these terms:

18Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood). (Acts 1:18-19, HCSB)

This is not necessarily incompatible with Matthew’s account. I will warn you that there are some gruesome thoughts in this paragraph. Here’s one way to reconcile the two. It may be that the body of Judas hung, unattended, until it began to decompose. Then, whenever it fell down “bursting open” would be a normal sort of thing to happen. At that point, the field in which it happened would have been, for Jews, ceremonially contaminated by contact with the dead body. For the Jewish religious rulers, the ideal solution to both the money (which they couldn’t use for themselves or the treasury) and the contamination, would be to buy the field as a burial ground for foreigners, since it was no good to Jews anyway. The one slight variation to this theory could be that when Judas went to hang himself, he did so at the edge of some sort of cliff, and instead of succeeding, the rope broke, and he fell to his death. After that, the same logic takes over for the rest of it.

In any case, I don’t think we have to imagine the entire sequence of Judas as happening on the very same night when Jesus was tried. I believe Matthew included it here to wrap up the history of what happened to him, but I tend to think it did not all occur on the same day Jesus was crucified. After all, the religious leaders were busy with that, and then with the Sabbath, and it is doubtful they would have taken time to debate about what to do with the money on that very day. I would say it is likely that Judas changed his mind and committed suicide within a week or two of Jesus’ crucifixion.

A lot of people use this passage to “rehabilitate” Judas, so to speak. They point out that Judas felt regret because, he says, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” Using that, many people speculate the Judas betrayed Jesus because he thought that the betrayal would provoke Jesus into some spectacular action that would then prove he was the Messiah. In other words, Judas really believed in Jesus, and just thought he needed a little “push” to start the war with the Romans. The argument boils down to this: Judas had really good intentions, and just went about it the wrong way.

However, both John and Luke tell us that it was Satan who motivated Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:27; Luke 22:3). I think that pretty conclusively ends the argument that he was just a misunderstood man with good motives.

I don’t think it is an accident that Matthew puts the story of Peter’s betrayal next to the story of Judas’ end. We have very important similarities, and also very important contrasts between the two disciples. It’s true that Judas’ betrayal is premeditated. Jesus gave him at least two opportunities that very night to repent. However, you could say the same thing about Peter. Jesus warned Peter about what was coming. When Peter denied Jesus the first time, you might say it was the heat of the moment. But there was time before his next denial, and time again before the third. After each one, Peter might have re-considered. He too, was given every chance to do it differently, and yet he too, in his own way, betrayed Jesus.

So what was different? Why is it that Judas committed suicide, while Peter went on to become the leader of Jesus’ church?

I think it boils down to the essence of what the Bible teaches: repentance and faith. [By the way, before we get into this, let me say that I am not talking in general about people who commit suicide. I am talking about Judas, specifically.]

Let’s start with repentance. Matthew says that Judas felt remorse for what he did.  The word is metamelaytheis. It is only used six times in the New Testament: the HCSB translates it three times as “changed his mind,” here as “remorse” and twice as “regretted.” The ESV translates it here as “changed his mind.” Though it is related, it is not the same word as “repentance.”

At some level, Judas felt bad about what he had done. So bad, in fact, that he committed suicide. But in all his bad feeling, he never turned back to Jesus. He regretted, but he did not repent.

Regret eats away at you. It doesn’t help you change, or lead you to anything positive. You just sit there, wishing you had done differently. Regret means you wish it hadn’t happened, but it doesn’t mean you are sorry, or that you are willing to change. That is why “regret” is one of the favorite words used by politicians in meaningless “apologies.” Over and over, you hear some Pol, caught in a scandal, say something like, “I regret what happened,” or “I regret that people were hurt.” This isn’t the same thing as saying, “I’m sorry,” or, “It is my fault; please forgive me,” or, “I am going to change.”

Since both Luke and John tell us that Judas was deeply influenced by Satan, I think we can assume that this regret was deepened, worsened, and played on demonically, over and over.

There may be something else, too. The regret of Judas was focused on the fact that he had done something wrong. Maybe you could put it this way (please pay attention to the italic emphasis):

Peter sat there, thinking, “I’ve betrayed Jesus!”

Judas sat there, thinking, “I’ve betrayed Jesus!”

What I’m getting at is this: It could be that Judas was more upset about the fact that he screwed up than the fact that it was a sin against Jesus. For Judas, it was about himself. He had regret, but not repentance. He did not humble himself before God. Though he regretted the incident (deeply) there is no evidence that he repented.

For Peter, it was that he had hurt the man he had come to know and love. The point wasn’t that he screwed up (Peter might have been used to that by now!) but that he had hurt Jesus. He wasn’t just sorry that he had made a mistake – he was sorry he had hurt his Lord. Regret is self-focused, but repentance is God-focused.

By the way, some of you have mentioned that I seem to enjoy picking on Peter. Actually, Peter is my hero. He seems to mess up more than any of the other disciples, but he is my hero because of what he does after he makes mistakes. Every time, he repents, and goes back to Jesus in humility and faith. It’s not about how often you fall down: it’s about what you do after you fall. And Peter always does the right thing after he falls. He’s a terrific example for us.

It takes humility to repent. When you repent, you are fully owning the fact that you are wrong, and in addition, humbling yourself by asking for forgiveness. You are putting yourself in a position of need in relationship to the person you hurt. You are saying that you need their forgiveness, and that you have no right to be forgiven, and no power to make them do so. You are, in a sense, offering them power over you. Peter was very humble. He knows what he is talking about when he writes, years later:

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. (1Pet 5:5-7, HCSB)

The second difference between Judas and Peter was faith. Despite the fact that Jesus predicted it all, neither Judas nor Peter understood what was happening when Jesus was put to death. But somehow, though he couldn’t see how, Peter believed that Jesus could overcome. He believed that Jesus would have mercy on him, and forgive his failure.

Judas, clearly, did not believe he could be forgiven. I believe he could have been. I believe that Jesus, with his question in the garden “Why have you come?” was inviting Judas to repent, even after his deed was done. Even after, Judas had the same opportunity that Peter had. But the truth was, he simply did not believe in Jesus, which is why he betrayed him in the first place.

So how do we apply these things to our lives today? I’ll offer a few thoughts, but let the Holy Spirit take you wherever he wants with this. Here are my thoughts:

The Bible says we have all sinned:

9What then? Are we any better? Not at all! For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, 10as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 11There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. (Rom 3:9-12, HCSB)

We aren’t any better than Judas or Peter. We all stand on the same ground. The question is, will we be more like Judas, or Peter? Obviously, we want to be like Peter, but how?

  1. Seek repentance, and beware of regret. Regret doesn’t help you in any way. It leaves you with nothing. Repentance motivates, and brings you back to the Lord. If you find you are regretful but not repentant, I encourage you to ask God to help you repent instead. Repentance means you change, you turn away from your sin and toward God, even if that means sacrificing other things to do so.
  2. Seek humility. You cannot repent without humility. In repentance you admit your faults, you admit that your actions (or inactions) are wrong, and you are truly sorry for them. In addition, you give God (and sometimes other people) power over your life by admitting that you stand helplessly in need of his (and possibly their) forgiveness. To do that, you need humility.
  3. Believe that Jesus’ death was truly enough to make up for your sins. Trust what the Bible says:

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ.  There is no difference between people.  Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.  They receive God’s approval freely by God’s grace through the price Christ Jesus paid to set us free from sin. (Romans 3:22-24, God’s Word Version)

Sometimes when I see people struggling to accept that God really forgives them, I ask this: “Are you saying that what Jesus suffered wasn’t enough for your sin? Are you saying he should have suffered more? Are you saying that what he did was somehow incomplete? If not, then stop messing around, and believe you are forgiven. Take him at his word, and receive his forgiveness.”

Peter humbly took Jesus as his word. More than that, he trusted the character of Jesus, that somehow, he could make it all OK. And that’s exactly what Jesus was doing at the very time that Peter betrayed him: making it all OK for anyone and everyone who will trust him.

BLOOD OATH

blood-drop

Jesus is taking the meaning of the Passover covenant and saying that it is fulfilled in his own life and death. We are saved and delivered from bondage to sin by His death, not the death of a lamb. We have fellowship and a good relationship with God through Him. By our own failings, the covenant was broken, but He made up for that in His own blood. Just as the people of Israel were saved from death and delivered from slavery by the first Passover, so we are saved from eternal death and delivered from slavery to sin by Jesus Christ. Their entry point into relationship with God was the Passover; so our entry point into relationship with God is the “second Passover” – the crucifixion.

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Matthew #92. Matthew 26:20-30

26As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” 27Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.” 30After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matt 26:26-30, HCSB)

Our text for this week is Matthew’s remembrance of how Jesus celebrated the Passover with the disciples the night before he was crucified. I want to focus on the meaning of what Jesus said and did at that meal. In order to do so, I think it is important for us to understand the cultural and historical background of the Passover.

Let’s start with the history. Sometime around 1800 BC, the family of the patriarch Jacob moved from Palestine to Egypt to escape a great famine. Jacob’s family was well received by the Egyptians, because one of his sons (Joseph) had risen to become the highest official in Egypt apart from the king. Jacob’s family (there were about 70 of them when they came to Egypt) maintained a distinct ethnic and religious identity in Egypt. This was most probably because they were committed to the worship of the one true God, and so avoided the ways of the Egyptians, who worshipped a pantheon of false gods and idols. Over the years, the family of Jacob became a numerous race and they were known as Hebrews. Sometimes they were also called the Israelites, or the “children of Israel” because Jacob had been known as “Israel” during his lifetime.

During the next four hundred years, the Egyptian attitude of tolerance for the Israelites turned to fear. They began to oppress them and made them into a slave-race in order to build great monuments in Egypt. The Israelites cried out to God, and God called Moses, whom he used to deliver the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt.

The deliverance, however, was something of a process. Pharaoh (all Egyptian kings were called Pharaoh) would not willingly release such a vast resource of cheap labor, and so he repeatedly refused the request of Moses for freedom for the Israelites. Each time Pharaoh refused, God struck the Egyptians with a plague. This happened ten times.

What is not well known about the ten plagues is that each plague struck at a specific “god” that the Egyptians worshipped. For instance, the plague of darkness made a mockery of Ra, the Egyptian “sun-god.” The fact that the God of Israel could make darkness come over Egypt at His whim, showed that Ra had no power, and was in fact, a false god. Likewise, the plague of frogs struck at the god and goddess of fertility (Hapi and Heqt respectively) who were symbolized in Egyptian worship by frogs. Each plague struck similarly at the false religion of the Egyptians, showing the powerlessness of their so-called gods.

After God thoroughly judged the false gods and false religion of the Egyptians, Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites leave. It was this stubborn refusal that brought about the tragedy and triumph that was the Passover. The Passover was, in fact, the tenth plague. This plague brought about the death of every firstborn male in Egypt. In order to protect the Israelites from the death of their own firstborn males, God gave the people special instructions through Moses.

The people were told to kill a young lamb, which was to be the substitute for the death of the first son. The lamb in question was supposed to be an animal without disease or blemish, one that ordinarily would not have been eaten. The blood of the lamb was daubed on the top, and each side, of the doorposts (interestingly, though they didn’t know it, the Israelites were tracing the sign of the cross in the air as they painted the blood). The blood of the lamb was the seal on their households that protected them from death. Death “passed over” the houses that were protected by the blood of the lamb. After slaughtering the lamb, they roasted it and ate it. Along with the lamb they had vegetables, and a flat bread that was baked without yeast. The reason the bread was without yeast was that God told them to be ready to leave in a hurry – they didn’t have time to wait for bread to rise.

That very night, God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh, in sorrow at the death of his firstborn son, called Moses in the middle of the night and told him to take the Israelites and get out. Not only that, but the Egyptians showered their wealth on the Israelites as they left, hoping to appease the wrath that had killed their firstborn sons. And so they left as free men and women.  Not only that, but they entered freedom with great riches at their disposal.

Later, God told the Israelites to remember the Passover each year with a special meal commemorating their deliverance. To this day, Jews celebrate the Passover with that in mind.

It is helpful also to understand the cultural background of animal sacrifice, because some of the words of Jesus make use of this. In the very ancient middle east, during the time of the first Passover, when two people, or two entities (like, for instance, two nations) made a solemn agreement, they usually sealed the agreement through the sacrifice of one or more animals. The idea behind it was something like this: “This agreement is so important to me, that it requires the shedding of blood. In fact, if the agreement is broken, more blood will be shed – either mine or yours.” So the killing of animals solemnized and formalized ancient agreements. We might call these sorts of agreements “covenants.”

If the two parties to the agreement were equals, the expectation was that whoever broke the agreement would deserve to shed his own blood to “pay” for the broken agreement. The death of the animals symbolized this. If the covenant was between a greater and lesser party (say, a king, and a nobleman who owed him allegiance), then the lesser party would be expected to shed his own blood if the covenant was broken – no matter which party broke it. Again, this was symbolized by the killing of the animals to formalize the covenant.

There was often another piece involved as well. In addition to the shedding of blood as a declaration of the seriousness of the agreement, usually the two parties would then eat together. Most often, what they ate was the animal (or animals) that had been killed as part of the covenant. This eating together indicated that the two parties now had fellowship with one another. There was now a positive relationship present. The meal was a celebration of that good relationship. So solemn agreements – covenants – were formalized by the killing and eating of animals.

With this understanding, now we can see this: the Passover was the formalizing of God’s covenant with his people. God was saying to his people: “I will stand by this covenant that I am making with you. If necessary, blood will be shed in order to satisfy this agreement.” So the people killed the lambs, and celebrated the agreement with the Passover meal. In addition, as I have already mentioned, the death of the lamb protected the people of Israel, and delivered them from slavery in Egypt. I also want to point out, that this covenant-agreement between God and his people came before the laws which were given at Mount Sinai (the 10 Commandments etc.). God made a similar covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15), and the Passover was, in a sense, a reiteration of that covenant; only this time it was made with all of God’s people as a whole. My point is, this covenant was established before the people had done anything to please God or follow his laws. It is a covenant of God’s promise to save and deliver his people; a covenant of Grace. It was the entry point into their relationship with God.

Each time the people of Israel celebrated the Passover, it was, in a sense, a renewal of the covenant that God had made with them. The shedding of the blood of the lamb reminded them of the seriousness of the agreement. The eating was a celebration of their fellowship with God, and with each other.

Now we have a better basis on which to evaluate the words of Jesus. There are two moments within the Passover meal when bread is formally broken and shared by all those present. The first is towards the beginning. Part of the broken bread is taken and hidden away, and is afterwards called the “afikomen,” or “bread of life.” Later, that piece is taken out and shared among all of those present. It is probably this piece – the bread of life – about which Jesus said: “Take and eat it; this is my body.” What Jesus is doing is putting himself into the middle of God’s covenant with his people. He is saying: “This meal, this covenant-agreement, is about me.”

His next action makes it even more clear. He takes the cup, and says: “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus is clearly saying that the original Passover-covenant between God and his people is established not by the sacrifice of lambs, but by his own sacrificial death. He is taking the meaning of the Passover covenant and saying that it is fulfilled in his own life and death. We are saved and delivered from bondage to sin by His death, not the death of a lamb. We have fellowship and a good relationship with God through Him. By our own failings, the covenant was broken, but He made up for that in His own blood. Just as the people of Israel were saved from death and delivered from slavery by the first Passover, so we are saved from eternal death, and delivered from slavery to sin, by Jesus Christ. Their entry point into relationship with God was the Passover; so our entry point into relationship with God is the “second Passover” – the crucifixion.

Just as the first Israelites celebrated their fellowship with God by eating the Passover lamb, so, in Communion (also called “The Lord’s Supper” or “the Eucharist”), we celebrate our fellowship with God that is made possible by the death of Jesus.

Just as the Passover was a renewal and reminder for the Israelites of God’s covenant with his people, so our own celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a renewal, reminder and acceptance of God’s covenant with us through the blood of Jesus Christ.

This is the meaning of Communion. This is why Paul says:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1Cor 11:26, ESV2011)

Now, one more thing. Some people get caught up in arguments about what, exactly, happens, when we take the bread and wine. The Roman Catholic view is that the bread and the wine essentially turn into the physical presence of Jesus (i.e. the bread and wine turn into the body and blood). After all, Jesus said “This is my body…this is my blood.” In our Matthew text for today (and also the parallel text in Mark), he does not add “do this in remembrance of me.” The Reformed view (most Baptists, Evangelical Free etc.) is that the bread and the wine simply remind us of the presence of Jesus: all it is, is a remembrance. The Lutheran view (which I subscribe to) is that the bread and the wine are somehow used as a means to bring us the presence of Jesus.

A helpful way of understanding this is to picture a radio. When you turn it on, what happens? In the Catholic view, when you turn it on, the radio becomes music. In the reformed view, when you turn it on, the radio reminds us of music. In the Lutheran view, when you turn it on, the radio becomes the vehicle which brings us music.  Thus, in the Lord’s Supper, we don’t believe that the bread and the wine actually change into flesh and blood. Neither do we believe that it is only a symbol – a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. Instead, we believe that through eating the bread and drinking the wine in faith, Jesus comes to us. The bread and the wine are vehicles of God’s gracious presence. He uses them to come to us in a special, tangible way. We don’t pretend to know how, but he has promised his presence with the bread and the wine. All we need to do is to receive it in faith. And so, though we don’t explain it perfectly, we believe that when you get the bread and the wine, you are getting Jesus too. You are renewing the covenant which he made with you, a covenant established by his death and resurrection. You are celebrating the fellowship you have with God, and with one another.

An additional thought. Jesus taught his disciples to do this. After his resurrection, they did that, and taught the next generation to do the same. That generation carried it on to the next, and so on. What this means is that in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we could trace it back, hand to hand, person to person, generation to generation, to the very supper that Jesus had with Peter, James, John, Matthew and the others. There is a real-life historical connection to Jesus every time we take Communion. It connects us to all of Christianity throughout the ages, and to the physical life on earth of Jesus Christ himself.

What a gift! This is one reason the early Christian church made Communion (“the breaking of the bread”) central to their life and worship (Acts 2:42). Perhaps we should do the same.

WOE, IS ME!

woe

The Pharisees and religious leaders. They are bad and wrong, and by pointing out exactly how so, Jesus is warning us about other leaders like them. He is also warning us about becoming like them ourselves. In other words, Jesus, as God-the-Son, is expressing his very real, and thoroughly righteous anger against sin. Let’s consider how the Holy Spirit might want to speak to us through these ‘woes.’
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Matthew #82.  Matthew 23:13-36

We are in the middle of a long rant that Jesus makes against the religious leaders of his time. Frankly, when I just read through quickly, I don’t get a lot out of this portion of Matthew. The Pharisees are bad, Jesus is mad, end of story, right?

Whenever I encounter a piece of scripture that leaves me cold, like this, I often find it useful to pause and ask some questions. Why exactly does Jesus rant and rave like this? Is he just angry? Is he just venting? What is the purpose of this section of scripture – why did the Holy Spirit preserve these words of Jesus for Christians throughout the ages?

As I do that with this particular passage, I think the Spirit can show us several things.

First, there is the straightforward issue of the behavior of the Pharisees and religious leaders. They are bad and wrong, and by pointing out exactly how so, Jesus is warning us about other leaders like them. He is also warning us about becoming like them ourselves. In other words, Jesus, as God-the-Son, is expressing his very real, and thoroughly righteous anger against sin. Let’s consider how these woes might affect us as well.

Jesus points out seven or eight areas where the religious leaders are in deep trouble. He begins each one with the phrase: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

First, let’s talk about the word “woe.” It can mean: “trouble, sorrow and distress.” There is often an element of sorrow associated with this word, both in Greek and in English; it can be a lament, like “Alas!” So, in Matthew 24:19, Jesus says:

“Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.”

But I think here, in this passage, Jesus is adding a sense of warning and judgment with it. The “woe” upon the pregnant women and nursing mothers was not because of anything they did. But here, Jesus clearly connects each woe to the behavior of the religious leaders. I still think he speaks with sorrow; I don’t think he is happy about it. Even so, clearly, he is enumerating their sins, and pronouncing that they will experience trouble and sorrow as judgement for them.

The first woe and sorrow (in verse 13) is because they refuse to enter the kingdom of heaven, and stop others from entering in. This is Jesus’ core issue with the Pharisees. They warned people against the only way of salvation, which is Jesus himself. Instead, they believed that they did not need him. Specifically, they taught (and obviously believed) that they could earn their salvation by behaving well. In a more general sense, this woe applies to anyone who leads others to believe that they can be saved by any other path than repentance from sin, and trust in Jesus. So Paul reiterates this woe in the first chapter of Galatians:

6I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! 9As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! (Gal 1:6-9, HCSB)

Make no mistake. Christianity has always insisted that Jesus Christ is the only way to forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and eternal life:

5“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7“If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:5-7, HCSB)

 11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)

11This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” (Acts 4:11-12, HCSB)

The Pharisees and Scribes rejected Jesus, and therefore rejected salvation, and led others to do so as well. Today, Christians must remember that our core belief is grace, forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. We don’t have forgiveness or life because “God is love, and just wouldn’t send anyone to hell.” That lie is just as bad as anything the Pharisees taught: Woe to anyone who tells it! We are not saved because we “have lived a good life, and tried to do the right thing.” We are not forgiven because we “aren’t worse than anyone else.” Sin is much more serious than that. We aren’t forgiven because we make sacrifices, or take mission trips, or because we “speak the words of truth.” We are saved through Jesus Christ alone, and we receive that salvation by grace when we repent and trust him. Woe to anyone else who teaches otherwise!

The second woe is found in verse 15. Some of you may not have verse 14 in your Bibles: it will skip from 13 to 15. Verse 14 is actually one of those places where there is a dispute about the original manuscript of the New Testament. The oldest and best manuscripts do not contain it. The textus receptus (which is the source for the King James version of the Bible), does contain it, as do some other later manuscripts. I think the best evidence suggests that this was not originally part of the book of Matthew. This is one example of why I am not a fan of the King James version. Even so, I’d like to point out that whether you leave verse 15 in, or take it out, it does not change very much at all; certainly it changes no Christian doctrine. This is considered a major variant, and once again we see that even major variants are actually extremely minor. We can have great confidence that the New Testament we read today is, in fact, what was written by the apostles.

In any case, I will move on to verse 15, where Jesus pronounces judgment upon the religious leaders for converting even non-Jews to the belief that they can earn their way into God’s favor, and eternal life. This is very much like the first woe, the main difference being who gets led astray: Jews, or non-Jews. For our purposes, it is a warning that if we get people to join our church, but do not teach them that forgiveness, life and salvation are found only in Jesus, given to us by grace through faith, we would be better off not bringing the new people in the first place.

The third woe is described in verses 16 through 22. Basically, Jesus is giving an example of how the teachers of the law, and Pharisees twist and undermine God’s word. Many times I have given you the example of the Sabbath, and how they added their own laws on top of the commands of God. Here, Jesus is referring to the way that they do mental gymnastics in order to benefit themselves in the matter of taking oaths. They argued that certain kinds of vows were not binding, and made fine distinctions that sounded intellectual, but were completely against all common sense.

These days, we don’t often make vows, particularly not religious vows. I made vows when I was married, and when I was ordained as a pastor. However, even in those cases, I did not swear by or on anything; I simply said: “I will, and I ask God to help me.” So the practice of swearing by (or on) something is no longer a big issue, at least not in Western culture. True, some folks might say something like: “I swear by my mother’s grave.” I don’t think anyone takes them seriously. Even so, I think we can learn something from this particular woe. The underlying issue is that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were playing games with the truth. As Jesus points out, clearly, if you swear by the altar in the temple, really, you are swearing by God. But the religious leaders came up with all sorts of obscure reasoning to avoid that obvious, common-sense conclusion.

I think that today this woe could refer to the way some people treat the Bible. Unfortunately, I have many times read Bible commentaries that tried to say that certain verses mean the exact opposite of what they clearly say. Now, you know that I’m all for thoughtful, scholarly Bible interpretation. Not all Bible verses are obvious in meaning. Even so, there are many people today, whom I can only call false teachers, who twist the words of the Bible, play games with the truth, and do mental gymnastics in order to eliminate the plain, common sense meaning of God’s Word. What they are doing is not careful interpretation, but rather, twisting the obvious truth. I think Jesus would say to them: “Woe to you!”

The fourth woe is essentially captured by Jesus’ words in verse 24:

24Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! (Matt 23:24, HCSB)

The religious leaders spent a great deal of energy on relatively trivial matters, while ignoring the more important things. Notice that Jesus says that the trivial things are, in fact, good to do; but the important things should have first priority. I want to try and finish the woes in this sermon, so I won’t go into this one in great depth, but there are many, obvious applications for it. Woe to the church that is more concerned about the color of their carpet than about the homeless population all around it. Woe to the leaders who police the kinds of clothes people wear, and ignore the lust in their own hearts. I could spend all day on this one, but I believe you will be able to think of your own examples without too much effort. I do want to point out that this particular woe contains much of what really turns people off about churches and Christians. I think it’s good to know that Jesus hates it when people focus on minor things, while neglecting the things that are most important to true faith.

The fifth woe, found in verses 25-26, is much like the one before it. The religious leaders are concerned about looking good. They are focused on outward appearances, while they ignore the filth inside of their own hearts. Probably, Jesus is referring to the Jewish tradition of ceremonially washing cups. Mark records a different instance, where Jesus spoke about this at greater length. After discussion about ceremonial washing with the religious leaders, Jesus said this to his disciples:

18And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? 19For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) 20Then He said, “What comes out of a person — that defiles him. 21For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23, HCSB)

The sixth woe, is also similar. This time, Jesus describes them as whitewashed tombs, which look good on the outside, but inside are filled with rotten flesh and bone. I’m going to get personal for a moment. I don’t want to be offensive, but I do want us to get the full impact of the words of Jesus here. Here in the Southeastern USA, we have a somewhat religious culture. Even in areas where the culture at large is not particularly Christian, some churches can have a religious culture within their community. I personally know many people who are like these whitewashed tombs. They go to church and they talk a good talk. As far as the people that they go to church with know, these are wonderful Christian folks. But during the week they have affairs, they do drugs, they get drunk, they run businesses that are dishonest, they cheat people, and they are stingy and miserly. Of course, everyone struggles with sin. I’m not talking about Christians who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, but who sometimes fail and fall. I’m talking about people who pretend; people who talk the talk, but do not let Jesus have any real influence in their lives. Jesus says to such people: “Woe to you!”

Finally, Jesus says: “Woe to you who reject God’s messengers!” (verses 29-34). That is what this seventh woe is all about: rejecting those whom God has sent, and rejecting his message through them. In the Western world, thankfully, people do not kill, crucify, or whip Christian teachers and preachers. However, I think it is important for us to remember that this still happens regularly in other places in the world. And even in the Western world, often times those who seek to be vocal about their faith in Jesus are treated with contempt and derision. As one small, and relatively insignificant example, I offer Tim Tebow, former NFL quarterback. Tebow had a year or two as a starting quarterback in the NFL. It was his habit to kneel down as a sign of humility, and praise to the Lord, whenever his team scored. That may or may not be a silly thing; but it was relatively harmless. However, Tebow received a huge amount of criticism for this, and for his outspoken faith. In fact, he received more negative media coverage than many NFL stars at the time who were accused of things like drunk driving, drug possession, assault and rape. Woe to a culture that is more concerned about a public expression of Christian faith than about crimes that deeply hurt others!

Let me say another thing about mistreating God’s messengers. I will admit that this one feels a little personal with me, but that does not make it untrue. I also want to say that I am not complaining, and for the most part I have been very blessed to not experience too much of what I’m about to share with you. Even so, it is shameful – I can think of no better word – the way that many Christians and churches treat their pastors and teachers. Of course there are some bad pastors, and bad leaders, just as there are bad bartenders, truck drivers and school teachers. Even so, many of the pastors who are mistreated by their congregations have good hearts, pure motives, and have done no wrong. Sometimes people direct hateful and hurtful words towards them for doing and saying what they believe God wants them to do and say. Sometimes people slander them. Sometimes people try to run them out of a job, for no reason other than that the pastor has threatened their sense of personal power within the congregation. Sometimes pastors are threatened after teaching something unpopular that the word of God says. Quite often, pastors are underpaid, and it is unusual to find anyone who cares, in most churches, whether or not a pastor is being appropriately compensated. Almost all the time at least some people are critical of their pastor, without doing the least thing to help him.

When I look at these seven woes spoken by Jesus, I think of it as an extreme measure he is taking in order to bring the religious leaders to repentance.

Let me try and illustrate what I mean. About a year ago, I began to have constant pain in one of my kidneys, like I was having a kidney stone. After a long and difficult time, doctors finally determined that some of my nerves have been damaged by frequent kidney stones. I sat down with a pain specialist, and he outlined a number of steps to help me deal with the pain that I still have.

First, we will try a very safe, well-tested, inexpensive medication that has very few side effects. If that works, great! If not the next step is to try a second medication. The second drug is more expensive, and has not been tested for as long as the first. It has more side effects and risk factors. If the second drug works, great! However, if not, there is another step, involving directly stimulating the nerve. This is a more invasive procedure, with greater risks. There is another step after that, and another. Each new step is more drastic, increasingly invasive, and carries greater and greater risk. The final step involves “killing” the nerve that serves my kidney.

When Jesus confronts the religious leaders during these last few days of his life, he is taking the final and most drastic step in trying to bring them to repentance, faith, and salvation. He lived among them, letting his life be a testimony, but that was not enough. He gave them his preaching and his teaching, but they did not respond. He showed them miracles, and the power of God, but they turned away. And so now, he is directly confronting them with their sin. It is their last chance, and he says that if they do not take it, judgment will come upon them. He will “kill” the problem, if it can’t be fixed any other way.

In fact, he says: “I assure you, all these things will come on this generation.” I want to point out two things about this. First, it was literally fulfilled among those who heard Jesus say these words. Jesus was crucified sometime around 30-35 AD. In 70 AD, while that generation still lived, the Romans utterly crushed the Jewish people, slaughtering huge numbers, destroying the temple, and sending the Jews that survived into an exile that lasted almost 2000 years. That generation of unbelieving Jews was indeed judged.

Second, because of how Jesus said it, these words are also for us. Whether or not we are judged as a group, when it comes to the end of our life, when our “generation” passes, we will stand before the judgment seat of God. This is true of every generation that reads Jesus’ words. Let his words sink in. They are drastic, yes. But they are spoken in order to ultimately lead is into the grace of God by driving us to Jesus as our hope, life and salvation.

 

 

FORGIVING OTHERS: IT MAY NOT BE WHAT YOU THINK

 last_supper da vinci

Forgiveness is not pretending that nothing is wrong, or that you weren’t hurt. Forgiveness is saying, “yes, I am hurt. I have been wronged. But I choose not to hold that against the person who wronged me. That person owes me nothing.” The essence of forgiveness is releasing someone else from the “debt” they owe you because of what they did.

 

 

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Matthew #64. Matthew 18:21-35

When Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Last Supper, he had an intense, bitter argument with a fellow painter. Da Vinci was so enraged that he decided to paint the face of his enemy into the face of Judas. That way the hated painter’s face would be preserved in the face of the betraying disciple. When the great artist finished Judas, everyone easily recognized the face of the painter with whom da Vinci had quarreled.

Leonardo da Vinci continued to work on the painting. But as much as he tried, he could not paint the face of Christ. Something was holding him back. He finally decided his hatred toward his fellow painter was getting in the way. So he worked through his hatred by repainting Judas’ face, replacing the image of his fellow painter with another face. Only then was he able to paint Jesus’ face and complete the masterpiece.

Let’s set our text in context this week. It began with a discussion of who was the greatest. Jesus encouraged child-like trust, and said greatness was found in that, and in childlike humility. Speaking of childlike humility and trust, Jesus mentions how much he values those who trust him in this way, and warns against making them fall away. Speaking of falling away, he talks about how much he cares for lost sheep and pursues them. Speaking of lost sheep, he describes one way to bring back lost sheep, through what we call “church discipline.” Speaking of church discipline, Peter asks, “how many times should we forgive someone who repents? So now Jesus says: “Let me tell you about forgiving each other when someone wrongs you.”

He uses a parable, describing a servant to a King, who was forgiven an enormous debt – on the order of millions of dollars. The man was not required to pay one cent. This servant then went out, and sought out a fellow servant who owed him maybe five-hundred bucks, and demanded payment. When the second servant could not pay, the first, the one who had been forgiven so much, refused to release the man from his obligation, and had him thrown in jail.

In my mind, this parable begs a question: how could the first servant have been so unmerciful? Seeing what great mercy he has just experienced, how could he be so hard-heated? There are only two possibilities that make any sense to me. The first is that he really didn’t feel obligated for the millions of dollars, and so it was no big deal to have that debt canceled. In other words, he didn’t really believe he owed the debt, so when it was forgiven him, it didn’t touch his heart at all.

The other possibility is that he didn’t really believe in the forgiveness. Somehow, he felt like he was still deep in debt, and so needed the money the other man owed him. Either way, for all practical purposes, he never really received the forgiveness the King offered him. Otherwise his miserliness is almost inconceivable. It is here that we find the key to Jesus’ troubling words in 18:35,

So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.” (Matt 18:35, HCSB)

I think what Jesus is saying is that if you don’t forgive others, that is an indication that you yourself have not really received God’s forgiveness. Anyone who holds on to a grudge, who is clenching bitterness in their heart, cannot at the same time have a heart that is open to receive God’s forgiveness. Thus, as Jesus says, if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven – you can’t be. Your own un-forgiveness blocks out the forgiveness God offers you. Forgiveness and un-forgiveness cannot reside in the same heart at the same time. Lest we soften the intent of scripture, I think it is also important to realize that our un-forgiveness is offensive to God. When we read that parable and “get into it” there is a sense of outrage at the actions of the unmerciful servant. I think God feels this same outrage when we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us.

Now we need to be very clear about the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not saying “Oh, that’s OK.” The reason there needs to be forgiveness at all is because whatever happened was not OK.  Forgiveness is not pretending that nothing is wrong, or that you weren’t hurt. Forgiveness is saying, “yes, I am hurt. I have been wronged. But I choose not to hold that against the person who wronged me. That person owes me nothing.” The essence of forgiveness is releasing someone else from the “debt” they owe you because of what they did. If you forgive someone, you no longer expect them to make up for what they did. You no longer hold their actions against them. You aren’t saying that what they did was OK, but you are saying that you will no longer require anything from them because of that wrong.

In contrast, un-forgiveness retains the right to some sort of payment. If you are refusing to forgive someone, you probably feel like that person owes you something. Haven’t we all heard the phrase “you owe me an apology!”? That is un-forgiveness in action. You may feel that the person who hurt you has to make it better. You may feel that you have a right to be angry. You may continue trying to get something out the person. The irony is, when we continue to try and get something out of someone, we remain bound to them. In other words, when we don’t forgive, we keep ourselves in bondage to the person we won’t forgive. As long as you are trying to get something from another person, you are bound to them. You can’t let them go, and at the same time, demand something from them. We can’t be free until we let go.

If anyone is in your “doghouse” you can be sure you are harboring un-forgiveness. Now you may indeed be entitled to payment of some sort. But if you want to get what you rightly deserve, then keep in mind that we all rightly deserve to go to hell. If you want to get what’s rightly yours, then be sure to remember everything you’ve got rightfully coming to you.

A lot of people have questions about the differences between forgiving on the one hand, and forgetting or trusting on the other. Jesus did not actually say “forgive and forget.” He said, “forgive.” So in his parable, I doubt the King would have loaned the servant millions of dollars again. He forgave him; that didn’t mean he was going to forget that the servant wasn’t able to handle a debt of millions. The king was not likely to trust him with that kind of money again, not because of unforgiveness, but simply out of common sense. When someone hurts you deeply, Jesus teaches that you must forgive that person and that if you don’t, it will interfere in your relationship with Him. But he does not command that you trust the one who hurt you at the same level you trusted before. You can release someone from his debt, and let him go, and still be wise in the future about how much interaction you have with him. You can do this without demanding something from the person, or holding something against him.

Now, sometimes we bury our un-forgiveness deep, out of our own awareness. A few years ago, there was someone in my life that I had not forgiven. But in my conscious world, I was not holding anything against that person. I wasn’t trying to get anything from that person. Instead, I was trying to get what that person owed me, from other people. At some level, I still felt someone owed me something. And so I was relating to other people as if they had treated me like the very first person. When the Lord showed me this, I forgave the original person who hurt me – even though I had no particular feelings of bitterness or anger against them – and my behavior towards others was radically changed for the better.

Another time, as I struggled to forgive someone else, I said to the Lord, “But he ought to pay for what he did. There needs to be a just punishment for this wrong action.” And in a flash, I saw a picture of Jesus on the cross, nails being driven into his wrists. The sin has been punished. It did not go unnoticed. It was punished on the cross, and the punishment was borne not by the one who wronged me, but by Jesus. If I declare that what satisfied God for that sin does not satisfy me, then I am saying I know better than God! In fact, I am saying that Jesus’ death was not enough! And now we get to the heart of the matter. If I say Jesus’ death was not enough punishment for the one who hurt me, then I cannot seriously believe that Jesus’ death was enough for my own sin. If I want the one who wronged me to pay for his own sin, then surely I also ought to pay for mine! But scripture says: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘it is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.’”(Romans 12:19). So let God be the judge, and release the hurt and anger to him.

Often the thing we hold against others is an admission of guilt. I don’t want to forgive until the other person admits that he was wrong and I was right. In other words, I am still demanding something of this person for his offenses – I am still holding something against him. This is not the way Jesus forgave us. Romans 5:6-11 says that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He did not wait for us to admit our sins or to repent and come to him. He sought us out with his forgiveness long before we ever admitted we were wrong. Since scripture tells us we are to forgive as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32, among other verses), we also need to be prepared to forgive someone who never ever admits they are wrong or says sorry.

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says:

“So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (New Living Translation)

The concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation are so important that you may interrupt your worship of God to get things straight with your neighbors. In fact, where there is unforgiveness, it will interrupt your worship anyway, whether or not you acknowledge that fact.

Corrie Ten Boom, a veteran of the terrible internment camps in WWII, shares this true story in her book, The Hiding Place. It was after the war, and she had begun to have a ministry traveling and speaking about her experiences, and the grace of God that she found, even in the horror. Then, this happened:

It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

Corrie Ten Boom’s point is extremely important. We can’t forgive without God’s help. Sometimes the hurt we have received is so deep and terrible that it seems we simply cannot release the person who hurt us without trying to get something back from them. But when we ask for God’s help, he can give us what we need to forgive those who hurt us and he will. He is not giving us an impossible command – he will give us his own love and forgiveness with which to love and forgive those who hurt us. All we have to do is ask.

~

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

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GRACE IN THE STRUGGLE

As Christians we know that we cannot earn our salvation. Resisting sin does not, in and of itself, make you righteous. But I think we are called to resist sin and deny ourselves because in the process of doing so (even when we fail) we truly learn and receive the grace and forgiveness and joy that God offers us in Jesus Christ. There is wonderful grace in admitting that we are sinful and broken.

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 Homosexuality & the Bible Part 4

 

Homosexuality & the Bible #4.

Matthew 9:10-13; 1 John 1:7-10; Matthew 16:24-25; 1 Corinthians 10:13

I want to take a look at the bigger picture here: Christian living and the struggle against personal sin.

I think there are two big errors in Christianity right now concerning homosexuality, and they reflect the larger issue concerning how we approach sin in the life of a Christian. The first error, widely reported by the news media, is that many Christians single out homosexual acts as the most terrible of sins, and they focus on this, while ignoring “lesser” sins like greed, lying or gossiping. Such Christians make anyone in church who struggles with homosexual temptations feel condemned and unwelcome and beyond redemption. Some Christians in this category say hurtful, even evil things, like “God hates gay people.” People who do this come across as hateful, legalistic and hypocritical. I will not defend such behavior.

There is a second error that many other Christians commit. People in this group either ignore what the bible says about homosexual behavior, or they try to justify it in ways that undermine the bible entirely. The result is that what the bible calls sin, they call “not sin,” and by doing so, they deny gay folks the opportunity to be forgiven and redeemed in their particular struggle. It’s like coming up to a child with a fever and saying, “Don’t worry, some people just feel lightheaded and strange and cold. You don’t need a doctor or medicine. Enjoy it – you are fine just as you are!”

Jesus said something that should be considered one of the scariest statements he ever made:

10 While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? ” 12 But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

These words cut to the heart of both errors. We get caught up in the fact that the Pharisees were religious and the tax collectors were not. But that isn’t the point at all. The point is that the Pharisees believed that they were well, not sick; they believed that they did not need the grace and forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ.

If you are not gay, or if you believe homosexual behavior is sinful, you still personally need the forgiveness and grace found only in Jesus Christ. Your sins separate you from God just as much as any sin committed by a gay person. Don’t be a Pharisee: understand that you are among those who are sick, and who need the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. You must admit your need to receive it.

If you are gay, you must understand exactly the same thing. Your particular struggle with temptation is no more or less than that of other Jesus followers. You need the forgiveness and grace found only in Jesus Christ, and it is totally available to you if you will only admit your need and receive it.

One of the chief dangers on both sides of the issue is to suggest that sin of a homosexual nature are somehow different than others. On the one hand are people who say they are especially bad; on the other we have people saying they are not sins at all. According to the bible, both are wrong.

I will say once more: being gay is not a sin. Having those desires and temptations is not the same thing as indulging them and acting on them either through fantasy or reality. Now, according to the bible, acting on those impulses is a sin, but it is not an unforgiveable sin, and there is grace and redemption in Jesus Christ for anyone who will receive it.

However, if someone says, “I will not call this a sin. I will not seek forgiveness for this,” he is declaring his own actions righteous, in spite of what the bible says. Such people are acting like the Pharisees, saying, “We don’t need Jesus here. We aren’t sick, we are righteous.”

This is one of the main reasons I am preaching on this subject. Think of the same scenario only with a different sin. Imagine a movement of alcoholics saying: “Stop calling drunkenness a sin. We are alcoholics by disposition and we can’t help it. We promise we don’t drink and drive, so we aren’t hurting anyone. Stop judging us. We don’t want to stop drinking and we don’t want anyone to tell us it is wrong. We struggle enough with shame as it is, and so we want our public drunkenness to be welcomed and accepted by the church.”

There are several places where drunkenness is clearly listed as a sin (among other sins). If we endorsed drunkenness, no matter what the rest of society thought about it, we would be giving alcoholics the idea that they did not need to be forgiven by God when they get drunk. Also, if there was a movement of Christians who wanted to declare drunkenness righteous according to the bible, it would be natural to expect a counter-reaction of Christians explaining why it should still be considered sinful.

All Christians must struggle against sin. To deny this is to deny a large portion of both the Old and New Testaments. The apostle John writes this:

7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

I don’t know how to be more clear about the problem than that. The one who says “homosexual behavior is not a sin,” is calling God a liar. So is the one who says, “drunkenness is not a big deal,” or the one who says “it isn’t wrong for a Christian to pursue wealth,” or “it’s OK to be dishonest if it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

However, when we accept what the bible says about our own sins, we are in a position to receive grace and forgiveness and wholeness through Jesus Christ. Sometimes it may help to hear a real life example. I don’t want to share things that have been told me in confidence, so I will give you a window into my own struggle with sin. I am not eager to do this, but perhaps it may help someone.

For many, many years, I have had a great struggle with (heterosexual) lust. I don’t believe it is wrong for me to be attracted to women. I don’t believe I have a choice when it comes to that “first look” – noticing women who are attractive to me. But the problem comes in after that. My particular sin is to look again, even after I have a conscious choice to not do so. Then I indulge my imagination and fantasize about what it would be like to be with that person. That is what the bible calls lust, and it is a sin.

For years, no, decades, I felt almost helpless to resist the temptation to lust. If I encountered temptation, I knew I was going to fail, nine times out of ten. In fact, I felt like that was simply who I was – a lustful man. I don’t know for sure, but for years I have believed that I might have a higher “sex drive” than many people. It felt almost impossible to separate Tom from lust. I was very deeply ashamed about this (and even now, I am tempted to feel ashamed as I share this), but no matter how guilty I felt, I did not regularly overcome the temptations.

I certainly did not choose to be this way. I never wanted the temptation and struggle I endured. I tried to change, but even with the help of Jesus, for decades, I could not. Change did not appear to be an option for me. Failure was an option, and I took that option all the time. But two other things were not optional. I never believed I had the right to disagree with what the bible says about lust and sexual immorality. And also, I never believed I had the option to give up on my struggle against sin.

I knew I was forgiven, of course. But at times, it felt kind of shallow. I felt like maybe God was looking at me with disapproval saying, “All right, I’ll let you off the hook one more time, but watch yourself, Buddy. You are not my star pupil. You are skating along on very thin ice; you are barely making it.”

However, at last, two things began to happen. First, I admitted that I was broken. For reasons I still do not understand completely, there was something deep inside me that wasn’t right, and led me back to this sin over and over again. I began to admit my brokenness not only to God, but to a few trusted Christian friends also. It was humbling and difficult for me.

Second, the Lord was finally able to show me how completely and truly he loved me, and how thoroughly he had saved me through the cross. I began to believe that there was nothing I could do that would prevent him from loving and forgiving me – not just “giving me a pass,” but really delighting in me. I knew at last that Jesus had truly and thoroughly already made me holy in my spirit, the place where it mattered most. Because of Jesus, I really am “OK,” even right now. I finally understood that the power and extent of the holiness that Jesus imparted to me through the cross was infinitely greater than my deepest, most depraved sin, imagination or temptation. The Holy Spirit made it clear through the scriptures that the part of me that he has made holy is greater and more enduring than my sinful flesh.

When I finally began to believe and receive all this, I found that temptation began to lose its power. I was still tempted. Even today, I still experience temptation. Sometimes I still fail, but not nearly like I used to. The love of Jesus, and what he has done for me, is much more powerful in my life than those temptations.

Let me make this clear: I struggled for decades with a sin that felt like it was so deeply entrenched it was simply part of who I was. But because I continued to accept that it was a sin, the Lord was able to use that struggle to show me His love and grace in much deeper and more wonderful ways than I had ever known, and eventually, that love and grace began to overcome the sin in my life.

Suppose someone had come to me in the middle in my struggles, and said, “Tom, you were born this way,” (and for all I know, I really was). “God doesn’t want you to be unhappy. You aren’t broken, this is just who you are. It’s time you stopped calling this a sin, and stopped tormenting yourself about it, and just express who you really are.” If I had been given such advice, and taken it, I would never know the grace and joy and love of Jesus the way I do today. God’s word, calling my sin “sin,” is the same word that overcame sin in me. The only way for me to experience grace in my struggle was to first agree with God that I was sinning.

Now, you might argue that I have not struggled as deeply as a gay person. I personally have no way of knowing one way or the other, and frankly, neither do you, nor does anyone else on earth. But I do know this: it never did me any good at all to think that my own struggle was worse or harder than that of others. I don’t know why it would help anyone, gay or straight, to think so.

The fact is, ALL Christians are called to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Jesus.

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

Denying ourselves the permission to do whatever we want, and certainly denying sin, are part of what that means. I don’t know what it feels like to be gay and a follower of Jesus. But I do know that Jesus asks all of his followers to be willing even to die for His sake. Truthfully, I think all Christians, if they are really Jesus-followers, eventually find that following Him involves real, deep self-denial. I think it is pointless and even counter-productive to dwell upon whether your self-denial is harder than someone else’s, and I believe it arrogant to think you can even know. I understand any given person may feel their struggle is different, but it is not worse (or better). 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 says:

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. Clear enough for you?

One aspect of the self-denial that the Lord asks of gay people particularly, is lifelong celibacy. But he does not ask that of only gay people. In fact, millions upon millions of Christians throughout the ages, both men and women, have been led by Jesus to make the commitment to lifelong singleness with lifelong celibacy, including some of the greatest Christian writers and thinkers in history. Some of them may have been gay, but undoubtedly a great number of them were heterosexual. Singleness and celibacy are not the worst possible fate a person could have. The apostle Paul himself was led to that lifestyle by Jesus, and though at times he was undoubtedly lonely, he also considered it a great gift. He said that he wished all people could have the gift of singleness/celibacy as he did (1 Corinthians 7:1 & 7:7).

As Christians we know that we cannot earn our salvation. Resisting sin does not, in and of itself, make you righteous. But I think we are called to resist sin and deny ourselves because in the process of doing so (even when we fail) we truly learn and receive the grace and forgiveness and joy that God offers us in Jesus Christ. There is wonderful grace in admitting that we are sinful and broken. There is wonderful grace even in the struggle of trying to avoid sin, and yet failing.

Let’s not deny another person that grace by telling them that they should not have to struggle or say “no” to some of their desires or temptations. Instead, let us receive that grace in our struggles, together with all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

917 Canyon Creek Drive

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY?

 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 Homosexuality & the Bible Part 2

Homosexuality and the Bible #2: What does the Bible say?

Even if you normally read these notes, you may want to listen to the podcast. Particularly with a sensitive issue, it may help if you can hear tone of voice and expression.

~

Last time we considered some ground rules for our topic. I want to reiterate: there is no room for hate, violence, slander or anything like that in this Christian discussion. It is also worth remembering that not everything that hurts was necessarily said with hateful intent; and the fact that someone disagrees with you does not mean they hate you. In addition, a person can love you without endorsing every activity you engage in. I have many friends and family who feel differently than me about homosexual behavior, and I truly do love them, and wish for the best for them. I have no desire to see them come to harm in any way, and though I wish they might choose differently, I have no desire to take away their right to choose the life they want.

If you are reading this, and you have not yet read the first message in this series, I plead with you to go back and read it. I do not think you can fully understand all that I am saying on this subject until you have read this entire series. We are not operating in “sound-bytes” or catchy phrases here.

I apologize to parents, but there will be some “plain talk” in this message. If you aren’t ready to talk with your children about sexuality, you might not want them to listen to this sermon. On the other hand, I think kids need to learn about this subject sometime. They will hear it from their friends, probably sooner than you might think. In many places, they’ll even hear about it in school. I think the ideal way for children to learn about sexuality, and God’s plan for it, is by talking with their parents and considering what the bible says. Obviously, however, you as the parent need to make the call as to where and when that might happen.

This week I want to look at what the Bible actually says about homosexual behavior. My goal is to treat the relevant verses same way I treat the rest of the bible, and to use the common sense approach to biblical interpretation that I have been using for years in my teaching. In other words, this subject is no different than other subject I have taught about – it just happens to be politically charged at the moment, but I will not let politics change the way I teach on the bible.

I want to make one more note before I start. I am the messenger, not the message. The verses I am going to quote are really in the bible. We will find that the bible has no ambiguity about the subject of homosexual sex. The message is easy to see, and it is clear. In addition, where I share interpretations or add comments, those interpretations and comments are consistent with what Christians have taught for two-thousand years. They are not unusual or different. They are not popular at the moment, but this isn’t my message – it is the testimony of the bible and the church has affirmed it for millennia. It was not even controversial until the past few years.

Again, I share all this because it is my responsibility before God to teach sound biblical doctrine, and because for me, the true teaching of the bible is an act of love. It brings people closer to the truth, love and forgiveness that are found in Jesus Christ.

The bible always distinguishes between sins, and the people who commit them. God hates sin. But he loves sinners. Also, having homosexual feelings is different than having homosexual sex. No one is condemned for how they feel, or the temptations they struggle with. What the bible condemns is not homosexual people, but homosexual behavior. We can, and we should, accept and love people who identify themselves as homosexuals. In the church, this should be exactly like loving and accepting alcoholics, or convicts or single mothers, or me, a “normal sinner,” for that matter.

But acceptance and love are not the same as endorsement. Jesus and accepted and loved at least one prostitute. He accepted and loved a woman caught in adultery. Does that mean he endorsed prostitution and adultery? Of course not. He accepted and loved the people. But he told the woman who was caught in adultery, “Go, and sin no more.” He gave the prostitute a new life that did not involve prostitution any more. He said very clearly, in several places that “sexual immorality” is sinful – and that includes adultery and prostitution.

There is a distinction between the behavior, and the person. This is true, even though homosexuals themselves often refuse to make this distinction. “Being gay,” is not a behavior. Most gay people feel it is integral to who they are as people. We need to be clear that this – being gay, identifying yourself as homosexual – is not a sin. We do not reject people for who they are.

Now, let’s get to what the bible says.

Genesis chapter 19 tells about a city named Sodom. The male residents of Sodom wanted to have sex with some male travelers who had come into town. Shortly after this, the city was destroyed in judgment. Other bible passages tell us that the people of the town were guilty of many sins, but among them was sexual perversion – meaning, in this case, homosexual behavior. (Jude 7).

In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as angels did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7, HCSB)

The only type of sexual immorality that we know for sure was in Sodom, was homosexual sex.

Leviticus chapter 18:22 says:

You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable.”

Leviticus 20:13 says,

“If a man sleeps with a man as with a woman, they have both committed a detestable thing. They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.”

These verses are pretty clear, but pause here for a moment. Why do Christians think today that homosexual behavior is wrong, but we don’t think people should be put to death for it?

The punishments listed in the first part of the Old Testament were specifically given for life in ancient Israel. They were, in effect, the civil and criminal laws of the land. We don’t live in ancient Israel anymore. The moral law (the act that is called sinful) remains in effect, but we don’t live under the same civil or criminal laws.

The same section of scripture (the latter part of Leviticus) also says that adultery is wrong, and those who do it should be put to death. In Jesus’ day, under the Roman law, Jews were not allowed to execute someone for committing adultery, and in fact, the practice had fallen into disuse even before that. However, in spite of a change in the punishment, there continued to be a clear understanding that adultery was wrong. In fact, in John chapter eight, Jesus condemned adulterous behavior, but refused to let people kill the adulterer. Likewise today, any serious Biblical ethicist must condemn the act of adultery as morally wrong – even Jesus did! (Matthew 5:27-30). Most people, in fact, still believe adultery is wrong. But virtually no one thinks we should have a law by which adulterers are punished by death. In the same way, we may certainly maintain a Biblical morality, while adapting the legal consequences to the society we live in today.

The New Testament also talks about homosexual behavior. Romans 1:29:

24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. 26 This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error. (Rom 1:24-27, HCSB)

This is pretty clear. Homosexual behavior is called sexual impurity and a perversion. In other words, it is regarded as a sin.

I have already mentioned the Jude passage in the explanation of Genesis 19:

In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as angels did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7, HCSB)

I mention it again here because the verse is in the New Testament, and also because it tells us something very important about a particular Greek word. The root word is “porneia” and is used in various forms dozens of times throughout the New Testament. Most often it is translated as “sexual immorality.” Jude (who, incidentally, was the half-brother of Jesus) is using this word to refer specifically to homosexual sex (the only sexual sin recorded in Sodom was homosexual in nature). In Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, Jesus uses a form of the word when he is clearly talking about adultery. So, although there are specific terms for adultery, homosexual sex and other sexual sins, “sexual immorality” includes them all. In other words, “sexual immorality” means: “any sexual activity except that between a married man and woman.” Therefore, whenever the New Testament says “sexual immorality,” homosexual sex is included in that phrase, along with any other sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. The New Testament is relentlessly consistent in calling sexual immorality of any sort a sin. Verses which do that include (but are not limited to): Ephesians 5:1-5; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.

But just so we are absolutely sure, let’s consider a few more verses:

We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching (1Tim 1:9-10, HCSB)

I want us to note two things: first that homosexual behavior is specifically mentioned, and second, that it is not singled out as any worse or better than thirteen other sins. All these things are “contrary to sound teaching.”

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul breaks mentions several types of sins, specifically naming homosexual sex among them.

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1Cor 6:9-11, HCSB)

Many English translations don’t show it, but Paul actually lists homosexual behavior twice in this list. He uses a Greek slang word which should be literally translated as “soft” (malakoi). This is probably equivalent to our English use of “gay.” Paul also uses a more specific technical word that means “homosexual.” I think most translators simply use one word to avoid redundancy, but a properly nuanced translation of this might read: “…neither gay, nor any kind practicing homosexual…”

We’ve already seen several clear passages. It’s hard to be more clear than right here in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Again, in 1 Corinthians 6:9 homosexual behavior is called sinful along with eight other behaviors: sex between unmarried people, adultery, idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander and swindling. Let’s get this straight. Greed is as sinful as homosexual behavior. So is petty theft (the Greek word for “thieves” is the same root where we get “kleptomaniac”). Habitual drunkenness is as sinful as homosexual behavior, and so is adultery, and promiscuity and telling lies about others. So it would be wrong to suggest that homosexual behavior is particularly singled out as something more evil than other sins. But it would also be wrong to suggest that the Bible approves of “committed homosexual relationships.” It is a sin. There is no ambiguity. But it is not a special sin.

I have talked with gay people who told me that they’ve heard Christians say that homosexuals automatically go to hell. I’ve never actually heard a real Christian say that, though I’m sure that some people, somewhere, do. However, that would be a misunderstanding of this passage. If that were true, then it would also be true of alcoholics, petty thieves, any greedy person, and all those who have had a sexual relationship at any time in their lives with anyone other than their spouse. The real and main point of this passage is what Paul says in verse 11:

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

In other words, whatever our particular sinful struggle, Jesus can put an end to it, and he has done so for billions of people around the world throughout history. So obviously, people who struggle with homosexual feelings can be saved and go to heaven – some of the Corinthians had those very struggles before they came to Jesus. People who struggle with drunkenness can be saved. So can thieves and those who are greedy. It all comes back to putting our faith in Jesus. Usually people who struggle with sins like homosexual behavior and addictions need help, support and understanding from fellow Christians as they open their lives to the Holy Spirit, but the Lord can change them. I have personally known several people who used to call themselves homosexuals, who even lived the gay lifestyle, who are now happily married (to the opposite gender) and call themselves heterosexual. Their testimony was that the Power of the Holy Spirit changed them. One them is the wife of a seminary classmate of mine. It can happen. It does happen.

In the interest of honesty, I will say that another one of my gay friends is completely committed to Jesus, and to healing and wholeness, but he has not lost his attraction to men, and at this point, he believes he never will. Even so, he is committed to a life of celibacy, and is trusting Jesus for all of emotional needs.

We need to remember: Jesus is a game-changer.

Speaking of that, what about Jesus? What did he say about gay sex? If you have spent any time on social media sites, you have probably seen claims that Jesus said nothing at all about it. In a narrow, technical sense, that is true. But we should also note that in a narrow technical sense, Jesus said nothing about incest, child-abuse, the oppression of women, slavery, or drugs. In a narrow, technical sense, Jesus never condemned war or racism or human trafficking.

Let us remember that all that we know about Jesus was handed down to us by the apostles, who are also the writers of the New Testament. In other words, we only know what Jesus taught because the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote it down. These apostles, and others, also expounded upon the teachings of Jesus in the other books of the New Testament. If you believe that the apostles correctly preserved the words of Jesus, you must also believe that their other teachings reflected the true teachings of Jesus. There is simply no reason to believe one and not the other.

In other words, if you think that apostles were correct to recall Jesus saying that we should love our neighbor, you should also think that they were correct to say that following Jesus means we should forsake our sins, including the sins of homosexual sex. If they were wrong about the latter they were also wrong about the former.

In addition, Jesus did frequently talk about marriage and sex in general. He clearly taught that sex is good when shared in heterosexual marriage, and sinful in any form outside of that. He very specifically said that sexual immorality (which we know includes homosexual sex, among other things) is evil (Mark 7:21 Matthew 15:19).

Homosexuals are not the worst sinners imaginable. In fact, I don’t see any evidence that simply being homosexual (that is, having homosexual feelings or attractions) is a sin at all. However, the bible does call it a sin to act on those feelings, in the same way that it is a sin to act on heterosexual feelings outside of marriage.

Sin does not disqualify you from the kingdom of heaven, because Jesus died to forgive us and free us from all sins. ALL sins. A gay person has never done any worse sin than I myself have done. In terms of biblical morality and righteousness, there is no room for any person to think of himself or herself as better than any other person. I think the failure of the church to make this crystal-clear is part of the reason that today there is so much confusion about homosexuality.

The message of Christianity has always been that the only answer to sin is Jesus. People who engage in sex outside of marriage are forgiven the same way as people who engage in homosexual sex: by admitting their sin, admitting their need for Jesus, and putting their trust in Him to forgive them and change them.

There is much more to discuss. Next time we will look at some common objections to the verses and interpretations I have shared here.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

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Thank for your prayers, and your support!

THE COSTLY, FREE GIFT

marriage-proposal

God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever.

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EASTER 2015

LIFE FROM DEATH

 

On Good Friday, we remember the crucifixion of Jesus – how we was killed by torture on a Roman cross. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate his resurrection – the fact that he physically came alive again and appeared to many of his followers. But the truth is, the two go together. If we had a crucifixion with no resurrection, the result would be simply despair. It would mean that Jesus was not who he said he was, and there would be no hope for us for forgiveness or eternal life. But a resurrection without the crucifixion first would also be meaningless. Jesus wouldn’t be dead in the first place, so there would be no need for one. But if Jesus simply revealed his full glory, and then went back to heaven, it would be great for him, and everything he said would be proven true…but we would still have no way of receiving forgiveness or eternal life.

Mostly, each year on Easter Sunday, I preach on the resurrection. Go figure. But the resurrection is only one half of a two-part equation. So, in order to set the resurrection in its proper context, I want to spend most of my time this Easter, talking about Jesus’ death – the other, indispensable half of the story.

Jesus was killed by torture. There is really no other way to say it. It began with three beatings during the course of about eighteen hours. First, Jesus was taken to the high priest’s house – and you can bet they weren’t gentle in the taking. Most likely they pushed him and perhaps even struck him on their way there. Once there, he was surrounded by an angry mob, and beaten with fists (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-64). At least some of the blows were to his head. This kind of beating alone would probably put most of us in the hospital, at least overnight. Picture an LA street gang finding the member of a rival gang alone, and deciding to teach him a lesson. You can imagine several people holding the poor man up, while others took turns punching him. It is possible that Jesus sustained a concussion from this, and certainly he received multiple bruises; possibly even broken ribs or teeth. Remember, there was no pain medication in those days.

After a mock trial from the Jewish religious leaders, they took him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who did not live in Jerusalem, but was there to try and keep the peace during the Passover festival. A standard Roman response to suspected trouble makers was to have them “scourged.” Pilate had this done to Jesus. In common language, this means he was whipped – not horse-whipped, but beaten with an instrument designed to inflict pain on human beings. Instead of one “tail” to the whip, it had several strips leather. At the end of each strip was fastened rocks or bits of glass or even pieces of lead. So each strike of the whip caused multiple gashes, laying open the flesh, and bruising the muscles as well. Most probably Jesus was given the 39 lashes, which had been known to kill people occasionally. Remember, Jesus had been beaten up by a mob, just hours earlier. In addition to his other injuries, Jesus certainly lost a lot of blood from the whipping, and perhaps sustained more broken ribs. Between these two beatings, the overall physical shock to his body was enormous. Coming so close together, there is no doubt that many men would have died from the combination of these two traumas.

After that, Jesus was turned over to the Roman cohort for crucifixion. Before they did their job, however, the entire cohort had fun mocking him. This involved about 600 brutal, hardened soldiers. They jammed a crown made of thorns on his head. They took a staff most likely made out of a cane stem (something like bamboo, but smaller in diameter) and gave it to him, and then took it away and used it to beat him over the head. This cane rod would probably not have created any serious injury, unless it was used to strike Jesus on the face, and thus open up cuts on his cheeks. Even so, they were likely hitting the crown of thorns, driving thorns into his head, and the direct blows themselves would have been very painful.

But all that stuff – physical punishment which could easily have killed many men – was only preliminary to the suffering which killed the Son of God. After these severe beatings, they strapped a big beam to his back and made him carry it a mile or two. The beam was likely equivalent to a 4”x4”, perhaps six or eight feet long. Considering what he had been through, it was no wonder he needed help. When they got to the place, they put metal spikes through his hands, into the crosspiece. Though tradition pictures these as going through the palms of the hands, it is more likely that they put the spikes through his wrists between the two bones of the forearm, so that the flesh would not tear away and drop him from the cross. Either way, that alone would have been painful beyond belief. His legs were slightly bent, and then they pressed his feet, one on top of the other, and drove a spike through them into the upright beam of the cross. Tradition pictures a kind of triangular piece of wood for his feet to rest on, but this is doubtful. Then they raised it up.

At this point, Jesus had two choices. He could let the weight of his body hang from his wrists, tearing away at the flesh, and rubbing on bare bone. Or he could straighten his legs, and push up against the spike driven through his feet, inflaming the wounds there, and grinding against broken metatarsals and tendons. Each movement probably drove splinters into his raw, lacerated back. If he had an itch, he couldn’t even scratch it. If he had to go to the bathroom, it would be right there in front of everyone.

Over time, victims of crucifixion spend more and more time hanging from their arms, since pushing up on the spike through the feet was intensely painful, and required effort. As Jesus’ body weight pulled on his arms, and kept them above shoulder-level, his lungs gradually began to fill with fluid, and breathing became difficult. The only relief for this came from thrusting against the spike in the feet. By pushing himself up this way, he could straighten his body and breathe more freely. But the pain was such that no one could endure this for long. It also required strength and energy. He was undoubtedly weakened by his beatings to start with, and as his body grew weaker through this torture, he got less and less air. In this position, fluid also collected around his heart, putting pressure on it. As a result the organs slowly got less blood and oxygen.

Incidentally, this was why, late in the day, they broke the legs of the other men who were crucified alongside Jesus. By breaking their legs, it became impossible for them to straighten up and get air, and so they died more rapidly.

Jesus was taken to the Roman governor early in the morning. He was put up on the cross before noon, possibly as early as eight or nine in the morning. He endured this suffering until it killed him, about eight hours later. It killed him, either by filling his lungs with fluid and suffocating him, or by the pressure of the fluids surrounding his heart, which could have caused it to stop.

This was actually a relatively short time for death by crucifixion. When we read the gospels, we find that Pilate was surprised when he heard that Jesus had died by late afternoon. But then, most people being crucified were not beaten three times within hours before they were put on the cross. Jesus’ suffering began not when he was put on the cross, but in the early hours of the morning, with the first beating.

But the suffering wasn’t only physical. He also went through emotional and spiritual agony.

First, he endured the anticipation of suffering. He knew, long before what happened, what was waiting for him. When I have some special event approaching in the future, anticipation is almost half the joy of it. I enjoy the feeling of looking forward to a good thing coming. But the reverse is also true. If you know about something you dread that is coming up, part of the negative experience is anticipating what you don’t want to go through. It is clear that Jesus knew about his approaching suffering, and that he dreaded it. That is why he said hours before he experienced any physical torment:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39)

He also experienced humiliation. He was the King of the Universe, the very One whom everyone around him professed to worship. And yet, in order to accomplish his purpose, he had to allow them to mock him, to spit on him, to humiliate him as if they were right and he was wrong. There was a physical aspect to the humiliation as well. It is a terrible experience to be a man, and be struck, and yet not be able to strike back. In addition, they almost certainly stripped him completely naked when the put him on the cross.

In addition, Jesus experienced abandonment. All his followers ran away and left him to his fate. His faithful lieutenant, Peter, denied him publicly. But even worse, he was abandoned by God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says this:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God the Father abandoned Jesus the Son in a way that he has never abandoned any human being, ever, nor ever will. The bible teaches us that if we choose to reject God’s grace through Jesus, then ultimately God allows us to do that. In other words, God doesn’t reject us, but he gives us the freedom to reject Him. If we choose that, we will experience what it is like to be without God – but it will be our doing not His. He does not willingly forsake us. But in the case of Jesus on the cross, it was the opposite. Jesus never turned away from the Father. He followed him obediently, and perfectly to the end. But when the Father made Jesus into sin – for our sake – He turned away and abandoned him. He had to, if Jesus indeed took our sin on himself.

Now, I want us to consider something. When I think about the horrible suffering that Jesus experienced, it’s hard to contemplate. But there are many other things in this life that are hard to contemplate as well. For instance, it is hard to contemplate the horror of rape. It is hard to truly grasp the awfulness of murder. We don’t like to think this way, but even the sins which we think aren’t so bad are so far removed from God’s holiness that they are as fully horrific to God as the suffering Jesus experienced. The extremity of Jesus’ suffering shows us the extremity of our sin. All this is the depth of God’s love for us. This is picture of the true horror of our sin. This crucifixion is the gulf that would exist between us and God if Jesus had not taken our place.

The cross is also justice for sin. This is what makes forgiveness possible. We can’t just wave our hands and say “it doesn’t matter.” When we hurt others, it matters. When we offend God, it makes a difference. There are a lot of people who like to say, “It’s OK to do whatever you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” But what if you hurt God? He has told us, in the bible what matters to Him, what drives a wedge between us and him. Why is it OK to hurt him, but not anyone else? A sin that is only against God is just as much a sin as something which hurts another person.

Jesus, by his suffering, has endured what sin deserves – all sin. I can forgive the person who did something horrible to me because there was punishment and suffering for the evil that was done. It was made right, and justice was done for that sin.

No other faith takes sin or forgiveness seriously enough. You can’t just wave your hand and say, “it doesn’t matter,” as Buddhism does. One reason Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to separation from the world and to meditation is that you have to concentrate very hard and remain very isolated to believe that the suffering caused by sin in this world doesn’t matter.

You can’t say, “You’ll make it up next time you’re re-incarnated,” as Hinduism does. Since nobody is perfect, all you would do is rack up more “karma-debt” with each new life. Even Islam and Judaism say “Well, you do your best, and God forgives the rest.” But why? On what basis can God allow un-holiness into his holy presence? If he could do such a thing, it means that God isn’t really holy, and therefore that moral standards are not actually real; in short, that anything goes. We like “anything goes” if it means we can do whatever we want, but it becomes intolerable when someone else can do whatever they like to us with no consequences. If there is no moral standard, we live a world of senseless brutality, and all kindness and love mean nothing. Even what think of as moral good is meaningless. If nothing is evil, nothing is good either.

That is why it was necessary for sin to be accounted for. Justice must be done. Sin must have consequences. If not, there is no such thing as goodness or grace. If not, we cannot survive in the presence of a holy God. It is only through this extreme suffering of Jesus that sin could be dealt with. The Lord has made a way to take away the power of sin, and still allow goodness and grace and love to flourish.

There is one more thing about the cross. Scripture tells us that there is a mysterious spiritual truth: when we trust that Jesus did this for us, it was not only he who died there. We too, died with Jesus to sin.

Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:3-11, HCSB)

This cross that killed Jesus also killed our sin. This is now also our death. This is why we can be free from guilt – our sins were punished with this severe and just punishment. Just last night I was speaking with a murderer. I mean it, this man was just released from prison after doing time for murder. He was marveling at the fact that he could be forgiven. It was this horrible crucifixion death that punished his terrible sin of murder, and he is putting his faith in Jesus that this is so. He doesn’t need to feel guilt anymore, because his murder was paid for – not by his ten years of prison time, but by the death of Jesus. I think when we feel guilt, it is usually because we have not considered how fully our sin was punished on the cross. The extreme suffering of the Perfect Man was enough for you, for me, for the world.

And now, the new resurrection life that Jesus has can also fill our spirits with eternal life. You see, sin had to die, yes. But what then? If our sin is dead, and we are dead, that takes care of the problem…except that we are dead.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. And just as he invites us to place our sins on him, and die with him, so he invites us to put our faith in him, to live resurrection life with him.

Jesus’ resurrection proved that his suffering was not in vain. It means that it truly was all on our behalf, and not for his own sake. It means that death is no longer the end, or just the dark doorway into into an evil eternity of suffering or oblivion, but rather just a portal that we pass through into eternal life and joy. As the writer of Hebrews says:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

As we consider all this, I want us to be very aware of one thing. God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever. A single woman doesn’t accept a diamond ring from the man she loves and then go on in her life without him, except for maybe occasionally remembering him fondly. No, the diamond is not just a gift – it is an invitation to a new life. When she accepts that gift, she also accepts that invitation, and enters a new relationship, a relationship that is strengthened and reaffirmed daily as they make their lives together. The acceptance of that gift is life-changing.

What Jesus did for us on the cross – the grace that God offer us – is far more precious than any diamond ring that ever has, or ever will, exist. It should not be received any less casually than a marriage proposal. To receive this gift is also to accept the invitation to a new life. It is to give your life to Jesus, to commit to Him for forever, to live in a daily relationship with him. It is life-transforming.

If you’ve never received that gift, never really accepted that invitation to a new life, now is the time. Pause and do it now. There are no special words, just your willingness and acceptance and surrender to God’s love.

Let us thank him for that gift today!

He is risen!

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!