The Commission is the Method

March 22, 2015

Over the past five weeks we have been looking at God’s Big Story. The idea for these messages came from Matthew Miller, a pastor in Vancouver, WA.

In these messages I have been seeking to show that the story of the Bible revolves around God’s Kingdom. In the Bible we see God seeking to establish his good rule among mankind.

Last week we saw that after Jesus ascended to the Father, he intended that the church showcase God’s kingdom rule on earth. This morning we come to the last message and we are looking at the great commission given by Jesus to his disciples. This commission is Jesus’ plan for bringing others into his kingdom. In Mt.28:16-20 we see that disciples of Jesus make disciples of Jesus.

 

I. JESUS HAS SENT US. v.18-19a

When Jesus was born he entered into life as a Jew in the nation of Israel. His public ministry was confined to Israel and the surrounding Gentile areas. Clearly Jesus exercised power in ways that no one else could. He displayed supernatural knowledge. He performed amazing miracles, showing his authority over illness, nature, and the laws of physics. But his life was lived under the authority of the Jewish leaders and Roman rulers. Jesus himself said that he did not come to lead a rebellion. He was not trying to overthrow Rome. So it would appear that his authority was willingly confined within the sphere of the nation of Israel and government.

In Mt.10 Jesus sends out his 12 disciples to do ministry. It is a ministry training opportunity. They are his apprentices, learning to do ministry with Jesus. In Mt.10:16 Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Jesus had authority to send them out; they were his disciples.

But now in Mt.28 Jesus claims that he has been given all authority in heaven and in earth. What changed? Well, for one thing, Jesus died and rose from the grave. He defeated sin and death, carrying out the will of God the Father. And God the Father has vindicated Jesus’ life, death and resurrection by conferring on him full authority over the entire universe. The sphere of Jesus’ authority has been greatly enlarged.

When Jesus sent his disciples out in Mt.10 he told them to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But now that the sphere of his authority has been expanded, the mission of Jesus is also greatly expanded. In Mt.28:18-19 we see that on the basis of Jesus’ expanded sphere of authority, he sends his disciples out into the world, to the ends of the earth. Last week we read Acts 1:8 where Jesus says to his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Without intending in any way to diminish Jesus, I tentatively observe that when Jesus’ authority seemed confined to the nation of Israel, he sent his disciples to the nation of Israel. He did not send them beyond his sphere of authority. But now that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, he sends his disciples out into the entire world and they will always be operating in the sphere of Jesus’ authority.

When the United States wages war in other parts of the world it requires the mass movement of equipment, supplies, and troops. And once the troops and supplies are on location it is very important that supply lines be kept open. This in itself requires great care and effort. Shipping lanes and flight paths must be maintained at all costs.

Well in the mission to make disciples the supply lines are always well maintained by our King. We do not have to worry that we will ever lack what we need to carry out his commission. The sovereign power and authority of Jesus is fully behind the mission that he is carrying out through us in the world. As Peter writes in 2Pt.1:3, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” Jesus has sent us into the world.

 

II. JESUS HAS PREPARED US. v.19-20

If we take these verses out of the context of Matthew, it might seem that Jesus gives this command out of the blue. It can sound as if his disciples are hearing this for the first time. In one sense it is completely new because Jesus is sending them into the whole world, but in another sense it is similar to what Jesus told his disciples to do earlier when he sent them out to do ministry in Mt.10. In other words, Jesus had been preparing them all along. Going into the world wasn’t completely foreign to them.

But notice what Jesus tells them to do. They are to go out and make disciples. We’ve heard this word so many times and yet we may not really be clear about what a disciple is. Basically a disciple is someone who attaches him or herself to a teacher in order to learn from that teacher and to be like that teacher. A disciple is an apprentice, a student, paying close attention to all that the teacher says and does.

If you want to learn to play the piano, you find a teacher and you listen to all that the teacher tells you. You watch as the teacher demonstrates. And you practice what the teacher tells you to do. If you want to be a carpenter, you find a good carpenter and you become his or her student. You watch, you listen, and you copy. You do what the carpenter tells you to do in the way that he or she does it.

When Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples, he was telling them to do something that they had been doing all along. They had been disciples of Jesus. They watched Jesus. They listened to Jesus, and they practiced what Jesus told them to do. In other words, Jesus had been preparing them all along for what he was sending them out to do.

Something else. If I had been Jesus, I think I might have said, Okay, Peter I want you to stay here in Jerusalem and direct the work here. Thomas I want you to go to India and make disciples there. John I want you to go to Ephesus over in Asia.” Do you see my point? Jesus was so general. He just said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” I like to have clarity and so I might have been wondering, “Well, like what does this mean for me. Where am I supposed to go?” Jesus didn’t tell anyone where they were to go. Just go. What this tells me is that I am to have a general mindset that is always looking to make disciples of Jesus. Making disciples is one of my default settings. But it’s not just about having a mental awareness that I am to be making disciples. It also involves being a disciple of Jesus at all times in my life. If I’m not a disciple how will I be able to make disciples? Disciples make disciples. Being a disciple of Jesus involves an intentional decision to identify myself with Jesus so that I can learn about him and from him how to live like he would live if he were me. Once I make that decision I live it out 24/7. Obviously being a disciple of Jesus involves learning and doing. This is why disciple making is not a church program that we come to do on Thursday night, going door to door. It is the overall work of the ministry of every believer in the church.

In v.19 Jesus tells us to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a significant statement of identification and discipleship to Jesus. In Baptism a person is publically stating that he or she has embraced Jesus by faith as the Savior, Lord and King of their life. And you notice that we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now I don’t think Jesus was giving a precise formula for what we are to say when baptizing someone. At the beginning of the 2nd century some believers were being baptized in the name of Jesus, while others were being baptized in the name of the Trinity. And while we baptize in the name of the Trinity, I think there is more being said here than just giving us words to say at baptism. In fact, believers are baptized into the reality of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through Christ we are immersed into a relationship with God in his kingdom. Something else. If these verses apply to all disciples, and not just the twelve, then baptism is not something that only certain disciples or pastors can do. It seems to me that really, any disciple of Jesus can baptize new disciples.

Notice also in v.20 that we are to teach new disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded. Obeying what Jesus commanded is how we learn to be his disciple. The commands of Jesus are found in the Gospels and the Epistles. Jesus means for us to do what he says. It is only as we are observing all that Jesus commanded that we can help others observe all that Jesus commanded.

Now If I were to ask how many of you are saved, I imagine many hands would go up. If I were to ask how many of you are disciples of Jesus, I would hope that just as many hands would go up, but I’m not as sure. The reason I’m not as sure is because often in our culture being saved is separated from being a disciple. Some have the idea that discipleship to Jesus is being saved on steroids. It’s only for those who want to enroll in the advanced track of Christianity. Many are content to just be saved so they can go to heaven. But, this is not how the Bible views salvation. Jesus did not issue one call for salvation and then a second call for discipleship, as if we can choose to exercise our option on this. Jesus called people to follow him. Evangelism for Jesus was discipleship evangelism. It is very possible that some here today have not understood that being saved was never meant to be an event in and of itself. Sometimes we give people that impression. We bring them to a point of saying a sinners prayer and then we start to load on all the things they are supposed to do as Christians, and that’s not what they signed up for. Better to understand from the beginning that receiving the wonderful life of Jesus involves following Jesus. There’s a cost. When Angie and I had our two boys, we received a wonderful life with them, but there’s a cost. We had to clothe them, feed them, teach them, and care for them. Those boys shape our lives. So I’m wondering if you are prepared to carry out Jesus commission to make disciples. Are you yourself a disciple of Jesus? Would you like to be a disciple of Jesus?

 

III. JESUS PARTICIPATES WITH US. v.20

Being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong process. Sinful ways of thinking and acting have been deeply absorbed by our minds and bodies. Many sins just feel so natural to us because they are natural to us. We don’t even have to think about sinning. And so it is important that we develop practices that will help us make progress in being a disciple of Jesus.

2. Many of us already understand that getting God’s written word deep into our hearts and minds is of great value. The Scripture was given to us so that we might be taught, reproved, corrected and trained in righteousness, so that we might become mature and equipped for every good work. Cultivating an ongoing prayer life is very important as we live each day. In addition to this it is profitable to incorporate times of solitude and silence so that God has opportunity to speak into our lives. Fasting can be helpful to teach us that we are dependent upon the Lord and his Holy Spirit for all of life. The best training we can have to be a witness for Christ is training in discipleship as we become more and more like Jesus in our living.

3. The good thing about Mt.28:20 is that it tells us that Jesus is always with us. It’s not that Jesus is just sort of hanging out with us every moment of the day. He is actively participating with us in every good endeavor we undertake. In Jn.14:23 Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus and God the Father dwell in us through the Holy Spirit. As follower of Jesus we live in the world, but our primary orientation is not the world. We also live in God’s kingdom, under the rule of our King, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the primary orientation for our lives. So when it comes to making disciples, we are privileged to have Christ working right alongside of us.

Perhaps there is a family member or roommate, or spouse or co-worker who does not know Jesus. Maybe this person makes your life difficult. Well, as a disciple maker, Jesus is working with you to help you respond as a follower of Jesus would respond. Through his Holy Spirit, he will empower you and guide you so that you can live as his disciple around that person. And because Jesus is with you he knows all there is to know about the other person. He knows the full situation. We are concerned for that person. We desire to see him or her come under the sway of Jesus. So we pray for that person. It may not go easy. Maybe because we are followers of Jesus our integrity upsets them because of their lack of integrity. Maybe our kindness makes them angry because of their lack of kindness. Can you trust your King to take care of you as you continue to model kindness and integrity before that person?

Maybe you are taking a class in which the prof and fellow students are anything but Christian. You don’t know what to say and yet feel that you must defend God. Well, God is fully able to defend himself. Instead recognize that your King, Jesus Christ is with you. Ask him to help you live a faithful life and ask him to give you what to say and wait for his direction. We can trust our King. He knows what to do. Jesus participates with us.

 

Well, I hope we all see that we do not have to worry about who is in charge. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus. No matter how much it might appear to us that God is not in charge, he is most definitely in charge. And I hope we see that we are not alone. No matter how alone we might feel disciples of Jesus are never alone. He is always with us and is always participating with us. We never work alone.

To me the question we must consider is twofold. First, are we disciples of Jesus? Have we attached ourselves to Jesus as Savior-Lord-King. Have we put our confidence in Jesus’ life and teachings, his death and resurrection? And then, are we going? Is it our intention to make disciples of Jesus? Amen.

God's Intent for the Church

March 15, 2015

If I were to summarize what I have been trying to say over the last four messages, I would simply say that if you are a Christian then you have entered into God’s Kingdom and you have a king whose name is Jesus.

Of course Jesus is our Savior who died for our sins and rose again, and through faith in him our sins are forgiven and we receive eternal life. The reason why I think it is so important to learn about God’s kingdom is because it helps us understand the Bible as a whole, and it helps us understand our role in what God is doing on earth as we wait for the return of our King, Jesus.

In the Old Testament we see that God is the King over all, but that mankind continually rejects God’s rule. Even the Jews, God’s chosen people, rejected God’s rule. So God sent his Son, Jesus, to earth to show in the clearest way possible, how good God’s rule is. And it is so good. Who would not want someone like Jesus as their Lord and king? In the brief three years of his ministry, death, and resurrection, Jesus revealed the power and goodness of God’s kingdom on earth. And he invited anyone and everyone to enter into it by trusting and following him.

But what happened? Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended to the Father in heaven. Think about it, the King left this earth with a promise that one day he would return to take his people to be with him in a new heaven and a new earth. So what happens in the meantime? Where is the rule of God now? Is there any visible expression of God’s kingdom on the earth now? I believe the answer to that question brings us to the Church of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is presently revealed in the Church.

 

I. THE CHURCH IS THE SHOWCASE OF CHRIST’S EARTHLY RULE. Acts 1:1-5; 1Pt.2:10

In the Old Testament Israel, God’s chosen people, was to be a light to the Gentiles. The nation began from just one family and slowly grew. God gave his people the Promised Land and for awhile the nation prospered. Israel was to showcase to the world what it is like to live under the good rule of God so that the world would be attracted to God. But the people of Israel rejected God as their king. They wanted to be like the world around them and the world was not attracted to worship God. But what Israel failed to do, Jesus did.

Jesus came teaching about God’s kingdom and doing many wonderful miracles. Jesus showcased God’s rule on earth. By calling people to follow him, Jesus was raising up a new people of God made up of both Jews and Gentiles. When Jesus taught about God’s kingdom he often pictured it as something that grows slowly. Like yeast working in a lump of dough, it slowly permeates the dough. It’s like a very small mustard seed that grows into a very large tree. God’s kingdom grows slowly and quietly.

Something interesting that we see about Jesus is that Jesus ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t fully understand this. But even though Jesus is fully God, in his humanity he was dependent upon the Holy Spirit. For example, at one point in Mt.12, Jesus cast a demon out of a man and some of the Pharisees accused Jesus of exorcizing the demon by the power of Satan. In his answer Jesus said in v.28, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwelt in Jesus, he revealed the goodness and power of God’s kingdom by casting out the demon. Again in Jn.3 we find Jesus talking with Nicodemus, and Jesus tells Nicodemus that, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then in v.5 Jesus adds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The Holy Spirit is deeply involved in our being born again so that we can enter into God’s kingdom. I share these two verses to point out that the Holy Spirit is also very active in revealing the kingdom of God.

Now let’s look at Acts 1:1-5. In these verses, Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit who would come and baptize them with power. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the believers in Jerusalem who were gathered together. And we know from the writings of Paul that everyone who embraces Christ by faith receives the Holy Spirit. And all who receive the Holy Spirit are baptized into the church of Jesus Christ. In 1Cor.12 where Paul is writing to the church in Corinth he says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit."

Because the Holy Spirit of God dwells in every believer, the church, the people of God are unified and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In 1Pt.2:10 we read, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Those who embrace Christ receive the Holy Spirit and become part of God’s people, which is the church.

Where is the earthly expression of God’s kingdom rule today? It is in the church. Just as God intended for Israel to be a light to the nations, so the church is now the means by which God is seeking to showcase to the world how good it is to live under his rule in his kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, it is our great privilege to show others how God is transforming our lives to be like Jesus. The church is like yeast which is penetrating into world. We are not just a bunch of people who come together once a week. We are actually related to each other because we all have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us. Listen to Rm.14:17. Paul writes, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” What should the world be seeing in us as a local church? The world should be seeing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Listen, God is not impressed with mega churches. There’s nothing wrong with a mega church. It impresses the world, but not God. God is looking for righteousness, peace and joy. So how do we as the church show the world that we are living in God’s kingdom under the good rule of our King, Jesus?

 

II. THE CHURCH PRACTICES THE LIFESTYLE COMMANDED BY JESUS. Acts 1:8; 2:42

Last week we said that the cross is the model. Becoming like Christ our king involves taking up our cross and following Jesus. It means dying to self, and dying to self requires that we put faith in our King.

We often talk about faith as if it is only required when we ask Jesus to be our Savior. We believe that he is the Son of God, that he died and rose from the dead, and that he will save us from our sins. But this is only the beginning of faith. If we are living our lives under the rule of our King, then we will need to exercise faith every moment of the day. Dying to self means we no longer have control of everything in our lives. We no longer arrange things so that we can have our way. Last week I read from the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek, giving your cloak to the one who takes your tunic, going the extra mile, and loving your enemies. The qualities shown here are vulnerability, doing more than is required, generosity, and Christ like love. Jesus isn’t saying that there is never a time to strike back or not go the extra mile. He is describing the kind of life that trusts in God to provide for and protect our lives. We are in the care of our King. Do we trust him enough to live in the way he told us to live?

In the church, how important it is that we treat one another as Jesus commanded us. He told us to love one another. He said that our love for each other would show the world that we are his disciples. Isn’t that we want the world to know about us, that we are characterized by the love of Jesus and are his disciples?

But there are other aspects of our kingdom lifestyle that are part and parcel of being in the church. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And then the book of Acts goes on to tell the story of how the apostles and the believers in the church did what Jesus told them to do. Brothers and sisters, being able to give a reason for the hope that is within us to all who ask is what we are commanded to do. Having our speech be gracious, seasoned with salt so that we may know how to answer each person is what we are commanded to do. Doing good to everyone, especially to those who are in the church is what we are commanded to do. Visiting the orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping ourselves unstained from the world is what we are commanded to do. Our King, Jesus Christ, has given us his good commands.

But consider what Luke writes in Acts 2:42. In the church we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teachings. We want to learn more about God our King and how we can live in a way that honors him. We devote ourselves to gathering on a weekly basis for fellowship, worship, and prayer. Because we are the means through which God is showcasing the goodness of his kingdom, it is imperative that we regularly draw near to our Savior, Lord, and King, Jesus Christ around his table. It is imperative that we encourage one another, reminding one another that we belong to the kingdom of God and live to obey and worship the King.

This is imperative because the reality is that the world around us is powerful in its ability to distract us away from God. So what should be happening in our gathering together? Well the goal is to draw near to our King in worship and to encourage transformed living as we live in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, I have attended church all my life. There has never been a time when I have not attended church. But it has only been in the last number of years that I have come to understand that the church is God’s means for showcasing the goodness of his kingdom rule on the earth. We represent the King. Christ is the Savior, but he is not just the Savior. He is the Savior-King. He doesn’t save people just so they can go to heaven. He saves people to bring them into a daily, living relationship with God and to transform their lives and to use them as a light to the world in his church.

This is why the church is so important. Each of us who profess to know Christ ought to do our very best to make the local church a living, breathing example of life in and with Christ. We are on display and that is God’s intent. He is showing the world his power and love through his Church.

This doesn’t mean we must put on a show, pretending to be something we are not. We are redeemed sinners seeking to be like Jesus. So when we mess up, when we make a mistake, when we give or take offense we own it and extend an apology or forgiveness. In other words we try to be transparent and authentic as followers of Christ who are filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

Most universities have special days during the year when they invite high school seniors to come for a visit in order to briefly experience college life. If you have ever done this you know that the university puts its best foot forward. Everything they show you looks good. They choose representatives who really like being at the school. The meals they give you are tasty. The goal is to make a good impression so that you will choose that university. We all understand that what you see is not always what you get, but it does show how good it can be.

The church is God’s means of showing the world how good it is to live in his kingdom, under the rule of Christ. True, the facilities are not always state-of-the-art. But God has done everything possible to choose representatives who really enjoy being a part of his church, in his kingdom. But more than that, God has put his Holy Spirit in the life of each representative and the Holy Spirit writes God’s commands on the hearts of his people and helps us live like Jesus. What is more, there is a regular meal that is designed to show the depth of God’s love, reminding us of the humble, selfless service of Christ in dying for sinners like us. We are his ambassadors. The lives we live, our service in the church are for the purpose of inviting others to enter into life in God’s wonderful kingdom. Amen.

The Cross is the Model

March 8, 2015

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

Learning a second language is in some ways life transforming. You can enter into the lives of others in a deeper way. Rosetta Stone advertizes itself as a fast and fun way to learn a language. After reading some reviews I conclude that some find it fun and some find it helpful, but it’s rarely fast and all find it to be expensive.

When it comes to learning a language there are few shortcuts. There is a price to pay. Or to use a different expression there is a cross to bear. And in no way am I trying to cheapen the cross of Christ by using this expression.

As we consider God’s big story, we have seen that the kingdom is the mission. God is seeking to establish his kingdom reign among mankind. Christ is the means. Christ is the King who brings the good rule of God among mankind. The cross is the moment. It was on the cross that Jesus showed the heart of God in loving, humble service. In bearing our sin he opened the door into the kingdom of God for all who desire to enter in. And today we see that the cross is the model.

When we come under the good rule of God in Christ we realize that becoming like Christ our king means following in his path. There is a cost. The pathway to Christ-like transformation always involves a cross.


I. APPRAISE YOURSELF. Mk.8:34b

The question I want to raise is: Why would anyone want to follow Jesus? In fact, why did people in Jesus’ day want to follow him? What is it that Jesus has to offer?

We know that when Jesus walked this earth, there was a renewed hope that the Messiah, God’s anointed king would appear on the scene. Why were people looking for the Messiah? They were looking for the Messiah because they believed that the Messiah, the Christ would overthrow Roman occupation and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. They believed that the Messiah would be a prophet like Moses who would lead them.

Think about the things Jesus did when he began his public ministry. His teachings about God and life were so compelling that crowds gathered to hear him. He performed miracles that no one else could do. He healed the sick and lame. He restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He raised people from the dead. He was able to feed thousands with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. All of this was very compelling. Jesus invited people to repent and believe the good news he was bringing about the kingdom of God, and to show their repentance by following him. And many began to follow him. They attached themselves to Jesus with varying levels of commitment. We know this because there were points along the way in which people stopped being disciples of Jesus. In Jn.6, after miraculously feeding 5,000 people Jesus began to teach using some very strong metaphors. He referred to himself as the bread of life. He spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. A lot of people did not like this teaching and they stopped following Jesus. In Jn.6:66 it says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” So what was it that Jesus was offering that made many others commit themselves to be his disciple, his apprentice, his follower? What would compel you to become a disciple of Jesus today? What would compel you to come after Jesus?

When I think about Jesus I see that Jesus spoke to the basic aspirations of people. I mean what do people really want? They want life, life at its best. Isn’t that what we strive for? We go to school so we can get a job to earn money so that we can, not just exist, but live a meaningful life that is happy. We want to make a difference in the world. We want to know that we have something meaningful to contribute to others. We want to give and receive love, acceptance, and approval. Rich and poor, young and old, all desire this kind of life.

There’s something else we aspire to. We want to be thought of as good people. We know that integrity and strong character is good. We value kindness and compassion. We teach our children to say, “Please” and “Thank you,” to share with others, and to tell the truth. And when our life is going well, we want it to last a long time.

When Jesus walked this earth and carried out his extensive ministry, he spoke about all these things. He said, “I have come that you might have life to the full.” He claimed that he could give eternal life, not just after we die, but even while we are living. In other words, Jesus said that he could give this eternal kind of life to us immediately.

He also spoke about what it means to be really good or righteous. His life was just that. Jesus was a walking book of virtues. In fact, he saw that righteousness and eternal life go hand in hand. People who receive eternal life from him find that they desire to be like him. Would you like to be like Jesus?

But Jesus also spoke to the deepest need of men and women. He said about himself, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In other words, there are many people who think they are righteous, but, in fact, are not righteous at all. Jesus came not to call the self-righteous, but he came to call people who already recognize that while they value goodness, they have a pretty difficult time being good. In a tight spot, they are quick to tell a lie. They easily hurt those they love the most. They indulge in behaviors that they know are self defeating and destructive. In their heart of hearts they think unspeakable things. They want to appear as if they love everyone, but they find racist thoughts and feelings within themselves. They are driven by anger and quick to anger. Their desire for approval and recognition promotes selfishness and pride. They want to get revenge. In short, they recognize that they cannot seem to be the people they want to be. It’s a burden. These realities also reveal a heart that lives in opposition to God and his good ways.

The world’s religions all speak to this problem in different ways. But at the core they teach that each of us must somehow rise above our sinfulness and become good enough to merit a better life in the hereafter. If you want to go to heaven you better shape up now.

Listen to what Jesus said in Mt.11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So Jesus called people to repent and believe the good news he was preaching. He called people to evaluate their current life in light of the life he was offering. When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman in Jn.4, he said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ’Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Jesus was referring to this eternal kind of living that only he can give.

Now if you are completely happy with your present life; if you think you are righteous enough as you are, then you will not desire Jesus. But if you recognize that your current life is not fulfilling and you see that your heart is filled with selfishness, disobedience, and pride (what the Bible calls sin) then you will want to appraise yourself in light of what Jesus is offering today. You will come to Jesus so that your life can be transformed.


II. DENY YOURSELF. Mk.8:34c

Now at the outset this doesn’t seem to be a very compelling way to find life at its best. Taking up one’s cross, living a life of self-denial, does not intuitively seem to be the pathway to fulfillment. But stay with me as we explore this.

Two weeks ago we spoke about how the cross was the moment when Jesus most clearly revealed himself as God the king come in the flesh. Jesus came to show us what living life with God is all about, and on the cross Jesus bore our sins, taking our guilt upon himself. He died in our place. After all, the Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. In other words our sinful thoughts and actions do not contribute to life, they bear the fruit of death, eventuating in hell, which is eternal separation from God. Think about it, if Jesus is the way to life with God, then our rejection of Jesus results in life apart from God. God is loving, holy and righteous. And when a loving, holy God comes into contact with a person who rejects God and his son, Jesus, that person’s experience of God is one of wrath and judgment. Who can stand in the presence of a holy God? Only someone who is holy.

On the cross, Jesus bore our guilt, dying to sin in our place. Now if the life that Jesus lives and gives is the best possible life that anyone could ever live, then it only follows that we must also die to sin so that we can enjoy new life in Christ.

Men and women, when we come to the place where we recognize that Jesus is the only One who can give us new eternal life, and we turn to Him, putting our trust, our confidence in him as our Savior from sin and death, the Bible says that we are in Christ. Our sins are forgiven and we receive the very life of Christ. If the life of Christ is mine then his death to sin is also mine. This is why Paul says that in Christ we have died to sin. If I have died to sin, I no longer want to live in sin.

But how does one no longer live in sin? Jesus says, deny yourself, take up your cross. What does that mean? When I deny myself I choose to no longer live to satisfy the selfish, sinful, destructive desires that have ruled in my life. It means I will no longer give room to pride and self in my life.

People who are married must die to themselves all the time. If not, they will always be in conflict. Or one will dominate the other. College roommates must die to themselves or there will be conflict. Anytime people are working or living closely together they must die to self. I do not have to have my own way. But no one can do this alone. Only Christ can enable us to die to ourselves through his transforming work in our lives. This is what Jesus means by taking his yoke upon us. We live our lives with him, turning away from sin and temptation. But if our lives are being transformed by Christ then not only will we deny ourselves, but we will...


III. APPLY YOURSELF. Mk.8:34d

If self denial is the negative side of being a disciple of Jesus, then following him is the positive side of discipleship. In other words we begin to apply ourselves to do what Jesus commanded.

We have noted how Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Well, instead of having to have our own way, as followers of Christ we will be diligent in applying ourselves to serve others, whether they deserve or not.

Jesus went around doing good to others. He used all the resources at his command to do good. Well, as followers of Christ we will apply ourselves to use our resources to do good to others. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave some examples of this. In Mt.5:39-45 Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” These statements are not new laws, but they reflect the righteous life that Jesus himself lived and can enable us to live. Jesus taught us to have a forgiving heart. I mean if God forgives our sins, should we not be diligent to apply ourselves to forgive others?

When we take the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves, we learn of him. We learn by reading about him in the New Testament. We learn by actually taking steps to put into practice what he told us to do. It is counterintuitive to be sure, but by choosing to trust Jesus and act on his good commands we will embrace his life that blossoms into an eternity with Christ in the Kingdom of God.


In the September/October 2007 issue of Today’s Christian, Shirley Shaw tells the story of how the sacrifices of a successful cabinet maker named Terry Lane continue to change a drug-riddled neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida. Terry says,

My business had prospered to the point my 40-man staff needed more space to produce the quality cabinets for which Mid-Lane was well known. We found an ideal location in northwest Jacksonville and in 1985 built a 25,000 square foot state-of-the-art plant that was soon humming with activity. Life was good. But my peace and comfort were short lived.

Almost immediately, problems erupted. Every night the burglar alarm sounded, and I was summoned to the plant by police officers. Broken windows, shots fired, bullet holes in the walls, stolen equipment, vandalism-even incinerated cars in the parking lot.

One night an officer asked me, “What possessed you to build a plant this close to ’The Rock’?”

“What do you mean, ’The Rock’?” I asked.

“The Cleveland Arms apartments,” he responded. “More crack cocaine is sold here than anywhere in Jacksonville, so we call it ’The Rock.’” And he proceeded to enlighten me about my new neighborhood. The 200-unit subsidized housing complex was occupied by drug dealers, prostitutes, and felons, a place considered so dangerous police were hesitant to go there...

As I sat mulling over the situation, from out of nowhere came a thought so clear it was almost audible: If you’ll love those who despitefully use you, I’ll take care of it. Stunned and shaken by God’s admonition, I wondered how I’d obey this gentle command. Then I sensed him say, “Forget about all the shooting and all the garbage. Look at the children.” ...

Days went by as I prayed for my neighbors and tried to figure out how to connect with this community. I bought several basketballs, wrote “Jesus loves you” and “Mr. Lane loves you” on them, and threw them over the fence into the complex. There was no immediate reaction, but at least they didn’t throw them back.

Then one Saturday while working alone, I stepped outside for a break. I heard the noise of children playing beneath a tractor trailer parked on the property. When they saw me, one said, “There’s the man,” and they started running.

“Wait,” I called. “Would you like something cold to drink?” Four or five little kids followed me into the plant where I opened the soft drink machine and gave them a cold soda pop. They went home, and I thought no more about it. Until Monday afternoon when I heard a commotion in the lobby and the receptionist ask, “Can I help you?”

As I walked down the hallway, I heard one little kid ask, “Where’s the big man with the beard?” Turning the corner, I saw 16 kids in the lobby looking for me-well, for the man with the key to the drink machine.

That was the beginning. Suddenly, 35 children adopted me, coming to my office every afternoon after school instead of going home. There was nothing for them to go home to. Day after day, while I worked at my drafting table, I was surrounded by kids on the floor busily coloring or doing other crafts I had brought...

Thus began the journey that would change my world and that of many kids whose addicted parents left them to fend for themselves. Often hungry, unkempt, undisciplined, with no structure in their lives or motivation to attend school or church, these children would be the next lost generation. I felt compelled to do what I could. Years flew by, and the kids I mentored became a part of my life.

Terry Lane’s journey of self-denial continued. Ten years after he first reached out to the kids of “The Rock,” he sold his share of the cabinetmaking business to his partner and started Metro Inner City Sunday School. When the kids got older, they started youth groups and teen programs. It wasn’t long before Terry asked the owner of Cleveland Arms to give him an apartment. In five-years’ time, Lane established a community center called Metro Kids Konnection where the staff feeds over 145 children physically, academically, and spiritually.

Shaw ends her article with these final thoughts from Terry:

There is so much to do, but I’m excited and grateful for the direction God chose for me. My wife and I have gone from enjoying a six-figure annual income to subsisting on $12,000 a year, but God faithfully meets every need. And the rewards are incomparable...
Nothing can replace the joy of having a little child crawl into my lap with a hug for “Pastor Terry,” or for a young man who has been rescued from a potential life of dealing drugs to look me in the eye, shake my hand with a firm grip, and say, “Thanks, P.T.” That’s my reward for “looking at the children.”

Here’s a man who turned to JC, who sought to deny himself and follow Jesus. Was it costly? I guess. But do you sense that Terry Lane is counting his losses? It sounds to me that he is having the time of his life. That’s the life Jesus came to give us, if we’ll have it. Many of you are Christians, but denying yourself and following Jesus is not how you roll. Some of you are not Christians. You have never turned away from your life of self rule in order to trust in Christ and receive his life. Think carefully about this for if you want to really follow Christ's model. Amen.

The Cross is the Moment

February 22, 2015

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

Have you ever experienced a defining moment? A defining moment is a point at which a situation is clearly seen to start to change. Throughout our lives we may experience a number of defining moments. Perhaps it’s when your teacher says that you have a real gift for mathematics. And from that point on your trajectory of life begins to change.

Rick Warren points to a defining moment he had when he and a friend skipped class to drive 350 miles to hear W.A. Criswell preach in November of 1973. Afterwards, Warren stood in line to shake hands with Criswell. He writes, “When my turn finally arrived, something unexpected happened. Criswell looked at me with kind, loving eyes and said, quite emphatically, “Young man, I feel led to lay hands on you and pray for you!” He placed his hands on my head and prayed: “Father, I ask that you give this young preacher a double portion of your Spirit. May the church he pastors grow to twice the size of the Dallas church. Bless him greatly, O Lord.” Well that was a defining moment and Saddleback church is the result.

We have all had defining moments in our lives. Were there defining moments in Jesus’ life? There surely were. There was the moment when Jesus did his first miracle. There was the moment when Jesus set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem. It could be argued that every defining moment in Jesus’ life was a defining moment for mankind.

We have been looking at God’s big story. We mentioned that in the Bible we read about God’s intention to establish his godo kingdom rule among mankind. Beginning with Adam and Eve we see how mankind continually rejects God’s rule and last week we noted that God is reestablishing his good rule through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Today we begin looking at the cross of Christ. Matthew Miller writes, “The kingdom is the mission. Christ is the means,” and “The cross is the moment.” In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross is a defining moment of his kingdom rule.


I. THE CROSS IS THE DEEPEST EXPRESSION OF CHRIST’S HUMBLE SERVICE. Phil.2:5-8

Last week I mentioned Brian Williams, the NBC news anchor who has been suspended for 6 months because he has been caught in some serious lies. He was at the top of his game. People trusted him, but not now. It’s true that Williams acknowledged the untruth, but he did not come right out and say that he lied. Instead he got confused. NBC acted to stop the bleeding. It is difficult to be humble when you are in a position of power. This is surely humiliating for Williams. And now that he is humiliated, you would think the public would show mercy. But no, the public has vilified and mocked Williams. Williams has been the butt of many jokes on T.V. The world does not operate according to the principle or virtue of humility. In the world it is important to make a name for yourself and to hold onto it for there are many who are just waiting to take your place.

Of course we know Jesus was not like that. On more than one occasion the disciples of Jesus were heard arguing about who was the greatest among themselves. In Mk10, James and John came to Jesus and said, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” The other ten disciples were indignant that James and John would try to call dibs on those seats of glory and power. They all wanted seats of power. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” And then Jesus went on to say, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If anyone had the right to demand to be served, it was Jesus. But Jesus did not come to promote himself and to achieve notoriety in the way that we think of notoriety. Jesus came to serve. It was and is in his nature to serve, not because he has an inferiority complex but because he knows who he is and is secure in his standing with God. Jesus did not have to make a name for himself and justify his significance.

There is an important lesson here for us. The old hymn says, “I’m a child of the King, a child of the King: With Jesus my Savior, I’m a child of the King.” And yet in our homes, at work, with our friends, it would seem that being a child of the King isn’t good enough. We often seek to be king, to have our way, to make ourselves appear better than we are, and to judge others. We prefer to be served and when we believe that being served is our right, we feel slighted and indignant when we are not served, and we let others know about it.

Let’s consider Phil.2:5-8. Here is Jesus, God in the flesh, acting in a way that most would not expect. Most would expect a god to lord it over everyone else. But that is not how the God of the universe is. When God came in the form of a man in the person of Jesus Christ, He never stopped being fully God, but he became fully man. He didn’t come to earth announce to people, “Hey, I’m God.” Instead he spoke and acted like God would speak and act if he were a man. And Jesus was and is a man. Jesus specialized in humility because humble love is an essential characteristic of God. When it says that he emptied himself it means just that. Jesus, God in the flesh, humbly poured himself out in behalf of humanity. He hung out with tax collectors and sinners. He touched people with leprosy who were considered to be untouchable. He drank from the pitcher of a Samaritan woman. He had no place to lay his head. The religious leaders called him a glutton and a drunkard. This is all pretty humbling. One of the most humbling acts Jesus did was to do the lowly job of a servant by washing his disciples’ feet in Jn.13. In Jn.13, after Judas left to betray Jesus, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” It was a direct reference to the cross and all that his death on the cross would bring about.

By far the most humbling and loving way in which Jesus served mankind is when he willingly offered himself to die on the cross for our sins. He died the death of a criminal for you and me. Who would do that? Why would Jesus give his life for people who could care less about him? Clearly there is something compelling about Jesus, who lays everything down in our behalf.


II. THE CROSS IS THE PATHWAY TO KINGSHIP. Phil.2:9-11

For most kings, the pathway to kingship is through family relationship. If you are the first born son, you become king when the king or the queen dies. We don’t relate well with royalty. The British understand these things but not Americans who could never tolerate a king ruling over them. But if we are going to understand what God is doing in our world, we need to get a handle on what it means to have a king.

Now in the case of Jesus, it just so happens that Jesus was in the line of King David. Joseph, his earthly father, by virtue of adoption, was a descendant of David. This is important because the Old Testament prophecies say that the Messiah, the king who was to come would be of the line of David. Jesus fulfills those prophecies. But when Jesus walked this earth there had been no king on the throne of Israel for over 400 years. And while many Jewish people thought that Jesus might be the one to overthrow Roman oppression and reestablish the Jewish kingdom, Jesus had no such intention. Just before his ascension to heaven, the disciples asked him if this was the time he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus didn’t really answer their question. He just said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

But when we look at Phil.2:9-11, we see that the cross is a defining moment. Jesus humbled himself to death on a cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” The cross led to his formal vindication as King. Jesus was not given the name that is above every name as a reward for his death on the cross, rather his exaltation was God’s affirmation of the fact that Jesus showed his equality with God in his humiliation on the cross. If you want to see the heart of God, look at the cross where God in Christ died for you.

If you looked at the stained glass window on the balcony you will see a crown with a cross superimposed on it. No cross, no crown! Why? It’s because the one who wears the crown is the one who in his essential nature humbly gives his life for mankind. Jesus is the ultimate king. He expresses the ideal character of what it means to be a king. He sacrifices himself for his people.

When we think about how God reestablishes his good rule among mankind it is rather shocking. In the world people who want to be king, to have influence and power, seek to present themselves as men or women who can handle the job. They are confident. They are worldly wise. They have no fear. They are attractive. They are clever. They have the answers. And they always disappoint. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It is not derived from this world. It is grounded in the fact that he is God who pours himself out for the world.


III. THE CROSS IS THE DOORWAY INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Phil.2:10-11

In Phil.2:10-11 we cannot escape the reality that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.” In other words, a day will come when it will be universally acknowledged that Jesus Christ is God the King in the flesh. The day will come when God’s good rule will be fully established among mankind.

But there is something we must yet consider. You remember that Adam and Eve intentionally rejected God’s good rule. Sin entered into the world and into the hearts of all men and women. In other words, there is within us a principle that refuses to recognize and acknowledge God’s right to rule. It is in our nature to throw off the kingdom of God in preference for our own kingdom. Even when God raised up a people for himself in the nation of Israel, even Israel rejected the rule of God, preferring to worship idols of wood, stone, and metal; preferring human kings instead of having God as their King. And so it is today. Every last one of us is separated from God because of our sin and self-centeredness. Sinners do not want to be in the Kingdom of God. Sinners prefer the kingdom of this world.

And yet, men and women, living in the kingdom of God is the absolutely best possible place to be. God’s rule is a rule of peace, security, goodness, love, justice, grace, and mercy. In God’s kingdom everyone is deeply valued and treated with respect and honor. In God’s kingdom everyone has the opportunity to flourish as they begin to take on the virtues and character of Christ the King. We can fully come into our own, only in the kingdom of God. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like finding a treasure in a field. You sell all you have to buy the field to gain the treasure. It is that good.

The question is how does one enter into the kingdom of God? How does one come under the good rule of God? If you have money to invest, it is common to sit down with a financial planner who can help you discern where best to invest your money. It is not a quick appointment. There is much to consider. Can I trust this person with my money? Are the recommended investments good investments? Will this person regularly monitor our portfolio? After two or three hours, if you decide to let this person be your financial planner, there are many papers to sign. It is a lengthy process and you don’t mind the process because, after all, it is your money that is at stake. You are making a significant personal commitment.

It is similar for one considering entering into the kingdom of God. This is a major life decision, one that should not be made lightly. There are a number of considerations. First is the matter of our personal sin. The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All of us have turned to our own way. We have all often rebelled against the good rules of God. The Bible also tells us that the wages of sin is death. This death refers to eternal separation from God and all his love and goodness.

This is why Jesus died on the cross. Listen to what Paul says in 2Cor.5:21. “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” On the cross Jesus bore our guilt. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. This is what God the King is like. He pours himself out to rescue those who are estranged from him.

When Jesus walked this earth he invited people to enter into the kingdom of God. He invited people to come under the good rule of God. Why? It’s because it is only when God is ruling in our lives that real living begins. When we enter into his kingdom we are given a brand new life to live. It is his life. Your life will begin to be transformed into likeness of Christ.

So how do we enter into the kingdom of God? Well Jesus said, “Repent and believe in the gospel [good news].” When we repent we come to see that the life we are living pales in comparison with the life Jesus offers to give us. So we turn from our sinful, selfish ways, and we acknowledge that we have rejected God as king and that in doing so we have chosen the way of eternal separation from God, the way of eternal death. When we believe, it means that we are now embracing Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and King. We understand that Jesus died so that we can receive the forgiveness of all our sins and enter into his kingdom. When we believe we are choosing to put our confidence in everything Jesus said and did. We are signing up to become his follower, his apprentice, his disciple. To enter into the kingdom of God is to enter into eternal living in Christ. And the amazing thing is that Christ will actually come to live in you and through you. Such a life blossoms into eternal life with Christ forever.


Are you ready to sign the papers? O wait, there are no papers to sign. Are you ready to let Jesus be you Savior and King? It is a life changing decision. And it is a tremendous opportunity to enter into an eternal, living relationship with the God who created and loves you dearly. Amen.

Is Jesus Your King?

February 15, 2015

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” This is what Dorothy says to her little dog when she finds herself in a completely different land. It’s the land of Oz. Wouldn’t it be something if through some event you just found yourself in a completely different world or land?

All of us are very accustomed to life in this world. It’s the only reality we know by experience. Sometimes by reading a book or watching a movie we can be transported into a different reality, but it’s not our reality. And it’s not real.

When we think about the reality we know, it is a very mixed bag. There are many beautiful things and people and experiences that we have. But there is also a great deal of heartache, trouble and sadness. We are daily confronted with evil and deceit. Were we not all shocked to hear about NBC news anchor Brian Williams? There is so much corruption in government and in the workplace. It’s not a pretty picture.

And here comes Jesus. He represents and talks about a completely different reality. It’s the reality of the Kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God everything is good. The kingdom of God is ruled by God and his goodness and love. And Jesus invites everyone to enter into the reality of life in the kingdom of God. But of course when we enter into this reality we embrace a new king and a new way of living. Jesus Christ is the King in the Kingdom of God.

 

I. JESUS IS GOD THE KING IN THE FLESH.

Last week we pointed out how God’s intention is to see his kingdom established among mankind. He created mankind to have a share in his kingdom rule. When Adam and Eve sinned they rejected God’s kingdom and sin entered into the world and the heart of mankind. God then raised up a people for himself through which to reestablish his kingdom among mankind. But his people, Israel, also rejected God’s kingdom rule in favor of having human, earthly kings who, of course, were all flawed. Of all the kings of Israel, David was the greatest, and even David was deeply flawed.

That God intends to establish his kingdom among mankind is clear because when we go to the end of the Bible, to the book of Revelation, we read that, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

You ask, “Why is it so important to talk about God’s kingdom.” Well, it is important because there is a tendency for us to equate the kingdom of God with going to heaven when we die. Many of us were raised under Gospel preaching that focused on having our sins forgiven so that we could have eternal life in heaven. And that is very important, but it is only one aspect of the Gospel. When Jesus walked this earth, he primarily spoke about the arrival of the Kingdom of God and invited people to enter into it by following him. Acknowledging the central place of the kingdom of God in the Gospel helps us to better understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Way back in Numbers 22-24, we read about an incident that occurred while Israel was making its way to the Promised Land. Balak, the king of Moab, hired a prophet named Balaam to come and pronounce a curse against the people of Israel. I was surprised to learn in my study that Balaam lived some 400 miles northeast of Moab. When Balaam tried to curse Israel, God would not allow it and instead of cursing, blessings came out of his mouth. And in Num.24:17, Balaam says, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”

When Jesus was born and the wise men came from the east, they stopped by Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem and asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Last week we looked at Dan.7:13-14, which says, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” We believe this refers to Jesus and that Jesus is God’s appointed king over his kingdom.

When we come to the New Testament, we see that Jesus is a very unique person. For example, In Jn.1:1-2 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Well this is very interesting language. This person called the Word, is both with God and is God at one in the same time. He is distinct from God and yet is God at one in the same time. How can this be? And then in Jn.1:14 we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As we continue to read in John’s gospel we learn that this one who became flesh is none other than Jesus. In fact, throughout John’s gospel there are numerous places in which Jesus claims that he is God in the flesh. That Jesus made these claims is clear because there were a number of times when the Jewish religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy because they realized he was making himself equal with God. God in the flesh!

It’s not a bad idea. I mean, if God wants to establish his rule among mankind, what better way than to come to the earth himself in the form of a man? “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity.”

When Jesus walked the earth his words and actions revealed that he had the power of God within him. Not only that but he acted as one would expect a good king to act. He cared for people. While the Jewish teachers taught by quoting other teachers, Jesus taught as one having authority within himself and people enjoyed listening to his teaching about God. Jesus had a reputation for being able to heal people of all sorts of illnesses. He restored sight to the blind. He healed people of being deaf and mute. He healed the lame. In fact he raised people from the dead. At one point, in a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus stopped the winds and calmed the sea by merely speaking to it. “Be still,” he said. On two occasions Jesus fed thousands of people by multiplying a few loaves of bread and some fish. In Jn.6:14-15, after Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes it says, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

People recognized that Jesus was different. And people referred to Jesus using titles found in the Old Testament that refer to the Messiah. When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter responded by saying, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” In Lk.4:4 we read, “And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.” In Jn.1:49 when Nathanael met Jesus, we read, “Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” God is spirit. No one has ever seen God, but because Jesus is fully God and fully man, he has revealed God to the world.

Now let’s go back to Dan.7. This is important because Jesus rarely called himself “King” or “Son of God.” He rarely came out and said that he is the Messiah. Rather Jesus’ favorite way to refer to himself was to use the phrase, “son of man.” The phrase, “son of man,” basically means to be a human. Jesus is a human being like us. But astute observers who knew the Old Testament would see that by calling himself, “son of man” he was claiming to be the king referred to in Dan.7. He is “The Son of Man.”

It is interesting that in the Bible, both God and Jesus are referred to as king. They both reign over the kingdom of God. I have often wondered about this. How can both be king? The way I have come to think of it is that Jesus is God the King in the flesh. It is a wonderful thing. Here God presents himself in a way that we can actually wrap our minds around. God is with us in Jesus.

 

II. JESUS IS WORTHY OF OUR WHOLEHEARTED WORSHIP. Jn.18:33-37

We live in a day in which scientific naturalism seems to hold sway over the minds of many people. Scientists and science professors make pronouncements about the existence of God, asserting far more than science can ever ascertain. And while the New Atheists are not as prominent at the moment, atheism is growing in its appeal. Many seem to be abandoning church. Liberal theologians and Bible scholars freely claim that the miracles and many of the statements attributed to Jesus in the New Testament were made up by the early church. There was no actual resurrection from the dead, the church invented this to keep the basic teachings of Jesus alive. People who thoughtfully or thoughtlessly dismiss Jesus, claiming science as their authority are often resolute in their view and it is not easy to discuss the claims of Christ with them. They have no inclination to believe in or worship Jesus. And, of course, there are many who embrace Islam or some other world religion. And they do not worship Jesus because they worship something else.

And then there are many who do profess a belief in Jesus, but their approach to Jesus is much like we view the IRS. I believe in the IRS. I believe enough in the IRS that I do my best to steer clear of the IRS. We make sure our taxes are done by someone who can figure it all out. We make sure that we have paid enough to cover our income tax and social security. In other words we jump through all the necessary hoops to be on the good side of the IRS.

This is how many people view God and Jesus. They believe in God and Jesus enough to want to be on their good side. So they try to jump through the appropriate hoops. They are baptized. They take Holy Communion. They attend church every so often. And they think that Jesus was a really nice person who loved everyone. They try to be decent people and hope that they are doing well enough to stay in God’s good graces.

But this is not how the scripture presents Jesus. In Jn.9 we read about a man who was blind from birth and was a beggar. The disciples asked Jesus if this man was blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned. Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And then Jesus restored the man’s sight. Well, this got the man in big trouble with the Jewish religious leaders. They greatly disliked Jesus and they actually excommunicated the blind man from synagogue worship. When Jesus heard that they excommunicated the man, he found the man and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.” This man had a life changing encounter with Jesus and the result is that the man worshiped Jesus.

In Lk.8 Jesus heals a man who had many demons dwelling in him. The man lived in the tombs, running around naked. He would cut himself and when the people tried to chain him up he would break the chains. He was in a pitiful condition. Jesus came and cast the demons out. In Lk.8:35-36 we read, “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed.” In v.38-39 it says, “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” Again this man had a life changing encounter with Jesus and he wanted to be with Jesus, to follow Jesus. When Jesus told the man that he should stay in his town and tell what Jesus had done him, no doubt the man was disappointed, but he was obedient. It was his pleasure to do what Jesus told him told him to do.

Men and women, never in the New Testament are we told that we must somehow appease Jesus and God in order to stay in their good graces. What we are told is that we should repent of our sinful, self-centered lives and enter into the kingdom of God by believing the good news about Jesus. What is the good news? The good news is that God welcomes into his kingdom those who come to Jesus and put their trust, their confidence in Jesus to save and transform their lives. Through faith our sins are forgiven and we begin to live a new life with Christ who comes to live in us. This new life is lived out as we worship and obey Jesus, our new king. He becomes our king when we surrender our life to him, trusting in him to save us from our sinful, selfish selves.

 

Now let me ask you a question. Has Jesus done anything in your life that would compel you to make him the king of your life? There’s no question that Jesus is the king in the Kingdom of God. There is no question that Jesus alone can forgive your sins and give you life in his wonderful kingdom, but has Jesus done this for you? Have you embraced him by faith as your Savior, Lord and King. The blind man’s life was transformed by Jesus and he worshiped Jesus. The man with many demons had his life transformed by Jesus and he obeyed Jesus. What has Jesus done for you? Is it significant enough for you to worship and obey him every day of your life? Is Jesus the King of your life? Amen.

God's Big Story

February 8, 2015

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

Who doesn’t like a good story? Today we watch stories on T.V. and in the movies. And we read stories. This morning I want to begin a series of messages entitled God’s Big Story. The plan is to take in the whole scope of scripture. For it is in the scripture that we read God’s big story.

In December I read a blog post by Pastor, Matthew Miller (Vancouver, WA). It was about the kingdom of God and Miller encapsulated God’s story in seven summary statements. I thought it was so good that I handed it out on New Year’s Eve. I am using Pastor Miller’s summary statements as the springboard for these messages. This morning I want to begin by saying, in God’s big story, the kingdom of God is the mission.

 

I. GOD CREATED MANKIND TO REIGN IN HIS KINGDOM. Gen.1:26-27

If you go to the museum of Science and Industry there is a room with a huge model train layout. You know what I’m talking about. There are mountains and towns and cities with cars and people and moving trains. It’s a miniature world. At Christmas some of us set up model village scenes with houses, people, shrubs and trees. We make it look like the real thing. It’s a world that we create.

Well, there is a reason we like this sort of thing and it goes back to creation. When God created us, he created us in his image. Not only are we creative people, but we were made to reign, to rule within God’s kingdom. In fact, in 2Tim.2:11-12, Paul writes about our relationship with Christ: “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him....” We were made to reign in God’s kingdom.

God’s story, of course, begins with God. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God.” God has always existed. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he obviously rules over all. In Ex.15:18 it says, “The LORD will reign forever and ever.” And so when God created Adam and Eve, there was no question but that Adam and Eve lived under the rule of God in the universe that he created. In Ps.145:13 David writes, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.” God’s rule is benevolent. It was not a hardship for Adam and Eve to live under the rule of God. In fact God provided a wonderful environment for Adam and Eve to live in.

Genesis 1:26-27 highlights the fact that God created mankind to also have a sphere of dominion within his kingdom. Adam and Eve were given dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth. In Gen.2 we see that Adam was given authority to name all the animals.

For over 25 years the Great Place to Work Institute has studied the world’s most notable workplace cultures. In 2014, Google was considered the number one best place to work. Well, I can tell you that the number one best place to work for all time would have been in the Garden of Eden when God gave Adam and Eve authority to rule. God is the best person to work under. In God’s kingdom his will his done.

Now each of us has a kingdom which is part of God’s kingdom. In our kingdoms, our will is done. Part of my kingdom is my workshop. I put things where I want them to be and I do pretty much what I want to do down there. Parents have a kingdom in that they are responsible for their children. They make the rules in the home. As long as we understand that our kingdoms are really part of God’s kingdom and rule in light of God’s rule over us, all is well.

 

II. MANKIND HAS REJECTED GOD’S KINGDOM. 3:8-19

Obviously, something happened. In Gen.3:1-13, we read about how Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She and Adam both disobeyed God when they ate of that tree. They chose to believe the lie of Satan. They thought that maybe God was keeping something from them. They thought that by disobeying God they would become wise as God. From the text in Genesis, it seems that God gave only one prohibition. Otherwise Adam and Eve were free to do as they chose. Of course when they chose to disobey God, they chose to usurp the good rule of God over his good kingdom. Whereas Adam and Eve used to enjoy walking with God, having conversation and fellowship with the King, that fellowship was broken. Adam and Eve became sinners and sin entered into the world, marring and scaring everything it touched. The principle of self-centeredness became the ruling principle within the heart of mankind and so mankind no longer sought to live under God’s rule. Now it was every man for himself. Build your own kingdom apart from God. Matthew Miller writes, “God created man (male and female) not like one of the beasts, but in his own image, as extensions of his own rule in the world. But sadly man surrendered to a beast (serpent) and abandoned this right to rule.”

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, things went from bad to worse. In Gen.3:14-23 we see that God put them out of the garden of Eden. God cursed the serpent and the ground. From that point on mankind would live by toil and sweat. Adam and Eve had children, who had children, who had children, and as the population increased so did the perpetuation of evil. Sin became so pervasive that God sent a flood, sparing only Noah and his family. Noah’s children had children, who had children and once again the population increased on the earth and sin abounded more and more in the hearts and ways of mankind.

Search your heart. Look at your kingdom. Do you not find a principle, an inclination to have things your way with nary a thought about God? How many of God’s good and beneficial rules have you broken? Not long ago I heard about a woman who intentionally went out and had a brief affair, all in an attempt to get her husband to pay attention to her. She deeply regretted it and only in hindsight realized how misguided her thinking was. In the kingdom of her marriage she did not consider the good rules of God concerning marriage. Her kingdom is crumbling. All around us and in our own lives we see the destructive results of usurping the rule of God in our lives. Everything that is good in this world has become a means for promoting great heartache and destruction. Alcohol, sex, political power, money, popularity, marriage, having children, work, technology, science; people use these things in self serving and evil ways. Why? It’s because ultimately men and women, you and I, are living in self-centered rebellion against God and his kingdom rule. Who would think that at the core of our being is a heart filled with rebellion against the rule of God? Like Adam and Eve, we want to be our own god.

 

III. GOD IS ON MISSION TO REESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM AMONG MANKIND. Gen.12:1-3

This is a pivotal point in God’s big story. In Gen.12 we are introduced Abram. Abram was a descendant Noah’s son, Shem. God selects Abram and directs Abram to start a new life by moving to a new land that God would give him. And God promises to do some amazing things in and through Abram. Notice in v.2 God says, “I will make of you a great nation. Iwill bless you and make your name great.” God would make Abram’s name so great that Abram would become a blessing to others. In fact, in v.3, God says, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

What is God doing here? Well, God is beginning to reestablish his kingdom rule among mankind. Up until God chose Abram, there was no nation of Israel. There was no Promised Land. God was going to establish a new nation. In Gen.17 God gives Abram a new name. He calls Abram, Abraham, which means “father of a multitude.” The new nation would begin with Abraham.

In Gen.12, Abraham builds an altar and begins worshiping God. As Abraham put his trust in God and worshipped and obeyed God, he experienced great blessing, just as God had promised. In a miraculous way a son was born to Abraham. That son’s name was Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob, who had 12 sons. And from those 12 sons the nation of Israel was born.

Because of a famine Jacob and his sons and their families eventually moved to Egypt. We are familiar with the story of Joseph. Really it was while they were in Egypt that the descendants of Jacob grew into a nation. But things did not go well in Egypt. For 400 years Israel was enslaved by the Egyptians. Finally God raised up Moses and miraculously delivered his people from slavery. At Mt. Sinai God gave his laws by which the nation of Israel was to live and govern themselves. God promised to lead them to a land that he would give them. It was the same land that God promised to give to Abraham. It was the land of Canaan.

After many hardships the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan River and took residence in the Promised Land. There were many battles to fight and God gave great victories until the land was secured by Israel. And this is where it gets interesting.

All the surrounding nations had kings. God was Israel’s king. In Ex.19:5-6, God said to Israel, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God was again establishing his rule, his reign among people. Israel was to be God’s showpiece to the nations of what it is like when God reigns in the earth. And there were many moments of great blessing in Israel’s history, moments when Israel experienced profound blessings from God. You can read about these moments throughout the Old Testament.

But again, something happened. Despite God’s blessings and command to worship him only, over and over again the people of Israel chose to turn away from God and his good rule, to worship and serve idols, who are not gods at all.

And then a day came when the people came to Samuel, who was their leader at the time. Listen to 1Sam.8:4-7. “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” Wow! It’s Adam and Eve all over again.

Saul was the first king, but he greatly disobeyed the Lord. David was the second king. He was a man after God’s own heart. Eventually the nation of Israel split into two nations. The kings of the northern kingdom were all wicked and did not worship God. Some of the kings of the Southern Kingdom did worship God and received God’s blessing

Throughout the history of Israel God graciously worked in and through those kings who worshipped and obeyed him. God sought to establish his reign through those kings. He allowed those kings to rule in his kingdom. But they were all deeply flawed and eventually both northern and southern kingdoms of Israel were defeated and went into captivity. You can read about this in the historical books of the Old Testament. Men and women, God showed great patience and love in his dealings with his people Israel. He showed them great favor and blessing. But over and over again we see that mankind does not have in mind the things of God. His own people would not trust God and walk in his ways.

 

IV. JESUS CHRIST IS GOD’S APPOINTED KING. Ez.37:1-14; Dan.7:1-28; Mk.1:15

It would seem that God’s plan for reestablishing his kingdom reign among mankind was a failure. Israel was not a light to the nations. But in God’s story there is a subplot that was hidden for many long years which eventually becomes the main plot. In other words there is more to God’s big story than meets the eye.

Over the many years in which Israel turned away from God, God sent prophet after prophet to call his people back to himself. A number of these prophets spoke of things to come

For example, in Ez.37:1-14, we find a very famous passage of scripture in which Ezekiel has a vision. He sees the nation of Israel defeated. The bodies of the people of Israel are now a heap of dry bones scattered in a valley. The picture shows what happens when God is continually rejected. The end result is destruction and death. But in the vision, God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones. Ezekiel is to say, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” What will the Lord say? The Lord will cause these bones to come together. He will restore their bodies and breathe new life into them. In v.11-14 God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ’Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” Wow, God is speaking about a resurrection from the dead, a resurrection in which God breathes his Spirit into people to give them life.

Or in Dan.7:1-28, Daniel had a vision in which he saw four beasts come out of the sea. Each beast represents a king and an empire. In order they represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Alexander the Great, and Rome. These empires were powerful and oppressive. But then in v.9 we are taken to the throne room of God, the Ancient of Days, who is ready to bring judgment. And in v.13-14 we read, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

O who is this? He has no name, but we know that he is a man. And we know that he will reign over a kingdom that will encompass all peoples and all nations. You see what I mean? In God’s story there is this subplot. While God is seeking to work with his people Israel, he is quietly raising up a king who will fully carry out his will on the earth.

Isaiah tells us more about this king. From the Gospels we know that his name is Jesus. In Mk.1:14-15, we read, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus, God in the flesh, fully God and fully man, embodied the rule of God and brought the rule of God among mankind.

 

I will not say much more for we will continue next week. But men and women, for those of us who know Christ, we have a ministry like Jesus. Here we are, the people of God. We have entered into God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the king dwells in our lives through his Holy Spirit. The King lives in us and desires to rule in each of us. So, just as Jesus proclaimed the arrival of God’s kingdom in his person, in what he said and did, those of us who have Jesus living in them also proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom on earth in what we do and say. Is your life proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom? Is your life proclaiming the fact that God’s good rule has come to earth? Amen.