Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The March to The Resurrection Sermon Series - Week 2, More Bias, Less Work

One of the great things about being a parent is that sometimes you can be amazed at what your children can do. Each of my children have amazed me at least a dozen times in their lives. And when I say amazed, I don’t mean looking at them and thinking they’re cute, or who they just had a milestone, like talking or walking, or going potty correctly. What I mean is this: With my oldest daughter, she has had deep theological insights and question that she has brought up to me, and then she can be the most destructive person in our family. This amazes me, not the deep theological insights, or the destructiveness, but rather, how I can do the same thing. My second oldest, has amazed me, because he has the mind that is so analytical, that he can see patterns, like puzzles, chess, and building blocks. Finally, my youngest amazes me when she is able to respond to criticism, or discipline with a loving attitude that I wish I had. 
And the reason they amaze me, is because I don’t expect these things from them. I have a little bit of a bias towards my, in thinking that they can’t teach, or be better at me in areas. But the reality is, they can do both.

It’s this idea of bias that that brings us to where we’re at in the March to the Resurrection sermon series. Where we’ll be returning to the Gospel of Luke, and picking up from last week in chapter 18, starting in verse 35.
And as we open up to Luke 18, verse 35, let’s catch up to where we’re at in this series. 

Last week, in the first week of this series, we talked about four groups from two interactions that Jesus had as he made his way up to Jerusalem. As we looked at these two groups we saw that they could be compared and contrasted with each other. The first group were the parents and we compared and contrasted them with the third group of the disciples. We saw that the parents wanted their children to be blessed by Jesus, while the disciples didn’t want them to come to him. We saw Jesus rebuke his disciples for not allowing the least of the people to come to him, in this case the children. We walked away from these two groups understanding that we need to be people who want God to bless others. The disciples should of desired everyone to be blessed, not a chosen few.
The second group was the children themselves who were following their parents, and we compared and contrasted them with the fourth group, which was the rich young ruler. In this compare and contrast we saw that, unlike the children who followed wherever their parents led, the rich young ruler could not follow wherever Jesus asked him to go. It was here that we walked away with the understanding that God calls us to follow him wherever he made lead. And where he leads, he may or may not ask us to give up things along the way.

Now, with understanding these two interactions, we can move onto two more interactions, that follow close behind these. Let’s read in Luke chapter 18, starting in verse 35.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

This seems like a common scenario for Jesus. Someone wants to be healed, they ask Jesus, Jesus heals them and we move onto the next person.
But let’s take a couple of minutes and look at this interaction, because we’ve been here just recently.

Does this sound familiar? Someone is looking for a blessing, but there are people who are trying to keep him away? Now there are different people here, but it’s the same situation as we saw early in chapter 18 with the disciples and the parents.
Sure there are some differences, like the parents were seeking the blessing for their child and not themselves, and in this case it’s not the disciples keeping the man away but just the greater entourage that Jesus is traveling with. But the root is the same: someone who is least in the society is trying to get to Jesus, and others are keeping him away.

Now, let’s talk about the blind beggar himself. In verse 41, Jesus stops and asks the man, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Now, the NIV that we just read, gives the blind beggars reply as, “Lord, I want to see,”
But the Greek word that is used anablepó (an-ab-lep’-o) might lead us to translate his response as, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” If this is the case, then the man had once been able to see, and now he cannot. 
I think this is interesting because, it would mean that either over time or through an accident he lost his ability to see. He therefore would have experienced sight, and truly known what he had lost.

One final thought on the blind beggar before we move on. The way in which we address people tells us what our relationship with that person is. Growing up I always knew my parent’s friends by their first names. None of them ever asked me to calling them Mr. or Mrs., but when I transferred to a new high school for my junior and senior year, you had to call the teachers, brother or sister followed by their last name. At the end of my senior year, I was told by my home room teacher, that upon my graduation I still had to call him brother, but now I could use his first name afterwards. The way in which we address someone let’s other people know our relationship with them. 
When the blind beggar asks who is coming, the people in the crowd reply, “Jesus of Nazareth”. But when the blind beggar addresses Jesus, he says, “Jesus, Son of David”. To the answering crowd, Jesus was the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth, but to the blind beggar he was more. By addressing Jesus as the Son of David, the blind beggar was calling him his Messiah. The title Son of David was a reference to the fact that the Messiah would be from King David’s, lineage. To the blind beggar, Jesus was more than just a man from Nazareth, he was the one who would save Israel.

Yet, through his lost of sight, this blindness lead him to call on the Messiah. And we see God do a great work in front of people that thought Jesus was just a man from Nazareth.

Let’s stop here, to make some comparisons to last week. Last week we had children being brought to Jesus to be blessed by him. These were the least of society in many people’s eyes. We can see this social attitude in the disciples’ actions. Jesus rebukes them and calls for the children to be brought to him. Here we see a similar situation. The blind beggar is seen as less than the others, and yet Jesus comes to him and heals him. And when Jesus heals the blind beggar, the people that were around him praise God for it. But hold onto the people in this crowd, because we’re not done with them yet.

Instead, let’s move down to verse 1 of chapter 19, and the second interaction on the road to the city of Jericho.

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Now, if you’ve ever been in Sunday school, you should have heard the the name Zacchaeus and instantly started to sing, “Zaccheus was a wee, little man, And a wee, little man was he…”

That’s this Zacchaeus, and from the passage we can know a couple of things about him. First, he was the chief tax-collector of his area, that means he was the IRS for the Romans. And of course no one liked because of that. Second, because he was the chief tax collector, he was really wealthy. He got this way, because in addition to taking taxes from people, he had to up those taxes for his personal commission, this is how tax collectors gained their living. Obviously this type of tax structure made it really easy to corrupt, with many tax collectors taking more than a person should from the people. Third, he must have not known much about Jesus, because in verse 3 is reads, “He wanted to see who Jesus was…” In other words, he was curious about who was this Jesus that everyone was talking about. One final note, the word that we translate as short in stature, is this Greek word hélikia (hay-lik-ee’-ah), which can also mean that he was young.
And this brings us to him being in a tree as Jesus approaches him. Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name, and tells him that he will be eating at his house. I love this interaction because we can see that God had already been working in Zacchaeus’ life, by showing us how a simple curiosity about Jesus can lead to salvation. But notice again the people in the crowd. Jesus had just healed a blind beggar, and was now calling on a person everyone disliked. Instead of crowd responding with, “What wonderful things are going to happen now?” They respond with grumbling that Jesus would eat with such a man. That’s important, and we’ll come back to it in a little bit.
But while Jesus is at Zacchaeus’ house, the tax collector tells Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

With Zacchaeus’ words, Jesus responds with, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Now it’s here that I want us to compare and contrast from last week, with the rich young ruler. Both these men were rich, they might also both be young. But rich young ruler was highly esteemed in his town, most likely Jericho, while Zacchaeus was not. Yet when Jesus called upon the rich young ruler to sell everything and follow, he couldn’t do it. But here, Zacchaeus willingly gives up his wealth and purposefully seeks to make amends for what he has done. 
And it’s really not about the amount of wealth here, but rather the willingness of the person. The rich young ruler was unwilling to do as Jesus commanded, but Zacchaeus was willing to give up wealth without the command of Jesus.
In the end it was the social outcast, but willing Zacchaeus that gained eternal life, instead of the socially accepted rich young ruler.

And I think it’s here that we can come to two conclusions. First, let’s talk about the crowd. They tried to silence a blind beggar from getting to Jesus, yet they saw a miracle when his sight was restored. Then the crowd grumbled at Jesus eating with Zacchaeus, yet it led to a man entering into salvation and him giving up some of his wealth.
I think there can be times when we can be like the crowd, thinking we know whats’ best for the situation, but being in opposition to God through it. It’s easy to see someone and grumble that they get access to God’s work, or getting more blessings than us. Yet God wants us to seek after him. We need to be looking for the people around us that need Jesus, and get them to him as fast as possible. The crowd blocked the blind beggar, if they had it their way, they would have blocked Zacchaeus. If we’re honest about ourselves, who do we want to block? Who in our lives do we look at and say, “Nope, not them. They’re not on my political side. They’re not on my racial, social, economic, or whatever side.” 
This is the first conclusion, it’s really easy to fall into this mindset of not allowing people to get to Jesus, and it might not even be an intentional block. Maybe Jesus was teaching, and the people near the blind beggar couldn’t hear over his yelling. Maybe the people knew Zacchaeus and in the past he had made claims that he was going to reform, and he never did. 
But God reveals to us that we are not to let personal problems with people stop us from letting them get close to Jesus.

Here’s an example: In this time of social upheaval with the Coronavirus, we can’t let people being stupid stop us from reaching out to them and pointing them to Jesus. They might be hoarding, they might be sending panic through the streets, and they might be really stupid for doing so, but most likely it’s because they’re scared. Their hope is in what they can physically control. They are blind, and their using their wealth to comfort themselves. We as disciples of Jesus must show grace to these people. We must show them the assurance we have in Jesus. We must show them the path to him, and not block them along the way.

That brings us to our second conclusion, it’s only when we get past our own personal biases, that we get to rejoice in the work of God which is the salvation of people. The crowd rejoiced with the blind man receiving back his sight, but when salvation came to Zacchaeus, no one but Jesus was rejoicing. The bias towards the tax collector was too much for the people to overcome, and though someone had his physical problem fixed, what greater work is it when a person passes from eternal death to eternal life?
Yet the crowd was not able to rejoice in this. But we can, when we give up our biases, we get to rejoice in God’s work.

My challenge this week is two fold, first, pray for the people that you would rather not. Someone who has hurt you, or hurt your family, or is being an idiot during this time. Pray for them, that God would help you show them Jesus, and that you wouldn’t stand in God’s way in reaching them for eternity.
The second part is to reach out to a person who seems to be struggling with what’s happening in our society right now. Ask them what you could do to help. Develop a relationship with them through this, that shows them your assurance in Christ. That through this, you can face the unknown of what’s happening because you know the One who holds it altogether. 

The last two aspects of the vision that God has given us here at the Alliance Church is to locate and meet the needs of people, all the while pointing them back to the life Jesus has for them. Let us be a people this week who do just that. Locating and meeting needs, and pointing people back to Jesus’ life. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The March to The Resurrection Sermon Series - Week 1, Humble Seeking

Right now our society is in a state of panic. The NBA is canceled, the NHL is canceled, March Madness is diminished, schools all over the country are closing. Social gatherings like churches are asked not to meet, and in some places outlawed altogether. Toilet paper, water, and other necessities are flying off the shelves in a swirl of madness. And it seems everywhere you read, or watch, doom is upon us.
I have to say, even in viral situations like the Swing Flu and SARS, society didn’t seem this chaotic. And in these times when society is frantically trying to hold onto whatever they can, we as disciples of Christ can turn to God’s Word for comfort and direction. 
Psalm 46d reads like this, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. 8 Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ 11 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

God allows us to be in these times of distress as a witness to our trust in him. You and I are called to bear witness to the anchor that is Jesus in our lives. That we can be secured in him and not allow the panic around us to stop us from trusting in him.
Jesus says in Matthew 6, starting in verse 25, “25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
In five weeks we will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. The historical event we walked through a few weeks back as one of the arguments for the existence of God. What is that event really? Isn’t it the proof of the assurance we have in God to take care of us? 

And so we’re beginning our march towards Resurrection Sunday, and what better time to really focus on the resurrection and the peace that we can experience with God through it, than in this time of social chaos? And as we’re marching towards the resurrection, we’re going to approach these next five weeks by looking at some key teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Understanding them in light of the Resurrection. So if you have your Bibles, for the next four weeks we’re going to be camping out in chapters 18 and 19 of the the Gospel of Luke. 
And as we open up to Luke chapter 18 verse 15, let’s orientate ourselves to where we are in this book. Now the Gospel of Luke is most likely the third Gospel account of Jesus’ life. Church history tells us that it was written by a physician named Luke, who was also a companion of the Apostle Paul on his journeys. Each of the Gospels are written in ancient biographical style, meaning that it was written to convey the important events of a person’s life in a way that explained the motive of that person.
The Gospel of Mark, is written with the overarching purpose to help us answer the question, who is Jesus? The Gospel of Matthew was written to help the Jewish people connect the dots of the Messiah in their Scriptures, with Jesus. And Luke’s Gospel has the intent to help Greeks understand who this Christos was.
Luke has been called one of the most accurate historical documents of the ancient world, because his use of historical sites is second to none. And we’re entering into Luke’s Gospel on the eve of the the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem or what we now call, Palm Sunday.

We pick up Luke’s account as Jesus is walking towards the city of Jericho. And as Jesus is walking, he’s teaching and encountering people along the way. Today we’re going to look at the first two situations he encounters. In these two situations there are four groups of people that we’re going to compare. Let’s look at these two situations as we march towards the resurrection.

Now, let’s dive into Jesus’ interactions in Luke chapter 18, starting in verse 15.

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

In this first encounter, Jesus is being inundated with people coming to him. But not just people seeking healing from sicknesses, nor to hear Jesus’ teachings, but rather mothers and fathers who were bringing their children to Jesus. And this Greek word for infant, brephos (bref’-os), could even be speaking about yet to be born children in their mother’s wombs. This was a common practice for Rabbis to bless children on behalf of God, but in this case, there must have been so many people, that the disciples were trying to weed out those that were worthy to meet with Jesus and those whom they deemed were not worthy.
It’s here that we see three of the four people that we’re going to focus on today. First, we have the parents of those bringing the children to Jesus. These people are desiring a touch, a blessing, a word from this well-known Rabbi, who’s command cures the sick and casts out demons. Think of the reasons why these parents would be seeking Jesus’ blessing. Child mortality rate was very high, economic struggles were a constant, the threat of civil unrest was all around. Parents desire a better life for their children, and these parents are no different. If Jesus was walking among us today, how many of us would try to get our children or grandchildren blessed by Jesus? How many of us would seek him in the middle of our social unrest? These are parents looking for what is best for their children and at that moment the best was Jesus.
The second group are the children themselves. Though they do not speak, nor actually do anything in the passage, there simply being there tells us a lot. The children are following their parents. The parents desire a blessing from Jesus, and the children follow. It’s a reinforcement of Jesus’ teaching that the greatest in the kingdom is one who is like a child following their parent, which happens previously in Luke chapter 9.
This brings us to the third group which are the disciples themselves. Though Jesus says nothing to the parents, he chastises the disciples for not allowing the parents to bring their children to him. And what’s interesting is Jesus had already taught the disciples this lesson of allowing children to come to him, back in chapter 9 of Luke, where he says this, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest (v.48).”

But the disciples didn’t listen to Jesus’ words about how welcoming children to Jesus is also welcoming Jesus himself. To welcome those who are seen as the least, is welcoming the work and person of Jesus into our lives. But this teaching has flown over the heads of the disciples, and in the moment they have shown that they really don’t understand Jesus at all.
The parents desire their children to be blessed by Jesus, and they are not sent away by him. But Jesus makes it a point that by rejecting the children, the disciples are also rejecting him.

Let’s now turn our attention to the second interaction we see, which starts in verse 18. 

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

We can see, that the disciples were trying to keep certain people away from Jesus, while allowing others whom they deemed worthy to come to him. In this case, we’re shown that to the disciples let in a more worthy person in their eyes. This person was a young wealthy ruler. This man is usually referred to as the rich young ruler, which actually gives us an insight into who this man was. First, he was rich, which we find out in verse 23, but we’re not told how he got his wealth; it could have been from family, it could have been from his own business exploits, we just don’t know. The two other things we learn about him, is that he was both young and a ruler. We find out that he is young from the Gospel of Matthews’ account of this situation in chapter 19 verse 20, so there’s that. As far as him being a ruler, the Greek word that is used here is archón (ar’-khone), which, when referring to a Jew, usually spoke of them being a part of the elders of a city. These would be the men who would be looked to as judges in maters of law and order, and dealing with the running of the city or town.
This young man somehow gained wealth, and was esteemed enough to also be added to the elders’ board of his city, even though he was young.

In this interaction, we see Jesus having a back and forth conversation with the young man about God’s commands, and then Jesus tells the man to sell everything and follow him. We’re then told that the young man, “became very sad, because he was very wealthy.”
This tells us that his wealth was more important to him than the question of eternal life that he presented to Jesus.
The rich young ruler is our the fourth group.

These are the two interactions that we’re going to take a moment to ponder. Because as we make our way to the resurrection, these two interactions point us to who Jesus saves us to be through the Resurrection.
In the first interaction we see parents seeking a blessing for their children. The disciples judge these people as not being important enough to waste Jesus’ time. But Jesus doesn’t turn them away. If fact, Jesus doesn’t just bless the children, he holds them above the disciples in their closeness to God. The pure humble faith of a child, is greater than the disciples adult understanding. The parents are welcomed, the children are welcomed, and instead, it is the disciples who are rebuked.
If I was the disciples, I think I could justify not having the children come, because they don’t listen, they just want to go play, they can’t understand the deep teachings of Jesus anyways. And by keeping them away, Jesus could have more time on the people that mattered. But, that’s not how Jesus sees it. Instead Jesus calls the disciples to become like children in their humble trust of him.
In the second interaction, a man seeking Jesus to answer the question of gaining eternal life is left with a problem. The one thing that is holding him back, is the one thing he us unwilling to give up. His wealth represents what we think we need in this life. Stability, protection, status. But as we saw in the first interaction, what we need is child like faith.
If I was the rich young ruler, I think it would be easy to justify to Jesus that if I kept my wealth and my status where I’m at, then I could financially sustain his ministry. Wouldn’t that be better? I mean, if I sold everything, giving it to the poor, and then followed Jesus, then I wouldn’t be able to help the ministry grow. But if I kept my wealth, stayed where I was, then I could support Jesus’ work.
But Jesus, calls the man to trust him. Jesus is asking the rich young ruler to sell everything, giving it to the poor, and releasing his control to God. 

We can see some contrasts between the parents and the disciples. The parents sought a blessing not for themselves, but for someone who was the least in the society. Whereas the disciples only wanted those of higher social worth to come close to Jesus.
We can draw another contrast between the children and the rich young ruler. A child doesn’t tend to seek status, or wealth. But the rich young ruler only sought these things, and couldn’t bare to part with them, even if it meant that he would lose eternity.

And this is the first step towards the Resurrection, we must ask ourselves, who are we? Are we the parents, who are trying to get their children to Jesus so they may be blessed by him? Or are we the disciples, deciding who is worthy or not to come to Jesus? Are we the children themselves, who need nothing else but Jesus? Or are we the rich young ruler, trying to hold on to status and wealth that keeps us from Jesus?
Here is a quick test to see where we fall?

Let’s ask ourselves, “Do I seek to get other people blessings from God?” That means I pray for them, asking God to bless them even if I don’t like them? Or “Am I making judgement calls on how people dress or act like, before sharing the gospel or asking them to come with me to church?” If we answer, yes try to seeking other’s blessings, then we are like the parents, but if we answer, I tend to judge people on their status in my mind, we’re a disciple keeping people away from Jesus.
Let’s also ask ourselves, “Am I willing to do whatever Jesus asks of me?” Like a little child obeying their parent. Or “Is the wealth and status I enjoy more important than following Jesus?” If we answer,  I am willing to do whatever Jesus wants, then we have that child like faith, but if we answer, I would have a real struggle with giving up my wealth, we’re just like that rich young ruler.

If we struggle in any area, Jesus gives us a simple path to follow. In verse 14, of Luke 11. He says this, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

We are called to humble lives. That was the disciples’ problem, they weren’t humble, so they couldn’t recognize that it wasn’t up to them who sought Jesus. It was also the rich young ruler’s problem, he wasn’t humble enough to give up his wealth and status to trust Jesus. But that’s exactly who the parents were, humble enough to seek the blessing, not for themselves, but their children. And its humbleness that Jesus points to in the faith of those children.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to humbleness. To lift up others before ourselves. To not hinder those seeking Jesus, by adding road blocks on their path towards him. To not hold onto those things that we desire, therefore missing out on what Jesus has for us. 
We are to seek the blessing of others, and to trust Jesus wherever he calls us to.

This week, as we march our way to the Resurrection, let us seek to be humble people. 
I want to challenge you to honestly seek God in both these areas this week. Asking him, “Am I acting like the parents seeking a blessing for others, or am I acting like the disciples seeking to keep others away? Am I acting like a child in my faith that I am humble before God, or am I like the rich young ruler wanting to hold onto status and wealth?”
If it is revealed to you that you are in fact acting like a disciple who is keeping others from God, or the rich younger ruler holding on to wealth and status, do not be discouraged, but rather seek to be humbled by God. I’ve always found that seeking humbleness on my own initiative, is better than God making me humble on his.
If you are being humble, seeking the blessing of others, then I would challenge you to begin praying for one person to invite to Resurrection Sunday in four weeks. Pray for them, that they would be open to coming and being a part of what God is doing. Whether you’re staying in Quartzsite, or leaving to town and attending another church, pray for that person that God would move in their life this Resurrection Sunday.

And take this time of social upheaval to be steadfast in your trust of Jesus, pointing to him as others frantically grasping to hold onto something.
Let us be the people that God has called to be. Humble in our faith, blessing those around us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Arguments for the Existence of God - Argument 4, Argument at Death

When I was in college, I was a part of a class where you had to conduct a staged situation that you might encounter in your ministry. The professor of the class said we could do anything we thought would happen in a ministry setting, so I tried to go as strange as I could, because I love to have fun with those types of projects. So for this particular project, I was going to present how the church board needed to give me the necessary funds for the most needed item in the whole church, a toilet plunger.
I had the whole presentation thought through in my mind in a matter of minutes. The following class I turned in my proposal to the professor and his face, changed to one of exasperation. This wasn’t the first time I had done something like this in one of his classes. But because I had defended the idea in the proposal he didn’t deny me. The next class, where others were presenting a different type of project, the professor approached me and said, “You know Jeremiah, I think you should conduct a funeral instead of your plunger, I have a feeling you might encounter more of those.”
Well, a long story short, I did as the professor asked, always wondering what might have been with my plunger presentation. But I received an “A” on the project, and that’s all that I was after. But that request from the professor turned out to be a prophecy of my ministry. In the last three years, I have done more memorials and funerals, then most pastors perform in their whole ministry. Recently I went to Wickenburg to be a part of a funeral there. The pastor asked if I had officiated one before, to which I told him, this year I am averaging one every three weeks. He told me that in his ten years at that church, he had only been a part of two and the second one was the one we were both a apart of that day.
In these last three years one of the hardest parts of being a pastor is the call you get for someone that is dying or has just passed away. I have found that I truly grieve with those who have to watch their loved ones pass, or have a sudden passing. I mourn those losses, and I empathize with those going through the pain of the separation that death causes. 
Yet in death, I have found joy as well. Those who are believers in Jesus, those who have put their trust in him, are hard, yet have an assurance about them, that non-believers do not. This past fall, a faithful member of our church named Ed Wiggins passed away. Some of you might remember Ed, him and his wife Linda are a valued part of our church family here, they used to sit together every Sunday on the left side of our church from my perspective. Ed and Linda were faithful in a season when our church was going through some hard times. And after the shake up, Ed began helping with feeding our children on Sundays.
When I received the call that Ed was in the hospital, I went to see him. Now I didn’t have a lot of interaction with Ed, just several conversations over the years, but when I entered into that hospital room, I could sense the Spirit of God. Ed’s confidence in the Lord and graciousness towards me was as thick as a valley fog. We prayed for God’s healing, and God healed him completely when Ed passed into eternity. The final moments of Ed, and believers like him, give me confidence of the life to come.

This leads us into our final argument for this series, the Argument at Death. Now we have been talking about the arguments for the existence of God for the last three weeks, but focusing on arguments that are ones that are out there all over the place. The first one we talked about was the Fine Tuning Argument, where the universe seems perfectly created for life. The second argument was the Moral Argument, in which we asked the question what is the foundation of morality, and when you take away God, what happens? These first two arguments, are merely arguments for the existence of a god in the general sense, but we also showed with these arguments, the God of the Bible claims to be the God that created this habitable universe, and he claims to be the God from which morality comes from. Then last week we talked about not only an argument for the existence of God, but of Jesus being God through his resurrection. 
These three arguments, I then challenged you to pursue on your own to understand them more and then to worship God because of what he has done.
This week, I’m going to present to you an argument, that has been presented in the past by people, but isn’t as widely used or as “effective” in the sense of debates. Rather, this is a pleading argument from me personally, because I have seen the last days of many people. This is the Argument at Death.

The Bible is very straightforward when it comes to the end of our lives. In religions such as Hinduism, time is a circle. Life, death, and rebirth are in an endless rotation for all of eternity. But the Bible puts forth that there is a straight line from eternity past, to the created space that happens in Genesis 1 and there will be an end to this created space, with eternity ahead. And death is one way in which eternity comes for the majority of humanity. And with death, a judgment awaits us all. 
We encounter this biblical teaching in places like the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25. In this chapter, Jesus is giving a teaching where we talks about the righteous and the unrighteous as sheep and goats, and how they will be sorted. He ends with this in verse 46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In the Gospel fo John, the writer records Jesus saying this in the 5th chapter, “24 ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
28 ‘Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.’”

The writer of the book of Hebrews then gives us this short line of Scripture in the 27th verse of the 9th chapter “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”

For the believer, this moment of passing from this life into eternity tends to be a serene one. I shared Ed’s story, but my wife Marika’s great grandmother past in the same way. And countless stories can be shared of believers encountering their Savior at that moment where the veil between the finite and eternal drawn back. 

But to those who have fought against God, who have sought to become gods unto themselves, the situation is vastly different.

Jesus describes their eternal reality when he says this in Luke 13:28, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”

Like I have through this entire sermon series, I want to give you some quotes that are attributed to some well-known atheists on their death beds. These are not conversion stories, but rather their recorded last words as the veil of eternity is lifted in front of them.

Voltaire was a famous atheist philosopher, semi anti-christian, who wrote in the 1700s during the Enlightenment. Though he defended the right of religion, he had a disdained for it. On his death bed he was quoted as saying to his attending physician, “I am abandoned by God and man; I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life.” When the physician said that there was nothing he could do for Voltaire, the philosopher said, “Then I shall die and go to hell!” Voltaire’s attending nurse said of his passing, “For all the money in Europe I wouldn’t want to see another unbeliever die! All night long he cried for forgiveness.”

Sir Francis Newport, living a century before Voltaire, was the head of an English Atheist club. Those gathered at his bedside during his death later told others that he said this, “You need not tell me there is no God for I know there is one, and that I am in His presence! You need not tell me there is no hell. I feel myself already slipping. Wretches, cease your idle talk about there being hope for me! I know I am lost forever! Oh, that fire! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell! Oh, that I could lie for a thousand years upon the fire that is never quenched, to purchase the favor of God and be united to Him again. But it is a fruitless wish. Millions and millions of years will bring me no nearer the end of my torments than one poor hour. Oh, eternity, eternity forever and forever! Oh, the insufferable pangs of Hell!”

David Hume, the atheist  philosopher writing at the same time as Voltaire, is said to have spoke his last words as he screamed from his bed, “I am in flames!” Those that gathered around Hume, were quoted as saying, “Desperation was a horrible scene”.

Thomas Paine, who himself was an atheist, yet inspired the thirteen Colonies to revolt against the British is said to have uttered these words, “Stay with me, for God’s sake; I cannot bear to be left alone , Oh Lord, help me! Oh God, what have I done to suffer so much? What will become of me hereafter? I would give worlds if I had them, that The Age of Reason had never been published. Oh Lord, help me! Christ, help me! …No, don’t leave; stay with me! Send even a child to stay with me; for I am on the edge of Hell here alone. If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one.”

Finally, Sir Thomas Scott, Chancellor of England who lived far earlier than all those that we have discussed so far, is quoted as saying this on his death bed, “Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.”

And if you think that these types of experiences come only from philosophers of high academia, I want to share with you this: This was relayed to me by one of the members of our church body. Her mother-in-law had a seizer, and this member told her, “I will pray for you.” In response the mother-in-law said, “I hate your God.” A little while later, while the mother-in-law lay in bed close to death, she began clawing at the air and screaming, “I’am scared, I’m scared.” These were the mother-in-law’s last words, before she passed into eternity.

I share these stories and quotes with you not to discourage you, or to scare anyone, but rather to bring us face-to-face with the reality of eternity without Jesus as our Savior. The first three arguments that we discussed in this series were directed at the mind. Evidence was presented, and the question, what’s the best explanation was addressed.
In this argument, we’re moving beyond simply engaging the intellect, and getting to the point of the mystery of what awaits us after death. 

Another atheist philosopher named Thomas Hobbs is quoted on his deathbed as saying, “I say again, if I had the whole world at my disposal, I would give it to live one day. I am about to take a leap into the dark.”

For the believer the moment of death is nothing to be afraid of, it is unknown in the sense of a new adventure that awaits. But for the one who does not have their hope in Christ, it truly is a leap into the dark. It is not an adventure to look forward to, but rather a destination to fear.

Several weeks ago, I taught on the Gospel of John chapter 11. In that passage, Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died and Jesus is there with Lazarus’ sisters who are mourning. Jesus says this to them in verse 25 of chapter 11, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

This is the question that he presents to us, do we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Do we put our trust in him, that though we may die in this life, we will live in the next? That our sins have been paid by his work on the cross, and that when we enter eternity, a new adventure awaits us? If we say yes, then death has no hold on us. The fear of death has no sway. We can be like Stephen the first martyr, who in Acts 7:59, as he was dying, called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” We can be like Ed Wiggins, giving grace to those around him in his final hours. And we can become a part of a long line of believers that shares the Gospel with those left behind, by simple showing that we trust our spirits to our Jesus who has saved us.

But today, if you don’t have this assurance, I did not share these quotes and stories to scare you to believe in Jesus. No, rather I share these to challenge you in your ways. All the intellectual arguments in the world won’t convince you, until you struggle with who Jesus is. I shared this quote last week, and I would like to share it again.
Scott, a pastor, had a conversation with a man that seemed to be hostile to the Jesus and Christianity. When the pastor confronted him, this is what the man said, “Okay, Scott, I’ll tell you the truth. I’ll tell you the real reason why I dislike Christianity. It’s not because the evidence is unconvincing to me. In fact, the opposite is true. But I still don’t ever want to become a Christian because if I do, Jesus will ask me to forgive my father for the ways that he hurt me (”

Evidence alone won’t save us, we must we open to encountering Jesus himself now why we still can. We must struggle, not with a pastor, not with a church, not even with the Bible, but with Jesus himself. We will meet him in the end, whether that be in joyous reunion, or desperate fear. If we seek to encounter Jesus while we still can, then death loses it’s power. If we meet him after the time has elapsed, death will terrify us to no end.

This week, whether you are a believer or not, I want to challenge you to this, seek Jesus to known him. Believer, this seeking is to strengthen your faith in him. Take the verses of John 11:25 and 26 and commit them to memory. Non-believer, I want to challenge you to the arguments that have been presented these last three weeks, and then to seek to know if this Jesus is real, because he tells us that all who seek him with their heart, shall find him.

Let us be the overcomers of death that Jesus has made us to be through his death and resurrection. Amen.