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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sermon Series, The Four Fold Gospel Week 4 - Christ Our Coming King

       A week or so ago my wife came to me and asked me if we could get a few chickens. A family we know had several and needed to find new homes for them. Now Marika has been wanting to get chickens for a while, and I have been pushing it off, because I’ve been around them, and honestly, I don’t really care for them. So I told her, since this isn’t our house, it’s the church’s, you have to ask the elders if it’s okay, but even if they gave their approval, I wasn’t having anything to do with them. They were her and the kid’s chickens, not mine. So she contacted the elders, leaving messages with each. I would say about 10 to 15 minutes later I got a call from two of them, asking me if they needed to say no, and it was just my way of getting out of it. I told them no, that if they approved it, I was okay with it. Well they did approve it, and now, we have four chickens. Now when I say we have chickens, I really mean I have chickens, because I know that eventually I will be the one taking care of them. 
In fact, this past Monday I was asked to help get the coup ready for them. Well at first I had help taking things out of the old shed we are going to use. But that help quickly evaporated. The kids went off to their after school program, and Marika had to get some paper work together. So, from about three in the afternoon, to about seven at night I worked on that chicken coup alone. And the next day, the worse thing about it was the fact that I couldn’t close my hands from bending the wire.
So here I was, supposedly not having anything to do with the chickens, building their home. And I know, that eventually I’ll be cleaning that home, and taking care of those four animals. And do you know how I know? I know because I have seen the signs. When we got our last dog, who isn’t my dog, the kids said they’d take care of it. Well there’s been quite a few times where I have had to. I know because I did it to my parents with a cat I brought home, who eventually became my dad’s cat. I know, because all the signs are there.

And as we come to the end of our What is the Alliance sermons series, that’s what we’re talking about, knowing the signs. Except the signs that we’re talking about, deal with the return of Jesus. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to start in Matthew chapter 26 verse 62, as we talk about the return of Jesus

And this emphasis on Jesus’ return is what brings all of what the Alliance believes together. Listen to how A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Alliance, describes this uniting of the Fourfold Gospel: “It is the glorious culmination of all other parts of the Gospel. We have spoken of the Gospel of SALVATION, but Peter says our salvation is ‘ready to be revealed in the last time.’…We have spoken of SANCTIFICATION, but John says: ‘When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, and every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.’ And we have spoken of DIVINE HEALING, but Paul says: ‘God hath given us the “EARNEST” of the resurrection in our bodies now,’ and Divine healing is but the first- springing life of which the resurrection will be the full fruition. So that the truth and hope of the Lord's coming is linked with all truth and life, and is the Church's great and blessed hope.”

So if we step back from what we have been speaking about in the last three weeks, we can see that the whole of the Fourfold Gospel reaches from the distant past of God’s work throughout history and is accomplished in the cross of Jesus. This is Jesus as our Savior, and we accept him as such when we recognize our sin and rebellion against God, and take Jesus’ free gift of reconciliation into our lives.
This gift of reconciliation, of salvation, leads us into a life long experience of Jesus as our Sanctifier. Meaning, that over the years through the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ work on the cross is transforming us into the person God created us to be. A mirror image of himself; unique yet the same.
And it’s through Jesus’ work on the cross and his resurrection, that we can experience Jesus as Healer. That means that God’s divine life can infuse into the believer for the glory of his kingdom, and healing work apart from what we can do, happens in a person’s life.

And all of it, the saving work, the sanctifying life, and the ultimate healing comes as Jesus returns for his Church.

Now let’s jump into our first stop in Scripture, starting in Matthew chapter 26, starting in verses 62. This is where Jesus has been takin’ before the Jewish counsel and is being tried for blasphemy. Meaning, the Jews are asking Jesus if he truly claims to be God or not. So let’s read together:

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64 “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.

I love this passage, because Jesus knows what’s going to happen, he’s going to his death, so what does he have to lose? Now it’s funny because Jesus goes beyond a simple yes to the request of, “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” No, Jesus does one better. Jesus references Daniel’s vision in the Old Testament (Daniel 7:13-14). And this is not just some simple reference, this is a deep Israelite theological teaching. The cloud riding son of man in Daniel’s vision was an attack on the pagan belief that the god Baal was the cloud rider. But time and time again in the Old Testament, the Israelites attacked this idea, saying, no Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews is the could rider. So when Daniel sees one like the son of man riding the clouds, it’s an association with this cloud riding imagery for Yahweh, of the Jewish God. And now Jesus, in his response, is connecting himself to the cloud riding Son of Man and is calling himself, in essence, Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews. This is why the high priest tears his clothes, and calls Jesus’ words blasphemy.

I love it! It’s Jesus telling it like it is and letting people deal with the implications. But this idea of Jesus coming in the clouds is synonymous with his return for his Church and the day of judgment.

Verses like Acts 1:11, where the two men dressed in white tell the disciples that Jesus will return in the clouds. Or 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where Paul says that we who are alive at Christ’s return will be caught up in the clouds.
And this emphasis on Jesus’ return is all over the New Testament. But what does it mean that Jesus is going to return? Well, like we’ve done in the past few weeks, let’s take a look at what A.B. Simpson says it is not, and then see what it is.

First off, what the return of Jesus is not…
It is not Jesus coming to the individual Christian's heart. Meaning, Jesus’ return is not just in our life. We’re not just experiencing him on an individual basis. 

Nor, is Jesus’ coming at our death. Meaning, when we’re talking about Jesus return, we don’t mean when we meet him after we’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s not an after death experience that we’re talking about.

Finally, it’s not a spiritual coming of Christ through the spreading of the Gospel. Jesus’ coming is not when people accept him, and Christianity grows, and it’s some spiritual progression. This is not the return of Christ, but rather Christ’s Church being built.

Jesus’ return is none of these, spiritual ideas. Instead, what the Scriptures say is that when Jesus returns…

Everyone’s going to see it. Revelation 1:7 says, “‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen.” 
Everyone will know that Jesus has come. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 24:23-27, “23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
So we need to understand that though people claim Jesus has returned, we are not supposed to believer them, because where he returns, there will be no doubt. Everyone will know. 

Which leads us into, Jesus’ return will be quick and timing unknown. Paul says this in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, “1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
Throughout history people have come up with a lot, and I mean a lot of dates on when Jesus is going to return. But I don’t know if you know this, none of them have been right. Why? Because it’s not for us to know. In fact Jesus gives us a description of what the state of the world will be like when he returns. This comes from Mathew 24:36-39, “36 But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

The time table is God’s, and the idea of the imminence of Jesus’ returns means that it cannot be calculated, because no one has that knowledge. Because if we did have that knowledge we would be living for ourselves until right before that time, and then turn to God for salvation. Which is just using God at that point, rather than truly seeking him.

Finally, even though it will be quick and unknown, it will not come out of the blue. Jesus says in Matthew 24:32-33, “32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.”
We’re instructed to be prepared, and anticipating Jesus’ return. We are to see the world around us and recognize the decaying, decadence, and self-love that continues to grow all around us. This keeps our minds on Jesus, seeking to know him and drawn ever closer to him. Paul says this in his letter to the Philippians, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God (1:9-11).”
Time and time again we are given proceeding events to the return of Jesus, which, we don’t have time to get into here. But what we need to know is that we are called to be prepared for Jesus’ return, growing in our relationship with him. Knowing that with every passing moment, we are getting closer his return. So, we must be ready for it.

But there is one more thing that we can participate in, when it comes to the return of Jesus. It’s actually a mantra, and a shout that the Alliance has used for decades. And it is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
The mantra of the Alliance is, “Bring back the King!”
You and I can participate in the return of Jesus by sharing the Gospel with everyone we can. It was said one time that there are about 16,000 languages in the world, and we’re reaching about 8,000 of them right now. Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We have been given a commission to share the Gospel, to reach this world with the message of Jesus. And everything we’ve talked about in the last weeks, leads us in this direction.

Jesus’ saving work, his cleanings sanctification, his healing, and his return. This is the Fourfold Gospel that drives the Alliance to do what it does. Because we desire to see Jesus coming in his glory, and as he moves, we want to move with him. 

We want the King to return. We want to see Jesus coming in the clouds. We want his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

So today my challenge is a question with two implications. The question is: “if Jesus returned today would you be ready?”
This readiness is first, have you come to know Jesus as your Savior? Putting your trust in him, that through his work on the cross and his resurrection, he offers you the gift of having your sins and rebellion forgive. And now calls you to grow closer to him?
And second, this readiness is that you are prepared to share the Gospel as Jesus leads. That you are ready to given an answer for why you believe. And that you are ready to do what he wants and make it more important that what you want.
My challenge is to wrestle with this question, because I don’t know when Jesus will return, I don’t have that insight. What I do know is that we are to are ready; growing closer to Jesus and sharing the Gospel. 
Because if we’re not doing those two things, then when Jesus does return, we’re going to be like the man in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22. Jesus says this, “11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless (verses 11-2).”

Let us not be speechless at the return of Jesus. Instead let us be people whom it can be said of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness (Matthew 25:21)!” Let us be rejoicing at Jesus’ return, because we are ready. Amen.