Death’s Destruction

John 8:48-59

 

Intro: Last week we looked at the contrast between joy and sorrow with an emphasis upon joy in the New Testament. Today we look at the primary reason for this joy.

 

I. How Jesus argued with his critics

 

It is clearly a question of authority.

 

Jesus’ claims are outrageous. It is no wonder that C. S. Lewis argued that he can only be a liar, lunatic or Son of God. Statements like these leave no room for anything else.

 

We should take him literally, but realize that he is not describing the experience of the body; but rather, the experience of the spirit. Yes, our bodies will die but for our spirits it will be as if we simply passed through a door from one room to another. {An experience by the way that used to be more commonly witnessed before the age of modern medicine and sedation.} That is why he could say, Don’t fear those who can only kill the body (Luke 12). AS Luther wrote in his great hymn, “The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”

The early Christians were fond of the image of sleep (I Thess. 4:14 “sleep in Jesus”).

 Imagine a child lying in bed playing with stuffed animals, she grows tired and does not even notice as she drifts off to sleep. The next thing she knows she is waking up to the morning sun streaming through her bedroom window.

 

II. A demonstration (John 11):

 

After raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus said: “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever

 

III. Another argument with Critics (Sadducees)

 

Luke 20:27-39 “He is not the God of the dead but of the living, because all are living to Him.” (v.38) God gave us the gift of life. He made us for life not death. The Eagle nebula we spoke of last week with its trillions of miles of gas and dust is nothing compared to the wonderful complexity of a single human being!

IV. On the cross

 Luke 23:43 “Today with me you shall be in paradise.”

V. The Apostolic writings:

Given the kind of things Jesus taught it is no wonder that the apostles wrote what they wrote.

II Cor. 5:1-8 bodies as tents! Verse 8 says to go away from the body is to go home to the Lord. Paul adds that this would be pleasing.

 

My favorite text in this regard is one of the last Paul wrote. It is II Tim. 1:10. In context he is summarizing the Gospel that he proclaims and stressing that he is not ashamed of it. In verse 10 he writes that our Savior Christ Jesus has, on the one hand, abolished death, and on the other hand has brought to light life and immortality.

 

VI. So it is appropriate that the last book of the Bible introduces the glorified Jesus who says, “I myself am first and last, I was dead and now am living forever, and I have the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17 & 18)

Conclusion: Perhaps you feel like the man in Mark 9. He was desperate as he called upon Jesus to help his son, who was demon possessed. Jesus said to him, “Everything is possible to the one who believes.” To this the man replied, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” (v. 24)

 

Joy and Sorrow

 

Intro: I don’t need to say much about sorrow. We are all born into a world with much of it, and we have all tasted of it in our own way, and to varying degrees. Jesus himself was described prophetically as the “man of sorrows” and we all know of his endurance of the sufferings as a man culminating in the cross of Calvary. Yet as Hebrews states, Jesus “endured the cross,” “for the joy that lay before him” (Heb. 12:2). So I will move along this morning to stress the joy that was set before Christ and is set before us.

 

I. Joy is the natural state of God.

 

         We err when we miss this basic point about the Creator of the heavens and the earth. How easily we skim past the refrain of the creation story, “And God saw that it was good.” It is like the repeated chorus of a song. God delights in the goodness of creation. God’s heavenly creatures sing with joy over the wonder of it all. We are told that there is rejoicing in heaven over every soul that is saved, but there was also rejoicing before there were souls needing saving, because God’s joy was there for all creatures to see.

 

         God lives in the full enjoyment of His creation. The Hubble telescope took pictures of the Eagle Nebula that consists of dust and gas clouds estimated at six trillion miles from top to bottom. God looks upon such things as part of the wonder of what he has done, and at the same time he enjoys the microscopic world of things too small for us to see. He, as Jesus said, notices even the death of a sparrow. He clothes the flowers of the field and when we enjoy their beauty we are reflecting the image of our Creator. Our small bit of enjoyment is a sample of the constant joy of God in all that He has made. Years ago I spoke with a missionary serving in the Brazilian rain forest. As a hobby he had taken an interest in Orchids, something that the rain forest has in abundance. He told me that one of the orchid species he had encountered grows and blossoms entirely underground. God enjoys the orchid blossom that is not visible to the human passing by the spot where it is blossoming beneath the earth.

 

         Jesus lived in the full knowledge of the joy of the triune God. Even in the flesh facing the cross he dwelt in that joy. Think of some of his final words to his apostles in the upper room as recorded by John. He said: “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (Jn. 15:11) What things? Things like,

 

         “I am the true vine” (v. 1).

 

         “If you remain [or, dwell] in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want it will be done for you.” (v. 7).

 

          “AS the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you.” (v.9).

 

         So hold these words near your heart. Knowing he was soon to be arrested and crucified he could speak of “My joy” and want that same joy for his own.  Satan in Eden had cast doubts about the benevolent intentions of God for people. He continues to do so. But God has never wavered in His kind and generous intentions for humans, and indeed for his whole creation. But part of that generosity is his willingness to let us be truly free. The joy is for those who want to be the friends of God and desire to obey him (as the remainder of John 15 makes so clear!).

 

         Luke begins his story of Jesus by telling us that he came to bring “good news of great joy” (Lk. 2:10). As we read the apostolic writings we soon discover that they are filled with references to joy. When Paul sets out to summarize the work of the Holy Spirit in us in Galatians 5 he calls that work the “fruits of the Spirit” and the second one after love is joy, joy that is surrounded by love on one side and peace on the other.

 

         Nor is this just a New Testament emphasis. The Psalms are full of joy and rejoicing. The Prophet Isaiah frequently refers to joy. “Shout for joy, you heavens! Earth, rejoice! Mountains break into joyful shouts! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.” (Is. 49:13) Speaking of a future day Isaiah wrote: “The humble will have joy after joy in the LORD, and the poor people will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Is. 29:19).

 

         IN a passage that Jesus will allude to in the Gospels (Is. 35 about the blind seeing an the lame walking) we read, “and the redeemed of the LORD will return and come to Zion with singing crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.” (v.10).

 

 

 

Applications:

 

         The joyful God is here. He is always near. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” are His words of promise. We are the ones to do not see this. Remember when Elisha was surrounded by enemies in II Kings 6. It is an interesting case to illustrate my point about seeing and not seeing. (Read 6:12-19) The king of Aram was at war with Israel. But here is the key part; to some Elisha said let them see, and to others let them be blind. God wants us to see His presence and know that He who dwells in light unapproachable also dwells with His people, and is available to all who seek him.

 

         We want to be among those to whom he will say, “Share your Master’s joy.” (Mt. 25:21). And again, “Come you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt. 25:34).

 

Self Denial and Self Affirmation

(Psalm 8)

Intro: Like the psalmist in the 8th Psalm, I sometimes find myself contemplating the starry heavens and asking “what is man that you are mindful of him?” This leads to thoughts about another area requiring balance in the Christian’s life: the call to affirm ourselves and to deny ourselves, the call to love ourselves and to confess our depravity.

         The ninth commandment says that we are not to bear false witness, and this includes false witness to and about ourselves. The Westminster Larger Catechism addresses this in question145 which says among other things that we violate this commandment by “thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others . . .”

I. Creation

            The biblical creation account places man squarely in the center of God’s plans for planet earth and beyond. Here is the most sublime of stories in which God himself breaths into the humans the breath of life, and makes them, male and female, in his own image and likeness. This is beyond anything to be found anywhere else in all the literature of humanity.

II. Fall

         It did not take long for something to go wrong. His glorious creature, the pinnacle of the creation, failed miserably.

         1. Adam and Eve acted in accord with self rather than the will of God. (Gen. 3:6)

         2. Cain murdered his brother Abel (Gen. 4)

         3. Lamech became the model of self-centered sin (Gen. 4:23,24)

         4. Babel: “then they said, ‘come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves . . . “ Gen. 11:4)

         5. Jesus’ disciples: “also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24)

         6. Man of lawlessness: “ He opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, and even sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (II Thess. 2:4)

         These are but a few samples of the biblical account of human selfism that replaces the will of God with the will of Man, the love for God with the love for self. The summary prophetic statement concerning this condition is in II Tim. 3 where Paul says that in the last days there will be terrible times, which will include the fact that people will be “lovers of themselves .  . . rather than lovers of God.”

         This selfism can appear in the church, and we are warned to watch out for the self-deception it brings:

Ps. 36:2 “for in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.”

I Jn. 1:8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Gal. 6:3 “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Rev. 3:17 to the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

And, of course, Jesus said we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.

III. Creation (again) and restoration

         Along side all this negative critique of the human condition we must note carefully that humans are still the repositories of God’s image. We are commanded to love others as we love ourselves. In Christ, Paul tells us we are restored to God’s image in “knowledge, righteousness and true holiness.” Thus we are simultaneously called to deny ourselves, to be suspicious of ourselves, and yet to affirm ourselves. When we studied the balance of rest and work we noted that God made the Sabbath for us, and Jesus took time to leave the crowds and seek rest. There is clearly a mandate to take care of our selves as well as others.

         The individual and cultural balance we must find here is entirely contextual. What must be emphasized at any particular time depends upon our circumstances. We always must begin where we are.  This is why no formula can be offered, no mathematical way to determine what constitutes correct self denial and self affirmation.

         I have at times explored some areas of woods and swamp, where people seldom go. To aid in my personal safety I have carried a compass and more recently a GPS. It occurs to me as I use the GPS that it is analogous to life in many ways. This particular device has several built-in programs to give various kinds of information, but its main function is to tell you where you are. But knowing where you are is of minimal value if you do not either have a map, or other entries in the GPS that tell you where you want to be. But no matter where you want to be the GPS always orients you to that place from where you are. You cannot get anyplace except from where you are! Therefore it is essential that the account of where you are is accurate. Do you see this? Years ago one of my seminary professors told us that we should look at what direction a person is going as well a where they are. And wherever we find ourselves it is vital to stay in the action and not drop out of the fellowship of fellow pilgrims.

         The shelves of bookstore today are filled with self-help books. The business of liking oneself is an industry today. It is what one Christian author has called “the good news of the psychological gospel.” (Psychological Seduction. 36) Kilpatrick goes on to say, “self-help books, for example, will often start off by asking you to love yourself, but before long they are telling you you’re not responsible for other people and that you shouldn’t waste time living up to others’ expectations.” Most of us know also that ‘feeling good about myself’ is sometimes a handy excuse for doing self-centered or even selfish things.” (36, 37)  Liking ourselves does not remove the twist in our nature (37).

         “Christianity wants you to feel good about yourself, but not until there is something to feel good about. It would like to get us on the road to recovery before it congratulates us on our good health.” (38)

         Yes, we are to love ourselves, but on what grounds? On the grounds that we are created in God’s image and are redeemed and being restored to that image by Christ. Without these reference points it is difficult to see on what basis we should love ourselves. Unless something is built into the GPS that tells it where it is in relation to a larger context of true locations, its news about were it is at the time is of little value. We humans who are to love ourselves and our neighbors likewise need orientation to the source of all directions, the One from whom comes all good destinations, the one who made the directions and the destination. Like a well-made GPS program He has given directions that will lead us back to himself from anywhere.

Conclusion: You may have known where you were yesterday, or in years gone by, but do you know still? You may have had the balance between self-affirmation and humiliation in the past but do you have it now? In the deep woods of the Green Swamp the canopy is at times so thick that the GPS cannot get the relatively weak signals sent by the satellites upon which it depends for orientation. If the signal is lost disorientation sets in. God’s signals are often hindered by obstructions in ourselves or in the world. At such times we need to get a fresh reading, we may have to remove the obstructions, or find a place where we can again receive the precious guidance. This never changes, whether you are a seasoned Christian with much experience or one who is young in faith, there is the constant need of direction from the Source. We’ll give the last words to Paul:

“If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each on should carry his own load.” (Gal. 6: 3-5)

Creation: the Blessing and the Curse (Matt. 6:25-34)

 

Intro: It is said that the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman dreamed that he was standing in a great cathedral looking at a painting of Jesus.  He was desperate to hear a word from beyond his world so he whispered “Speak to me!” He heard nothing but silence. It is said that this became the motivation for his movie Silence. He joins the rank of many who think that there is no voice to be heard but our own. This is why I think this subject of the Natural and the Supernatural is so vital. David long ago said of the heavens that they declare the glory of God, and that day to day they pour out speech. But there is a catch as that Ps. goes on to say: “There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard” (Ps. 19) For a literal word we must hear the prophets and ultimately the Word himself.

       The Bible is consistent in its message that the communication problem is a hearing problem. This is the human problem, we have decided we don’t want to hear God, so we don’t.

 

       But we are hearing a different message today about the natural world:

       “I like to summarize what I regard as the pedestal-smashing messages of Darwin’s revolution in the following statement, which might be chanted a few times a day like a Hare Krishna mantra, to force penetration into the soul: Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought, a tiny twig on the enormously arborescent bush of life, which if replanted from seed, would almost surely not grow this twig again or perhaps any twig with any property that we would care to call consciousness.”  [S. J. Gould Natural History, 7/95 p8.] He insists repeatedly that evolution has no ultimate purpose, no path to progress, and that its unpredictability is evident on all levels.

 

       Richard Dawkins argues that “we know” that natural selection “is the explanation for existence.”  He call it the “automatic process which Darwin discovered,” and describes it as “blind,” “unconscious,” having “no purpose in mind”. (1987 p5). He adds that “…Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (p6).

 

 ”Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” [G.G. Simpson 1967p345].

“The organism is only DNA’s way of making more DNA.”

(Wilson Sociobiology   p3, in Midgley 1994p5). Which is to say that a chicken is an egg’s way of making more eggs!

 

        As G. K. Chesterton observed: “Evolution does not specially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man.” [in S. Jaki, Chesterton, the Seer of Science p77].

 

 

       Darwin would not have been as dogmatic as his 20th cent. champions:  “My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the details.” [Darwin, letter to J.D. Hooker, in N. Barlow 1958 p162].

 

        “The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty.” [J. Monod Chance and Necessity p180].

 

           Notice how all these examples move from where we have come from to where we are going. They are walking backwards in hopes that by looking at where we’ve been they will see where we’re going. To the eyes of sense we seem to have come from Mother Nature. But whence comes our Mother?I agree that the road to the future is through the past. However, those who see the past as chance-spawned might wish to face backwards for fear of what they might see should they look forward. Those of us who look back and see the hand of God, now look forward in hopes of seeing God’s face.

 

 

       In confronting and responding to beliefs like these there is something very important that we Christians need to understand: In order to recover Man we must recover Nature. [In using the word “nature” I wish you to understand that this is an accommodation to the usual way of speaking today. We should always understand that when we say nature we mean creation.] All of creation is interwoven. Pull on any part and the rest eventually follows.  Man cannot, in the present system of God’s order, be understood when divorced from nature.

 

 

       Of all persons who knew the supernatural intimately it was Jesus. Yet he gives us profound perspectives on the natural. He who could command the wind and waves, and heal the blind and lame, and even raise the dead, gives us a wonderful sense of what it means to delight in the natural world.

 

 

I. Jesus always taught that the creation is an orderly system. He never says this in so many words, so I say He taught as one who assumed it. The most powerful assumptions are the tacit ones; the ones that are so deeply rooted as to need neither defense nor explanation. [Have you ever had someone borrow something from you and keep it so long that they began to think it was their own? That’s what science has done with this basic theistic assumption of an orderly creation]

 

 

       He said that you can always know a tree by its fruits (Mt. 7:16-20). You can count on this to apply in an orderly world. Reality is what you can  count on [Dallas Willard]. The vinedresser, he says, can be confident as he prunes the vines that in the order of things he will get results in accordance with his knowledge and skill (Jn. 15:1-4). The good shepherd, who knows his sheep, can expect them in so much as they know him, to follow (Jn. 10:3-5).

 

 

       This orderliness underlies our entire ability to successfully deal with nature, and to develop science and technology.  A. Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

 

 

II. The creation is filled with things to learn from and not just about, so Jesus called us to “look” at creation.

 

 

      In Matt. 6:26 (cf. 28) the emblepo  means “look hard at;” “consider, scrutinize, examine.” The lessons are there if you will see!  Think about this! Jesus stood there before his disciples as the Lord of glory, the Prince of infinite wisdom, the Creator of all. Yet he pointed at things that had always been around–birds and flowers. He said that these have been speaking all along.

 

 

       “…He turned nature into a whispering gallery of spiritual truths, and filled each common day with perpetual reminders of His central teaching, thus enlisting both the understanding and the memory of his followers in his permanent service as a revealer of religious truth.” [Dict. of Christ and the Gospels Vol. II, p233].

 

       The apostle Paul echoes this idea of seeing the invisible though the visible in Rom. 1:20; ”For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

 

 

       It is in looking that we see the mystery of beauty. “I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars: ‘We are not the God whom you seek;’ said they. To all the things that stand around the doors of my flesh I said ‘Tell me of my God…’ With a mighty voice they cried out, ‘He made us!’ My question was the gaze I turned on them; the answer was their beauty…” [Augustine Confessions X.6.9]

 

 

       “It may further be observed that, in so far as the mechanical stability and the analytic intelligibility of the inorganic world are concerned, beauty is a superfluity.” ( i.e. it’s a luxury, an excess) [Tennant 1928 I p92].

 

 

       Yet of all that is in nature, beauty [and order] speaks with the most power. It compels us to expect something more behind what is seen.

 

 

III. Jesus saw an intimacy between created things and God; yet he never identified creation with God himself in the manner of pantheism.

 

 

       He connected his priceless doctrine of the fatherhood of God with the birds in Matt. 6:26; “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

 

 

       Of the flowers he said; “See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field…” (Mt. 6:28-30).

 

        In his parable of the soils he crosses over easily from the laws of growth and development in the physical world to spiritual growth (mt.4:4-8, 31ff)

 

 

         “[Jesus] lived in two worlds, with an intensity of interest that has seldom been approached–the world of sense and the world of spirit.” (DCC vol. II p234)

 

 

            Even from the characteristics of animals he could bring forth truth; “Therefore become as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Mt. 10:16).

 

 

       Neither, remarkably, was he adverse to using his creatures as illustrations of His own divine nature!  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Lk, 6:34).  [The story is told of a barn fire. There was in the barn at the time a hen and her chicks. When the fire was finally brought under control the live chicks were found under the charred remains of the hen who had gathered them under her wings.]

 

 

 

       Clearly Jesus exhibited a respect (an honoring) of creation which we need to maintain. Remember, when we loose sight of what creation is we begin to loose sight of what Mankind is. When the creation becomes a purposeless machine, mankind must follow as necessarily purposeless also.

 

 IV. He was always clear in ascribing to humans higher value than to other creatures; and regularly used arguments from the lesser to the greater to drive home this point.

 

        Of the birds he said; “Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:26; also LK. 12:24).  Remember Mt. 6:30? “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field…….will he not much more clothe you…?”

 

       “So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:31)

 

        “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” (Mt. 12:12). Note he says “a man” not mankind, nor humanity! He is affirming particular persons, not abstractions.  

 

        The English biologist J. B. S. Haldane was once asked what he had learned about the Creator from his study of biology. He replied; “He must have had an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

 

Surely he does, but Jesus died for human persons. Whatever redemption there is to be for the rest of creation is wed to humans (Rom. 8).

 

Conclusion:

       The order and beauty of creation is there for all to see. The Greeks called the universe the cosmos  because of its beauty.

 

It is constantly proclaiming the glory of God (Ps. 19). There is no voice nor language in which their proclamation is not heard speaking always in adoration of its Creator. Day and night the creation pours forth its speech.

 

 

 

Notes on Unity and Diversity (Read I Corinthians 12)

I. Situating ourselves in fellowship: local church, private life and the kingdom of God. (“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, 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.” Heb. 10:24, 25)

 We need to balance the private experience of faithful living with the recognition that we are part of a larger fellowship that extends to the local gathering and to the worldwide church. Not only must we seek personal spiritual nourishment, we are to think about the growth of others. The Hebrews 10 text says “encouraging one another.” Just being there is the simplest way to do that. The next level is to engage in the use of whatever gifts God has given you. I Cor. 12 says that we are all given gifts and that they are for the common good. The gifts of the Spirit are not for private consumption. Probably all of us have received gifts from other people that we did not find useful, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t give junk.  It is a great offense against God and the body of Christ to have a gift and not use it. The body suffers when any of its parts don’t do as they are supposed to.

Let us also not forget that the church is worldwide. It extends around the globe to every corner of earth. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” let us remember this kingdom as it now exists on earth. We need to think like world Christians rather that just local Christians or American Christian.

II. The balance of unity and diversity.

           This is a main point in the I Cor. text. We are many, but also one in Christ. Our uniqueness as individuals and as local gatherings is to be celebrated, but so is our unity. In Ephesians Paul tells us to remember to keep the unity of the Spirit. It is not to be taken for granted. It requires effort to stay in unity. All we have to do is look around us to see how easily it is lost. Part of keeping the unity is the recognition and honoring of the diversity. We are not all the same and thank God for that.

LISTEN TO THE NT EMPHASIS:

 [Romans 14:19]  “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

[I Cor. 1:10 ]  “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

 [Phil 2:1-4]  “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition [the kind of ambition which has no intention to serve but only to profit] or vain conceit, but in humility consider [with a conscious judgement]  others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

            The first and foremost reason why we must maintain the unity is that this is the Lord’s will. See the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He’s praying for his church for which he is about to endure Calvary’s cross. Listen to Him. Can you hear him?  “My prayer is not for them alone, I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . . .  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn. 17:20-23)  [This is the only recorded specific request of Jesus for the church of the future!]

 We can hardly take lightly what Jesus himself made a priority. In that prayer he was anticipating his own arrest and crucifixion. Yet look what was on his mind. It has been such a dishonor to the Lord’s name that the history of his churches is so riddled with schism.

         Unity is also a practical matter. The people of God can get a lot more done if they work together.

 In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. 

 “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”

 ”Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”  [Charles Schultz.]

         Yet in the midst of this pursuit of unity we must not fail to keep our diversity, even our individuality.

 Rabbi Zusya years ago said, “In the world to come I will not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I will be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” We are called to be the person that God made us.

 

 

 

 

 

        

 

 

Faith and Reason

If we lived in the first generation of Christians we might have assumed that Jesus was coming back in our lifetime. The Thessalonian letters make it clear that some believers thought that way. If we thought that way we would not concern ourselves for long with some of the issues that would come up for Christians over time. But it came to pass that Christians, like the Hebrews of old, had to think about how their faith relates to culture, politics, philosophy, science and technology.

The tension between the natural and the supernatural has had concrete effects in the history of Christian faith. When the supernatural is emphasized to the exclusion of the natural, the rigors of asceticism and negative theology result. Some have called this belief in an “unnatural God.” The doctrine of an unnatural God led to the rigors of asceticism and monasticism via the negative way [see The Vision of God. Kirk 1931 lecture IV]. The historic reply to this excess was to show the natural God, but this too has its dangers. “No mere doctrine of a wholly natural God a God whose character and lineaments are to be seen indifferently in all the processes of nature or all the aspirations of the heart and mind is adequate either to the evidence of conscience, or to the spirit of Christ as revealed in the New Testament. If it be true that God is not far from any one of us (for in Him we live, and move, and have our being); it is true also that He dwells in light unapproachable. If He humbleth Himself to behold the things on earth, in His primal nature nevertheless He stands very high above them; if He finds a home with the contrite and humble yet His abiding dwelling is the high and holy place.” [K. E. Kirk 1931p304]. Kirk goes on to emphasize the admirable labours expended to weave together “into a single harmonious system” [Ibid]  the balance of the supernatural with the witness of nature and conscience. It should further be noted that the conscience, which is of great importance in this discussion, can be viewed as itself a part of nature.

         No one who reads the Bible can doubt that faith is basic to our relationship with God, but it is equally true that no one who lives in the world God made can doubt that we were made reasonable creatures and that reason plays a major role in our survival and progress in the world. It even plays a role in our worship and service to God. But so often reason and faith seems like they may be challenging each other, maybe even in conflict at times. So how do we find the balance?

 

 

 

The Natural and the Supernatural

 Read: Jeremiah 33:19-26 & Colossians 1:15-20

Intro: Christians are sometimes thought of as other-worldly, but the truth is we are, like the Master, people of two worlds, the world of flesh and the world of spirit. It is in fact the unbeliever who denies the true nature of the world. By insisting that the world is nothing but what is seen and measured by the brain, they deny a large part of what is.

We who go by the name Christian are called to live in these two worlds. Christianity is not a natural religion, but it is consistent with and intimately related to all that is natural. [The Jews in the OT displaced the natural religions of Canaan, those religions that built their theologies around the cycles of the seasons and modeled their gods after the image of the things in creation.] Even though the cosmos is created by God, and thus has a supernatural origin, we have found it fruitful to speak of many of its functions as “natural.” This is just a way of saying that it is a consistent law-abiding place. Thus science is possible on the principle that there are natural laws that are discoverable and dependable. People have not always realized this. Many tribes and peoples have thought that the universe is magical and capricious. A scientific approach to nature is not possible under such conditions of belief. Everything is religiously superstitious under such conditions.

What is the basis for the dependability of what scientists call natural law?  It surely is not to be found in the creation itself. Creation is neither eternal nor immutable. It didn’t have to be, and it could have been otherwise than it is. Therefore we have to look beyond the creation for an explanation of its dependability. Natural law is not God.

Genesis 9:8-17 and Jeremiah 33:19-26 give us the clue to follow. The biblical-theological basis of natural law is the covenant-keeping faithfulness of God.   God has revealed himself through two books in this order: Nature and Scripture. These two revelations are in perfect harmony. In nature God’s works exhibit order, consistency and dependability.  At the Hall of Fame for Great Americans on the campus of the Bronx College in NY, there is a sculpture of Maria Mitchell, outstanding 19th century astronomer after whom an observatory in Nantuckett is named. The inscription quotes her as saying: “Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.”

In the Scriptures we learn that God is a faithful covenant-keeping Person. [The God of hesed] Natural laws are dependable not because of something in themselves, but because the word of the Creator is dependable. When we read in the NT that Christ “holds all things together” (Col. 1:15ff) this is due to His covenant-keeping faithfulness. When we read in Christ’s sermon on the mount that he causes his rain to fall and his sun to shine on the just and the unjust, it is because he is the faithful covenant-keeping Lord of all.

“I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars: ‘We are not the God whom you seek;’ said they. To all the things that stand around the doors of my flesh I said ‘Tell me of my God…’ With a mighty voice they cried out, ‘He made us!’ My question was the gaze I turned on them; the answer was their beauty. . .” [Augustine Confessions X.6.234]

Biblical Theism provided the framework of thought that made scientific progress possible at last. It even provides us with a biblical framework for thinking about natural law. Natural law does not have an independent existence.  As the Christian scientist Donald MacKay put it: “‘Natural laws’ are neither necessary nor even available to [God] as an instrument of creation; for he creates by a mere word, and what we call natural laws emerge only post hoc as features of and within the created order.”

The Incarnation is the ultimate Natural/Supernatural meeting place. Everything is about Jesus (see Col. 1:15ff!) This is a powerful passage that demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that the first Christians understood something of the wonder of what had happened in the coming of Jesus.

Some of you like to work on jigsaw puzzles. When you dump a thousand pieces out on a table the task would seem almost impossible were it not for one significant thing. You have in front of you a picture of how the thing is supposed to look when it is put together. Jesus is the picture that shows how all the pieces of this troubled world will fit together.

Where are the miracles? Are they more common than we recognize? Does God hold back due to our unbelief, or because of our lack of need due to technology? We do still have many needs, but our greatest need is to trust the living God in all circumstances. This sustaining faith makes all things possible for us, including rejoicing even in suffering. As Peter puts it, “Those who suffer according to God’s will, should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (I Peter 4:19).

At the heart of Christianity is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. These events plainly illustrate for us that we cannot depend upon appearances in judging what is true about God’s action in the world. Surely Jesus looked defeated. Surely his disciples left him and apparently were disillusioned. Yes, Jesus who held such promise was dead! Evil seemed to have won the day. But God had not yet finished what He was doing. On the third day he rose! That changed everything.

Conclusion:  Read Col. 1:15ff from The Message. You cannot meet the true Christ and continue in the status quo!
 

 

Trinity Sunday, 2013

 

Some Thoughts on the Christian Doctrine of Trinity

GOD:

     “God is basic Fact or Actuality, the source of all other facthood. At all costs therefore He must not be thought of as a featureless generality. If he exists at all, He is the most concrete thing there is, the most individual, ‘organized and minutely articulated’. He is unspeakable not by being indefinite but by being too definite for the unavoidable vagueness of language…Grammatically the things we say of Him are ‘metaphorical’: but in a deeper sense it is our physical and psychic energies that are mere ‘metaphors’ of the real Life which is God.” [C. S. Lewis Miracles ch 11].

“It would always have been impossible that He should not exist. He is the opaque centre of all existences, the thing that simply and entirely is, the fountain of facthood….He is so brimfull of existence that He can give existence away, can cause things to be, and to be really other than Himself, can make it untrue to say that He is everything.” [C. S. Lewis Miracles pp90,91].

Anthropomorphisms

“…when they try to get rid of manlike, or as they are called, ‘anthropomorphic,’ images they merely succeed in substituting images of some other kind. ‘I don’t believe in a personal God,’ says one, ‘but I do believe in a great spiritual force.’ What he has not noticed is that the word ‘force’ has let in all sorts of images about winds and tides and electricity and gravitation. ‘I don’t believe in a personal God.’ says another, ‘But I do believe we are all parts of one great Being which moves and works through us all’ not noticing that he has merely exchanged the image of a fatherly and royal looking man for the image of some widely extended gas or fluid….If a man watches his own mind, I believe he will find that what profess to be specially advanced or philosophic conceptions of God are, in his thinking, always accompanied by vague images which, if inspected, would turn out to be even more absurd than the man-like images aroused by Christian theology. For Man, after all, is the highest of the things we meet in sensuous  experience.” [C. S. Lewis Miracles pp75,76]. 

TRINITY:

The doctrine of God as a Tri-unity derives in Christian history from the inductive effort to interpret the Bible consistently.  It was not invented but discovered, not contrived but found. The theologian Charles Hodge summarized it this way: “The Scriptural facts are, (a.) The Father says I; the Son says I; the Spirit says I. (b.) The Father says Thou to the Son, and the Son says Thou to the Father; and in like manner the father and the Son use the pronouns He and Him in reference to the Spirit. (c.) The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Spirit testifies of the Son.”   “…a person is an intelligent subject who can say I, who can be addressed as Thou, and who can act and be the object of action.” [Systematic Theology Vol. 1, 444]

We must remind ourselves that Christian theology does not believe God to be a person. It believes Him to be such that in Him a trinity of persons is consistent with a unity of Deity. In that sense it believes Him to be something very different from a person, just as a cube, in which six squares are consistent with unity of the body, is different from a square. (Flatlanders, attempting to imagine cube, would either imagine the six squares coinciding, and thus destroy their distinctness, or else imagine them set out side by side, and thus destroy the unity. Our difficulties about the Trinity are of much the same kind.) [C. S; Lewis Christian Reflections pp79,80]

The Trinity is not “three and one” which is four, but “three in one” which is a mystery.

 

Easter, 2013

Ten Lessons from the Resurrection of Jesus

Intro:  Well over three hundred verses are concerned with the subject of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament. But first let’s think for a moment about the timing here. Last week we celebrated the day of his rising. It is now a week after Jesus rose. In the Gospel narratives this would be about the time the disciples, or some of them at least, were just discovering for themselves that he was really alive. Or to be more accurate, when Jesus revealed himself to them. For a week they had been hearing from some, most notably the women, that he had risen. What were they thinking as they came together again a week later? We know what they came to think because the NT has so much to say about it.

The fact of the resurrection is pervasive in NT narrative, preaching and theological reflection. So let’s go through some of the high points about as the NT presents these things to us. So let me offer you ten key lessons that the NT writers draw from the resurrection of Jesus.

1. We are told that this event is a sign for unbelievers in Jesus’ own words: Matthew 12:38-40; cf. John 20:24-29.

At first I asked this text, why no sign? First of all, Jesus did not perform miracles on demand. Furthermore, they had already seen signs if they were paying attention. But most of all I realized that what the text says in effect is No sign except the best sign!

But there is more to this text. The Jonah story was not universally popular among Jews. After all it tells the story of the redemption of Israel’s enemies. Furthermore some Jews justified Jonah because they felt that his heart was for his own people Israel and that he did not want Israel shamed by those foreign pagans. So Jesus’ illustration may have rubbed them the wrong way.

2. But unbelievers are not the only ones who doubt. Believers do as well, and the resurrection is the answer for the believer’s doubt: Luke 24:38-43. We saw this last week in the case of the apostles, and noted that while it is Thomas that gets saddled with the description of doubt, it was actually all the apostles that doubted.

3. The resurrection, when coupled with the cross, is the center of the gospel itself: 1 Corinthians 15:1-19; Romans 4:24-25, 10:9, 10.

Paul could not be clearer. If Christ is not raised here are the consequences:

v. 14 our preaching is in vain.

v. 15 we are misrepresenting God.

v. 17 your faith is futile.

v. 17 you are still in your sins. This is the case because the crucifixion and   resurrection are a package deal. As Paul puts it in Romans 4:25, He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

v. 18 Christians who have died are lost.

v. 19 we Christians are to be pitied above all people.

4. It provides the reason for the total commitment of our lives:1 Cor. 15:57-58 reads, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore (i.e. considering all I have just written about the resurrection), my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

5. It serves as the guarantee that Jesus’ teachings are true: Acts 2:22-24, 36. The apostles and other disciples had believed the teachings of Jesus, but when he was arrested and crucified they naturally began to doubt. This is not unlike many cases that we know about or experience. We seem to be getting along fine in the faith and then something very bad happens, perhaps something totally unexpected. Now our faith is shaken and perhaps even forsaken. We may be mad at God. Perhaps we toy with the thought that surely God does not care, or perhaps he does not even exist. What God worthy of worship would make such a world? What God worthy of our faith would govern the world this way? Surely, our faith as been in vain, we may think. Thoughts such as these may very well have troubled the disciples. Have they ever troubled you?

6. Further, the resurrection is the driving force for evangelism: Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 10:39-43.

7. It is the key to the believer’s daily power to live the Christian life: Rom. 6:4-14, 7:4ff, 8:9-11; Phil. 3:10. We looked at this some last week.

8. The fact that Jesus is the resurrection and the life even addresses the fear of death: John 11:25; 1 Cor. 15:54-58; cf. Hebrews 2:14-15.

9. The resurrection, especially when coupled with the ascension, is directly related to the second coming of Jesus: Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7.

10. Lastly, this event is a model of the Christian’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:2; 1 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and provides a foretaste of heaven for the believer (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

Conclusion: Again I will stress that every view is a point-of-view. Are we seeing the risen Christ by faith. He said to Thomas, “You have seen and believe. Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.” Leonard Sweet tells a story to illustrate that faith has to do with how we see. Two shoe salesmen were sent to a third world country to sell shoes. After a while one of them telegraphs back that no one there has shoes and so how could he sell shoes there. He wants to come home. The other sends a telegram saying, this is a fabulous assignment. No one here has shoes. Please send me 5,000 pair immediately.

From which point of view do you see Jesus and his message? The fields are still ripe for harvest. The people you know who are in unbelief or doubt are hungry for something true and real. Go and tell them. Invite them in. They have no “shoes” and you have what they need.

Thoughts on Love from I Corinthians 13 (part 3)

While love never ends, many other things will end. (vv.8ff)

We are told here that some of the churches most cherished gifts will pass away. These passing gifts are partial at best. Even prophecy and knowledge are incomplete. We live in the age of information, the age of the knowledge explosion, yet the love of many grows cold. I don’t wish to return to an age of ignorance, but I wish to add to our knowledge faith, hope and love.

IV. We are all beginners and always will be in this life.

This is the conclusion of I. Cor. 13. “Now we see in a mirror dimly [ainigma --in a riddle, indistinctly], but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  The expression “face to face” harks back to Moses: Ex. 33:11 says “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Numbers 12 explains this in more detail: “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord.” Paul may have had these scriptures in mind as he composed this passage.

Just how much don’t we know. One of my sayings is, I don’t know what I don’t know. Certainly if I don’t know it, I may not know that I don’t know it. I know that I don’t know the distance from earth to Pluto, but that is something I know I don’t know. But I also know that I can look it up. But what about things that I don’t know that I don’t know? These are the potentially more serious things. The Bible is sufficient to tell us what we need to know, but it is not comprehensive. When we see face to face we will know.

Do you want to know fully with the security that you are safe in the arms of God. This is an important qualification because some of what we will come to know will no doubt include stuff we would rather not know. We are experts at rationalization, at hiding things even from ourselves. Everything will be in the light, but we will be safe with the God who is generous with His love.