Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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What we Believe: The Rooted, Responding, Real Grace of Christ

November 7, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part Six

From the very Beginning of the Sermon Jesus is outlining the marks of the Kingdom that He Himself is ushering in.  The Beatitudes spell out how we become members of the Kingdom, a surely Blessed state.  All who exhibit these signs of blessing are inheritors of the kingdom.

The beatitudes are about becoming; becoming poor in spirit, meek, merciful, forgiving, righteous, peaceful children of God.  Those who display these traits are blessed or Happy.  Then we move to verses 12-16, in this section Jesus spells out who we are.  So we have become blessed in the beatitudes, then we move on to understand who we are in Christ:  we are Salt and light, impacting the world, seasoning it, enlightening the darkness with the power of the Gospel.  A light that shines in the darkness, a light that the darkness can not overcome.  This is who we are, mixing with the society, engaging the culture, in it, but not of it.

What makes us different?  We are different because of what we believe and who we believe in.

This leads us to the next section; we have become blessed, we know who we are, now Jesus instructs us in what we believe. (verses 17-20)  We believe the Word.  A Word which Jesus has come to both preach and fulfill.  The temptation among those who have heard Jesus up until this point is to believe that this radical new preacher has come to do away with the law and Scriptures they have always been taught.  Until now the people on that mount, listening to Jesus had only every heard of righteousness as taught by the Pharisees and religious leaders.  These leaders, over the centuries, had added to the law copious amounts of rules and regulations, stressing outward conformity, regardless of the inner condition.  Jesus shines the light of truth into the darkness of their hearts, while their lips honor God, the hearts of the Pharisees are far from God.  Jesus will rebuke these teachers, calling them a den of vipers, and whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but dead on the inside.  But in case anyone hearing this sermon was to doubt that Jesus was not orthodox, He uses this section to push those doubts aside.

Rather than slavery to law, Jesus gives us grace.  Grace rooted in the Word of God, (5:17-18).  Jesus’ ministry was to affirm the very Bible  that testified about His coming.  Grace responding to the law, (5:19).  Grace does not do away with the law, it responds to the law.   The law was meant to reveal the character of God, and set His people apart from the world.  The law reveals sin, (Romans 7:7-14) and Grace responds by covering our sin through Christ’s sacrifice. And finally Jesus preaches grace made Real in Himself, in Christ (5:20).  Righteousness is still required, but it is only through grace that we become more righteous than the Pharisees.

We are often tempted, when confronted with the grace of the gospel to change the subject and shift the focus to the law and rules that we all feel we need to uphold.  Think of the woman at the well in John chapter 4.  Jesus greets her and announces that the messiah has come, but all she wanted to do was to talk about how she worships and how her family has worshiped.  Beyond where the law prescribed that she should worship, Jesus wanted to address sin in her life and the heart of her worship.

The message of Jesus is one of grace, God’s grace has come upon us, and now we must deal with our sin, we cannot hide behind the law and behind rules.  Jesus sees into our heart and comes to proclaim the gospel recorded in the law and the prophets that one greater than Moses will come and has indeed come, and unless we are found righteous we will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.  The hope Christ provides is that through His grace we are found righteous in Him, when we become blessed, recognize whose we are, and believe in God’s grace.  Grace Rooted in His Word; Grace Responding to the Law;Grace made Real in Christ.

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The Triune Nature of Peace; The World’s Focus and the Christian’s Fruit…

October 21, 2011

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” -Matthew 5:9

If there is one unfortunate mark of God’s fallen creation under the reign of sin it is the absence of peace.   The absence of peace in our world, due to greed.  The absence of peace in our lives due to envy.  The absence of peace in our families, due to selfishness. The absence of peace in our hearts, due to sin.  In all of these areas peace is sought but remains elusive.    Creation burst forth from the mind of God, uttered into a perfect state of peaceful balance.  There was morning and evening, seas for fish, sky for birds, earth for creatures to crawl about and man to bear His image.  The harmony of God with His creation was denoted by the presence of peace in that creation.  With the emergence of sin came the eradication of this balance.  Think of it, within the first moments of the first sin, strife entered the marriage of the first couple, and separation emerged between man and the one whose image he bore.  God cursed man and creation, and prophesied that peace would be absent between the serpent and the fruit of the woman.  The effects of this proclamation were immediate.  Animals began to prey and brothers began fight, and long before rain fell, blood watered the ground of God’s garden.  God barred the entrance to that peaceful paradise and for thousands of generations we have sought to return. 

As the human family grew so too did the amount of strife.  Fighting families grew into fighting nations, warring against each other and against God.  Among these families, amidst these nations God chose the smallest and least significant to be His vehicle to restore peace.  This nation would bring peace to the world, peace in the present, peace in the future; they would be the children of God.  But as so often happens, the allure of sin proved a great obstacle, competing for the affections of God’s children.   Nevertheless, God’s mission would advance, the Messiah would come, and He would prescribe the pathway to peace.

Discernable in Christ’s teaching and example is a three pronged approach to finding and making peace.  Peace with others, peace with ourselves and peace with God.  Each of these has both a secular focus which often falls short and a spiritual fruit that defines true peace.  Let’s examine each.

External peace- This is peace with others.  Inter-relational peace.  Peace with those outside yourself, whether they are family members, competing companies, or ally nations.  This particular peace is the focus of the world.  The world community has never longed for something more than for there to be peace among the nations and never have they been more unsuccessful.  The League of Nations, the United Nations, the OAS, the G-6, G-8, even the IMF, World Bank and other economic organizations all exist to promote stability and the financial benefits of peace.  For the Christian, inter-relational fellowship, external peace with others, is not the product of mere cooperation, but rather the fruit of Godly fellowship.  We see the importance of external peace in Jesus’ life and ministry.  Peace begins with those closest to us and radiates out.  We reconcile ourselves with our brothers in Christ, through our fellowship with Him we work to maintain peace; and pursue confrontation only and always with repentance and renewal in view. (Matt 5:24, 7:1-5, 18:15-20)

Internal peace- This is peace with yourself.  Personal peace, the quiet calm of your soul amidst the storm of life. This particular peace is the focus of our generation.  In an age bereft of calm and full of strife, our generation searches in vain for any source of internal peace.  The acceptance of others, the acclaim of the community, fame and its fifteen minutes, and when these prove shallow this generation seeks to find peace in the numb nerves of drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, medications, therapy and sleep.  Each dark dead-end hallway leads on and on, deeper and deeper, never reaching the root of the problem.  For our generation internal peace remains elusive.  For the Christian, internal peace, peace with one’s self is the fruit of Spirit.  Internal peace comes only through the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer.  Christian’s who “are Christ’s and have crucified the flesh with its passions” (Gal 5:24), walk with and in the Spirit which produces; love, joy and peace.  So close is this relationship, that when sin is committed and the Spirit is grieved, internal peace becomes the first casualty; and can only be reclaimed through confession, repentance and renewal.    

Eternal peace- The final and arguably most important peace is peace with God.  This is eternal peace, peace that reconciles you to God and stays His wrath against your sin.  This particular peace is the focus of the religious in our society.  Theists of all stripes detect the presence of enmity between the creator and the creature.  This leads to innumerable paths and strategies to appease and live up to divine demands.  Fasting, praying, pilgrimage, indulgences, meditations, sacrifices, mantras and karma; all attempting to fill the void of separation between God’s holiness and our sin.  The combined weight of these efforts, on their own, is unable to tip the balance of divine judgment.  And peace again, remains elusive.  For the Christian eternal peace with God is the fruit of the cross.  Christ’s birth was the advent of eternal peace on earth. (Luke 2:14)  His work at Calvary satisfied the price of our sin.  And when we believe in that work and in the lordship of the one who performed it, we gain the immeasurable presence of peace with God.  The weight of Christ’s work crushes the scales of God’s judgment, and beneath the banner of His name, we enter with confidence into eternal peace with the Father.

Jesus proclaimed that the sons of God would make peace.  This proclamation is both a  challenge and a reflection on reality.  Do you wish to be among the children of God? Then make peace.  Peace with God through Christ; peace with yourself through the Spirit; and peace with others through Godly fellowship.  Our culture is searching for the source of a peaceful life. As Christians, are we displaying the fruits of those who have found the source?

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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.’