Archive for September, 2011

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The Offensive Defense: Peter, Malchus, the Preacher, and Christ…

September 30, 2011

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)  So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”’ -John 18:10-11

We are called to preach in an era of irrational relativism and religious apathy.  The enemies of the church, be  they secularists, muslims, atheists or liberals, are increasingly hostile to the gospel and its followers.  Whether we like it or not, as Christians, we are constantly confronted with the cohorts of culture that seek to take captive our freedoms and hinder our mission.  The world is ambivalent to God, hostile toward His Son, and antagonistic to His message.  In light of these facts what is to be the Christian response?

John 18 is a prime picture of the fallen creation.  Man, once created in a garden, bathed in light, walking in harmony with God; now lies in darkness, beset by weakness, hostility, and evil.  Gone is the cool of the day in which God walked among His good creation; in Gethsemane, day is exchanged for night and the Maker of the Garden is persecuted rather than pursued.

Peter is ready for the darkness.  He is armed and wakeful and when the enemies of God arrive, his desire is to not be counted among them.  Ignorant of who he really serves, he draws his weapon and strikes the ear of his opponent, blood is shed and likely Peter felt courageous defending Christ in the flesh.  One man between the forces of evil and the Messiah. Yet, we know according to Luke’s testimony that at this point Jesus interrupts the fray, “But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” (Luke 47:51)  Jesus healed whereas His follower hurt.

Much can and has been said about this episode in Jesus’ life, most likely nothing new can be added.  However, it presents a unique challenge to the modern Christian.  As preachers, we are called to engage the world.  A world shrouded in darkness, in hostile pursuit of our Lord, and we are armed with the sword of the Word.  But what is our mission?  What is our role in God’s battle plan?  These might seem like simple questions, even superfluous ones, but often we lose sight of our place and strike the wrong target.

Jesus was always focused on His mission.  Throughout the gospels He is sovereign over time and the course that His life must take.  Even with His first miracle, when prompted by His mother to provide for a wedding, His response was, “My time has not yet come.”  He silenced demons, because “His time had not yet come.”  he removed Himself from murderous mobs because, “His time had not yet come.”  But here in this scene, in the garden, His time had come.  He was committed to the mission given to Him by the Father.  He saw passed the torches, the guards, and the opportunity for a quick remedy.  Jesus was focused on the heart:  His heart, that had to be pierced and their hearts that had to be healed.  Beyond the situation, lay the reality of what must be done.

The Word is power.  By God’s Word the universe came into being; men were created from dust and de-created with flood; seas parted, rivers stood on end, walls fell, nations rose and were scattered; it is sharper than the two-edged sword wielded by Peter that night in the garden.  For those who acquire some familiarity with it, and have been impacted by its life-altering message, it can become easy to misuse the text for personal purposes.  We march to God’s defense with the tools we’ve been given, blissfully unaware of our own agenda, drunk with the derivative authority of the Word of God.  Frequently when faced with the enemies of God we mis-judge our mission, we draw our weapon and aim for the ears rather than the heart.

We are often blinded by the situation.  When faced with unbelievers and those hostile to our cause we stumble at a response.  Should we rise to His defense and draw blood? Or should we sit idly by why they carry our Lord away?

When we face the enemies of God we would be best served to remember that Jesus commanded that we take up the cross rather than the sword, that we are to serve others if we are to follow Him.  When the world attacks Christ and His church, we must not respond in kind, Jesus did not call us to be His defenders, he called us to be His disciples.  To serve rather than to save.

Our time is coming, indeed it has come, and we must see passed the torches, passed the rhetoric and see the frightened soldiers, scared and confused, who unwittingly serve the darkness that Christ has overcome.  Brothers and Sisters let us pick our battles and use our weapons wisely, for the sword may sever quickly but  Word has the power to save.

Col 4:5-6 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

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Satisfied vs. Gratified: the Superiority of Divine Satisfaction…

September 21, 2011

“Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, for they will be Satisfied.” -Matthew 5:6

We live in a world of instant gratification.  We all hunger, thirst and desire, we live to serve these appetites.  Our lives are organized around the next meal, the promising relationship, and the next fix.  Some of these are necessary for survival, others are necessary for “the good life.”  Throughout the years we have become more and more adept at servicing these needs with efficiency and expediency.  We have Aspirin for headaches, McDonalds for meals, Staples for supplies, and Snickers for snacks.  It is a “fast relief when you need it, that was easy, Hungry? Why wait?” world.  That we hunger and thirst is not the problem, the problem lies in the object of our desires and the methods we use to fulfill them.  C.S. Lewis wrote:

We are half hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased.

Jesus confronted a world absent of so many of the quick fixes we take for granted.  Food was rare, water was scarce and those in pain often lived lives racked with discomfort.  But the people in first century Palestine were cut from the same fallen cloth as you and I; they wanted their needs met in the now, and their hope realized in the present.  Jesus punctuated His ministry with parallel announcements: that the kingdom had arrived; and that we should still live for the promise of the Kingdom to come.  He offers a present satisfaction with the realization of who He is, and a future satisfaction in who we will become.

The world lies in the grips of one who is both evil and easy.  Satan confronts Christ in His temptations with the easy path: “hungry, turn these stones to bread;’ ‘want to rule, worship me.'”  Satan offers the same illicit solutions to us and too often we break under the appetite of the now.  So we settle for lifeless stones rather than the life-giving Word, and worship the creature rather than the Creator.  This basic sin is fundamental to how our world is structured, needs must be met now or not at all.

But Jesus seeks us, and His glory that comes from our satisfaction in Him.  So he lays out the appetites of a citizen of the kingdom.  If we hunger and thirst for bread, we can find gratification, but in a short while hunger will return.  If we take the bread of life, we will never hunger again.

The concept of divine satisfaction is rooted in the idea that only one thing can fill the need we all possess:  The need to revisit the days when we walked with our Maker in the cool of the day.  Entrance into that paradise can only be found when we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  And by His righteousness we enter in, secure in the satisfying presence of the source of our satisfaction.

Don’t settle for cheap imitations and instant gratification; the reward of righteousness is worth the wait.

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A.W. Tozer on Meekness…

September 14, 2011

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matt.5:5a

A fairly accurate description of the human race might be furnished one unacquainted with it by taking the Beatitudes, turning them wrong side out and saying, `Here is your human race.’ For the exact opposite of the virtues in the Beatitudes are the very qualities which distinguish human life and conduct.

In the world of men we find nothing approaching the virtues of which Jesus spoke in the opening words of the famous Sermon on the Mount. Instead of poverty of spirit we find the rankest kind of pride; instead of mourners we find pleasure seekers; instead of meekness, arrogance; instead of hunger after righteousness we hear men saying, `I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing’; instead of mercy we find cruelty; instead of purity of heart, corrupt imaginings; instead of peacemakers we find men quarrelsome and resentful; instead of rejoicing in mistreatment we find them fighting back with every weapon at their command. Of this kind of moral stuff civilized society is composed.

Into a world like this the sound of Jesus’ words comes wonderful and strange, a visitation from above. He is not offering an opinion; Jesus never uttered opinions. He never guessed; He knew, and He knows. His words are not as Solomon’s were, the sum of sound wisdom or the results of keen observation. He spoke out of the fullness of His Godhead, and His words are very Truth itself. He is the only one who could say `blessed’ with complete authority, for He is the Blessed One come from the world above to confer blessedness upon mankind. And His words were supported by deeds mightier than any performed on this earth by any other man. It is wisdom for us to listen.

The burden borne by mankind is a heavy and a crushing thing. The word Jesus used means a load carried or toil borne to the point of exhaustion. Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do, it is what comes to us when we cease to do. His own meekness, that is the rest.

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day.

The heart of the world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense. There is no release from our burden apart from the meekness of Christ. Good keen reasoning may help slightly, but so strong is this vice that if we push it down one place it will come up somewhere else. To men and women everywhere Jesus says, `Come unto me, and I will give you rest.’ The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend

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The Beatitudes Part 3: Blessed are the meek…

September 13, 2011

Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for the shall inherit the earth.”

Some Thoughts…

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing man’s condition and God’s design on multiple fronts.  The pattern is one beginning deep within the believer and slowly working its way our.  The blessed are those who are first poor in spirit.  Deep within themselves they come before God in abject spiritual poverty.  This spiritual poverty is hidden to the outside world, and known only by those who take stock of themselves in quiet moments of reflection before God.  From this personal assessment comes the state of mourning.  This is a slightly more public act.  You are broken over your sin and so you mourn, and while that can be intimidating you rest in the knowledge that you will be comforted.  After assessing your own spirit and mourning over your own sin you begin to behave differently around others, you act with meekness (gentleness).  Here the pattern becomes clear, inward change leads to outward evidence.

 

This leads to a change in posture.  Those who are humble enough to realize who they are before God, will behave in a way that reflects this understanding.  They will not be domineering or demanding to others, but instead behave as one who has nothing to boast in but Christ and Him Crucified.  They are meek toward God, obedient in their love for others, and live a life of worship in displaying these traits.  This is modeled for us by Christ in Phil 2:1-11.

 

We follow this pattern, and assume this posture living in the hope of the future that is promised.  The Kingdom of Heaven, an abundance of comfort, and finally the earth; for those who are poor, broken, and meek this is quite a promise.  And yet it is one fully lived out by our Lord, who embodied the pattern, the posture and the promise.  He who became poor in spirit (Phil 2:1-11), was broken and mourned over our sin, and finally was meek, even praying for those who crucified Him (father forgive them for they know not what they do); He also ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven, was comforted by the spirit and brought comfort to us, and has as His inheritance the Earth and all that is contained with in it.

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The Beatitudes: Sympathy, Empathy and Sin-pathy…

September 4, 2011

The Necessity of Christian Mourning

How should a Christian mourn? So much is discussed today about the pursuit of joy and comfort in the Christian life. Books are written about it, sermons are preached and conferences are held all for the purpose of planning out the path to true Christian joy and comfort. So much of what is written and too much of what is preached is based on a “defective doctrine of sin and a shallow idea of joy;” and they produce what Martin Lloyd-Jones called, “a very superficial person and a very inadequate kind of Christian life.”

Jesus gives us instruction displayed both in His teaching and His life that point toward comfort and joy. And the path he recommends is one of poor spirit, that simultaneously mourns in the present and finds comfort in the future. Jesus is our guide, He is our model. To be a Christian by definition is to be ‘like-Christ’. Christ mourned over one thing, sin; sins’ effects on His Father’s world, and His Father’s children. Again Lloyd-Jones describes it this way:

He mourns because He has some understanding of what sin means to God, of God’s hatred of it, this terrible thing that would stab, as it were, into the heart of God, if it could, this rebellious and arrogance of man, the result of listening to Satan. It grieves Him and He mourns because of it.

So in that vein, what models of mourning does Christ put forth. There are three that merit our attention; Sympathy, Empathy, and Sin-Pathy.

Sympathy: Mourning for others. This is mourning for the sins of the world. Seeing the suffering of others in sin and mourning for the loss of what might have been. Jesus crests the hill and beholds the Zion, Jerusalem the city of God’s chosen and cries, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together…but you would not have it.” Here Jesus sees the sin of others and mourns their rebellion, wishing for renewal and that it had been another way. This is sympathy, grieving for others and having a broken heart for others.

Empathy: Mourning with others. This is grief that you feel. Others are hurting, sin has taken its toll and you not only recognize it but you feel the emotions they’re experiencing. Jesus is informed of the death of His friend and the brother of His follower Mary; he arrives at the tomb, confident of the impending resurrection, but broken for the sorrow experienced through the pain of loss. John records with passionate simplicity that, “Jesus wept.” This is empathy, amidst the confidence of God’s sovereignty, and the promise of resurrection we still feel the pain of others and are broken over the loss inflicted by sin, so we mourn.

Sin-Pathy: Mourning sin in ourselves. This is necessary brokenness over our own sin. Lloyd-Jones describes it his way, “I must mourn about the fact that I am like that… A man who truly faces himself and examines himself… is a man who must of necessity mourn for his sins…” This mourning is personal, and comes about only when the light of the cross permeates the darkness of our sin-filled souls. This is a poor spirit, devoid of pride and in recognition of his true state before God, as one in need of redemption. Jesus while tempted, had no sin in Himself, but He rather took our sin upon himself. And in that moment uttered the lament of one encased in sins grasp, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” When we’re in sin we’re apart from God, forsaken and alone, assigned with the task bearing sins blunt sorrow. But praise be to God that in Christ that task, “is finished.”

The comfort we seek can only be found in sin-pathy. Brokenness over our own sin, and the renewal promised through the finished work of the cross. We face the difficult world, full of sin and its effects, knowing that there is blessing even in mourning, and that in mourning we shall be comforted. “That is the man who mourns, that is the Christian.”

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Joy Comes in the Mourning…

September 1, 2011

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Scripture, time and again, affirms two truths; We live in a world of denial. We live in a world that is in the grips of the evil one. These two statements are more than coincidental. Satan’s main goal is to get us to live in denial; denial over our sin, denial over God’s existence, denial over the truth and power of Scripture. The world buys into his philosophy and makes it a way of life. When bad things happen, when tragedy strikes the easiest thing to do is to seek comfort in the insufficient arms of denial.

This tactic stretches all the way back to the garden; Satan deceived Eve, planting a seed of denial, “surely you will not die…”. Eve and Adam bought the lie and in turn bought our slavery to sin. And when they sinned, they did not mourn, they did not grieve, they hid behind bushes hoping their sins would be covered, but leaves and brush were insufficient to remit their guilt. It would take blood, tears, and sacrifice.

The opposite of denial is truth. Jesus embodied this, as the Way, the Truth and the Life confronting a society that lived in denial. The Jewish leaders were in denial over their sin, the zealots were in denial over their Roman occupation, and the disciples were in denial that their messiah would have to die. Jesus confronts this society of denial with the truth of God’s authority and grace.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. This is a statement that makes very little sense in our world today, it was equally as confusing in first century Palestine. Basically Jesus is saying ‘happy are you who mourn, for you will find comfort. Following on the heals of the first beatitude we see a pattern begin to develop. In order to have great heavenly riches we have to become poor in spirit; now, in order to find comfort, we must mourn.

This is counter-intuitive; according to the world’s system we should seek riches now, and rely on our own self esteem. We shouldn’t mourn, we should be happy, and not let anything get us down; and if we’re down we should just drink our troubles away, or get therapy or take anti-depressants. But the key to a blessed life, a happy life, is spiritual humility and mourning.

When we stand in the light of Christ’s work for us on the cross, we see our sin exposed and laid bare before us. The appropriate response on our part is like that of Job, Isaiah, or the tax collector in Luke 18, ‘I am undone, I repent,’ ‘I am a man of unclean lips’, ‘have mercy on me a sinner.’ Each was humble, each mourned over sin, and each found comfort.

It is difficult to truly mourn when we are in denial. Mourning necessitates that we take a realistic look at ourselves and our situation and see what is really going on and deal with it. We must be willing to do this when tragedy strikes our lives, we must be willing to do this over our sin. The temptation is to simply move on and pretend the need for grief isn’t there. But giving in to this temptation robs us of the opportunity for real comfort.

I often think of that first Good Friday, which on the surface had very little good about it. Jesus is taken out of the city and placed on a hill, most likely with in view of a road leading into the city. (As it was the custom of the Romans to crucify criminals in full view of the public, to serve as a warning and demonstration of justice.) There is nothing pleasant about a crucifixion, and out of all those Jesus had taught, all those he had healed, all those whose lives were changed as a result of his ministry, scripture tells us that there were only three of his followers present before him at the base of the cross. Mary Magdalene, his mother Mary and John his disciple.

What were they doing there? They were mourning. Mourning the loss of their friend, their teacher, their son, their brother. They did not know yet about what was to come on Sunday. They simply saw the carnage before them and wept over the loss and his final words, “it is finished.” But just as he promised chapters and years earlier, comfort would come. And at the breaking dawn of the third day two of these three mourners would be the first to be blessed and comforted by the reality of his resurrection.

I often wonder, as countless people hurried passed the site of his execution, how many averted their eyes to be spared the reality of what was taking place? How many disciples and followers chose not to be present because ‘it was just to tough to watch’? How many chose denial over the reality of his death? How many people failed to mourn at the cross and as a result missed the comfort of the empty tomb? How many of us ignore the cross and the sin it confronts and miss the comfort of Christ?

The grace of God is that while weeping may last the night, joy comes in the morning. The message of Jesus is that while we yet sinners he died for us, so that we would have life and have it more abundantly. What stands between us and that abundant, happy life, is the brokenness of the cross, our humility to recognize it and the mournful confession that we need him. Jesus says, ’empty your spirit and I will fill it with mine.’ “mourn your sin, you will find comfort in my cross.’ ‘Weep, yes mourn, but know this, that joy comes in the mourning.’