Thursday, May 16, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 2: Willing to Cross the Jordan

For several years after I graduated from high school, my parents would go on vacation to Hawaii. Not having any kids at home opened up their finances and allowed them to do this. Every time they’d go, they would offer to pay for my families housing, and all we would have to do is pay for food and flight. Several years back, before we had our third child, we took my parents offer and went to the island of Kauai. It was supposed to be the whole family, including my sisters and their families, but it ended up being just my parents, me, my wife, and our two kids. We had a blast, and those two kids got spoiled to the brim, because they were the only grandkids there.
Now, my desire on the trip was to relax. I didn’t want to do a lot, I just wanted to be on the beach. Well, on one of those beaches, the kids decided they wanted the family to build a big sand castle. Everyone started out helping, but eventually my mom, my wife and myself were left to finished the task. Remember, all I wanted to do was just relax, so I felt more roped into this than anything. 
But it turned out pretty good. It had a castle, a wall, and a moat that diverted the ocean water away from the structure. And that’s when it happened, it was like Godzilla in Tokyo. One of my kid’s big ol’ feet came trouncing through and destroyed our hard work. After that, daddy was no longer interested in helping build sandcastles. I had come to Hawaii to relax, and that’s what I was going to do. No more sandcastles for me. 

And it’s this idea of reaching a place of relaxation, of rest, and then being asked to do more that could cost you that relaxation, that brings us to where we left off last week in Joshua chapter 1 verse 10. So if you have your Bibles, you can open up to Joshua 1:10, and as you do, let’s bring ourselves back to where we started last week.

Last week we began our summer study with the book of Joshua in the first half of the Bible, and we did this by diving into some of the characteristics of Joshua the man. We saw how Joshua trusted godly leadership. He trusted that Moses was following God, and even when some of the stuff Joshua was asked to do sounded a little on the crazy side, Joshua followed. The second characteristic was that Joshua himself sought a relationship with God. He was a witness of God on Mt. Sinai, he stayed at the tent of meeting where God met Moses. It was for reasons like these, that Joshua was picked by God to lead the nation of Israel into the land that God had promised Abraham 700 years earlier. 
But it was the three times of God’s encouragement to Joshua, that we focused on; and it’s because of this repeated encouragement we asked the question, “How come Joshua needs so much encouragement?” And we came to the understanding that it’s because everyone needs encouragement. It doesn’t matter if you’re the kid shining shoes for a little extra money, or if you’re the leader of a nation, every one of us needs encouragement. And then we talked about how there are two ways in which we are to find encouragement. One being each other and the other the Scriptures. Both are resources of encouragement that are there for us.

This brings us to where we’re at in the book of Joshua chapter 1 verse 10; Joshua has been encouraged by God, and so he steps out to take command of the nation of Israel. Let’s read together.

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”
12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!

Now the further and further we get into the book of Joshua, the harder the names get, and the more history of how we got to where we’re at will come into play. One history fact we need to know is that God was planning to divide the promise land up among the twelve sons of Jacob’s descendants, who God called Israel. So let’s talk a little about who these first three groupsare..

The first group is the tribe of Reuben. They descend from Reuben who was the first born son of Jacob, who’s name eventually got changed to Israel, hence why the people are called the nation of Israel. But Rueben lost his position as first born son to his brother Judah, because Rueben slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, who was the mother of some of Reuben’s brothers (Genesis 35:22). Some real weird stuff, that proves, God doesn’t whitewash history for us. But don’t be to hard on Reuben, because he was the one that kept his brothers from killing their youngest brother, at the time, Joseph. And that was a good thing, because God used Joseph to make sure that the nation of Israel would survive a horrible famine. So even though Reuben was a screw up, God still used him. Another person in Scripture that gives hope to us all.

The second group is the tribe of Gad. They descend from, you guessed it, Gad who was the seventh son of Israel. Now there’s not much interesting about Gad, who was one of the brothers that wanted to kill Jospeh. But what is interesting is the implied role that they played in defeating the king Sihon. We’re never directing told what they did, but Moses said this of them in Deuteronomy 33:20-21, “20 About Gad he said: “Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. 21 He chose the best land for himself; the leader’s portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out the Lord’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel.”

So even though Gad himself didn’t play much of a role in biblical history, his descendants were strong warriors, and help defeat Sihon who was a warlord (

The final group is the half-tribe of Manasseh. Now, yes they descended from a man named Manasseh, but Manasseh wasn’t one of Israel’s twelve sons. He was actually the oldest son of Joseph, who was himself the eleventh of Israel. So the question obviously should come up, “why then is his descendants getting a portion of land, if he wasn’t one of the twelve sons of Israel?
And that answer is two-fold, first the tribe of Levi had been designated to become priests to God, and because of that status, they were not going to get a chunk of land, because as God put it, God was their allotment. But God had promised twelve sections of land, and he did this through the man Israel’s blessing in Genesis 48:15-16. It was in this blessing that the man Israel, blessed both of Jospeh’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. This is why Manasseh is called a half tribe, because the other half of the tribe are their cousins Ephraim. 

Now all three of these tribes where cattlemen, and they chose as their portion of land, the land east of the Jordan because it was perfect for their cattle.

And it’s that very point of history that causes this interaction between Joshua and the leaders of these three tribes. 
At this moment in the nation of Israel’s history there is an opportunity for a division to occur. Joshua just took command of the whole nation, and already he has the makings of a break between the tribes. Think about it. On one hand, there are nine and a half tribes that that are ready to move into the land that God had promised them. Those nine and a half tribes are looking toward the west, over the Jordan River, seeing that within a few days journey, they will finally be in the place that they have been told about. They have wandered the desert, they have fought battles, and now their prize was within reach. Sure they still have some more work to do, but they will soon be in the land.
On the other hand, you have two and a half tribes that have already received their allotment. They have fought battles, and have done so gallantly. They have a place where they can now begin to start lives and put down roots in areas that are wide open with possibility.
Do you see where the problem now lies? One side has their relaxation, and the other still has work to do.

So what does Joshua do? He sends out word that the nine and a half tribes must be ready to move in three days time, and then he specifically goes to the two and a half tribes and reminds them of what Moses had spoke to them. “‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.

This is a bold move by Joshua; a move that God knew he had to make, and so it makes even more sense as to why we see the three-fold call of God to Joshua to be courageous. And Joshua did. Joshua prepared the people to leave, and called those who had already gained their inheritance to remember that not everyone had received theirs.

And why is this so important, because it’s so easy for us, when we have gained our comfort, to forget that others have not. That when we have gained our place of relaxation, of rest, others have not. And I think this is most noticeable in how we live out our Christian lives. If you have put your trust in Jesus as your personal Savior; that means that you have decided to follow him, forsaking everything else, then you have your place in God’s family. But if we took the numbers of Christians in the world at face value, not questioning if those who profess to be Christians are born again, but just taking the largest number of professing Christians in this world, there are about 2.18 billion professing Christians around the world. 
Right now there are about 7.7 billion people in the world, that means there are 5.52 billion people who are not professing Christians. There are people out there that do not have a resting relationship with Jesus. I once heard from a linguist, that there are approximately 18,000 language dialects in the world. Of which, only 8,000 have been reached with the Gospel. There are places in the world where missionaries are not able, or not allowed to go.
We who profess to be Christians, have our allotment, we have our rest, yet there is still work to be done. We are the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh siting on our our allotted land on the east side of the Jordan, but there are those who still are awaiting their allotment. There are still those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior, and the question is, what are we doing about it?

I don’t if the next sentence out of my mouth is going to hit a nerve with anyone this morning or not. Many of us in this room are retired, you’ve worked hard in your life to get to this place and I thank God that you are here, but your kingdom retirement has not begun. As long as you’re living, God is calling you to help in his work. There might not be things you can do, but there are things that you can do. The question isn’t are you called, the question is, are you willing?

Joshua went to these two and half tribes and reminded them of their calling, we need that too. We need to be reminded of the calling on our lives. Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 9, “36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (v.36-38).”

Now who were those workers that were eventually sent out? Wasn’t it the very disciples that Jesus told to ask for workers? When we’re asking God to raise up people for his work, we need to be the first ones on the line, working until God calls us to rest with him.

I love how the two and a half tribes answer Joshua. They could have easily said, “no, we’re retired from battle,” or “no we have what we set out to get, we’re going to take it easy from now on.”  They could have said this, and a split would have happened right at the beginning of Joshua’s tenure as leader, but they responded in a godly way, “16 Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

They recognized what they had to do. They recognized what was needed of them, and they recognized that there was still more to their calling. And they ended their pledge to Joshua with a fourth encouragement towards him to be courageous. And I believe this was God’s words through them, reminding Joshua that he was with him.

We can easily become comfortable in the place that God has brought us, because we can feel like we’ve done everything required of us. But God is calling us to greater work even today in his kingdom. The question is, are we going to stay on our side of the Jordan River, and allow our brothers and sisters to do all the work on their own, or are we going to rise up and fulfill the calling on our lives? 

This week I want to challenge you to make three lists: First is a list of all that you have done in God’s work up until now. The Second is all the things that could be done. And if you need some help with this, just ask me, Jeff, or Marika for some ideas, we’ve got plenty. And then in the final list, write down all the things from the first one that you can still do, and all the things from the second one that you can do, and combine them. That combined third list is what God is calling you to do. That is your crossing of the Jordan River.

I want to encourage you that the calling on your life is not done, until your six feet under. We have work in God’s Kingdom to do. And if we respond as these two and a half tribes did, then, the rest that awaits us will be all the sweeter. Amen.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 1: Everyone Needs Encouragement

Anyone ever applied for a job somewhere? It can be such a discouraging endeavor. If you’re young, you don’t have experience, and so you need to find a job, so you can get experience, but no one wants to hire you, because you don’t have the experience they want. Then, when you get the experience, it’s not quite what the next person is looking for. To top it all off, even if you have years of experience, there are jobs out there, that will look at you and say, “We want someone younger who has new ideas.”  Every step of the way, it seems like you just can’t win. I’ve been there, maybe you’ve been there, I know a couple of our graduated teens that are there right now. And it’s the discouragement that we can face in this life, that brings us to our text today. 
We’ll be starting in the book of Joshua chapter 1, verse 1. And as you find your way to Joshua chapter 1, verse 1, I want to bring us out of our winter mode of teaching to our summer mode.

Every summer we, as a congregation, dive into a book of the Bible. We started this tradition with the book of Colossians, a few years back. The last couple fo summers were spent in the Gospel of Mark, which we finished up last fall. 
We approach these summer studies, with the goal of seeing the overarching purposes of the writing, and how it connects to the rest of Scripture. We don’t approach these studies verse-by-verse, though we may do that from time to time. The goal isn’t to mine everything nugget from the passages, but rather get an understanding of God’s reason for speaking through a particular moment in history, and how it is to affect us in our lives today.
So this summer, and most likely, next summer, we will be exploring together the book of Joshua in the first half of the Bible. 
But why the book of Joshua, you might be asking. Well, to put it simply, this is a book that God has been working out in my own life. I don’t know if you know, but our church has been going through a bit of a transition. From October 2001 to June 2018 Pastor Jeff has led this ministry, as an under shepherd to Jesus. In 2015, Pastor Jeff and the Elders asked me to take over his position, and in June 2018 that transition was completed. So for the last, almost, year I have had the pleasure to begin a journey with you as Christ leads us together in the next step of God’s ministry in Quartzsite.
And Joshua is a man that I have felt more connected with in this season of my life than any other in Scripture. Because he too was a man that was a part of a transition in leadership. 

So let’s start our walk through the book of Joshua, by starting in chapter 1 verse 1. 

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Here’s the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. And if you’ve ever been challenge to memorize several passages of Scripture, or have ever needed some encouragement in your life. Joshua 1:9 is a popular verse for people to learn. 
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
In times of discouragement, or when we’re about to face something difficult, we can recite this verse to be reminded that God is there, so we do not need to be discouraged or afraid.

But let’s dive into the person that God is speaking these words to. Who is this Joshua that is taking over the mantel of Moses. Who is this Joshua who is going to lead the people of Israel into the promise land that wasn’t just promised to Moses, but has it’s roots in a promise God made to Abraham almost 700 years before (Genesis 12:1-3). This must be an amazing man to be entrusted with such an honor. And I would say, yes he was.

In fact, I want to point out two aspects of Joshua’s character to you. 

The first is, he trusted godly leadership. We see this in a couple of places. One time the Israelite people fought against this king named Amalek. In Exodus 17 verse 9 we get a conversation between Moses and Joshua. 

9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Joshua trusted that, even though the plan sounded weird, God had placed Moses in a position of leadership, and so Joshua followed. 
Another time, and probably the most important trust in leadership that Joshua shows, is when Moses sends a group of men to spy out the land of Canaan in Numbers 13. Now I’m not going to read the chapter, which I would encourage you to do on your own. Instead, the story goes, that Moses had been telling the Israelite people that God was taking them to the land of Canaan, and he was going to give it to them. So Moses sends out 12 spies to bring back news about the defenses and people of the land. But when the twelve spies returned, 10 of them said the taking of the land was impossible. Whereas the last two, Joshua and Caleb, said they could do it.
Joshua was a man who trusted that God was leading through Moses. And it was because of his trust, that even when he saw the challenges ahead, Joshua was willing to face them.

The second aspect of Joshua’s character that I want us to look at, is his desire to know God.
There are three times Joshua displays this. The first comes from Exodus 24, starting in verse 12. 
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God.  

Whenever I’ve read through the times when Moses met with God, I never realize, that on at least one occasion he was accompanied by Joshua. Joshua was allowed the same access to God as Moses was, even early on.

Later on in Exodus, we see a time when God’s anger was against the Israelites because of their sin. And so, Moses put a tent up outside of the community, and there he would meet with God. It says this in Exodus 33, starting in verse 9…

9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Joshua was right there at the tent, what was he doing, I don’t know, but it seems to me he was seeking the presence of God in this time, just as Moses was.

Finally, and I think one of the most important spiritual experiences Joshua had, was actually being corrected by his mentor Moses. In Numbers 11, starting in verse 26, we see a situation where God has called Moses to bring the elders of Israel to the tent, but a couple of these elders stayed behind. The Scripture says,

26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”
29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Joshua learned the lesson that God wasn’t just wanting to work through Moses, but through the whole of the community of Israel. Which would serve him later in his life.

And so, this Joshua was a man who trusted God’s leadership over him, and had desire to deep relationship with God.
He was chosen, and I think rightly so, to be the one who had the mantle of leadership passed to him. Because isn’t that the type of person you would want to lead? A person that trust’s God’s leading through people over them, and one who himself desires a deeper relationship with God?

Now, if Joshua was such a good pick for the transfer of leadership, I propose this question to you, why would God need to say the words of Joshua 1:9? “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
And he doesn’t just say it once, he says it three times in the passage. But not only that, God tells Moses to tell Joshua in Deuteronomy 3:28, “But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.”

Why does Joshua need so much encouragement? Isn’t he a man of great trust? Isn’t he a man of great godly desire? Why does he need to be encouraged by his mentor? Why does God himself have to reiterate that encouragement three times in the span of a few sentences?

The reality is, all of us can easily lose sight of what God has set before us, and become discouraged. Even a man like Joshua.
I know I’ve been discouraged. Ten years or so back we had a teenager who was a part of our youth ministry named Nick, which some of you might remember him. Nick went through a very hard time, and had a hard painful background. The church tired very hard to help; Pastor Jeff was trying to remodel his cabin, and offered Nick a place to stay. The church hired him on as an intern with the stipulation that he would finish high school. 
He didn’t and the church leadership, and I can’t stress this part enough, with a heavy heart had to let him go. It was one of the most discouraging times in my early ministry here. 

All of us need encouragement. One of our elders who passed away named Boyd Ellis once said me, “God has told me to be an encourager, so that’s what I’ll be.” He even told me one time, “I wish I had faith like yours.” To which I replied, “Like mine? I wish I had faith like yours.” 

Joshua needs encouraging, and so do we. But I might not be to presumptions when I say, I think we all know that right? I think we all know that there are times when we are discouraged and we need some encouragement. 
Yet, God wants to be encouraged. That’s why he does it for Joshua, and it’s why he used Paul to say in 1st Thessalonians 5:9, 
“9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
“12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

But how? How does God want us to be encouraged? Well in two ways. One is in what we just read above: you and I need to encourage each other. We need to be speaking words that build up and not tear down. We need to speak in love, and in truth. 
The second way is what God tells Joshua in the text we’ve read today. In verse 8 God tells Joshua, “8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
The importance of reading, internalizing, and living out God’s word cannot be stressed enough. 

In a book called Jesus Freaks, which is a collection of stories of Christian persecution, a story was told of a man in Vietnam who was put into prison for his faith. The jailers would defecate and use the pages of the Bible as toilet paper. Then to add insult to injury, they would make the Christian man clean up after them. The man took the pages that had been marred, cleaned them, and kept them, so that he would have the Word of God for encouragement.

You and I need what Joshua needed, encouragement. So my challenge for you this week is to memorize Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
And if you have already memorized this verse, I challenge you to memorize verses 7-8 as well.

Let us be people who speak encouragement into each other’s lives, and who seek it in the pages of Scripture, so, like Joshua, we may be blessed by a deeper relationship with God. Amen.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Easter Sermon - Debunking the Empty Tomb

It’s Easter Sunday and it would be strange if you haven’t heard about the Resurrection and the empty tomb. There’s a great video online from this comedian John Crist showing a Pastor as he’s preparing for Easter Sunday. One line has him saying, “I am going to be saying some very tweetable quotes this morning: The easter basket is full but the tomb is empty.”
And it’s the empty tomb that has plagued the world for almost 2,000 years. Christians and skeptics alike have poured hundreds of hours into proving or disproving that Jesus’ tomb was empty. 
So today, we’re going to help everyone out and finish the debate. On this Easter Sunday, we’re going to prove that the tomb of Jesus was indeed not empty.
Now, that might be a little crazy to say. But I want to give you all the arguments of why the tomb couldn’t be empty, and to see just how valid the arguments are. Because if we can disprove that the was empty tomb, then we can disprove that Jesus rose form the grave. So follow me on this, so that we can discover the truth of the tomb together.

I’m going to give you several arguments for why the tomb couldn’t be empty. Each of these are not the most common arguments that are out there, but they are more of the modern arguments that are being presented today. (Arguments from:

First off, let’s start with Paul. This guy’s testimony is suspect already. I mean he was a persecutor of the Christians, and then Paul says he met Jesus on the road after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s pretty suspicious. But let’s see what he says about the empty tomb.
I you have a Bible, turn with me to 1st Corinthians chapter 15 verse 3, where Paul is writing to a non-Jewish audience in the city of Corinth. Listen to how he describes the the story of Jesus rising from the dead.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Did you catch that? Paul never mentioned an empty tomb. Paul talks about a resurrection but not an empty tomb. So maybe Paul is speaking to an earlier Christian tradition; a tradition that believed that Jesus hadn’t resurrected physically, leaving behind an empty tomb, but rather resurrected spiritually. See Paul is writing around AD 55, the empty tomb story must have been made up afterward because Paul didn’t mention it at all.
Oh wait no, no, the Gospel of Mark was written almost at the same as Paul is writing to the Corinthians. Maybe even earlier if what scholars like Robert Gundry say are true. It is true that Mark is the earliest biography of Jesus we have, with the date of the writing ranging from AD 45 to AD 60. And it’s true that Mark wrote from the perspective of Peter one of the original disciples. So it’s from an eye witness account. Oh and there’s the fact that Paul’s focus in this chapter isn’t to give an exhausted view of the circumstance of the resurrection, but rather focusing on the resurrection itself and it’s impact in a Christian’s life.

Okay, so that one didn’t really pan out. But the next one has to.

Here’s the second argument, that is sure to prove the tomb wasn’t empty. The empty tomb isn’t attested to from that many sources. I mean, all we really have is the disciple Peter’s eyewitness account in Mark’s biography. Then there’s Matthew who was one of the original 12, and his writing. And Luke, who did extensive historical research interviewing many different eyewitnesses, even most likely intervening Jesus’ mother Mary. And then there was John who was also one of the original 12. But that’s it.
I mean, we need more than just these four accounts to prove the tomb was empty, right? 
Well, well I guess there’s the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote of the superstition of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, right around the time of the early church. 
And there is the fact that other historical events and people, like Alexander the Great don’t even have eye witnesses like Jesus had. Or the fact that the earliest documents we have for Alexander’s life don’t even come around until a hundred years after his death. So I guess we do have better witnesses to the empty tomb, than to one of the greatest world leaders in all of history.
And I guess, that because the writings happened so close to the actually event, they could have been disproved at the time. 
So I guess this isn’t going to pan out either. Well, that was the weakest of the arguments anyway. 

The third one is the real gold. Did you know that there were other writings going around at the time of the early Christians that talked about an empty tomb? No? Well, let me enlighten you. There were two specific ones.
The first is called the Testament of Job, which was written between BC 1 and AD 2. Now I know what you’re thinking, that’s a long time to not know when something was written, and I know this time also encompasses the time when Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. And it’s true that the writer of the Testament of Job could have borrowed from the Christians rather than the other way around. So now that I think of it, maybe the Testament of Job isn’t the best one, I mean, it doesn’t even talk about an empty tomb; it just talks about Job’s children being in heaven, which isn’t even a resurrection as the early Christians understood it.
But wait, there’s Chaereas (Chair-eey-s) and Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo), a greek romance novel. Where the woman Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) is placed in a tomb and later is taken out of the tomb by robbers, so that when her love Chaereas (Chair-eey-s) goes to find her, bam he finds an empty tomb. Just like Jesus’ empty tomb story. 
Well, I guess it’s not exactly like Jesus empty tomb. I mean it is a purposeful work of fiction, whereas Jesus’ tomb story is written as historical biography and could have been verified or contradicted by the witnesses of the day. And the earliest manuscript we have of Chaereas (Chair-eey-s) and Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) is from the 13th century, whereas the earliest Mark manuscript is from the 2nd century. I guess it’s also probable that, if anything, Chaereas (Chair-eey-s)  and Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) borrowed from the Christians rather than the other way around, since it was written sometime between the mid 1st century to the 2nd century. And the two stories are very different in that Jesus was crucified and verified dead, while Callirhoe (Cal-ir-oo) was simply asleep.
So, I guess we’re not doing to well disproving the empty tomb, using the most modern arguments that are available. And looking at the other arguments I have, I don’t think we’re going to accomplish what we set out to do today. Because even though we tend to think we can disprove the empty tomb, the reality is, every argument falls short in disproving the empty tomb.

And there are a lot of arguments of why the tomb wasn’t empty. The earliest one that we have is actually found in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew writing his biography of Jesus, that we call a Gospel, writes this in his 28th chapter, starting in verse 12, “12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”

Matthew is writing between 50-60 AD, and just the fact that there was a rumor about why the tomb was empty, gives a good reason why it was.

But each one of these arguments fails to give a logical reason why the tomb was empty. Will this debate ever end? No, because when it comes down to it, each of us has to weigh the evidence for ourselves and make a personal decision. And that decision, though not simple to come to, is simple to state: Either Jesus was who the Bible says he is or he is not. Either Jesus is God, or he isn’t. 
Now the stated choice is simple, but the implication is not. If Jesus is who the Bible says he is, then that means that God did create this world perfect, but then we have a problem ‘cause taking one look at myself I know I am not perfect. And the Bible says the reason for that is sin. Sin is simply our desire placed above God’s. When our desire is to lie, we place it above God’s desire for us to tell the truth. When our desire is to cheat or steal, we place it above God’s desire for us to do justice, and to not be self-centered. And because we sin, God has to judge us, because a perfect God, who only works in perfection, cannot have something that is imperfect in his creation. And that judgment leads to our death. That’s some bad news. But if Jesus is true, if the tomb really was empty and Jesus rose from the the dead, that means that God himself came to earth to fix our imperfection. To save us from his judgment to death. Jesus lives a life where his desire is inline with God’s desire. And since he died without ever sinning, death could not hold him, and he raises from the dead. And that’s good news for us, because Jesus tells us this in John’s biography, 

13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (3:13-21).

If the empty tomb is true, and Jesus rose from the grave, then we stand at a crossroads. On one side we have the Bible being true, with the empty tomb showing us Jesus rose form the dead. That means we have the option of believing in Jesus to have our sin forgiven, and us being brought into eternal life.
On the other side, we have the Bible being false, where all the predictions about Jesus, were not fulfilled, and the if the tomb still had Jesus body, then none of it matters. Jesus was false, and we need to move on with our lives. 

But I have found that all the evidence, of history, of prophecy, of reason, and personal experience, all point to Jesus being true, alive and calling each of us to himself today.

My challenge for you is simple this week. In the foyer, I’m going to have someone passing out a list of the arguments I gave you today, and more. I would challenge you to read over and research those arguments and come to a decision of who Jesus is. 

Because if Jesus is a fake, then Christianity is worthless and you shouldn’t believe. But if Jesus is true, then he is worth it to follow, because everything in us needs him.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Palm Sunday Answer to, "Is God True?"

How do you know God is true? How do you know God is real? That’s a couple of questions I get a lot. And I love to respond to these types of questions because there are so many ways to answer them. Recently with the teens, I asked them what they struggled with when it came to God. We then spent several weeks going through each question; some of which I’ve shared with you on Sunday mornings. In these questions, we saw several struggles on this very idea of, is God real?
But no matter how many years I’ve answered the question, there is always a new way to answer it. So today, I want to jump right into it. If you have your Bibles, we’re going to be all over the Scriptures, but mostly we’ll be in the book of Daniel chapter 9. So if you’d like, you can open up there.
And as you open up to the book of Daniel chapter 9, I want to share with you Daniel’s life story. Daniel was a teenager when he was taken from his home in the land of Judah, and brought to the kingdom of Babylon. The Jewish people had been conquered. God had sent many prophets, like Jeremiah and Isaiah to warn of the coming exile, but the nation didn’t respond, and so now they were scattered. But God was with Daniel, and Daniel became a great advisor to the kings. Not just of Babylon, but even when that kingdom was conquered by the Medes and Persians, God was still with Daniel, and Daniel became an advisor to the new kings.
And as we come to the 9th chapter of Daniel, we come to a point where Daniel recognizes the work of God happening right in front of his face. So let’s pick up in Daniel chapter 9 starting in verse 1.

1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

Daniel a faithful and godly man, studied the Scriptures and found that the time of the Jewish people to return to the land of Israel was coming soon. What did he read from the prophet of Jeremiah to give him this idea?
Well, in the book of Jeremiah, the 11th verse of the 25th chapter, Jeremiah writes this, “11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”

Daniel understood these 70 years of exile were in response to the Jewish people not following God’s law of allowing the land to rest from use, we can find the reference to this in 2nd Chronicles 36:20-21. Because God had instructed the Jewish people to allow the land to rest every seven years. But for 490 years they didn’t follow God’s command, and a part their exile would be a forced rest of the land from Jewish hands. 

But that time was coming to an end, so Daniel began seeking God to return the Jewish people to their home land. Daniel recognized that they had sinned, but he knew that God was good, and would fulfill his word. Daniel knew that God was on the brink of extraordinary work, saying in verse 19, “Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

God answered Daniel’s prayer with a visit from the angel Gabriel, and a glimpse into the future that God had planned. Saying to Daniel,

“22 Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:
24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

At the end of Daniel’s 9th chapter, we are left with these words as if to contemplate them. Chapter 10 moves on to a new vision, and so these words are left here, calling out to us to understand.
And so, let us comprehend them together.

Gabriel said to Daniel that, “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city…(v. 24)” These two words in Hebrew are Shibim (shib-eem’) Shabua (shaw-boo’-ah), meaning 70 groups of 7. Some translations translate Shabua as weeks, but the idea here is a group of sevens, whether that be weeks, years, months, or a number of other possibilities. We have a similar idea when we say a dozen. A dozen weeks, bagels, kids, and other things.
So what do these seven groups represent? Well, later on in Daniel, we are returned to the topic of this passage in chapter 12. In the final words of chapter 9 we are told of an abomination; in the 11th verse of chapter 12 we are told that, “the abomination that makes desolation is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.”

In the Hebrew understanding of years, this is a half year. See you and I hold to the Roman concept of a year as 365 days. But to the Hebrews, the Egyptians, Babylonians and Persians, to them, a year was 360 days. We can confirm that this 360 day year is used in Scripture because the first book of the Bible, Genesis chapters 7-8, uses it; and the last book of the Bible, in Revelation 11, uses it also.
And so these sevens are years. So we are told that 70 groups of 7 years are declared. But then we are also told that these 70 groups of 7 years are split up. There is 7 groups of 7 years, then 62 groups of 7 years, and then 1 more group of 7 years.

In the time of the first two groups totaling of 69 groups of 7 years, the city of the Jewish people will be rebuilt, but in trouble times. After these 69 groups of 7 years, an Anointed One will arise, be put to death, the city will be destroyed once again, and then a new prince will eventually come from the people who destroyed the city. Then the last 7 group of 7 years will happen. 

But it’s these first two groups totaling of 69 groups of 7 I want us to really focus on. Because answering this question of “How do I know God is true,” is found within these first 69 groups of 7 years.
If we turn our eyes away from the Scriptures and into history, we know that Daniel has his interaction with Gabriel in the year 539 BC, because we know when Darius son of Xerxes began his reign. Three years later, in 536 BC the 70 years of exile was up, and then the decrees began to follow. The first two were to rebuild the temple of God, but only the third references  the rebuilding of the city that Gabriel talked to Daniel about. This decree to rebuild the city was given to Nehemiah in 444 BC (Neh. 2:1-8). Knowing that the use of a biblical year is 360 days. We can take our 69 groups of 7 which would be 483. Multiply that with a biblical year of 360, and we have 173,880 days, now converting that into a Roman year that we use, that gives us 477 years.
Take 444 BC, count 477 years later and we get 33 AD. Which, April 3rd of 33 AD is one of the most accepted dates of Jesus’ crucifixion. This date is accepted because of both the biblical evidence of what’s happening around Jesus’ death, and the historical evidence of earthquakes and eclipses. 

How do I know that God is true? Because that’s just one example of the complexity of prophecy that God has given to us through Scripture. 
Not only that, but by looking at the decree given to Nehemiah, some scholars have traced the time of the days of 173,880 starting on March 4th, 444 BC, and ending on March 29th 33 AD. And what happened on March 29th 33 AD if Jesus was crucified on April 3rd 33 AD? This…

29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you (Luke 19:29-44).”

The Anointed One Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the words of Gabriel to Daniel, that, “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens (v.25).”

I know God is true, because again and again, he proves himself true through his word. And this is just one example of how I can answer that question. So today on Palm Sunday we’re not just celebrating that Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and over palm leafs. No, we are celebrating the fulfillment of God’s promise to Daniel, and the truth that God is real, living, and active among us. Because God proves himself true again, when four days later at Jesus’ crucifixion, he fulfills the words of Gabriel to Daniel, “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.”

But then God proves himself one more time, but let’s save that for next week.

We can all struggle with the question of, is God real? That’s why God does things like this in the book of Daniel. This is why God gives us prophecy so specific as to help us see he is real. And this is why it is so important that we study the Scriptures, because it is there that we can find assurance that God is true, and we can have a life changing relationship with him. 

This week I want to challenge you to examine the Scriptures. To explore for yourself some of the prophecies that are given. A few of these that would speak to Palm Sunday are Daniel 9, and Zechariah 9. Let us as a community, explore the Scripture that God has given us, to see that he is true and he is worth of our shouts of Praise, for the Anointed One of Daniel has come, and he is Jesus our God! Amen!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Balancing Scripture and Relationship

I saw this meme, a little picture, on Facebook this past week. It read, “Knowing the Bible is one thing. Knowing the Author is another.”
Now I know what it means and I completely agree with it. The point of the meme is to say, that you can know everything about the Bible and study it all the time and still not be in a saving relationship with God. In fact there are many atheists and agnostics that are in this category; there are even those who profess to follow Jesus in this category. 
But I also believe the statement, “Not knowing the Bible, makes it hard to know the Author,” is just as true. And this past winter I have been confronted on a several of occasions with this reality. Several weeks back I shared a story about a woman who came into our teen Sunday school class and didn’t like what I was teaching. In that class, which was the same material I was teaching the adults on Wednesday nights, we were talking about how to defend our faith, and when I challenged her to do as the Apostle Peter says in his first letter, “…Always be prepared to give an answer…(3:15)” She couldn’t give any reason from Scripture for her belief in God.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago to another conversation I shared with you that came about because of somethings I said in our Jesus as Sanctifier sermon. It was a great conversation and I do believe the man that I was talking with desires to follow Jesus, but when the man would mention Scripture, he would tended misquote and thereby misunderstand the Scriptures he used. But it was one statement he made about the Scriptures that really stood out to me. He said that the Scriptures were, “People’s experience with God, and we need to make our own experiences with him.” This idea can turn the Scriptures from the objective Word of God, to a subjective buffet of a book where we can pick and choose who God is based on our own experiences, rather than on who God says he is.
Finally this week. On Wednesday I walked into a prayer meeting and was told that a local non-evangelical pastor said, “Evangelicalism was more of threat than Muslims.” Well, I never believe anything I hear, so I did my own investigation. What was said to me wasn’t exactly true. The pastor was responding to, again, a Facebook post that another pastor had posted. That Facebook post talked about an act of congress that forbade muslims from holding office. This was that pastor’s actual response was, “Sorry I totally disagree, I’m more concerned with the agenda of Evangelicalism.” I responded to this by asking what did he mean. And I received the response, “I find that the more conservative and evangelical people who profess to be Christian are more inclined to preach to OT and not the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was inclusive basically without exception.” Of course I asked for a follow up, and the follow up was, “I don’t hear much preaching and teaching of Jesus love and forgiveness in the N T, but rather God’s wrath and judgement in the OT…”

Now, in each one of these experiences there is a common thread, a disregard for the Scriptures. When we emphasize too much the study of Scripture over our relationship with God we can fall into a self-righteous, legalistic religion like that of the Pharisees; who knew a lot about God, but didn’t know him personally. But on the other side, if we downplay the need to study and know the Scriptures, then we fall into a self-righteous subjective religion like the Sadducees, who knew nothing of the Scriptures, but acted as if they knew God.
Only when we balance the need to study the Scriptures, “correctly handling the word of truth”, as Paul states in his second letter to Timothy (2:15), with seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus as Jesus himself emphasizes in places like John 15; then and only then are we able to move into a place where we are rightly following as Jesus leads.

Now it can be very easy for us to look at people like the examples I shared and say, well they aren’t right. But here’s the thing, we can easily fall into this as well. We do this by emphasizing one of our experiences over what the Scriptures says. We do this by allowing our personal feelings on a subject to lead us to not believe or disregard passages of Scripture. We do this when we hold strict to a passage of Scripture that wasn’t intended to be held strictly. It’s easy for any of us to fall into this, so today we’re going to look at three ways to avoid Falling out of balance in both how we deal with the Scriptures, and how we relate to God in our relationship with him.

Let’s start out with the first way we avoid falling out of balance between Scripture and Relationship. First, we need to live with the fact that it isn’t one or the other. In this case, we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have both a deep understanding of the Scripture, being true to it, and a dynamic experiential relationship with God.
Let’s look at what the Scriptures say. 
Jeremiah 6:16-20 says, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, “We will not walk in it.” 17 I appointed watchmen over you and said, “Listen to the sound of the trumpet!” But you said, “We will not listen.” 18 Therefore hear, you nations; you who are witnesses, observe what will happen to them. 19 Hear, you earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. 20 What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.’”
In the time of Jeremiah, God was calling out to Israel who stood at a crossroads. They were heading to a place of destruction, with the nation of Babylon ready to destroy them and take them into captivity. They had gone their own way so long, and that way was going to lead to exile. But God says there is a way to remedy this, return to the ancient paths, the way that is good. And what is this way? Listening to God’s word and not rejecting his law. It is this very rejection of God’s word that has caused them to go their own way and now will lead them into a seventy year exile. But someone might say, we are Christians we are not under the law. This talk of words and law speaks more about the Scriptures and the relationship that is found there, rather than in the keeping of the Mosaic Law. Listen to verse 20 again, “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” God is saying he desires the people to return to the word and relationship he had called them into. The simple acts of the law are not in fact what God is seeking, but rather a people who seek him in his word.
Let’s flip over to what Jesus says in the Gospel of John, chapter 7, starting in verse 37. At a great feast Jesus says this to the Jews, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Jesus points us into the Scriptures. So that we, by searching them and understanding them, may understand that Jesus is the Living God of what is called the Old Testament, and that he is truly the Messiah spoken about in those pages. When we believe the Scripture about Jesus, we can then experience the rivers of living water.
So we are called into both a deep understanding of the Scripture, and a deep relationship with God. It’s not one or the other.

The second way we can balance Scripture and Relationship, and here I’m going to say something extremely bold, is by getting rid of this idea of Old and New Testament.
Now I know we use this distinction with the idea, of separating both the end of the God’s work in Israel specifically as a nation, with that of the Jesus and the Church. We separate with the idea of the Old Mosaic Law/Covenant and Grace/New Covenant. And it can be a good way to help us make distinctions. But the reality is, it’s all Scripture. Let’s look at what the New Testament writers say on this subject.
Moving in chronological order, let’s start with Jesus’ words in John 5:45-47. This is a situation where Jesus is interacting with some Jews that say they believe in Moses, but not in Jesus. So Jesus says to them, “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
The very words of what is called he Old Testament speaks to the validity of Jesus’ own ministry, death, and resurrection. 
Then moving forward in time, we come to Acts 17:10-12, where we’re given a situation where Paul and Silas go to a place called Berea. And when they shared the Gospel with the people it says, “10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
The Gospel was presented, and was confirmed by the Old Testament, which led many people to accepting it.
So we’ve confirmed the Old Testament of being Scripture, but in one of my conversations I was told, well, you can’t really believe Paul, because he was a Pharisee. Now first off, Paul was the most prolific New Testament writer, and his emphasis on grace and faith over works in the book of Romans is what led to the Protestant Reformation. So the argument, he was a Pharisee, and so therefore a works based guy is just plain wrong. But what say the first apostles about Paul’s writings? Well Peter, who in the Gospels represents the whole of the apostles, wrote this in his second letter, “15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (3:15-16).”
Did you catch that? “Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures…” Peter is equating the letters of Paul to Scriptures of old.
So we need to move past this idea of Old and New Testaments as if one is for the Jews and the other for the Christians. We as Christians need to say, this Bible is one Scripture. This this one reason why when referring to the Bible, I try to use the terminology of either Bible, or Scripture. Because I want it to be understood that both the Old and New Testaments are one. In fact the New Testament is the realization of the Old Testament, not a separate entity.
By seeing the Bible as one whole Scripture, and not two separate parts, we can better see the flow of relationship that God has always intended for us.

Finally, the third way we can balance Scripture and Relationship is to realize that God has given us the Scriptures to transform our thinking to his. 
Listen to what Luke writes of what Jesus does with his disciples after his resurrection. This comes from the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, starting in verse 44,
“44 He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’”
The disciples needed their understanding transformed. They needed their thinking about who Jesus was expanded. They needed to move past their desire for Jesus to be a conquering king, and realize that he must first be preached as the suffering servant. This was done, by Jesus showing them in the Scriptures that they had, all about the Messiah’s work. 
But it doesn’t stop there, Paul in his second letter to Timothy writes this in the third chapter, “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (14-17).”
Paul encourages Timothy to continue to explore the Scriptures, because in them he will become wise, and from them he will be able teach, rebuke, correct and train others. 
This is why I have a saying in my own life of, “we are to change to Scripture, we are not to change Scripture to us.” And when we go to the Scriptures with a willingness to be transformed, to start thinking as God would have us, then we will begin to experience him in the way he intended us to.
We can so easily go one way or other with God. Going so far into knowing the Scriptures that we miss the Author, or by going so far into our subjective experiential relationship that we miss his plain Word.

When dealing with false prophets, God gave this in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 13, “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you (1-6).”

The idea here is that an experience, no matter how real it seems, if it contradicts the Word of God already given, then it is false. God wants us to be in his word, and hold fast to him.
Likewise, Jesus chastised people who searched the Scriptures yet could not experience God. Jesus says this in John 5, “39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Let us not fall into either the camp of just knowing the Scriptures, or the camp of  just relying on experience. Instead, let us richly mine the Scriptures with a desire to know God and be transformed as he sees fit, leaving our desire and thoughts at the door, and trading them for his desire and his thoughts.
In this way we wont’ fall into the trap of manipulating the Scriptures to fit either our legalistic self-righteousness, nor fall into changing the Scriptures into whatever fits our fancy.

My challenge for you this week is to take these three areas of balancing Scripture and Relationship: having it both ways of being true to God’s Word and developing an experiential relationship, viewing the Scriptures as one Scripture not two separate entities, and having it transform our minds by letting go of our own understanding and learning God’s. 
Taking each of these and asking God, to show you your imbalance in them, to give you a deeper understanding of the Scriptures, and a deeper relationship with him. 

If we are active in making sure we are balanced in our understanding of Scripture and in our Relationship with God, then we are will be correctly handling the Word of God, and abiding in him. Amen.