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6-11 Miracle Over Selfishness

We have been exploring the meaning of miracles for a few weeks now and I would like to use today to finish up that series with one more miracle.  As we have looked at the miracles described in the Gospels, we have found each one was a triumph for a person or two because someone’s life was immeasurably changed.  Someone who was crippled could now walk.  Another person possessed by a demon was now free from the bondage of evil.  Yet laying beneath every miracle was the meaning of the miracle, intended for those who witnessed the miracle and for those people like us who read about the miracle.  And each miracle brings an enduring lesson that was intended to bring hope, peace, and understanding within a world that can often be chaotic, conflicted, and purposeless.

Today, I want to look at a miracle that occurs relatively late in the public ministry of Jesus.  In fact, after this miracle, there are only three more miracles described in the gospels. At this point in Jesus public ministry, Jesus is very near his final turn toward Jerusalem and destiny with the cross on Calvary.

Let’s begin by looking at our New Testament reading from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10, beginning at verse 46.  Scholars credit the Gospel according to Mark to a young man named John Mark, a protégé of the Apostle Peter.  Mark’s approach was to move his readers quickly through the story of Jesus’ life and ministry.  The first half of the Gospel, chapters 1 through 8, answers the question, “Who is Jesus?”  The answer is brief.   He is the Son of God; the one the prophets foretold would come to heal and make right humanity’s relationship with God.  The second half of the Gospel, chapter 9 through 16, answer the question, “How will Jesus, Son of God, accomplish God’s mission?”  The answer is disturbing; “31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (8:31).”

          Our text today comes from the second half of the Gospel and occurs as Jesus briefly passed through the city of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.  To fully appreciate the scene surrounding the miracle we need to first look at a scene that precedes the miracle.  In this prior scene, Jesus and his disciples came through some difficult and tense moments. The apostles James and John, giants in our understanding of the Christian character, had approached Jesus in secret.  They had been thinking about something, undoubtedly talking to each other about it. It seemed to James and John that Jesus was about to take his role as the Messiah King.  James and John came to Jesus and asked Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37).  James and John believing that Jesus would soon assume a position of great power, wanted to be Jesus’ principal deputies.  If Jesus was to be number 1 in the land, then James and John wanted to be number 2 and number 3.  They wanted power to decide who would (or would not) do what, when, where, and how. James and John displayed a character that sought power and dominion over others. They did not seek authority from Jesus for the ministry in his name.  They sought authority for personal standing and control of others. 

John Mark, our gospel writer, recorded these words and reaction by the other apostles when James’ and John’s secret plan became known, “41 When the ten (other disciples) heard this, they began to be angry with James and John” (Mark 10:41).  The ten were angry because someone else was trying to get one over on them and prevent them from becoming number 2 or number 3 in Jesus’ power structure.  “42 So Jesus called them (the Twelve) and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). 

Christian character is not about power for oneself, it is about empowering others.  Christian character is about following the example of giving others hope by serving them. Jesus said, “45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Jesus was correcting the thinking of the disciples, so that their words would not be self-centered but instead their words and deeds would be gracious.  With gracious words comes a servant’s heart with deeds of care for others.  For a Christian, to act on behalf of another, to be a servant, is an obligation on us from God.  It is a requirement for our lives, but it is not a burden.  To act for another, is a privilege and a blessing to know that in such behaviors we are doing exactly what God desires from us. Done often enough, those acts become habitual; meaning it is done almost without conscious decision because it has become an inseparable part of who we have become.  When our behavior is such, then it defines our character as that of Christ for we came to serve not be served.  That is the character model Christ wanted from his disciples, but it was not the character exhibited by James and John through their secret quest for power.

With the stage set, we turn to verse 46.  “46 They (Jesus and his disciples) came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside” (Mark 10:46). In the ancient language, the prefix, “bar,” means “son of.”  This man, Bartimaeus, sat, blind, an outcast from society.  His life was reduced to begging for money or food, making him dependent upon others for his very survival.  This was how people saw Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, a drain on society and unable to contribute.  How often do we form our thoughts about the character traits of a person by their external appearance or circumstances?  If we think superficially, our words, deeds, habits will inform our character and we will be superficial.  Christ wants us to look at the heart of the person and acknowledge the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, and then serve the external needs of others.

  In verse 47, as crowd, this mass of people swirling before, around, and behind Jesus, moved passed Bartimaeus. ”He [Bartimaeus] heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he [Bartimaeus] began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:47).  Think about the scene for a moment.  Jesus, to many was just a miracle worker, to others the Son of God, was passing by the very road in which blind Bartimaeus sat as an outcast.  Bartimaeus realized that Jesus was the cause of the commotion, but Bartimaeus could not see in front of him.  It was then two things happened. 

First, everyone who knew the healing power of Jesus and knew Bartimaeus or at least could observe Bartimaeus’ condition, either consciously or unthinkingly chose not to ask Jesus to serve Bartimaeus.  No one, not one of the Twelve, seemed to think Bartimaeus worthy to be introduced to Jesus.  Apparently, Jesus’ lessons to his disciples on being a servant to others was sinking in slowly or not at all.  Are we like those of that crowd?  We know Jesus, we follow him, we study the Bible, we do acts of charity, but are we also unwilling to introduce the outcast to Christ?  Ponder that question this week. 

The second thing that happened was Bartimaeus spoke loudly calling to Jesus knowing that Jesus was his sole source of grace.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus, the outcast, the blind beggar saw something almost no one else saw; the promise of God’s love right before him.  He praised Jesus as the rightful heir of King David’s throne and the giver of grace through healing.  These were Bartimaeus’ thoughts and his thoughts led him to speak.

Now we would think Bartimaeus’ cry would be the end of the conflict in the story.  Bartimaeus has shouted out his testimony, made known his need, and now the crowd will stop and get Jesus to help him.

But verse 48 tells us something different, “48 Many (of the crowd) sternly ordered him (Bartimaeus) to be quiet” (Mark 10:48).  Think about this scene for a moment.  Bartimaeus was giving testimony about Jesus and the response from those who would form the core of the early Christian Church, from those who were following Jesus was to yell back at Bartimaeus, “Stop being such a bother and be quiet.  No one wants to hear from you!”  We expect hardhearted responses from the world but a hardhearted response from those literally inches away from Jesus seems unconscionable.  This might have been the end of the story, but it was not.

Instead of being quiet, “Bartimaeus cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:48).  Bartimaeus’ would not be silenced so he acted again this time shouting to Jesus over the objections of the church and repeating his call to Jesus as His savior and the only source of grace.  This interaction between Bartimaeus and the crowd, which included the disciples, should cause us to examine our individual and collective behaviors.  Are there things we are doing that make coming to Christ harder?  It is a sobering thought.

This time, in response to Bartimaeus’ shouting over the church, there was a different response.  This time “49 Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’” (Mark 10:49).  Don’t you just love how people responded to Jesus’ command to bring Bartimaeus to Jesus when just moments before they were telling this same Bartimaeus to be quiet. Calling Bartimaeus to Jesus should have been the response of the church when Jesus began walking through Jericho. The crowd should have said, “Bartimaeus, take heart, get up, Jesus is here!”  This should have been the response of the church after Bartimaeus spoke up the first time, “Bartimaeus, take heart, get up, come to Jesus!”  This should have been the response of the church after Bartimaeus spoke up the second time.  “Forgive us, Bartimaeus, take heart, get up, come to Jesus!”  The response, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’” came only after Jesus directed the church to act.  We must always act on behalf of another, to be a servant, and see it as an obligation on us from God, but not a burden.  To act for another, is a privilege and a blessing to know that we are doing exactly what God desires from us.

Bartimaeus now prompted and helped by the crowd, “50 Threw off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight” (Mark 10:50-52).  Finally, Bartimaeus could see.  What an amazing joy for Bartimaeus.

But what do we make of this miracle for ourselves? What is the enduring lesson here that brings us more and more in the person and character of Jesus?  There are a few things for us to consider.

First, James and John had approached Jesus looking to make a secret deal and be giving power what their perceived as Jesus’ worldly kingdom. In secretness, Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  James and John asked for power over others.  Jesus said no and the core of the church to be, the ten other disciples, were in an uproar at James’ and John’s attempt at a power grab.  I don’t think the point of the other disciples being upset was that they were more righteous than James and John, it was more likely they were upset that they did not try to grab power first.  Jesus taught his disciples, and Jesus teaches us, “You must become servants of one another.”

Right after this scene with James and John, Jesus and the disciples were in Jericho where blind Bartimaeus shouted to Jesus in public seeking mercy, seeking healing.  The response from the church was for Bartimaeus to be quiet.  The church tried to stand in the way of Jesus serving Bartimaeus.  Obviously, the lesson of being a servant was lost on the disciples and the crowd. Bartimaeus called again and Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus said, “Heal me.”  Bartimaeus received sight and was satisfied.  We learn from this that we must not be a stumbling block for others to come to Christ.

There is one final lesson.  At the close of this miracle scene, Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:50a).  But Bartimaeus did not go.  Instead, Bartimaeus left behind his beggar’s cloak and followed Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus was not interested in returning to his old life or even his old garment.  Bartimaeus was interested in only one thing: following Jesus.  Is that how we think, speak, and act?  Do we genuinely move from our old life and old ways and follow a new way with Christ?

We might ask, Bartimaeus was on the way but where was Jesus going?  Mark said Jesus next stop was Jerusalem for a triumphal entry. As far as we know, Bartimaeus was there and no doubt was singing and crying out, ““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 heaven!”  Jesus was going to the cross and Bartimaeus was following him.  That was Bartimaeus’ new character.  This is the deeper meaning of the miracle.

          What is your character?  As we close let’s think of our response the way the Apostle Paul put it.  “1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”  3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!  7-13 So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!” (Romans 15:1-8 MSG).  Amen and Amen.

06-11 Miracle Over Fear

          One of the greatest things we face in life is fear. Fear is an intensely unpleasant emotion in response to perceiving or recognizing a danger or threat.  When we become fearful, we can become emotionally responsive to the situation.  We have a greater tendency to thrash about seeking to at least chase away whatever makes us afraid. 

But there are two important things for us to remember about fear.  The first is that we only ever fear something that has not happened.  If it is snowing and we must drive in the snow, we might fear that we will get stuck in the snow or that we might have an accident because of the slippery conditions.  But neither condition has occurred.  We are at that moment neither stuck nor in an accident, but we fear.  So, we fear only those things that have not yet happened. Should we later get stuck in the snow, we now no longer fear being stuck in the snow.  We may now fear that being stuck in the snow has caused damage to our car or that we will miss our appointment, but we no longer fear what has happened.  Whatever we fear has not happened.

          The second thing we learn about fear is that going through a fearful experience can sharpen our understanding of what is important.  Think again about that snowstorm.  Let’s say you decided not to go out in that snowstorm, but you receive a call letting you know that a loved one did go out in the storm and got into a traffic accident.  Instantly, you fear the consequences of that accident.  Then you hear the words, “Everyone is OK, but the car is not in good shape.”  Your immediate response is, “I am so glad to hear everyone is OK, we can always replace the car.”   Our response reflects our understanding of sharpened priorities, what we value the most.  As long as everyone is OK (that is our priority), we can always replace the car (not our priority).

          And so, fear is an unpleasant emotion, but fear involves things which have not happened, and fear sharpens our understanding of what is important.  How then does our understanding of fear play in the development of our faith?  Well, today, let’s look at a miracle story that has at its foundation the unpleasant emotion of fear.  This miracle story is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John.  Today, I would like to use Matthew’s account of the miracle.

          As we come into the scene, we would want to know that dreadful news had reached Jesus.  Matthew wrote, “6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he (Herod) promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother (Herodias), she (the girl who danced) said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.’ 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he (Herod) ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His (John the Baptist’s) head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother (Herodias). 12 John’s disciples came and took his (John the Baptist’s) body and buried it. Then they (John’s disciples) went and told Jesus” (Matthew 14:6-12). 

This was awful news. John the Baptist was the messenger sent ahead of Jesus to prepare the people.  John’s message was simple, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” When Jesus began his own public ministry Jesus began by repeating John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Now John was dead.  Killed on the whim of a king who lustfully sought after the affections of a young woman. Jesus and his disciples must have grieved this news.  Particularly, Andrew and John must have been deeply affected by the news of John the Baptist’s death as Andrew and John had been disciples of John the Baptist before becoming disciples of Jesus. 

Matthew wrote, “13 When Jesus heard what had happened [to John the Baptist], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13).  Jesus knew that his disciples needed some time to absorb the impact of John the Baptist’s death.  The disciples would have been anxious and fearful that perhaps their own lives could be ended in such an arbitrary and cruel manner.  It is a common human response for us to see something happen to our friends and believe the same fate could befall us.  I think Jesus wanted his disciples to have some time to grieve.

Matthew wrote that, 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).  There apparently was no time for solitude for Jesus and his disciples.  If we were to continue to read in Matthew, we would find that the crowd was exceptionally large, numbering 5,000 men alone.  It was there that Jesus fed the five thousand. After the meal was completed, “22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee), while he (Jesus) dismissed the crowd. 23 After he (Jesus) had dismissed them (the crowd), he (Jesus) went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he (Jesus) was there alone, 24 and the boat (with the disciples) was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” (Matthew 14:22-24).  Albeit separate, at last Jesus and his disciples finally had some solitude to consider what had happened to their friend, John the Baptist.

“Then 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them (the disciples), (by) walking on the lake” (Matthew 14:25).  I find this verse so striking.  Matthew reports without introduction or explanation, in a rather ho hum matter of fact manner, that Jesus began walking on the lake, almost as though to walk on the lake as it was being whipped up into waves by winds no less, was a common day occurrence.  What Matthew describes here calmly is a miracle of Jesus calming overcoming the elements of nature.  Apparently, the waves were of no concern to Jesus because he was making good progress in crossing the lake.  “26 When the disciples saw him (Jesus) walking on the lake, they (the disciples) were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26).  The Greek word here for “ghost,” is phantasma, fan;tas-mah.  The word means a specter, the spirit of someone who had died.  The disciples did not recognize this figure. Perhaps in their grief, the disciples believed this specter was the ghost of John the Baptist.  Perhaps.  We do not know.  What we do know is that in believing the figure was the spirit of a dead person, the disciples cried out in fear, terror, and dread because the disciples presumed that this specter would bring upon them some harm or calamity.  But we also know that whatever the disciples feared in that moment had not yet happened and whatever they feared would sharpen their priorities.

Upon hearing the cries of the disciples, “27 Jesus immediately said to them (the disciples): ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ 28 ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ 29 ‘Come,’ he (Jesus) said” (Matthew 14:27-29).  Fear had been working on Peter and his priorities. Fear of what had happened to John the Baptist and fear of seeing a ghost had sharpened Peter’s perspective about what was most important to him.  So when Peter heard Jesus’ voice, though Peter still could not fully make out the figure walking upon the water as Jesus, Peter wanted desperately to be in Jesus’ presence.  Peter, rather than calling to Jesus and saying, “Jesus, come quickly to us!” Peter chose instead to call to Jesus and saying, “Tell me, empower me, to come quickly over the water to you!” Peter was living out that we must do and that is in our fear we must draw near to God.  Scripture says, “22 Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” (Hebrews 10:22).  In our moments of distress God is present but we must in faith draw near to him if we want our fears to be fully relieved.

And so Peter, with fear having shaped his priorities and creating within Peter a deep desire of being with God, got out of a perfectly good boat and “Walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:29b).  Fear had transformed Peter’s heart and Peter sincerely wanted to be with Jesus standing by faith upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee.  Nothing would have been more satisfying and more reassuring for Peter than to have joined Jesus in this ongoing miracle over the power of the elements by standing and walking upon the water.

But then as Peter  began to walk upon the water, Peter turned his attention away from Jesus and toward the wind and the waves.  “30 But when he (Peter) saw the wind, he (Peter) was afraid and, beginning to sink.” (Matthew 14:30a).  I genuinely love the stories of Peter because he is so human.  We see here amid this miracle of Jesus walking on water and Peter now walking on water, this high point of spiritual life, Peter shifted his attention back to things that make him fearful.  The wind made Peter fearful.  The waves made Peter fearful.  Peter, the experienced fisherman, knew that winds and waves could overcome someone leading to them drowning.  Peter went from faith to fear.  Peter feared something that had not yet happened.

In shifting his attention back to fear, Peter began to sink beneath the waves.  What was he going to do?  Peter knew could not save himself and so it would seem Peter had only two choices.  Either Peter could call out to his partners in the boat, “Throw me a line and pull me back into the boat!” or Peter could appeal to Jesus for help.  Fear of drowning again sharpened Peter’s understanding of his priorities.  We see Peter express his priorities with his cry, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30b).  Peter chose faith to resolve his fear.  “31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31).  Jesus’ words acknowledge Peter was the only one of the disciples to have expressed faith to overcome their fears and lamented that Peter did not stay in faith but returned to fear.

Matthew concluded the scene this way, “32 And when they (Jesus and Peter) climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat {the disciples) worshiped him (Jesus), saying, ’Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:32).  This miracle changed the disciples.  They no longer saw Jesus as just a great teacher, or just as a miracle worker.  The disciples saw Jesus as the Son of God in whom it was proper to offer worship reserved only for God himself. 

What then do we make of this miracle for our lives? What was the purpose and meaning of the miracle?  There are three things I would like us to consider.

First, this miracle was the longest one to date and a miracle done only for the benefit of his disciples.  In all previous miracles, something happened instantly.  In the past, the disciples witnessed someone’s eyesight immediately restored, leprosy cleansed, or a demon expelled at Jesus’ command.  This miracle occurred only in the presence of the disciples and extended over many minutes or perhaps even hours.  I think the extended time was needed because Jesus was working with his disciples who were beset with powerful emotions of grief and fear.  John the Baptist, Jesus’ closest ally and friend of the disciples, had been murdered on a whim.  There was grief, uncertainty, regret, and fear.  We all understand these emotions because we all have experienced these emotions when a loved one has died.  These emotions can prevent us from seeing God clearly or understanding God’s purpose for our life.  Jesus needed to address the needs of his disciples.  We need to look at this miracle to see how our own emotions born in suffering can prevent us from seeing God clearly.

Second, the miracle of Jesus rather than at first developing awe, wonder, and amazement instead produced fear as the disciples believed at first that Jesus walking upon the water was a ghost.  Fear, that terror of things not yet happened, caused the disciples, particularly Peter, to sort through what was the most important thing in life.  Peter concluded that nearest to Jesus was the most important thing in his life and Peter asked Jesus to empower him to come closer.  Peter discovered that we can either believe by faith in Jesus or we can focus on our fears in life, but we cannot do both.  When Peter focused on faith, Peter walked on water.  When Peter shifted from faith back to fear, Peter began to sink beneath the waves.  Our choice then is either faith in Jesus and pursuing a closeness to him or we can pursue our fears, but we cannot pursue both.

Third, the ultimate purpose of this miracle was for the disciples to work through their grief and fear and by faith come to realize that Jesus is the Son of God and to see that Jesus is worthy of worship. After the news of John the Baptist’s murder, Jesus sought solitude for he and his disciples.  But the crowds followed.  In compassion to the crowds, Jesus taught the crowd and then miraculously fed them all.  Now finally, in the solitude of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus ministered to his disciples teaching them that John was as who he said he was, he was the messenger calling people to make straight the paths for the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now on the tumultuous Sea of Galilee, in solitude, guaranteed that there would be no interruptions, Jesus showed the disciples that faith in him, not in John the Baptist, not in miracles themselves, was the ultimate satisfaction for their hearts.  In that realization of all that Jesus is, was, and will be as the Son of God, the response from the disciples was to worship Jesus.  Worship is a foundational practice that helped the disciples remain focused on Jesus and stave off humanly fears.  We must come to see the same, that faith in Jesus as the Son of God is our ultimate source for overcoming our fears.

Yes, it was amazing that Jesus walked on the churning waters of the Sea of Galilee.  Yes, it was amazing that Jesus empowered Peter to walk on those same waters.  Yes, it was amazing that Jesus calmed the winds and the sea.  But all of those miraculous events happened in a matter of minutes or even an hour and then those events were over.  The enduring meaning and significance of the miracle on the Sea of Galilee was the transformation of fear to faith and faith to worship.  We must not let the miracle of the Sea of Galilee pass us by.  What is it that we fear?  Whatever it is, it has not happened.  Whatever it is, whatever we fear, prevents us from seeing God clearly. Is whatever it is that we fear worth not seeing God the way God intends?  If we want to leave our fears behind, we need only say to Jesus, “Ask me to come to you.”  And Jesus will say to us, “Come.”  And when we move against our fears we can be strengthened through our worship of Jesus. Amen and Amen.

06-04 Faith Amid Miracles

          This is our second week in looking at the miracles of Jesus.  Now, we are told in the dictionary that a miracle is “a surprising and welcome event that cannot be explained by nature or science and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency, such as God.”  In the Bible, in Roman histories, and in Jewish writings, all from the time shortly after Jesus lived here on earth, there is the acknowledgement that Jesus performed wonderful works or miracles.  In the Bible, the source of Jesus’ power to do the miracles is attributed to God.  In the Roman histories, the source of Jesus’ power is never mentioned.  In the Jewish writings the source of Jesus’ power is Satan. The same event, a miracle, and the source is authority is taken to be God, unsaid, or Satan.  How can the same event have such widely differing views on the source of the miracle?  The answer rests not in the miracle itself but instead rests in the belief of the person making meaning of the miracle.  We are always engaged in making meaning out of events in life.  Think of it this way.  On Saturday morning, you get ready to go out and you discover it is raining. You call this a lousy day because the rain is spoiling your plans for a picnic.  The farmer down the street discovers it is raining and calls it a great day because his crops will be watered.  We have the same event and two people making very different meanings of that event.

          Last week, we looked at the meaning of Jesus’ first miracle recorded in the Gospel of Mark, while Jesus was in Capernaum, the hometown of his newly called disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It was in Capernaum that Jesus, in the middle of a synagogue worship service, removed a demon from a man.  We saw that the meaning of that miracle was much more than the change in the man’s physical and spiritual condition.  The deeper meaning of the miracle was that in the kingdom of God, evil will be silenced and expelled.

Today, I wanted us to look at another miracle of Jesus to see what meaning was made then of Jesus’ miracle and what we make of this miracle.  While this miracle of Jesus, is addressed in all four of the Gospels, we will continue, as we did last week, to look at the miracle through the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark.  The miracle is found at the beginning of chapter 2.

As we come into Chapter 2 of Mark, we would know that after removing the demon while in Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples traveled to other villages and towns within Galilee.  Jesus preached the message that the kingdom of God was near, and Jesus performed many miracles by driving out still more demons and healing the sick.  More and more people in Galilee were hearing about Jesus’ miracles and were seeking him out to be healed.  It must have been an exciting time full of expectant people.

Mark wrote that, “1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him [Jesus] a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on” (Mark 2:1-4).  The scene Mark described here is probably familiar to many of us.  We have read this story and listened to many sermons coming from it.  The friends of a paralyzed man went through some extraordinary efforts to place their friend before Jesus for a healing of his body.  The house where Jesus was teaching was packed with people.  The only way to Jesus was through the roof. We can well imagine that as the man was lowered through the roof there was great anticipation of seeing the man restored.

Finally, the man with this incurable paralysis safely landed in front of Jesus.  Mark wrote, “5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5).  No. Wait.  What did Jesus say?  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  You can almost hear from the paralyzed man’s friends as they leaned their heads into the hole they made in the roof calling down to Jesus, “We traveled all this way and dug our way into this house for you to heal him not forgive him!  We want him to walk home and not be carried home!” You can sense for some people this was a moment of great disappointment and confusion.  They had gone through all this effort and no miracle.  There was no “surprising and welcomed event that cannot be explained by nature or science.” 

Instead of healing the man, Jesus said to the man that his sins were forgiven.  Jesus’ statement was concerning.  First, as we will talk about in a moment, the religious leaders present considered Jesus’ statement a grave sin against God because only God, and not person, can forgive sins.  And secondly, Jesus said something that could not be verified.  How could anyone see for themselves that this man’s sins had been forgiven?  We can neither see the accumulation of sin within ourselves, nor can we see that accumulation in another person.  So, how can we see that those sins have been wiped clean?  We can see if a person was healed.  But how do we see if his or her sins are forgiven?

The essential conflict then in this miracle story is not the man’s paralysis but rather what meaning did people make and do we make of Jesus forgiving the man’s sins.  There was no possible way to verify Jesus’ statement, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  And when we cannot verify something for ourselves, but we accept the truth of that statement we call that faith.  Let’s consider for a moment what Scripture says of faith:

  • “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
  • “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
  • “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

Faith is at the heart of the miracle.  Although it seems evident the man and his friends believed the man’s most urgent need was healing, Jesus believed forgiveness was the man’s most urgent and enduring need.  And Jesus believed that understanding the forgiveness of God was the most urgent need for the witnesses to this miracle and the most urgent need for those, like us, who would read the record of this miracle.  At this point, Jesus was starting to move people away from the idea that he was a miracle worker and toward an understanding that faith and forgiveness were fundamental elements of the kingdom of God.

Well, how did the people present that day see this event?  Mark wrote, “6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’  8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things?’” (Mark 2:6-8).  Jesus was intensely aware that the religious leaders were displeased that Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  These leaders had first expected Jesus to say something or do something about the man’s paralysis and that did not happen. And second, these religious leaders did not expect Jesus to be so bold as to claim that he, Jesus, could forgive the man his sins.  The religious leaders were conflicted because they could not reconcile Jesus’ words with their understanding of who Jesus was, a roaming rabbi, and the authority that he was claiming.

To help the religious leaders in their conflict thinking, Jesus asked them a question.  Jesus asked, “9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (Mark 2:9).  Of course, it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because that statement, unlike “Get up, take your mat and walk!” cannot be proven or disproven and requires no physical movement by the paralyzed man.

Jesus continued, “’10 But I want you (religious leaders) to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’  So he (Jesus) said to the man (the harder statement), 11 ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” (Mark 2:10-12).  The religious leaders and the people were in awe at what they had seen.  An incurable paralyzed man was able on his own to get up and walk.  There was no doubt to those there that this event, this miracle, “a surprising and welcome event that cannot be explained by nature or science” and that it occurred through the power and authority of Jesus who stood in front of them.  It would be hard not to be astonished.  But believing in the miracle required no faith because the miracle of healing this man was seen.  We remember that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  So the deeper meaning of the miracle, the faith building experience, must be found in what was not seen.

When Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” that was an unseeable act in which Jesus acted on behalf of that paralyzed man.  Jesus was, as it were, taking the man who had been separated from God by sin and placing the man back into the palm of God’s hand.  Jesus stopped the inevitable ravages of sin that would consume this man’s life.  There was nothing ambiguous about what Jesus said he had done for this man in forgiving his sins just as there was nothing ambiguous about restoring the man’s mobility. This man’s forgiveness and this man’s healing are different sides of the same coin.

What then are we to do with this scene from the Gospel of Mark?  How do we sort out the significance of this scene to our daily life? I think there are three points for us to consider.

First, Jesus acted in an unmistakable manner by forgiving the man’s sins and by empowering the man to walk.  Because Jesus actions cannot be mistaken, Jesus compels us to make a personal decision about Him.  Who is Jesus and what do we do with what Jesus says to us?  Because of his acts to forgive and heal, we cannot honestly see Jesus as just a teacher of loving principles.  We must decide something much deeper about him.

This brings us to our second point.  To decide something deeper about Jesus we cannot do that based on visible evidence. If our beliefs about Jesus were based on the visible evidence alone, we would conclude Jesus was a miracle worker and we would never go any deeper than that.  If this is how we saw Jesus, then we would need a constant source of new miracles to keep us connected to Jesus.  This was the mindset of the religious leaders.  After many miracles, they came to Jesus and said, “Give us a sign, a miracle, that we might see and believe.”  Jesus said no such sign would be given to such a wicked and adulterous generation.  The religious leaders had accepted that Jesus could perform miracles, but they remained unchanged by them.  Even while Jesus was nailed to the cross, the religious leaders hounded Jesus for a miracle. They said, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42).  The religious leaders never came to know Jesus the Christ.

          The unmistakable acts of Jesus to forgive and to restore the paralyzed man to health requires that we decide by faith, not be sight, what we believe about Jesus.  We must decide without seeing whether Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away sin, and the one who forgives us and places us back into the hand of God as a child of God.  If we conclude Jesus is not who he says he is, then we can just stop here, there would be no reason to go to the third point.  But if we believe by faith that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then we come to our third point.

          When by faith we come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, it is then by the aid of the Holy Spirit do we begin to understand that Jesus acted to forgive the man all his sins and in doing so took the Word of God and made it an integral part of life.  We see right away that forgiveness is not a matter of teaching but rather acting in faith.  We come to see that to receive forgiveness and extend it to another person is an act of submission to God.  Jesus said, “16 My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:16-17). This means that only those who submit themselves to God in faith will come to fully understand who Jesus Christ truly is. 

          As we think about this question, who Jesus is, we do so as we are about to partake in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper, like a miracle, is not a thought, it is an action.  The Lord’s Supper is an action we take to remind us that we believe by faith Jesus’ words when he said that the bread is his body, and the cup of juice is his blood. And because we have accepted Jesus and we are doing God’s will by celebrating the Lord’s Supper, we can know the deeper meaning of the Lord’s Supper as an act of remembering and loving Jesus who placed us into God’s hand by forgiving us just as he had forgiven a paralyzed man in house in Capernaum.  Let’s pray.

05-28 Miracles

          One of the core beliefs of Christianity is the belief in the miracles, signs, and wonders done at the command of Jesus.  These supernatural experiences were varied in scope with some miracles done in private and others done in public.  Jesus cast our demons, healed the sick, raised people from the dead, and controlled the forces of nature.  The stories of Jesus miraculous powers were shared among the early church.  The miracles were and are an integral part of the Christian Church. 

The miracles of Jesus even drew the attention of people outside the Christian community.  The Roman historian, Josephus, wrote, “Now about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man.  For he was a doer of wonderful works, a teach of such men as received truth with pleasure.”  Josephus’ first mention of Jesus is that as a “doer of wonderful works.”  Jesus’ miracles caught the attention of the ancient Romans.

Jesus and his supernatural acts were written about in the writings of the ancient Jews in the Babylonian Talmud.  The Talmud claimed that Jesus was stoned to death because Jesus had “practiced sorcery, incited people to idol worship, and led the Jewish people astray” (Sanhedrin 43a).  The ancient Jews we know were hypercritical of Jews and the early Christians.  But apparently, even Jesus’ antagonists had to acknowledge that Jesus did some supernatural works but they then dismissed these works as sorcery, magic, or black magic.

          There seems to be ample evidence in the Bible, Roman histories, and Jewish teachings that Jesus engaged in supernatural works.  And yet a growing segment of people today do not believe Jesus ever performed miracles. In the United States, people were asked whether the Bible was the literal word of God, or God inspired words, or myths and legends.  About 20% of those polled believed the Bible was literally the word of God, 30% believed the Bible to be myths, and about 50% believed the Bible was inspired by God. There are some groups within the Christian circles who never speak of miracles because they do not believe the miracles occurred and talking about miracles are the source of embarrassment.

          It seems impossible though it is impossible to speak about Jesus without referring to his miracles, signs, and wonders.  And so it seems we might profit from exploring miracles described for us in the Bible that were so important to the early church, important to be captured in the history books, and important enough to be refuted by Jesus’ adversaries. What can we learn about the miracles of Jesus and what do those insights suggest to us today?

          Let’s begin by acknowledging that the primary sources for the descriptions of the miracles of Jesus come from the gospels. Since historians tend to regard the Gospel of Mark as the earliest of the gospels, let’s look at the first miracle recorded by Mark as found in Chapter 1.  As we enter the scene offered by Mark, it would be important for us to know that Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist.  Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness by Satan.  And Jesus had called his first disciples, Peter and his brother, Andrew, James and his brother, John, all of whom were fisherman. Mark wrote, “21 They [Jesus, Peter, Andrew, James, and John] went to Capernaum” (Mark 1:21a).  Capernaum was a small city on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee and was the hometown of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

          Mark continued that while in Capernaum, “The Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:21b-22).  How might we think about the observation by Mark that Jesus taught with authority not as the teachers of the law? 

We might think about it by example from our own nation’s history.  On November 19, 1863, a ceremony was held to dedicate the Gettysburg Battlefield.  There were two speakers that day, an orator named Edward Everett and the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  Edward Everett spoke first.  His address was 13,607 words and took him 2 hours to deliver it.  Abraham Lincoln then gave his dedication. Lincoln’s statement was 271 words, and it took Lincoln only a few minutes to deliver it.  Lincoln’s words of “Four score and seven years ago…” instantly became enduring words of authority, history, and hope and they had tremendous impact upon the nation Lincoln governed and still have impact today. Edward Everett’s words are unmemorable and largely lost to history. 

I think that illustration gives us some insight into how Jesus spoke to the people at the synagogue.  We do not know what Jesus said but it seems likely that Jesus spoke only for a few minutes and only a few words.  But there was power in each word about God and about God’s kingdom that impacted each person and caused people to consider sit up and think that something marvelous was happening in that moment.  Jesus words caused people to question the arrogance of their own thinking.

          Consider an example where we do have Jesus’ words from a synagogue teaching offered by Jesus.  Luke wrote, “14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  20 Then he [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He [Jesus] began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed” (Luke 4:14-22a).  Jesus spoke just eight words in the synagogue of Nazareth and the people were amazed because Jesus had something important to say. Namely, Jesus said he was God’s long promised Messiah.  Jesus’ words were impactful because his words meant that God had decided the time was right to act to redeem Israel and to begin the process of bringing about the end of time.  Now that is an astounding message that the kingdom of God is near.  This was the essential message Jesus first preached as recorded for us by Mark in verses 15, “15 ‘The time has come,’ he [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”  (Mark 1:15).

          So it seems likely that when Mark wrote that the people were amazed at Jesus’ teachings in the synagogue of Capernaum we can safely conclude that Jesus shared something profound, new, and fresh about the fulfillment of God’s promises and about God coming into the world.  We know that Jesus’ words were immediately profound and deeply spiritual because as Jesus finished, “23 A man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” (Mark 1:23-24).

          We have this picture that Jesus had spoken and what he said, the authority of his words, astounded the people and then from those in attendance one man stood up and began shouting back at Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?”  We can imagine everyone turned to see who was shouting back at Jesus.  We might imagine the astonished looks on the faces of Peter, Andrew, James, and John that this opening worship service with Jesus might turn into a shouting match.  What on earth was going on?

          Then we realize that the shouting match was not about earthly things, it was about spiritual and supernatural things.  For this interrupter of the worship service shouted an astounding message of authority shout at Jesus, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  At those words Jesus shouted back, “25 ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Jesus’ first miracle recorded by Mark was a spiritual battle in which God’s authority was exercised over the forces of Satan and the forces of Satan were vanquished.  At Jesus’ command, the impure spirit obeyed by being silent and then by removing itself from this man.  The oppression of evil was removed from this one man in the presence of many witnesses.  This first miracle of Jesus made it impossible for people to think of Jesus as just a teacher of righteous thought and behavior, or a teacher of a new ethic about love, or a great prophet from God.  This first miracle of Jesus made clear that God kingdom was near, and that evil would have no part in it.  The miracle of exorcism, the removal of an impure spirit, had less to do with authenticating Jesus’ credentials but had more to do with the fact that evil must flee from the presence of God.  Evil cannot hide or remain silent in God’s presence.  Evil must speak out and must come out and will not be found God’s kingdom.

          When it comes to miracles of Jesus, we should care less about how the miracle occurred or where it occurred or who benefited from the miracle and instead, care more about the meaning of the miracle.  We see this emphasis on the meaning of the miracle in what Mark shared after the impure spirit was gone.  “27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits, and they obey him.’ 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1:27-28).  The people were beginning to show an understanding of what God was doing in their presence and its meaning to their life.  We call this evidence of faith.  The significance of the miracle or any miracle has less to do with the change in the human physical condition and more to do with the faith of the believer.

          Look at the reaction again.  Those who were receptive to the message of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, saw the miracle as a faith building experience that must be shared with astonishment and hope.  The kingdom of God is indeed near and in that kingdom the presence of evil must flee. And to those who had closed themselves off to the teachings of Jesus, as expressed in the writings of the ancient Jews, saw this very same event not as a work within the kingdom but as an act of black magic and sorcery.  The same event was seen in two completely different ways.  One way was the way of salvation.  The other way was the way of sorcery.  The difference rested in the faith of the witness.

          Four of the witnesses to this miracle were Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  Of the eventual 12 apostles, these four would form the inner core of the Twelve. Whenever the list of apostles is given, these four names always appear first on those lists.  What about these witnesses to this supernatural worship service? There was for them a deeper understanding of the kingdom upon which they had entered.

          Mark had recorded for us earlier in this same chapter that when Jesus met these four men Jesus said to them, “17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17). Jesus was calling these men to be intimately part of the kingdom and the work of the kingdom.  When Jesus encountered the impure spirit, Jesus said, “25 ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’” (Mark 1:25).  Jesus was expelling the impurities from the kingdom.  It seems likely that the contrast of Jesus’ behavior was not lost on his disciples.  Within the kingdom of God, those of faith are drawn closer and the impure spirits are expelled.  This is the meaning of the miracle in Capernaum.  We must consider that a miracle involves a visual indication of a deeper reality.

          So what do we learn about miracles and this specific miracle that is useful and helpful for our daily living?  I would suggest two things.  First, the miracles of Jesus were done for specific reasons and that those reasons and second, the telling of the story of those miracles were intended to help us see a deeper reality.  When we look at the opening to the gospel of Mark, we hear three things from Jesus.

  • To all Jesus announced, “15 “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (15)  Many were invited.
  • To the faithful Jesus said, “Come follow me.” (17)  Few were chosen.
  • To the impure Jesus said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” (25) Some were thrown out.

The deeper reality then for us is that all are invited to the kingdom but only some come into faithfulness with Jesus with the words, “Come, follow me.”  Peter, Andrew, James, and John followed Jesus in faith and so we should also answer Jesus’ call.  For the call to follow Jesus is not that he is offering us some alternative among the many love-inspired thought teachings around the world. Instead, Jesus is offering something supernatural.  Jesus is offering salvation and entry to God’s kingdom to those with faith in God. To those who reject the invitation and are either passively or actively opposed to God, there shall be expulsion from God’s presence.  This is the deeper reality of the miracle of Capernaum.

          Jesus explained these points in a parable.  He spoke about a king who hosted a wedding for his son.  The king invited everyone from the highest to the lowest in the land.  But only the humble came at the king’s invitation. The arrogant stayed away from the wedding banquet.  When the wedding hall was full, “The king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He [The King] asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.  13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-14).  The message is clear.  We must come into the kingdom fully in faith.  Otherwise, we will be expelled.

          You have been chosen to receive the message the Jesus described as “good news,” that you may enter the kingdom of God, into the wedding banquet of the king, dressed in the garment of Christ, appropriate for the occasion.  In that place, in the kingdom of God, we will not be overwhelmed by evil for evil will be removed at the command of Christ.  We can know that this picture of salvation is true because Jesus showed us this picture through a miracle at worship service in a little village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the town called Capernaum.  May we be blessed in believing in the miracle of faith.  Amen and Amen.

05-14 - Our Testimony: Eternal Life

          Today, of course, is Mother’s Day.  A celebration day that started more than a century ago in a little church in Grafton, West Virginia.  The founder, Ann Reeves Jarvis, wanted people to stop for a moment and express their thanks for the sacrifices of their mothers.  Miss Jarvis was successful in getting other church communities to adopt this annual celebration of mothers and she was even instrumental in getting Mother’s Day recognized on the nation’s calendar.  But, by 1920, Miss Jarvis had become disgusted with how the holiday had been commercialized. She outwardly denounced the transformation and urged people to stop buying Mother’s Day flowers, cards, and candies.  Miss Jarvis launched countless lawsuits against groups that had used the name “Mother’s Day,” eventually spending most of her personal wealth in legal fees. By the time of her death in 1948 Miss Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see that Mother’s Day was removed from the American calendar. 

Miss Jarvis wanted Mother’s Day to be about personal testimonies of what Mom had meant and what Mom’s sacrifices meant to them.  Instead, powerful people, persuasive people, changed Miss Jarvis’ desires and found a way to profit from the day by substituting a new purpose and rationale for the day.  Personal testimony was not needed.  They had something much easier to offer than personal testimony.  They offered candies, flowers, and cards instead.

          Without reaching too far, we can see that Miss Jarvis and our New Testament author, the Apostle John, shared something in common. Miss Jarvis and John wanted people to give their personal testimonies.  Miss Jarvis wanted testimonies about the sacrifices of Mom and what that meant.  The Apostle John wanted testimonies about the sacrifice of Jesus and what that meant. Both the Apostle John and Miss Reeves spoke out against powerful people, persuasive people, who were offering an alternative to personal testimony.

          Today, Mother’s Day, intended to be about personal testimony, we are finishing up our look at personal testimony through the Holy Spirit inspired testimony of Jesus’ Apostle John through John’s letter we call 1 John and how what John said impacts our personal testimony.  This week we will finish our look at John’s letter with the fifth chapter.

          As we begin to look at the final chapter in John’s letter, there are a few things we ought to keep in mind.  John began his journey to know God first by becoming a disciple of John the Baptist.  John spent time with John the Baptist along the banks of the river Jordan listening to the message to “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.”  John witnessed John the Baptist baptize those seeking renewal in faith and John witnessed John the Baptist rail against the hyper religious and hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees.

          Then, one day, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming along the banks of the river.  John was standing next to him along with another young man named Andrew.  Seeing Jesus, John the Baptist turned to his disciples, John and Andrew, and said of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). “32 Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One’” (John 1:32-34).  For John, this was the first testimony he had ever heard about Jesus and that testimony changed John’s life forever.

          For upon hearing John the Baptist’s testimony, Andrew and John, our letter writer, followed Jesus and stayed with Jesus. John remembered that moment in which he came to know Jesus himself, writing in his own gospel account that, “It was about four in the afternoon” (John 1:39b) when he met Jesus and his life changed.  At that precise moment, four in the afternoon, John, our letter writer gave his life to Jesus and began developing and sharing his personal testimony. Scholars believe that the letter we call 1 John was written near the end of John’s life, probably in 95 AD.  Throughout his life, John never wavered in his understanding of who Jesus was, is, and will be.  John heard John the Baptist say Jesus was “God’s Chosen One” who had come to save the world.  We heard earlier testimony in our New Testament reading, “5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5).  This is testimony came from John, the man upon whom we have been learning from and speaking about these last five weeks.  John’s testimony was given to help Christians avoid the words of the antichrists that were advocating a way other than Jesus is the Christ.  We too need John’s words because the antichrists are alive and well even today, often in Christian Churches, offering an alternative view of heaven, hell, salvation, sin, life, death, love, the Holy Spirit, and grace than was revealed in and through the person of Jesus the Christ.

          John’s testimony of hope was that “5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ” (1 John 5:5-6a). John’s words are not just his testimony about Jesus, but these words are Jesus’ testimony about himself.  Jesus once said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).  I think Jesus’ testimony, echoed by John, is important because there can become a misunderstanding that once someone accepts Christ then they will no longer experience trouble, heartache, illness, discouragement, in this world.  Jesus was very clear on this point.  We will experience trouble in this world.  In fact, of Jesus’ apostles who heard him speak these words, only John died from natural causes.  All the other were executed in various ways in various parts of the world.  But despite the trouble, the apostles’ understood Jesus was with them and that because Jesus had overcome the world, they would be with Jesus again, face-to-face, after their death.  The presence of trouble to the apostles was not a sign that Jesus had abandoned them.  Trouble was simply a sign that they were alive and living in this world.

          Now the truth that Jesus would overcome the world had been foretold long before Jesus ever uttered those words. The truth that Jesus would overcome the world was given in our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Genesis.  God said to the serpent, the physical representation of Satan, who is the evil of this world, “I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).  God’s words were a foreshadowing that there would come a battle between Satan of this world and the offspring of the first mother, Eve. And while wounds would be inflicted upon the offspring of Eve, the battle would end in the destruction of Satan. Jesus, and offspring of his mother, Mary, and of the Holy Spirit, would indeed suffer wounds and just as assuredly in his resurrection Jesus would and will demonstrate that he has overcome the world and Satan himself.

          John made it clear that Jesus was the Son of God as a human understood trouble in the world.  John wrote, “6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (1 John 5:6-8). Here, John refers to testimony of three concerning Jesus.

          First, the testimony of the water speaks of Jesus.  We might think of this as the testimony of John the Baptist that we read earlier that Jesus was recognized at the beginning of his public ministry when the John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan and saw heaven open, and the Spirit of God fall and land upon Jesus.

          Second, the testimony of the blood speaks of Jesus.  We might think of this as the testimony from the cross that Jesus bled and died like anyone else would do upon the cross.  But the death of Jesus, the loss of his blood, would be overcome on Easter morning to give testimony, yes that Jesus died but more so that Jesus now lived having overcome the world.

Third, the Spirit testifies and the Spirit, the Spirit of God is the truth.  In the previous chapter, Chapter 4, John spoke about the Spirit of God. John wrote, “1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).  The ongoing testimony of the Spirit of God would be found in those who understand and state clearly and without reservation Jesus is the Christ.  This is true testimony.  Those who say Jesus is not the Christ are antichrists and none of their testimony is of the truth.

          The Spirit, the water, and the blood were all in agreement, Jesus is the Christ, “11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). 

          Eternal life is life in God’s Son.  What does that mean to us?  Fourteen times in the Gospel of John, John records Jesus speak of eternal life. Jesus said,

  • 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. (John 3:14-15)
  • 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
  • “24Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

We could go on, but I think we get the point that Jesus was sent to give us a life into eternity free of judgement and sin. Jesus’ words were revolutionary for their time.  Among the Jews, the Sadducees believed in annihilationism.  Namely, that you had to grab for all you could and seek God’s blessing in   this life because once you died, all life ceased.  You were annihilated.  The Pharisees believed in life after death but many believed in Sheol, a shadowy place of life among the shadows, totally absent the presence of God. Jesus comes along and says, “Friends, you have it all wrong.  There is a heaven and an eternal life in God’s presence and there is a hell.  The latter is hell because God is not present.” Jesus said, “I have come to give you that eternal life with God.”  Hearing Jesus’ words, Peter said to Jesus, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Knowing that God has given us life and knowing that God through Jesus gave us provision for eternal life changes everything about how we spend that life in between.  We can live lives in gratitude knowing that while we may experience difficulties and sad events in this world, we have an identity and place coming from outside the world.  This knowledge of assurance gives us joy, peace, hope, and purpose even amid the troubles of this world.  I cannot image the despair I would feel if I had no hope.  That would be hell on earth.

          How then shall we finish up stating our testimony of Jesus that we have compiled from our short review of 1 John.  If we bring forward last week’s statement, we might change it now to read:

“I am a Christian, meaning I have received God’s love through God’s Son, Jesus. I know God is love because God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take away all my sins.  When I accepted Jesus, I became God’s own child giving my life joy, hope, and purpose through all circumstances now and a guarantee of eternal life with God.  God’s love for me becomes complete when I live loving my brothers and sister like Jesus did, offering comfort and compassion.  Sometimes I do not love like Jesus.  Fortunately, Jesus forgives me and shows me how to reconcile with others.  I know without Jesus; I would be lost now and forever.”

Let’s be willing to share our testimony.  If you are still able to do so, share some words of testimony with your mom today. And then let’s all of us share our testimony with others about the God who is love, the Son who gives life, and the Spirit that leads us in the truth that “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11b).  Amen and Amen.

05-07 - Our Testimony; Love Gives Life

We have been developing our Christian testimony as we have explored the testimony of the Apostle John recorded for us in the New Testament letter, 1 John.  This week we will be exploring John’s revelations about God through his writings in chapter 4 of that letter.

Now chapter 4 of John’s letter has probably one of the most often quoted phrases from the Bible.  John wrote, “Theos esti agape,” (theh'-os / es-tee' / ag-ah'-pay) which in English is simply, “God is love.”  The phrase, “God is love,” is a profound statement because it seems as though John is attempting to summarize God into a single word, love.  Think about yourself for a moment.  If someone were to ask you to summarize yourself into a single word, how would you do that?  What one word could be used to summarize the entirety of who you are?  Might we say of ourselves, I’m “nice.”  That’s it?  Perhaps nice does not do it and so we say “friendly,” or “kind,” or “loving.”  You see it is hard for us to describe ourselves in a single word, how then does John presume to define God in a single word? 

But this reduction of God to a single word or attribute is what many people do today.  They see John’s phrase, “God is love,” as the singular defining phrase for the entirety of God.  They want to write John’s expression that “God is love,” mathematically and so they take the phrase to be “God = Love,” and therefore, “Love = God.”  Meaning that anything that can be claimed to be formed by love is from God and that it must be blessed by God, ordained by God, and approved by God. 

Using this sort of reduction of God people come to all sorts of erroneous conclusions about God.  For example, people wrongly conclude that there is no hell because God is love and a loving God would not send someone to hell.  They wrongly conclude that any impulse natural to humanity relatable to love must be from God and therefore is permissible.  We know that “Love = God” is not true because John reminded us in his Gospel that, “19 Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  People love the cover of darkness to obscure their corrupt behaviors. 

John did not intend for God to be reduced God to a single word.  How do we know that to be the case?  Look at 1 John 1:5.  John wrote, “God is light.”  There is another single word descriptor for God.  Is John summarizing all of God to be a single word, light, or is John using these “God is” expressions to focus our minds on essential attributes about God one at a time?  I believe it is the latter because if we were to look at the “God is,” “Jesus is,” or “Spirit is” phrases we would see just from 1 John that:

  • God is love (4:8, 4:16)
  • God is light (1:5)
  • God is forever (2:17)
  • Jesus is faithful (1:9)
  • Jesus is the atoning sacrifice (2:2)
  • Jesus is righteous (2:29, 3:7)
  • Jesus is pure (3:3)
  • Jesus is sinless (3:5)
  • Jesus is the Christ (1:3, 2:1, 2:22, 3:16, 3:23, 4:2, 5:1, 5:6, 5:20)
  • The Spirit is Truth (5:6)

Looking at the “is” statements in all its various forms, it seems to me very clear that John, above all things, intended for this letter to remind his readers that “Jesus is Christ.”

          What does all this mean?  How then should we properly understand John’s statement that “God Is Love” and the impact that understanding has on our own testimony?  Fortunately, John has given us some much-needed help in his own letter.

          “God is love.”  To that phrase John added, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). John was sharing with us here that God, who is love, showed humanity what God’s love looks like when placed on full display.  “God is love” was shown to us in God’s sending his one and only Son into the world not to condemn the world but to give life to the world through his own Son.  John’s words here are profound for three reasons.

          First, that God is love and that love is expressed by God sending his one and only Son means that God’s love, God sending his own Son, is unique to God.  There is no human parallel to God’s love shown by God sending his Son into the world. Our ability and our capacity to express love, no matter how we might express love, are not on the same scale or plane as God’s expressed love.  John went further on this point when he said, “10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  This is how we can begin to measure God’s love, that God’s sent his only Son to die for us.  God’s love is unrepeatably and unparallel by anything we could do to express love.

          Now, having no ability to express God’s love the way God did might leave us with a sense of inadequacy.  But here is the key point, God is love, but God does not expect us to match his love.  Instead, God expects us to complete his love, if you will, to complement his love.  How are we to do that?

  • Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (4:11).
  • No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (4:12).
  • God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us (4:16b-17a).

God is love is uniquely expressed by God but the completion of that love, the complementing behavior for that love, occurs when we love one another.  As we talked last week, that love of one another means that we treat others, starting with those in the church, as brothers and sisters and we treat them without any form of hatred or indifference to their life’s struggles. Jesus made this point to his disciples when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). 

This is the first of the three reasons why the expression “God is love” is profound to our life.  “God is love” is a call for us to be responsive to God’s love by loving one another as Jesus loved his disciples.

          The second reason “God is love” is profound to us flows naturally from the first reason.  Namely, that God is love was and is uniquely by God’s Son, Jesus.  John wrote, “God loved us by sending his Son” (1 John 4:9 and 4:10).  God expressed his love by sending his own Son.  John quoted Jesus as saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). God’s Son, God’s expression of love, gave a command that our response to that love must be to love one another. What makes these two sentences profound is that they do allow us to visualize and then present God’s love in a simple form, a mathematical form if you will. 

“God is Love.”

“God = Love”

 Love = His Son, Jesus, therefore,

“God = His Son, Jesus.”

Jesus is God among us. It is understanding that God is Jesus and Jesus is God helps us to understand that we can and are in fellowship with God as we live out our lives imitating Jesus.  When we follow Jesus, we are doing exactly what God desires. There is no missing the mark by following Jesus and honoring Jesus as God because He is God.  What a relief!

          The third reason “God is love” is profound is that God is love, Jesus, serves a specific purpose; that is to give us life.  But God’s love is costly.  John made the point that Jesus’ through his death gives us life.

          You see, the inauguration of human life itself and the giving of life into eternity are acts of God’s love.  The inauguration of human life we read earlier was God’s decision.  Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  God gave life to us and not just any life, but one that is in the image of God.

          To be made in the image of God means that we are without parallel in this world.  Yes, we can see the wonderful creativity of God in the natural world.  Yes, we are to be stewards of God’s creation but nothing, absolutely nothing in all of creation compares even remotely to human life. This is because only human life bears the image of God himself.  This is why the command from Jesus we spoke about earlier was not love the earth and all of God’s creatures.  The command from Jesus was to love one another because each of us bears the image of God.

          What does that mean to bear the image of God?  That is a whole sermon series on its own.  But what is important for the moment is to know that to be made in the image of God is to know that because of God’s love we, like God, are alive and eternal.  Each of us has a birth into natural life as a living breathing human being bearing the image of God.  And because God is love and that love was expressed by God sending his Son that we might live through him, our eternal life, the life of our soul can be forever with God.

          But here is the important point.  Each of us has had a birth into natural life.  To be born into an eternal life with God, we must be born a second time, born of the Spirit of God.  John recorded for us Jesus’ teaching on this matter.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:5-7). To be born again is to accept Jesus and have your sins removed.  In our tradition, we express this acceptance of Christ and this second birth by being immersed in baptism.

          That God is love is a profound statement for our testimony because through that phrase we know and are reminded that God’s love is made complete when we love one another.  God is love is made understandable in seeing that God is Jesus makes our life and destiny understandable and assured by following Jesus.  God is love mean life to us now in abundance and life eternally with God himself.  God is love is a blessing to our sense of wellbeing and adds power to our personal testimony.

          How then might we express our testimony.  Bringing our testimony statement forward from last week, our testimony now might sound something like:

“I am a Christian, meaning I know and have received God’s love through Jesus, God’s Son.  I know God’s love and that God is love because God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take away all my sins.  In accepting Jesus, I became God’s own child, and I am in fellowship with God.  This is love.  That love, God’s love, becomes complete when I live my life loving my brothers and sister like Jesus lived, offering comfort and compassion.  Sometimes I miss the mark and do not love like Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus forgives me, restores me to fellowship with God, and shows me how to reconcile with others.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

This could be our testimony, our way of expressing who Jesus is to us.  This week, we should be thinking about the phrase “God is love,” and be joyous that we can complete God’s love by loving others, that we can know the freedom that following Jesus is following God because Jesus is God, and that we have life now and eternally because God is love.

We can know and experience the phrase “God is love,” by participating in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper reminds of the extent of God’s love through Jesus as he gave comfort, compassion, and life to his disciples when Jesus gave of his body and blood.  Let’s prepare ourselves to be surround in the love of God.  Amen and Amen.

04-30 - Our Testimony; Brothers and Sister

This is our third week discussing the Apostle John’s letter to the early Christian Church.  We call that letter 1 John.  We have been using John’s letter of personal testimony to the church to help us understand our own personal testimony of who Jesus is and what Jesus means to us. Last week, I had summarized our testimony from the first two chapters of 1 John and said it might sound something along these lines: “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I know Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins.  This is grace and this is love.  I now seek to obey Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I know Jesus by living my life as Jesus would do by showing his love to others.  But I am not perfect.  So when I stumble in walking with Jesus in this life, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, and restore me to fellowship with God.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

And so, we come to the third chapter of 1 John, and we want to explore John’s personal testimony and see how what John reveals to us might cause us to add to our testimony or alter what we have previously written.

Now John’s third chapter begins with testimony about our relationship with God through Jesus that grows with greater intimacy than he did in the two previous chapters.  Up to this point, John had said that we had fellowship with God and Jesus Christ but now John refines that definition of fellowship making it much for personal. John said, “1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a). John was reminding the early Christians that their relationship with God through Jesus was that of child to a father. But not just any father. Christians, John wrote, have a father who lavishes love on his children.  There is a sense here of a father who just cannot help but love his children.

How might we get some sense of how John sees God toward those who have accepted the completed work of Jesus?  I think a good picture of that sort of father who lavishes love comes from a story Jesus himself told that we have for us in the Gospel of Luke.  That story is often entitled “The Prodigal Son,” which I believe is an incorrect title.  I think a better title to that story, if a title was needed at all, would be “The Forgiving Father,” or for today, “The Father Who Lavishes Love.”

We know in this story that a man had two sons.  The younger son demanded his inheritance from his father, even though the father was still alive.  The father gave the boy his inheritance and the son left the father and began living life large, spending as though there was no tomorrow.  Then, the money ran out and the boy became homeless, living and working among pigs.  The boy decided to return to the father in the hopes his father would take him in as another one of the field workers the father employed and fed.  Jesus said, “20 So he (the boy) got up and went to his father. But while he (the boy) was still a long way off, his father saw him (the boy) and was filled with compassion for him; he (the man) ran to his son, threw his arms around him (his son) and kissed him. 21 The son said to him (his father), ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-24).

          The father in this story was looking, longing for the redemption of the child who had left his side.  And when the father was in the distance that this child coming to home to him and the father could not wait for the child’s arrival.  Instead, the father ran to his child and began to lavish love upon his child. He kissed his child and then dressed his son in the best robe available.  The father put a ring on the child’s finger and sandals on his feet to show the father’s delight in having his child with him.  Then the father began preparing a celebration party.  The father was lavishing love.  In Jesus’ story by whatever title, the father is to be seen as God, and we are to be seen as the returning child.  The story gives us a sense of the joy God has when we come to Him through Christ.  God is overjoyed at our redemption and membership into God’s family and therefore God wants to lavish his love upon us.  John wanted his fellow churchgoers to remember this is the way God has treated them and will treat them for eternity.

          John’s message would have resonated with the early churchgoers because family, particularly a child’s relationship with his or her father, was a key factor to their wellbeing.  The father was responsible for the wellbeing of his family.  The children were known by their father’s name.  The social status of the children would not be higher than that of the child’s father.  The father provided security, safety, nourishment, and identity. John’s message was that God will now provide the ultimate expression of security, safety, nourishment, and identity. John’s readers would have understood John’s words.

Sadly, John’s words may not resonate as well today since the number of mothers only family households has climb to about 8 million in 2022, that is about 15 million kids, or about 20% of all the children in the United States.  Twenty percent of all children might have difficulty relating to having a father at all, and still others have difficulty relating to having a father who is loving.

          But the good news is that God has not changed, and God will lavish love on all his children in the manner Jesus described in that homecoming scene.  And because we become God’s children, we gain brothers and sisters.  In my case, I was the youngest of four children and so I have a brother and two sisters, one of whom died in September of last year.  I get along well with my siblings, but I see and talk with my biological brother and sister on occasion, not anywhere nearly as often as I have fellowship with my brothers and sisters who are found in the church, born of Christ. My greater relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, has been that way for the last 35 years or so and I expect it to remain that way until I die and for eternity.  This is the nature of the Christian relationship.  We have an immense family.

          Now sometimes, to accept the relationship with Jesus, to become a child of God with many brothers and sisters, can cause issues and problems with our biological family.  Sometimes people seek to accept Jesus but are discouraged and even threatened by their family members who have rejected Christ.  Jesus once said of the that, “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).  This is one of those disturbing statements of Jesus.  We follow the first part of what Jesus said in that we must come to him and be prepared to be his disciples.  But we struggle with the second part of what Jesus said in that it seems like Jesus is saying we must hate our entire family in the process. What Jesus was saying here was that we cannot let family loyalties of our family prevent us from following him. If our families would rather we not follow Jesus, then we must be willing to break with our families and their traditions and become children of God.  In some ways, this would seem or feel like as though we had in fact decided to hate our biological families.

          Jesus expressed this idea of breaking from the family, including one’s father in a rather cryptic response to the cost of discipleship.  One of Jesus’ followers came to him and said, “‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’  22 But Jesus told him (the disciple), ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’” (Luke 9:21b-22).  Jesus’ response to this man at first sounds cold and uncaring.  The man seemed to only want a few minutes to bury his father. But that is not likely what is going on here.  What appears more likely to be the case is the man wanted to follow Jesus, but he knew that following Jesus is going to create problems with his father who is still alive because the father wanted none of his family to have anything to do with Jesus.  So when the man says to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” what he meant was that the man would be freed from family obligations to follow Jesus once his father has died and is buried.  So, Jesus let me wait until my father is dead and buried before I follow after you. Jesus’ response then was, “Follow me (now), and let the dead (those who have rejected God’s Messiah) bury your father (who has rejected me) when he dies.”  The exchange between this man and Jesus helps understand the significance of accepting God’s offer to become his child now even if our family of birth has rejected God’s offer.

          John said that in the new family setting with God at the head and many brothers and sisters, there comes some new understandings.  John wrote, “11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his (Cain’s) own actions were evil and his brother’s (Abel’s) were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (1 John 3:11-15). John is equating hatred of another child of God as murder making the hater to be no different than Cain, humanity’s first murder who himself murdered his own brother, Abel. 

          John’s words are strong words indeed, but John’s words do not express an original concept.  Jesus was said, “21 You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). John’s words reconvey Jesus’ teaching that hatred toward a brother or sister in Christ will not be tolerated by God. It must be corrected.  Jesus said, “ 23 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  The message is simple.  Jesus said before we presume to come and worship God our Father, we must first make things right with God’s other children.  If there is a hatred toward another brother or sister in your life, do not wait to resolve it.  Do it now.

          John, for his part, also showed us that hatred comes not just in anger toward another brother or sister but also hatred comes in the form of indifference. Indifference is a lack of concern, interest, or sympathy.  In fact, many believe that the opposite of love is not hatred.  The opposite of love is indifference.  John equates indifference to hatred.  John began to explain that point first by describing love. John wrote, “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).  Jesus loved by giving his life.  Jesus was not indifferent to you and me.  Jesus saw that we could not help ourselves.  Jesus saw we could not on our own conquer sin.  We could not conquer death.  We could not become children of God unless the matter of sin was dealt with once and for all.  Jesus, who could gain nothing from us, was not indifferent to us, and so he gave his life to us in love.

          John said, in recognition of and in imitation of Jesus’ love, “We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).  Hatred of a brother or sister in Christ can be expressed by indifference toward their circumstances.  We cannot be indifferent toward one another, but we must act for the good of one another even if there is nothing for us to gain from acting good.

          What then do we do with John’s words inspired by the Holy Spirit of God?  How does what John talked about change our testimony about how Jesus has changed our lives?  What is different about us because of Jesus?  For me, the focus this week has been on family.  We have become a child of God and part of a family with many brothers and sisters each of whom is to be committed to loving each other.  We have become part of a family that seeks reconciliation not division.  This is whole we are to be and if we are that way, then we have a powerful, bold, compelling story to tell that will resonate with all generations.  Our testimony might sound something like this:

“I am a Christian, meaning I know Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins, and that through Him I became God’s own child and part of a family devoted to loving one another.  This is grace and this is love.  I now seek to obey Christ, to be in fellowship with God, and to love my Christian brothers and sisters.  I try to live like Jesus by striving to love to others who are in need as Jesus did offering comfort and compassion.  But I am not perfect.  Sometimes I miss the mark and do not act as Jesus asks.  Fortunately, Jesus forgives me, restores me to fellowship with God, and shows me how to reconcile with others.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

This week let’s focus on loving like Jesus.  Let’s live out our testimony confident that doing so pleases our Father, God Almighty. Amen and Amen.