Easter 2008 – Homily One

March 23, 2008

Luke 7:11-17

 

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

 

Jesus is still ministering in the region of Galilee and he enters a small village called Nain with his disciples. This is still in the popular early stages of his ministry and the crowds follow him. As he is entering the town a man who has died is being carried out of the town, in a coffin most likely itself resting on a platform or bier. This man was the only son of his mother, who is also a widow. A large crowd from the town walks out of the town with her. And so the two crowds meet, one following Jesus going into town, the other crowd following the widow and her dead son going out of the town.

 

When Jesus saw the woman he had compassion on her. This means that he had a deep awareness of how she was suffering and a desire to alleviate her suffering if he could. For she most surely was suffering.

 

When death entered the world through sin it brought with it a tidal wave of sorrow and affliction and loss. Human beings were not mean to have their relationships dissolved and broken by death. The loss and sorrow that we experience when one dies is as real as real can be. There is little in life more real and painful. To lose a child, as with the woman of Nain, is more painful still, for even in this broken world we have accepted to a certain degree death due to old age.

 

The passage says nothing about Jesus’ compassion on the dead son. His concern is with the suffering mother. He looks at her and says what at first seems to be cruel or just insensitive, “Do not weep.” But then he reaches forward and touches the bier. This is one of those quiet gestures that everyone knows means stop, be still, watch.

 

Jesus speaks to the dead person, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the man who was dead rises up and begins to speak. He probably said something like, “Uh, what’s going on here and why are you carrying me outside of the city?”

 

You know, even back then dead people didn’t normally come back to life, and the people were duly awed.

 

But I want you to notice a simple little phrase, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus had had compassion on the mother. He healed the son for the sake of his mother. Now, as if giving her a gift, he gives the young man back to his mother. The dissolution that death had caused had, for now, ended. He had given her back her son.

 


Easter 2008 – Homily Two

March 23, 2008

2 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

 

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

 

The Apostle Paul did not get to spend adequate time with every congregation that he founded. He was often dragged away before he could really get going. It is amazing that many of the fledgling churches survived at all. Paul did not get to teach them about every matter, and he had to do much follow-up teaching through his writing. I would guess that he wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters.

 

In the church at Thessalonica many of the brethren were suffering grief over the death of dear loved ones. Their suffering was made worse they because they despaired over the eternal fate of their departed friends or family members, believing that if one died before Jesus’ return then they had missed out on the glory to come.

 

This caused the living to grieve as ones who had no hope would grieve –  whether he means by this no hope either of the well being of the lost loved one or no hope of a future a reunion with them. But Christians, says Paul, because of Jesus’ resurrection, and hope of their own future resurrection, are those who do not grieve as those who have no hope.

 

These days, in 2008, it is only hard core atheists who grieve as those with no hope. Almost everyone else thinks that when a person dies his or her spirit goes to “heaven,” and he or she looks down upon us, watches us, maybe helps us along the way, sees us hits homeruns and sing on American Idol, and waits for us to come join them. This is an equal opportunity popular religion based on nothing but fantasy. It is a wall built against reality. This modern popular religion has co-opted the Christian message and undermined its power and can make our message of resurrection and glory, even to us, seem blasé after a while.

 

For Paul there was one specific reason why Christians, unlike others, could grieve as those who had hope, and that was the bodily resurrection and imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had been raised from the dead. He was reigning as Lord. And he would be returning as mighty King. When he comes back it would be visible, audible, and quite public.  And when he comes, not only will those who have died believing in Christ be raised, but their bodies would be raised first, to join finally with their souls or spirits in the air. So, not only have they not missed the boat, they will be first in line at the party.

 

Paul ends this bit of pastoral teaching with these words, “encourage one another with these words.” Again, dealing with death and the sorrow and grief that accompany it, Paul’s concern is less for the ones who have died as for the ones who remain. Their burden is greater. They have experienced great loss. But because of the resurrection of Jesus they can hope for future blessing for their loved ones, and perhaps even also a future reunion with them.

 

The living still grieve. This life still must be lived with the losses and sufferings all too common to it. But there is a real and lively hope for better things. We should encourage one another daily with such truths.

 


Easter 2008 – Homily Three

March 23, 2008

 

Third Homily:  Revelation 21:1-4

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 

The Book of Revelation ends with many of the same themes as which the Bible begins. On Genesis 1:1 it says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” In Revelation 21:1 it says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”

 

Between these two events sin and death have entered into the world, and God has carried out his great plan of redemption trough Jesus Christ. Now all things are being made new. The curse upon the earth and upon mankind is being removed. God had promised death as a result of sin; now He has thrown death into the lake of fire. Death will be no more.

 

After Adam and Eve’s sin God brought judgment. This judgment impacted all of creation. It is this judgment that we call the curse. God cursed the serpent, mostly meaning the spiritual person animating the common beast. He cursed the women who would have great difficulty in childbearing. He cursed the relationship between man and the woman, and in a sense all relationships. He cursed the ground, meaning the whole created order. He cursed human work. Worst of all He cursed mankind with death itself. He also cast Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, the place of special blessing, the place where God walked freely amongst them, and talked with them, the place where they enjoyed unfettered fellowship with Him. Then he cast them into what would be for them a hostile world.

 

Tears of sorrow and pain and loss entered into human experience at so many levels. But nothing has caused more tears in human life than death and the piercing pain that the loss which that death creates. We are created for relationship. We are created for love and affection. A dear person is there, is part of our lives, and then is not there, and we are empty, devastated. It’s like we die a hundred deaths as we wait for our own death to die.

 

But praise be to God that that is not the end of the story. God has his own purposes, and acts for His own glory. But he also acts out of love for what and whom he has made. He created us in love that we might share in His love and glory. The raising of Jesus from the dead is not meant just to help us individually feel better about dying. It has to do with all of creation. The ultimate fruit of the resurrection is the removal of the curse. It is the death of death. When Jesus returns to establish his kingdom he will come with plans to renew the heavens and the earth. There will no more sin. There will be no more death.  Fellowship with God will be fully restored as the covenant bond between God and man is finally realized to the full – “I will be their God and they will be my people.” There will no more pain, no more mourning, no more crying.

 

Like Jesus intervening out of compassion to raise the son of the woman at Nain, the Apostle John speaks of the New Heaven and New Earth through eyes of compassion for those who know life this side of the curse, for those who know tears and sorrow and pain. He wants us to know deep down that all those things are coming to an end. Hang in there. There will be no more death, for the old things have passed away.

 

Just because wordlings have stolen and co-opted the Christian message doesn’t mean we cannot proclaim it and live it and rejoice in it. We should. The Lord God almighty reigns, and He is ushering in a brand new day.


Scripture of the Day – June 7, 2007 – Trust in the Lord and Do Good

June 7, 2007

Dear Friend,

I switch gears for a few days. I don’t want to let the one-another verses wear out their welcome. We will get back to them.

I thought I’d share a favorite verse of mine today, actually a pair of verses found in Psalm 37 – Psalm 37:3-4.

3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I share this passage often with people in anxious situations. I have been going to it a fair bit myself lately. The verses before and after are also great. You should read them. Psalm 37 once a day keeps the terrors at bay.

Trust….this is what we have been talking about all through Hebrews 11 and 12. Only as we actively and consciously entrust our lives to the One who knows and loves us do we find peace and purpose.

Do good…We don’t just sit there trusting and otherwise doing nothing. Rather we commit ourselves to doing – to doing good. In the context of the Psalm this means a choice not to respond to the evil doers trying to undo the Psalmist. God will take care of the evil doer; he, the Psalmist, is to commit his energy to being and to doing good – those things which please God. So often in face of temptation, pressure, persecution, or just old fashioned anxiety, we act in a way aimed against the source of our troubles in order to circumvent their impact on us. This usually ends badly and does not glorify God.

Dwell in the land….This has a double meaning I think. There is the obvious physical reality and wisdom of committing your energies to where you are, not where you aren’t. When anxious, when unsure, don’t go anywhere, stay put and do good things there. Dwell there, make your habitation there. Dig in, grow roots, commit. This physical sense of dwelling is a necessary corollary to doing good. People who flit about in body or heart never really do much good. But this idea of “dwelling” also speaks to our true and deeper dwelling place with Christ. Life in the land has been replaced in a sense by life in Christ. Dwell with Him. Stay put with and in Him while the storms of life roar about.

Befriend faithfulness…..Make faithfulness to God and to His word and to your church-mates, neighbors, and employers – make that way of faithfulness your friend. Get to know faithfulness well. Become intimate with it. Be a faithful person.

Delight yourself in the Lord….I love this couplet – the pair of half verses starting here. It holds in many ways the secret of Life itself. We are to make the Lord our delight. We are to set our hearts and affections and hopes upon Him. We are to seek to please Him above all others. We are to look to His provision and His reward.

And He will give you the desires of your heart…..OK, here is what this does not mean: write down all the things you want and desire, hang out with God a while, and then he will then give you all you want.

As we delight ourselves in the Lord, such Delight will frame and change our deepest desires. Our desires will begin to conform to His desires. Soon we will find that He delights to give to us what we desire because what we desire is what He desires for us. We have begun to desire, as well as pray and act, after His will.

This is also the flow of the Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer we focus first upon the Lord, upon His glory and His kingdom; only after do we focus on our needs. I realize that “needs” and “desires” are often not the same. But they become more and more the same as we delight in Him.

I know of no better short summation of living life before God than we find in the first part of verse three – “Trust God and do good.” This sounds a lot like the well known hymn ‘Trust and Obey.” Unless you were wondering I think that that hymn pretty much wraps it all up nicely as well.

So, your day has started. Trust God. Do good. Dwell in the land. Be Faithful. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your hearts.

In Christ,

Joel

 


Scripture of the Day – June 6, 2007 – The Bond of the Spirit

June 6, 2007

Dear Brethren,

The choice of today’s Scripture has been inspired by our Presbytery meeting yesterday. It is inspired by this meeting because in some there hours of discussion and debate, there was a pervading sweetness, a mutual respect, and a real sense of everyone seeking to preserve the “bond of peace.” The conversation and discussion was earnest. Yet, it was unifying and peace-promoting.

Our passage reminds me of two other things yesterday.

A young man fresh out of seminary gave a wonderful short message on Psalm 133, which in many ways is an Old Covenant way of saying a similar thing as today’s Scripture says. I will paste that Psalm at the bottom. You’ll see the connection.

The other thing is that we approved licensesure for that same young man for the ministry of the preaching of the word. As part of that licensesure he had to take a vow “to promote the unity, peace, purity, and prosperity of the Church.”

These four attributes which he and the members of our churches are to promote are utterly interrelated and intertwined; they cannot be understood apart from the other; they are impossible to fulfill apart from the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit; and they are pretty systematically ignored across evangelicalism in general.

Here is the “one another” passage from Ephesians, Ephesians 4:1-3:

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We should think of this exhortation as having to do both with local churches as well as with relations between local churches, and reaching into the church gathered across the world. Mostly it finds its tangible living reality in local churches, and between local churches.

So much had happened in our own community of Greensboro over several decades to break down the unity of the Spirit between churches. There have been conflicts between brethren and churches never resolved, and which fester. People hop from church to church leaving bad will and hard feelings in their wake, not having gone through any sort of submitted counsel with their churches before disappearing to greener pastures, perhaps with an e-mail note after the fact. Churches communicate poorly between each other. Church A treats Church B with much little less than Christian respect and charity. She considers her own ministry or preaching or programs to be superior, and thus rejoices when people flee into her awaiting arms. It’s an “arms” race of sorts, people flying in all directions.

This all applies within churches as well. We have all seen or heard of churches that have been soured by a failure of its leaders or its people to promote the unity, peace, purity, and prosperity of the congregation. When this happens it disgraces the name of Christ before the watching world, and it creates little divisions between people and churches that last into future generations. I know of churches that are still reeling from conflicts thirty years or more ago. A lot is at stake (John 13:34; John 17: 20). How we go about things is a huge barometer of who we really are as we talk about being God’s people.

And so, we are to walk in humility and gentleness, with patience and loving forbearance, and an eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

I am struck by the word “eagerness” here. You can picture an eager child looking into the ice cream store window, an eager linebacker twitching, ready to blitz the quarterback, an eager hiker racing to the top of the mountain, an eager dog waiting for you to throw the stick. Eagerness suggests anticipation, even, impatience perhaps, but one can imagine eagerness without impatience. As regards the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace it means that we are to be extremely sensitive to the unity of the body in the Spirit and to the peace of the church. We should do all things with this in mind, and be very sensitive (eager) to that which may harm or hinder it. We should have hair trigger sensitivity to the unity of the Spirit, and an eagerness, a deep commitment, a huge sensitivity of conscience, to maintain it.

Even as we pursue purity, we do it with peace in mind. Even as we pursue peace we do it with purity in mind. And all along we are attentive to the prosperity of the church. The church is intended to carry out its mission before Christ. It is meant to do that, by God’s Spirit, until Jesus returns. This success is not measured in worldly or financial terms, but it is observable. We are to be aware of our own actions and decisions and attitudes upon that prosperity – both the prosperity of the particular local church as it seeks to carry out its mission before Christ, and the prosperity of the churches in a community as they seek together to honor Christ and carry out His work. We should all seek the prosperity and success of our own local church as well the church of the city, and the broader affiliations we may be  apart of.

Added together peace purity and prosperity result in the unity of the Spirit being maintained.

So, consider the passage in Ephesians 4 as we continue our journey through the “one another” passages together.

In Christ,

Joel

PS – The last two weeks week has been kind of scattered as we have more drivers than people now at our house and it changes day to day as to who gets a car! So my schedule has been a little higgeldy piggeldyof late. I put aside the daily reading for a while, and now wish to pick it up again.

PSS – Psalm 133

133:1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!

2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!

3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of
Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.


Scripture of the Day – May 29, 2007 – Jesus’ High Prestly Prayer

May 29, 2007

Dear Brethren,

I was thinking about Jesus’ prayer for our unity in John 17:20-21 along the lines of the “one another” commandments that we have been looking at. The “one another” aspect is mostly implicit here. But in reading over this great high priestly prayer, and in considering how the book of Hebrews has devoted so much time to Jesus’ high priestly ministry, I thought I would just send this prayer along without much comment, except to say, he is praying for us in verses 20-26. You can spend your life in this passage and never exhaust it. John 17:1-26.

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

In Christ,

Joel


Scripture of the Day – May 25, 2007 – Spur One Another Along

May 24, 2007

Dear Brethren,

Today’s Scripture is taken from the book of Hebrews, chapter 10. It is part of a long “therefore” passage which itself builds on the wonderful truths about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:24-25:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

I have previously spoken to the unreality of being a Christian “in isolation.” These one-another commandments continue to point out the fact that we can only be what we are called to be together, together in real local fellowships, together with real and flawed fellow Christians, together learning to become the kind of distinctive community He calls us to be for His glory.

This passage reminds us of a very real responsibility we have with regard to the other. We are to “stir up” the another to “love and good works.” So, going to church, or to a small group gathering, or to a community Christian event, we find that should not go with the idea merely of what we’re going to get out of it, how we are going to have this quiet private thing with God (or loud noisy thing with God), how we expect to get a spiritual buzz from the music or sermon or whatever. Church is work. Life is work. Being a Christian is work. If you need to collapse and think only or mainly of yourself, go to the woods, or to a spa, or go get a manicure.

We are to “consider.” This means think about, ponder, set our minds to something. How can we bless our brethren? How can we edify them? How can we help them be what God wants them to be – people whose lives are full of love and good works. We need think to think ahead about that.

One reason that we aren’t as keen about this stuff these days is because, either as consumerist Christians, or as semi educated Protestants, or both, we have forgotten that God fully intends to make us different. He fully intends to change us and transform us. “Being saved” includes that as much as it includes being spared from hell. As it says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” I could cite a dozen verses, or more, to this same effect.

And God uses each of us as agents of the other’s transformation! We have a role in whether or not our brother or sister becomes what God has called and created them to be! They have that same role for us. So we are to put our minds to how we can best spur others along, edify them, encourage them, so that their lives will be characterized by love and by good works.

This is all the more important as we see “the Day” approaching. “The Day” is the return of Christ. It is “the day of the Lord.” It is “the day of His appearing.” And guess how He wants to find us when he comes? Holy, blameless, expectant, going about His business, alert, awake, obedient. I could site dozens of verses along these lines, but this a devotion, not a book. So I will end with a couple of passages which connect up our obedience and good works with His appearing. Please think about your role in your brother’s being what Jesus wants him to be when he, Jesus, returns.

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12).

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).

In Christ,

Joel