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What is Gospel-Centrality – Ephesians 1:15-19

Intro

 

Happy New Year! Normally at Living Hope we love going through entire books of the Bible from the pulpit. But for the next few months, since we are entering a new season with a new denomination and trying to get settled as a church, I felt like we should focus this season on what we are about as a church. This series is called “Life. Community. Mission: Our Gospel DNA.”

 

These words are straight from our retreat in 2014 (if you remember) and they encapsulate pretty much all that we as a church is about. This is our DNA and identity. It’s not original with us. You can probably find every other church with the same words, but how it is fleshed out in our church is what we will be looking at the next few months.

 

Notice the word Gospel. It’s a buzzword around these parts and in Christendom. You can find Gospel-centered everything. But it is more than just a word or trend or hashtag. It is what really influences everything. So really it is the GOSPEL…and how it informs our LIFE, the GOSPEL…and how it shapes COMMUNITY and the GOSPEL…and how it fuels us for mission. This will be the outline of the series and Lord willing, it should lead us into Easter.

If you are a believer in Christ, this means there was a time in your life when you repented from your sins and believed on Christ as your Savior and Lord. You understand that the Gospel has saved you. There is no other way you could have come to know Christ without understanding the Gospel in your head and have it move into your heart.

 

But how does that same Gospel that you understood for salvation impact your sanctification now or how you see all of life? That’s what we mean by Gospel-centrality. Gospel-centrality has affected all of our ministries and is the fuel for all that we do. This is why I believe the next two weeks will be critical for you to be here to get a grasp of the foundation of all of the philosophy of ministry done here at Living Hope. What is Gospel-Centrality? First:

 

  1. What Gospel-centrality is NOT

 

When we say we are a Gospel-centered church, we don’t mean:

 

  1. We are just about outreach

Some people think that being Gospel-centric, it means that we all about doing outreach and sharing the Gospel with non-believers. Do we want non-believers to hear the Gospel? Absolutely! Are we about outreach? Yes! We need to continue to grow in this, in fact. But that’s not all that we mean. We also don’t mean that Gospel-centrality is just

 

  1. Sermon closing add-on

I had to read a book in seminary called “Cross-centered preaching” and I missed the point because I thought that meant at the end of the sermon, no matter what you are preaching about, you say something like, “If you don’t know Jesus, believe the Gospel and be saved. Jesus loves you and died for you. Come and talk to one of us.” It’s like a little tagline added at the end. But that’s not what we mean, either.

 

We also don’t mean:

 

  1. c) Obedience is not important

 

Jesus died for you and loved you and you just sit back and do what you want. He did it all, so you don’t have to do anything. We are not against grace-driven effort. We are against earning our acceptance, but not against effort because we are accepted. Gospel-centrality is after the motivation to obey. You don’t mow your dad’s lawn and ask him if you can be his kid. You mow the lawn because you are his kid. One says, “I obey, therefore God accepts me,” while the other says, “I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.”

 

  1. What is Gospel-Centrality?

 

Gospel centrality is a continual rediscovery of the Gospel. Look at the passage in Eph. 1. This is one of Paul’s prayers for the churches. It is for believers. It is convoluted and we can’t get to all of it, but the heart of this prayer for believers is that God and the weight of who He is (Father of glory) will give them insight in such a way they can practically apply it in their lives (wisdom), in the knowledge of Him, meaning the purpose of this is to know God better.

 

But this is not just by getting head knowledge. Look at v.18. It is heart knowledge that he is after. It is experiential knowledge. He wants God to throw upon the curtains, let the light shine into their hearts in such a way they taste and know Him and thus receive all that is theirs in Christ already…all the riches of knowing Him, which includes hope and power. Wait, don’t they know Christ? Absolutely, but what they need is a deeper experience of what they know.

 

Look at all the prayers of Paul in Eph. 1, Phil. 1 or Colossians 1. Have you ever noticed that when Paul is praying from the bottom of his heart for the people, he rarely mentions their circumstances? That’s very striking, because we know from these letters his people, the people in Philippi and Colossae and all, suffered a great deal. They had many dangers bearing down on them. They were losing their homes. They were dying from diseases. They were suffering oppression at the hand of tyrants.

 

Yet, in every one of Paul’s prayers, you never see him praying for a better emperor, or protection from marauding armies, or for their daily bread. You never see that. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong to pray for those things. Jesus tells us to pray for our daily bread and Paul does tell us to pray for a government and world peace in 1 Tim. 2.[1]

 

That’s not the point. Paul goes straight for what they need. And what do they need? That they might rediscover with a heart understanding of the riches they already have in Christ. Why? Because good circumstances is not what is going to make you in a big-hearted, caring, humble, loving and great person in Christ. What makes you great is how you process all circumstances.

 

This concept of Gospel-centrality was introduced to me around three or four years ago and I have not been the same since then. First, let me share a little bit of my journey. I came to Christ at 17. I grew up in the church and I was very religious, but I did not have a relationship with Christ. When I came to Christ, it was dramatic, intense and completely life-transforming. I was in tears with my family and we gave our lives to Christ.

 

About three-four years ago, something happened that changed my life again. It was like I was born again…again. I was listening to a good message on marriage at a men’s conference. At the end, the preacher gave good application on how to be a good husband. He gave several applications. My marriage was struggling and it was like God was speaking to me. So I went home and tried to apply the message. Two days later I was the same person. I started beating myself up. Why couldn’t I apply this? I must be a bad Christian!

 

Around the same time, I was also introduced to the ministry of Tim Keller, who is a pastor out in NYC. I was listening to a message by him. He wasn’t necessarily dynamic. I was skeptical because he was a Presbyterian and I had this notion of old men reading systematic theology books from the pulpit. But the topic was marriage. At the end, he said, “Do you know why you are a bad spouse?” My ears perked up. “You don’t realize the spousal love of Christ for you.” He went on talking about the cross, the sinfulness of our sin, but the graciousness of grace. I was brought down low to hell and the lifted up to Heaven all at the same time. He had no application and he ended.

 

I was in my office bawling like a baby. Good thing no one else was around. My whole face was leaking. I didn’t know why I was crying like that. I went home with a sparkle in my eye, a spring in my step and heart just filled with His love. And I was automatically doing the things the other preacher had told me to do. Before I felt like I was a new car, but then it had no gas. This time, I felt someone filled up my tank to full. I felt like I “woke up” spiritually. Pastor Jared Wilson calls it “gospel wakefulness.” He defines it this way: “…to treasure Christ more greatly and savor His power more sweetly.”[2] That’s really all what Gospel-centrality is.

 

Before I memorized Eph. 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” But now this was heart knowledge. He is an incredible spouse to me when I am the spouse from hell to Him.

 

It did not mean our marriage was perfect now. But now I knew the basic foundations of why I struggle and what I need to go back to. Since then, I am continually rediscovering the Gospel and my life has really changed. Before I understood coming to Christ for salvation through repentance of our nothingness, Christ completely saving us by grace and giving us eternal life. I thought that truth was for unbelievers.

 

Believers have to now work hard to obey God and His commands. It is not accurate to think “the gospel” is what saves non-Christians, and then, what matures Christians is trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our mind, heart and life by believing the gospel more and more deeply as life goes on.

 

When I rediscovered the Gospel again and again, I realized what I need continually is to see that the gospel is not simply the entry point into the Christian life but that it is also the foundation and power that shapes all we do as followers of Jesus Christ, both in our daily lives and in our experience as the corporate body of Christ. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only the fire that ignites the Christian life, it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing each day. We never get “beyond the gospel.” We always grow deeper into the depths of the gospel.

The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s, but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.[3]

 

Therefore, the gospel is not what God requires. The gospel is what God provides! The gospel is not an imperative, demanding things you must do. The gospel is an indicative, declaring things that God has done. Look at all of Paul’s letters. He spends so many chapters highlighting the indicative, declaring things that God has done before telling you what to do, the imperatives. He doesn’t assume you know the indicatives. So every sin is not just a behavioral problem, but a belief problem—unbelief of the Gospel. I don’t really believe the sinfulness of sin and/or the graciousness of grace. Every disobedience of the imperative is an unbelief of the indicative.

 

We can never exhaust this gospel. It is a multi-faceted diamond! But how do grow towards gospel-centrality?

 

III. How do we grow towards Gospel-Centrality?

 

If I asked you, “What is the gospel?” We can talk about this in a lot of theological terms of justification, atonement, etc. and say Sunday school answers of “Jesus died for our sins and was raised the 3rd day.” We have said it so much, but we lost the functional meaning of it in our lives. So I want to use it the way the late Presbyterian minister Jack Miller put it this way:

 

“Cheer up! You are a worse sinner than you ever imagined.” Cheer up! You are more loved than you ever dared hope.”

 

You need both. Truth and grace. But we tend to slide from one side to the other. Growing towards Gospel-centrality is coming back to believing both. First, we are worse than we think we are. Paul writes, “I am the least of all the apostles.” But then at the end of his life, he says, “I am the chief of all sinners.” What happened to Paul? The older he got as a Christian, the more sinful he saw himself to be. We probably only see 2% or less of our sins (and less than 1% of God’s grace for that matter). People get saved and often we see external things get stopped, but there are lots of underlying sin.

 

If you are seeing more of your sin, you are growing in grace. I am not excusing sinful behavior. Paul is clear that we don’t deliberately sin so that we can abound in grace. But as you fight against your flesh, growing in grace is seeing that you are worse than you thought (and growing to see you are more loved than you ever imagined—at the same time!).

But if you just stay here, you end up with religion or moralism. If you just see the first side of the coin, you can end up in moralism. Moralism is the view that you are acceptable (to God, the world, others, yourself) through your attainments. I obey so I am accepted. If I don’t obey, then I am not accepted. And so when you fail, you beat yourself up. “I stink!” and “God hates me!” and “Why do I stink so bad?” Why? Because everything they do is based on what they are doing or not doing and not on what God has done.

 

It is ironic to realize that inferiority and superiority complexes have the very same root. Whether the moralist ends up smug and superior or crushed and guilty just depends on how high the standards are and on a person’s natural advantages (such as family, intelligence, looks, willpower). Moralistic people can be deeply religious—but there is no transforming joy or power. You have comparative righteousness. At least I am in church this week unlike Billy Bob who’s sleeping in.

 

You are your own Savior. Moralists, despite all the emphasis on traditional standards, are in the end self-centered and individualistic, because they have set themselves up as their own Savior. But though religious persons may be extremely penitent and sorry for their sins, they see sins as simply the failure to live up to standards by which they are saving themselves. They do not see sin as the deeper self-righteousness and self-centeredness through which they are trying to live lives independent of God. So when they go to Jesus for forgiveness, they only as a way to “cover over the gaps” in their project of self-salvation.

 

But the Gospel tells you that you are worse than you thought. No one can keep all the rules. So you start repenting not just of the bad things, but the reasons you did the good things. You repent of self-righteousness. This brings humility.

 

A pastor friend of mine was sharing this story. A long list of his sins were detailed in an email that another good friend sent him. He was hurt. He forwarded the email to his mentor with the subject, “Can you believe this?” The mentor replied, “Yes I can believe it. Imagine if your friend knew more about you. How long would this email be then? Isn’t God gracious?” What?!

When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs. But see, I am worse than I think I am and how people think I am. I should be the biggest sinner I know!

 

But the Gospel frees me so that when I am criticized, I can take it. I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance, but on God’s love for me in Christ. And you don’t need to defend yourself. “Thank you for sharing that because actually you only saw a small part of the iceberg of my sin. Jesus saw and took all of it. No one can criticize me more than the cross has.” That’s humility. When someone fails your expectations, you are not surprised. There is faster forgiveness because you have not kept your standards either.

 

Moralists need to see that our sins are worse than we thought. I can’t keep my standards and they are not even high enough for God. If we stopped there, we would be crushed to the bottom. The first part cries, “I am a great Savior. But the second part says, “But Christ is a greater Savior and we are loved to the skies.”

 

But if you just emphasize the latter, you get relativism. Relativism is just emphasizing the other side: “You are more loved than you ever dared hope.” God loves me and makes no demands. Just accept God’s love and do as you please. But this is dangerous too, because you are rejoicing without repentance. You can’t rejoice over good news without repenting over the bad news. Moralists get mad at the relativists because they seem to glorify grace and not care about obedience.

 

If you lean the other way, you don’t see the sinfulness of sin, but just the graciousness of grace. Sin then leads to license and lawlessness. God loves me loses it power because you have forgotten the cost of our sin that brings His love. Listen to Spurgeon:

 

Let us [hate] the sin which brought such agony upon our beloved Lord. What an accursed thing is sin, which crucified the Lord Jesus! O sirs, if I had a dear brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I valued the knife which had been crimsoned with his blood? —if I made a friend of the murderer, and daily consorted with the assassin, who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart? Surely I, too, must be an accomplice in the crime! Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it?…O my hearers, if you did but know yourselves, and know the love of Christ, you would each one vow that you would harbour sin no longer.[4]

 

Moralism is not the Gospel and neither is Relativism. The Gospel says something different[5]:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View View of sin Result Assessment
Moralism Your sins make you unacceptable. If you cannot shape up, then you need to ship out!

 

Pride/self-righteousness (if you think you’ve succeeded)

Despair/self-hate (if you fail)

 

Unbiblical—No room for the grace of the Gospel (Jesus lived and died for you—you are completely loved!).

 

Relativism Don’t worry about your sins. They’re not a big deal—You are OK no matter what because God forgives you regardless. Cheapened sin/ungrateful

 

Unaware of own sinfulness

 

No passion to grow in Christ

 

Unbiblical—No room for the truth of the Gospel (sin will ruin you, you need rescue from Jesus!).

 

Gospel I repent at the sinfulness of my sin, but rejoice in the love of God and graciousness of grace.

 

Motivation to change because you are so deeply loved. You long to please the one who gave Himself for you!

Healing from sin—and an increased awareness that God’s commands are good for you!

 

Biblical and life giving. (Cheer up! You are worse than you think. But God’s love for you is infinitely greater than you ever dared to hope!).

 

But if you really see the first and second part, your heart repents of sin and rejoices in His love and grace. If you have repentance without rejoicing, you fall into self-hating. If you have rejoicing without repentance, you fall into self-inflation and forgetting the cost of sin. The Gospel is a collision of both. Not only are you humble because you are worse than you thought, you are also confident because God is far more committed to you than you are to Him. You are utterly broken and utterly awed at the same time.

 

Not until you’re humbled down into the dust because he’s so holy he had to die for you, and not until you’re affirmed and valued into the sky because he loves you so much he was glad to die for you, will you be humbled out of the pride that makes you look down on other people, and affirmed out of the self-hatred that makes you look down on yourself. At the same time!

 

In other words, only when you see what it cost God to remove your sin will you finally have the death of all inferiority and the death of all superiority, and you’ll be able to have freedom.

 

Conclusion

 

What I want to do next week is to show you what this Gospel-centrality means practically. So please come back!

 

Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves.

 

Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. The gospel is not a moralistic “Do!” The gospel is a merciful “Done!”  The gospel is not good advice – it’s good news! Ever had a candy bar stuck in the vending machine? You put your dollar in and the candy bar comes out and gets stuck? Then you try to put your hands up from the bottom, you are shaking it trying to get it to fall. This is our problem. The Gospel is comes out a little in our heads and doesn’t fall all the way down into our hearts. The rest of life is God trying to shake you until this truth falls into your heart.

 

As Tim Keller says,

 

“This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.”[6]

[1]Keller, T. J. (2013). Sermon, “Prayer for the Church,” Preached June 24, 1988. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[2]Wilson, J. (2011). Gospel Wakefulness (24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[3]Keller, T. (2006, December 18). Quoted in We Never Get Beyond the Gospel. Retrieved January 3, 2015, from http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2006/12/18/we-never-get-beyond-gospel/.

[4]Spurgeon, C. H. (1998). Lama Sabachthani? Spurgeon’s Sermons (electronic

ed., Vol. 36). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

[5]http://www.greentreechurch.com/mediafiles/uploaded/w/0e2005011_we-believe-what-part-2.pdf Retrieved January 3, 2015.

[6]Keller, T. (2013, January 22). Jesus and self-justification. Retrieved January 3, 2015, from https://rescuejesusnow.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/jesus-and-self-justification/.

True Hope in Our Dysfunction – Genesis 37

Intro

 

When I think of my family growing up, all I can think of is our dysfunction without Christ. My dad drank and was verbally and sometimes physically abusive. Yet we were so involved in church and everyone looked to us as “the model family.” I remember, looking back, often wondering, where is God in all of this? Thankfully, now I can stand in front of you to say that God was in the middle of it all. As we close out this year, you might be wondering the same thing. Our families might still have a lot of dysfunction. Our hearts might still have a lot of dysfunction. Even our lives might feel dysfunctional. Is there any hope for us?

 

Yes! I don’t know if any of those will change for you in 2015, but one thing I do know: God will be in the middle of it wanting to redeem it.

 

I love the last few chapters in Genesis as it details how the God of grace can take a dysfunctional family complete with a spoiled brat, a father who plays favorites, malicious, deceiving and murderous brothers to reconcile them, taking tangled threads of hate and jealousy and weave it into a great story of God’s big story; a family from whom the Messiah will come and save the world.

 

Can God do miracles with messed up people? The Gospel tells us the answer with a resounding “yes!” Let’s start with this:

 

  1. God’s purposes will prevail even with dysfunctional families (vv.1-11)

Gen. 37:1 sets the stage up for the remainder of the book. Jacob has probably been back in the Promised Land for a decade or so. On the surface, this family is large, it is prosperous and it is established. However, on the inside, it is a family that is about to erupt into chaos. Here comes the most messed up family on the face of the earth. And it happens to be God’s own people. Let’s look at some of the dysfunction here.

 

Let’s talk about Jacob (also called Israel) first. He is the leader of the clan. He, who should know better, Israel, loved Joseph more, the text says in Gen. 37:3. Favoritism has a long pedigree in Jacob’s family. Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob, Rebekah loved Jacob more than Esau, and most pertinently Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (25:28; 29:30).[1] Joseph is the firstborn of his first love Rachel and so Joseph is the now the emotional center of his dad’s life. You would think he would learn after all these years, but before we judge him, how quickly have we changed sin patterns in our own lives?

 

Jacob gives Joseph this fancy coat. Some translations call it “a coat of many colors.” Another translation says, “richly ornamented.” Andrew Lloyd Webber had a musical once called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. However, to call it a fancy “multicolor coat” is probably not a good translation. Most scholars favor something more along the line of a full-length coat or a long-sleeved coat.[2]More on this in a second.

It was an expensive coat. It was fancy. It was nice and only Joseph got it. Jacob lavished money on Joseph in a way he didn’t give any of the other children.  And where your treasure is there is your heart right? So Joseph is the source, the central source of joy and love in Jacob’s life.  These two are always together, always laughing and Joseph is probably always getting a new present from his father. And the result of that is: this favoritism poisoned his entire family system.

 

But look at more dysfunction. The brothers are seething with hatred while this favoritism is going on. Notice in Gen. 37:4,5 and 8, the words “hatred” is used. It is a growing, building hatred, born out of jealousy of their little brother. When Joseph is two years old, no one is going say anything. Maybe not even when he is 5 or even 10. But now it has been 17 years of favoritism. Bitterness starts to brew like a volcano ready to erupt. Notice in Gen. 37:4: “..could not speak peacefully to him.” If you did not greet a person in that culture, it was a way to say, “We don’t want you in this group.” So Joseph never got any “hellos” or “goodbyes” or “Good mornings.” Even if Joseph tried to talk nicely to them, they ignored him. And hate is growing among the brothers.

 

This, my friends, is the covenant family. These are supposed to be God’s people. This is the family through whom God will bless the nations. This seems like a hopeless triangle: favorite boy—foolish father—furious brothers. By the way, God is not mentioned at all in this chapter, but He is everywhere! He is in the midst of all of the dysfunction.

 

Loved ones,don’t ever think your family is only messed up family and that your family is too screwed up for God to work. Your family may be in the pits, but there is no pit where the love of God is not deeper still! Listen to Eugene Peterson:

A search of Scripture turns up one rather surprising truth: there are no exemplary families. Not a single family is portrayed in Scripture in such a way so as to evoke admiration in us. There are many family stories, there is considerable reference to family life, and there is sound counsel to guide the growth of families, but not a single model family for anyone to look up to in either awe or envy.

 

Adam and Eve are no sooner out of the garden than their children get in a fight. Shem, Ham, and Japheth are forced to devise a strategy to hide their father’s drunken shame. Jacob and Esau are bitter rivals and sow seeds of discord that bear centuries of bitter harvest. Joseph and his brothers bring changes on the themes of sibling rivalry and parental bungling. David is unfortunate in both wives and children—he is a man after God’s own heart and Israel’s greatest king, but he cannot manage his own household.

 

Even in the family of Jesus, where we might expect something different, there is exposition of the same theme. The picture in Mark, chapter three, strikes us as typical rather than exceptional: Jesus is active, healing the sick, comforting the distressed, and fulfilling his calling as Messiah, while his mother and brothers are outside trying to get him to come home, quite sure that he is crazy. Jesus’ family criticizes and does not appreciate. It misunderstands and does not comprehend. The biblical material consistently portrays the family not as a Norman Rockwell group, beaming in gratitude around a Thanksgiving turkey, but as a series of broken relationships in need of redemption….”[3]

 

We serve a God who takes messes and turns them into miracles. These stories are not to show you examples to be or not be like, but remind you that we all need redemption desperately. We all need God to intervene. God is doing a million things we cannot see in every situation. And as you are looking hopelessly at your family situation, remember this dysfunctional family in Gen. 37. God can answer prayers better than we can even ask. God’s purposes prevail even with the worst of family dysfunction. Secondly,

 

  1. God’s purposes will prevail even with our dysfunctional hearts (vv.1-11)

 

It is one thing when we see how hopelessly dysfunctional our families are, but sometimes life is in the pits because we are overwhelmed at how hopelessly dysfunctional our own hearts are. Let’s look a little closer at Joseph. He is Rachel’s firstborn. He has a full brother in Benjamin, who was born as his mother died in childbirth. Rachel, his mother was his father’s favorite wife. When Rachel died, Jacob passed on the favoritism of his wife to her son, Joseph.

 

Moses never really overtly says anything bad about him, but we can see he has issues here. He is 17 years old. He is technically an assistant to his brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. These are the boys of his maid-servants turned into wives. What is the first thing we hear of Joseph? He is a tattletale.

 

The word “report” by itself denotes “news slanted to damage the victim.”[4] He would not just tell on them, but exaggerate what they did. It is like if Annabelle drew a line the wall and Abbie comes to us and says, “She drew all over the house!” Except Joseph here wants to harm and destroy any good that his father might show to his brothers, lest he lose that favored status.

 

Now to make matters worse, the guy has this fancy coat. Most cloaks were sleeveless, because the sleeves would get in the way of work. This is why we say, “Roll up your sleeves,” when we mean, “Get to work!” Imagine if a factory worker walked into work wearing a long mink coat. What is he doing? Well, it’s weird, but he is making a statement: I am superior (or at least  thinks he is). I am management, not labor. So if he is wearing this long-sleeve coat around, smiling at everyone who is working hard as he walks by, you can imagine how the brothers must have felt. Moreover, in other contexts, a robe like this meant he was royalty. It was the rich garment of a ruler and not what the well-dressed shepherd needed out in the fields.[5] He is crowned here and then acts like it.

 

Then to make matters even worse, Joseph, has these dreams, but he foolishly uses it to exaggerate and give himself a sense of his own superiority. God was working, as we know these dreams would come true, but the problem was that instead of being humble and reflective about it (like Mary in the NT), he kept talking about it. Notice they hated them more, “for his dreams and for his words” in Gen. 37:8. This means Joseph is talking about it all the time. He is bragging about it. There is not a conversation where he didn’t mention it.

 

Why Joseph? Why are you doing this Joseph? He is a tattletale and on top of it he is an arrogant, self-focused, self-exaggerating spoiled brat. Even his father was getting kind of surprised and trying to encourage his son to calm down about this. Jacob had dreams too before that came true, but he kept them in his mind, which Joseph should have done. But instead, look at Gen. 37:11. Notice the word jealous. This idea here is the idea that they were filled with a violent jealousy. There was a rage of envy that was going to spill out in destructive action.[6]

 

Now you have another obstacle in the plan of God: yourself. God is going use Joseph to save his family from famine, but also dysfunction. However, what we see by the end is that God will use all of this to save Joseph…from Joseph. Joseph will be a loving, compassionate, humble and wise ruler by the end of Genesis. As he’s bragging he has no idea how God will bring these dreams to pass. He is blind to his own heart. There is no exaltation without humility, Joseph, and he will learn it the hard way.

 

Now you look at Joseph here and you wonder, how in the world is God ever going to grow this guy? His head is so big he can float like a hot-air balloon. Sometimes we look at our own heart like that. My heart is so dysfunctional. The same sin patterns get a hold of me. The same relationships in my life keep wearing me out. The sad part is that we probably only see 4% of our sin, if that much. Yet Jesus died not just for the 4%, but for all of it. That tells you that He is far more committed to us than we are to Him. And God knows exactly what each of us need to grow.

 

John Ortberg says, “God always knows just what each person needs.  He had Abraham take a walk, Elijah take a nap, Joshua take a lap, and Adam take the rap. He gave Moses a forty -year time out, he gave David a harp and a dance, and he gave Paul a pen and a scroll.  He wrestled with Jacob, argued with Job, whispered to Elijah, warned Cain, and comforted Hagar. He gave Aaron an altar, Miriam a song, Gideon a fleece, Peter a name, and Elisha a mantle.  Jesus was stern with the rich young ruler, tender with the woman caught in adultery, patient with the disciples, blistering with the scribes, gentle with the children, and gracious with the thief on the cross.  God never grows two people the same way.  God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.”[7] I like that. God is a hand-crafter. He doesn’t work off a template. With His own hand, He will lead you.  He knows what you need and what conditions are necessary for you to grow. God is committed to our sanctification. His purposes will prevail. Lastly:

 

III. God’s purposes will prevail even with a dysfunctional life (vv.12-36)

 

We have seen God’s purposes prevail in the midst of dysfunctional families and even the dysfunctional heart of Joseph. But what happens when your life becomes dysfunctional? Where is God in all of that? As we shall see, God is right in the middle.

 

As we pick up the story in Gen. 37:12, we find that the brothers are all working away from home. Notice Joseph is not with them. He is at home. Why? Because where else would he be? He can’t get his coat dirty right? He’s with daddy. So the brothers are at Shechem, fifty miles north. So he sends Joseph to go check on them.

 

But in taking the long journey (probably four-five days[8]) and in Gen. 37:18, the text says, “they saw from afar.” How do they know from a distance that it is Joseph? The long robe, of course, with the long sleeves. This is where you are wondering, “Why wear this Joseph in the wilderness?” It’s like wearing a tuxedo to a Bears game. The only intention to do something like this is to bring attention to himself. He’s advertising his superiority. But to the brothers, it’s like waving a red cape in front of a raging bull. Seeing that hated robe is enough to make their blood boil.[9] And they suddenly realize that they are in the middle of nowhere and this would be a perfect place to get rid of their arrogant brother and his big dreams.

 

Notice once again, they are scheming. It’s in their blood. They are going to kill him and throw him into a pit and tell their father that an animal did it. The reality is that these brothers are worse than animals. This is Cain and Abel all over again. Reuben says, “Let’s throw him into this pit.” Another word for pit is “cistern,” which were shaped like a bottle, with a small opening in the top, and often covered with a stone.[10] They range from 6 to 20 feet in depth.[11] Providentially, it had no water, so Joseph will not drown in it, but without water, it made a nice grave. Notice when Joseph arrives, it does not take much time for these brothers to act. They dethroned the royal son (see 37:3) and exposed him to the chilly cistern.[12] This is awful. Joseph must have been fighting, swinging his arms trying to run away. How dysfunctional must a family get that with unity they can plot to kill their own flesh and blood?

 

“You can have this robe! I will tell dad to love you more! No more dreams I promise. I’m sorry! Don’t keep me in here! Help me! Get me out of here!”  But the brothers are set in their ways. And without a conscience.Notice “then they sat down to eat” in Gen. 37:25. When the brothers retell the story in Gen. 42:21, we find out Joseph was screaming to them in distress. What callous indifference they show here. While their brother is in a pit, left to die, abandoned to death, all you can say is, “Can you pass the ketchup?” Providentially, just as they were eating, here comes some merchants heading to Egypt. Life is horrible right now for Joseph, but every single thing here was all part of God’s greater plan.

 

How is Joseph feeling now? I am sure he is full of fear. What were you worried about when you were 17? Getting your driver’s license? Getting into the right school? Joseph, stripped of his clothing, thrown into a cistern, pulled out of a hole, strapped to the back of a camel and now wondering, “Will his dad ever come for him?” Life is not working like he thought it was going to.

 

Joseph in his wildest dreams (and he had some wild dreams) never could have thought life would turn like this. Where is God in all of this? Tim Keller says, “God never speaks.  God doesn’t do any thing.  God’s never even referred to.  God seems to be utterly, absolutely, completely absent.  You’re going to have trouble finding in these chapters of the book of Genesis in which God seems to be completely absent. But that’s the artistry of the author.  Because though God seems to be completely absent on the surface, He must’ve been managing down to the minutest details every little thing that happened: all the chaotic things, all the awful things, all the terrible things, all the things that seems to make no sense.  But every single one of them had to happen.  He was arranging things for the salvation of His family.”[13]

 

At this point, we wonder, But why? Why does it have to happen like this for Joseph? Why so brutal? I could think of a better way. For example, just as the brother’s throw Joseph into the pit, some giant angel could have suddenly appeared and he who could’ve looked at everyone, and everyone would have fall to the ground.  He then says, ‘I come from the Lord.  And you, (looking at Joseph), you are a spoiled brat! And you brothers, you’ve become bitter and resentful, and a murder is about to happen here.  I’m here to stop it.  And then he brings Jacob there and says you, you old man, you fool, didn’t you learn anything from showing favoritism? And now you’ve ruined everybody’s life, and don’t you see what are you doing?”  And it would have been just like “Touch by An Angel,” because everybody at the end was saying, “I see”.  And then they hug each other saying, “I’m so sorry.” Roll end credits.

 

But you know what? The fact of matter is, if an angel shows up and tells you about your faults, it won’t work.  Nobody ever learned about their faults by being told, they have to be shown.  Life has to show you.  And I want you to know that nobody actually learns that “God loves you” by being told.  They have to be shown.[14]

 

God’s love is active in the hiddenness, absence and in His silence, just as much as it is in the dramatic and open ways He works. His silence does not mean His absence. Look what happens to Joseph in the last verse. Joseph is going to end up near an officer of Pharaoh. I’m sure while this is going on, Joseph is very confused, disillusioned, depressed and alone. But God was doing a million things he could not see.

 

Conclusion

 

One of the things that I dread to do is to take my daughters to get their shots. Last year, my oldest Abbie was 6 and my youngest Annabelle was 3.5 when I took them to get flu shots. Annabelle told us she doesn’t want to go first. She was going to be the selfless kind younger sister and allow her older sister to get her shot first. This was a bad idea. There we are sitting in the doctors office and in comes this nurse with like a 30 foot long needle. I am sure in my kids eyes that needle looked like 300 feet long. Abbie, my oldest, takes it like a pro in her thigh, but as soon as Annabelle sees that needle go in, she starts freaking out. She’s trying to run out of the office, I’m grabbing her, she’s throwing her arms and legs all over the place. I felt like I was trying to hold down an octopus. Then it’s her turn. She’s strong, man! The nurse is telling me that I have to keep her still. I’m like, “I’m trying!” I have to put all my effort into holding down each body part of hers. I felt so sad. Part of me was thinking, “This feels like abuse. Am I bruising her? Am I hurting her?” She’s screaming. I’m trying not to cry. Then it’s over. I let her go. She jumps off my lap.

 

Now I feel like the worst dad in the world. I am thinking that she probably will never speak to me again. Never let me take her anywhere. Never trust me again. I am trying to help her and protect her, but she must have felt like I was leading her to her death. So I am looking away for a few seconds and I can see her in my peripheral vision. She’s looking at me. She has a knife in her hand probably. She’s still crying. So I turn my head and look at her. She’s extending her arms at me, for me to hold her. She grabs on to my neck. I was amazed!

 

Why would she do that? Because all children know this. No matter where you lead them and how difficult a place that it might, I was still the only person who could comfort her. No matter how hard it is, my children know that they will always have a chance to grab on to their daddy’s neck. And no matter how life gets for you child of God, in the darkness, he says, “reach out for my neck. You’ll always have it!”

 

I don’t know if your dysfunctional family will get better this new year. But I do know there is a God will meet you right there in the middle of it who says, “Reach out for my neck and hold on.” We might think, “But you allowed this to happen!” But he says, “My ways are not your ways.” And in that moment we realize that the only who brought us there for His purposes is the only one that can comfort us in the middle of it. How do I know for sure God will meet you in your dysfunction no matter how bad it gets?

 

Well, think about this story. Why doesn’t God just abandon Joseph to die? Joseph surely deserves it! But instead, God continues to use him for His purposes? And how do we know God will work all things together for the good in our lives? We have proof. Centuries later, another came to his brothers, “to his own and they received him not.” Another one was sold for silver, and betrayed by the people closest to him.  It was another one who was stripped naked, and abandoned to die, and who cried out in the dark, “Why?” And nobody heard. Nobody came. That was Jesus. But when Jesus Christ came, and the pit he fell into was vastly deeper than Joseph’s.  And the cry of his dereliction was vastly greater.  And his nakedness and his sense of abandonment was infinitely beyond anything that Joseph went through.

 

Jesus was the apple of His Father’s eye. He was robed with all status, love and affection of His Father, but He did not come showing it off, no in fact, here is the One who lost the Father’s coat, so you can be assured that you have it.  Here is the One who lost the Father’s love, paying our penalty so we could know – in spite of our imperfect life – God loves us. Here is the One who died naked and exposed of all our sin so we can robed in His righteousness and grace.  Jesus came voluntarily to be the savior of us all. Because when Jesus on the cross, He wasn’t just physically naked.  He was stripped of His Father’s love.  Do you know why? He was being punished for our sin, for all of our dysfunction. When He cried out on that dark day on the cross, He didn’t get His Father’s neck due to our sin, so that when we cry in our darkness, we can have it. He was shut out then so we can have access to Him today!

 

In Joseph’s story we see how God uses evil deeds of humans to accomplish salvation for a family, but through Jesus, God used the worst act of mankind in killing their Savior and turned it around as the greatest demonstration of grace and love this world has ever seen. Suffering all by itself can ruin you, but suffering plus an absolute assurance of love of God can turn you into something great, absolutely great. We don’t need answers beloved, we need assurance of God’s love. We need His presence. And the cross is our assurance of His love. And when you truly see that He has loved us that much, we can embrace suffering.

[1]Wenham, G. J. (350).

[2]Walton, J. H. (2001). Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary (662). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3]Peterson, Eugene (1994). Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager (110-11). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[4]Waltke, B. K., &Fredricks, C. J. (2001). Genesis: A Commentary (499). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5]Wiersbe, W. W. (1997).Be Authentic. “Be” Commentary Series (80). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.

[6]Wenham, G. J. (352).

[7]Ortberg, J. as quoted in http://zondervan.typepad.com/zondervan/2012/03/what-makes-you-grow-excerpt-john-ortberg.html  accessed 21 September 2012.

[8]Walton, J. H. (2009). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (122). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[9]Greidanus, S (2007).Preaching Christ from Genesis (350-51).  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[10]Hamilton, V. P. (418).

[11]Waltke, B. K., &Fredricks, C. J. (502).

[12]Waltke, B. K., &Fredricks, C. J. (503).

[13]Keller, T. Ibid.

[14]Ibid.

Preparing Him Room This Christmas – Luke 2:8-18

Intro

 

Recently I was watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special with my kids, which, by the way, has been shown on television now for the past 50 years.  If you are not familiar with it, it is a musical animated special based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles Schulz.

 

The special focuses on the main character Charlie Brown who is depressed at how we have lost the meaning of Christmas due to all the materialism and over-commercialism that surrounds the season. A character named Linus at one pointrecites Luke 2:8-14 from the KJV (our passage today). It is 51 seconds long of Scripture being read on television. So far no one has complained that I know of! Linus concludes his Scripture reading with, “And that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown!”

 

We are going to look a little bit closer at what Linus was reading today as we prepare our hearts for Christmas this week. I love the fact that Linus does what the angels do. Just proclaim the good news. In a world filled with bad news, we need good news that the God who made us, the God we’ve run from, the God we’ve disappointed and sinned against—that God is coming to us, stepping into our mess and His heart is set on our irrevocable rescue.

 

As the songwriter says, “Let every heart prepare him room.” Every day and especially this season we need to prepare the room of our heart for Him to be our Savior and Lord. Last week we looked at sitting at His feet as He reorders our disordered love. This week we are going to look a little closer at the love that came down for us. What does it mean to prepare room in our heart for Him this season? We will take our lessons from the shepherds encounter today. First, preparing Him room means having a:

 

  1. Confrontation with His Glory

 

Typically Christmas is portrayed as calm and soothing—chestnuts roasting on an open fire—kind of thing. But actually when you look at this text, the shepherds here are freaked out as a huge light shines around them. The first Christmas was terrifying. Usually people are afraid of the dark and light is comforting. You feel better when you turn on the light. Here it is dark and suddenly the light terrorizes them.

 

Obviously they were scared because this was unusual. But there is another reason I think. It’s the natural reaction when God comes close to you. See, it’s not any light. This is the light of the glory of God.

 

Glory means weight. It is the heaviness, immensity and bigness of who God is. When that comes close, we should truly freak out. This happens a lot in Scripture. In Luke 5, Peter, the master fisherman catches nothing all night until Jesus steps on the boat and it seems like He can look into the water and summon all the fish to the net. Peter says, “Leave my boat. I’m a sinner. I’m not all that I thought I was.” But Jesus doesn’t. It wakes Peter up from thinking he was in control, he was big in his own eyes and capable and strong.

 

This happens in our lives all time. We are confronted with someone else’s glory all the time. You were the best singer in your small town, you think you are the bomb, but then you audition for American idol and end up in their highlight reel of funniest and silliest auditions. You are devastated. What happened? Glory. The weight of someone better musicallythan you has crushed you. You were valedictorian in your high school and get into an Ivy League School, only to get B’s. Now you are in counseling. What happened? Glory. The weight of the standards of the school and the other really smart and some smarter people crushed you. You’re not as smart as you thought.

 

If you have a job where you feel inadequate and unqualified, most of the time you will probably feel anxious, defensive and frightened of criticism. The worst thing that can happen to you is if you meet a coworker in your department who seems adequate and competent and has the skills you know you don’t have and they are succeeding. What happens when you get near that person? You are afraid. The reason for that is the closer they get, the more your “imposterness” is revealed. The more it’s possible for people to see and for you to see that you’re unqualified for that job. It’s a confrontation of glory.

 

You cannot be a Christian unless you had an encounter with the immensity of who God is and a recognition of the immensity of our sin, our foolishness to think we can control our lives and how needy you are. Only patients need a doctor and only those who see how sinful they are can be saved (Luke 5:31-32).

 

The first thing we need to prepare Him room in our hearts is a confrontation of glory.  It’s a reality check. It shows us we are not as big as we thought. It shows us we are creatures, not the Creator. You can’t see the sweetness of Christ unless you taste the bitterness of sin.

 

Is God shining His glorious light in your life right now? Don’t curse it. Embrace it. There are other heavier things in our life right now and Christmas is God saying, “What you need more than anything is an encounter with my bigness.” In the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, a character named Lucy (not from Peanuts) says, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.[1]Yes, some big gifts come in small packages!
Are there circumstances out of control? That is Him preparing the room of your heart for Him. He’s saying, “I am more important than your agenda. I weigh more than that.” Are you weighed down single person with the thought of not finding someone? You need a confrontation of glory and God says, “I want to more heavier and more beautiful in your heart than the weight of getting married.” Are you weighed down with the future of your kids or your finances? We need a confrontation of glory where God says,“I want to be more secure in your heart than the importance of finances and security for kids.”

 

 

 

  1. Celebration of His Grace

 

This passage also shows us that Christmas is all about grace. “Fear not! I come to bring you the gospel of MEGA joy FOR ALL PEOPLE (including you!). Notice v.14: “peace among those with whom he is pleased!” That could be misleading. It literally means, “Peace to those whom his favor rests.” Notice thatthe first recipients of good news are shepherds. In general shepherds were dishonest and unclean according to the standards of the law. They represent the outcasts and sinners for whom Jesus came.[2] Notice they were not praying for a Savior. It was an ordinary night. Notice they tend to not be moral people. These are the people that get an angelic visitation and the first commission to preach the gospel! They did not achieve this. In fact, they were the last people who should get this. But that’s who God goes to!

 

In fact, the entire Christmas narrative shows that it is all God and His grace that brings Christmas about. It seems like Luke and Matthew as well, go to great lengths in describing the story of Christmas to demonstrate that we, as Pastor Will Willimon says, “…with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities — had little to do with God’s work in Jesus.  God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done.  We didn’t think of it, understand it, or approve it.”[3]

How does God want us to respond to His work? Receive it from God as a gift. This is hard for us. Christmas tells us that we should be givers. Yes, we should give. Jesus said it is better to give than to receive, but I wonder if it is more difficult to receive. I wonder if we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people who want to always be in a position of giving because that frees us from not being needy ourselves.

 

Think about it.Willimon brings up an example. He asks if we ever received a gift out of the blue from someone we really don’t know entirely well? And then to our consternation, the gift turns out to be nice, something that we didn’t know we wanted and certainly didn’t ask for, but there it is, a good gift from someone who is not really a good friend.  Now, what is the first thing we do in response? We try to come up with a gift to give in return — not out of gratitude (after all we didn’t ask for it) or out of friendship (after all we hardly knew this person), but because we don’t want to feel guilty.We don’t want to be indebted.  The gift seems to lay a claim upon us, especially since it has come from someone we barely know.  This is uncomfortable; it’s hard to look the person in the face until we have reciprocated.  By giving us a gift, this person has power over us.[4]

 

Christmas we think brings out the best in us. Even the worst Scrooges are putting money in the Salvation Army kettles outside of Jewel.Willimon adds,“We prefer to think of ourselves as givers — powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence, and gifts to benefit the less fortunate.[5]

 

Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas.  There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are… The first word of the church, a people born out of so odd a nativity, is that we are receivers before we are givers.  Discipleship teaches us the art of seeing our lives as gifts.  That’s tough, because I would rather see myself as a giver.  I want power — to stand on my own, take charge, set things to rights, perhaps to help those who have nothing.  I don’t like picturing myself as dependent, needy, empty-handed.[6]

 

When you are confronted with His glory, you should be terrified and crushed. We repent. However, at the same time, we celebrate His grace. After the angel comforts the shepherds and says, “Fear not! The next word is not BEHAVE! But to behold.” Run with haste and go see Him who has come to put an end to our striving and working and achieving grace. There we just simply receive it as a gift. By the way, His first human messengers are these shepherds. What encouragement! He’s not looking for amazing competent evangelists, but people who have been confronted by His glory and grace. This is good news for us!

 

The other day my oldest daughter Abbie came home from school and told us, “Did you know that we have elves living here?” First I was like, “What? Is that what you’re calling your sister now?”  Apparently there is a phenomenon now called “Elf on the Shelf.” It’s a book and a doll. The doll is an elf that parents are instructed to hide around the house. The book explains how Santa Claus keeps tabs on who is naughty and who is nice by using these creepy stalker elves who hide in children’s homes each day during the holidays to monitor their behavior before returning to the North Pole each night with a report for their boss Santa.

 

It’s cute right? Not really.You set an elf on a shelf in a funny predicament and you leave notes such as, “I saw you steal a cookie today. If you are good from now until Christmas I promise that I won’t tell Santa. If you are extra good then maybe you will get that iPod you asked for.”[7]What bad news every Christmas!

 

It’s just another extension of the naughty and nice list. Remember? “He’s making a list, Checking it twice; Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake.”In one article a child screamed, “If there really was a nice and naughty list, we would all be on the naughty list.” Amen! Brilliant theologian there.

 

What bad news! Do good and you will be accepted and will receive good things. Do bad and you will be punished or worse yet, be turned away.This is karma.

 

Christmas from Scripture says something totally different. God made a naughty list and took it not to a Christmas tree, but another tree.He also had a nice list and Jesus is the only one who earned to be on that list. None of us are good enough.But amazingly, the cross says that God switched the lists.

 

Jesus didn’t come for those who were good enough and He certainly didn’t come to tattle on us like Santa’s elf. The Big Son of God humbled himself into the restricted form of a human body, became small for us big people, lived a sinless life worthy of one million iPods, and willingly hung on a tree to die for those who deserved not gifts but death. He did this all knowing that we could never be good enough to appease the Father.[8] God took the list and in Colossians 2:14 it says, nailed the record of debt that we got for all of our naughtiness and canceled it.

 

So when Jesus says, “It is finished!” It is a cry of destruction of the nice and naughty list. It was with that cry that He pushed that elf off the shelf so that we could be free.He is so much better than Santa.Parents,please, give your children the greatest gift that they will ever receive: the grace that tells them that they have a Savior who loves them and has come to rescue them from the crushing news that they will never be good enough.[9] The good news of the gospel is NOT that good people get good stuff. It’s not that life is cyclical and that “what comes around goes around.” Rather, the only One who deserved the best got the worst so that those who deserved the worst get the best.

 

But in order for you to give it,you must receive it for yourself. Celebrate His grace. Notice the glory shines on the shepherds and though initially there is fear, mega joy is promised. Why doesn’t the glory crush them? It doesn’t crush them because on the cross, the weight of sin crushed Jesus so now when the glory of God confronts us, we don’t get crushed, we just get a quake, our heart quakes and we wake up from our spiritual slumber and see His grace.

 

Conclusion

 

What intrigued me this time around from watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special was the subplot. Charlie Brown needs to find a Christmas tree for the play he’s directing. Lucy tells him to go get a “big shiny aluminum tree” (big fad in those days). Charlie and Linus go to the tree market and find many big and shiny aluminum trees. In the midst of all of it, is a wimpy real tree. It’s more of a standing twig with some leaves on it, which keeps shedding. One blogger notes, “If you are familiar with Charlie Brown, in many respects, Charlie Brown and the tree are one and the same. The tree is really a projection of its owner.”[10]

 

Charlie Brown sets his love upon this tree and brings it back for the play. The other children, Lucy chief among them, have a much different opinion. Their perfect Law of Christmas trees says this one is not big enough, shiny enough, or pink enough! It cannot live up to their commercialized standards. “You were supposed to get a good tree. Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?” says Lucy. “You’ve been dumb before, Charlie Brown, but this time, you really did it.”[11]

 

Charlie Brown is frustrated and angry and that’s when Linus proclaims the good news of a Savior, which is Christ the Lord—coming in humility, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger who would “paradoxically bring peace and goodwill towards men through his sacrifice.” Encouraged, Charlie Brown decides to love the disgraced tree anyway. He picks it up and walks off and tries to decorate it, but it’s so wimpy it can’t even hold an ornament and falls from the weight of the ornament.

 

The Peanuts gang, who was following Charlie Brown the whole time, sees what happens. Then Linus says, “…Maybe it just needs a little love.”  The tree is then literally robed in righteousness not of its own making when it is redecorated and completely transfigured by the children, complete with Linus’ security blanket as support. The treereceives imputed righteousness as the kids sing, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

 

Charlie Brown’s love for this imperfect tree is a lot like God’s love for us. If we are honest with ourselves, we are all Charlie Brown Christmas trees…we don’t feel like we are very promising. But He came for you wimpy tree! He came to make you glorious, covered in His glorious love and grace. This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.  Christmas says, “Be confronted with my glory as you see who I am and who you really are.” Then come as an empty-handed recipient of this gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, came to find you, rescue you, redeem you and make you into something more glorious than you could have ever asked or imagined. Receive this gift today.

 

 

 

 

[1]Lewis, C. S. (1956; 1984). The Last Battle (p. 177). New York: Harper Collins.

[2]Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 108). Nashville: Broadman& Holman Publishers.

[3]Willimon, W. (2012, December 14). ADVENT MEDITATION: The God We Hardly Knew. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://thevalueofsparrows.com/2012/12/14/advent-meditation-the-god-we-hardly-knew-by-william-willimon/.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid.

[7]Crandall, K. (2014, December 08). Jesus Pushed the Elf Off the Shelf. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.dropping-keys.com/jesus-pushed-the-elf-off-the-shelf/.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Schneider, M. (2012, December 07). That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.mbird.com/2012/12/thats-what-christmas-is-all-about-charlie-brown-law-and-gospel-according-to-peanuts-pt-2/.

[11]Ibid.

A Tale of Two Hearts – Luke 10:38-42

Intro

 

Have you ever felt like something feels off in your heart during the Christmas season?I can’t seem to put my finger on it. I think it starts around the middle of November. People start talking about Black Friday, which oddly seems to start earlier and earlier nowadays.  A fear that I am missing out on something starts to creep in. The next thing I know, I am swirling around a tsunami, tossed around like a sock in a dryer of gifts, cards, giftcards, menus, decorations, shopping, door busters and blowouts, whining kids, family parties, extended family parties and friend parties, eating all the time, end of the year giving, all added to the normal frantic running around of life and pastoring a family and church and paying my mortgage. So I find myself falling into this perpetual irritability, anxiety and feeling lazy and weary at the same time as all these good things turn into bad things because of my attitude. All this as Paul McCartney is singing on my radio:

 

The party’s on

The feeling’s here

That only comes

This time of year

 

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

 

A wonderful Christmas time. Right. Am I missing something? I think I am missing the obvious. Holidays reveal a lot about our soul. So I think in the hustle and bustle of the season, we need to recalibrate and refocus our hearts on the One, the Light of the World, who quietly and silently burst into our messiness and darkness, coming to redeem us. We’re going to look at two hearts meeting Jesus in the normal day-to-day events of life and I felt this is a great lesson for me and for all of us in this season. The title of the message, “A Tale of Two Hearts.” First let’s look at:

 

  1. The Downward Spiral of Disordered Love (vv.38-40)

 

Let’s set the scene. This is a unique story to Luke. Though Jesus said that He had no place to lay His head and most of the time this was true, it seems like He loved hanging out at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. He’s there again in John 12.

 

So look what happens. Thirteen men arrive at this home in Bethany. Imagine 13 men showing up at your door? How would you feel? In Luke 10:38, a woman named Martha is mentioned as the owner of this home. We do not know if this was because she was perhaps a widow or if it is because she was the older sister or both. Nevertheless, she opens the door and is so excited to see Jesus. The word used for “welcome” means “to accept the presence of a person with friendliness—‘to welcome, to receive, to accept, to have as a guest.”[1]

So far so good. What a privilege to have Jesus in your house! But like good hosts, when someone comes over, you want to be hospitable right? I think both of these women loved Jesus. Mary is quick to take Jesus’ sandals and washes his feet. This is customary if you walked into a home. It would be rude if you did not do that. As Mary does that, Martha runs to the kitchen to get a meal ready. Jesus and His disciples are going to Jerusalem and nothing but the best for Jesus! She thinks. Jesus begins speaking to Mary about the recent ministry and the Kingdom. As she finishes washing His feet, (possibly) she lays aside the basin of water and the washrag, but continues to sit there at His feet, just captivated. Then all of a sudden we see Martha stomping out of the kitchen. She’s furious. What happened?

 

The church father Augustine would say, “All of sin is disordered love.” It is not that we want the wrong things. It is that we want them with the wrong amount and in the wrong order.[2] This is idolatry. As a result, our priorities are out of order. So we might love our recreation, our computer, etc. more than our work and our work more than our family and our family or spouse more than God, etc. God’s order has beauty. Disorder causes ugliness. It mars His beauty.

 

So this is not about a personality issue. This is not about Martha being an extrovert and Mary being an introvert and how Jesus loves introverts right?So we must be careful here. Some have criticized and unfairly put down Martha saying we must be a worshipper like Mary and not a worker like Martha. I do not think that is what is going on here. We need Marthas in our life. If there were no Marthas, nothing would ever get done! I think both loved the Lord. The issue is about misplaced priorities and disordered love. How did she get there? Here is what I see as the down spiral of disordered love:

 

  1. Misplaced Identity

This is Martha’s house for whatever reason. She’s decided she knows what’s best for Jesus. She has made up her mind as to what Jesus needs and what Mary needs to do and what she needs to do. Author Joanna Weaver agrees when she says, “What a woman! She opens her home to a band of thirteen hungry men, possibly more. What a hostess!…She is the original Martha Stewart…and Israel’s answer to Betty Crocker. Or at least that’s the way I imagine her. She’s the Queen of the Kitchen—and the rest of the house as well.”[3]

 

She’s the boss here. She’s thinking like an owner, not as a manager or steward. A manager may be the boss, until the owner shows up right? You shut up. Let Jesus decide what He wants. What does He want from me right now? What would delight Him? Martha says, “I gotta serve, serve, serve. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

Her identity is wrapped up in what she must do for Christ. Not whose she is in Christ.I feel like when one has the gift of hospitality, like other gifts, strengths become weaknesses as well. You love having people and creating space for people to feel at home, but then if you lose focus, you can become obsessive and idolatrous and feel pressure to go over the top. You love people saying, “I love this home! You are a great host! This food is amazing!” And pretty soon, you are not doing it for the Lord, but for yourself. One commentator says, “Martha’s ‘doing,’…is…rooted…in her anxiety as a host rather than in dispositions transformed by an encounter with the word.[4]

 

Good intentions.Not a bad heart at all initally, but when your foundation of your Christianity…who you are is what you must do for Christ and not what He’s done to make you who you are, you are beginning down a terrible downhill slide. Her identity is in what she has to do for Jesus.

 

Look at Luke 11. Right after this story, Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. When you pray, Jesus says, pray: “Father.” See? He doesn’t say, “O great Employer.” Calling Him Father means you are a child. That must be the posture of your heart. Mary looks like a child here. Look at her posture. Be at someone’s feet is to be under their authority, under their care and love. But when you lose that, you end up:

 

  1. Distracted and Irritable

We pick up the story again in Luke 10:40. Martha is frantic. Luke says she was “distracted” a word meaning “to be pulled or dragged away.”[5] Have you ever felt like you were being pulled in so many directions? Martha also wanted to hear Jesus, but the tyranny of the urgent prevented her from doing this.[6]

 

As pastor Darrin Patrick says, “There is a difference between simply being busy and being hurried. Being busy is about the things you have to do. Being hurried is the spiritual, mental, and emotional state that you are in when trying to do the things you have to do. You can be busy without being hurried.”[7]

 

I can imagine Martha. This is the nature of Eastern hospitality as well. I remember visiting my relatives in India a couple of years ago. As soon as you arrive, they run into the kitchen. As you scream “We are just passing through, no need to cook anything,” you hear a reply crying from the kitchen, “Don’t worry! It’s just a small snack! It’ll take 2 seconds.” 45 minutes later, here comes a five-course meal!

 

So I can imagine Martha here. She is stirring a bowl in one hand and cracking eggs with another making sure nothing is spilled. “Jesus is here and I need to get the best for Him. Something that will last Him and the guys all the way to Jerusalem,” she thinks to herself again and again. She begins to empty the cupboards, taking out the best utensils and plates. But then it occurs to her, “What if Jesus stays the night? Are the sheets clean? Are the towels folded?” So she runs to check on that and then she it hits her. “Where’s Mary?” She peeks over and sees Mary sitting there. This was the same position she had left her in before she went to the kitchen!

 

Those of you who had siblings, have you ever gotten so angry you are doing all the work and chores around the house while your brother or sister is watching television or talking on the phone? Or perhaps you were the one sitting around? You can kind of sense some sibling tension going on here.

 

The pot on the stove was not the only thing boiling that day. Martha is fuming. Off she goes storming out of the kitchen. One of the telltale signs that we are going down a deadly path is when we are irritable with others. You start talking about all that you are doing for the Lord and how incompetent and useless others are.She’s irritable with incompetent people. She’s irritable with people who are not with the program. She’s irritable with people who are getting in the way or not helping her to get her life the way her life has to be. She says, “Tell her to help me.” Our eyes get off the Lord and on to people.This leads to us:

 

  1. c) Doubting God

 

Her words are sharp and it is cutting at two people like a machete. First, at the Lord. She says, “Don’t you care?” Wow! What an indictment.

 

Second to Mary, to whom I am sure she is avoiding all eye contact with as she says “Tell my sister…” Notice she does not mention her name at all. She is accusing Jesus of not caring and she is accusing Mary of laziness and insensitivity. Notice this demanding spirit that comes out of her, “Tell her to help me!” There is always self-righteousness with irritability. If so-and-so wasn’t so dumb (meaning I am smarter)…why did he do that (meaning I wouldn’t do that)…etc.

Again, she’s not doing this for the Lord. Notice the repetition of the word “me.” Kierkegaard offers valuable insight here. There is such a thing as self-love that can appear in the guise of other-centered love and that finds its way into Christian service.[8]

Imagine the room at this point. Everyone is quiet and feeling very awkward I bet! Mary has her face down, flushed with embarrassment. Jesus looks up at Martha and sees her hair (and her heart) beginning to unravel and flour on her cheeks.

 

This is not a surprising statement from Martha, because once disordered love drives us, distraction fills our lives and we start to feel like we are being dragged away with a ball and a chain, of irritability and a demanding spirit and doubting God are always right behind. But we may have all felt the loneliness, the frustration, the left-out-ness and resentment she experienced in the kitchen that Bethany afternoon—doing all that work for others when no one seems to notice and no one sees to care.[9]Joy and resentment cannot abide in the same heart.

 

Martha’s statement is a prayer. Do this Lord! And the Lord doesn’t answer it. He doesn’t say, “So sorry Martha—terribly insensitive of us. Come on, Mary! Come on, guys, let’s all pitch in and give Martha a hand”?[10] No, that would be a Band-Aid to the real problem, which was in her heart. Later in Luke 11:12 says a good father will not give you a scorpion, meaning nothing that will hurt you. To keep feeding her hurriedness that she brought on herself in the name of Christ? That would be a scorpion. He’s too good to do that to her.

 

Jesus says the issue is not Martha in the kitchen. The issue is Martha’s heart in the kitchen. Her attitude was like milk left out on the counter that has turned from sweet to sour. In an effort to do service for the Lord, she lost connection with the Lord. She became burdened, worked up and distracted over a lot of things. As she worked for the Lord, her work became more important than the Lord Himself and Satan turns the Lord into an enemy, making you doubt His care.

 

Is this happening right now as we prepare for Christmas? Is your love disordered? This passage and message is the Lord calling you back to Himself! Lastly:

 

  1. The Lord’s Reordering of our Disordered Love

    (vv.41-42)

 

The Lord does not the answer the prayers Martha was expecting. Now that I’ve been a dad for a few years, if one of my daughters was complaining about the other like this, I would easily be like, “You know what. You both need to figure this out. Martha, go take a walk. Walk away. Calm down. I don’t care? Who made you? I don’t have to eat here. I can multiply 5 loves and 2 fish into 5,000. Let’s get out of here guys.” Me, I don’t want to be inconvenienced. But look at Jesus here. He’s a good Father. How does He reorder our love for Him?

 

  1. a) Shows us His love

 

Jesus tells us what the real issue is in Luke 10:41. He answers, “Martha, Martha…” Be careful when the Lord has to say your name twice! Actually, He is very tender and affectionate here. This is the same as Jesus saying, “O Jerusalem! Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:34) Or David crying, “O my son Absalom! My son Absalom!”(2 Sam. 18:33).Doubling in Scripture is often a cry of magnified intensity. Here it is a cry of magnified, intenselove and compassion.He is corrective, but He is also consoling. He brings the point gently home. What a tender Savior we have! He does not treat us as our sins deserve. He’s reordering her love by showing her of His love.

 

  1. Uncoversour smaller loves

I imagine Martha as a puppet with 30 strings, each representing a goal or expectation she put on herself. Each string has pulled on her, stretching her apart and about to tear her apart. When Jesus says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things,” He is pulling up each string—in other words, He looks at her emotions as the fruit and in pulling them up, you can see underneath them. He exposes are the idols, the roots. “You don’t need all of these attachments in your heart today.” She decided she won’t be happy unless she meets the 30 goals she set for herself. For her, I can only be happy if…my sister works the way I want her to, the meals are like this, my home is like that…etc. There are idols underneath her flurry of activity.

 

For example, when someone asks me how things are going to say, “Good…you know, busy.” Sometimes it’s totally honest, but other times, I don’t know if it is a way to force myself to believe that I am only important if I am busy.

 

Eugene Peterson, a long time pastor, says this about himself: “I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself-and to all who will notice-that I am important. If I go into a doctor’s office and find there’s no one waiting, and see through a half-open door the doctor reading a book, I wonder if he’s any good. A good doctor will have people lined up waiting to see him; a good doctor will not have time to read a book, even if it’s a very good book. Although I grumble about waiting my turn in a busy doctor’s office, I am also impressed with his importance.

 

Such experiences affect me. I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance. I want to be important, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance and my vanity is fed. The busier I am, the more important I am.”[11]

 

Convicting! Jesus says as He looks at the bottom of all these strings: “You gave these to yourself. You don’t need all 30 things today. Let me cut the attachments and give you what your heart truly needs and is necessary.” What idols are clinging at the bottom of your emotions from your hurried heart?

 

  1. c) Refocuses our priorities

 

Jesus says, “One thing is necessary.” Reorder your love by eliminating the distractions. When you do that, the other things fill fall in their rightful place. I hate it when halfway through buttoning my shirt, I realize I didn’t button the first button correctly. Once you button the first button, the rest will follow in order. Same is true spiritually!

 

As I was praying about removing distractions, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t checked my email in three whole minutes. So I checked my email and I got an email about how somebody commented on a picture of me on facebook. That must be so important right? So I went to facebook and after 30 minutes I realized I was looking through pictures of a friend’s friend’s cousin’s neighbor’s barbecue in Florida somewhere. I was wondering, “How did I ever get here?” So I was frustrated with myself and decided to get off facebook, but then I saw that someone posted a really important quiz…which transformer am I? That’s really important and I was dying to figure that out so I took it only to find that I wasn’t any transformer! Stink! Now it’s been a long time since I checked my email again, so I went back to my email again and then my phone vibrated with a text message. Wait, what was I doing before this? Oh yeah, I was praying about focusing my heart on the Lord. Yeah, God, I think I’m doing a good job.

 

Humor aside, I think the internet is a huge distraction and addiction that I think intoxicates us from hearing what God has for us. Joshua Harris once closed his message with his version of Prov. 6:10-11 which says, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come upon you like a robber…” He said those verses in today’s context might say, “A little facebook, a little twitter, a little folding of the hands to my smart-phone and spiritual poverty will come upon you like a robber.”[12]

 

I put my phone on silent to make sure it doesn’t seduce me when I am with the Lord.I am working on checking social media once or at most, twice a day. Email is harder for me. I keep imagining myself what it would be like if I checked my physical mail like I do my email. It makes sense if you are waiting for an important letter, check or package, but every single day for the whole year?

 

  1. d) Calls us to make time to fill your soul

Jesus says in Luke 10:42 that “one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” What He is saying is that, “Martha, a microwave dinner would be fine. You are struggling over bread that perishes. Mary is feasting on bread that will fill her soul and not be taken away from her.” What is cooking in the kitchen will be gone in minutes, Martha, but what is being prepared here will go on forever! I want your company more than your service. And really the foundation for any service for Christ is a listening heart with Christ.  Martha, don’t try to serve me, let me serve you.

We do not know if Martha got it or not. Later in John 12, we find her serving again, but nothing is mentioned of any attitude problems there (John 12:1-8). But here when Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the good portion,” He means she has chosen that which fills her soul.

There is no other way to fill your soul unless you make time to do it. You can’t get to know someone on the fly. For me the lie is, “I know I have to sit and listen to the Lord and His Word. But what if I hear nothing? I could something better than my time.” It’s a lie. God is more anxious to speak to us than we are to hear from Him.

If I want to have quality time with my wife or kids or with anyone, I can’t force it to happen. I can’t say at 8pm on Tuesday night, pour out your heart to me and tell me your hearts deepest longings. But what I can do is have lots of quantity time with my kids, ordinary, mundane times and wait for one of those times to kind of happen without really trying. Quality time can only come out of quantity time.

It is the same with God. You have to invest time seeking him. You have to invest time reading his Word. You have to invest time in corporate worship. You have to. If you give him enough time, if you’re seeking him, if you’re reflecting on him, if you’re worshiping him, and if you’re praying to him, of course, you’re not always going to get these incredible times of worship, but that’s the only way you’ll ever get them.[13]If you have time to look at social media an email, you have time for this.

It’s like eating a meal. Think of all the meals you ate in 2014. Some of us can’t even remember what we ate this morning. You had ordinary meals, but I am sure in there somewhere, there were some amazing meals right? But if you never eat, you will never experience an amazing meal. Jesus says, “I want to give you the food that won’t perish. That approval you are looking for, the acceptance you are striving hard for, wanting to fit in, wanting to feel beautiful, wanting to be appreciated, noticed, wanted, etc. find it here at my feet. Taste my love.”

Without listening to the Lord, you will end up frantic, hurried, anxious all the time. You are going to wither away emotionally, spiritually and physically. Just like your cellphone, when you never charge it, you will be dead inside. Fruitfulness in life comes from abiding in the vine, being connected to Him. Spouses, you can’t be the husband or wife you need to be for your spouse without this. You can’t be the parent you need to be. You can’t serve here without it. You can’t work at your job or study well without it.

Conclusion

I love what Jack Klumpenhower in his book Show Them Jesus says, “Look what Jesus lovingly taught [Martha]: Don’t try to serve me; let me first serve you. Don’t try to impress me; rely on me. Don’t be anxious about pleasing me; just come to me. On the way to the cross, that lesson fits. The cross is where Jesus frees us from the crushing, impossible pressure of having to serve God well enough. He rescues us from a worried-about-ourselves, Martha kind of relationship with God. In him we lay down our bowls, spoons and every other burden—and enjoy divine fellowship.”[14]

Let’s come to the Table receiving His welcome to come.

[1]Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the

     New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd

edition., 1:452 (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989).

[2]Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. Book 1. Chapter 27. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/doctrine.xxvii.html.

[3]Weaver, Joanna (2002). Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (3).Colorado Springs:Waterbrook Press.

[4]Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke (p. 434). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5]Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer (2000).A Greek-English

    Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed.

(p.804). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[6]Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 321). Nashville: Broadman& Holman Publishers.

[7]Patrick, Darrin (2010-08-12). Church Planter (Foreword by Mark Driscoll): The Man, the Message, the Mission (Re:Lit) (p. 177). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[8]Tinker, M. (n.d.). Pastoral Pensées: Friends: The One with Jesus, Martha, and Mary; An Answer to Kierkegaard. Themelios: Volume 36, No. 3, November 2011, 461.

[9]Weaver, J. (p. 14).

[10]Ibid. (p.15).

[11]Peterson, E. (1981, Summer).The Unbusy Pastor. Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1981/summer/81l3070.html?start=6.

[12]Joshua Harris. (2009). Self-Control in a Wired World. Gaithersburg, MD: Covenant Life Church. (2009). Retrieved December 13, 2014, from http://www.covlifemedia.org/dl_dialog.php?filename=v4.0/2009_09_27–SelfControl_in_a_Wired_World–Joshua_Harris.mp3.

[13]Keller, T. J. (2013). Sermon “Sin as Slavery.” Preached March 17, 1996. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[14]Klumpenhower, J. (2014). Show them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids (p. 130). Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.

The Servant King Unveils the Future – Part 3 – Mark 13:14-37

Intro

We’ve been talking about the end times as we finish off Mark today. Our thesis has been that Jesus calls us not to be crazy about it and obsessing over it but also not to be lazy about it, apathetic and uninterested. How do we get a biblically balanced view of the end times?

Mark 13 some have said already happened in the first century. Because look at v.30. It sounds like Jesus is saying everything in Mark 13 is going to happen in their lifetime. I do take it to mean that in that verse is He is just referring to those who will live to see the Temple in Jerusalem destroyed and fall of Jerusalem. Here’s why.

If you’re reading the chapter in Greek, in the very first verses, the disciples say, “Master,” or Lord, “when will these things be? When will the temple be brought down? When will the Romans attack? When will Jerusalem be destroyed? When will these things?” That’s the Greek word that he uses.

In verse 30, Jesus looks back on all of his teaching, and he looks back to that question. He says, “I’ll tell you when these things will be.” He means the destruction of the temple. He says, “These things will happen within your lifetime,” and they did happen. In AD 70, Titus, the Roman general, sacked Jerusalem, and did all these things, within 37 years of the time he was speaking.

However, that doesn’t mean everything else is going to happen in the future. We are saying both are true. The basic events of Mark 13 did happen in some sense (and is still happening), but it is a foreshadowing of what is still yet to come. Here are some signs to look for but more importantly how we are to respond to those signs:

I. Rising Religious Deception: Don’t be led astray (vv.1-6, vv. 21-22)

False Christs will arise in every century, escalating to the time when the AntiChrist will show up (more on that in a second). The response? Don’t be led astray. Keep your eyes open. Stay close to the real Jesus and you will avoid the counterfeits.

II. Escalating Human Suffering: Don’t be alarmed (vv.7-8)

Earthquakes, wars and famines are there in every century, but the future will have even more. Keep your eyes open, but don’t freak out either. God is sovereign, as “these things must take place.” Thirdly:

III. Increasing persecution and adversity: Don’t be anxious (vv.9-13)

Jesus says expect growing persecution before He comes. We see more and more of it in our century. More Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined. We looked at expecting adversity and finding Christ in the middle of it through the Holy Spirit. Last two signs:

IV. Unparalleled Tribulation: Don’t despair (vv.14-23)

As religious deception, human suffering and persecution rises as well as the gospel expanding like never before, it will lead into what is called the “Great Tribulation” (v.19). These “near” tribulations (like the Temple destroyed) foreshadowed the “far” Tribulation of the end time.[1] Jesus says the Great Tribulation is so bad the world has yet to see it. Sometimes the way we see the broken world now, we feel like maybe we are in it right? Some say it will be seven years. Here is our chart again:

Some say believers won’t go through this because of the Rapture. I am not so sure. Anyway, in the middle of this tribulation, “the abomination of desolation” will stand where HE ought not to be. Notice “HE.” This is a male person. Mark puts in a note that we should pay close attention to this part (let the reader understand). What is the “abomination of desolation”?

This phrase, from the book of Daniel, is mentioned three times (9:27; 11:31; 12:11). The phrase “the abomination of desolation” referred to the presence of an idolatrous person or object so detestable that it caused the temple to be abandoned and left desolate.[2] This happened about 200 years before Christ. Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), the Syrian general …outraged the Jews in 168 b.c. by erecting an altar to Zeus on the altar of burnt offering in the temple and sacrificing a sow on it.[3] In the historical writings during that time, this blasphemy was called “the abomination of desolation.”

Jesus is now saying, “You thought the pig event was bad right? You will see more and more increasing levels of blasphemy.” Perhaps another “abomination of desolation” could be the Romans entering the temple in September AD 70 and destroying it, leaving it desolate.

Some would then say the tragic events of 167 BC and AD 70 anticipate yet another climactic event of horrible destruction and desecration just prior to our Lord’s second coming. What is that? 2 Thess. 2:1-4 tells of a “man of lawlessness” taking seat in the Temple of God, saying he is God and force people to worship him. That sounds like an abomination to me! Both texts depict a blasphemous Antichrist who will do a scandalous deed that will trigger the return of the Lord.[4] We should not try to identify who this is as people have tried to do in the past. He seems to be a nice guy promoting peace, making peace with the Jews and all of a sudden turning from Dr. Jekkyl into Mr. Hyde.

Right now there is no Temple for a person to go and sit there and do this. There is a mosque on the Temple Mount. But interestingly, the Jews are confident they will get their Temple back, rebuild it and sacrifice again. I even saw a website about this.[5]

Nevertheless, Jesus does not seem to be concerned about who this guy is and even what he has done. He is concerned for His sheep. Actually when the Temple was destroyed, the believers did obey the Lord’s words here and fled for their lives. Some lessons here whether this chapter is for first century, last century or any century. Consider:

a) Jesus’ compassion and care in our hard circumstances

Notice the urgency here of the Lord and His interest in our safety and practical matters of our lives. Run away. Life is at stake. Run for the mountains. Don’t waste time looking for your coat or valuables. Notice that Jesus felt special compassion for expectant and nursing mothers whose condition would hinder flight (v.17). The time would turn the joy of motherhood into a pathetic handicap.[6] Pray it doesn’t happen in winter. Why? If the flight would come in the winter, during the rainy season, the rains and swollen streams would definitely add to the danger, and they would be unable to glean food from the countryside as they fled.[7]

Jesus is telling us to pray for our circumstances. Does God want us to make us into the likeness of Jesus by refining us? Absolutely. But the Lord also calls us to cast our cares on Him and to pray for our daily bread as well. Sometimes we go too much on either extreme only praying for character or only praying for circumstances.

I don’t know why some of our circumstances never change. I don’t why some of you go through things that are so hard. I don’t have answers. And though we don’t know a reason for them doesn’t mean God doesn’t have reasons for them. But I get comfort from one of the verses that probably almost all of us have memorized growing up in John 11:35: Jesus wept.

It is such an amazing verse for me. Here is Jesus standing at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing He is about to raise him from the dead, and He is weeping. Shouldn’t He be excited? It reminded me of a place in Narnia where a character named Digory went to the great lion Aslan because his mom was dying. “Can’t you give her anything that will cure her?” Digory asks. Because Aslan was so big, Digory had only looked at his claws and great feet up to this point, but this time he decided to look up at his face. Lewis writes, “For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.”[8]

Jesus is not saying at the tomb, “Every cloud has a silver lining, bad things are blessings in disguise, he’s in a better place, etc.” No hallmark card sentiments or clichés here. Him weeping at the tomb tells me He’s entering into our circumstances and saying to us sometimes things are just bad. He can turn bad things into good, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad. Some things are bad. This means I can lament to God in anger and frustration, He understands.

Paul says, “I want to know the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). Every time we are misunderstood, treated unfairly, feeling unloved, rejected, wounded, heartbroken, etc. Jesus says, “Come and enter this fellowship of mine.”

He is a Man of Sorrows. He hates death, loneliness, separation, pain and suffering. Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to come into this world and experience it all himself, so that eventually he could destroy it without destroying us.[9] So don’t despair.

Pastor Sammy Rhodes says, “Sometimes we sing, ‘Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God woulds’t die for me.’ Yes. But we can also sing, ‘Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God woulds’t cry with me.’ In the words of church father, Gregory of Nazianzus, Christ is the only one “Who cries, yet causes tears to cease.”[10] He weeps with us, but one day we will laugh with Him! Consider also:

b) Jesus’ control over our hard circumstances

Jesus says a couple of times that the Lord…“God of the Old Covenant, is in sovereign control of the affairs of this world, and He had graciously decreed a limitation on those days. The aorist tense, had shortened, puts this action in the past. God has already decreed that those days will be shortened.”[11] Because of those whom He has chosen as His own (we are not going to debate that right now) He has decided to shorten those days.

What’s He saying? Sometimes we feel like we are tossed in the fire like gold by a goldsmith, but that doesn’t mean He left us there to rot and burn. Sometimes we feel like He’s left us and threw away His watch. Never. His hand is on the thermostat and on the clock. Not only Has He entered the fire itself, but He knows exactly how long we need to be in there and He’s not sadistic, purposefully inflicting pain on us for the fun of it. We are not suffering one second longer than He has decided. Don’t despair! One last sign and response:

V. Glorious Return of the Lord: Don’t be asleep (vv.24-37)

The Tribulation ends with a total cosmic upheaval. The picture is one of total cosmic collapse. Darkness and chaos will envelop everything, just as before time (Gen 1:2).[12] C’mon Robin! It’s Christmas season! Don’t scare us with end time stuff. We love the first coming right? Baby in a manger, a star in the sky, silent night…so soft and gentle. The second coming is the opposite. Instead of a star in the sky, we have all the stars falling out of the sky. He doesn’t look like a little baby here, does He? Everything is shaking (earthquake, sun and moon go dark, stars falling from the sky), and just as, literally, all hell is breaking loose and the Son of Man comes with clouds and great power and glory.

Virtually the entire section consists of allusions to various Old Testament texts.[13] Jesus is taking stuff they are familiar with to show that He is the One they have been waiting for so long. So what does the return of Christ mean according to this passage?

a) A Final Reunion

Notice the point of His coming: “to gather His elect” from every direction and location (four winds, ends of the earth to the ends of heaven)…in other words, no one will be lost or forgotten. The Lord is not focusing on Armageddon or when He’s coming or what’s happening when He comes or even judgment here directly. He’s coming for His kids. It’s a dad coming to pick up his kids from another’s house to bring them home. It’s a picture of relief, celebration and thankfulness. It’s only scary if you were never His kid and embraced Him as your Savior and Lord.

b) A Full Renewal

Notice the image that Jesus is coming “in clouds with great power and glory.” He’s not coming through the clouds, but in a cloud. “Clouds” were always a picture of the presence of God. It was in the Garden of Eden. In the presence of God there, there was overwhelming beauty, power, glory, and holiness, in the presence of his absolute and utter aliveness, nothing dead, nothing diseased, nothing broken, nothing evil, nothing twisted can exist.

We lost it when Adam and Eve decided to be their own Saviors. After the Fall, we are now like we’re on the side of the moon that never sees the sun—coldness, injustice, poverty, slavery, disease and death. But the presence of God still would come leading the Israelites out of slavery, in the Tabernacle and finally in the Temple.

But now look. Jesus Christ is coming back as the presence of God Himself down to envelope the whole world and make it the Garden of Eden again. Look also at the image of the fig tree Jesus uses (v.28). In contrast with most of Palestine’s trees, fig trees lose their leaves in winter and bloom later in the spring. Thus whenever the stiff, dry, winter twigs become tender, softened due to the rising sap, and leaves appear, then observers know that winter is past and summer is near.[14] What’s He saying? He’s saying He’s bringing the Ultimate Summer and Spring that is going to make all of our best springs and summers a faint echo in our minds. He’s restoring and renewing creation, He’s ending poverty, He’s ending injustice and He’s ending death, disease and hunger.[15]

c) Faithful Justice

Jesus says yearn for this renewal in his coming. If we are not yearning for it, it means we are asleep in our self-absorption. We are living in a bubble. This world is filled with bad news. You can hear the call in our country now. As we hear about Michael Brown and Eric Garner and others, there is a call for justice. There is a yearning for it.[16] So the second coming is good news for people whose lives are full of bad news! God’s kingdom has always sounded like good news for people whose lives are bad news.[17]

Yet people say God is love. He loves everybody and will accept everybody. Yes, but is a God who loves without justice a good God? Is that what we really want? A God who loves everyone and judges no one?

A believer in Somalia, a country that is 100% Sunni Muslim, was recently beheaded in the streets in front the villagers and children, after she refused to denounce Christ.[18] When I hear that, I want justice! We hear of children being raped and sold, AIDS devastating whole populations, world hunger, etc. While we are sad someone sad something bad about us on facebook, these people are crying out for justice and redemption. Terrible things are being done every day and there seems to be no punishment. Jesus says, “No, not forever. I will judge because I love.” A loving God must be a just God. Listen to N.T. Wright:

We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.[19]

Jesus says yearn for this justice in His coming. If we are not yearning for it, it means we are asleep in our self-absorption. Notice in vv.32-36. Circle all the times you see “Stay awake” and “asleep.” He says, “Wake up from sloth of self-absorption.” He is like a manager who put us in charge here as a steward until He returns (vv.34-35). What does that mean for us in light of the thought of Him as our coming Judge?

Cry for justice because that means crying for His return. Go and listen to those who are suffering. Weep with those who weep because they can’t find justice because that means weeping for His return. Be His hands and feet now because that is being alert and awake for His return. Get His tears and wait for Him to come wipe them. Empathize.” This also means:

d) Freedom to forgive

The second coming also frees us from being the judge of all the earth. The second coming reminds us that none of is worthy to sit on the judgment seat. Every time we are wronged, we push Jesus off that seat and we sit on it and we decide we know what that person deserves. We start calculating and extending punishment. We are on the judgment seat. Spouses, listen up!

When we take the judgment seat and refuse to forgive others, it will poison us, make us bitter, make us vengeful and suck the joy out of us. It’s like a baby sitting on a huge throne. It’s too big for us. So the doctrine of the second coming teaches that only God deserves to be on a judgment throne. Only God deserves to be the Judge. Why? Because you’re imperfect, and you deserve a few things for what you have done, so you have no right to be there. Secondly, only God has the knowledge requisite for sitting on that throne. When someone wrongs you, and you start to say, “I know what they deserve,” you think you know that person, and you don’t. In fact, your bitterness almost always blinds you to who they are. Keller uses this example:

Have you ever talked to somebody who was really mad at, let’s say, person X? You know person X; you’re not mad at them. When they describe person X you don’t really completely recognize them, do you? See, when you’re angry at someone, you caricature them. You play up their bad parts, and you play down their good parts. Besides that, only God knows what that person has been through. Only God knows who that person really is. Only God knows all that’s in their background. Only God knows what they deserve. You do not know what they deserve. Last of all, only God has the power to actually give people what they deserve. The doctrine of the second coming is someday he will put everything right. He will, and you won’t.

Jesus says, “Get off of my throne. I got you. I will make all things right” And we can say, “You’re God, and I’m not. You’re the Judge, and I’m not. I don’t have to be. I’m free! I don’t have to do it. I can forgive. I can make peace. I don’t know enough to know what they deserve. I don’t have the right to give them what they deserve. I will certainly over- or underestimate what they deserve. I don’t have to do that. I stop it. I get off the throne.”[20]

Conclusion

Where do we get the power to forgive like that? How do we wake up and yearn for the Lord’s return? And we have here is the problem. We say, “I want God to end all the wickedness and put the wicked in their place!” People say that, but the problem is what about the wickedness in their own hearts? How does God destroy wickedness without destroying all of us? If God even used the standard of judgment I use for people, I am in trouble. Did you notice how scary vv.24-25 sound like all hell breaking loose, but when you get to vv.26-27, it sounds like Heaven breaking in? Jesus is saying if we don’t know Him, the end of the world is hell breaking loose.

But if we do know Him, the end of the world is heaven breaking in. Have you noticed that almost always that at the end of the end of the world movies, humanity finds a way to survive? Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey or somebody always seems to figure it out. For example, at the end of World War Z, Pitt’s character says, “This is not the end—not even close.” Yeah, we will be fine. Brad Pitt says so. But will we? Listen to what the real “end of the world” is like in Rev. 6:15-17:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?

Who can stand? Answer: You can, if you know the Lamb who stood in your place. There was another Judgment Day that happened 2,000 years ago. Mark 13 says, “… the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light … the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” But in Mark 15, we read, “Darkness came down, utter darkness, over the whole land.” In Matthew 24, which is the place in Matthew where this occurs, we read, “On that day [judgment day] the earth will be shaken.” When was that? On the cross.

It was Judgment Day for Jesus on the cross. God’s judgment came down on Jesus. The penalty for our sins was placed on Him. The great Judge of the universe was willing to be judged for us, that the great Judge of the universe was willing to leave the throne, the judgment seat, and stand in the dock.[21] In the first coming, He didn’t come to bring judgment, but He came to take it. He faced God’s absence on the cross so in the second coming, we can receive God’s presence. He was plunged into utter darkness of hell, so we can receive His light at the second coming. He took our hell so we can have heaven. He put death to death without destroying us!

In the second coming, He will bring the ultimate sunlight that will heal you of everything, the ultimate presence, the infinitely healing presence of God … the ultimate life, to get rid of all death; the ultimate love, to get rid of all loneliness; the ultimate light, to get rid of all darkness and ignorance and evil. Have you accepted the Judge who was judged for you?[22] To the degree we let that sink in, the more we will wake up to the world around us, the more self-absorption will be destroyed and transformed into generous compassion and the more you see the power of forgiveness fill your heart and lives. May the Gospel do that in our hearts, for His sake. Come, Lord Jesus!

[1]Grassmick, J. D. (1985). Mark. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 169). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 396). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

[4]Edwards, J. R. (p. 398).

[5]http://templemountfaithful.org.

[6]Hiebert, D. E. (1994). The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (pp. 377–378). Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press.

[7]Hiebert, D. E. (p. 378).

[8]Lewis, C. S. (1955, 1983). The Magician’s Nephew (p. 168). New York, NY: Harper Trophy.

[9]Keller, T. (2012, April 4). Real Bad. Retrieved December 4, 2014, from http://kellerquotes.com/real-bad/.

[10]Rhodes, S. (2013, November 10). Why God Weeps (It’s Not Because He’s Been Listening to Bon Iver) – Embracing Awkward. Retrieved December 4, 2014, from http://sammyrhodes.co/embracingawkward/13911797.

[11]Hiebert, D. E. (p. 378).

[12]Edwards, J. R. (p. 403).

[13]Brooks, J. A. (1991). Mark (Vol. 23, p. 214). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[14]Grassmick, J. D. (Vol. 2, p. 172).

[15]Keller, T. J. (2013). Sermon, “Watching for the Son,” preached September 10, 2006. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[16]A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner. (2014, December 4). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/december-web-only/united-evangelical-response-system-failed-eric-garner.html.

[17]Plantinga, Cornelius. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Kindle Locations 1210-1211). Kindle Edition.

[18]Persecution Update December 2014: Somalia. (2014, December 2). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.frontlinemissions.info/?p=1952.

[19]Wright, N. T. (2008). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (p. 137). New York: HarperOne.

[20]Keller, T. J. Ibid.

[21]Ibid.

[22]Ibid.

The Servant King Unveils the Future – Part 2 – Mark 13:9-13

Intro

 

We have been talking about the end times as we come to a close in our study in Mark. We talked about a resurgence in our interest in the end times, especially on television on film. In the past, when our world was messed up, we went to the movies and watched to escape. Now our worlds are still messed up and we love to go to watch a world even more messed up on film and television.

What we’ve been saying in this chapter is that we want to be biblically balanced in how we view the end times. We don’t want to be end-time junkies fanatical and obsessed, but we don’t want to be end-time “lazies” either, apathetic and uncaring, especially since Jesus wants us to have our eyes open to these things. We are here to fight over these things, but to grow as those who know Him to long for His return and be ready every day, waiting for our King to make things right and the Lover of our souls to take us home.

 

Also, as we study this chapter, we are looking at it from a certain framework. I am not going over all the views here again. Some say everything in Mark 13 happened in the first century. Others say this chapter is only for the future and none of it happened. What we are saying is that both is in view. So were there earthquakes, famines and wars and believers persecuted and the Gospel moving like crazy in the first century? Yes. But the same is true in every century as well and will escalate and culminate until the second coming of Christ.

 

So take note here that Jesus is skillfully weaving together a unified discourse a prophetic scene involving two perspectives: (a) the near event, the destruction of Jerusalem (a.d. 70) and the first century events that are going to happen and (b) the far event, the coming of the Son of Man in clouds with power and glory. The former local event was a forerunner of the latter universal event. In this way Jesus followed the precedent of Old Testament prophets by predicting a far future event in terms of a near future event whose fulfillment at least some of His hearers would see (cf. Mark 9:1, 12–13).[1] So what you are going to hear are signs in Mark 13 that will characterize every century, but as they increase, they will lead to the end, culminating with the second coming. We are asking this question: In light of the signs unveiled by the Servant King for the end times, how should we live? So, five signs and what the Lord wants our responses to be in light of them.

 

  1. Rising Religious Deception: Don’t be led astray

(vv.1-6, vv. 21-22)

 

False Christs will arise in every century, escalating to the time when the AntiChrist will show up (more on that next week). The response? Don’t be led astray. Keep your eyes open. Stay close to the real Jesus and you will avoid the counterfeits.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Escalating Human Suffering: Don’t be alarmed

   (vv.7-8)

 

Earthquakes, wars and famines are there in every century, but the future will have even more. Keep your eyes open, but don’t freak out either. God is sovereign, as “these things must take place.” Now thirdly:

 

III. Increasing persecution and adversity: Don’t be anxious (vv.9-13)

 

Once again, Jesus has a response for us to have before He details the future: “Be on your guard.” Edwards remarks, “A more fitting translation would be, “You must be clear in your own minds”—with emphasis on “you.” The point is to rid believers of utopian fantasies and remind them that adversity and persecution are not aberrations of the Christian life but rather the norm.”[2] This leads us to the first sub point:

 

  1. Adversity is to be expected (vv.9, 12-13a)

Look at Jesus’ words here in v.9 and vv.12-13. Notice the word “will.” Expect adversity. It’s going to happen. Notice the word “death” repeated in v.12. This stuff will happen and the Holy Spirit will speak through you in the midst of this, but notice it doesn’t say. “And after the Holy Spirit speaks through you, you will be freed and everyone will get saved.” The Holy Spirit will speak through you, the gospel will be proclaimed and you might still die and they might still not believe. No promises like that here. It will end badly from our perspective.

 

Jesus says, just like He faced, believers will also be persecuted by Jews (synagogues) and Gentiles (governors and kings) alike. Both secular and religious people will go after them for being followers of Christ. There will be widespread persecution by everyone, even by family (vv.12-13). Everybody you thought were on your side gives up on you. Not only will there be trouble on a global level; there will also be trials and persecutions on a personal level.[3] And when that happens, Jesus says don’t be anxious about how to handle this because the Holy Spirit at the time will help you persevere.

 

When we went through Acts (4:1-22; 5:17-42; 12:1-19; 21 27– 28: 31), we saw Jesus’ prediction here unfolding. Believers are persecuted, but the Gospel keeps expanding. This is true even now. There are several truths here for us to unpack and sit on for today. This is directly talking about being persecuted for our faith, but the truths we will glean today will apply towards all kinds of adversity and suffering a believer may face.

 

I don’t know how prosperity gospel teachers understand this. You might get saved only to die for the gospel. It reminds me of 1 Pet. 4:12 and 2 Tim. 3:12. Church tradition informs us that all the apostles, with the possible exception of John, died as martyrs. Some have estimated that more than 70 million Christians have given their lives for their witness to Jesus, 45 million in the twentieth century alone (ZENIT.org, “20th Century”). In the last decade “there were on average, 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours,” or approximately one million in the last 10 years (Weigel, “Christian Number”).[4]

 

When I hear about our brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world, they get this. Adversity and suffering is not unusual. So many of them know that if they get baptized publically, it’s a death sentence for them. Here we are afraid to talk to our unsaved loved ones about Christ just because they might not like us or to even pray in public for fear of ridicule. Tim Keller writes,

 

Today we are more shocked and undone by suffering than were our ancestors. Did you know that in medieval Europe approximately one of every five infants died before their first birthday, and only half of all children survived to the age of ten? The average family buried half of their children when they were still little, and the children died at home, not sheltered away from eyes and hearts. Life for our ancestors was filled with far more suffering than ours is. And yet we have innumerable diaries, journals, and historical documents that reveal how they took that hardship and grief in far better stride than do we. We are not just worse than past generations in this regard, but we are also weaker than are many people in other parts of the world today.

 

Despite all the advances and technology, have we really progressed or evolved? It sounds like we have regressed and devolved. Keller talks about Dr. Paul Brand, a pioneering orthopedic surgeon in the treatment of leprosy patients, who spent the first part of his medical career in India and the last part of his career in the United States. He wrote: “In the United States …I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. Patients lived at a greater comfort level than any I had previously treated, but they seemed far less equipped to handle suffering and far more traumatized by it.”[5] Brand’s theory for why this is so: “It is because the meaning of life in the United States is the pursuit of pleasure and personal freedom that suffering is so traumatic for Americans.”[6]

 

So when the meaning of life is our personal comfort and pleasure, everything that comes that mess it up, we see as interruptions and hiccups that we have to get past instead of realizing that this world is broken and not to be elevated as the ultimate source of our happiness.

 

There is a great clip of a sermon from Matt Chandler, pastor down in Dallas at the Village Church, where one of his points was, “Following God may end badly.” Don’t misunderstand him. He’s talking about it from our Western perspective. One of his illustrations was from the life of Moses. Moses doesn’t get called into ministry until he was 80 years old. He spends the next 40 years with a whining, complaining congregation. 40 years! Just as it was about to get awesome and enter the Promised Land, the guy dies. Who wants that ministry? Yet we see him on the Mt. of Transfiguration with Jesus (Mark 9) and no regrets. [7] Isaiah gets an amazing awesome glimpse into the glory of God that totally shakes and rocks him. He wants to go into ministry to and says, “Here I am Lord! Send me!” And God says, “Actually you want to see what ministry is like?” If I was Isaiah I would have been super excited, God’s going to tell me how the rest of my life is going to look like! Awesome right?

 

Well, God says (this is Is. 6), “Nobody is going to come to your church. No one is getting saved. Outreach ministry will fail. In fact, the more you preach, the harder the people’s hearts will get and the more they want to kill you. This is all going to end with the people going to exile as a result.” Who wants Isaiah’s ministry? Tradition says Isaiah was cut into two pieces at the end. But there is no OT book more quoted in the NT than Isaiah’s book.

 

My point is not that we should be looking out for suffering all the time and just be cynical and pessimistic. I am saying that we should not be surprised or afraid of it, either. Don’t waste your sorrows. God doesn’t owe us a non-adversity life. He promised an abundant life and the only way you experience His abundance is in the midst of our complete emptiness. Secondly, along with this:

 

  1. Adversity reveals our idols (vv.9-13)

Notice Jesus is going into detail here about the varieties of suffering. You will be beaten—pain in your body; you will have to stand before people you don’t want to—inconvenience and your time and your rights taken away; you will be tempted to be anxious; your closest people in your life—your sibling, your child, your parents—will betray you; you will be hated—people’s approval lost. Why share all these details?

 

These are all our idols. These are the things that can potentially replace Christ in our lives—our pleasure, comfort, our rights and our family and adversity reveals them. As Pastor Tullian Tchvidjian says in an article, “if the foundation of your identity is your things-the thing that makes me who I am is this position, these relationships, having this name, having this money, and so on-then suffering will be pulling you away from the uttermost foundations of your joy–and that will make you mad, bitter, and sad. But if your identity is anchored in Christ, so that you are able to say, “Everything I need I already possess in Him”, then suffering drives you deeper into your source of joy. Suffering, in other words, shows us where we are locating our identity. Our response to suffering reveals what we’re building our life on and what we’re depending on to make life worth living.

 

This means that suffering itself does not rob you of joy-idolatry does. If you’re suffering and you’re angry, bitter, and joyless it means you’ve idolized–and felt entitled to–whatever it is you’re losing. Entitlement and self-pity stem from our belief that we deserve more than what we’re getting–love, attention, respect, approval. The gospel, however, frees us to revel in our expendability! The gospel alone provides us with the foundation to maintain radical joy in remarkable loss. Joylessness and bitterness in the crucible of pain happens when we lose something (or think we deserve something) that we’ve held onto more tightly than God. Suffering reveals that there are things we love too much, or we love God too little in proportion to them.

 

As Paul Tripp so probingly asks, “How is your present disappointment, discouragement, or grief a window on what has actually captured your heart?” When we depend on anything smaller than God to provide us with the security, significance, meaning, and value that we long for, God will love us enough to take it away. Much of our anger and bitterness, therefore, is God prying open our hands and taking away something we’ve held onto more tightly than him.”[8]

 

 

Thirdly,

 

  1. c) Adversity is a platform for gospel expansion (vv.9-10)

Notice in vv.9-10 that the persecution’s purpose is to lead to gospel expansion. Again, there is no promise that this gospel will be accepted, only that it will be proclaimed to “all nations,” i.e. all people groups.[9] Though Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide with an average of 180 Christians are killed each month for their faith,[10] according to the Joshua Project, an average of 160,000 a day hear the message of redemption in Christ for the first time. Every hour, over 1,600 people decide to follow Jesus Christ! In 1800, those who had never heard the Gospel were almost 75% of the globe’s population. Today the percentage of those who have not heard is about 28%; a major move forward…still work to be done![11] Wycliffe Bible Translators say there are about 1,900 languages that still need the Bible in their language and they are hoping to get that done in 10 years, in 2025.[12]

This is not saying that when every single person hears the Gospel, then Jesus will come. But it is saying that God doesn’t waste one beating or one person hating you because the Gospel because through it, He is expanding the Gospel. Like the Russian atheist, politician and revolutionary, who hated Christians, Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, once said, “Christianity is like a nail. The harder you strike it the deeper it goes.”[13] Can you pray that with each struggle? “Lord, I don’t want to waste my sorrows, but the harder I feel like I am struck, the deeper the Gospel would go into my heart?” As Chandler said in that same clip of Moses, God may bury the messenger and man of God, but continues the message forward.[14] Nothing is ever wasted!

 

  1. Persevere through adversity with minute-by-minute grace (vv. 11, 13b)

You might be thinking, “Ok. I get it. Adversity is inevitable, it’s revelatory, it’s purposeful, etc.” But the real question is will I be able to survive in the midst of it? Will I be ok? C.S. Lewis once said, “We’re not doubting that God will do the best for us; we’re wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”[15]

 

Do you know that according to Amazon, the most highlighted passage in all books read on Kindle (as of November 2014)—highlighted almost twice as often as any other passage—is from the second volume of The Hunger Games: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.”[16]

 

That is very revealing. There is anxiety over not feeling competent to handle things that come people’s way. Christ here says don’t be anxious. How? Two resources of grace are given. One is perseverance: “Those who endures to the end will be saved.” One author says, “Perseverance is the proof that our profession is real. It may be tough, but our Lord will be faithful to keep us by His power. Vance Havner used to say, “Faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.”[17] This means you will receive the grace to move forward. Yes you might hit rock bottom, but even then you will see God to be the rock at your bottom.

 

Conclusion

 

The second is the Holy Spirit. Notice the Holy Spirit will speak through you “in that hour.” Not one minute before, not one minute after, but right at the right time and moment you need. In other words, God is saying, you will have to depend on me totally for the appropriate grace when you need it. The weaker you feel, the stronger you will find me to be. When you can’t walk an inch further, the Holy Spirit will be your legs, but like a baby who learns to walk by learning to put his weight on his legs, you have to learn to put your weight on the Holy Spirit. How do you do that?

 

Notice the Holy Spirit is speaking for you, but let me propose also that the Holy Spirit speaks TO YOU as well. This means He is your defense attorney. Remember when Jesus says, “I’m going to send you another Helper”? The word for “helper,” could be translated as advocate. What’s an advocate? It’s a defense attorney. What does a defense attorney do? A defense attorney doesn’t just stand beside you and hold your hand, but speaks for you, stands in your place on your behalf.

 

But Jesus says, another advocate. Wait, who is the first Advocate? 1 John 2:1 says, “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Jesus is not just standing with us, but standing in our place speaking to the Father—Father, my people have sinned. Your law says wages of sin is death. This is the real suffering they should fear, but I have paid it. It would be unjust for you to charge for the same crime twice. Then when the Father sees us, we are a beauty not condemned, but accepted.

 

The Holy Spirit is second advocate. Just as the first advocate speaks for you, the Spirit of God, the second advocate, speaks to you for you. The second advocate is appealing to you about the first advocate.

 

He says, “Look at what Jesus has done for you. Look at how he loves you. Look at what it cost him. He stood before God’s judgment seat and took your blame, rejection and criticism, so now you can stand before anybody for Him declaring His praises. At His point of greatest need, He got the silent treatment from His Father, so at your point of greatest need, you will have Him, the Holy Spirit speaking for you, holding you up and supporting you.”

 

With that in mind, there is a fictional story from Elisabeth Elliot that rebukes and comforts me:

 

One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket.  Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over.  When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.”

 

This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded.  Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do?  Who were you carrying the stone for?”[18]

 

In that story, Peter is obeying for what he thinks he can get out of it. He’s not doing it for the Lord. He’s not in it for the Lord. He’s in it for himself. We follow Christ to get Christ. He is the most valuable thing in the Universe! How do we see that? Well I would like to add to that story:

 

Some time later, Jesus is carrying not a stone, but a cross. Peter asks, “Who are you carrying this heavy cross for?” Jesus said, “For you. I’m walking through journey to the cross because I’ll get you at the end of it.” To the degree I see that He carried the ultimate burden in His ultimate suffering to get me, then when my little suffering exposes my idols, I am thankful, because I can let them go to get Christ and suffering is a small wound than anything else.

 

Keller says, “Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.”[19]

 

Listen to your defense attorney in the Holy Spirit: “So why are you upset? Why are you worried at people’s criticism? Why are you worried you won’t be able to handle pain? Worried you can’t suffer well? Someone as all-powerful as God loves you like this? And He delights in you, going to infinite depths and lengths to save you at infinite costs to Himself? He says He will never let you go and nothing on earth or Heaven or time and eternity will ever make Him lose you? He will hold on to you, transform you and one day will make everything sad come untrue? Then why are you worried about adversity? Why am I fearful? Lift up your hearts. Ground your identity in Jesus Christ and you will be able to face anything.”

[1]Grassmick, J. D. (1985). Mark. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 166). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2]Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 393). Grand Rapids, MI;

Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

[3]Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition

     Commentary) (p. 309). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4]Akin, D. (p. 310).

 

[5]Keller, T. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Kindle Locations 293-306). Penguin Group, USA.

[6]Ibid. (Kindle Locations 417-418).

[7]Catalyst Conference (2014, October 16). Matt Chandler Catalyst Atlanta 2014. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jwmFE9D0gs.

[8]Tchividjian, T. (2010, November 10). Suffering Does Not Rob You Of Joy-Idolatry Does. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/tchividjian/suffering-does-not-rob-you-of-joy—idolatry-does-11641141.html

[9]Akin, D. (p.310).

[10]Carter, J. (2014, July 31). 5 Facts About Christian Persecution. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://erlc.com/article/5-facts-about-christian-persecution.

[11]Encouraging Mission Trends. http://joshuaproject.net/assets/media/assets/maps/encouraging-mission-trends-map.pdf Retrieved November 28, 2014.

[12]Smith, S. (2014, September 19). Wycliffe Bible Translators President on Inspiring New Generation to End ‘Bible Poverty’ by Translating Last 1,870 Languages. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://goo.gl/U9rYDF.

[13]Ortberg, J. (2008). Faith and Doubt (p.76). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[14]Catalyst Conference (2014, October 16). Matt Chandler Catalyst Atlanta 2014. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jwmFE9D0gs.

[15]C. S. Lewis [CSLewisDaily]. (2014, Jun 25). “We’re not doubting that God will do the best for us; we’re wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ #CSLewis [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/cslewisdaily/status/481823015194218498.

[16]Shiffman, M. (2014, November). Majoring in Fear. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/11/majoring-in-fear.

[17]Akin, D. (p.310).

[18]Ibid.

[19]Keller, T. (2013, October 2). Suffering in Christ. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from http://kellerquotes.com/suffering-in-christ/.

The Heart Behind Following the Servant King – Mark 12:28-34

The Heart Behind Following the Servant King

Mark 12:28-34

  1. You must love God personally first
    1. Before anyone or anything else
    2. Before serving Him or others
  2. To love God, you must love people.
  3. To love people, you must serve them.

The Servant King Redefines and Models Greatness – Mark 10:32-45

The Servant King Redefines and Models Greatness

Mark 10:32-45

  1. Following Jesus means to accept suffering (vv. 32-34)
  2. Jesus is kind to the selfish and ungrateful (vv. 35-40)
  3. If you want to be great in the kingdom of God, you must follow Jesus to be slave of all (vv. 41-45)

 

 

The Servant King is God, Who Patiently Cares for His People – Mark 6:45-56

The Servant King is God, Who Patiently Cares for His People

Mark 6:45-56

  1. Jesus is God
  2. Jesus Cares
  3. Recognize Jesus during the storms of life

How to avoid a hardened heart…

  1. Learn that Jesus is our rest
  2. Focus on Jesus more than your problems
  3. Be patient as He is patient

Good News When We Christians Sin – 1 John 1:5-2:2

Good News When We Christians Sin

1 John 1:5 -2:2

What should I do when I sin…

  1. Be Sincere about your sin (v. 7)

Result = genuine fellowship with other Christians

2.  Confess Your Sin (v. 9)

Result = forgiveness and cleansing

3.  Remember you have an advocate who also paid for your sins (vv. 1-2)

Result = freedom from guilt and increased love for God

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