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Series: Markan prologue

The literary structure of Mark 1:1-15

(Rewritten)

We’re beginning a new series today on the Gospel of Mark. A few things about Mark to begin with. It was most likely the first gospel written. And it likely contains the stories and teachings of Jesus that the apostle Peter passed down [Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses] and John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13-14; 15:37-40; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11) later wrote out. These things are likely, I think, but they’re not from Scripture.

With regard to the Gospel itself, a few observations:

  • It’s fast paced. “Immediately” seems to be one of Mark’s favorite words.
  • Its stories are usually longer with more vivid details than Matthew or Luke.
  • And yet it’s the shortest Gospel, because it has less teaching material in it than either Matthew or Luke.

We begin with Mark’s introduction which covers the first 15 verses of the book. Notice that it’s bracketed by the phrase “good news” (or Gospel) in v. 1 and in vs. 14-15 (2x). And both of these sections have elements of timing in them – “the beginning” in v. 1 and “the time is fulfilled” and the kingdom is “at hand” in vs 14-15.

The whole introduction turns on the first three verses, which contain a prophetic word that a messenger is to come first, and then the Lord will come. [This sequence is reinforced in v. 7 by John’s message, “after me” he will come.]

Alright, let’s jump in.

Mark 1:1-8

The first phrase

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God –

When Mark says, “the beginning,” this has to do with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following John the Baptist’s work of preparation [see Acts 10:37]. But it can also refer to the whole Gospel. Mark is saying, this is how the Christian movement began.

We learn several things here about who Jesus is. 1) He is the “Christ.” This is the Greek version of the Hebrew word which means “Messiah” or more literally “the anointed one,” which is what I’m going with. This refers back to the Old Testament practice of anointing someone with oil when they are commissioned by God to do something. It was especially connected to the expected son of David who would come as the anointed one, to save God’s people.

2) Jesus is the “son of God.” This phrase is most often associated with the kings of Israel (2 Samuel 7:13-14; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:26-27), and sometimes Israel itself (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20). It can also refer to divine beings or angels (e.g. the sons of God in Job). Basically it means one who rules, although we will see that Jesus is God’s son in unique and special way (e.g. Mark 1:11; 14:61-62).

3) Finally the phrase “good news” tells us something about Jesus. In Isaiah it refers to the coming of God to save Israel and to establish his rule or kingdom (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; 61:1). In the Roman world it was used to announce the success of an Emperor or the birth of a new Emperor. In both contexts it is a royal announcement. And so this tells us that Jesus is a king.

By means of his introduction Mark gives his readers the privilege to know a good bit about who Jesus is before the story begins, while the people in the story struggle to understand who Jesus is, to the end.

The prophecy

2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

This is the only place in all of Mark that he quotes Scripture. And, of course, this happens right at the beginning of his Gospel. So this is really important.

Although Mark says, “as it is written in Isaiah,” he is actually quoting two (or more) passages. This is just how they sometimes did things at this time, combining passages like this and just using one name.

Let’s look at the two key quotes here in reverse order. Isaiah 40:3 says in part, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.’” (LXX). In context this refers to the announcement, by the voice, of the end of exile in Babylon and God’s promise to bring Israel back to its land. This is framed by Isaiah as a second Exodus from Babylon to the land of Israel. [The path here is God’s, but like with the original Exodus, it is God and his people who journey together to the land. The Isaiah Targum speaks of the way of God and the congregation of our God.] [Mark’s quote here can also be translated to match the parallelism of the Hebrew version – “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Witherington]

And then we have Malachi 3:1 which says in part, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” [Mark’s version is a little different, which we will look at later]. This person is further identified in Malachi 4:5-6 as Elijah, who is commissioned to bring about repentance in Israel before God comes to visit them.

In Mark’s narrative, John the Baptist is the messenger, as we will see today. But also Jesus is the Lord who comes. In both passages God comes after the messenger. This, then is an amazing statement about Jesus’ divine identity, which we will come back to in a later message.

Now, by quoting these passages we get Mark’s insight into what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus. As I said, Isaiah speaks of a second Exodus out of exile back to the land. And several prophets spoke of how things would radically change; how God would reign in glory in a splendid temple and Israel would be established in the land and at peace. Well, the people came back, but they struggled, still under Gentile rule, the Persians, and still with no sense that anything had really changed. So there was disillusionment.

Well, the book of Malachi picks up in this context. He tells the people that the holdup on the fulfillment of the promises is due to their sin. And so he predicts that God will send a messenger, Elijah to prepare Israel for his coming in power to reign. And he is to prepare them by calling them to repentance so that when God comes, it won’t end in further judgment. [I am indebted to Rikk Watts for this construal of Malachi’s role.]

So Mark is saying – this is what’s going on with the coming of John and then Jesus. God is working to bring about his kingdom; to fulfill his promises to his people of salvation and blessing.

The fulfillment – John in the wilderness 

After the prediction of the messenger who will first prepare the way, John shows up doing just this.

4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now, not everyone came, of course, but Mark is emphasizing his success.

The connection between the messenger and John is clear. The messenger is to prepare the way, which includes calling for repentance on the part of Israel (Malachi 4:15-16). And John calls the people to repentance.

Also, the messenger is associated with the wilderness as is Elijah.  Well, John is in the wilderness and he is telling people to prepare the way.

And then we have v. 6.

6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

The messenger is identified as Elijah in some sense and John looks just like Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:8 someone describes Elijah in this way: “He wore a garment of hair with a belt of leather around his waist.” As Jesus says later in Mark 9:13, “Elijah has come” and he is referring to John the Baptist. (See also Luke 1:17).

Notice how what John is doing fits with Isaiah and Malachi’s vision of the need to prepare the people for the coming of God. In the first exodus, Israel crossed through the Red Sea. And then with Joshua the Jordan river. John is symbolically having Israelites go through the waters again (here the Jordan river.) So John is calling Israel to be reconstituted as a new people, ready for the coming of God. And since the leaders in Jerusalem rejected him, he is calling out a remnant to make them ready for the Lord. All of this points to the fulfillment of the promise of the prophets about Israel’s salvation. It all fits together.

The fulfillment – John’s message

7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

A key part of John’s ministry was calling people to be ready for the coming one (Matthew 11:3, Acts 13:25). He describes him as the mighty one.

There’s a Jewish saying that a disciple is to act as a slave to their teacher, except for taking off their sandals (b. Ketub. 96a). But here John is saying he is not fit even to do this slave work for the mighty one.

John also speaks of the coming one as the Spirit baptizer. The one who will inundate people with the Spirit, like he does with water.

This has reference to several promises God makes to his people in the Old Testament:

  • Joel 2:28-29 – “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
  • Ezekiel 36:27 – “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
  • Isaiah 44:3 – “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

John’s water baptism was preparatory. The coming One’s Spirit baptism brings the reality of the promises.

What do we learn?

This teaches us about God’s plans. They are from of old. This was all pointed to by the prophets, Isaiah and Malachi and repeated by John. God’s plans are orderly. The messenger come first to prepare and after this comes the Lord to bring salvation. God’s plans are sure and true. It came to pass just as it was supposed to, which is the story Mark is telling us about. This should lead us to trust in God’s full outworking of his plan to bring it all to completion, as we wait our Lord’s second coming.

And speaking of his coming, we need to continue to be prepared for God’s coming to us. Are we single mindedly focused on God and serving him? Or are we off following the world, waiting time, focused on this life and not finishing the mission he gave us to expand his kingdom? Are you prepared? He could come at any time.

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For me it is interesting to note the different emphases of the various gospel writers. For instance, Mark is the shortest gospel, but when it tells stories about Jesus they are usually the longest and most lively. Matthew and Luke are longer gospels, but have shorter stories and then use that space to record more of the teaching of Jesus.

And then there is the contrast between the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Luke compared to that of the Gospel of Matthew. Luke has quite a bit more material on the Spirit. Yet, having said that we have in Matthew two statements about the presence of Jesus with us that do not show up in Luke or anywhere else and have to do with what we understand to be the work of the Spirit, that is, making Jesus present to us. (more…)

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I want to share with you briefly on Joy and Christmas-time. Joy is certainly central to the message the angel spoke to the Shepherds in the Christmas story.  Luke 2:10  says, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’”

Christmas is a time of joy, right? Time off work; enjoying family; giving gifts; special meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood and a time to set aside one’s problems for a while. All we need to do is hear the Christmas music and  see the decorations to be joyful and happy.

Yet, as you know, for some, Christmas can be a time of real sadness. If many have time off work, some don’t have a job or are working several jobs with no time off. If many enjoy family, some have family brokenness or even no family. If many give and receive gifts, some don’t have the money to do this. If many have special meals, some can’t afford this either. If many go to special events with friends, some don’t have friends to go out with. If many have sentimental remembrances, some didn’t have a good childhood and so it can bring back bad memories. If many are able to set aside their problems – some are reminded of specific tragedies that have happened at this time of year, or losses from the past year.

So for one or more of these reasons, simply to hear the music and to see the decorations brings sadness or even depression. You can’t seem to enter in and be happy, and it makes you sadder when you see others experiencing joy, when you can’t.

So does this mean that we shouldn’t talk about Christmas joy since we might make someone feel worse? No. We simply need to remember again why we have joy at Christmas. And we learn this from the angel who spoke to the Shepherds in Luke 2:11 – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Notice, the angel said nothing about time off work; family; gift giving; meals; special events with friends; sentimental associations from childhood; or a special time to set aside problems for a while. This is the cultural part of Christmas; the human traditions that have accumulated around our celebration of Christmas.

Think of Mary and Joseph. They were obeying an imperial edict to be registered in a census. I’m sure they weren’t excited about having to do this at the very time when Mary was due to give birth. I don’t think it was fun to have to put Jesus in an animal feed-trough because there wasn’t enough room for them in a home or an inn. They certainly weren’t enjoying what we associate with celebrating Christmas.

Think of the Shepherds as well. They took a brief break from their work to go see the baby and then went back. They had none of the trappings of our cultural traditions.

The angel said we can have joy because of something else. We have to keep vs. 10 and 11 together. v. 10 speaks of “good news of a great joy.” v. 11 tells us why – “for unto you is born . . . a Savior”

Our Messiah and Lord has come someone who can save us. Someone who can help us in our difficulties, provide for our needs, and give us the promise of a better future. And this is what gives us both hope and joy.

This is a message precisely for those who are sad and who don’t have what they want at this time of year. And it’s for all of us who have problems. You don’t need a savior if you have nothing to be saved from, right?

The true meaning of Christmas can give us all joy precisely because we do have problems, pain and brokenness.

Jesus is the savior. He has come. And he can help us. And this is what we celebrate. So let’s celebrate with vigor and great joy! A joy that cannot be taken away no matter what our circumstances are.

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[updated]

We are looking at Luke 10:38-42, which tells the familiar story of Martha and Mary and a dinner party.

This story has a lot to say, from several different angles. But I would like for us to be pretty specific in our focus. And that focus is what this story has to say aboutsetting aside our frantic pace of life in order to have time to be with Jesus.

Let’s begin by working our way through –

The Story

 v. 38 – “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.”

As Jesus and his disciples traveled around Israel, they were at various times taken in and given hospitality by those in the villages where they ministered. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 10:8, giving instructions to his disciples. He says, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”

To welcome Jesus or his disciples was a sign of acceptance of the message of the kingdom of God, which is what they were preaching. To receive the messenger is to receive the message. So this verse shows us that Martha is a supporter of Jesus. She is doing a good thing, welcoming him into her home.

v. 39 says, “And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

So Jesus has come into the house and here we see Mary learning from him.

Now, to sit at a teacher’s feet was the position of a disciple, or a student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; Acts 22:3). So, this was quite unusual for that day. That is, that Mary, a woman, takes up the position of a disciple who learns from a master teacher. This was reserved for men.

The Mishnah, an ancient collection of Jewish teaching says, “Let your house be a meeting place for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.” So again, sitting at the feet of a teacher is the position of a disciple. But then it goes on to say just after this, “but talk not much with womankind.” (M ‘Abot 1:4;5).

In contrast to this, here, Jesus welcomes Mary as a woman disciple (as he does with other women in other places). And even though Martha, as we will see, tries to force her back into the traditional domestic role that women filled in that day – Jesus does not allow it.

We could say more on this part of the story, but our focus for today is on Mary as one who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

v. 40 goes on, “But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’”

The portrait that we have here shows that Martha is very busy serving. And this is understandable given that the disciples were probably also in her home. She has quite a crew to feed and take care of. She is, no doubt, trying to keep up with the social expectations of the day for how you treat honored guests. And hospitality was a much bigger deal in ancient culture than it is in our day.

The word – “distracted” means “being pulled away” by something; to be overburdened with a matter. She was overburdened with all the work she had to do.

And this causes her to complain to Jesus – ‘Mary should be helping me with all this work! Tell her to get busy!’

vs. 41-42 end the story, “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”

Here Jesus also takes note of Martha’a busyness. He says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things.” But instead of rebuking Mary, as Martha wanted, he gently admonishes her.  He teaches her that there is one thing that is necessary. What is this one thing? It is the “good portion” that Mary has chosen – sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching.

This story gives us a lesson in priorities. Serving the needs of others is good, but listening to and learning from Jesus is better. Now, there is a time and place for both, and we are to do both. But here Martha has given higher priority to service, rather than listening to Jesus. This is her mistake.

Let’s step back now and look at the big picture. We have here –

Two sisters, who represent two approaches to Jesus

We have Martha who is busy. She is doing a good thing, but she has become overwhelmed by it all and her busyness produces some negative results:

  1. She becomes self-focused. Even though she is trying to serve others it comes back to her. ‘Jesus don’t you care about me? All the work I am doing by myself?’ You can see it in the pronouns – “Me, me, me.”
  2. She demands from Jesus, telling him what he should say. ‘Tell my sister to help me.’ Fix my problem with all this busyness that I have going on.

In contrast we have Mary who is not busy. She is not overwhelmed. And this bears forth good results:

  1. She is focused on Jesus. She is able to give Jesus her attention. Indeed she probably had forgotten all that needed to be done, because of her single-minded focus on listening to Jesus and soaking in his presence.
  2. She listens to what Jesus wants to say. Not telling him what he should be saying from her perspective. But listening to what he wants to teach.

I share all this with you today because, I think –

We are very much like Martha

1. We are “anxious and troubled about many things.” As Americans we value producing things; getting things done. We don’t value rest, calm, or being still. At least not as much. We always want to be doing things; things that produce results in a tangible or an economic way.

  • And so we are always busy with activities. There is always something going on, or better, multiple things going on which we have to choose between, or try to do both. Multi-tasking is standard fare now. These activities are connected to family, kids, work, school, our various social commitments, including church; a constant barrage of events.
  • We are busy going places. All of these activities require time spent traveling. We are always on the move.
  • We have busy minds. This has to do with keeping all of our commitments and schedules together, plus all that we take in from TV, radio and the internet. We are always plugged in. We become saturated with information, which leaves our minds spinning to try to process it all.

We are indeed “anxious and troubled about many things.” And we become “distracted” by all this from focusing on Jesus himself.

2. These are good things we are doing. It’s not like we are out wasting our time, being frivolous or useless or worse. Beyond what others may do, we also give our time to serve Jesus to work in the church and to serve the needs of people.

Again, just like Martha who was welcoming Jesus into her house, we are doing what is laudable; what is commendable. But . . .

3. The result of all our busyness is not good. Besides stress, sleeplessness, headaches and other physical symptoms – we become like Martha; we get overwhelmed, so that like her:

  1. We can become self-centered; only seeing what we have to do in the swirl of our activity and in our world. Even when we are trying to serve others. And we also try to include others in our busyness so that they are now anxious and troubled, like Martha tried to do with Mary. Our busyness and anxiety is contagious.
  2. We can become demanding of the Lord. We are too busy, but instead of fixing the problem of our over-committed lives by making better choices, we want the Lord to compensate for us to make things all work out right.  ‘Lord, fix this!’ We actually pray this way. We don’t act to fix the problem, we just want help to sustain or even increase our ability to be busy.

Instead of all this –

We must learn to be like Mary

She had her priorities straight. Out of all the things that she could have been doing, and by social expectation should have been doing –

  • she “chose the good portion” – v. 42
  • she got “the one thing” that is “necessary” – v. 42

She “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” – v. 39. She spent time in the Lord’s presence and just took it in.

Be honest. How often in the busyness of your life do you truly sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching? Where you enter into the Lord’s presence and learn his way? Is there time in your busy schedule? When there is a small bit of time are you really there, or still busy of mind?

This is a question of priorities. As good as all that you are doing may be, nothing is more important than being with the Lord and learning from him.

If you don’t have time to sit at Jesus feet, then you need to reevaluate your life, because your priorities are out of order. To say it simply –  if you are too busy for Jesus, you are too busy!

May we all learn from Mary’s example and Jesus’ teaching and act to make things right. So that we make the hard choices we need to make to spend time with Jesus.

William Higgins

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camelAccording to Jesus it is hard for those who have more than they need to receive God’s Kingdom salvation. Indeed, it’s impossible, like trying to get a camel through the eye of a sewing needle (Luke 18:24-25). It’s impossible because what God demands is so hard for us to do. Here is what Jesus and his apostles teach about what God demands.

1. Give up greed

Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus warns us against every kind of greed. Wealth is so dangerous that we should not seek to have it (Mark 4:18-19; I Timothy 6:9). Why is this?

  • First, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to trust in them rather than God (Matthew 6:24).
  • And second, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to enjoy comforts while others suffer (Luke 16:19-31). In other words, seeking wealth leads us to hate God and our neighbor, the opposite of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Rather than this we are to trust God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34). We are to be content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5), simply praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). We know that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

2. Give up all you possess

Jesus said, “none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It applies to all who have possessions.
  • “Give up” can be translated “renounce.”
  • This covers “all” our possessions, not some.
  • This command primarily has a vertical focus. It has to do with our possessions and God.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 4:32, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own.”

It means that we accept that our possessions are no longer ours. We renounce them. We give them up to God. They are God’s now. Jesus tells us why we must renounce our possessions. “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

3. Give to the needy

Jesus said, “sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It is addressed to all who are not themselves needy. (But sacrificial giving on the part of the needy is highly commended – Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:3).
  • This command has primarily a horizontal focus, giving our resources to the needy.
  • This has to do with our excess possessions, including our accumulated money, not necessarily all our possessions and money. In Luke 12 the context of this command is the farmer’s surplus crop. Jesus is not saying here “become needy” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
  • All such giving is to be done voluntarily and freely (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ananias could have kept what he pretended to give (Acts 5:4).
  • Sometimes an initial dispersion of wealth happened at conversion. Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the needy (Luke 19:8).
  • This giving is to be continuous, however. As Paul said, “each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” for the purpose of meeting needs (I Corinthians 16:2). As long as there are needs we are to keep giving what we can.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-35. When there was a need in the community of believers, those who had would give to those who had need.
  • The giving can be done one on one, or it can be given to the common fund of the church to be distributed to the needy (Matthew 6:2; Acts 4:35; 6:1-4).

4. Who are the needy?

There are three categories of the needy:

1) Those who are needy because of God – evangelists, missionaries, pastors and those who are persecuted. These have sold all they have (Luke 18:22), or left it behind (Luke 18:28-30), or have given up earning money (Luke 10:7; I Timothy 5:17-18) or have had their possessions taken from them (Hebrews 10:32-34) – all for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

2) Those who are needy among the people of God – the sick, the oppressed, widows, and orphans (James 1:27; Galatians 6:10). If we are not needy, our salvation depends upon giving to these two groups of the needy (Luke 16:19-31; 6:24). For we cannot love God and ignore a needy brother or sister (I John 3:16-17). When we do give, they will welcome us into the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:9).

3) We are also to give to those who are needy among the unbelievers (Luke 10:30-37; Galatians 6:10; Luke 6:33-36).

We are not to give to the idle, those who choose not to work. Rather we are to teach these to work hard, earn their own living and help others in need (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

5. How much should we give?

There is no set requirement of how much we are to give; no percentage is given. Those who give much, however, like Barnabas, are honored (Acts 4:36-37).

Love for God and our neighbor should control our giving. Those who give out of love are willing to give sacrificially for others in genuine need. They are not concerned about percentages, but helping the needy. Paul said, “each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But remember this, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6). How much treasure do we want in heaven (Luke 12:33)?

6. Caring for family

None of this giving to the needy excludes us from our responsibilities to care for our family. It is evil to neglect this (Mark 7:8-13; I Timothy 5:3-8). Caring for family can involve storing up resources for our parents in old age (Mark 7:9-13), and for our children’s needs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Caring for family, however, should not be used as a pretext for greed so that we can live in indulgence.

7. Sharing all that we possess

Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). Whatever is not used to support family needs and to give to the needy is still God’s and must be used for God’s purposes. This means being hospitable and sharing what we own.This means blessing the needy with our resources. Philemon had a room for Paul to stay in when he traveled through his area (Philemon 1:22). Gaius allowed his large home to be the meeting place for the church in Corinth (Romans 16:23).

8. Doing the impossible

What God demands of us is impossible because we are evil. We store up treasures for ourselves because we do not believe that God will take care of us. We store up treasures for ourselves so that we can live in comfort while others suffer; because we think it’s alright if others suffer lack as long as we don’t.

But there is hope for us. Jesus tells us that with God all things are possible (Luke18:27). If we truly desire it, God can change our evil hearts. God can enable us to give up all our possessions and be generous with all that we have.

William S. Higgins – 2003

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The message today is very simple. God is a God of life and a God of blessing. And even though we so often fail and sin and mess things up so that there seems to be no hope, in grace, God offers us a new beginning.

Let’s start off with –

Some examples of new beginnings

– that God has given in the Scriptures.

1. Think of Adam and Eve. God made them and blessed them, and everything was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But they sinned and rebelled against God and were judged and exiled from the garden.

But God in his mercy offered them a new beginning. For through their son Seth came a new start. As Genesis 4:26 says, “at that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . (say it all together) “God made a new beginning.”

2. Think of the time of Noah. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (NRSV)

But God offered a new beginning through Noah and his family. They survived the judgment of the flood on callous evildoers. And God told Noah and his family, repeating the original commission to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:17). Humanity began again.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

3. And then there was Abraham. The nations of the earth had forgotten God and were going their own way, worshiping different idols and false gods.

But God revealed himself to Abraham and his family. And God began a plan and made promises to use Abraham and his family to make himself known to the nations.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

4. And then there was Moses. Abraham’s lineage was in slavery in Egypt, captive in their suffering and not fulfilling their role.

So God raised up Moses to deliver them and to put into action the plan and promises he gave to Abraham. Moses led them to the promised land as a new nation, Israel.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

5. Remember the judges. Israel was unfaithful to God, worshiping idols and false gods and to fulfilling God’s plan. And they were enslaved to the rulers of the people around them.

But God raised up judges like Gideon and Samuel to call them to faithfulness. And he used them to deliver Israel from their oppression.

At many points during these years, things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

6. Remember King David. Israel wanted a king like the nations around them, even though this was not of God. And when God gave them their first king Saul, he turned out to be a disaster.

But then God raised up his servant David. And he led the people toward faithfulness to God. And he delivered them from their enemies.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

7. Finally, remember when Israel returned from exile. After many years of rebellion and sin, and not listening to the prophets, they were judged and carried away to Babylon for 70 years of exile.

But God acted to bring them back to their land to begin anew. He did this in accord with the promise in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And God did give them a new start.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

And then we come to –

The new beginning

And this requires us to look at the big picture. God doesn’t just want to give new beginnings within history. God is really leading all things toward a a cosmic new beginning. God created the world, but the world has fallen under the powers of Sin, Satan and Death. But now, God is bringing forth a new creation. As he said in Isaiah 65:17-18, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create”

And God is doing this through his Son, Jesus, whom he sent for this very purpose.

All of the new beginnings we have looked at so far prepared the way for Jesus , who is a descendant of Seth, Noah, Abraham, David and the people of Israel. And Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises given to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets.

Jesus became a human but he knew no sin. And so the powers of Sin, Satan and Death had not right to him. Yet, even though he was innocent, he was put to death on the cross. And because of this:

  • The powers of Sin, Satan and Death have been put down.
  • And Jesus has been raised up from the dead, vindicated and seated at the right hand of God with all authority over heaven and earth.

And he now gives us the blessings of salvation – the forgiveness of our sins and new life through the Spirit of God living within us. What I am saying is that in Jesus, the new creation has begun. And when he returns in glory he will raise us from the dead and the new creation will be completed.

Things seemed truly hopeless for the first creation, but . . . “God made a new beginning”; a new creation in Jesus Christ.

And so in light of all this, I ask you this morning –

Do you need a new beginning?

This God of new beginnings, who works throughout history to give new starts and who has brought forth a new creation through the resurrection of Jesus – this same God can give you a new beginning!

Have you failed God and others? Is your life a mess? Do you think that things are so bad – your situation, your sin, your guilt and shame – that it’s beyond hope?

Well, 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us – “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Right now this Easter day he can give you a new start., Your sin and guilt and shame can be wiped away and you can be a part of the new creation that God has begun in Jesus.

And when Jesus returns you will be raised to an unending life of righteousness, peace and joy in the presence of God. As Revelation 21:3-5 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Remember with me – humility means “lowliness.” It comes from a word that means the earth, so the idea is that you are low to the ground. It means lowering yourself before others. Not raising yourself up above others.

We also talked about four components of humility:

1. You don’t seek honor and praise for yourself. You don’t need to lift yourself above others – brandishing titles, boasting or trying to get noticed. Rather you lower yourself to give honor to others and lift them up.

2. You put yourself on the same level or lower than others. You don’t need to lift yourself up above others always to be in charge or in control. Rather you lower yourself so that you can follow and submit to others.

3. You don’t seek to be served, lifting yourself above others. Rather you lower yourself to serve and bless others.

4. You don’t insist on what is best or easiest for you, lifting yourself above others. Rather you lower yourself to sacrifice for the needs of others.

The title today is, Humility. It’s worth it! This is important to emphasize because who wants to be on the bottom and not the top? Who wants to be last and not first? Who wants to go without recognition or give up power? Who wants to serve and sacrifice for others – instead of others serving and sacrificing for us?

Humility is a hard sell. It goes against everything the world tells us about getting ahead and being on top. And it goes against everything our flesh tells us, that we are more important than others, and that our needs and comforts should come first.

And so that’s why I want to encourage you today to know that humility is worth it. It really is.

It’s worth it, first of all, because –

God blesses the humble in their humility

For instance, God shows favor to the humble. James 4:6 say, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5). I know I want God to give me favor.

God pays attention to the humblePsalm 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.” I know that I want God to hear me and have regard for me.

God reveals himself to the humble. Psalm 25:9 says, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” I know that I want to know God’s way and what is right.

God is close to the humble. Isaiah 57:15 says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place,  and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit . . .’” I know that I want God’s presence in my life.

And God strengthens the humble. Isaiah 57:15 goes on to say that God dwells with the humble “to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” I know that I need God’s strength in my life.

Now, this is not an exhaustive list of the blessings of humility. But it makes the point – it’s worth it! Because God will be with you, God will help you and God will bless you.

But, even more important than this is the fact that –

God will one day exalt the humble

Jesus talks about this in Luke 18:14, as well as in many other places. This verse says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Three observations: 1) the phrase used twice “will be” is a divine passive. That is, it is a deferential way of talking about God. What Jesus is saying is that God will bring down the proud. And also, God will lift up the humble.

2) The key point here is that if you raise yourself above others – by boasting, by trying to be on top, by trying to be served and sacrificed for, you will be humbled by God. But (and you need to get this) if you give this all up and are humble, God will give these things to you. God himself will act to raise you up – to give you honor, to give you status, to put you in charge and to give you comforts and joy.

Notice that there is a “V” shape of the Christian life.

v shape1We focus on lowering ourselves to where we are sacrificially serving others. And then God acts to raise us up in his good time and way.

3) There is a reference to the resurrection of the righteous in this verse. The word “exalted” can also be translated “raised up,” as in raised up on the final day.

Now, God can raise us up in this life too to give us honor. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” There is a time and place even in this life that God does this.

But the real exaltation will come on the final day, at the time of the great reversal when God humbles the arrogant and powerful and raises up the lowly in the resurrection to life eternal.

And let me end by saying that this will happen by looking at the example Jesus. As we saw before in Philippians 2:5-8 Jesus humbled himself step by step making himself lower and lower.

1. He did not seek honor – 6 – “though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He set aside his rightful glory at the right hand of God.

2. He came down to our level – 7 – he “made himself nothing.” He became a mere human being like the rest of us.

3. He came to serve us – 7 – “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He lowered himself below us to lift us up.

4. He gave up his life for us – 8 – “and being found in human form, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He sacrificed everything for us.

But then the great reversal came for him, his resurrection from the dead. Philippians 2:9-11 talks about this. It says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Notice again the “V” shape of this. He lowered himself. And then God raised him up. And what I am saying is that if we follow in our Lord’s footsteps – we too will be exalted on that final day.

When we give up the meager things of this world, the honor and status it gives, God will give us honor and status in the world to come, when it really counts.

  • If you just look at it according to a worldly perspective – it isn’t worth it.
  • If you just look at it from the perspective of the flesh – it isn’t worth it.

But from the perspective of the kingdom of God it is so worth it, because this world is passing away and our lives are like a mist that comes and goes in a day, but the kingdom is eternal.

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