Am I Ruled By God?

Posted by on April 29, 2004 under Bulletin Articles

In one consideration, being ruled by God is a simple consideration. The person, by choice, gives God control of his/her life. The person makes the will of God the top priority and concern in decisions made, choices picked, and directions taken. While it is understood that there may be a great amount of thought or discussion about “what is God’s will in this matter,” God’s will is the priority concern.

In another consideration, being ruled by God is a complex consideration. The complexity comes in knowing one’s motives. “Am I doing this for me or for God? Am I merely conforming to the expectations of my past and other people, or am I surrendering to God? Am I trying to manipulate God or serve God? Am I trying to make the important people in my life happy or am I seeking to bring joy to God? Does this arise from faith in myself or faith in God?” Those are hard questions to answer honestly! They focus on the truth that response to God must be internal as well as external.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Come be with us Sunday evening as we continue to study Coming to Christ in search for a better understanding of God’s rule.

Being Christ’s Witnesses

Posted by on April 25, 2004 under Sermons


Intro: After Jesus’ resurrection, he spends forty days ofinstruction and fellowship with his disciples.Because he lives, he is able to form a truthful community of people whoare forever changed by being in the presence of the living Lord.
Read Acts 1:1-11

Q & A with Jesus
Luke summarizes what must have been a fascinating forty days by reporting one brief dialogue betweenJesus and the apostles just before his ascension.

  1. The disciples have a question: Is it now that you’re goingto restore the Kingdom of God?
  2. Jesus’ answer establishes the relationship that this new community has with the Creator Godand the living Lord, he gives them instructions about what they must do – butit is rooted in who they are because of their encounter with the Lord: Godwill restore his kingdom according to his plan. As for you …

Let us confirm and confess that God is incharge. He rules. His rule is over all the earth and in thechurch we live by that rule – that’s why the church is a visible representationof God’s kingdom – because he rules. Heestablished the kingdom in Christ through the cross and the resurrection.
If we can trust the kingdom establishment andrestoration to God, then let’s consider what it means to live as his communitygathered beneath the cross worshiping the crucified savior who is also therisen, living King. What does it meanfor us to BE his witnesses? We will explore this bytaking a look at three pairs of words …

Knowing and Being

  1. Restoration is about people.
    • The restoration of kingdom is not establishment of an institution or political territory – it isabout the restoration of obedient people.The term kingdom when used of God’s kingdom does not refer to politicalterritory. His realm is the whole universe. Kingdoms are made up of people ruled by aLord – otherwise you just have land.
    • So, the term kingdom may also refer to “rule” or “reign” – If God is to restore his kingdom then it means more than people knowing about the boundaries and laws and it means more than knowing who is in and who is out. It calls for change – a change to our very being. The kind of change that happens when we encounter the good news about the kingdom.
  2. “Being in the know” is not the goal.
    • We are not the keepers of truth and gospel. We are witnesses to the truth.This makes quite a difference, for truth and gospel are not commodities that we can hoard or market. God is nota secret waiting to be revealed. God reveals himself.
    • The DaVinci Code -A secret society keeps a secret about Jesus, and only those in the know andthose who can find the clues and secrets can be in on the truth – and accordingto the book, the church is aware of itand they keep it secret and promote a lie that suits their purposes.
    • We are not a group that initiated people into our “club” if they know allthe secret wisdom. We publiclydemonstrate a different kind of living that is based on the presence andexistence of the Risen Christ.   (See David Chadwell’s bulletin article below about what it means to BE Christ’s witnesses and the community beneath the cross.)  We are not the guardians of the truthfor the truth speaks for itself, we are witnesses to it and we stand convictedand changed by it.
  3. Being who we know is the Kingdom way …
    • We are witnesses to the living Christ because we have “beheld him” andexperienced his presence – I mean this collectively – as a church, a peoplesurrounded by a cloud of witnesses trailing back to the first “eye-witnesses.”
    • Rather than being in the know we are called to BE who we know – JesusChrist.

Church and Witness

  1. A witness is a witness because of something that has happened.
    • One cannot train to be a witness.It is not a role or a title. One is a witness because he/she has seen, heard, experienced something. Something has happened to the person or around the person and he/she experienced it.
    • It may have changed you – but you didn’t necessarily have anything to dowith it. [9/11- changed many who witnessed it]
  2. The apostles witnessed the risen Lord.
    • And that is why they are “church.”
    • Recall that Christ appears to over 500 after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15)
  3. Good leaders stay true to this (Acts 1:22)
    • Eleven Witnesses wasn’t enough, why? Because this is a witnessing community – not just individuals.Many share in this common experience of the gospel event.
    • The criteria for leadership among the apostles is a witness to the risen Lord (Acts 1:12-15) -even Paul witnesses the risen Christ and it changes him (Acts 9).
    • We just “are” witnesses because we have believed in something revealed – something we witnessed and something affirmed since the time of the first eyewitnesses.

Power and Prayer

  1. We continue to witness the active work of God among us. If he is living (and we affirm this) then he is still present. That means he is capable of action.
  2. Jesus promises empowerment from God. It is a gift.
  3. The first “work” of the church is prayer.
    • “I have so much to do that I cannot begin the day without three hours of prayer” – Martin Luther
    • This is our problem. Ourvalues are upside down – we believe that prayer is the seasoning for the maincourse. In reality, prayer is the root,stem and leaves – our effort is just a blossom.
    • We have a hard time believing that prayer actually gets anything done. We are a little too secular and we want things that we can chart and measure and plan. We want to meet needs and fix problems. We tend to believe prayer is good for the soul, but little else.

Be Still and Know That I Am God
When I ministered for the church in Lake Jackson, Texas, three of us attended a wonderful evangelism conference. We were heading home and buzzing about all of our ideas to take what we had learned and put it into action at Lake Jackson. Halfway home we ran out of gas. I was driving and I have only run out of gas twice in my whole life (and the first time it was the car’s fault – a bad gas guage). So now the three of us sat in a van with no gas on I-45 near Fairfield, TX.We were stopped in our tracks and this gave us time to recall that the first work of the church is prayer. All of our ideas and enthusiasm could not match the power available to us as a gift from the living Lord.
So my companions and I were brought before God in prayer. It was for the church that we prayed. It was for the lost that we prayed. It was for the future that we prayed. As the world rushed on at 70 mph, we sat and prayed. All of our talk about plans and programs (evangelism) and busy-ness were put aside. There was only one thing that we needed to do – and it wasn’t finding gasoline. We prayed.

Running out of fuel is so symbolic of where we often find ourselves in all of our “busy-ness.” Even our church busy-ness can be a distraction from letting God work, and paying attention to that so we can BE his witnesses. If only we would pray more and ask God to give us what we need and allow him to use us as he wants.

Will we stop to be changed in order to BE the witness he needs us to be? When we disregard or neglect prayer and worship, what are we saying? Do we believe the power and the work is up to us or God? When we bear all the responsibility aren’t we acting as if we have all the authority and ability – even if we would never admit that publicly? Our actions must be consistent with our belief because church is a matter of BEING Christ’s witnesses.

God, Please Hear My Prayer

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)

“God, open my eyes to Your holiness, purity, and goodness. Help me not make You as I wish You to be in order to serve my own interest, but help me see You as You are. Help me realize that it is in seeing You as You are that enables me to see myself as I am. Help me understand that it is only in seeing You as You are that I become aware of how desperately I need You. Help me never doubt that You seek my eternal best interest.

“My world is such a confusing place! It so easily deceives me! It makes me think that the destructive is good for me, that the unimportant is the important, that the temporary is forever, that physical pleasure is my ultimate good, and that security is found in possessions rather than in You. The more physical things I have, the emptier I become. The only enduring peace I experience is the peace that comes when I am full of You. It is Your kingdom, not my wants, that gives my life meaning. It is your will, not my physical desires, that give my life purpose. Help me find my meaning in You!

“Give my mind the eyes to see that every truly good thing that exists in my life is a gift from Your hands. I have so much that it is easy to be selfish. Because so much is available to me daily, it is simple to depend on “my abilities” rather than Your love. As You said to Abraham, may I hear You say to me that I am blessed to be a blessing. May I not search for my meaning in wealth, but in You.

“May in my experiencing Your grace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion I ceaselessly be challenged to fill my life and actions with grace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion in all my interactions with others. May I know You made me to reflect You. May I know the only one who reflected You perfectly was Jesus. May I increasingly yield myself to mirroring You in my life. May I understand that if I fail to reflect You to others, I fail in the basic purpose You give my existence.

“I have no hope when I confront Satan in my life and my world unless You are with me. Keep Your promise to never desert me. Give me the courage to trust this promise. Because of this promise, may I never stop using Your strength to confront evil in my life and my world. In the hope of my forgiveness, may I live in and share Your joy!

“Through my perfect mediator and intercessor I come to Your throne of grace in boldness, awe, and reverence!”

Coming to Christ, part 2, “Our Purpose in Coming”

Posted by on April 18, 2004 under Sermons

All of us have known someone who had “tunnel vision.” By “tunnel vision” I mean a person who focused exclusively on one view, one concept so that is all he or she saw. That one concern became “the explanation” for everything that happened in the families, or in the country, or in the world.

If we would be honest with ourselves and others, it is likely that all of us suffer at times from “tunnel vision.” You usually can detect “tunnel vision” by the questions asked. Very complex matters are reduced to single, simple declarations.

Let me give some examples of questions that warn us “tunnel vision” is just ahead. “Do you know what is wrong with American families? Let me tell you what is wrong with American families!” “Do you know what is wrong with our government? I can tell you what is wrong with our government!” “Do you know what is wrong with our economy? This is what is wrong with our economy!” “Do you know what is wrong with our world? Let me tell you what is wrong with our world!” “Do you know what is wrong with the church? I can tell you what is wrong with the church!”

Usually people who suffer from “tunnel vision” are quite sincere and very serious. Their concern may be a legitimate concern. The difficulty: their concern in a complex matter is just one problem of many problems.

Sometimes our study of the Bible is limited because of a type of “tunnel vision.” We hear something so much, we are taught how to look at something so consistently, that we think only one thought when we hear a scripture or look at a subject. I am not talking about adding something that is not there. I am talking about seeing everything that is there.

  1. Let me give you a possible example of “tunnel vision” in the study of scripture.
    1. When I say Genesis 1 (the first chapter in the Bible), what do you think?
      1. Probably all of us think, “Creation,” God’s acts bring the world and life into existence.
      2. When I say “creation” what do you think?
        1. Do you think, “I sure would like to know the answers to questions arising from the clash between creation and evolution”?
        2. Do you think, “I sure would like to know where dinosaurs fit in”?
        3. Do you think, “That is the beginning of history”?
        4. Do you think, “That tells me how life began”?
        5. Do you think, “That is the beginning of the Bible story”?
        6. Just what is it that you focus on when you hear the word “creation”?
    2. Do you ever think that Genesis 1 holds the key to understanding the basic problem addressed in the entire Bible?
      1. Do you ever think that if you want to understand God’s actions throughout the whole Bible, you need to begin by understanding a truth in Genesis l?
      2. First consider some statements from Genesis 1.
        Genesis 1:26,27 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
        1. The “us” in this statement is likely not a reference to the trinity, but use of language of a mighty king making a pronouncement, which was a common way that a Near Eastern king made pronouncements.
        2. God completed His creation by creating human beings, His most important creative act, the crown jewel of His creation, His touch of completion.
        3. He made them in the image and likeness of God.
        4. “Image” and “likeness” is about more than what we lost when we sinned.
        5. God’s purpose for people was to reflect Himself.
        6. He placed some of His qualities in humans–they were creatures of choice who were capable of exercising independence; they were made to rule.
      3. Genesis 1:31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
        1. Question: why was it very good?
        2. Answer: God’s creation reflected God’s goodness.
        3. The sovereign king could look at His creation and see something that reflected Who and What He was.
      4. Hundreds of years later, Paul wrote this about God’s creation in Romans 8:18-22:
        For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
        1. Paul made this statement in his discussion of Christian suffering.
        2. This statement is based on some deep theology.
        3. However, there is one fact this is simple and evident: creation did not serve the role or fulfill the purpose God intended for it.
        4. That means we did not serve the role or fulfill the purpose God intended for us.
        5. What was that role, that purpose? To reflect God.
        6. Instead of reflecting God, we rejected God’s sovereignty and reflected sin (evil).
        7. The crowning jewel, God’s touch of completion, rejected God’s sovereignty and reflected God’s bitter enemy instead of reflecting God.

  2. Consider this illustration.
    1. God created, completed the creation with humans, looked at what He had made, and was deeply pleased–His good creation reflected His own goodness.
      1. I have no idea how much time passed from Genesis 1 to the rebellion in Genesis 3, but in this period God was perfectly at ease with humans, and humans were perfectly at ease with God.
      2. Genesis 3:8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
        1. The first time they were uncomfortable with and felt threatened by God’s presence was after their rebellion, after their rejection of God’s sovereignty.
        2. Why did they rebel? Why did they reject God’s sovereignty?
      3. Genesis 3:1b-5 And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
        1. “Has God ever told you a whopper!”
        2. “You won’t die!”
        3. “He knows you will be like Him!”
        4. Note that when Eve examined the tree, among other things she saw that the tree was “desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).
    2. From the moment they rebelled against God and thereby rejected God’s sovereignty until what you and I understand to be the final judgment, God has had a common objective: to reassert His sovereignty over a rebellious creation.
      1. God did not wish to destroy His creation, but to reclaim His creation.
      2. Sure He could have used His power to destroy and end the rebellion.
      3. But He wanted to give humanity opportunity to voluntarily accept His sovereignty and return to relationship with Him.
      4. That is why Christians exercise the choice to be part of God’s kingdom.
    3. Perhaps your reaction is, “That is all very interesting but also a very unnecessary understanding.”
      1. May I assure you that it is not an unnecessary understanding.
      2. May I assure you that this understanding is the very core of living for God.

  3. “David, why would you make a statement like that? Why would you dare suggest that restoring God’s sovereignty is the core reason for being in God’s kingdom?”
    1. The problem is reflected in these attitudes:
      1. “How can a person go to heaven and stay out of hell–barely?”
      2. “Please teach me how to live like I want to and not pay any consequences for it.”
      3. “Show me where the Bible says that I will go to hell for watching pornography, or destroying somebody’s marriage, or being aggressive in business (greed), or finding pleasure?”
      4. We even have our justifications:
        1. “God wants me to be happy.”
        2. “X will make me happy.”
        3. “God wants me to do this ungodly thing so I can be happy.”
      5. The result of all such reasoning is that we look at the New Testament as a Christian’s rule book.
        1. “If I keep the rules, God has to save me!”
        2. The trick is to get as close to the line without crossing it–so I want to know precisely where God draws it.
    2. This entire way of reasoning misses the point of Christian existence.
      1. The question is not [and never has been!], “How can I stay out of hell?”
      2. The question is [and always has been!], “How does this allow me to reflect God in who I am and the way I live.”
    3. In fifty years, people have asked me a lot of questions and lectured me on a number of things.
      1. “Do you think I can marry this person and it be okay with God?”
      2. “Do you think God will just overlook my affair?”
      3. “Do you think it would be okay to take this if I promise God to give Him half of it?”
      4. “God would hate that person, too, if that person treated God like he/she treats me!”
      5. “I don’t read anywhere in the Bible that says this is wrong!”
    4. We are giving ourselves the wrong answers and coming to the wrong conclusions because we do not ask the right question.
      1. God made us to reflect Him.
      2. When we live or act in ways that do not reflect God, we reject our created purpose.
      3. It is not about “keeping the right rules;” it is about reflecting God by accepting His sovereignty.

We have kept our focus fixed so tightly on commands that we often cannot see God. Its an old mistake. The nation of Israel made it frequently. The Pharisees made that mistake big time. If we are not careful, we will repeat the same mistake.

1 John 3:1-10 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

Is your life committed to reflecting God?

The Community Beneath the Cross

Posted by on under Sermons

The Church of the ChristOrder of Worship and Discipleship:

    Welcome and Prayer

    Song #977 – “Everytime I Feel the Spirit”
    Song #47 – “Holy, Holy, Holy”
    Song #162 – “All Hail The Power of Jesus Name”

    Song #113 – “His Grace Reaches Me”


    Song #96 – “I Stand in Awe”


During my college years I was involved with the Razorbacks for Christ campus ministry. Every semester we had a spiritual retreat and there was a popular retreat center we went to more than once in Oklahoma. The panorama window at the retreat conference room looked out on a field which ended at a river. Beyond the river was a low mountain ridge that would be multi-colored in the fall and green in the spring. But there was one constant feature on that mountain ridge – a huge white cross that stood up among the trees. It even glowed at night.

On one of our later visits to the Oklahoma retreat center I made a proposal to three of my friends. It was Saturday afternoon and we had nothing planned. We had had our fill of basketball and canoeing, so I said to them, "Let’s find that cross." We had speculated about it all those years – what was it there for, who placed it there? So we drove away from the retreat center and set off on the road that we hoped would take us over to the mountain ridge. We kept the cross in sight and then turned in on a county road that appeared to take us into the hills. We asked directions along the way often, "How does someone get to the cross?" Some knew, others had a notion, still others were clueless. Finally we made our way to a narrow gravel road that trailed steeply up the hill.

Not knowing what to expect, we got out of the car and walked up the road. As we climbed the hill with the gravel crunching beneath our feet we saw the top of the white cross rise up in our view. It was large and high. We pushed on more eagerly until we came to level ground. Now we had the whole cross in our field of view; it towered above us. But now we saw a new sight that amazed us – there was a little community built around the cross. The cross was actually a water tower. It was in the center of a little community that had two or three houses, a chapel, a barn, and a garage for trucks and equipment. The area directly under the cross was a small park with a bench and a little spire that had "Peace on Earth" inscribed on it in many languages. We lingered for some time in the community beneath the cross then we returned to the retreat center. Back at the retreat center we looked at the familiar cross on the mountain landscape with a new fascination. It looked the same as it always had, but now we knew that there was a community gathered beneath that cross. It made the cross seem alive somehow.

      Since the discovery my friends and I made years ago during our retreat I have learned that the community with the cross-shaped water tower is called Sparrow Hawk Village. This is the home of the Light of Christ Community Church and the Sancta Sophia Seminary. It is important to keep in mind that the story I tell is from my own point of view and it is used as a parable to illustrate biblical teaching about the church found in John 12-15; 1 Cor. 1-4.
      The parable about our discovery of a community beneath a cross-shaped water tower is not intended to endorse the beliefs or philosophy of the Light of Christ Community Church. I have no association with LCCC and Sancta Sophia Seminary. (I didn’t even meet anyone when we were there!) West-Ark Church of Christ is not associated with Light of Christ Community Church, Sancta Sophia Seminary or Sparrow Hawk Village in any way.

The community my friends and I saw that day was organized and formed around the cross. Using this story as a parable, let the symbol of the cross represent the gospel and the reign of Christ, and let the community represent the church. I believe the church is meant to be a community beneath the cross. The cross is the community’s source of existence; it is a sign for the community; and it gives the community its shape.

The Cross as the Source of Community – [Being the Gospel]
1 Corinthians 1:18 – For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The cross – a water tower – was a source of life for the community. The good news of the cross and the resurrection is a source of life for those who are added to God’s community. We see this very vividly in baptism, which is a participation in the gospel event – there is a death and resurrection. Baptism is an anchor event in the life of a believer. Paul claimed that recalling one’s baptism was the reason for avoiding sin – the life of a believer is draws from a new set of values (Romans 6).
Against the powers of evil and conflict, the cross proclaims victory — Jesus our King is our champion.
In a world full of deceit and corruption, the cross proclaims truth — Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
During moments of doubt and emptiness, the cross proclaims fulfillment — Jesus is the Son of God who shows us who we really are.
In the midst of suffering and shame, the cross proclaims companionship — Jesus is the Suffering Servant who endures suffering with us.
Against the condemnation and failure of sin, the cross proclaims forgiveness – Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The church is weakened when powers other than the power of the gospel function as its source of life. For instance, when tradition and custom eclipse the gospel, the church is fueled by a limited source. Paul says that wisdom and well-crafted arguments are not a worthy substitute for the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). When strong personalities and human effort eclipse the gospel, the church becomes confused about who is truly its Lord and founder. Paul says that his role in establishing congregations and their regard for his work really doesn’t amount to much. And for that matter, no one can single out a special role for himself or herself in church leadership since the church is the result of God’s effort and all of us are servants in that work (1 Corinthians 3:4-9). We get ahead of ourselves and make a claim for ourselves that even the apostles would not make when we claim that building the church is our responsibility. The message of Acts is that faithful disciples became the agents of God as they were empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Is it arrogant or presumptuous to claim that we are empowered by God’s spirit? Well, one certainly can make spiritual claims in a presumptuous manner (and that often means making such claims individually rather than communally). But how much more presumptuous and arrogant is it to assume that we can do anything without God’s spiritual empowerment? If the cross and all it represents is not our source – then what is?

The Cross as the Sign of the Community [Saying the Gospel]
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

The community beneath the cross never takes the attention away from Christ or the gospel. Remember from the parable that it was the cross that attracted us to that community. My friends and I began our quest to discover the meaning of the cross. We found the community by seeking the cross. In a culture in which people are urged to find the “the church of their choice,” we need to resist the temptation to become the most popular church by presenting ourselves. If our message is about who we are, then our message is off-topic. On the day of Pentecost, the church was established with power, but the topic of the sermon was the church – Peter’s message was about the Lordship of Christ (Acts 2:36). Paul came to Corinth resolved only to preach Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). People’s tastes in “church” might change, but the message of Christ and his cross is a constant. People are seeking a church home because they are ultimately seeking God. We are the companions and community that meet and are gathered together as we are drawn to the cross. (John 12:32).

Of course, some people may encounter the community before they see the cross. Imagine if my friends and I were just hiking along through those hills and came upon this little community. In that case, the community would be the first thing we see and the cross would be noticeable as we moved closer. Sometimes, we are the sign for the cross. That’s not wrong. We do need to live up to our name – not simply for our sake but for the sake of the world. Jesus didn’t ignore the fact that our community would be a witness and we would be proclaimers in word and action.

The Cross as the Shape of the Community [Doing the Gospel]
John 13:34-35 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The love for one another is not simply directed inwardly. The church does what Jesus does. We demonstrate compassion, love and service to all – within the church and without. Our mission has all of creation in view. The parable of the community beneath the cross also suggests that the church is connected to the surrounding culture and world. That little community beneath the cross was part of the mountain landscape. It had not separated itself or isolated itself from the landscape in such a way that it was inaccessible. We are in the world, but not of the world.
Jesus describes the church as salt, light, and leaven. Each of these items effect a change: salt preserves and adds flavor, light illuminates, and leaven causes dough to rise. They effect change because they maintain their distinctiveness. This is why Jesus warned us not to lose our saltiness. However, maintaining our distinctiveness in isolation is not an option. Salt, light and leaven act within their environment – salt works within food, light works within darkness, leaven works within dough. As a community beneath the cross, the church is the community formed at the intersection of the gospel and the world that is reordered and transformed by that gospel. The church, like our Lord, is an incarnation of the gospel. What does the church of Christ look like, well very simply it looks like Christ. We act and serve in his name.

There is an image of a community beneath the cross that came out of the aftermath of 9/11. Rescue workers who risked their lives gathered beneath a cross formed out of the pain and suffering of tragedy. This little community didn’t think of itself – it thought of the lost. But in their mission to rescue the lost, they acknowledged that they too needed to be saved. The mission of the church in the world is not self-preservation. How could it be if our Lord’s mission was not self-preservation but sacrifice? In truth the church has no mission that it can call its own. The mission is God’s – he takes the initiative. He reaches out in love to create a world. He reaches out in love to transform that world when it is corrupted by sin. God is the first evangelist – he sends his son Jesus not to condemn the world but to seek and save that which is lost – which includes us.

We often call the sinners – the lost. I think we would do well to call ourselves the found so that we will remember that the church is the gathering of those who are being saved by the power of the gospel. We are not something special on our own. None of us arrived already saved. All of us were the lost who are now gathered in by God’s grace. So, the church moves through the world as a servant and a testimony of God’s power. Our mission is not to stride through the world as though we own it. We are not called to appear as people who have it all together, know all the answers, never make mistakes, and are always successful. Paul proclaimed his faults, weaknesses, and failures so that he could proclaim the power of God – and he urged us to do the same … (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

We, the found, are now empowered by God’s spirit and sent to participate in His mission. So our mission as the church is God’s mission. We are formed by the cross and we lift it up so that all will be drawn to it. If they come to Christ, they will come in among us – the Community Beneath the Cross.

    Song for Responses – #314 – “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”

    Prayer and Sending Out

Is Jesus Big Enough To Be Your Christ?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Matthew 9:2-8 And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”-then He *said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

This is a fascinating incident in Jesus’ ministry! Both the paralyzed man and his friends had enormous faith just to come to Jesus. I have no question but that they came anticipating a healing of the paralysis. Jesus gave them more than expected which they likely regarded as less than expected. He assured the man he was forgiven. Forgiveness of sins is eternal. Ending paralysis is as temporary as life in this physical world.

The healing occurred as a result of the reaction of critics instead of the man’s need. The critics said among themselves that Jesus had no right to forgive sins. How dare this human assume to do something only God did!

Jesus responded by asking which was easier: to forgive the man’s sins or to heal his paralysis? To demonstrate he could do both, he healed the paralysis. Those who witnessed the event gave God the glory for giving such authority to men.

Ironically, we are more unlikely to question Jesus’ power to forgive but question his power to do the incredible and unexpected. Ask a person if Jesus can forgive him/her, and the person likely will respond, “Certainly!” Ask the same person if Jesus has the power to change him as a person or her as a person, and the likely response will be, “I doubt it!” Thus Christians likely rely heavily on forgiveness and little on transformation. We desperately want forgiveness, but are hesitant to want change.

There is never a moment we do not need Jesus’ forgiveness, but the objective of forgiveness is internal transformation (change) that ends external disobedience. Remember the sinful lady Jesus rescued (John 8:11)? “Go. From now on sin no more.”

Every moment in a Christian’s life he/she receives forgiveness. Yet, never forget God forgives us in the expectation that we will change.

Colossians 3:1-4 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Coming to Christ, part 1, “Belonging to God”

Posted by on April 11, 2004 under Sermons

To function in the American culture of 2004, it is absolutely essential to know how to heal relationships. In our current culture, rare is the adult [man or woman] who has not experienced a broken relationship.

It may be a divorce involving parents. It may be alienation from a parent. It may be alienation from a brother or sister. It may be losing a meaningful friendship. It may be experiencing your own divorce. It may be problems with your boss or fellow employees. It may be hostility with a neighbor. It may be a conflict in the congregation. It may be struggle with a church leader. Whatever it is, a relationship is ruptured and in desperate need of repair.

The work of repairing a relationship is called reconciliation. Whether it is repairing a human relationship or relationship with God, we are talking about reconciliation.

The core fact about salvation is centered in healing our relationship with God. Put in terms used in scripture, salvation is about reconciliation. If relationship with God is not healed, there is no salvation. If salvation exists, relationship with God is healed.

Let me be clear and specific about my objective. I am going to do all within my power to make each of us think by going to scripture. I want you to allow God to speak to you from His word. Agreeing with David Chadwell is never the issue. Hearing God is always the issue.

  1. Let’s begin by listening to God.
    1. Consider these scriptures.
      1. Ephesians 2:13-16 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
      2. Colossians 1:19,20 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him [Jesus], and through Him [Jesus] to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His [Jesus] cross; through Him [Jesus], I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
      3. Romans 5:8-11 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him [Jesus]. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
      4. 2 Corinthians 5:18,19 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
    2. In these readings about God’s act of making reconciliation with people possible, I want to call something to your attention.
      1. For God, reconciliation is an act, a specific event.
      2. That divine act or event is centered in God’s action in Jesus’ cross when Jesus became His promised Christ.
      3. For God, reconciliation involved Jesus’ blood, Jesus’ sacrificial death, and Jesus’ resurrection.
      4. When God offered Jesus, that offering was the reconciliation event for God–from that moment a perfectly healed relationship between God and sinful humans was possible.
      5. The point I want you to keep clearly in mind is this: for God, reconciliation with sinful people is an event that involved sacrificing Jesus.

  2. Let’s continue to let God speak to us.
    1. Consider these scriptures:
      1. 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
      2. 2 Corinthians 1:1,2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
      3. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
    2. Is anything obvious to you?
      1. The letter is addressed to God’s church in Corinth.
      2. These people are believers, penitent ones, baptized ones whom God had added to the church.
      3. Paul, as God’s ambassador to Gentiles, is making an appeal to these Christians in Corinth.
        1. It is an earnest appeal–“we beg you.”
        2. What is the appeal? “We beg you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
      4. Relevant question: how can it be that these baptized believers are in need of being reconciled to God?
        1. Why was reconciliation not “a done deal” when they were baptized into Christ?
        2. If they were baptized, why do they still need to be reconciled to Christ?
    3. Too often we have either taught or created the impression that all that was necessary was baptism.
      1. We have not emphasized faith in God’s act in the cross and Jesus’ resurrection much.
      2. We have not emphasized repentance, the redirecting of life, much.
      3. We have emphasized baptism a lot.
      4. I am fearful we have created the impression that “if I have been baptized, immersed in water, for the remission of sins, everything is A-OK (cool) between God and me.”
      5. If we are not quite careful, we become guilty of encouraging people to place their faith in an immersion instead of in Jesus’ cross.
    4. May I call something obvious to your attention?
      1. For God, reconciliation is an event, an act.
      2. For us, reconciliation is a journey.
    5. Consider this chart.
      1. Under consideration is a sincere, thoughtful response to Jesus Christ because of faith in Jesus’ crucifixion and a desire to redirect life.
        1. If we were to ask this person at baptism into Jesus Christ if he/she understood reconciliation, he/she likely would say, “Yes!”
        2. After this serious Christian grows for a couple of years, we ask again, “Do you understand reconciliation?” He/she likely responds, “I think so.”
        3. After this serious Christian grows for ten years, we ask the same question again, “Do you understand reconciliation?” He/she likely responds, “Maybe.”
        4. After this serious Christian grows for fifteen years, we ask again, “Do you understand reconciliation?” He/she likely responds, “I wonder.”
        5. After this serious Christian grows for thirty years, again we ask, “Do you understand reconciliation?” He/she likely says, “I have more questions than answers.”
      2. Why? Why is it that the more we grow toward God the more we are humbled by the concept of reconciliation?
        1. We grow in understanding to be awed by the vastness, the hugeness of reconciliation.
        2. When sin first entered this creation, so much more happened than just the perversion of physical creation.
        3. Something happened to affect God’s sovereignty; something happened in heaven; something happened in the war between good and evil.
      3. Listen to God speak to us.
        1. Luke 10:17,18 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”
        2. Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
        3. 1 Corinthians 15:28 When all things are subjected to Him [Jesus Christ], then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
        4. Sin caused something huge to happen; reconciliation caused something huge to happen.

  3. Question: when is a person 100% reconciled to God?
    1. By the grace and mercy of God, throughout the entire journey toward God.
      1. If because I believe in what God did in the cross, I want to redirect my life, and I am baptized into Christ, am I 100% reconciled to God? Yes! Because of what I did in baptism? No! Because of what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection!
      2. After two years of living in Christ, am I 100% reconciled to God? Yes! Because of what I achieve? No! Because of what God achieved in Jesus’ death and resurrection!
      3. And so it is all the years a person lives in Christ. At every point he/she is 100% reconciled to God because of God’s grace and mercy as shown in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      4. In every culture, in every corner of the world, in every degree of education, in every degree of poverty, in the face of every form of injustice and repression, in every degree of being deprived, the man or woman who is in Christ is, by the mercy and grace of God, 100% reconciled to God at every point on his/her journey toward God.
        1. It is never a matter of how we compare to each other.
        2. It is always a matter of having confidence in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Have you begun the journey?

20 Seconds That Make All the Difference

Posted by on under Sermons

  1. We anticipate many visitors this Easter Sunday. So please greet everyone you see – especially new faces!
  2. The theme of worship and the sermon is a transition from the sermons responding to   The Passion of the Christ   and anticipating a series from April 18 – May 16 focusing on what it means to be Christ’s church. We have focused on the cross, now what does it mean to be a Community Beneath the Cross?
  3. Remember in your prayers those on our published prayer lists.
  4. Read the following Scriptures as you pray and prepare for worship: Psalm 118:15-24; Revelation 3:19-21; John 20-21; Luke 24; Mark 16; Matthew 28; 1 Corinthians 15.

The Passion of the Christ

Order of Worship and Discipleship:

    Welcome and Prayer

    Scripture for Call to Worship (Psalm 118:15-24)

    Song – “This is the Day That the Lord Has Made”
    Song #587 – “Sing and Be Happy”
    Song #162 – “All Hail the Power”
    Song #166 – “He’s My King”

    Scripture Reading (Revelation 3:20-21)

    Song #364 – “Come, Share the Lord”

    Offering (with a song)

    Song #828 – “Instruments of Peace”

(John 20:19-23)

Critics of   The Passion of the Christ   have complained that the movie only gives 20 seconds to the resurrection …

  • Without the 20 seconds of the resurrection the movie is an empty, meaningless tragedy. There is no hope, no justice, and very little meaning to Christ’s death on a cross.
  • With the 20 seconds everything is changed. As Jesus says to Mary in the film, "Behold, I make all things new!"
  • It is fitting that the titles do not roll until after the scene of the resurrection, for this truly is the beginning!

It makes a difference whether we regard someone as dead or alive

  • We can revere, imitate, remember, memorialize a historical figure.
  • We can learn about them, we can discover new things about them that we did not know before
  • We can discuss their life and teaching.
  • But we cannot interact with them. We cannot learn from them. [Hillary Clinton was criticized for conversing with Eleanor Roosevelt – Mrs. Roosevelt really cannot say anything to Mrs. Clinton that she doesn’t imagine for herself.]
  • But if a person is alive, we can talk to them and learn from them.

If Jesus is dead …

  • Then he is at best a revered figure from the past. A just man and noble teacher who died for his principles. He lives on in the memory of his followers and through his teaching. His immortality is not any different that that of Buddha or Socrates or Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • And that means that the Lord’s Supper is nothing more than a memorial and the Bible is a collection of writings about Jesus.
  • He cannot be Lord in any real authoritative sense

If Jesus is alive …

  • The he’s still around. Perhaps his existence is different than what it was in a way I will not even attempt to explain here, but if he is alive then he is present. And he can interact with us.

In what sense is Jesus alive?
Not simply immortalized in his teaching
Not simply the endurance of his spiritual force
Not simply his memory and his legacy
He is the Living One
He is the new humanity, the firstborn from the dead.

It Makes a Difference for the Church …
The last image before the final 20 seconds in   The Passion of the Christ   seems to be of a group people gathered around the dead Jesus … It is a community beneath the cross and a worthy symbol of what it means to be “church.”

The community of faith – the church – is formed only because Jesus lives. Once again, those 20 seconds make all the difference. The resurrection of Jesus Makes a Difference not only for Jesus, but also for us. John 20 is case in point.
[Read John 20:19-23]

Consider the state of the disciples when they regard Jesus as dead . . .

  • Locked away in fear of punishment and retaliation.
  • Purposeless, giving up on their dreams. (They are ready to go back to business as usual when they once had enough courage and faith to leave everything – John 21.)
  • They are riddled with guilt and suspicion. (One of their own that they trusted betrayed Jesus and he is now dead. They are painfully aware of their own weaknesses and emptiness.)

The memory of Jesus, the strength of his teaching, his noble example are not enough to make an adequate difference for this group. Not until they encounter the living Jesus.

  1. The Living Jesus gives Peace and the Holy Spirit.
    • The spirit enables the disciples, the church to carry out their witness in a hostile world. They are instruments of his peace. What else explains the change we see in this community of believers? On the night of Christ’s arrest they are filled with fear but when they are brought before the Sanhedrin for preaching in his name they are filled with the Holy Spirit.
    • They are given new life. That is the gift of God’s Spirit (Genesis 2:7, Ezekiel 37:9-10).
    • Consider what this means for us: How shall we make disciples for Jesus? How shall we know peace and overcome the anxiety and discontent we feel as the world around us seems hostile and unsettling? We need the Holy Spirit if we want to live. We need to be "inspired."
    • Christ lives, he gives the Spirit. Those 20 seconds make all the difference

  2. The Living Jesus sends the church.
    • He is not turning it over to them. "As the Father has sent me" implies a past sending that continues. This sending has permanence. Christ has a continuing mission – though the form of that mission has changed after the cross and tomb.
    • See John 14:12-14.
    • He is re-commissioning them to share in his work. They are allowed to be participants in the mission of Jesus that continues. [Peter is restored – John 21]
    • Think of what this means to us: In all our efforts we are never alone. Christ is with us. That ought to humble us and embolden us. Christ is not a CEO at some office far away who signs the checks so we can do the work. His presence surrounds every event. He is there before us, he is there behind us, he is always over us. We are not members who participate in the mission of the church – we are the church that participates in the mission of Christ.
    • Christ lives, he sends the church. Those 20 seconds make all the difference.

  3. The Living Jesus forgives – and so also may we forgive.
    • The risen Christ forgives them and gives them they authority to forgive, thus giving them the key to truthful community [fellowship – eating together].
    • This is no subjective rule that gives us the authority to accept or reject whomever we please. It is an invitation to participate in the grace of God that endures sinfulness and offers hope of reconciliation. Christ’s mission was not to condemn the world, but to save it. Our mission cannot be to condemn. We proclaim the power that gave Jesus life, the mercy that made us his friends; those who reject this condemn themselves, those who accept it receive the kingdom of God.
    • If Jesus is dead then we can only work to achieve a sense of forgiveness and reconciliation. Like a child who harbors anger at a deceased parent. Often ministers and friends counsel people to reconcile with others while they are still alive. Why? So that one might hear the words "I forgive you" from a living person. Christ is alive. And his forgiveness is not the last will and testament of a dead teacher. It is a present voice and an active expression of love. He has chosen to express that forgiveness in his church.
    • So, when we forgive one another it is not our forgiveness that is most important. Rather the mercy that we have received from Jesus Christ compels us to be forgiving and merciful.
    • Think of what this means for us: When we struggle to forgive others (and let’s admit we do sometimes) we need to focus on Jesus forgiving us – for without that we have no right to even consider forgiving anyone else – much less hold a grudge! When we extend forgiveness and when we work to reconcile people – we are not just reconciling them to us, but to more importantly to Christ who reconciles all of us to God.
    • Christ lives, he forgives – and so must we. Those 20 seconds make all the difference.

This spectacular photo was taken in Lower Galilee in 1998 by Julie Martinez.
Used with permission.

The day that Christ rose is the first day of a new age. Jesus is the first of the new humanity – the new life. We get to sample it through the Holy Spirit.
The community beneath the cross does not gather around a dead savior. In his resurrected body he bears the marks of the crucifixion – affirming that his death had meaning. The crucified one is also the living one. The living one is Lord. This is our confession that makes us his church.
In baptism, we enact and participate in the gospel event: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. With great conviction we have proclaimed what Peter did – that belief, repentance and baptism are essentials of salvation. Those who’ve experienced this can be sure that God has added them to the church.

But keep in mind that Peter and every evangelist worth his salt thereafter has proclaimed with equal conviction that the Jesus who was crucified is now the risen Lord. That proclamation makes all the difference. Without that conviction, the rest of it is meaningless.The Church of the Christ
If Jesus is not resurrected, then he is not Lord. But something happened that Sunday long ago that changed a timid group of believers into a cross-carrying community sent out in the name of Jesus. We believe it was the presence of the risen Lord. He still lives. His presence and Holy Spirit is no less powerful now than it was then.

    Song for Responses – #853 – “When We All Get to Heaven”

    Sending Out Prayer

Thinking Instead of Reacting Is Hard!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Luke 13:14-16, But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Poor man! If anyone can sympathize with him, we should! Jesus healed a woman in the synagogue on a Sabbath. The man was a synagogue official (a “leader,” not an “attender”; not uninformed but knowledgeable). Was he upset! “Jesus cannot heal people in this synagogue on the Sabbath! Not here! Not now! How inappropriate!”

Inappropriate? God’s power is inappropriate in God’s assembly among people who supposedly know God? The issue was not: (1) Jesus’ power to heal; (2) “What is the origin of Jesus’ power to do good things?” (3) the suffering woman; or (4) giving God glory for incredible happenings. The issue was, “Not here and now!”

Surely we understand the man’s feelings. Had not God’s law plainly declared, “Keep the Sabbath holy” (Exodus 20:8)? Had not it clearly declared one keeps the Sabbath holy by refraining from work (Exodus 20:9,10)? Had they not defined work? Had not those definitions regulated activities among devout Israelites for generations? How dare Jesus defile the Sabbath by performing a work of healing on the Sabbath in this synagogue!

So in devotion to scripture he condemned God’s Son for doing a godly thing! He was indignant! This upset official told the audience, “If you want Jesus to heal you, come on one of the other six days; not on a Sabbath!” Interesting! Do not benefit from God’s power on the day set aside to remember God’s creation power. The poor man knew more about scripture than he knew about God. The result: he used scripture to oppose God’s purposes and values.

Jesus declared him to be hypocritical. This representative of God did more for animals on the Sabbath than for a suffering human. He championed his views, not God’s priorities.

I do not condemn the man. I sympathize with him. May God’s grace forgive me when I have the same attitude! May His mercy cover my ignorance (which I consider “on-target” scriptural defenses) when I use God’s word to oppose God’s priorities!

It is so easy to (1) view scripture as an end in itself rather than a road map to God; (2) to hold scripture in higher regard than God; (3) to miss God’s priorities revealed in scripture. It is so easy to react instead of think–even if it means we oppose God’s purposes in His Son.

“Can One Man Bear the Sins of the Whole World?”

Posted by on April 4, 2004 under Sermons

You may want to study the following Scriptures in advance:John 1:29, John 8:1-11; Romans 3-8; 1 John 3

The Passion of the Christ

Order of Worship and Discipleship:

    Welcome and Prayer

    Song #902 – “Nothing But the Blood”
    Song #903 – “There’s Power in the Blood”
    Song #904 – “Have You Been to Jesus”

    Song #176 – “Lamb of God”


    Song #202 – “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee”


In the opening scene of   The Passion of the Christ  , Satan is attempting to persuade Jesus to abandon his mission. Satan’s strategy is to cause Jesus to doubt. Two weeks ago we looked at Satan’s attempt to cause Jesus to doubt himself (Whose Son Are You? – 3/21/2004). Satan also tries to make Jesus doubt the possibility of salvation. "Saving them is too costly," Satan muses. "Can one man really bear the sins of the whole world?"

Of course this scene is not presented in the gospels. It is the director’s artistic license. But those do seem like the sort of questions Satan would ask. Jesus, as God in the flesh, knows sin from heaven’s perspective and from the human perspective. Certainly he, more than anyone, would know how costly it would be to bear the burden of sin. Christ witnessed first hand the evil, immorality, and corruption that infect us. Even before the crucifixion Jesus experienced the cruelty of sin.

One such experience is recorded in John 8:1-11.
Sin oozes out of every corner of this event: A woman probably married or perhaps a prostitute has been caught in the act. Families have been betrayed by this act. Not only the marital partners are shamed by this offense – the community that honors marriage is also shamed. It is a horrible, scandalous event.
But there’s also the sin of her accusers. Their motives are not pure. This is not some neighborhood watch or good citizen’s brigade. The very set-up of this little scandal hints at their guilt. As my mother used to say, "Where’s the man involved and how did the rest of them know about this?"
The crowd is no better than a frenzied Jerry Springer audience who demonstrate their own wickedness by getting carried away in judgment. And the engineers of this little trap are even more devious. This whole scenario, for them, is not about righteousness – it is an attempt to discredit Jesus.

Let’s take a closer look at their trap – and more importantly Jesus’ response – so we can understand how Jesus, through his ministry and sacrifice, does indeed bear the sin of the world. Here’s how their trap works:

  • If Jesus condemns the woman, then he discredits his teaching and ministry. Jesus has been proclaiming good news to the poor and sinners. He has been demonstrating the love and compassion of God by receiving them. He has proclaimed that his mission is one of love and salvation – not condemnation (John 3:16-18). Very well then, here’s a test for Jesus. A very real sinner caught in the act. If Jesus is going to be true to him message and ministry then let him accept her.
  • If Jesus excuses the woman or shows compassion, then he is unjust and lawless. How can Jesus give this woman a pass? Actions like hers strike at the Ten Commandments. But it’s not simply "against the law." This isn’t just a legal problem or a result of unfortunate circumstances. This is a moral and personal offense against others and society. Jesus cannot make light of the insult and injury brought about by this woman’s sin, for if he does then his teaching is also discredited.

We’ll get to Jesus’ response in a moment, but to understand his response we need to understand some important points about sacrifice and how sacrifice is involved in bearing the sins of the world.
After all, if we think about Satan’s question "Can one man bear the sins of the whole world?" – Doesn’t it seem a bit unfair and perhaps simplistic that Jesus can take the punishment for my crimes?image of Saddam HusseinIf some decent soul came forward to accept the punishment for the crimes of Saddam Hussein, and if the courts actually allowed this decent person to take on this punishment – would we call that grace? Would we really feel as if justice had been satisfied if another person suffered the punishment the Hussein deserved. Wouldn’t we rather feel that something is wrong with the system and wouldn’t we sympathize with those whom Hussein oppressed knowing that their oppressor gets away scot-free? I hope you feel there’s something wrong with that situation. If Jesus is just sacrificing himself so we can avoid the due penalty for our crimes then yes, there would be something wrong with the whole thing.
But sacrifice involves much more than that because the problem is not simply "legal." And our sins are not simply "crimes." Our sin involves personal, moral offense. The problem is more than legal – it is human. Our sin is rebellion and our "crime" is that of a child who insults decent parents. Our corruption hurts others and we have wounded one another – sometimes because we have been wounded. Jesus’ sacrifice is not merely a "legal" transaction or a sentence declared by a judge.

The purpose of sacrifice (even in the history of Israel) was not about changing God so he can live with us. God is not the problem in the relationship. We need to be careful that we don’t make pagan assumptions about sacrifice. In paganism, the sacrifice appeases or persuades the deity. Sacrifice is not giving God his pound of flesh so he can settle down. It’s not the ritual that allows Holy God to tolerate sinful us.

The purpose of sacrifice (in Israel’s history and in Jesus) is about God revealing his mercy and gracious initiative and that changes us. Confronted by the grace that God offers and the confession of our weakness we are called to holiness. Sacrifice isn’t holding off God so we won’t die – it is God arousing us to the problem so that we might live!
Consider that God chose Israel long before they sacrificed to him. Their frequent error was that they thought they could pursue life their way as long as they made the right sacrifices. And even we think that as long as we appeal to Jesus’ sacrifice the right way then we can pursue our own projects and our own desires. God himself said "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6). Jesus, the one who sacrificed himself for us, indicated this same thing. He said it was something that we needed to learn.

We can say this about sacrifice:

  • The focus of sacrifice is on God’s gracious action. He takes the initiative. He is merciful. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 3:23) The sacrifice of Jesus reveals God’s justice (Romans 3:26). Although he is the offended one, he takes the initiative in reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
  • Sacrifice is connected to a change in how we live. The sacrifice of parents who love their children demands an appropriate response. The sacrifice of soldiers who liberate others demands an appropriate response. But these examples cannot be mistaken to suggest that manipulation is involved in sacrifice. If someone sacrifices to manipulate a response, then it is not sacrifice.

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is a kingdom of God approach to taking away the sins of the world. Considering these two observations about sacrifice, let’s see how both of these are involved in Jesus’ response to the accusers in John 8

If any one of you is without sin …
To the crowd (the accusers) Jesus reveals that the problem is not simply the sinful woman. It is sinful humanity. Her sinfulness is part of the human condition. Jesus is saying to the crowd – Who among you is pure enough to throw the need for mercy out the window. If you want to start the blame game, then who among you will be blameless. Jesus gets the crowd to see their need for mercy by recognizing their sinfulness. As the people (oldest to youngest) turn and walk away, they are making a confession. They are admitting their sinfulness. Ironically, its our sinfulness that causes us to construct systems of punishment and judgment. We exclude others and we judge others. We look for people to blame. In the political world those who succeed by the scandal and blame game will die by it. For all are guilty of something. Jesus’ question to the crowd is not a bold stance for tolerance that rules out judgment. He’s not trying to save the woman, rather he is trying to save the crowd from its own cruelty and self-righteousness. Jesus’ sacrificial way of living and dying reminds us that each of us is damnable and we have need of mercy.

Go and Sin No More.
To the woman caught in sin Jesus offers mercy instead of condemnation. Why? Condemnation leads only to death. There is no hope, but it is easy. Mercy isn’t easy. It means forgiving and forgiving usually costs – but it does offer the hope of change. Some who want to excuse their behavior by repeating Jesus’ word that "He without sin should cast the first stone" should also hear this word: "Go and sin no more." When we cry out against the judgment of others (or even our self-judgment) we are trying to bear the burden of our own sin. We don’t want to let go or admit our weakness and sin. So we throw the blame on others. We justify our action. For new life to begin we have to confront our own sinfulness, but even that’s not enough, we have to confront the one who can take our sin away and replace it with his spirit.

Here’s the good news: Jesus mercifully takes up all our sin – he removes it and cleanses us so that we might be changed. And in being changed we have the possibility of living for him. "The one who was not sin became sin for us, so that we might become his righteousness." (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Like the woman caught in the act, you are not saved because you have a good lawyer, or because Jesus is soft and tender-hearted. You’re not saved because you know all the Scriptures and can find a loophole. You’re not saved because you have claim on God and know the proper rituals and prayers to appease his wrath.

You are saved because of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29).

  • God took the initiative in saving us. The sacrifice shows the extent of his mercy – he is willing to bear the offense.
  • So, will we let go of our sins? (Whether we hold them out of shame, denial, or pride). Will we go and sin no more?

    Song #315 – “It Is Well With My Soul”

    Invitation for responses/prayers

    Prayer and Sending Out