Faith: God’s Solution to the Problem of Sin (part 1)

Posted by on February 26, 2009 under Sermons

(Note to presenters: this lesson contains four graphics [Figures 1-4]. Consider projecting each figure when appropriate as an overhead if your facilities can accommodate such projection, or consider handing the printed graphics to people to refer to as you speak.) Click here to download the PowerPoint file.

This lesson begins a series of lessons which will seek to focus on what God does for us in Christ so He can re-establish relationship with all who are guilty of sin. To approach this series, we need to begin with some background. Our objective is to understand the problem as it existed when Christianity began. Our objective is NOT to be defined by (a) imposing twenty-first century questions on first-century problems, or (b) imposing twenty-first century problems on first-century problems, or (c) or seeking to understand twenty-first century answers to twenty-first century concerns.

Think as we consider–do not just react prior to considering all the information even if the information requires you to think about your concepts. Genesis chapters 1-6 introduce us to the problem. In chapter 1 when creation is completed, God is so pleased with His creation that He calls the creation good (Genesis 1:31). People are in 100% relationship with God. In only 6 chapters, human sin produced such total rebellion against God that He is sorry that He made people (Genesis 6:5, 6). Consider that in only 6 chapters we go from 100% relationship with God to 0% relationship with God! The result: God decided to destroy most of His creation with a flood (Genesis 6:7) At the moment God made His decision, there were no humans in relationship with God. In the first book of our Bible, the first 6 chapters declared people went from total relationship with God to no relationship with God, and the Bible message has hardly begun.

The problem: how will God re-establish relationship with people who have yielded to sin? Will that solution exist on a foundation of human acts or on a foundation of divine acts? Will humans place their trust in what they do, or place their trust in what God does?

  1. Most of us are familiar with the fact that God worked through the nation of Israel to bring His planned Christ or Messiah to the world.  (See Figure #1)

    1. Do not allow the use of the words "Christ" and "Messiah" to confuse you.

      1. Both words refer to the same act of God.

      2. The only difference in the two words is that they come from two different languages–"Christ" comes from a Greek word and "Messiah" comes from a Hebrew word. The two words merely reflect two different languages.

      3. The meaning of both words focus on the fact that the person sent by God is anointed by God.

    2. The Bible is not a record of all acts of God, but a record of God’s acts as He worked in Israel to bring the Christ to the earth.

      1. You are asked to note two things.

      2. First, you are asked to note that it was God’s beginning purpose to bring a blessing to all mankind through the Christ. (God’s intent to produce a Savior through Jesus Christ was in God’s intent in His promises to Abraham–the solution is ancient, pre-Israel!)
        Genesis 12:3b, ‘And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

      3. Second, you are asked to note that renewed relationship with God would be possible with "all families of the earth" because God sent the Christ.

      4. The nation of Israel was merely a means (or a vehicle) to achieve God’s objective, not the objective itself.

        1. Israel is a single nation, a single people.

        2. God’s objective is to provide a blessing that had the potential of benefiting all families of this world. That is God’s beginning objective.  (See Figure #2)

  2. It is essential for everyone to understand that God’s plan from the beginning of His efforts through Abraham was to re-establish relationship with sinful humanity through faith.

    1. God’s intent: to work through a man who trusted God, through that man produce a nation who trusted God, through that nation send the Christ or Messiah, and through that Christ or Messiah produce a blessing that could be extended to all people.

      1. Stated in another way, God would work through a man of faith, to produce a nation of faith, to produce God’s Savior, and to grant the possibility of salvation to all.

      2. Or, by faith Abraham would be righteous before God, by faith Israel would be righteous before God, the Savior would come, and anyone could be righteous before God if they placed their faith in what God did in the Christ or Messiah.

      3. Consider this statement:
        Genesis 15:6, "Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."

        1. Context:

          1. God promised Abraham again that He would protect and reward Abraham.

          2. Abraham was an old man with an old wife, and they had no children.

          3. God’s promised blessings must begin with Abraham having a son–without a son there could be no nation.

          4. Abraham begged God to accept Eliezer, his chief servant to be his heir (a solution that was acceptable in Abraham’s time).

          5. God said, "No! Your heir will come from you, and your descendants will be uncountable.")

          6. Childless Abraham believed (trusted) God in this matter, and it was this trust (faith) that God accepted to consider Abraham a righteous person.

            1. Was it an inactive trust? No!

            2. Abraham continued to be a nomad in a dangerous place.

            3. Later, He even was willing to kill Isaac as a sacrifice to God to demonstrate his deep trust in God (Abraham trusted the God who gave the gift of Isaac rather than trusting the gift that God gave him).

    2. Note two things:

      1. First, Abraham was accepted as righteous before God because he trusted (had faith in) God before the nation of Israel existed.

      2. The principle of being righteous by faith in God is older than the Jewish nation.

      3. Second, after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, all non-Jews were relying on an ancient truth older than the nation of Israel when they trusted what God did in Jesus in order to be a part of God’s people, God’s kingdom.
        Galatians 3:28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

      4. Thus, Jews and gentiles would be a part of God’s people or God’s kingdom by the same means: all of them would trust (have faith in) what God did and does in Jesus Christ to restore relationship with God.

  3. When Paul, the Christ-appointed apostle to the gentiles, presented this message (the understanding that any non-Jewish person from any nation outside of Israel had access to God through Jesus Christ), Paul was quickly labeled as Israel’s enemy (though Paul had been a prominent, devout Israelite–see Galatians 1:13, 14 and 1 Timothy 1:12-16).  (See Figure #3)

    1. Among the Jewish attacks on Paul by Jewish people, these two were prominent.

      1. First, Paul was not one of the twelve apostles and never had been.

        1. This was basically an attack on Paul’s credibility.

        2. The argument seems to have been, "If Paul is not credible, anything he teaches is false, lacking in credibility."

      2. Second, Paul was presenting new ideas about the gospel.

        1. What Paul taught was Paul’s ideas and nothing more.

        2. Everyone knew from scripture that God worked through Israel.

        3. Gentiles certainly were welcome to come to God through Christ, but only if they surrendered first to be a part of Israel (by becoming proselytes)–gentiles were not qualified to come to Christ unless they first came to Israel.

    2. Paul said that gentiles could come to Christ by trusting what God did in the death and resurrection of Jesus–no gentile had to be accepted by Israel to come to Christ.

      1. Just as Abraham was made righteous by trusting God (which occurred before Israel existed), gentiles were made righteous by God by trusting what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

      2. Gentiles did not have to come to Christ and God the Father through the nation of Israel.

    3. The argument was basically this:

      1. The Jewish argument: gentiles must keep the Jewish law or they cannot be saved.
        Acts 15:1-5, Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."

      2. Paul’s argument:

        1. God made an agreement of promise to Abraham over 400 years before the Jewish law came into existence.

        2. Abraham was made righteous by God’s promise, not by the Law given by God to the Jews.

        3. While the Law surely came from God, it was not the basis of Abraham’s righteousness.

        4. Neither is the Law the basis of any gentile’s salvation–gentiles are saved by trusting what God did in Jesus Christ.

    4. Listen to these words Paul wrote to gentile Christians in Galatia, and you should be able to see the problem that existed between the Jewish Christian Paul and many of the Jews of his day.
      Galatians 3:15-18, Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

  4. The big argument in Christianity in the first-century focused on God’s work in Israel (the nation) versus God’s work in Jesus Christ.  (See Figure #4)

    1. Paul declared that God made a person righteous when the person placed his or her trust (faith) in God’s promises (which produced in time God’s works or acts).

    2. Most Jewish people said God saves by Jewish Law and Jewish practices

    3. This argument can be expressed in this way: is salvation (being made righteous before God) the result of performing human acts or the result of divine acts.

    4. Today many miss the focus of the argument by thinking the argument was and is about obedience.

      1. That is not true!

        1. Paul never suggested a person should refuse to obey God.

        2. The Jews who opposed Paul’s teachings never suggested a person should refuse to obey God.

        3. They both obeyed!

          1. They both were doers!

          2. They both would have taken the disobedient to task!

      2. The issue did not focus on obedience, but on the why of obedience.

        1. First, be certain your obedience is a response to God’s priorities, not your own priorities.

        2. Second, be certain that your obedience is not an attempt to manipulate God through your acts, but be certain that your obedience is an expression of appreciation for what God has done and will do for you.

        3. Third, never place your trust (faith) in what you have done, but place your trust (faith) in what God has done and does for you.

        4. Fourth, you never obey in an attempt to place God in your debt.

        5. Fifth, you always obey because you acknowledge your debt to God.

      3. The struggle in early Christianity did not focus on the necessity of obedience, but on the motivation for obedience.

        1. Gentiles were not second class citizens in God’s kingdom.

        2. Jews were not first class citizens in God’s kingdom.

        3. Differences in knowledge or ability do not equate to differences in God’s love for those He saves through Jesus Christ.

Several times we have declared or recognized God did something phenomenal in Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus Christ that God saves. What phenomenal things did God plan and do through Jesus’ death and resurrection? This will be the focus of our future thoughts.

Access to God

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. Galatians 3:7

These two passages affirm the incredible thing God did for all people through Jesus Christ. In the Roman Empire of the first century, Jewish people were at times envied by non-Jewish, religious people because the Jews had (1) a preserved heritage that spanned a lengthy time, (2) a values system that honored their people instead of exploiting them, (3) scriptures available to the entire nation, and (3) prophets who urged high ethical commitments. At times Judaizing teachers (Jewish teachers committed to preserving Judaism) disheartened non-Jews who sought relationship with God outside of Judaism (see Acts 15:1-5 as an example).

Paul, who had been a “Jew’s Jew” (see Philippians 3:4-7) before he entered Christ, declared non-Jews who came to God through what God did in Jesus Christ had nothing to apologize about. God’s plan before any Jews existed was to seek people of faith who wanted to be God’s people (see Genesis 12:3b and note “all families of the earth.”) The descendants of Abraham (both Jews and non-Jews) are people who dare to be people of faith-just as Abraham dared to be a person of faith. It is these people-both Jews and non-Jews-who are citizens in the nation God wanted for himself. It is not human deeds that restore relationship with God, but it is God working through Jesus Christ that makes relationship with God possible (see Colossians 2:9-14).

Paul’s statements (here and elsewhere) are not statements against obeying God. Paul spoke of the reason for obedience. Do you trust what you have done, or do you trust what God did for you in Jesus’ death and resurrection? Is it basically, “God, you owe me because I did ?X’!” or is it, “God, I appreciate so much all You did for me in Jesus’ death and resurrection!” Which is it? Do you attempt to obligate God through your deeds, or do you appreciate all God did and does for you in Jesus’ death and resurrection? Is your confidence placed in your acts or in God’s acts on your behalf?

In the distinction of those two attitudes is the distinction between citizenship in God’s kingdom and the citizenship of physical existence. Abraham trusted God, not the physical. Those who are members of God’s kingdom share in Abraham’s faith. Do you seek to be a righteous person because you trust God-as did Abraham?

Streams of Living Water

Posted by on February 22, 2009 under Sermons

Read John 7.

So here are the brothers of Jesus. They believe that Jesus should make his public debut at the Feast of Tabernacles. He ought to perform signs and wonders and wow the masses at just the right time and place so that he can be assured of success.

The Feast of Tabernacles was a week long festival when the Children of Israel would live in little tents. Sort of like a national camping trip. Feast of Tabernacles is also a harvest festival. The Israelites who left Egypt over 1000 years before Jesus were not farmers. They were brick makers. They survived off their livestock. They value food and supplies that have their own legs – stuff that they can herd. When they settle in to a new land and can begin to grow crops, their entire economy shifts.

And the shift in economy can change their spirituality. Wandering in the desert, you find water where you can – wells, streams, and pools. You don’t expect it too often. But when you’ve settled and start growing crops, you depend on rain. Rain is the one factor about farming that you cannot do much about. It depends on the gods. So if the newly arrived Children of Israel go to the local Canaanite County Extension agent for farming advice they are likely to receive brochures on pagan sacrifices that satisfy the rain gods. (Have you ever wondered why Israel kept leaning on false gods? It wasn’t because they just wanted to try something new – it’s because they believed that it was profitable and promising.)

So the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles was to remind people of their roots. They were nomads who lived in tents in the desert. God cared for them and brought them into a land of plenty. Good things came from God, not from pagan rituals.

The final day of the festival is called Hoshana Rabbah. On this day the prayers for water and rain are spoken. By the time of Jesus, prayers were also included that the Messiah would come soon. Every year the same prayers would be spoken just as they always had been. The same rituals performed, just as they were expected. And deep down people have a reserved hope that streams of water will spring forth from the temple in Jerusalem and flood the desert. (But if that happened, what would they do next year?)

You can understand why Jesus’ kin would advise him like they did. If he were to arrive and perform his miracles in the holiest city of the land at the time when the expectations of Messiah are high. Jesus’ brothers are offering him the best religious and political advice available. If he wants to be a public figure, then there are some expectations that he has to fulfill. He can gain more disciples if he moves his ministry closer to Judea and conforms to the expectations of the traditionalists.

Jesus will not fit into the expectations of the traditionalists. He hadn’t so far …

  1. He healed on the Sabbath
  2. He dared to teach Greeks
  3. He doesn’t come from the right place (He’s from Galilee!)

Jesus has been sent by God and he speaks on behalf of God. He isn’t interested in fitting into the agenda of the religious institution. He isn’t interested in affirming traditions that have never been questioned. He isn’t interested in creating a following.

But Jesus does go to the Festival on his own terms and in his own time. And on the last day when the ram’s horn is sounded and the prayers for water are being spoken, Jesus does the unexpected. He shouts, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Notice that the reviews about Jesus are mixed. Some say he is the prophet. Some say he is the Christ. Some say he is good. Others say that he doesn’t fit the profile. It’s not Scriptural. He isn’t from Bethelem. He’s from Galilee. He is a deceiver.
Notice that the crowd is divided over Jesus. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be a unifier? Aren’t we all supposed to get along? Pay close attention: Jesus himself did not divide the crowd, rather they divide themselves because of their willingness to accept Jesus or their refusal to escape their own traditions.

There’s a word here for us. Jesus cannot be tamed and made palatable. He is not soft and mushy so that we can mold him to our agenda and our timing, rather he is on God’s agenda.

Have we committed ourselves to Christ or to our traditions? When our faith is more rooted in dead traditionalism than the living Christ, then Christ is made into a rubber stamp that approves our projects and our long held notions – even if they are not very godly. Now here’s what’s difficult – if we have molded Christ to fit our own expectations we are probably not aware of it. No one intentionally sets out to tame Jesus and his teachings. It happens over time because we become invested in what we know.

  • Many a young preacher is faced with this dilemma. They are told, “Just preach the cross. Just preach the cross.” And sometimes when they do, they get reprimanded – sometimes by the very people who told them to just preach the cross. How does that happen?
  • We become suspicious of talk about change. Maybe now it’s too common. In decades past, change has been seen as leaving the old paths and the old traditions. There is no value in change for change’s sake or change for no good reason. There is no virtue in casting out the wisdom of old ways just to be trendy.
  • But neither is their any virtue in being reactionary, arrogant, and overly suspicious of change. The only way to know if we have become devoted to our own traditions rather than to Christ is to check our level of anxiety. Christ is not threatened by our mistakes. His truth is like a stream of living water that will wash over everything. Our traditions however will not stand up and if we are threatened, then we need to take a deep breath and ask why?

One Pharisee that day was taking that deep breath and asking the right questions instead of reciting the same old answers. We’ve seen him before, our friend Nicodemus. In the midst of the anxious Pharisees who want to jerk Jesus down, Nicodemus is reminding his peers to be their best. Instead of cursing the crowds and calling them fools, instead of claiming superiority and all-knowledge, Nicodemus is asking, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” ? And they shut Nicodemus off by insulting him.

To be so resistant and stiff-necked is to make the same mistake as the Pharisees. Are we going to be open to new possibilities and the Spirit of God like Nicodemus? Or will we act like the anxious Pharisees? They were so threatened to let go of their traditions and their assumptions that they not only dismissed Christ, but they attacked anyone who dared just to consider what he was doing.

The living stream of water is the teaching of Christ. You can jump in and drink, but not if you’re afraid of getting wet.

You Can Smell What Has Been Stored Within

Posted by on February 19, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

When we moved here, an Oxford [Mississippi] friend gave us a needed, new, wooden garbage container. It was beautiful on the outside, and it smelled like pine. For 12 years we have used the gift for its intended purpose-it holds a lot of garbage! Sometimes we have to “air it out” and spray it because it smells like garbage. It stopped smelling like pine long ago. Now, when we can smell garbage, it is time to attack the odor. It is still made of pine, but now it commonly smells like what is inside.

The word “Christian” is rare in the New Testament. It occurs twice in the singular form, and once in the plural form (in the NASV). Jewish people often referred to those we call “Christian” as “the Way.” New Testament writers often used the gentile designation: holy ones or saints. Gentiles who followed the resurrected Jesus were sanctified through Him and lived differently because of Him. They were the “Christ followers.”

There was a period in our Southern culture when the word “Christian” referred to many things-from bookstores to plumbers. The inference: if Christian appeared in the name, people who were Christians should give special attention to the enterprise.

Now “Christian” seems to be associated with habits. “They don’t do that.” Explanation: “He (or she) is a Christian,” or, “The person goes to church.” In the minds of many non-Christians, Christian habits seem to be associated with don’ts or church attendance. If, to non-religious people, a weird behavior is “Christian,” that is a full explanation of the unusual conduct.

Who knows all the definitions people who are not Christians have of “Christian”? I have heard some pretty wild ideas associated with “Christian.” (Did you know “Christians” do not eat wild meat?) I have wondered about the origin of the “extreme concepts” of “Christian.” Those concepts range from pitiful ignorance to unbelievable inconsistency. Often those ideas are held so firmly that words or affirmations will not and cannot change the incorrect definitions or concepts associated with “Christian.”

If you are a Christian, do you understand what basic misconceptions of “Christian” often mean? When words or affirmations do not challenge misconceptions, examples must challenge wrong concepts. When words are ignored, genuine examples are noted. A person who never listens to words often considers examples. Never has it been more important to live it because you believe it and are committed to it.

When someone is near, what do you “smell” like? You “smell” like what is within!

Living Sacrifices

Posted by on February 15, 2009 under Sermons

Structure of Romans

  • Thesis – 1:16-17
  • Antithesis – 2:1-3:20
  • Restatement – 3:21-31
  • Abraham – 4:1-25
  • Adam: One Man – 5:1-21
  • Grace, Sin, Law – 6 & 7
  • Spirit, Life in Christ – 8
  • Israel/God’s Justice – 9-11
  • Spiritual Worship – 12
  • Virtue in Society – 13
  • Weak and Strong – 14:1-15:13
  • Mission – 15:14-33
  • Recommendation – 16

Belief and Practice

    Romans 1-11 —THEREFORE—> Romans 12-16

      Romans 1:16-17 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

      Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Spiritual Act of Worship

  1. God doesn’t want an offering, he wants us.
  2. Compare to the language of death and life in 6-7
  3. Change of mind
    • Renewal
    • Conformity

Worship as Identity

  1. The new vision of worship transcends Jew and Gentile concerns
  2. Faith is basis
  3. Practice embodies faith

Living Sacrifices in Worship

  1. Evaluate ourselves through faith (v. 3)
  2. We are members of one body (v. 4-6)
  3. Use the gifts given to us by God’s grace

Gifts for One Another

  • Prophecy
  • Serving
  • Teaching
  • Exhorting
  • Giving
  • Leading
  • Mercy
All of these are measured by characteristics that demonstrate God’s grace to bless one another.


  1. Practicing love within the church (12:9-13)
  2. Practicing love with those who persecute the church (12:14-21)
    • 2 Kings 6:8-23

Bread of Life

Posted by on under Sermons

Children – Talk about bread and share bread. Tell the story of John 6.

  1. So here was this little boy who had five loaves of bread and two fish. Andrew, one of the disciples, notices this boy with the food and he says “Here’s someone with food.” Can you feed 5000 people with five little loaves of bread and two fish? Doesn’t seem likely. But a little bit is more than nothing at all. So Jesus gives thanks for what they have and he keeps dividing it up and there’s enough for everyone to eat their fill.
  2. Where does bread come from? (God)
  3. What is in bread? (Life)
  4. So no wonder Jesus talks about bread when he wants to talk about life.

Communion:I’d like to ask a question that I asked the children. We need to think about this question every time we gather for this Supper. Where does this bread come from?

  • You could say, and you would be right, that this bread came from ordinary people like me and you. Someone divided it up this morning as their simple unseen service to all of us.
  • You could say, and you would be right, that these breads were baked in shops and factories. Not that different than other factories.
  • Those are plain answers. Maybe even a little dull for something so sacred. But remember that the Word Became Flesh. The Word of God, the Son of Man, became just as dull, ordinary, and material as you and me. So perhaps there is something honorable and godly in these simple forms and in this simple bread.

Where does this bread come from?

  • You could say, and you would be right, that all bread comes from God. He gives us the wheat, the grain, the rice or corn. The living growing material that becomes bread. Its a gift from god
  • You could say, and you would be right, that the bread comes from heaven. Not just miracle manna or wonder bread to feed 5000, but the simple bread that is passed among us. The daily bread that we pass across a table.

Listen to what Jesus says [John 6]:
47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 Yes, I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”
52 Then the people began arguing with each other about what he meant. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked.
53 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.”

There is life in bread, but not the kind of life that will enable us to live forever. Bread is a sign and it points to Jesus, the bread of life. Bread of Heaven. Bread is a sign and it points to Jesus.


So here are these crowds following Jesus around after the miracle of the bread and fish. They want more miracles. They want Jesus to supply them with endless bread. They want to see him do the manna trick all over again. Jesus has a following. A crowd. That seems to be the goal. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He was sent to teach and preach the kingdom. But notice that Jesus is strangely dismayed by the attention of the crowd [John 6]:

26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”
28 They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”
29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”
30 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? 31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ?Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
32 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. 33 The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus scolds the crowds for paying too much attention to the bread rather than the sign of the bread and what it indicates. Even though they have been recipients of miracle bread, they are caught up in the wrong things. They see the sign but not what it points to.

And then they finally ask for the true bread of heaven. Like the Samaritan woman who asked for the living water so she wouldn’t have to draw water from the well, these folks want miracle bread so that they can quit working in the fields and kitchen.

And Jesus confuses them yet again. Jesus has to tell them to stop grumbling (v. 43) about bread and the meaning of eating his flesh and blood. Jesus’ teaching actually gets offensive (v. 61) and some of his disciples leave him at that point. Before we say, “Well they were just there for the bread.” It was more than that. People actually lost their belief in Jesus because he was downplaying the miracles and signs and trying to focus attention on what is behind the sign. His talk of eating flesh and drinking blood just didn’t seem appropriate to some of his followers.

We need this corrective word from Jesus. You cannot get any plainer than this text. Jesus is telling us to pay attention to the real food and drink and not get distracted by perishable stuff.
The followers of Christ, including us, have sometimes been like the crowds and put too much attention on the wrong things.

In the history of the church there have been arguments and complaints over how the bread actually becomes the body of Christ. Some believe that the bread is transubstantiated and it actually changes substance and becomes Christ’s body. Some believe that the bread is consubstantiated and the elements of Christ’s body and the bread are both present. Others opt for no explanation and just say the real presence of Christ is there, but we cannot explain it. And centuries later in the age of reason, some reasoned that its just bread and its symbolic. But all these debates miss the point. When we try to decide who’s right and what category we should be in we are getting hung up on the bread. We are complaining about the wrong thing. The bread has become more important than the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!

In the history of church there have been arguments and complaints about who is worthy to partake of the bread and the wine. Some churches have practiced closed communion and one has to present a token if he or she has been deemed worthy. Who should and shouldn’t have access to the Holy Bread and the Holy Wine has been hotly debated and some say, only those who are baptized and have a clean conscious. Others say, only those who have gone through the teaching, and still others say just leave it to the individual to decide. But all these debates miss the point. When we try to decide who’s right and what category we should be in we are getting hung up on the bread. We are complaining about the wrong thing. The bread has become more important than the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!

One time I visited a congregation and the elders presided over the bread and the cup and the service was so beautiful and the sign pointed to the true bread from heaven. And those elders carried the bread into the assembly as if they were carrying Christ to the people and I watched one of these men hand the tray of bread to a couple in front of me – and then for some reason I guess I’ll never know, the elder looks carefully at who he’s offering this bread to and he jerks it back and will not give it to them. And they seemed so shocked. And instead of the sign pointing to Christ it just pointed to the insecurities and conflicts in the hearts of those people. The bread had become more important that the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!

Once working with a large church, some of us noticed that there were college students who not only slipped out of service once they got their dosage of Lord’s Supper for the week, but they also it timed so that that they could slip in late at the moment just before the trays were passed around. Our concern wasn’t that they were missing the sermon and the singing. It wasn’t even that we didn’t get to fellowship with them. It was the fact that they had been taught that you can reduce your spiritual life to a nip of a cracker and a sip of juice. We were concerned that such anemic faith was giving too much attention to the perishable stuff. The bread had become more important that the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!

I once heard of a large church that boasted that they could distribute the communion and complete the communion service in record time. Many people marveled at the efficiency and organization of getting the elements into the hands and mouths of the assembled so quickly. But no one ever thought to ask “Why would you want to do that?” Why turn the Lord’s Supper into McDonalds? Is it because we think that the Lord’s Supper is already so boring and isolated that we want to shorten the agony? I’ve heard some worship experts say that we should learn how to shorten the Lord’s Supper because it is “Dead Time” in the worship program. That’s an odd description for something that’s supposed to be all about life. But this is what happens when the bread becomes more important that the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!

I know of a congregation where a woman asked if she could bake the communion bread every Sunday. She wanted to offer this as her gift to the congregation. Her recipe was unique. It wasn’t fancy, it was unleavened and yet it had some sort of sweetener in it. After a few Sundays some people wondered if this bread was authorized. They wondered if sugar was a leavening agent. They demanded their old bread back so that they could worship with a clean conscious. When we are that concerned with the chemical analysis and the recipe of the bread, then the bread has become more important than the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!

When our focus is on the bread and not the sign of the bread, then we get preoccupied by our own works. Like the crowds in John 6 we work so hard for food that will spoil. For food that will not keep us from dying. And we get so intense about performing works for God.

But Jesus warns us that the only work God cares for us to do is to believe in the one that God has sent. When we accept the bread as a sign, it leads us to believe in Jesus. And we aren’t worried how the bread should be baked or in what sense it transfigures into the presence of Christ. When we accept the bread from heaven as sign, then what get’s changed and transfigured and transubstantiated is us!

The recent ice storm has brought back a memory for me. When I was in college at the University of Arkansas and living in the dorm, my friends and I were stranded in all the snow and ice. It was a Sunday morning and we had no way to get to church service. But those of us who lived in the dorms said, let’s all meet at Pomfret Hall and get together. So we all trudged out into the snow and rolled down the hill from our dorm to visit our friends. Some of us went looking for the means to serve communion. The dining halls were all shut down and I doubt they had matzohs on hand anyway. Someone had a box of saltine crackers. They sort of looked the part we thought. We went to a vending machine and found a can of Bluebird Grape Drink. We weren’t sure if it was made of grapes or bluebirds but it was purple. We took that little 6 oz can and poured it into Dixie Cups. I got to preside and I cannot remember much from those days anymore, but I do remember this day. I remember the faces and the room and the plate of crackers and the can of juice. And I remember that I said, “These aren’t saltines and grape drink. This is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We ate, we sang, we laughed and prayed. And because we didn’t get distracted by the bread, we tasted and ate the sign of the bread that pointed to Jesus Christ. And we remained in Him and He remained in us.

Unity: God Can Handle Our Differences (part 4)

Posted by on February 12, 2009 under Sermons

With all the differences God handled successfully in the first century, we need to allow God to teach us that He can handle ours. It was we, not God, that decided He could not handle our differences in the church. It was we, not God, who decided our differences were too much for God to handle.

Let us begin with a very brief review of our past lessons. First, we examined our concept of unity. We noted that God’s concept of unity includes diversity. Second, to illustrate God’s concept of unity, we noted the differences between Jesus the Son and God the Father when Jesus prayed John 17. Third, we noted from Ephesians 2 that even though Christians did not fully understand what God had done for them in Christ, God still did it. God’s achievements in Jesus Christ do not depend on human understanding or human permission!

Today, we want to go to Romans 14 for a third illustration. We want to begin by reading Romans 14:1-23. Please read with me or listen carefully as I read. (I am reading from the New American Standard Translation.)  

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

  1. We want to begin by noting one of the disagreements between Jewish Christians called Judaizers and gentile Christians.
    1. Please understand that the understanding of Jewish Christians like Paul were the exception, not the common situation.
      1. People like Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, etc. were Jewish Christians who grasped what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      2. They never taught Jews to abandon their Jewishness, but to see their past and God’s promises to them in the past as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (Consider such passages as Acts 21:19-24 and 22:3, 12, 17.)
      3. However, never did Paul teach gentiles that they had to adopt Jewish practices.
        1. Gentile salvation did not, in any way, depend on the Jews’ covenant responsibilities with God.
        2. There was an unfolding of God’s work, not a rejection of God’s past work.
        3. Jews who believed in Jesus Christ were to understand this unfolding so that "all families of the earth" (Genesis 12:3) could find God’s salvation blessings in Jesus Christ.
    2. Judaizers did not see how gentiles could possible come directly to God through Jesus Christ without first being indoctrinated into Judaism (the Jewish religion).
      1. Unconverted gentiles had the wrong concept of divinity–they worshipped idols, not the one true living God.
      2. Unconverted gentiles did not know the correct concepts of worship.
      3. Unconverted gentiles did not have the right values reflected in their moral values, in their concepts of right and wrong.
      4. Unconverted gentiles did not know the correct way to live.
    3. The Judaizers’ solution:
      1. "Allow us to destroy their heathen concepts."
      2. "Allow us to teach then the right concepts of God."
      3. "Allow us to teach them the right way to live."
      4. "Allow us to circumcise them."
      5. "Then–and only then–will they be ready to come to God through Christ."
    4. The Judaizers’ concept:
      1. "Let us destroy all that is wrong in them first."
      2. "Then they will be prepared to learn how to be alive to God through Jesus Christ."
    5. To show you parts of this view from scripture, I direct your attention to Acts 15.
      1. In Acts 15:1, 2, some Jewish Christians came from Judea (the area of Jerusalem and the first church) and taught gentile Christians (the brethren) in Antioch: ""Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
        1. Note circumcision is a salvation issue.
        2. Note this was taught to gentiles who were Christians or brethren.
        3. Note that not even Paul and Barnabas (who has just converted gentiles to Jesus Christ) could stop this incorrect teaching.
        4. Note the question had to be referred to Jerusalem and to the apostles and elders.
      2. In Acts 15:5 when the issue arrived in Jerusalem, some Pharisees who believed in Jesus Christ said: "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."
      3. After a thorough discussion of the matter, after James announced it was unnecessary for gentiles to be Jewish proselytes before becoming Christians, James suggested that the Christian leaders write gentile Christians a letter to confirm the decision.  In the letter (Acts 15:24) this statement is declared:
        "Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls . . ."
        1. Note there were some Jewish Christians who claimed to represent the Jerusalem church leadership, but did not.
        2. Note these people said that those who were not circumcised according to the custom of Moses could not be saved.
        3. These people were saying it was not enough to come to God through Jesus Christ.
  2. I hope you have your Bibles and can follow me in your Bible–turn to Romans 14 and first consider the first 12 verses.
    1. Verse one introduces us to two different kinds of Christians Paul wished his readers to consider: the Christian who is weak in the faith and (by implication) the Christian who is strong in the faith.
      1. First, consider the Christian who is weak in the faith.
        1. The purpose of possessing knowledge is to judge others by his or her understanding and the standards that come from that understanding.
        2. He or she is a vegetarian; for faith reasons meat is not eaten.
        3. To him or her, there are special religious days–like the Sabbath, or Pentecost, or the Passover.
        4. He or she thought his or her evaluation of other Christians determined if the other Christians were acceptable to God or unacceptable to God.
      2. Second, consider the Christians who were strong in the faith.
        1. He or she understands that the purpose of knowledge is to provide the person a lifestyle–another person is not acceptable or unacceptable to God because of another’s opinion.
        2. He or she eats anything, including all meats, and we are talking about the person eating anything for faith reasons.
        3. To him or her, no day had religious significance over any other day–what a Christian does on the Sabbath, or on Pentecost, or on the Passover was not religiously significant.
      3. Basic understandings affirmed by Paul:
        1. Rule one: one is not a Christian for the purpose of passing judgments on another Christian’s religious conclusions.
        2. Rule two: we are not judges of other Christians, but servants of the Lord.
        3. Rule three: God understands why a Christian does what he or she does, even when his or her behavior differs from other Christians. God through Christ can and will make both Christians endure–even if they differ from each other.
        4. Rule four: understand the motive prompting the act of the Christian.
          1. If a Christian is a vegetarian or a meat-eater, even thought they act differently, they do what they do for the same reason–to honor God!
          2. If a Christian observes a special religious day or does not, both do it for the same reason–to honor God!
      4. Paul’s conclusion is powerful: the Christian’s objective is to be alive in Christ (remember Galatians 2:20–"I have been crucified with Christ . . . and Christ lives in me.")
        1. The objective is to die to self.
        2. The objective is to die to my former lifestyle.
        3. The objective is to be alive in Christ.
        4. God will take care of the judging, so you take care of the serving by being alive in Christ.
    2. "Paul, what is going on?"
      1. First, you need to understand worship practices in the first century (and before).
        1. Worshippers of a god, including Jews, sacrificed to the god they worshipped.
        2. As a part of the worship act, the worshipper ate part of the sacrifice (see 1 Samuel 1:4-8, and also consider the Passover lamb).
        3. Evidently, what happened in Rome was the fact that Jewish Christians did not know if the meat at the meat market had been sacrificed to an idol or not, so to avoid sacrificial meat, they became vegetarians.
        4. Gentile Christians said what one ate did not matter because idolatrous gods did not exist, so they ate anything sold in the meat market.
        5. God knew why both did what they did.
        6. What we would regard as an expression of spiritual strength (vegetarianism for faith’s sake) Paul said was spiritual weakness.
      2. Second, we need to understand how difficult it is to leave past religious practices.
        1. We all carry some baggage from our religious past into our practices as a Christian.
        2. For the person in Judaism, it was demanding to give up 1500 years of acts and standards when they became Christians.
          1. There were important religious reasons for living as they lived–they kept the Sabbath and Passover at God’s instruction, there were certain things they did not eat because of God’s instructions, even their clothing (such as the wearing of tassels) was influenced by God’s instructions.
          2. How do you go against God to obey God? That understanding was not simple! To understand Jesus Christ as a divine fulfillment of divine promises was not simple! It is easy to trust one’s obedient acts rather than the God behind the acts!
      3. So Paul told the Christians in Rome to leave each other alone!
        1. God knew why they did what they did! (Is that not wonderful–even for us?)
        2. So Paul said serve Christ instead of judging humans in Christ!
    3. Now consider Romans 14:13-23 and note Paul’s stress.
      1. "If you want to judge someone, judge yourself!"
        1. How?
        2. Do not let your actions make it harder for another person to be a Christian.
      2. One is not better or worse spiritually because of the food the person eats.
        1. However, that is not the point.
        2. Christianity involves something much more important than what you eat.
        3. Love, righteousness, peace, and joy are much more important than food.
          1. So do not tear down God’s kingdom for foods’ sake.
          2. Devote yourself to encouraging other Christians.
          3. Do not cause other Christians to stumble even if what you are doing is correct.
          4. Encourage Christians to live in honor of their conscience.
          5. Do not allow your convictions to cause trouble for other Christians.

If we treated each other with respect within our congregations, how much more would we be respected in our communities? If we allowed other Christians to disagree with us but honored their consciences, how much internal peace would we experience?

Our Christian conscience differences do not trouble God. God in Jesus Christ reveals such differences will not prevent Him from saving us. Those differences trouble us. God can handle our differences and make all of us stand. We are the ones who cannot handle differences.

The matter that deeply concerns God among Christians is judging each other. Our conscience differences do not trouble God if we do not use conscience differences to judge each other.

In the early restoration movement, a common statement made was: "In matters of faith, unity. In matters of opinion, liberty. In all things, love (charity)."  Can you still declare that? How well do you know the difference between a faith matter and an opinion matter? How do you show love when differences exist?

Unity: A Divine or Human Accomplishment? (part 3)

Posted by on under Sermons

After considering the last two sermons, some of you might think this preacher is completely crazy. It is possible that you have been challenged to consider some things you have never considered before.

Generally, in religious matters, we do not like to consider thoughts that we have never considered before. We find great comfort in believing that someone or some group within our religious movement has everything all figured out. All we have to do is "plug in" and we are okay. We do not have to think, or to ask questions, or to understand–all we have to do is to "plug in" and we are fine. It is not a matter of "believing" but a matter of "doing." We just need to be very careful to "do" the correct things.

It is true that all we have to do is to "plug in," but we "plug in" to Jesus Christ, not to human conclusions. "Plugging in" to Jesus Christ means we have to think, we have to ask questions, and we have to understand. In fact, thinking, questioning, and understanding are continuous pursuits as we increase our knowledge of Jesus Christ. We never stop focusing on Jesus Christ as a person reflected in the teachings of the Bible. We never stop learning what the crucified, resurrected Jesus did and does for us.

As we continue our pursuit of God’s concept and definition of Christian unity, let us begin by reading Ephesians 2:11-22.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands-remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 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. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

I ask you to consider, accurately, this scripture, but with a perspective that may be different to you.

  1. Let’s begin by acknowledging that the Roman world of the first century was a very different world from our world of today.
    1. Things we take for granted did not even exist then.
      1. Individuals did not have personal Bibles.
        1. Printing had not even been invented yet.
        2. Throughout the first century, the New Testament was being written–some Christians died before it was all written.
        3. No one, including Paul, could ask his audience to turn to a book, chapter, and verse and follow his reading.
    2. Do you realize what that means?
      1. There were no English translations–in fact, English did not yet exist as a language!
      2. There were no commentaries, no concordances, no church bulletins, and no brotherhood papers.
      3. The printing press had not yet been invented and paper as we know it did not exist.
      4. Everything had to be learned in a congregation basically by verbal communication.
    3. Common concepts of deity were different.
      1. At first, all Christian converts were Jewish or converts to Judaism (consider Acts 2:10)
        1. The first clear spread of Christianity to the gentile world is in Acts 10.
        2. The first gentile congregation we read of was in Antioch in Acts 11:19-24.
      2. At some point in the first century, there were more gentiles than Jews who were Christians.
        1. Remember Jews did not have social contact with gentiles (see Acts 10:28).
        2. Thus when there were more gentiles who were Christians than there were Jews who were Christians, it created an extremely interesting dynamic of intercultural exchanges.
      3. Most converted gentiles came from an idolatrous background.
        1. Some believed there were many gods, and many of those gods came from families of gods.
        2. Some believed in fate–what was going to happen would happen, and the gods were unlikely to change it.
        3. Many believed gods were more likely to harm people than help people, so people had to be very cautious in getting a god’s attention.
        4. Often the morality teachings of a god were quite different to Jewish or Christian moral teachings–one god was worshipped by getting drunk, and fertility gods were often worshipped by sexual intercourse.
    4. The Jewish concepts of deity were commonly quite different to gentile understandings.
      1. A devout Jew said only one God existed and was to be worshipped.
      2. A devout Jew believed the actions of God could be changed by repentance and prayer.
      3. A devout Jew understood God was to be profoundly respected, but He cared about His people.
      4. A devout Jew understood things such as drunkenness and fornication did not worship God, but offended God.
    5. Jews and gentiles worshipped in differing ways, ate different foods, and lived different lives that followed different teachings and traditions.
      1. Can you imagine how difficult it was to get Jews who became Christians and gentiles who became Christians to respect each other?
      2. If you define unity as alikeness, can you understand the major challenge to alikeness in those circumstances?
      3. And we think it is a major challenge to achieve a sense of unity when we have African-American Christians, Hispanic Christians, Laotian Christians, Native American Christians, and Caucasian Christians right here, right now in one city, in one building, and basically in one society!
    6. If unity is alikeness produced through human achievement, unity is an unlikely challenge!
  2. Now look closely at the text we read at the beginning–Ephesians 2:11-22.
    1. Paul began by acknowledging the enormous gulf that separated Jews and gentiles prior to Jesus’ death.
      1. One of the main contributors to that gulf was the Jewish practice of circumcision.
        1. Jewish circumcision was commanded of the Jewish people by God as a symbol of the covenant God established with the descendants of Abraham through Isaac.
          1. God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:9-12:
            God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants.
          2. Circumcision was a physical act that symbolized Israel’s solemn agreement with God.
            1. If a Jew was not circumcised. he was not a part of God’s covenant people (Genesis 17:14).
            2. A devout Jew in the first century could not imagine anyone being in relationship with God without being physically circumcised.
            3. Therefore devout Jews could not see any way uncircumcised gentiles could be in relationship with God.
        2. Before God’s accomplishment in Jesus Christ, gentiles were in a horrible situation. Look at verse 12.
          1. They had no Messiah.
          2. They were not a part of the nation of Israel.
          3. They had no covenant with God.
          4. They had no hope.
          5. There was an impossible gulf between them and God.
        3. However, that all changed with Jesus Christ. (verse 13)
          1. Because of what God did in Jesus Christ, gentiles are near God.
          2. Because of what God did in Jesus Christ, gentiles have a choice to make that can produce relationship with God.
        4. Why? What is it that God did in Jesus Christ that makes this powerful difference to gentiles?
          1. Through Jesus Christ God created peace between Jews who believe in Jesus Christ and gentiles who believed in Jesus Christ.
          2. God made Jewish and gentile believers one new man in Christ.
          3. God did not establish this new peace between Jewish and gentile believers through the application of the Law and God’s covenant with the Jews–God did it through Jesus Christ.
        5. What was God’s objective in Jesus Christ for Jewish and gentile believers in Jesus Christ?
          1. He wanted to reconcile both of them into one spiritual body to God through Jesus’ cross.
          2. Did gentile believers have to become Jewish or did Jewish believers have to become gentile? No!
          3. Would believing in Jesus Christ make Jewish and gentile believers alike in all things? No!
        6. Then what was God’s objective?
          1. God’s objective in Jesus Christ was to produce peace between Jewish and gentile believers.
          2. It was to give both of those groups the same Spirit of the same God.
          3. It was to make gentile believers in Jesus Christ a full part of God’s family.
          4. It was to give gentile believers a foundation in the apostles and prophets.
          5. It was to give gentile believers Jesus Christ as the spiritual corner stone of their spirituality just as God did Jewish believers.
          6. It was to make both, Jewish and gentiles believers, into God’s living temple so they, together, could be the place where God’s Spirit lived.
  3. The point I want you to see: did gentile believers (or Jewish believers) understand what God had done in Jesus Christ? No!
    1. Gentile converts to Jesus Christ did not have to do things in the ways Jews did those things in order to be Christians–see Acts 15:1-29.
      1. Did all Jews who believed in Jesus Christ understand that? No!
      2. Did all gentiles who believed in Jesus Christ understand that? No!
      3. Did the people to whom Paul wrote in Ephesians understand that? No!
      4. Did the fact that these Christians did not understand (and, in many instances, refuse to accept what God did in Christ) prevent God from doing what He intended to do in Jesus Christ? No!
    2. Pay careful attention to what Paul wrote:
      1. In verse 13, gentiles "have been brought near."
      2. In verse 14, Jesus "is our peace."
      3. Verse 14. God "made both groups one."
      4. Verse l5 speaks of the peace God made between Jewish believers and gentile believers as a divine achievement.
      5. Verse 16 speaks of the reconciliation into one body as an accomplished fact.
      6. Verse 18 speaks of access to God’s Spirit as an accomplished fact.
      7. In verses 19 through 22, all that God achieved for gentiles and Jews in Jesus Christ is spoken of as accomplished fact.
    3. Even though Jewish and gentile believers did not comprehend all that God did in Jesus Christ, God still did it.
      1. Making one new man out of both groups of believers was not dependent on their full understanding.
      2. The one new man God made existed even if they did not understand.
      3. It was and is a divine accomplishment because of what God did in Jesus Christ; it is not a human achievement.
      4. The human challenge was NOT to wait until both groups reached a full understanding and alikeness, but the human challenge was to place their confidence in what God did in Jesus Christ.
      5. Even though they were different, placing their trust in Jesus Christ unified them through God’s act, not through their alikeness!
      6. Thus people who were different in many ways were united in Christ.

We conclude by reading two statements from Paul.

To the Roman Christians, Paul wrote:
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)

To the Corinthian Christians, Paul wrote:
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

The only two things your two feet and your two ears have in common is that they are parts of the same body, answerable to the same head.

It Takes More Than Acquiring The “Outfit”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

For years I have been going to a gym to physically work out. Through the years my reasons for going have changed (to deal with stress, to address a cholesterol problem, to add strength so work schedules can be addressed, etc.), but the experience remains basically the same. The experience: determine a routine, commit yourself to the routine, go regularly, and exert yourself. Is going to the gym boring and tedious? For me, the answer is, “Yes!” Then why go? Simple: you like the way you feel because you go.

Over time some things become obvious. For example, usually there is a noticeable increase in gym attendance in January (New Year’s resolutions) and a corresponding drop off in attendance in February (“Forget that-who needs self-induced pain!”). Often, those who begin invest in a workout outfit-the shoes, the clothes, and the accessories. However, acquiring an outfit does not substitute for commitment to a lifestyle change. One can go to great expense to “look the part” and not follow through to his or her objective. It takes much more than outward appearance to achieve one’s objective.

The simplest part of being a Christian is submitting to baptism. Why? Baptism is an expression of faith in God’s work in Jesus Christ which leads you to a desire to turn your life around. The decision to be baptized may be difficult, but the life that follows is more demanding. It quite literally involves a change in lifestyle on the deepest level of existence. There are new definitions of good and evil or right and wrong. There is a commitment to being a righteous person. There are new temptations. There are attacks by Satan.

Then why do it? For two basic reasons. (1) You profoundly appreciate what God and Jesus did (and do) for you. (2) You find your fulfillment in being a righteous person. You appreciate God, and you respect what Jesus did in allowing you to become a godly person. When you compare the “old you” to the “new you,” you have zero desire to revert to the “old you.”

When you become a Christian, do more than just invest in the outfit. (Do more than “go to church,” appear in the directory and on the mailing list, and claim “rights” as a member.) Embrace your new lifestyle. Be the new person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, wherever you are. Do the outward things because of the inward changes.

We are not Christians to eliminate life’s twists and turns. We are Christians to cope with life’s twists and turns. Always remember the Cross was one of the “twists and turns of life” for Jesus. Also remember Jesus Christ shows us the way to God.

Unity: The Meaning of Oneness (part 2)

Posted by on February 10, 2009 under Sermons

Unity is not a simple subject to discuss. I am surely aware of that. I sincerely request that you be aware of it also. I also sincerely request that each of you be aware of my objective. I am NOT trying to get you to agree with my concept or with me as a person. (I surely acknowledge that I have much to learn about unity.) I AM seeking to get you to think. It is so easy to assume that we have the answer that we stop searching scripture, stop seeing what we already are sure we "know", and stop thinking about matters we are certain we have figured out. If we stop searching scripture, stop seeing, and stop thinking, we make ourselves ideal subjects for self-deception.

Were I to ask you about God’s concept of Christian unity, where would you begin in order to explain God’s concept to me? What do you think should be the first scripture I should understand if I am to grasp God’s concept of Christian unity? What scripture exists regarding God’s concept of Christian unity I must know to have the foundation concept of Christian unity?

I would guess the scripture many would cite is John 17:11-23. This is part of one of Jesus’ last prayers. In John 17, Jesus approached God the Father with this prayer shortly before he went with eleven of the twelve disciples (who were his apostles) to Gethsemane to pray and to be arrested.

There are three basic subjects Jesus prayed about in John 17. First, Jesus prayed about himself, and particularly his relationship with God. Second, Jesus prayed about the eleven, and particularly their future. Third, Jesus prayed about everyone who believed in him as a result of his teachings and the teachings of these men. In Jesus’ prayer, he particularly prayed for the oneness of those who believed, which we understand to be a prayer for the unity of Christian believers.

Most Christians regard this prayer to be the foundation of God’s concept of Christian unity. Please read with me or listen carefully as I read from the gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 11 through 23. I am reading from the New American Standard translation.

I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

In this section of the prayer, Jesus prayed for the twelve and for all who would believe Jesus is the Christ.

  1. Let me summarize the reading we just read in this way.
    1. Follow me carefully:
      1. I am dying and leaving this physical existence.
        1. In my physical absence, I ask You to keep the twelve as You have preserved me.
        2. May the twelve be one as You and I are currently one.
      2. In my physical ministry, I kept the twelve in Your name.
        1. I guarded the twelve, and none of the twelve were destroyed.
        2. The only exception is the person who is to betray me.
      3. I come to You before I die asking that they will understand Your purpose in my death so that these men (my twelve disciples) will have my joy.
        1. I have given the twelve Your word.
        2. The result is that people devoted to the physical world hate them because they are not devoted to physical existence.
        3. They are like me, not like people devoted to physical existence.
      4. I am not asking that You take them from physical existence.
        1. I am asking You to preserve them from Satan (the devil).
        2. I am asking You to make them holy (sanctified) by Your truth.
        3. Your truth is reflected by Your word.
      5. I am sending the twelve to people devoted to physical existence just like You sent me to people devoted to physical existence.
        1. One of the reasons for me living a sanctified existence was to encourage them to live a sanctified existence.
        2. A way for the twelve to know they are sanctified is by realizing they are like me.
      6. However, my concern goes beyond these men.
        1. My concern also includes their message concerning me and my teachings.
        2. I want believers in what You are doing through me to be one in the same way the twelve are one and in the same way you and I are one.
        3. It is only by believers being one in You and I that people devoted to physical existence will understand that You sent me.
        4. The glory You gave me I have given to believers that they may be one in the same sense that You and I are one.
      7. It is by me being in believers and You being in me that believers can be made mature (perfect) in unity (literally, into a unit).
        1. When that happens, people devoted to physical existence will understand that You sent me.
        2. People devoted to physical existence will also then understand that You love them in the same manner that You always loved me.
        3. (Explain that even though Jesus was about to be tortured and painfully executed, this did not mean that God did not love Jesus. That is what people devoted to physical existence would think. Even today, experiencing preventable pain is considered to be the absence of love.)
      8. Would you agree that this is an appropriate presentation of John 17:11-23?
        1. If you need to read that scripture and think about it, please do so.
        2. You are not being asked to accept these thoughts even if you disagree with the thoughts.
        3. However, it is not enough for you to disagree–you must also come to an understanding of what Jesus said in this prayer.
    2. The prayer affirms these things are possible.
      1. The prayer affirms God and Jesus were and always have been one.
      2. The prayer affirms that the twelve can be one in the same sense that God and Jesus are one.
      3. The prayer affirms that anyone who believes that Jesus was God’s Messiah or Christ could be one.
      4. The prayer affirms that the key to believers being one is their being in the Messiah or Christ.
  2. May I now ask you to think about something you may or may not have noticed or considered before.
    1. When Jesus prayed this prayer, he and God at that moment were one, but they were not alike.
      1. Oneness did not mean identical alikeness.
      2. Not even in the relationship between God and Jesus did oneness (or unity) mean identical alikeness.
      3. If your basic concept and definition of oneness or unity means identical alikeness, you need to think.
        1. You need to consider that your concept and definition of oneness or unity may not be God’s concept and definition of oneness or unity.
        2. You need to discover God’s concept and definition.
        3. You need to realize your concept and definition of unity may be based on a human assumption rather than revelation from scripture.
    2. "What do you mean that God and Jesus’ concept and definition of oneness or unity are different? In what way were Jesus and God different when Jesus prayed John 17?"
      1. Jesus could be tempted; God could not be tempted.
      2. Jesus could suffer physical pain; God could not suffer physical pain.
      3. Jesus’ will and God’s will were not the same (consider Matthew 26:39, 42, 44), though God the Father’s will was supreme and unquestioned by Jesus.
      4. Jesus could be physically resurrected; God the Father never needed to be resurrected.
      5. These things are called to your attention in order to make this statement: in all the ways the physical existence of a godly human is unlike the spiritual existence of God the Father, Jesus was unlike God the Father.
      6. Yet, though Jesus and God the Father were NOT identical, Jesus and God the Father were one.
    3. If God the Father’s definition and concept of unity begins with the concept of alikeness, unity never is a possibility in this physical world.
      1. Consider these things:
        1. If you read each of the four gospels, it becomes quite evident that each of these writers who were inspired by God retained their individuality.
        2. Though Acts 10:10-16, 10:19, 20, 10:28 and 10:34, 35 make it clear that Peter understood that God accepted gentiles, Peter could yield to the temptation to reject gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). [Read and set in context if there is time].
        3. There are enormous differences in the practices of Jewish Christians as compared to gentile Christians, yet they all were one in Jesus Christ.
      2. Unity exists, NOT because all in Christ agree on all personal preferences religious or otherwise, but because of what God does for all those who are in Jesus Christ.
      3. The basis of unity is what God did in the torture, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus–NOT in the human achievement of alikeness.
    4. The failure of Christians to understand this has produced the consequences Jesus said it would in John 17:21.
      1. Those who are not in Jesus Christ do not take what we say seriously because of the way we treat each other when we disagree.
        1. No one can be meaner or more lacking in compassion than Christians can be when they disagree with other Christians.
        2. If you want to conduct an interesting experiment, ask a group of Christians to share the worst case of division among Christians they ever heard about–most everyone will recall an incident of incredible pettiness.
        3. Then have the same group discuss the best reconciliation among disagreeing Christians they ever heard about.
          1. There will be some.
          2. However, there will be far fewer examples of reconciliation than of division.
      2. We are experts at destroying each other because we disagree!
      3. Then we wonder why so many people refuse to take us seriously.
      4. Reconciliation when we disagree should be natural to those who belong to Jesus, not division.
    5. What is oneness in Jesus Christ and God?
      1. It is confidence in what God did in Jesus at Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      2. It is the understanding that the basis of forgiveness is an act of God.
      3. It is the understanding that the basis of acceptance is an act of God.
      4. It is the conviction that a divine act makes those who place their confidence in Jesus one–even when there are differences in culture and opinion.
      5. It is the awareness that sanctification is a divine act, not a human achievement.

Christians need to understand in context 1 Corinthians 1:30, 31:

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."

It is not about us and our achievements, but it is about Jesus Christ and God’s achievement in him.