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2020-04-26 - Barnabas - Part 2

Acts 9:26-31

Acts 11:19-26

            We have begun exploring the Christian experience through the lives of some of the early Christians.  Last week, we started looking at a person named Joseph, whom the apostles later called Barnabas, the son of encouragement.  We found that Barnabas was a person of faith.  In and through faith, Barnabas expressed four-character traits that are important for us to see in ourselves.  Barnabas, in faith, was committed to Jesus and living his life following Jesus’ teachings.  Barnabas, in faith, was a person of action.  He expressed his commitment to Christ not just in his mind and by his words but in his actions.  Barnabas, in faith, was righteous.  He expressed his commitment and actions to do the right thing for the kingdom of God and not for himself.  Barnabas, in faith, was a person who submitted himself to Jesus and his church. He was anxious to strengthen the church in numbers, knowledge, and holiness. Commitment, action, righteousness, and submission were Barnabas’ faith characteristics. 

            On top of his faith, Barnabas was also a person of purpose.  He understood Jesus’ mission for the church, for the people who followed Jesus, was to be his witnesses and share the good news.

            Being a person of faith and purpose were two of Barnabas’ key character traits that are relatable to our own story.  Yet, there is a bit more to Barnabas that bears our examination and appropriation.  Today, I would like us to explore two more important parts of Barnabas’ story: namely, his capacity for advocacy and for his vision.

            To be an advocate generally means to give public support for a recommendation of a policy or cause.  Today, with online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, advocacy can be done in an instant.  We can now sign petitions online, protest by reposting materials, or write nasty comments about politicians with whom we disagree.  Online advocacy is new and can be impactful, but it does not meet the standard of Biblical advocacy.  Why is that? Because online advocacy can be done anonymously by a person or by a created machine that is not even a real person per se.  Biblical advocacy requires that we have real skin in the game.  Think for a moment about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his movement for civil rights for African Americans.  There was nothing anonymous about Dr. King’s efforts.  He wrote and signed letters and newspaper articles.  Dr. King march and demonstrated against injustices.  He spoke publicly.  He placed himself at risk for what he deeply believed.  There was nothing anonymous about the Dr. King’s desire to advocate on behalf of others.  Think for a moment about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.  The final words of that document states, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  Then 56 men signed the document and distributed it placing at risk everything they had.  There was nothing anonymous about their desire to advocate on behalf of others. Now, let’s think about our friend Barnabas and the legacy of Biblical advocacy that he showed.  To do so, let’s turn to our reading from the Book of Acts, Chapter 9.

            We begin at Chapter 9, verse 26.  This passage talks about the post-conversion experience of Saul from Tarsus, a man who generated considerable fear among the early church because to Saul was deadly to the members of the early church.  Verse 26, “When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he [Saul] tried to join the disciples, but they [the disciples] were all afraid of him [Saul], not believing that he [Saul] really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him [Saul] and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.  So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”  As we discussed last week, and see here again in this passage, when Saul came to Jerusalem, he generated a great deal of fear among the disciples, but Barnabas took charge of Saul.  Barnabas’ decision to involve himself with Saul was dangerous if Saul had not genuinely become a Christian.  Barnabas could be imprisoned or kill.  But Barnabas was an advocate for others who were excluded from the church and mission of Jesus.  Barnabas spent time with Saul.  He learned Saul’s story and then shared Saul’s story with the apostles.  In short, Barnabas advocated for Saul.  As a result, Saul who was outside the church was now inside the church.

            Let’s look at another example of Barnabas the advocate.  Please turn to Acts, Chapter 15.  We will begin at verse 5.  This passage deals with conflict in the church.  I know it is hard to believe that there could be conflict in a church, but there was.  The issue centered on whether a Gentile, that is a non-Jew, must first become a Jew before becoming a Christian.  It was an issue that was tearing the church apart.

            Verse 5 says, “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’  The apostles and elders met to consider this question” (Acts 15:5-6).   And there was much discussion.  Look now at verse 12, “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12)  The group that was in an uproar went silent when Barnabas and Paul spoke.  Note, in ancient writings, whoever is the most important person to the story is listed first.  In this passage, Barnabas is listed first, meaning the leadership of the early church thought Barnabas was more important to the conversation than Paul. In the silence created by Barnabas’ remarks, Barnabas advocated for inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. Barnabas was again putting his reputation on the line and advocating for someone who was being excluded.  What was the result?  Look at verse 19.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, leader of the church of Jerusalem spoke, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”  Barnabas won the day.  The Gentiles would be accepted into the church without first becoming observant Jews.

            Just quickly, I want to look at one more example.  Please turn look down the page a bit to Acts 15, verse 36.  “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he [Mark] had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They [Barnabas and Paul] had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas” (Acts 15:36-40a).  Mark, sometimes called John, and other times called John Mark, accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first mission trip, but Mark returned home to Jerusalem before the trip was completed.  Paul thought Mark was a failure.  Barnabas believed in the second chance, I think because Barnabas saw God as the God of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh chances. Barnabas advocated for Mark because he saw something in Mark and believed Mark should not be excluded.  At that time, Paul could only see Mark’s failure. Barnabas and Mark went one way and Paul and Silas went the other way.  In a few weeks, we will talk about Mark, but for today I want to just cap this event with words Paul would later write to Timothy.  Paul wrote, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).  Paul came full circle and saw Mark as a significant minister and missionary of the early church.  I guess Barnabas was right about Mark.

            Barnabas was a man who advocated for others who were being excluded from the joy of being part of the church.  Barnabas did so for Saul, for the Gentiles, and for Mark.  Barnabas was willing to put himself into the situation, put his life and reputation at risk for the advancement of the kingdom of God.  There was nothing anonymous about Barnabas. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are not signing up to join the Secret Service or the CIA.  We are not to be silent and unsee yet somehow present.  We are to be the visible body of Jesus Christ who was the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  Barnabas encouraged the church to accept those who were being excluded from the kingdom. Where do we stand on advocating for others?  What is our willingness to speak on behalf of those who are different than we may be? Do we have any skin in the game?

            As with keep those questions in mind, let’s turn to the final thought about Barnabas.  Barnabas was an encourager who advocated for those excluded from the kingdom because Barnabas had a vision of what the church could be.  Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV).  Barnabas had vision for the church.  Look at today’s second reading from the Book of Acts, Chapter 11, beginning at verse 22. As we explore this passage, we find that some of the early Christians who fled Jerusalem as Saul (now Paul) was imprisoning people for being Christians resettled in Antioch.  In Antioch, these early Christians formed a church and had many people coming to faith.  Verse 22, “22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they [the Apostles] sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he [Barnabas] was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He [Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-24).  The Apostles trusted Barnabas to check things out in Antioch.  Barnabas did and stayed to encourage and build up this church. But Barnabas could see, he had the vision of God for a greater church than he, Barnabas, could encourage on his own. He could see what God wanted.

            Look at what Barnabas did in verse 25.  “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he [Barnabas] found him [Saul], he [Barnabas] brought him [Saul] to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” (Acts 11:25, 26). Barnabas had the vision of the church of Jesus Christ that would extend to Jew and Gentile alike and sought out Saul to get in the game.  Barnabas knew that Saul, later known as Paul, was part of God’s plan and so Barnabas acted. Barnabas had vision of the mission given by Jesus that Jesus’ disciples would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  With that vision in mind, Barnabas once again acted.

            As we wrap up our understanding of Barnabas, we have seen that Barnabas was a person of faith.  He was committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted.  Barnabas was a person of purpose.  He gave himself to the mission of Jesus to be a witness of all that Jesus said his followers should do.  Barnabas was an advocate for those being excluded from the kingdom of God. Barnabas was a person of vision who joined himself to God and could see the next steps needed to bring the church to flower.  The Apostles changed this man’s name from Joseph to Barnabas, the son of encouragement because he was a man of faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision.  This is who each one of us can be in service to the Church.  Just like Barnabas, every person hearing this message has been gifted with one or more gifts from the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church of Jesus Christ.  What is your gift?  Are you using it?  Are you called to be an encourager, or counselor, or food maker, or organizer, or musician, and the list goes on?  Are you acting in faith, sharing in the purpose of the church, and advocating for those who are being excluded from the kingdom message because they are too poor, too lame, too black, too white, too whatever!  Do you have skin in the game?  How we answer these questions will determine the enduring legacy we have from our dear friend Barnabas, the son of encouragement.  Let’s be in conversation with God as we explore our faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision. Amen and Amen,

2020-04-19 - Barnabas - Part 1

Proverbs 19:20-21

Acts 4:33-37

            We celebrated Easter last Sunday.  For me, and I am sure for you as well, Easter Sunday this year had quite different feel to it.  Missing was opportunity to go to church decorated with brightly colored flowers with their sweet fragrance.  Missing was the larger than normal number of attendees at church.  Everyone seems to make an extra effort to get to church on Easter morning.  Missing was the dinner at our home with as many as 20 folks at the house.  This year there was just the two of us for dinner which we shared with our extended family on a Zoom video conference in five different locations.  Of course, none of the things we missed this year were at all familiar with the early Christians.  The early Christians had no church buildings, no brightly colored flowers, no family dinners, no live streaming video, no Facebook, and no websites.  And yet, the early Christian church exploded across the difficult surroundings of Jerusalem, Samaria, and outward from there to the known world.  What made the growth and strength of the early Church possible?  The answer to this question is simple.  The early church had a handful of people of faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision.  I think there is much we can learn from these people for our walk with God, our understanding of our purpose in being here on earth, and the opportunity we have to serve the church of Jesus Christ today with the same passion they served the church in its earliest days.

            I want us to explore some notable and some obscure people of the early church. I would invite you to open your Bibles to the Book of Acts, Chapter 1.  The Book of Acts is the second volume of the two-volume set comprising the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.  This book begins with the final moments of the resurrected Jesus on earth among his Apostles.  As Jesus was speaking to the Apostles, he gave them a commissioning in verse 8.  He said, “You [Jesus’ followers] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Verse 9 tells us, “9 After he [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”  That is a very simple purpose statement, “Be my witnesses.”

            Verse 12 tells us that, “12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. [For a short while, they were called the Eleven.]  14 They [the Eleven] all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women [probably Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Joanna] and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his [Jesus’] brothers [James, Joses, Judas, and Simon].”  All totaled there was about 20 people who gathered.  Twenty men and women formed the core of the Christian church that today numbers 2.2 Billion people.  This core group had all spent time with Jesus.  They knew him personally and experienced him through their senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch.  These things they had in common as well as the commission to be Jesus’ witness.  The Greek word for witness is μάρτυς, martus from which we get the English word martyr.  While we could learn much from these 20 martyrs, I would like us to learn from people who received the testimony of these people. Seeing the Christian life through the experience of someone who did not see Jesus, or hear him, or smell him, or touch him would be instructive since they are closest to us who have not had a physical sensing experience with Jesus.

            The first person I would like us to explore is introduced to us in the Book of Acts, Chapter 4, beginning at verse 32.  I invite you to turn to that passage.  “32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

            This is our introduction to a man named Joseph.  We are told Joseph was a Levite, meaning he was expected from birth to devote himself to God and serve as an assistant to the priests of the Temple. Joseph was from the island of Cyprus, located in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea but now found himself in Jerusalem.  Joseph owned a piece of property, a field of land.  He sold that property and gave all the money to the apostles for use in the ministry and care of the early Christian church.  There is no evidence or suggestion that Joseph ever saw, heard, or touched Jesus.  Instead, Joseph believed based upon the testimony of Jesus’ witnesses.  That means we have much in common with Joseph because we are called to believe based upon the testimony of others.  In that belief, Joseph committed himself to Jesus as an act of faith.  In showing his faith, Joseph sold his piece of the earthly kingdom as an express of his desire to pursue his piece of God’s kingdom.  In showing faith, Joseph exhibited four characteristics that we should seek in our walk of faith into God’s kingdom.

            First, Joseph in faith was committed.  His faith was not a Sunday thing, his faith was everything.  Joseph, in faith, was committed to following the Way, Jesus.  Colossians 1:29 – “To this end I contend strenuously all my energy Christ so powerfully works within me.”

            Second, Joseph, in faith, was a person of action. He sold property.  Joseph brought the money to the apostles.  He laid it at their feet.  Joseph was demonstrating in action his words of commitment.  James 2:17 ‐ “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Third, Joseph, in faith, was righteous.  He sought the Truth and as we will see he taught the Truth about God. Joseph sought to be righteous in his behaviors towards others because Jesus made Joseph right before God.   Romans 1:17 ‐ “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

            Fourth, Joseph, in faith, was submitted.  He was submitted to Jesus and to the teachings and authority of the Apostles. – Romans 12:1, 2 ‐ “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your

spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Joseph was a person of faith who was committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted.  Joseph had become a person of the Way and was showing his commitment to Jesus by placing himself under the authority of the apostles, not the priests, and by extending grace, mercy, and peace to fellow members of the church.  It appears Joseph was this way without ever having personally met Jesus, just like you and me.  We would do well to explore with God whether we are committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted in our walk following Jesus.

            There was one more detail about Joseph, that we did not talk about. Verse 36 says, “The apostles called [Joseph], Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”).  From this point forward, the name Joseph is never used again to refer to this man.  The only name used is Barnabas, son of encouragement.  Given that, we need to take a moment and understand what the apostles were talking about by calling Barnabas a source of encouragement.  To our modern ears, encouragement is the act of giving someone support, confidence, and hope.  We might think of an encourager as a coach or cheerleader saying to us, “You got this!  Never give up!  Believe in you!  Yes, you can!”  That is not the context of encouragement used here.  Encouragement, in the Greek word, used here meant that Joseph was gifted. He was gifted in teaching, in being persuasive, admonishing, consoling, and being a powerful speaker.  Joseph, now Barnabas, was able to influence others and he used that gift to move people toward faith that they too would be committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted.  Rather than a modern-day coach or cheerleader, we might think of Barnabas more along the lines of a young and vibrant Billy Graham, a powerful and persuasive speaker able to move people toward to goal of living fully in Christ.  Now the important thing for us here is not to compare ourselves to Barnabas’ particular gift of encouragement and say, “I am not like him at all.  I am not a powerful speaker, so there is nothing I can really learn from him.”  The important thing is Barnabas used his gift to further his own faith and help others to faith.  Everyone is gifted.  The questions we face are, “What are we using our gifts to do?  How are we using our gifts in our own faith journey and for the betterment of others and the Church?”  This is the immediate lesson we learn in our introduction to Barnabas.

            This brings us to our second point about Barnabas.  He was a person of faith who used his gift wisely because Barnabas was a person of purpose.  Purpose is defined as the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.  Barnabas understood the purpose of the Church.  Do you remember hearing me speaking the purpose of the church earlier in this message?  It bears repeating.  Jesus said the purpose of the church is to be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  That is the purpose, the mission statement of the Church.  In over 2,000 years, Jesus has never changed it or altered it in anyway. Barnabas got that message and his purpose was to share Christ.  Knowing the purpose of the Church and of his life, gave Barnabas extraordinary clarity and understanding in his life and gave him exceptional emotional stability about all circumstances he encountered.  Isn’t that true for us as well?  When we know our purpose, in the circumstances we find ourselves, and we pursue that purpose with determination, we are not easily distracted, and we can accomplish much.  The Apostle Paul said it this way, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4: 11-15).  Barnabas, under the authority and teaching of the apostles, was not toss around on the waves of self-doubt because Barnabas knew the truth in love and he knew his purpose to share that as a witness to others.

            I used this quote from Paul because if it was not for Barnabas, we might never have heard of Paul.  We may recall from Sunday School, Bible studies, or other sermons that Paul’s name had been Saul of Tarsus.  Saul was a Pharisee who had a mission to destroy the people of the Way.  Paul used his talents to incite a crowd to stone a man named Stephen to death for believing in Jesus.  Saul dragged others from their homes and put them in prison for believing in Jesus.  Then Saul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and Saul believed.  But that was not the end of the story; it was the beginning. I invite you to turn with me in the Book of Acts, Chapter 9 to see the second part of Saul’s conversion.

            Verse 26, “When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he [Saul] tried to join the disciples, but they [the disciples] were all afraid of him, not believing that he [Saul] really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him [Saul].”  Just a quick pause here.  The context is Barnabas took charge of Saul.  Barnabas listened to Saul’s testimony; learned of Jesus’ post‐ascension appearance, and affirmation of the church’s broad purpose in verse 15, “To proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  Having understood Saul’s experience we continue to read in verse 27, and find that Barnabas “Brought him [Saul] to the apostles. He [Barnabas] told them [Apostles] how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them [the Church] and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”  If not for Barnabas, there might not be a Paul.  Barnabas understood the purpose of the Church and his role within it. Because Barnabas understood the purpose, he was calm enough to listen to Saul’s testimony.  Barnabas risked his life to listen to Saul.  And then Barnabas used his gift of encouragement to present Saul and give Saul’s dramatic conversion testimony to the Apostles. In doing so, Barnabas set in motion the broadening of the Church’s understanding of Jesus’ commission to share the good news not with the Jews alone but with all the people of the world.

            We are benefactors of Barnabas because he was a person of faith willing to commit himself to following Jesus.  Barnabas was a person of faith who acted, he was did so with right motives, and he was willing to submit himself to the teachings of God’s Word as revealed through the apostles.  Barnabas was a purposeful person.  He understood that his purpose in life was tied to Jesus’ commission to share the gospel message and in that understanding he was self-confident and willing to use his gift to the benefit of the church and others who would come to faith.  This week let’s think about our friend Barnabas.  Let’s each examine our own faith journey and talk to God about our level of commitment, whether our faith is action oriented, if our faith shows itself in righteous, and whether we too would be found to be submitted to Christ. Then next week, we will explore the rest of Barnabas’ story and what more he has to share with us.  Amen and Amen.

2020-04-12 - What Is Truth - Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18

2 John 1:1-6

            The strangest news was beginning to be shared.  It made no sense to those telling of the news and as well as to those who receiving the news.  People were stunned and left with minds that were whirling and wondering.  Could it be true?  Mary Magdalene and the other women started the news.  They had gone to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning.  The stone that had sealed the tomb shut was open allowing them to enter the tomb.  They found the was empty.  Jesus’ body was gone.  So too were the guards who had been there to prevent anyone going into the tomb.  They were gone.  Two men in white, angels perhaps, said Jesus had risen from the dead. What does that mean?  Risen from the dead?  When the women returned to the city to share the news with others, two men, Peter and John ran to the tomb and only found the grave clothes that had once wrapped Jesus body.  Mary had followed Peter and John back to the tomb.  After the men returned home, Mary said she saw him.  Him who?  Mary said she saw Jesus.  Mary said when she realized Jesus was standing in front of her, she fell to the ground and grabbed him around his feet.  It was such a good feeling to hold onto him because Jesus was not dead; he was alive!  Did you hear that news, Jesus is alive!  Could it be the true?

            What is truth?  What you believe about the news coming from Jerusalem 2,000 years ago determines the entire nature, direction, purpose, and meaning of your life now and for all eternity. Let that sink in for a moment. What you believe about the news is the most important thing you will ever consider in your life.  If you believe the news that Jesus arose from the dead to be the truth, then you will live your life one way.  If you do not believe the news about Jesus to be the truth, then you will live your life an entirely different way.  The belief or non-belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a fork in the road that everyone must confront.  There is a funny thing about forks in the road, you cannot choose both.  You must choose one.

            As this news that Jesus had risen from the dead first spread throughout Jerusalem and then onto to Samaria, and then modern-day Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy people began deciding whether they believed the news or not.  Those who believed this news to be true began living in a new way.  They who believed this news called themselves followers of the Way or those who belonged to the Way.  Those who did not believe tried to insult those of the Way by calling them “Christians.”

            The lives of the followers of the Way were completely changed.  “42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).  These people believed Jesus had been raised from the dead.

            The basis for our faith in the resurrection in Jesus today comes in part from the drastic and dramatic change the people of the Way went through in their lives.  These people believed that their fellowship with Jesus in the here and now as well as for eternity had been restored.  They believed that fellowship with Jesus meant they had found forgiveness, grace, and salvation that could never be taken from them.  Everything about these people was open to change because they believed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was the truth. 

            “What is truth?”, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus shortly before ordering Jesus to be executed.  Jesus had shared with Pilate that Jesus was born and came into this world to testify to the truth.  And everyone on the side of truth listens to Jesus (John 18:37).  But what did Jesus mean?  What is the enduring truth?

            In a Roman sense of truth, which is largely the way our society sees truth, truth is about the factual representation of events summarized by accounting for who did what, when, where, how, and why.  The factual representation of the events 2,000 years ago matter.  What are the facts?

  • Fact. Jesus was crucified on a cross, was stabbed with a spear, and died.
  • Fact. Jesus dead body was removed from the cross and buried in a tomb carved out of rock.  In ancient days, tombs were left unsealed for three days to allow the family to make daily visits to check on the body of their loved one to make sure the person was dead.  They feared mistakenly burying someone who was alive.  In Jesus’ case, the authorities wanted no one to check on Jesus so they moved a rock in front of the opening to the tomb, placed a seal on the rock threatening anyone who might seek to disturb it, and then posted guards to make sure no one entered.  As far as the authorities were concerned, Jesus would never be seen again.
  • Fact.  On the third day following Jesus’ death, women came to the tomb hoping to give a final treatment to Jesus’ body, but his body was not in the tomb.
  • Fact.  As abruptly as the disciples began grieving Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples abruptly stopped grieving the death of Jesus.  Instead of grief, the apostles exhibited joy and began speaking about Jesus being alive.  Some 500 people believed Jesus arose from the dead and that for forty days Jesus talked with them, ate with them, and taught them before Jesus was lifted bodily into heaven.

These the facts concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus as seen through the events.  We read these truths in our first Scripture reading from the Gospel of John who described women coming to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.  How they found it empty and that Peter and John ran to the tomb.  While Jesus said these things, these truths about events, would be said about him, this was not the central truth that he came to share.

            The truth Jesus was talking about dealt with the understanding about God. The truth Jesus was talking about dealt with the kingdom of God.  The truth Jesus was talking about was ridiculed at first, then violently opposed, and then accepted as self-evident by those seeking the truth.  The truth was spoken about by the apostle John in our second reading today from the letter we call, 2 John.  He wrote, “The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— because of the truthwhich lives in us and will be with us foreverGrace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.  It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.”  John’s central point is that Jesus came to guide people into the Truth, that is into alignment with the living God.  Jesus came to show us God by living out life here on earth in the human form of Jesus.  Jesus was and is the visible imagine of the invisible God.  John wrote in 1 John “That which was from the beginning, [Jesus] which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”  John’s point was that Jesus who was with the Father in the beginning is someone John and others experienced through their senses of touch, hearing, and seeing.  Jesus is real and he appeared to them.  In Jesus, was the truth about the very nature of God which John described in our reading today as grace, mercy, and peace.

            “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).  Grace is a kindness given to one who does not deserve kindness.  Grace is an attitude of forgiveness and restoration.  Grace is a quality through which someone can extend joy to another. Jesus offered grace, a kindness to all the people, because Jesus wanted people to know the truth that God has grace, an unending kindness.  Paul wrote, “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15).

            “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).  Mercy is a pardon and release from an end that is predictably tragic, clearly disheartening, and obviously inevitable. We cannot save ourselves from our own sin and so Jesus offered mercy in the form of a pardon for sin because he wanted people to know that truth that God is merciful.  How are we to view such mercy?  Far too many people then and now think of God as a captain of a ship standing at the gangplank as people enter.  God asks your name and then looks through the ship’s manifest he holds in a clipboard before you board.  If your name is there, you can enter.  If not, then he points you to move toward the gangplank leaving the ship and move toward hell.  In reality, because of God’s mercy, God is more like a captain of a rescue ship.  He is reaching over the rails of the ship grabbing hold of people to get on the ship before they drown.  He is tireless in his rescues.  God is always calling out, “Grab my hand.  Swim closer, draw nearer!”  God desires to lose none because God is merciful.  Hell is not for the weak.  Hell is for the strong, for those with a spirit so arrogant that it cannot be crushed or broken, and so is unable to surrender to God.  Jesus offered mercy because, the truth is, God is merciful.

            “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).  When we think of peace we think of peace as freedom from disturbance or a period of no war. Peace used here is peculiar. Peace is a permanent tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.  The peace God desires for us is permanent. It is a feeling of tranquility. We do not fear facing God because Christ intercedes for us.  Because we do not fear God, we do not fear people, circumstances, or even viruses. Because we are at peace within ourselves, we can be peaceful with people.  Jesus said, “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Jesus gave us peace because God is a God of peace and does not want us to be fearful people.

            The truth Jesus came to share is God, a God of grace, mercy, and peace and a God who is most visible, most real, most experienced in love.  God raised Jesus from the dead because of love.  In the kingdom of God, power is always, always, shown by giving life.  Therefore, faith in the resurrection of Jesus gives rise to the promise of the fullness of life experienced by living together now and forever in God’s love.  This is the fork in the road.  The resurrection calls us to choose to live life in God’s love.  We know that in God’s love, nothing good is ever lost. In Jesus, we are made good and therefore are never lost.  We read this truth about love over and again in Scripture:

  • God is love (1 John 4:8).
  • God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
  • But God demonstrate his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

The truth is the resurrection of Jesus is about love.  The resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate this day radically reveals the mystery of love.  For us to be radically changed by belief in the resurrection of Jesus, we must live our life in and through love.  The Apostle John highlighted this point in the final two verses from our reading today, “5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”  To believe in the news of the resurrection of Jesus is to be empowered to walk a life in love.  Love is the Way.  Love is the Means.  Love is the Result. 

      What is Truth?  The Truth is God.  A God of love who gives life lived in the richness of grace, mercy, and peace. Jesus came to testify to this Truth and to call us to follow him in a life of love.  Those on the side of truth listen to Jesus.  On this Easter Sunday, I want to encourage you to listen to the resurrected Jesus and walk this day forward in love.  Amen and Amen.

2020-04-05 - What Is Truth - Palm Sunday

Isaiah 55

John 12:12-19

            We are continuing with our worship of God and our exploration of what it means to be a Christian through our understanding the answer to the question, “What Is Truth?”  Today, I am going to ask you to get three things for you and anyone with whom you are sharing this moment.  I am going to ask that you get your Bible, a small piece of bread for you and each person with you, and a cup of juice or water for you and each person with you. Although we are separated from each other, I want us to share the Lord’s Supper together because doing so reminds us that we are intimately connected with Jesus, with those who died in Christ, with one another, and with those who will come to Jesus through our witness. I invite you to hit the “Pause” button and gather up your Bible, bread, and cup.

            Welcome back.  Let’s begin.

            Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday.  It is the first day of what some Christian communities call “Passion Week.” It is a time in which Christians reflect on the rapidly evolving events in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago that began with Jesus’ entry into the city on a donkey accompanied by crowds of people waving palm branches, laying their coats on the road ahead of Jesus, and singing “Hosanna, Baruch Haba B’shemi Adoni.”  “Savior, Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.”  During the days that followed Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city.  He overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple.  He had compassion on the people with His teachings all the while scolding the religious leaders with power words. Jesus rested with his disciples while one of them named Judas sought out an opportunity to betray.  Jesus dined with his disciples tenderly washing their feet and he established a new way to experience the Passover with pieces of bread and a cup of wine.  Under ancient olive trees, silent witnesses to years of conquest and rebellion in Jerusalem, Jesus prayed that God’s will be done, even if it meant his own death on the cross.  Armed men arrested Jesus and brought him at night for a trial before religious leaders who hated him.  Jesus stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, whom Jesus told, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  Pilate scoffed, “What is truth?”  (John 18:37, 38).  Pilate proving Jesus words to be true, immediate left Jesus’ presence without an answer to his question.  Pilate was not on the side of truth.  Soon thereafter, in response to the angry shouting crowds of religious leaders, Pilate ordered Jesus to be executed.  Jesus nailed to a cross, an instrument of torturous death, spoke seven times.  He said:

  1. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).  As Jesus spoke, the Roman soldiers divided up his clothing.

 

  1. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).  This was Jesus’ promise one man hanging on a cross next to Jesus.  The others present mocked Jesus.

 

  1. Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother! (John 19:26, 27).  This was Jesus’ expression that family was born in faith and not blood.  The religious leaders stood by howling insults at Jesus. 

 

  1. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).  Jesus tormentors made the experience a spectator sport shouting, “Leave him alone and see if God sends him savior!”

 

  1. I thirst (John 19:28).  Those present gave Jesus vinegar.

 

  1. It is finished (John 19:30).  There was silence. 

 

  1. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).  Remarkably, a Roman centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”

 

Jesus died and the Passion Week, the Passion of Christ came quietly to a close.  All that remained to do was for Jesus’ body to be placed into a tomb and for the religious leaders and inhabitants of the city to quietly observe the Sabbath, a day of rest and reflection upon God.

            The truth is all throughout Passion Week two kingdoms were colliding.  The kingdom of earth ruled by religion and government was clashing with the kingdom of heaven ruled by God’s grace and truth.  The kingdom of earth always shows power by taking life. The kingdom of God always shows power by giving life.  The kingdom of earth seeks significance by creating institutions, loving things, and being proud of its accomplishments.  The kingdom of God seeks us to find significance in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

            How did that passion week start and how does the truth about God and the clash of two kingdoms all those years ago matter to us today?  To answer that question, I would invite you to open your Bible to our Old Testament passage today from Isaiah, Chapter 55.  This entire passage is conversation from God through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel and thus to you and me.  I want to focus on the tenor of the words and hear how different God intends life in his kingdom to be than from life in an earthly kingdom.

            From verse 1: “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”  God is offering a sustenance unlike what is available on earth and it is available to all.  You need no money to receive what God has to offer.

            From verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” God’s purpose and His word is always life giving.

            From verse 8 & 9 we see why the kingdoms are different: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  God was making it clear that the emphasis for life in God is different from earthly existence.  Our thinking and ways are not his at all.  Therefore, we should not expect our traditions and practices to accomplish for us what only God alone can do.

            From verse 10, God described His way in terms we can understand, rain and snow.  “10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God would and did share the truth through his word in the form of messages through the prophets like Isaiah, but most profoundly through the person of Jesus Christ.  The apostle John described Jesus as the Word, instructing us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I so love the way the Old Testament and New Testament blend together.  It gives me greater confidence that although there are 66 books of the Bible with about 40 authors writing at different times over a 1400-year period, we have a coherence in thought.  This says to me that the Holy Spirit was engaged in working through these authors to make sure the written word of God was accurately conveyed.  And the Word of God usually clashes with human thought.  Moreover, we will see that the Word of God in the flesh, Jesus, was in the earthly kingdom proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.  Jesus too clashed with earthly thinking.  Let’s turn our attention to Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem that began the Passion Week.

            From the Gospel of John, Chapter 12, we read, “12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Baruch Haba B’shemi Adoni) ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’  14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’  16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified (died and resurrected) did they (Jesus’ disciples) realize that these things had been written about him (Jesus) and that these things had been done to him.  17 Now the crowd that was with him (Jesus) when he (Jesus) called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him (Lazarus) from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.’”

            The drama in this scene cannot be underestimated.  The city of Jerusalem swelled with people coming to celebrate the Passover festival.  The influx of people could mean trouble so Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, came to the city with his contingent of Roman soldiers to keep the peace for the Emperor Augustus and Herod Antipas, a man Augustus appointed king of Israel. Jesus entered the city, not quietly and unassumingly as he had in the past, but with a crowd shouting their desire to see Jesus become the king of their earthly kingdom.  And yet, he did not come as a conquering hero upon a steed, a king’s horse, but upon a donkey that symbolized both an entrance of peace and an act of God’s Messiah. 

            Just days earlier than Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, the chief priests and Pharisees met to discuss the problem that people were beginning to follow Jesus.  “‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked (each other). ‘Here is this man [Jesus] performing many signs.  If we let him [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation…’  So from that day on they [the Pharisees] plotted to take his [Jesus] life’ (John 11:47-48; 53).

            Now, Jesus dared to enter the very heart of Judaic tradition and practices, the center of the religious institution and the core of the earthly meaning for the Pharisees.  We saw the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ entry in verse 19, “19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him [Jesus]!’”  The Pharisees’ “Jesus Problem” was growing.  If Jesus was not stopped then, the keepers of the Temple, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Chief Priests could have the Temple taken from them.  Their place of significance could fall.

            The Temple was everything.  During the Passion Week, Jesus and his disciples were leaving the Temple for the day. “One of his (Jesus’) disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  2 ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:1, 2).  The disciples loved the Temple and all the glory the Temple meant for them and the people of Israel.  Even those closest to Jesus did not understand Jesus’ words that something greater than the Temple, Jesus, was among them and that Jesus came to reveal the truth that God desired mercy not sacrifice (Matthew 12:6). 

Jesus’ words harkened back to the Old Testament prophet Micah who wrote: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7 Will the Lord be pleased with [the sacrifice of] thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn [child] for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8). 

Jesus was and is inviting all who listen to him into a different kingdom, with a life built upon love; a love for God and a love for one another and not Temples.  A love that finds fulfillment in service, justice, humility, and mercy not in rituals and traditions.  The magnificent Temple of Jerusalem, the place observant Jews felt compelled to uphold as the earthly place of worship and sacrifice to God, would fall to the Romans. The Temple was destroyed.  The Romans, masters of earthly kingdoms, left no stone upon another.  But that which is greater than the Temple, Jesus, was not destroyed.  And Jesus wanted his disciples, the apostles as well as you and me, to see that Him most present within life on earth.  Jesus entered Jerusalem to signal life lived in the kingdom of God was not for the dead but for the living.  Jesus invites us to live in the kingdom now and to let our membership in the kingdom be known by the way we love one another and by our reverence toward God.

Jesus knew people need to be strengthened to live in the kingdom of God.  So, Jesus wanted the apostles as well as you and me to be reminded that we are part of the kingdom of God as often as we ate of bread and drank of fruit of the vine.  I want you to now get ready your piece of bread and cup of juice.

During the Passion Week, Jesus shared the kingdom of God this way.  During a meal, Jesus took bread and he blessed it.  “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  Jesus then gave that bread to his disciples and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).  This was Jesus’ way of sharing with his disciples the presence of the kingdom of God here on within the kingdom of the earth.  This was Jesus’ way of reminding us that we are part of the kingdom of God a place where its members seek to act justly and be righteous before God and one another.

I invite you now to take the piece of bread that you have and pray with me, ““Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  Let’s now eat this bread and savory an experience in God’s kingdom in which hunger is satisfied by justice and righteousness.  Take and eat.

In a similar manner, when supper had ended, Jesus took a cup.  That cup had wine, the fruit of the vine.  Jesus blessed the contents of the cup. “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.”  Jesus then gave the cup to his disciples and said, ““Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27, 28).  This was another way Jesus shared with his disciples to remind them of the presence of the kingdom of God here on within the kingdom of the earth. It was Jesus’ way of granting us mercy by forgiving our sins and a call upon each of us to be merciful and forgiving toward one another.

I invite you now to take the piece the cup you have and pray with me, “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Let’s now drink this cup and savory an experience in God’s kingdom in which thirst is quenched by mercy.  Take and drink.

The truth is the kingdom of God is a place of justice, righteousness, mercy, and humility before God.  The truth is that Jesus’ urgent desire as he entered Jerusalem was that his disciples would live in this manner.  The truth is that our significance in life is not found in a Temple of rock and clay but in life with God.  Let us choose now truth of God’s kingdom.  Amen and Amen.

2020-03-29 - What Is Truth - God First

 

Exodus 20:1-7

Jeremiah 26:12-15

Mark 12:13-17

            We are now only two short weeks away from celebrating what was once called Resurrection Day but we now know it under the more common name of Easter Sunday. On our way to Easter Sunday these past weeks, we have been looking at the question, “What is truth?”  We have seen that truth is often ridiculed and violently opposed before it is accepted. We have seen that truth depends upon which world or kingdom who choose to live.  In the mortal kingdom of humanity, truth often is simply whatever you want it to be.  In philosophy, the approach of individualized truth follows the coherence theory of truth. In this manner, what is truth is defined by you so long as your beliefs are consistent with one another.  No one belief needs to be based upon objective evidence so long as all your truth statements cohere, agree, with each other.  Let’s say you believe all the presidents of the United States are corrupt, that all presidents are evil, and that any attempt to convince you otherwise would be based on lies.  These beliefs reinforce one another and therefore there is coherence in your statements. This would be your truth and there is nothing outside of yourself that could counter your truth.  Often, when people are operating on individualized truth, they will say something like, “It does not matter what you say, you cannot change my mind.  This is what I believe to be true.”  To say this is in a humorous manner, we might say, “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.”  Such truth, whether held by one individual, a group of people, or a nation can be an incredibly powerful force, most often to the detriment of others.  The Jewish people suffered under the coherence of Nazi “truth” that the source of all the ills of Germany rested upon the behavior of the Jews.  This type of “truth” started with one individual, then to a small group, then on to a political party, and ultimately became a widespread belief in the entire country.

            Humans lean toward the coherence theory of truth by creating their own beliefs and their own gods.  I believe this one reason why so many people today reject the Bible.  They reject the Bible because the Bible claims to be inspired by God, a being who is outside of all individuals, groups, and nations.  As such, the words and teaching of the Bible necessarily challenge the construction of individualized truth.  In many cases, the Bible calls humanity’s self-made beliefs false or lies.  Such words do not set well with many people. 

            If we accept the Bible, then we quickly come to realize that God created us, we did not create God.  And if God created us, then He is the source of truth, not us.  For many people, and here I mean genuinely good people with kind hearts and pleasant smiles, cannot accept that God contradicts their sincerely held beliefs.  They prefer to hold onto their sincerely held beliefs even if they believe in things that are not are true.  They feel that if they do not hurt anyone, as they define hurt, then there is no harm in holding onto a sincerely held false belief.

            The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is they contradict God. Think of this way.  False beliefs create a multitude of false gods for us to follow.  The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is that we do not keep them to ourselves. Like the contagion we are faced with today, those false beliefs are taught to children who then perpetuate them. The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is they cause us to miss the mark.  Think of it this way.  Let’s say you were walking a great distance and you were only 10 off on your trek. If you traveled 60 miles, starting just one degree off, you will miss the mark by 1 mile.  The world is full of people missing the mark because they do not believe in the truth of God.

            As we return to our question, “What is truth?” we find these words of comfort in the opening words of the Bible from Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 1, אֱלֹהִיםבְּרֵאשִׁית, (re'shiyth bara’ ‘elohiym). “In the beginning God created.”  The truth is God existed and then he created all there is.  God created humanity, we did not create God.  To help humanity to seek truth from God and not from other sources, God spoke to humanity directly, through prophets, and through His own son, Jesus.  Directly, we heard God say in our reading from Exodus 20:3-7, “3You shall have no other gods before me.  4 You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…7 You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  God knew our desire to have other gods, make images of those gods so that we could worship them, and then to diminish God by misusing His name.  God is jealous because He knows how dangerous it is if we put other things ahead of him. So God spoke directly these words and inscribed them on tablets of stone.

            The people of God obeyed God’s command found in Exodus, at least for a while, and then slowly, without hurting anyone else, slipped into their own ways.  God then raised up a prophet to speak to the people.  The prophet’s name was Jeremiah.  We read earlier from the book bearing the prophet’s name these words, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. 13 Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12, 13).  God spoke directly in Exodus and now spoke through his prophet Jeremiah to the people that they reform their ways and actions and obey God.  God is the source of truth.  Truth will not be found in religious practices, temples, or sacrifices.  The truth, God, will only be found in Him.

            The people listened to Jeremiah, for a while, and then slowly, believing they were hurting no one, the people slipped into finding truth in institutions, practices, and beliefs of their own creation.  What was God to do?  We have read God’s response from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.  14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1).  The Word was Jesus.  Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).  God spoke the need to come to him for the truth, he did so through his prophets, and now through his son who was living among the people with the expressed purpose of revealing the truth.

            Despite all of God’s efforts, people, powerful people, the best and brightest of Israel, hung onto their sincere beliefs and sought to destroy the truth, Jesus, who was God, the truth, in human form.  We read in our New Testament reading today that, “13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees [respected religious leaders] and Herodians [powerful men from the king’s court] to Jesus to catch him in his words.”  The powerful people wanted to find something in Jesus’ words that were inconsistent with his teachings so that they could accuse him of false teachings.  They wanted to show that Jesus lacked coherence.  They wanted to destroy Jesus.  By destroying Jesus, the powerful could continue to determine their own truth and because they were powerful, they could determine the truth for others.

            This band of powerful men came to Jesus and began speaking words of flattery to Jesus.  “‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’” (Mark 12:14, 15).  The men applied their buttery words to mask their true intentions of trapping Jesus with a question on whether to pay taxes owed to Caesar, an earthly ruler.  This was a trap since to say simply “Yes, pay tax to Caesar,” would be an act of betrayal of the Jewish people to financially support their own oppression by the Romans.  To say, “No, don’t pay your taxes,” would be an act of revolution calling the Romans down on Jesus’ head.  This is the problem with yes or no questions.

            Verse 15 continued, “But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked.  Jesus saw the flattery of the Pharisees and Herodians for what it was, hypocrisy; that pretense of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.  Jesus saw the question as a trap and therefore chose to bring everyone back to the earliest of commandments concerning the truth.  Verse 15 concludes, “‘Bring me a denarius [a Roman coin] and let me look at it.’ 16 They brought the coin.”  I just want to pause there for a moment because we might miss something important. Jesus had no money.  Did you notice that?  Jesus had to ask his questioners to hand him one of the coins in their possession because Jesus had none.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, Jesus used money as a way of revealing people’s priorities, the self-serving truths that governed their lives.  When Jesus sent his disciples to preach the good news he said, “Carry no purse or bag.”  Jesus said, “What is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 14:15).  “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 6:24).  Jesus had no coin in his possession.  His body, mind, and spirit were focused only on God.  The little seemingly insignificant fact that Jesus did not have a coin of his own expresses the distinction that there are two kingdoms in play.  There is the earthly kingdom centered on money and the eternal kingdom centered on God. Jesus was of the kingdom of God living in the earthly kingdom.

            Verse 16, “16 They brought the coin and he [Jesus] asked them [the Pharisees and Herodians], ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.  17 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’  And they were amazed at him.”

            The smug Pharisees and Herodians stood there with their mouths open, speechless. They came to Jesus to trap him with words of flattery, that they did not believe, only to be shown that their words were true testimony about Jesus.  Jesus was indeed a man of integrity, unswayed by others, and able to teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Jesus showed these men that the engraved image on their coin was that of Caesar, a man who was the symbol of earthly kingdoms.  The coin was therefore an idol of Caesar’s creation. The idol belonged to Caesar and therefore was rightfully his to ask it to be returned.

            But God declared that there should be no idol of Him to be worshiped but only that He be worshipped.  Jesus said to these Pharisees and Herodians, and to you and me, “Give to God what He has asked be returned to him.”  What is that God wants returned?  Why you and me, of course.  God is a redeemer; He seeks to reclaim the lost.  God is a savior; He seeks to save those drowning in the earthly kingdom with all its beliefs.  God is a healer; He seeks to heal those who are sick with sin.  God has a kingdom and he wants each person to be part of it.

            Jesus opened his ministry to all those who would listen with these words, “Repent [Turn to God], for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Jesus came to speak the truth of this kingdom and shake us out of the truths we create for ourselves.  Here are some of the things Jesus said to redeem us, save us, and heal us from our own tidy beliefs.

  • Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
  • The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.
  • Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
  • Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
  • Seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

            We seek to create our own truths in the kingdoms of politics, business, the arts, philosophy, and even religion.  We do so because we are seeking to create significance for ourselves. Jesus said if you want significance in your life, then seek first the kingdom of God and all other things will be given to you as well.  If you want significance, turn to God for his kingdom is near and in God you will become his child.  This is significance beyond anything that can be imagined in the kingdom of the world. Let’s evaluate everything else in life through that truth and see that “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).  Amen and Amen.

2020-03-15

John 14:15-21

We are continuing a deliberate journey to Easter Sunday.  We have been gathering insight and understanding about Jesus and his desire for humanity to know the truth.  What is truth?  The truth to Jesus was not a collection of facts or mathematical proofs.  Truth to Jesus was an intimate knowledge of God expressed through God’s love and grace.  Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth of God.  But Jesus was only going to be here on earth for a short time.  By some estimates, he would be here only 33 years. Of those years Jesus testified in person for no more than three of those 33 years.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, historians estimate that there were 300 Million people in the world.  Jesus spent most of his time testifying to 12 of those people.  He called those twelve people, apostles.  One of the twelve apostles, Judas, died before Jesus did.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead, Jesus told the remaining eleven apostles, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  What was Jesus thinking?  How in the world could Jesus expect those eleven apostles to share the truth, the revelations of God through Jesus Christ, to 300,000,000 people?  How would those eleven apostles keep things straight as they shared the truth with people from different cultures and in different languages?  How could it all happen?

Jesus had a plan, but it depended upon the apostles and God.  We read his plan earlier today.  Jesus said, 15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15, 16).

Jesus’ plan had just two parts to it.  First, Jesus asked his apostles to love him and to express that love by keeping his commands. Love must be at the heart of the plan to share the good news of Jesus.  “If you love me, keep my commands.”  Jesus’ words strongly suggest that there is a powerful connection between expressing love and obedience.  Now obedience comes in distinctly different forms.  First, we can be obedient to someone or something because we seek to avoid punishment.  We obey the laws of New York State because we do not want to be arrested.  We pay our taxes because we do not want problems with the government.  We are obedient in order to avoid punishment.  Obedience to avoid punishment is my earliest memories of church. I was instructed to believe that God was some policeman type figure who looked down from heaven keeping track of all the wrong things we did.  If your list grew too long, then God would punish you.  Obedience to avoid punishment is not love.

The second form of obedience comes about through a voluntary desire.  Sometimes voluntary obedience feels like compliance.  There have been many times each of us have done some task in the way another person asked that it be done, even if we had a different way of doing it. We comply with the wishes of another to bring that person peace.  Other times, voluntary compliance, obedience, is done in order to bring us joy, peace, happiness, and contentment.  I see young children express this type voluntary obedience well.  Young children show their emotions and thoughts right on their face.  They have not yet mastered the “art” of thinking and feeling one thing and doing the other.  And so, when a young child does something you asked them to do, they almost always follow up by finding you and excitedly telling you they did it.  The child has been voluntarily obedient because they love you, because they love to share what they have done with you, and to know that they have excited you in doing what you asked.  This type of voluntary obedience is the closest to what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  “One time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  2 He [Jesus] called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he [Jesus] said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”  In that same way, Jesus was saying in our text today, “If you love me, be like a young child that has an inner desire to do what they have been asked, to be excited about sharing what you have done with me, and to know the joy that it brings to me.”  Voluntary obedience is the way of expressing love to Jesus.

Going back to our text again for the second part of Jesus’ plan.  Jesus said to his apostles, 15“If you love me, keep my commands.”  For another day, we will talk about the commands of Jesus.  But for today, we will continue with what Jesus said.  “16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.”  Jesus had revealed something important to this small band of apostles.  When the apostles came to give their life to voluntary obedience to Jesus’ commands as the way of expressing love to Jesus.  Jesus then excitedly shared that good news with God, the Father.  God, the Father, then in his joy then released to apostles who love Jesus the Spirit of truth.  This Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, would then be able guide the apostles and be with them forever.  We see this thought in verse 23 of our text today, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).

Now, before we think Jesus was only speaking about a relationship only possible with the apostles, we need to consider Jesus prayer found in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John.  Jesus said, “20My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [the apostle’s] message [that would be you and me], 21 that all of them [the apostles, you and me] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they [the apostles, you and me] also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them [the apostles, you and me] even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).  So the words, 15“If you love me, keep my commands.  16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth,” apply to you and me as well.

Jesus words then tell us that the Spirit of truth will be given to the apostles, you, and me who love Jesus through obedience.  It was and is through the Spirit of truth, that this small band of apostles would come to bring the good news to the people of the world. The evangelizing of the world by the apostles was not done through the power of the government to make people obedient to God to avoid punishment, but through love guided by Spirit of truth working through the apostles to cause people to believe and become voluntarily obedient to God.  By the end of the mortal life of the remaining eleven apostles, the number of those believing and alive in the Holy Spirit had grown from 11 to 500,000.

What then can we say about this Spirit of truth?  There are many sermons and teachings that can be brought forward on the Holy Spirit, but for today, we will keep focused on just one element, the Spirit of truth. In our text today, Jesus said of this Spirit of truth, this helper, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  The Spirit of truth is for believers and gives believers the capacity to know the truth. The truth here is not in the Roman mindset of truth, meaning the facts concerning events.  So, believers are still no better equipped at crime solving then anyone else.  Here, truth is in the Hebrew mindset of knowing God and his faithfulness.  So, believers, people showing love to Jesus by voluntary obedience to Jesus’ commands, receive the Spirit of truth and therefore, have an intimate knowledge of God and his trustworthiness.  From our text today, verse 21, Jesus brought this point together saying, “21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  I have a couple of cousins who are very prolific in posting things on Facebook. Neither of them is a believer.  Yet, they often cite Scripture in their postings with smug words added primarily as an effort to offend Christians.  There is a spirit within them, but it is not the Sprit of truth.  For while they rage online against social injustices citing Biblical commands to help the hungry, naked, and poor, they do not ever help anyone. 

This means that if we allow the Spirit of truth to work within us, we can understand what the Bible says and coupled with the humility can listen to God’s word before we act.  With the Spirit of truth working within us, we can recognize when we neither took the time to understand what the Bible said nor listened to God’s word before we acted.  The Spirit of truth will guide us in worship of God.  We can know what behaviors honor God and which ones do not. If we allow the Spirit of truth to work within us, then we can recognize how we as a single body made of up of many members can move together in new missions and bring to closure those that are no longer needed.  Jesus said to the learned Jewish man, Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  We are to move not in accordance with the desires of observers but in the direction that God moves us touching everything and everyone in our path.

Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).  Everyone with Jesus has the Spirit of truth.  This is the power Jesus promised and delivered to the apostles as they came to share the truth with the world.  The apostles did not cajole the unwilling with promises and rewards.  Afterall, who offers rewards for doing what people want to do? Do we pay hungry people to eat? Do we pay thirsty people to drink?  A wise Christian scholar once observed, if we demand a reward to obey God, we will love the reward rather than God. In his words, “The soul that loves God seeks no other reward than that God whom it loves. Were the soul to demand anything else, then it would certainly love that other thing and not God.”  Believers have the Spirit of truth to know Jesus and therefore constantly seek to follow his life and his words and his actions just like a person who is hungry seeks food and one who is thirsty seeks water.  It is a natural reaction to a great desire.  Believers have the Spirit of truth and want to constantly tell Jesus what they have done and to be in his presence.

What is truth?  Jesus provided an answer this way from our text today, “18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  Let us be blest in the Spirit of truth that guides our thoughts, thinking and actions. Amen.

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