COLOSSIANS #8: RECONCILED

 

 

Even though we were hostile toward God, and alienated from Him, he gave his life to restore us to Himself. He is the Lord and Master of the universe, and when we receive him, he also becomes the Lord of our lives. Though this can be scary, we can trust his love for us, because he loved us before we cared about him. Continuing on in faith means that trusting Jesus is not a single, one-time thing, but, rather a lifelong journey that affects every aspect of our lives. When you receive Jesus, the “truest you” has already been made holy and blameless. That reality is more powerful than our experiences of struggle here on earth.
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Paul is moving in a clear direction. He starts with Jesus as the Creator of all things. He is God in a visible form. He holds the highest rank in the universe. Then, Paul gets more personal. Jesus is the head of the body, the church. We are related to him. He is not just chief of the universe, he is our chief, our leader. Paul moves from the impersonal toward more and more personal. Jesus is not only our leader in the church, he is our leader in resurrection. In verse 19, Paul makes sure we understand, once more that if we are looking at Jesus, we are looking at God himself: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” After this reminder, he gets even more personal. Jesus is not just the Creator, not just the highest rank in all creation, not just the leader of the church, but also, it is through Jesus that we are brought close to God. He is the one who has reconciled us to God. He is our savior.

This is the wonder of Jesus – he is both Higher and more Majestic than we can imagine, and yet, at the same time, he  cares for you, personally. He is Lord and master of the universe, and also, the one who loves you, personally. He inhabits and fills the entire cosmos – and yet he also makes his home in your very soul. The very leader of the world is also your friend.

Sometimes people make a distinction between Jesus as savior, and Jesus as Lord. There are Christians who appear to believe that you can receive Jesus as savior, but still not have him as Lord. Paul reverses this. He makes sure we understand that first, Jesus is Lord of all: Lord of All Creation, Lord of the church, Lord of Us – only when we have that straight does Paul talk about Jesus as savior. He is not savior unless he is Lord. If he is not Lord, he cannot be savior – the two go together. What this means practically is this: If you want to be a true Christian, it means surrendering your entire self – your will, your heart, your mind, your life – to Jesus. This doesn’t earn salvation, but it is the only way to receive salvation. If we retain control, we are not trusting Jesus, and if we don’t trust Jesus, we aren’t saved.

Now, I don’t mean that we do this perfectly. But it is our intention to let Jesus have our lives, even if in reality, we sometimes try to regain control. Failing is normal. But you cannot say, “I’ll take salvation please, but I withhold the right to live however I want to.” Salvation involves giving up on ourselves, and putting all our hope in Jesus. Paul makes sure that we know that Jesus is worthy of our trust. He is creator, chief, first in all things. He went through death before us. He went through resurrection before us. He does not ask of us anything that he himself did not do first. We can trust him with our lives, because he has already done all that we needed.

Paul says that the Colossians were once hostile and alienated in their minds. This is true of us, even if we have followed Jesus for as long as we can remember. We were born with a spiritual genetic defect called sin. Our condition at birth was alienated from God, and hostile in our minds. That is every single human’s “natural condition.” Children do not need to be taught how to be selfish, or mean, or angry or how to lose self-control. All of that comes naturally. But children do need to be taught how to be kind, to share, to think of others and how to control themselves. Every single human being is born alienated from God, hostile in mind to him.

God did not wait for us to shape up:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV) Romans 5:6-11

Here in Colossians, Paul describes that process in more detail:

22 [you] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him

When Jesus died physically by crucifixion, there was something else going on spiritually. In the spirit realm, he included all those who would trust in him in his death and resurrection. When Jesus died on the cross, for all intents and purposes, our sinful flesh was punished and killed along with Jesus. Through faith, this is the truth: we died with Jesus on the cross. Our sin was punished on the cross by his death.

Being born in sin, we were helpless to do anything to make ourselves better. Jesus did that for us. We don’t deserve it. We cannot earn it. There is nothing in the universe more valuable than the life of Jesus, so there is nothing we could possibly earn or borrow or even steal to pay for our salvation. We receive it as a gift, or not at all.

By the way, this is why Christianity is the source of the concept of human equality. The teaching is that we are all equally lost. No one can claim to be intrinsically better than anyone else. And our salvation is not earned, so not even anyone who is saved can claim to be a better person – we are what we are by God’s grace alone. The death of Jesus declares that we are equally helpless. It also shows us that he puts such value on every human being that he was willing to give his own life to save us. At the foot of the cross, the ground is perfectly level.

Jesus reconciled us in order to present us to God as holy, blameless and above reproach. This is already the second time we have encountered this idea in Colossians, and we aren’t out of the first chapter yet. It will come again later on. We live in two worlds at once: the physical world, and also the spiritual world. In the physical, natural world, we look around and say, “I am not holy and blameless. I am not above reproach. So this text must be wrong.” But in the spiritual realm, you already are holy and blameless and above reproach. The bible teaches us that the spiritual, unseen world is greater, and more permanent than the world we see.

It’s a little bit like the movie, the Matrix. People are living lives, falling in love, fighting, struggling and so on in a world that is imaginary. They are wired to a virtual reality. It looks and feels real to them. But if they could escape, they would find there is a more powerful reality, and what happens there can change everything in the virtual world. For our purposes, the physical world is like the Matrix, and the spiritual world is the “real world.” Paul describes elsewhere like this:

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

The things that are seen (the physical world) are transient. That word means, “temporary, of short duration. Not permanent.” But the unseen world – the spiritual realm – is eternal. It lasts forever. So when we look at ourselves in the physical realm and see someone who is far from holy, we need to understand that such a thing is temporary. Yes, for now, for a short time, we don’t look holy and blameless. But in the spiritual realm, the world that lasts forever, we are already holy and blameless. And that realm is greater, and lasts longer.

Paul ends this section with a final thought:

23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (ESV) Colossians 1:18-23

You are reconciled to God, you are holy and blameless and above reproach before God, if indeed you continue in the faith, not shifting from the hope of the gospel. It is important for us to understand this. Being reconciled to God and being made holy and blameless are things that come through Jesus Christ alone. We receive them by trusting in Jesus. If we were to shift our trust from Jesus onto someone or something else, we cannot receive these things. It is not that we earn them by trusting Jesus. It is not that God punishes us by taking them away if we stop trusting Jesus. But Jesus is the only way to receive these things. So, if we refuse to get them through him, there is no other way to get them.

Imagine a beautiful island in the ocean, with some of the most stunning scenery in the world. There is no bridge to it – it is too far out into the ocean. There is no airstrip on the island. It is privately owned. The owner welcomes guests, and he accommodates them, provides rest and entertainment and delicious food, all for no charge. Regularly, he sends a ferry to the mainland to pick up whoever wants to come. But some people don’t like the look of the ferry: they think it doesn’t look comfortable enough for their tastes. Some people think it doesn’t look seaworthy, and they don’t trust it to keep from sinking. Others just don’t want to travel by sea – they’d prefer to fly. But this island is private property. The Owner doesn’t have to allow anyone at all to come there. If you want to go, he has provided the ferry. If you refuse to take the ferry, then there is no other way to get there. He isn’t mean or exclusive: anyone who wants to can use it. Many have, and they’ve told others that it is just fine. But if you reject the only way to get there, you have excluded yourself from the island. Everything is free, but you can’t receive it unless you take the ferry.

So it is with Jesus. We must continue on in faith, because without faith, we cannot receive all that Jesus does and is for us. Paul says we must continue, because it isn’t a one time deal. It is not all like buying a ticket for heaven, or life insurance. No, if we truly trust Jesus, it changes our whole life. It effects how live and the decisions we make for the rest of our lives. If it does not have that effect on our lives, then I question whether or not we truly believe it. I don’t mean that we will suddenly behave perfectly. But when we truly believe something this big and important, it will have an effect on us. It won’t make us immediately perfect in this natural world, but it will begin to work on us.

For now, I want us to focus on this fact: In the eternal spiritual realm, you are already holy and blameless. You are above reproach. That “you” is more real and permanent than the “you” that keeps failing. Jesus has given those gifts to the spiritual you, and he wants them to define who you are. Trust him!

Colossians Part 2: IN CHRIST, IN THE WORLD

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Colossians, in many ways, is all about what it means to be in Christ, and, at the same time, in the world. We generally understand the second part. We know we sin. We know we hunger, thirst, and experience pain and sorrow. We also experience joy and happiness in the world. But we often struggle to know what it means to be in Christ at the same time. This is one of those cases where we must first trust it is true before we can begin to experience what it means. God is calling us to trust him when he says we are holy, and that he offers us the same Grace and Peace that are found in Jesus Christ.

COLOSSIANS PART 2: COLOSSIANS 1:1-2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

The letter begins with Paul who also says Timothy is also writing. There are two reasons that Timothy is mentioned. In the first place, from very early on, Paul was a mentor to Timothy. He regarded him almost as an adopted son, and he appeared to be grooming Timothy to replace himself when he died. So several of his letters are  sent from both Paul and Timothy. Also, Timothy already had a special connection and ministry to the City of Ephesus, which was the only big city near Colossae. The Colossians might have already known who Timothy was. In any case, this is not just Paul’s letter, it is a letter containing true Christian teaching, approved not just by Paul, but by the other Christians who were with him there in Rome when he wrote.

The second reason Timothy might be mentioned is that it was probably Timothy who actually physically wrote the letter, while Paul dictated. It appears that Paul dictated most of letters, while others did the actual physical writing of what he said. So for example, at the end of the book of Romans, Paul is greeting the Christians in Rome, and then there is this:

22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. (ESV Romans 16:22).

Tertius doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t compose the letter; it is just that Tertius is the one who took Paul’s dictation.

Often, Paul wrote a line or two of greeting in his own handwriting, even when the rest of the letter was dictated. Consider these examples:

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. (ESV. 2 Thessalonians 3:17)

21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. (ESV. 1 Corinthians 16:21)

11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 (ESV. Galatians 6:11-12)

Remember, the manuscripts that we have today are copies of copies, so we don’t have an actual sample of Paul’s handwriting. But it appears that he was a little self-conscious about it. Personally, I think he had problems with his eyes, which made it difficult for him to write well.

Let’s move on.

2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

I want to say a word about gender language here. I remember a time, when I was growing up, that the normal usage in language was to write “he/him/his” when the person involved was generic – that is, it could be either a a male or a female. So you might write: “A traveler could very easily lose his luggage in place like Baghdad. He should never take his eyes off his bags.” Now, the traveler could be male or female – it didn’t matter. This was not offensive to anyone at the time. Everyone understood you had to use some kind of pronoun, and he/she was awkward, so it was “he.” However, these days, we have become extremely sensitive, and easily offended, so that sort of thing doesn’t fly anymore. Even so, English still does not have a singular generic and neither does ancient koine Greek. So, when it says, “brothers” everyone in those days would have understood that this included both men and women. Almost every time it says “brothers” in the New Testament, what it really means is “fellow Christians, both male and female.”

So Paul writes this to “the saints and faithful fellow Christians in Colossae.” I don’t love how this sounds in English, because it makes it seems as if we have two groups: saints, and then faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. Actually, it leaves room for a potential third group: fellow brothers and sisters who are not faithful. However, Paul clearly did not intend us to think there was a such thing as a Christian who is not faithful, and he did not even mean us to think there is a difference between “saints,” and “fellow Christians.” The Greek word for “faithful” could actually be translated as “believing.” The word “and” is actually a very flexible conjunction, and in this context, I don’t think it means “in addition to.”

So, I think what Paul means to say is this: “I write to the saints – that is, those who put their faith in Christ.”

I don’t want to breeze over the word “saints.” According to the Bible, every Christian is a “saint.” The word “saints” in Greek (agiois) is literally “holies.” If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, you are a “holy one.” This is not a special privilege given to people who have proven themselves to be a cut above the rest. This is the title given to every single person who has faith in Jesus. If you are in Christ, you are a “holy one.” When you trust Jesus, you receive the very holiness of Jesus. This is going to come up again, later in Colossians.

Holiness is a concept that we don’t talk about very much. Of course, part of it is a sort of “goodness” – an unusual, special kind of goodness. Part of being holy is also about being different. Holy things are not like every day things. Holiness makes something special, set apart.

Many years ago, a friend of mine – let’s call her “Jane” –  had the experience of being made into one of God’s holy ones. We were praying for every individual in our house church meeting. For each person, I was praying, “Holy Spirit, pour out yourself on [this person].” When we came to my friend Jane, I paused. She was not yet a Christian. My theological side thought, “The Holy Spirit cannot come into Jane, because she hasn’t yet received Jesus.” But, I thought it would make her feel awkward if I prayed anything different, so I asked the Holy Spirit to pour himself into Jane, also. Afterwards, she said to me: “When you prayed that prayer, He really did!” You see, when I asked the Lord to do that, Jane believed that he did do it. And by that believing, she received it.

She went home that night, and said to her boyfriend, “Honey, I love you, but we can’t sleep together anymore, or live together, until we are married.” When he asked why, she said, “Everything is different. I have the holy Spirit in me now.”

That’s exactly the heart of holiness. When we belong to God, everything is different. We aren’t like everyone else in the world. God lives inside of us through his Spirit, making us holy, set apart, different. When my friend Jane believed this, it became a reality to her. Listen – brothers and sisters in Christ – it is also a reality for each one of us. I know we see things that appear to contradict that reality. But God’s word is more powerful than those temporary setbacks. When we believe we are holy, we begin to act like we are holy – just as Jane did. And God says it, so we ought to believe it.

There is another thing about the people to whom this letter is written. Greek, of course, has different rules than English. This opening phrase does something interesting in Greek that it cannot properly do in English. Let me try to give you  sense of it.  Paul says he writes to the:

In Christ holy-ones, that is, the believing brothers In Colossae.” These believers are right in the middle of two important places. They are In Christ, and they are In Colossae. Literally, in the Greek, they are in between Christ and Colossae. This is kind of picture of where and how we live out the Christian life. We Christians are in Christ, and we are also in the world. We have a heavenly home. Our future is in heaven. As we will see later in Colossians, in some ways, our life is already in heaven, in Christ. And yet we also live right here on planet earth where we have to pay bills, and eat, and where we can still find joy and happiness. The whole letter of Colossians, in some ways is about what it means to be In Christ, in Colossae. Though we aren’t in Colossae (any followers in Turkey, please give me shout!), thankfully, the Colossians were human beings, and human nature doesn’t change that much. In this letter we will find valuable lessons about what it is to be In Christ, in whatever situation we find ourselves. I am in Christ, in Lebanon, TN. You might be in Christ, in Southern CA, or in Chennai, India, or anywhere else. The things that the Holy Spirit said to the Colossians will help us still today. We are in Christ, and In the world. Following Jesus is really all about figuring out what it means to be both of those things at the same time.

For myself, and most of those I know, the primary difficulty is about what it means to be “in Christ.” We  know we are in the world. We know we sin, we know we get hungry, and have needs, and experience sorrow and pain. But we are different from those who do not yet have Christ. We aren’t only in the world. God calls us his holy ones. At the very end of verse two, we are offered grace and peace from God our Father. That offer comes through Jesus Christ, because of Jesus Christ. So, for those who are in Christ, we have the very grace and peace that God the Father gives Jesus his son.

I mentioned the story of what happened when one woman who believed it. She was in the world, for sure. She had her struggles with addictions, immorality, anger, selfishness, depression, all of it. But when she believed that she was in Christ, when she believed that God had made her one of his holy ones, it changed everything.

So today I ask you: believe it. Count on it. God has granted you grace and peace. He has made you one of his holy ones, part of his family. We can count on this, not because or our own strength or any kind of quality in ourselves. We count on it because of Jesus. I paraphrase Martin Luther when I say: “If I look at myself, I cannot see how I could possibly be saved. But when I look at Jesus, I cannot see how I could possibly not be saved.” Our faith is sure because of Jesus. Though we are in the world, we are in Christ Jesus.

As we close today, I want us to meditate on what it means to both in Christ, and in the world, to be one of God’s holy ones. Hear the Father’s welcome: “Grace and Peace to you, my child!”

 

 

JESUS INVADES YOUR “SACRED SPACE”


Sometimes, I think we forget this side of Jesus. In Jesus, both God’s judgement, and also his grace, are perfectly in harmony. Jesus’ actions weren’t reasonable. They weren’t nuanced. But they were righteous

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Matthew #73 Matthew 21:12-17

As often happens, there is more than one layer to what Jesus was doing and saying in this passage. The first layer is that Jesus is setting the political wheels in motion which will lead to his crucifixion. He is now becoming much more public and noticeable in his ministry, for the very deliberate purpose of provoking the religious leaders. He is getting in their faces, beginning the process that will force them to make a choice about him. It began with his ostentatious entry into Jerusalem. He continues it now by challenging the institution that was at the very heart of the religious elite in his day – the temple. He is actively pursuing the path that leads to crucifixion.

The second layer is that while he is doing this so that he can suffer and die as he was meant to, he is also doing it in a way that is completely righteous. Everything he says and does here is right and good and legitimate. He is not taking the attitude of “the ends justify the means.” He isn’t doing something wrong when he confronts the religious leaders in this way. His “means” of speaking truth to the leaders are just as good and righteous as his goal of dying for the sin of the world.

Sometimes, I think we forget this side of Jesus. In Jesus, both God’s judgement, and also his grace, are perfectly in harmony. Most Christians tend toward one or the other. Some of us focus on what we’re doing wrong, and how we need to fix that, and we lose sight of God’s incredible grace, forgiveness and love. Other Christians focus on the love and forgiveness so much that we lose sight of God’s holiness and the seriousness of our sin. We end up watering it down so much that we are in danger of losing sight of the truth.

Though Jesus is headed towards the cross in order to make his grace and love freely available, during this last week of his life, he often reminds us of why the cross is necessary; of how serious our sin is, and how absolute God’s holiness is. That is true in the incident we are looking at today.

Let’s start by understanding what was going on in the temple in those days.

The Old Testament commands God’s people to make animal sacrifices as a reminder of how serious their sin is, and how holy God is. The people were commanded to bring various types of animals for sacrifice, depending on the type of sacrifice, and the financial means of those coming to worship. Normally, you would sacrifice a goat or sheep at the temple. However, not everyone could afford that, so poor families were allowed to bring a pair of doves or pigeons, as it says in Leviticus:

7“But if he cannot afford an animal from the flock, then he may bring to the LORD two turtledoves or two young pigeons as restitution for his sin — one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. (Lev 5:7, HCSB)

First, the animal brought for sacrifice had to be inspected by a priest to make sure it was without blemish, as was commanded in the law of Moses. However, by the time of Jesus, this system had become corrupt. Some of the priests turned away perfectly good animals, and then recommended that the family buy a different animal from one of the livestock merchants on the temple grounds. The priests would get a financial reward, or “kickback” from the merchants for every sale that was made in this way. In this way, the merchants and the priests were using the laws of Moses to extort people.

A second thing was also offensive. Since the Passover drew so many people to Jerusalem, it was the normal time when people paid their half-shekel temple tax. The specific wording of this law comes from Exodus 30:13

13Everyone who is registered must pay half a shekel according to the sanctuary shekel (20 gerahs to the shekel). This half shekel is a contribution to the LORD. (Exod 30:13, HCSB)

Over time, “the sanctuary shekel” became its own unit of currency. People couldn’t pay the tax with the money they made in everyday life. They had to have their money converted to “sanctuary shekels” in order to pay. Eventually money changers set up on the temple grounds and they charged a fee to convert the real money into “sanctuary money.” Sanctuary money was no good for anything but the temple tax, so the money changers made out like, well, thieves.

The third thing that was generally offensive was that the temple became a marketplace. Some people did not bother to bring animals at all, but planned to buy them at the temple. And who could blame them, since the priests were likely to rip them off if they brought their own animal? Merchants hawked doves to the poorer families, and doubtless everyone paid much more for “temple animals” then they would have anywhere else in the country. God’s holy place of worship became one of the busiest marketplaces in Jerusalem during the Passover season.

I’d like to point something out here. All four gospels make it clear that Jesus substantially interfered with all of this sort of “temple business” that was going on that day. He overturned the tables of the money changers, spilling their coins everywhere. He knocked over the stalls of those who sold pigeons and doves. He made them leave the temple complex. John records that Jesus even drove out the sheep and oxen. It would only be natural for these merchants and money changers to resist him, to try and stop him. For one man to do all this, it must have taken a great deal of physical strength, and even violence. In fact, it was a remarkable feat of physical power. I think a lot of people picture Jesus as a sort of wimpy, sensitive guy, but this gives us convincing evidence that he was capable of great strength when he wanted to be.

Now, I want us to see Jesus’ actions for what they are: extremism. God’s holiness is extreme, and uncompromising. We don’t like to remember this. I think if Jesus did something equivalent in the church today, it would meet with widespread disapproval. Let’s start with an obvious one. Jesus drove out those who sold doves, and doves were the sacrifice of choice for poor people. I can see someone saying: “Where are the lower income folks supposed to get their doves now? How could this be a loving action? It hurts the poor! What about all those who traveled from home without animals, expecting to be able to buy one at the temple? How were they supposed to make a sacrifice if they couldn’t buy their animals? You have to be reasonable. Your response has to take all the nuances into account.”

I can see other people saying, “Look, I know having a marketplace in the outer courts isn’t ideal, but ultimately it allows a greater number of people to come and worship here. It makes it easier on worshipers; it makes us more seeker friendly.”

I can see yet others saying, “Yes, I know that some of the merchants, and even some of the priests, are over-charging people. That’s deplorable, and I condemn it. But we can’t expect a perfect system in this imperfect world. It is what it is, and really, it isn’t that bad. We have to be reasonable.”

Jesus’ actions weren’t reasonable. They weren’t nuanced. But they were righteous. This was about the holiness of God. Holiness isn’t nuanced. It isn’t reasonable. It is absolute.

Jesus quoted to them from Jeremiah. Matthew records only the tail end of the passage in Jeremiah, but I want to share the beginning of it with you here:

9“Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? 10Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts’? 11Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen it.” This is the LORD‘s declaration. (Jer 7:9-11, HCSB)

Today, we do not have a temple where we worship. We don’t have money changers who charge to turn real money into “church money.” But we have different ways in which we degrade the holiness of God through our worship. Let me suggest a few of them.

Here where I live in the Southeastern USA, a lot of people still go to church because it is considered the right thing to do. Many of those same church-goers spend the rest of the week living as if they were not Christians at all: They get drunk, they have sex outside of marriage, they make shady business deals, they treat people badly, they gossip and slander. These verses from Jeremiah are for people like that:

10Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts’?

Going to worship will not save you if you have not humbly repented and submitted your life to Jesus Christ. You cannot be a Christian, and at the same time, live however you please. When you submit your life to Jesus Christ, you will, however slowly and imperfectly, be led to change. Don’t think you can come to church, and then say “We are delivered!” when he has no say whatsoever in how you actually live. If your faith doesn’t change you, it isn’t real faith. Jesus drove such people out of the temple.

Before some of us start feeling smug, let me speak to another group of people. To set it up, let me give you an analogy. Imagine I meet someone who tells me that he is in the United States Marine Corps.

“Wow!” I say. “Where are you stationed?”

“Well, I’m not really a part of any organized unit at the moment.”

“Oh,” I say, puzzled. “How does that work?”

“Well, the actual organization of the Marine Corps does a lot of stupid things. I don’t like to salute. I think it’s stupid. Saluting has nothing to do with actually being a Marine. On the battlefield, that stuff doesn’t matter.”

“Go on.”

“Also, when you join the Marines, they force you to make your bed perfectly, and iron your clothes perfectly, and shine your shoes and boots. None of that has anything to do with being a real Marine. Your boots aren’t going to be polished in the middle of a battle. I think it’s fake and hypocritical.”

“So you are a Marine, but you don’t actually belong to the Marine Corps.”

“That’s another stupid thing. Why should I have to sign up, and complete boot camp and do all that? I don’t enjoy all the rigid structure. That’s not the essence of being a Marine.”

“So what makes you a Marine?”

“I believe in the mission of the Corps, to protect and defend America. Sometimes I do some pushups, you know, to keep in shape.”

“So, if the Marines go into battle, they can’t count on you.”

“Oh they can count on me. I’ll fight the battles too. In my own way.”

“But not alongside them.”

“No. Because they would make me jump through all those stupid hoops.”

You get the idea. This guy is not a Marine, and never will be. It doesn’t matter how much breath he wastes claiming that he is. There are a large number of people in our Western culture who are just like him, only they apply it to being a Christian. They say something like this : “I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church. I don’t want to be a part of all that hypocrisy, and all those politics.” So they live their own lives, giving nothing of value to the church, which the Holy Spirit calls “the body of Christ.” They think they can claim Christ while having nothing to do with his mission or his followers; his very Body. They deceive themselves, like my hypothetical “Marine Corps” solider. Again, the words of Jeremiah are chilling:

10Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts’?

A Christian who is not connected to other Christians in regular fellowship and worship won’t be a real Christian for very long.

Let me give you one more general thought about Jesus’ actions here. By doing this, he was challenging the heart of the religious leadership. This was their sacred place, and he came busting in, acting like he had the right do whatever he pleased there – and indeed, he did have that right. So I want us to consider this question: Where is Jesus challenging your “sacred place” and asserting his right to be true God, truly in charge of your entire life? Maybe it is in one of the things already mentioned here. Maybe it is in some other area. But the big question is this: will you recognize that Jesus has the right to come and upset your world, just as he turned over the tables in the temple? Will you receive what he wants to do in your life?

In Jesus we have both God’s holiness – which brings judgement upon the entire world – and also his grace and forgiveness. We need to be reminded from this passage that our sin is nothing less than evil. You are not “OK,” you are not graded on a curve, and you are (on your own) separated from a Holy and Righteous God. If you don’t want to trust Jesus and submit to him as ruler of your life, you are like those people he drove out of the temple. Not everyone goes to heaven, Jesus made that very clear:

13“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matt 7:13-14, HCSB)

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Now, I’m not a fan of just saying “You’re going to hell,” because you don’t have to. In Jesus, your sin is not excused, or explained away, or ignored – it is punished by crucifixion. In Jesus death, righteousness is satisfied so that you are now free to live in the grace, forgiveness and righteousness that Jesus obtained for you. It is simple to receive. What I mean is, it is not complicated – though it usually involves a battle of surrendering your will and your desires. All we need to do is repent, surrender our will to Jesus, and trust that through his work, we are indeed make right with God, and given eternal life. We don’t have to be perfect – Jesus was perfect on our behalf. But our faith in Him, and our surrender to him, will lead us to live lives that are increasingly more holy, more in line with what the Bible teaches, more in accordance with our Holy God. It happens very slowly at times, and we often fall down, or even take steps backward, but when we truly trust Jesus, it does happen – the speed at which it happens is not the important thing, but rather, that it is happening.

Many of you reading have already repented and given your lives to Jesus. If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so right now.

For those of us who have already done so, we may still need to repent of certain sins or certain areas where we have been holding out on God. Let’s do that now. Let’s allow Jesus to come into our “sacred place” and challenge even the things we hold very dear. He has the right. Let’s receive what he is doing in us.

And let’s all of us trust and receive that grace that came through Jesus so that the Holiness of God is no longer a problem for us, but rather, part of our own inheritance now and in the future.

DOES THE OLD TESTAMENT REALLY STILL APPLY?

 

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Jesus did not come to make it OK to sin. He came to make us holy from the inside out. He came to defeat sin. Jesus didn’t come to change the law. He came to change us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 14

Matthew #14. Matthew 5:17-20

 

“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17-20, HCSB)

Christians commonly forget that Jesus said this. It is important for the rest of the sermon on the mount, so let’s unpack it a bit.

First, let us understand that Jesus talking about the Old Testament in its entirety, not just certain “laws” or “rules.” The New Testament is written in Greek, but it is safe to assume that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and Hebrew. The word “law” in Hebrew is “Torah” and it refers not just to specific commands, but to all of the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called “The book of Moses” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). “Prophets” is the way Jews referred to all the rest of the Old Testament. In other words, when a Jewish person said “The Law and the Prophets” he meant “the entire Old Testament.” In short, Jesus is affirming that the entire Old Testament remains valid, even for those who follow him.

Jesus got even more specific than that. He said not one “iota or least stroke of a letter” can be removed from the law (and by implication, the rest of the Old Testament. This is an extreme statement. Look at this word in Hebrewיֹּ֗יֹּ֗אמֶרַ This is the Hebrew word “said.” The smallest letter in Hebrew is “yodh” which is the first on the right on this word, the one that looks like a comma up in the air. The equivalent letter in Greek is “iota” which is like an i without the dot. The second letter in from the left is “Mem.” On the right hand side at the top of the Mem is a little stroke that looks a bit like a horn. The expression “least stroke of a letter” refers to little marks like this. Jesus said, not even an iota/yodh, not even the little horn on a Mem will be undone. In other words, Jesus is very serious about this. We can’t “fudge” on God’s word. Right here, Jesus says that it will remain until “heaven and earth pass away.” In addition, he says that he himself fulfills its purpose. Christians typically don’t think this way. How can this be?

First, and I’ve mentioned this in other sermons, yes, the whole law applies to Christians. For example, even the koshers laws still apply to Christian. Now, before you click away, read this paragraph. The New Testament clearly teaches that we don’t have to eat kosher any more. Have some pork chops, bacon or fried shrimp, and feel no guilt. But in the life of a Christian, there are still applications for the kosher laws of the Old Testament. The main reason for those laws was to keep God’s people from worshipping pagan deities (which were sometimes demonic powers – Paul associated idol worship with demons in 1 Corinthians 10:20). A second reason was to help God’s people trust him more: pigs were some of the easiest animals to raise for meat, and by forbidding pork, the people had to rely upon God that much more for their food. Finally, the kosher laws showed everyone that God’s people were different.

Now, should we still refrain from worshipping pagan deities and demons? Of course! Should we still trust God to provide for us? Absolutely! Should we still be noticeably different from those who don’t follow God? You betcha. So the kosher laws still apply. Not in an exact, literal sense, but we don’t eliminate them from God’s word to us. There is something about those laws which still brings benefit to Christians, and should still have force in our lives.

In terms of Jesus fulfilling the laws let us consider the following:

In the first place, the promises of the Old Testament are about Jesus Christ, and are fulfilled in him:

Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27, HCSB)

Then [Jesus] told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45, HCSB)

For [Paul] vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 18:28, HCSB)

To remove part of the law or prophets is to remove part of the revelation of Jesus Christ; to weaken the promises that are fulfilled in him.

Second, Jesus fulfilled the law by obeying it perfectly himself.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15, HCSB)

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (2Cor 5:21, NET)

Jesus not only affirmed the law and fulfilled its promises: he himself personally obeyed every part of it.

Third, Jesus reconciles us to the standards of the law.

There is no problem with the law. The problem is with us. Put simply, the Law is God’s holiness translated into human terms. It shows us what holiness looks like in a human being. The Law is not wrong. It is not evil. It accurately shows us the standard required for holiness.

The standard is what it is, because holiness is what it is. It is a law of God’s nature. And what the law shows us, is that we cannot reach the standard. It makes it clear that the standard is impossible for us. That is all that the law can accomplish. It shows us that we are not holy, that we are sinners. And every time you try and reach that standard, the law will show you the same thing again. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we were born without a chance. We were born with a congenital illness called sin, and the law shows us that we simply cannot overcome that. The law is not a means to get right with God. It is a measurement that shows that on our own, we can never get right with God.

Jesus did not come to get rid of the law. He did not come to change the standard. He says the law will remain. Instead, he came to fulfill the law Himself, to meet the standard on our behalf, to fill us up with His own holiness.

If we try to set aside the moral requirements of the law, we are saying “anything goes.” There is a tremendous difference between “anything goes” and “anything can be forgiven.” If we try to set aside the law, we are saying “anything goes.” That doesn’t mean sin is forgiven, it means there is no wrong – but it also means there is no right. That doesn’t mean God loves us, it means God doesn’t care. It means he doesn’t care if you lie to your boss or sleep with someone outside of marriage. But it also means he doesn’t care if someone rapes you or murders you, or steals your job or your spouse. If there is no sin, there can be no justice. If nothing is wrong, if there is no standard, then the powerful can do whatever they please, and it is just bad luck for everyone else. The concept of: “there is no sin” would be very bad news for the human race.

So, we cannot set aside God’s standard. It is absolutely wrong to say: “You don’t have to be holy anymore,” or “the law isn’t valid anymore.” Jesus repudiates that idea in the verses. Jesus did not come to make it OK to sin. He came to make us holy from the inside out. He came to defeat sin.

Jesus didn’t come to change the law. He came to change us. And that is terrific news! The standard remains. It is just that now, if we will trust him to do it, Jesus meets that standard on our behalf.

That is another way in Jesus came to fulfill the law. The law is good and right. But before Jesus, it was incomplete. It gave us the standard, but no way to meet the standard. Jesus completes it, because through him, the standards of law can be satisfied for us.

This is also the key to understanding what Jesus means when he says “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees had turned God’s Holy standard into a set of rules. For instance, where the Old Testament said “remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy” they had created a set of rules to define what that meant. The defined righteousness as “following the external rules of our religion.” You could hate God, but if you followed the rules, the Jewish religion would still say you were right with him. But Jesus knew two things:

· The man-made rules defined by the Jewish religion were not the same thing as God’s holy standard, defined by the Old Testament.

· The focus of the scribes and Pharisees was all external. The evil and depravity of their hearts was left unaffected by the fact that they outwardly followed rules.

So when Jesus tells us his followers must be even more righteous, he is telling us that we need him to fulfill the law on our behalf, and to make us truly holy – especially within our hearts. The way to be even more righteous than the Pharisees and scribes is to trust Jesus to make us holy from the inside out, and keep saying “yes” to him as he works that holiness into our everyday lives.

There is no point in pretending that we are capable of doing what the law requires. But to set aside the law is to invite chaos, brutality and injustice. The answer, is to trust Jesus to fulfill the law. We still seek to apply in ways that are relevant to our daily lives. We still try to follow it, because Jesus, living inside us, wants to follow it. But, in Jesus, we are free from the condemnation that comes when we fail.

 

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WHEN YOU CAN’T MEASURE UP

tapemeasure

The law is not a means to get right with God. It is a measurement that shows that on our own, we can never get right with God. The good news is, we don’t have to measure up.

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 Galatians Part 6

Galatians # 6. Chapter 2:15-18

15 We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” 16 know that no one is * justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.6 And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ7 and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will8 be justified. 17 But if we ourselves are also found to be “sinners” while seeking to be justified by Christ, is Christ then a promoter9 of sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild the system10 I tore down, I show myself to be a lawbreaker.

There is a word in this passage that we need to understand. The word is “justified.” We do occasionally use this word in every language. We might say, “My suspicions of that man were justified, because he turned out to be a criminal.” Or, “I was justified in taking that risk, because it worked out.” When we use the word in this way, what we mean is, “I have been proven right. My actions were good, reasonable and righteous.” When the Bible talks about being justified (or, “justification”) it usually means this: God approves of us. We are proven to be right and good in God’s eyes.

These four verses talk about how human beings are justified in God’s eyes (and, how they are not justified).

Paul says that no one gets God’s approval by works of the law. In this case, “law” means God’s objective, unchanging standard of holiness. God is holy – that is his nature. God’s holiness is, in effect, one of the basic laws of the universe, like the law of gravity, or the laws concerning the properties of light or matter. God’s holiness is so powerful that it destroys all un-holiness. Therefore, if you are unholy and you come into the presence of God, you will be destroyed. The “law” is simply a way for us to measure our holiness, to see if we can come into God’s presence or not. It tells us if we are holy or not. If we are not holy, God cannot approve of us. Instead, his nature destroys us.

Picture a high jump – two upright poles with a crosspiece between them. The idea is, you have to jump over the crosspiece without knocking it down. The world record high jump is 2.45 meters, or about 8 feet. Now imagine a high jump with the bar set at sixteen feet, or five meters. The bar up there shows you exactly how high you need to jump. There is nothing wrong with the measurement. The measurement is accurate and correct. It is good. It would be terrific to jump that high.

But the measurement simply shows you what you must do. It does not help you to do it. It cannot help you – that’s not what a measurement is for. So if the measurement shows you that you fall short, that’s not the fault of the measurement. It doesn’t mean the measurement is wrong or bad. It just shows you that you failed to reach the standard. The problem is not with the measurement, it is with you.

The law simply shows us what holiness looks like. It provides a way for us to measure and see if we have reached it or not. The standard is what it is, because holiness is what it is. It is a law of God’s nature. And what the law shows us, is that we cannot reach the standard. We cannot be holy enough to be justified, to be proven right in God’s eyes. The law shows us that the standard is impossible. That is all that the law can accomplish. It shows us that we are not holy, that we are sinners. And every time you try and reach that standard, the law will show you the same thing again. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we were born without a chance. We were born with a congenital illness called sin, and the law shows us that we simply cannot overcome that. The law is not a means to get right with God. It is a measurement that shows that on our own, we can never get right with God.

Justification is the process by which we are made holy, so that we can experience the presence of God. It doesn’t come through the law. It comes through Jesus. He kept the law – on our behalf. He suffered and died – as punishment for our failure to meet the holiness standard. All that is left for us to do is to trust that this is indeed true.

The New Testament often uses the Greek word pistis and it is usually translated “faith.” I think perhaps a more helpful translation is “trust.” When we hear “faith” we often think it just means “belief.” But trust implies something more than just belief.

Use your imagination for a moment. Imagine you have been working hard all day, pounding rocks with a sledgehammer, and then loading them into a backpack, moving those rocks a mile down the road, and then going back to pound and move another load. After a long exhausting day, you see a chair. A stranger, standing behind the chair, invites you to sit down and rest. You believe that the chair is really there. That’s belief, of a sort. Now, suppose you look at the chair more closely. You think it would probably hold you if you sat down on it. It’s hard to tell, but it may even be comfortable. That’s another kind of belief. But trust or pistis is to actually sit down in the chair. Your confidence in the chair leads you to put your weight on it, to trust it to hold you. That is what the New Testament means when it talks about faith.

Some people believe that Jesus Christ was a real person; maybe they even believe he is still alive today. That’s belief, but it isn’t trust. Others believe that Jesus died for their sins. They believe that he could get them into heaven. That’s belief too, but it isn’t biblical trust. Trust is resting in Jesus, putting all your eggs into one basket, trusting that he has made you holy, and living daily with that trust.

Now, we’ve talked about this before, but it is helpful to revisit. If the law is only to show that we fail, and all we have to do is trust Jesus, then what is wrong with sort believing that we are forgiven through Jesus, and then going off and doing whatever we want? We can’t be holy anyway, so why should we worry about whether or not we sin?

Someone mentioned a few weeks ago that it’s interesting how we pray or sing “thank you for dying for me.” To be honest, we are often kind of flippant about it. We say it to Jesus with same kind of emotion we might say, “thanks for the coffee,” or “thanks for picking up lunch today.” I think the reason we do that is because we don’t truly understand or believe what Jesus has done.

Imagine you were in a concentration camp during a war. An evil prison guard selects you to be executed. Another prisoner steps forward and says, “No. I’ll go instead. Kill me instead.” The guard accepts the offer. If someone really did that, truly took your place for execution, it would be a life-changing, life defining event. Not a day would go by without you thinking about it. The rest of your life would be shaped by the memory of how you were spared. It would affect your goals, your thoughts, even perhaps how you treat other people. You would want your life to be worthy of the one who gave up his own life on your behalf.

Every once in a while you may meet someone, maybe a soldier, who was saved when someone else gave his life to keep them safe. When you meet such people, that story, about how they were saved, is often one of the first things they tell you about themselves. It irrevocably changes them. It leaves a mark.

When we truly believe and trust that Jesus has given his life to make us holy, it leaves a mark. It is a life-changing, life-defining thing. If we really trust that it is true, it is hard to be flippant about it.

If you really believed someone gave his life for you, you would realize that there is no way to ever repay that act. You might want to live a worthy life, to make your life count for something so that his was not wasted. But you would never get the idea that somehow you could repay that person or his family. You would simply have to accept that you have been given an incredible gift. In fact, it would be offensive to act as if you could somehow earn that gift, or as if you were inherently worthy enough for someone else to die for.

The same is true if you go through life trying to be good to somehow earn forgiveness. You can’t earn the right for Jesus to die for you. There is no way you could do enough. You cannot be worthy of what God has done for you. All that is left is for you to accept it, or not.

By the same principle, if we are living our lives to please ourselves, if we have no enduring sense of gratitude, no certainty that our lives have been defined by the event when Jesus offered himself up in our place, the problem is not that we are failing to live righteously. The problem is, if you live like that, you must not actually trust that Jesus has given his life for you. It isn’t real to you. You don’t really believe it.

Paul says, the only thing is to trust Jesus. We have God’s approval when we cling in faith to what he has already done on our behalf. You can’t earn it. It is offensive for you to try. It’s offensive also when we refuse to let it change us or define our lives.

The law shows us how hopeless we are. Jesus is our only hope. As the writer of Hebrews says,

That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

THE SHOCKING, HORRIFYING HOLINESS OF GOD

ark of covenant1

Sometimes the holiness of God is revealed to us in ways that horrify us, and even makes us angry. It is comforting to know that this is a normal reaction – even David had it. But God’s holiness reveals some deep and important truths about us and our needs.

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 2 Samuel Part 6

8 David was angry because of the LORD’s outburst against Uzzah, so he named that place an Outburst Against Uzzah, as it is today. 9 David feared the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me? ” 10 So he was not willing to move the ark of the LORD to the city of David; instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the LORD remained in his house three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and his whole family. (2Sam 6:8-11, HCSB)

Here we have the two major themes of this text. First is this: God is so Holy, so different and “other” that he is inapproachable. If it means death to touch the mere representation of God’s presence, who can endure his actual presence? This was shocking and horrifying to David. It even made him angry. I think we forget that the Holiness of God is shocking, terrifying and horrifying. It may even make us angry. Why does God behave so inexplicably?

Sometimes I think because of the grace given in Jesus, we forget why that grace was so important and so unbelievable. I am in my forties, and I remember a time when the Soviet Union was the biggest threat that existed to the freedom and stability of the world in general. The Soviet government tortured and killed people who dared to question them. In fact, they killed almost as many of their own Soviet citizens as the Nazis killed during the battles of World War 2. They dominated the countries around them, creating an Eastern European alliance of oppressive communist governments. They built walls and guard towers and minefields to keep their citizens from escaping to the freedom of Western Democracies. In 1986, I personally stood at the edge of a minefield, watching a communist soldier manning a machine gun in a tower that was behind a mesh and barbed wire fence. It looked like a maximum security prison. I imagined the millions of people trapped behind that fence, people who would be gunned down or blown up if they wanted to be free.

Today, Soviet Communism is still around in little pockets, but it simply cannot threaten the free world in the way that it used to do. My kids find it difficult to look at the Russian Federation with the same kind of dread I used to feel for the Soviet Union – and they shouldn’t. But I do want to them appreciate that the world is a better place today than it was thirty years ago, because people they never knew made sacrifices and choices that led to freedom for Eastern Europe. It is too easy to forget how real the threat was, and to not be grateful that it is over.

The same is true when it comes to the work of Jesus. Without Jesus, if we were simply to wrongly touch a representation of a holy God, we could be killed, like Uzzah. There was an irreconcilable gap between us and him. But since Jesus intervened, we often forget how serious the problem would be without him.

Now, one question that I hear quite often is, “doesn’t God just accept us as we are?” Actually, no. If he did, there would have been no need for Jesus to sacrifice himself. He has to change us before he can accept us. Through Jesus, it is the power of God that does the changing, not our own work and effort.

There is nothing I can think of that really illustrates the holiness of God adequately. But let me take a few tries at it. We raise goats, pigs, and chickens on our little farm. We do not allow these animals in the house with us. Think about it for a minute. Why don’t we allow pigs in the kitchen? Why don’t we allow goats to stand on our table and eat with us? Why do we care if they defecate on the table while we eat?

It starts with this – we are other than these animals. They are fundamentally different than us. I think most people would be willing to agree that pigs are not humans, and that goats do not behave according to human standards. Even though it is quite natural for them, there is something in us that rebels against having a farm animal defecate on the table where we eat. We simply do not tolerate it. It revolts us. This revulsion is deep and instinctive, showing us that the differences between us and our animals are also deep and persistent. We love our animals. But we can still be revolted by their behavior. We love them, but we refuse to let their behavior into our home. We must place limits on how and when those animals can be with us.

We do allow some animals in our home – dogs and cats. But part of why we allow this, is because we can train them to behave according to our standards. Even so, most people don’t allow dogs to sit at the table and eat with them. Most people don’t allow cats on the dinner table either. When our dog Mario goes out and rolls in manure – as dogs like to do naturally at times – we insist upon cleaning him up before we let him back in the house. He can lick himself a little bit, but there is no way he can adequately clean himself up to meet our standards. We have to do the work of making him clean.

Why can’t we just accept the animals as they are, and allow the goats to defecate in our food, and the dog to come into the house covered in manure? Sometimes it is hard to explain why we can’t allow such things, but we can’t. We are too different. It is simply not in our nature to accept such things, while it is in the nature of the animals to do such things.

So, because we are born sinful in nature, it is natural for us to behave in ways that God simply cannot accept. His nature is as different from our nature, as a goat’s nature is different from mine. When our dog manages to sneak into the house covered in manure, my reaction is swift and shocking. I move quickly and loudly to keep him from transferring manure to our carpet. He can’t understand me if I try to explain it to him reasonably, so I have to get his attention in a way that may seem shocking and horrifying to him.

So it is with God. His response to Uzzah is shocking and horrifying. David became afraid when he saw it, and said, “how can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” Meaning, “how could I ever be close to a God who is like this?”

But what the Lord did for us in Jesus is to give us a new nature. This is one of the reasons I think it is so important to realize that when we are in Jesus, (that is, when we have received him through faith) we are no longer fundamentally sinful. God cannot fellowship with fundamentally sinful beings. He has cleaned us up, changed us in ways we could not change ourselves.

Even though that was still in the future during the time of David, the Lord found ways to communicate that was his plan. And he included even those who lived before the time of Jesus in that plan:

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. (Romans 3:25-26)

That grace is evident in this passage too. There is the shocking, horrifying holiness of God, the realization that we are fundamentally different and separated from him. But there is also a revelation here of his great goodness and love for his people. This holy, righteous, dangerous and incomprehensible God is also very, very good. He blessed the home, property and family of Obed-edom simply because the representation of his presence was left there. This is almost the opposite of David’s first problem. If the mere representation of God’s presence brings joy and grace and blessing, how can we not want God’s actual presence with us?

And so David is encouraged in his faith, and decides to bring the ark back to Jerusalem after all. As they proceed, David and the others with him are filled with joy and thankfulness to God.

5 David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of fir wood instruments, lyres, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals. (2Sam 6:5, HCSB)

14 David was dancing with all his might before the LORD wearing a linen ephod. 15 He and the whole house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of the ram’s horn. (2 Samuel 6:14-15).

There is a sense of extravagance and freedom here. There are all sorts of instruments. People are shouting, and dancing and blowing horns. God’s grace and joy are filling the people.

Now, I want to point a few things about this. First, it shows us that we don’t have to be narrow in how we worship God. Some people sang. Others danced. We have six different instruments named, and it sounds like there may have others used that weren’t specified. Worship, as described here, included free and open expressions of joy through music and dancing. The instruments listed here are a lot more like guitars, bass and drum than they are like a pipe organ. It looks there was a lot of spontaneity also.

David’s first wife, Michal, did not approve. She told David that he made a fool of himself. David’s response is one of the best verses in 2 Samuel:

21 David replied to Michal, “I was dancing before the LORD who chose me over your father and his whole family to appoint me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel. I will celebrate before the LORD, 22 and I will humble myself even more and humiliate myself. (2Sam 6:21-22, HCSB)

David understood that the only opinion about worship that matters is God’s opinion. He worshipped the way he did for the Lord, not for anyone else. He was willing to go even further, and look even more foolish for the Lord.

This is very important, and in more ways than you might realize. First, I think we need to be encouraged by this to give honor and worship to God, even if it means looking silly to the people around us. If you are worried about how you look, you will not be able to fully worship God. When I’m not playing guitar, sometimes I raise my hands. I do this sometimes even when I’m not “feeling the vibe.” I do it because God is worthy to raise my hands to – he deserves that kind of honor. I do it to remind myself to quit thinking what others around me might be thinking, and wonder instead what God thinks. Worship should not be governed by what we think is socially expected, but rather by how we can truly honor God.

The second point is this: Worship should not be governed by what we think is socially expected, but rather by how we can truly honor God. Yes, I know I just said that, but this time, turn it around the other way. I’ve been in worship services where the social expectation is that you raise your hands and dance and jump up and down. I think that is terrific if those things are the way you express honor to God. But sometimes, I want to honor God by kneeling quietly, or bowing my head and standing still, or just singing with all my heart. I should not allow social expectations to force me to raise my hands or dance, any more than I should allow them to stop me from doing those things.

Now, please don’t use that as an excuse to stand with your hands in your pocket, refusing to give God the honor he deserves. I’m just saying, don’t let what others think you should do, or what others are doing (or not doing) be your guide for how you worship. Freely and fully express yourself to God in keeping with the person he made you to be. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may nudge you to go out on a limb and be more expressive – if he does, do it. Sometimes the Spirit may nudge you and remind you not to put on a show for others, but to focus on Him alone. Listen to that too.

Our God is holy. I think one reason David and his people worshipped so extravagantly, is because they had a very recent reminder of how holy God is, and how big the gap was between them; and yet they also had a reminder of how good and gracious he is to bridge that gap himself.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about this today.