Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 2 - It’s Time to Shift

As I’ve shared before I am horrible at math. Even simple equations give me a hard time. Growing up, I would struggle through every lesson I sat through. Addition seemed pretty easy, but then came subtract. And once I began to think I was getting that, then came multiplication. Which, I got my “twos”, “fives”, and “tens” pretty quickly, but “sixes”, “sevens”, “eights”, and “nines”, I struggle with even today. Then came division, that’s when the wheels really starting coming off. I felt like I was drowning in numbers. 
But the worse of it was when you took all these numbers and began fracturing them. Quarters, seemed to be fine, but eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, it became overwhelming for me. And then you start adding them, subtracting them, and multiply them? I couldn’t keep up. And then the tipping point came, when we started doing Algebra. Up to that point I struggled a lot, but once I hit Algebra, I gave up.
But you know what was my saving grace? Construction. Seriously, using a tape measure in an environment where someone needed me to relay information to them, and where I would repeat the same steps again and again, helped me understand math. And once I began understanding fractions, it was like a light went off in my brain and I began to understand Algebra and Geometry. Now, am I a math savant? No, that’s my sister, but I no longer have a disdain for the subject like I did as a kid. And it was all thanks to having my whole perception changed by working with my hands and a tape measure.

And it’s this idea of having our whole way of thinking changed that brings us into to the 18th verse, of the 1st chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church. As we open up to 1st Corinthians 1:18, let’s remind ourselves where were at so far. 

Last week we began our summer sermon series on the letter of 1st Corinthians. Every summer we dive into one particular book of the Bible, and move through it, as the God leads us to see it’s overarching themes.
Last week we opened the letter with Paul’s desired outcome to why he was writing to this particular church. Paul desired that the Corinthians be unified, not just as the Church of Jesus throughout the world, but as a local body of believers with each other.  But it’s because of the church’s disunity that Paul addresses. The first of which, goes after leadership; more specifically, who the people say they follow. In the Corinthian Church, the people were taking their focus off Jesus and instead looking to a human leader as the end all of their spiritual development. Paul rebukes this idea of holding up a human leader above Jesus himself. It was here that we walked away from these opening verses with the understanding that, we can have people we learn from in the faith, but we must always have Jesus as our first teacher. When we hold up a human over Jesus, it brings unnecessary division within Jesus’ Church.

With that refreshed in our minds, let’s dive back into 1st Corinthians chapter 1, now starting in verse 18, we’re were going to read at 30 verses, and look at them in four parts. Let’s read.

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

In this first section, Paul goes after the idea of what the cross is to both non-Christians and Christians alike. So let’s take a moment and really understand this concept. The cross to the world at this time, is a symbol of mockery and torture. For the Jews, the cross represented the failed attempts of revolutionaries and criminals against the tyrannical occupation of Rome. To the Romans, or Gentiles, the cross was a way to show their power and ability to carry out that power in horrific ways.
But then you have the followers of Jesus come on to the scene. Their Jewish leader is crucified and now they take on the cross not as a symbol of defeat, but as a symbol of victory. Yes, Jesus was crucified, but he was raised from the dead and now has victory over death. These Christians proclaim the cross as a point of victory, where sin was conquered and Jesus was shown to be the long awaited Jewish messiah.
And so to the Jews and Gentiles, the Christians are insane, they are fools. And so Paul says, “…the cross is foolishness…” 
Paul goes on to tell us why the cross is foolishness to both the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews wanted the overthrowing of the Romans. If Jesus would have done this before he went to the cross, the Jews say they would have believed. If Jesus would have brought himself off the cross, or legions of angels would have come to his rescue, the Jews would say they would have believed. But because Jesus didn’t fulfill their desire of a battling king, the cross remains a symbol of failed revolt. Even to many Jews today.
The cross is equally foolish to the Gentiles, because it doesn’t make sense to them. From their perspective this is how the story of Jesus sounds: Jesus the God comes down to earth in the full frailty of humanity, he then doesn’t use his divine power for anything except to enhance the lives of others, then he dies a horrific and embarrassing death. To the Gentiles especially the Romans and Greeks, this isn’t what a god would haven done. Sure their god’s came and posed as humans, but they never fully embraced humanities frailties. And when they were posed as humans, their motives tended to be self-focused. And never, never would they be slaughtered in the way Jesus was, especially not as a sacrifice on behalf of humans. 
So Paul points out how foolish the cross is and is actually a major stumbling block for the people of his day. But it rings true even today. the concept of the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice on it, still appears foolish to those in our society, and it’s because as Paul states in verse 25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Paul takes this understanding that the cross is foolish to both the Jews and Gentiles and brings it to his readers personally. Let’s keep reading in verse 26.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Now, it might sound mean for Paul to call his readers foolish, unwise, weak, and lowly,  but this is the same guy that spoke openly about his shame in persecuting Jesus’ Church, and how he was blind to what God was doing. So when he calls his readers unwise, weak, and lowly, he isn’t mocking them, but speaking to the reality of their situation. 
Because it’s in their unwise state, that they recognized the wisdom in the cross. It’s because of their weak status in society, that they recognized the great gift that is given through the cross.
And it’s because of their status as undesirable in the eyes of the world around them, that God was doing great things. But Paul also gives them a warning, not to now boast in themselves, but rather, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because it wasn’t them that saved themselves, but rather it was God who has done everything on their behalf.

It is here, that Paul transitions to bring himself into that same status of being unwise and weak by the world’s standards. Let’s keep reading in verse 1 of chapter 2.

1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Paul’s mention in verse 3 of how he came to the Corinthians in “…weakness with great fear and trembling…” might be understood in light of how he literally came to Corinth. If we read through the book of Acts, we’re given a series of events that proceeded Paul’s arrival the city of Corinth and the eventual establishment of the Corinthian Church.
These events start at the end of Acts chapter 15 and go into Acts chapter 18. Now think about these events and the physical, mental, and spiritual toll they would taken on Paul. First, Paul had a major disagreement with his missionary partner and mentor in the faith, Barnabas. This led to the two separating for this second missionary journey. Think of what losing a really close friend would feel like. Then while in Thyatira, Paul exercises a demon from a girl, and for his trouble, he is quickly put into prison. Think of what you’d be feeling to do something good and receive suffering in return. Then while in prison, he experiences an earthquake. Have you ever been through a natural disaster, it’s really jarring. After that Paul when to the city of Thessalonica, where he narrowly missed being attacked by a mod, but the people who he was staying with were actually taken away. How would you feel being the cause of someone else’s suffering? Then Paul goes to Berea, but can’t stay long because the people from Thessalonica track him down. That’s when Paul comes to Athens, and is ridiculed by the Athenian philosophers for his belief in the resurrection of Jesus. How would you feel having your core beliefs dismissed out of hand and you called a fool?
It’s from Athens that Paul arrives in Corinth, mentally, and physically, and spiritually  drained. It is here that Paul heard from God as recorded in Acts 18:9, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.”
I’m sensing Paul is having a little hesitation in continuing his work. So, Paul comes to the conclusion that all he had to offer was the gospel. Through his experienced he had learned that nothing else mattered but the proclamation of Jesus’ crucifixion and the salvation that came through it. And it was through this proclamation that people began to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
And so Paul is intimately acquainted with what it means to be unwise by the worlds standard. Paul understands what it is to be weak in comparison to the world’s strengths. Yet in that unwise and weak state, it leads to being able then to see the great works of God. It was at Corinth that he learned that very lesson. And now, Paul is going to share from where we who are unwise and weak by the world’s standard must gain our wisdom and our strength from. Let’s continue reading in verse 6.

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

And it is here that Paul brings us to this point of where we must derive our wisdom from. See disciples of Jesus cannot be wise by human standards, because their wisdom cannot be derived from what the world calls wise. The world says strength is needed, but God says I use you when you’re weakest. The world says to retaliate when wronged, but God says to respond with forgiveness. The world says the cross cannot be a way of salvation, but God says it’s the only way. The world says we can run from our decisions, but God says there are consequences for our sin. The world says you can do whatever you want, but God says that we will be held accountable for what we do. We cannot derive our wisdom from the world’s, because it’s it opposition to God, and we cannot help to understand the greatness of God’s wisdom without seeking the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
I’ve said this several times before, before I was a Christian, I believed a lot of things that I now do not. I believed homosexuality was fine, but in light of God’s wisdom, I don’t anymore. I believed abortion was fine, but in light of God’s wisdom, I no longer believer that either. I believed that lying, using others, being disrespectful, and having things as more important than God was fine, but in light of God’s wisdom, I no longer hold to those beliefs.
Because when we come to salvation in Christ, we start down a path where we accept the foolishness of the cross. That God’s way is foolish to a dying world, but in truth it is greater life giving wisdom than the world could ever know. 

But I have found that we try to hold on to certain aspects of the world’s wisdom and try to merge God’s wisdom with it. We try to hold onto two opposing paradigms and when we do we struggle to follow God, and begin to lose trust in him.
You know what a paradigm is? It’s a way of understanding something. It’s our beliefs and how we engage the world. And there are two major paradigms in play as far as the Bible’s concerned: there’s God’s and the world’s. And God’s paradigm is at odds with the world, because the world’s paradigm says that God’s paradigm is unwise and weak. 
The worlds says it’s unwise to be unselfish, letting others have, while you go without is dumb. Th world says it’s weak to allow yourself to be struck on the cheek, and unwise to give the other one as well. 
But Paul is calling us to a paradigm shift. A shift from what the world says is wise, to what God says is wise. And it’s in this shift that I have found my greatest struggle. I want to hold onto the wisdom of the world, and couple it with God’s, but then I find that I struggle with my trust in him. This is exactly what happens when I worry. I believe that I have power over something that God says is out of my control and I need to trust him.
But when we trust God’s paradigm, when we transition from the world’s wisdom to God’s, we can find a clearing of the mind and the peace that passes understanding. Sure it’s not wise to be unselfish by the world’s standards, but when I am, communities are better for it. Sure it’s weak to allow someone to strike me multiple times, but who is actually in control, the one who has to lash out in violence, or that one who restrains the anger? 
God is calling us into a full paradigm shift. Not a half one where we get to keep a bit of the world’s wisdom and try to mangel it with his. God is calling us to a full embrace of his way of things. In recognizing his wisdom is above the world’s; in recognizing that in our weakness we trust him and are made strong.
God is calling us to give up what we think is the correct way, and seek his way instead. Even when we disagree with it. Because when we do disagree with God, we’re actually telling him, I want to hold onto some of the beliefs of the world, because they are more wise than him. 
But the only way we can give up the world’s wisdom is by seeking the Holy Spirit. By seeking to understand God, by seeking to understand what the Spirit is saying. And how do we do that? First by reading God’s word, the Spirit is the one who inspired the writers to put it down on paper, and then doing what it says by putting God’s word into practice. It’s truly that simple, and yet, that hard. We must forgo what we think is right, and trust in what God says is right. This is the hardest point of the paradigm shift, because we must give up.

And so this week I want to challenge you to read through the book of Matthew chapters 5 through 7, and then after each topic that is raised the Scriptures, ask God, what needs to change in my way of thinking, so that it lines up with yours? Jesus uses the phrase again and again, “You have heard it said…but I say.” This needs to be our point of paradigm shift, where we say, I used to believe this of the world, but now I believe this of God.

Let us become the people who seek after God’s understanding and leave the world’s wisdom behind us. Amen.

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 1 - Who to Follow

Right outside of my home town, there were thousands of acres of undeveloped land. Off one of the backroads, a plot of 500 acres was converted into several paintball courses. Every weekend about 200 people would go out to the courses and play paintball games. For several weekends, my Dad and I joined them. We both bought the guns, masks, paintballs, and decked ourselves out in army fatigues. It was a blast. 
Now out of the 200 plus people that went out there, there were five guys that were head and shoulders above the rest when it came to surviving each game. These guys were, the property owner’s son and his four friends. They not only were out there every weekend, but also competed nationally in paintball tournaments. These guys were good, and when I say good, I mean they rarely were ever even hit. And where most people would use a typical paintball gun which was semi-automatic, meaning one trigger pull one shot, these guys would sometimes use manual pump paintball guns, just to make the game more challenging for themselves.
One weekend the owner gave a challenge to the 200 plus people gathered that day to defeat those five players. If the group was able to take out all five, then he would give the whole group an extra game, and he would supply the paint for it. That meant it was about 200 players against five, and I thought to myself “surely there was no way they could win”.
The five were given a ten minute head start into the forest. 200 men and women stood suited up like an army waiting for war. When the buzzard hit, those weekend warriors made their way into the dense forest. Within five minutes the unmistakable sound of paintball fire erupted around the woods. I lasted for about 10 minutes before a ball of paint splattered against my body, and I had to call out, “I’m hit.” I still don’t know where that paintball came from, but it got me. In the next 10 minutes, the sounds of paintball fire were followed by shouts of “I’m hit” all around the woods. More and more of our fellow warriors marched out of the foliage defeated. But then, as one guy walked out of the forest, the parking lot erupted with triumph, one of the five emerged splattered with paint. One down, only four to go. Soon after three more of the five came out of the forest. The parking lot began to rumble with excitement, there were five of our own against the owner’s son. Then, in the distance, several bursts of fire could be heard. Then several more. Five times this happened. Then out of the forest, in keeping with the intervals of the fire, five men walked out, followed by one more, the owner’s son, his fatigues completely clean of paint.
200 men and women against five, was not enough. We lost that battle, but found a unity with each other, that we had not had at any other time before.

And it’s this idea of unity that brings us into our summer sermon study. Every summer, as a congregation, we dive into a book of the Bible to see the overarching themes as the Holy Spirit leads us. This summer we will be going through the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church. So if you would, open with me to 1st Corinthians chapter 1 verse 1. And as we open up to 1st Corinthians 1:1, let’s understand the some of the background to this letter.

Corinth was a Roman city located in Greece, not to far from the the city of Athens. Corinth was positioned on one of the major trade routes between the western Roman world and it’s eastern lands. Because of this, it was very prosperous. And because of it’s prosperity, the city became intrenched in moral depravity. So much so, that even the other Roman cites looked at Corinth as the worst of the worse. As their primary deity, the people of Corinth worshiped Aphrodite. Since Aphrodite was connected to sex, one of the most prevalent sins, was sexual in nature, and ran rampant throughout the city, and we’ll see, into the Corinthian Church.
It was in this setting that Paul founded the Church at Corinth on his second missionary journey around 50AD. This time frame corresponds with Acts chapter 18. Now after a year and a half with the new Church, Paul left and returned to Jerusalem and then began his third missionary journey. Paul writes this letter to the Corinthian Church most likely while in the Asia Minor city of Ephesus around 55AD. 
But even though we say this is 1st Corinthians, this isn’t technically the first letter Paul wrote to this Church. In fact in the fifth chapter of this letter, we are told by Paul himself that he wrote a letter prior to this. But that letter was not persevere as this one was. Why is that? The truth is, we do not know, but from what Paul writes in this letter, one can get the feeling that he is covering the same information again, but this time going into greater detail. So it could be that this letter, was more comprehensive and therefore thought to be more suitable to all Christians.
Now with that basic understanding of the background of letter, let’s start reading in verse 1 of 1st Corinthians chapter 1.

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes (Sos-theen-s),
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

We see here, Paul opening his letter by uniting the Corinthian Church with the whole Church around the world. This theme of uniting the Corinthian Church not just with believers outside of their city, but with the believers within their city, is a common theme that we’ll see more and more within the letter.
But in his opening, Paul shares encouragement with the Church of Corinth. He tells them that he thanks God for them, these were the ones he himself preached to and many of them came to know Christ through Paul’s work. So he loves them as a father loves his children. And Paul desires that this Church be a strong one with the gifts of God moving in their community, and that they would be in perfect fellowship with God when Jesus returns.
Notice some of the things that Paul references as strengths in the Corinthian Church. First, they have the ability to speak in a way that is divinely inspired, and that speech is coupled with knowledge that is wisdom based. This speech and knowledge are a sign that God truly has saved these people. Second, Paul says they do not lack any spiritual gift. That means that when we eventually get to chapter 12 where Paul talks about spiritual gifts, these people have them. Healing, tongues, prophecy and more are all within this Church. This is important for us to understand because as we’ll see, just because a person, or a church for that matter, has good teaching, preaching, or the gifts of the Spirit, doesn’t mean it’s doing everything right.
This opening is very uplifting, and shows Paul’s heart for the people of this Church. Those uplifting words are necessary, because without them, what follows may be taken as Paul bashing the Church, but it’s not that at all. Rather, what follows these opening words, are Paul’s gentle rebuke of the Church to bring them to the place in which he desires to see them in. This opening address is Paul’s way of saying, everything that follows is said to make these first words a reality. So let’s continue to read in verse 10.

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

It’s in verses 10 and 11 that we get the reason why Paul is writing to the Corinthian Church. Division is happening, the body of believers are not united. There is quarreling among them. Paul cites one of these points of quarreling, who people point to as the authority over them. Paul was the founding pastor of the Corinthian Church, and so some were putting him up as the main authority. But others put forth Apollos as a main authority, who was a brilliant speaker and teacher of the Scriptures, and a man that came to saving faith through Paul’s ministry (Acts 18:24-28). Still others put forth Cephas, which was the Apostle Peter as still a greater authority to follow.
This division was causing the Church to become fractured, with each having their own “teacher” who was better than another. We don’t have this today right? But Paul completely rejects this fracturing, this elevating of teachers to follow, and instead brings it back to Christ. In verse 13 Paul writes, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
In other words, who is suppose to be the main focus here? Is it an earthly teacher or is it Christ himself?

In the past two winters, two different people have sat in one of my classes. One was an adult who sat in on my Counter Arguments Class that I was teaching our youth for Sunday School. In this class, this person told me that the teens needed to hear from the Christian prophet that this person followed. And if the teens would only just hear from the prophet, then they would know that God loves them, and they would never have to struggle in their faith, and everything that I was teaching them wouldn’t need to be taught.
The other person sat in on our Apologetics class as we talked about world religions. At the end of this class one night, they asked a series of questions that took us almost two hours to go through. At the end of which, they proceeded to tell me how they were taught under a greater teacher. Inferring that their teacher was greater than me, which, to be honest, is probably true.

But in both cases the underlying sentiment was the same, there was an earthly teacher that was important, and that if others weren’t going to that teacher, then they were not fully experiencing God. See we have the same attitude today, that Paul wrote about to the Corinthian Church. The Corinthians were taking their focus off of Christ, and putting it on to a person, which was leading to a division in the Church. We can fall into that same trap today. When we hold up a particular teacher as the end all of our faith, then we fall into the trap that can lead to a fracture within our fellowship. Because then, someone else who has their favorite teacher or preacher, will then push back and say no mines better, and the fracture gets bigger.
Now, can we have a particular preacher or teacher we like and think others should listen to? Sure, but we must be careful that we do not elevate them to the height of Christ himself.
And that’s what was happening to the believers in the Corinthian Church, and that’s what was happening with these two people that came into my classes. They were holding up a person over Christ. And the reason I know this to be true, is because when I challenged them with God’s own word, they didn’t have a response. They kept returning to, well this is what this teacher said. To which I responded with, that’s great but what does God’s word say on the subject.

No human compares to Christ. No human word on any subject is greater than Christ’s word. We must take the caution of Paul in these opening verses of 1st Corinthians and ask ourselves the question, do I hold another above Jesus? Do I say I follow this pastor, or that teacher, and so downplay Jesus’ authority over me? Do I run to hear that human’s word on a subject before I run to God’s Word?

My challenge for us this week is to look at ourselves and ask, who am I following? Is it Christ first, or Christ second? If we are holding up a particular teacher or pastor, we need to repent of putting Christ second. We can thank God for the teachers and preachers that he brings into our lives, but we should never usurp Jesus’ position with that of anyone else.

Let us proclaim only Jesus as the one we follow. Let us go to his Word first, thereby bringing unity to our fellowship, as Christ has called us to. Amen.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The March to The Resurrection Sermon Series - Week 5: Being Okay With Blindness

I don’t know if you did this growing up, but when I was in third grade, about nine years old, we lived in a small mountain community called Fiddletown. The house was on five archers of mountain slopes and was a two story, two bedroom, two bath, with a loft. My room was the loft. The kitchen was directly underneath me, and late at night I would make my way down the stairs for a bite to eat, or a drink of water. 
My parents’ room was on the second story with me, and I had to pass it by as I made my way down the stairs. In my mind I always thought, if I turn on the light, then they’ll know I’m awake. So, I worked really hard making my way down the stairs without the use of lights. And when your house is out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees that are taller than the building, it becomes pitch black. Navigating down the stairs in complete darkness, remembering which steps made creeks and which ones didn’t was a skill that I developed over time. In fact, during the day, I would close my eyes and make my way down so that I could practice in the light. 
But every so often, I’d miss a step and go tumbling down the stairs. Luckily I never got seriously injured, and was never caught. But from then on, even today, I don’t tend to turn on lights if I don't’ have to. In our church building, in the pitch black of night, I make my way through the hallways, without ever turning on lights. People that walk with me, tend to turn on the flashlight on their phones, but for me, I’ve practiced not seeing so often, that I’ve become accustomed to walking through places that I know, as if I were blind.

But it’s this idea of of being okay with walking around as if we were blind, that brings us to our final week in our March towards the Resurrection Series. In this final week, we’re going to be jumping ahead in the book of Luke to the 24th chapter, where we’re going to be starting in verse 13. And as we open up to Luke 24, verse 13, let’s bring this series into full focus by looking back on the last four weeks.

In these last several weeks, we’ve been focusing on interactions Jesus had as he made his way to Jerusalem. In the first week we saw parents trying to get their children to Jesus for a blessing. But the disciples were keeping the children and parents away, because they weren’t as important as other people. A person who was important enough by their standards to meet with Jesus, was a rich young man with a lot of respect in his town. But Jesus, rebuked the disciples for keeping the children from him, and through Jesus’ teachings, it was the rich young man that left without receiving a blessing from Jesus. We walked away from the first week with the understanding that we are not to play the gate keeper as to who gets a blessing or not from Jesus, but rather, we need to follow Jesus where he calls us to go.
The next interaction Jesus had, was with two men. The first was a blind beggar who sought a physical healing from Jesus. Jesus healed the man, and the crowd who saw this rejoiced at God’s work. The second man, was seeking to simply understand who Jesus was, but when he met Jesus, he realized his sin and gave up the wealth that he had spent his life trying to accumulate. This man received salvation that day, but the crowd had grumbled that Jesus would even interact with such a man. It was here that we understood, that we must get rid of our personal biases so that we can rejoice at all of the work that God is doing.
In the third week, we spent time dissecting the parable of the Ten Minas. A parable that Jesus used to try and help the people understand what was really going on. See the people wanted to make Jesus their king, but Jesus wanted them to realize that they really didn’t really want him to be their king, because they wanted a physical kingdom, and Jesus’ plan was to build a spiritual one that was beyond physical borders. It was here that we walked away with the understanding that, God’s ways are sometimes hard for us to follow, but when we do, we get to see him build his kingdom.
Finally, last week, we celebrated communion by looking at three sequential events: The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, Jesus weeping over the city, and Jesus clearing out the temple. These three sequential events showed us what needs to happen in our own lives. We tend to want physical victories, just like the people as they heard Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem and thought he came to overthrow the Roman government. But Jesus wept over them, because they were missing what really needed to happen. Jesus had come to clear out sin from us, so that we may have a spiritual rebirth. And we walked away from last week with the understanding that in order to have victories in this life, we must seek God for spiritual renewal.

This brings us, as we jump from chapter 20 to chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke, to the resurrection. The very event we have been marching towards. And just like we’ve done in the weeks prior to today, we are going to look at one more interaction that Jesus had. Let’s start reading in Luke chapter 24, in verse 13.

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

Now, I love this. Jesus is raised and one of the first things he does is find some disciples walking along, and messes with them. “What are you discussing?” Jesus asks. “What things?” He asks, continuing playing dumb. As if he has no clue and needs to be told everything. But let’s notice somethings about this whole situation. 
First, these two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem. Why? We know that they have heard that Jesus rose from the dead. Why not hang around and see for yourself? Why leave when something amazing could be happening?
Could it be because they had lost hope? In verses 20 and 21 it says, “20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
It sounds like they had, past-tense, hoped that Jesus was the king, but when he was crucified they lost that hope. Even when people came and told them he had risen, they still were without hope. Couple this with the fact that they had left Jerusalem, it sounds like they were no longer confident that Jesus was what they had hoped he was.
Now in verse 16, I think that we get an interesting sentence. It says, “but they were kept from recognizing him.”
Now, I have read other people’s interpretation of this verse, and most people think that God is keeping them from seeing that it is Jesus. But I don’t think that’s the case. From what we have just talked about, how they have lost their hope of Jesus becoming king, I think it’s their hopelessness that is keeping them from recognizing Jesus, and not God.

I mean listen to what Jesus tells them, starting in verse 25, “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Jesus gets on them for their loss of hope, and he points out how they have not believed what God had spoken through the prophets. It’s because of their own hopelessness that they are unable to recognize Jesus standing before them. But it doesn’t end there. Let’s pick it back up in verse 28.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Did you catch that? It wasn’t until Jesus shared a meal with them, blessing it like he always did, that they woke up to this man sitting with them, who was indeed the risen Jesus. Notice what they say in verse 32, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

I think this is something that we really need to recognize. As Jesus opened up the Scriptures to these two disciples, the hope rekindled inside of them, but they still did not recognize him. It’s almost as if they were wanting to recognizing Jesus, but were fighting the thought of it. They allowed their loss of hope to be greater, than Jesus in front of them.
It’s almost as if they were so used to being blind in hopelessness since Jesus’ crucifixion, that when they had an opportunity to see clearly, they couldn’t. Even when Jesus spoke hope to them through the Scriptures, they still couldn’t let go of their blindness,  the couldn’t let go fo their hopelessness of their hopelessness.

Yet, at the moment they sat down for dinner with Jesus, the breaking of bread, the blinders came off. They were able to see and everything changed. They had spent the better part of the day walking away from Jerusalem, away from hope. They had reached their destination as the sun set. But at the realization that Jesus was indeed resurrected, they left in the dark to return to Jerusalem, and back to their hope in Jesus.

And this is what God is calling us today, a return to hope. A return to him. With everything going on in our world, God is hope in troubled times. He is the only solid footing in times of great strife. God is the constant when everything is shifting around us and we don’t know what the next day will bring. 
God is calling all of us back to hope, and that hope can only be experienced through the risen Jesus. Who, even now, stands with us waiting for us to recognize him in our midst. We must dive into his word, the Bible. We must take time and enter communion with him, like we did last week. We must seek to recognize what he’s doing right now, and not allow the hopelessness of the world to send us away from the God of hope.

Today, if you do not know the hope that is in Jesus, I want to invite you into a personal relationship with him right now. And it starts with being honest. You and I are not perfect. We fail at a lot of things. One of the greatest failures we have done is to think we can do it on our own. God never made us to be like that. To stumble around in the dark, becoming accustomed to it. No, he created us to live our lives in tandem with him. Everyday at every moment, drawing our strength from him.
But we have gone our own way, indulging in what the Bible calls sin. Giving into anger, lying, gossip, breaking down others, and so much more. But this the hope found in Jesus, God doesn’t leave us where we’re at, but provides a way from that sin which leads to hopelessness and death, to a new destination that ends with hope and life. 
And all we have to do is go before God, and admit we sin, recognizing Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf, and accepting him as our Lord and Savior. If you hear the voice of God today and desire to move form hopelessness of this world, to the hope that is only found in Jesus, then repeat this prayer after me, “Jesus, I have sinned, and because of that I am hopeless, but you say you have given me hope through the cross and through your empty tomb. I accept that gift of hope, please be my Savior and my Lord that I may trust and follow you all the days of my life. Amen.”

Let us celebrate today, that Jesus is alive, and is one day coming back, and that we may be found on our own roads recognizing him as Savior. Amen.

Easter Sunrise Service - The Unmundaneness of the Empty Tomb

We’re here this morning, in the midsts of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has swept over almost every country in the world, with some countries not having any cases, simply because they have no way to test for the virus. 
Rumors of wars, both in the military sense, and the economic sense swirl around us. Shortages of certain supplies, and the need to distance ourselves from each other, reek havoc on our normal routines.
I’ve recently heard several commentators say, “We will never go back to the way things were. This virus, is a 9/11 moment, where the world will forever be changed.”
But throughout history we have seen that humanity always returns to a mundane existence even after great change. Life goes on living, and we adjust to what now becomes common place, to the new normal.

This same return to a mundane existence was with the women as they approached the tomb of Jesus that first Resurrection Sunday. One week prior, there were shouts of Hosanna in the streets. A new king was bringing an everlasting kingdom to the world. The Jews would finally be freed after centuries of being trampled underfoot. 
But four days later, the Romans put an end to that hope. Jesus, the one who was celebrated as this new Jewish king, was killed in the most vicious and isolating way possible. Crucified as a thief and mocked as a king.

Now, as the women approached Jesus’ tomb, the mundane of Roman oppression, the mundane of lost hope, the mundane of waiting for another Messiah, hung on their hearts. We might think, “No, they were waiting for his resurrection.” But that’s not the case. We’re told in Luke 24:1 that, “they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared.”
Those spices, were to finish the burial ceremony of Jesus, that was so rushed just three days prior. The mundane reality of death and loss, hung heavy on them. Mundane, not that death is something we talk about flippantly, but mundane in the fact that it is the only constant of life. 
The glorious change that they expected to happen when Jesus was made king, gave way as the women were making their way to the tomb. The mundane reality that they had come to accept their beloved Jesus to radically change, lay dead before them in the tomb.

But as they approached the tomb, the mundane began to break yet again. The stone was already rolled away. The Roman guards seem to be gone. The tomb was empty, Jesus’ body was no where to be found. And then, two magnificently robed beings stood by them. The very presences of these two, sent the women into fear, fall down at the beings’ mercy.
Yet again, as one of the dazzling men spoke, the mundane shattered because of Jesus. “5 Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again (Luke 24:5-7).’ ”
The words shattered the women’s mundane world. Death had not won this day. Jesus, who was crucified, had indeed risen from the dead and now walked among the living. The words of Jesus, as spoken by these magnificent men, roared in their ears, and they returned to the other disciples. 
But these disciples were lost in their own mundaneness. Their hope, as was the women’s, shattered and the world around them returned to it’s regular paces. Even when the women entered the other disciples’ presence, the mundane was more real, than the experience that the women had. In fact, the disciples looked upon the women and their talk of Jesus raised from the dead, as ramblings, as wishful words of hysteric women.
All but two. Peter the one that had betrayed Jesus, by denying him three times, and John, who understood the love that Jesus had for him, but was powerless when Jesus was taken to the cross.
These two men ran out of the room towards the tomb. John got their first, but it was Peter who entered in. There in the tomb was the burial cloth of Jesus. Peter and John were amazed (Luke 24:12 & John 20:3-8). Could the mundane truly be broken? Could Jesus truly have been raised?

Later, Jesus would gather his disciples together and send them out to carry his gospel to the world. 

We are gathered today, because the mundane was broken almost 2,000 years ago. See it’s really easy for us to look around with an expectation of the mundane. Even in this time of social turmoil, we desire the mundane. Where we can just back to our regular schedule. Back to doing things like we’ve alway done them.
But Jesus calls us out of the mundane. Jesus calls us away from the things that are ever present in our view. Things like worry, distrust, anger, fear, self-focus. These things lead to the most mundane act that happens in this world, death. A tragic and horrendous occurrence that rocks our world, but then life goes on. Every generation before us, has gone on to the grave, and even when we’re confronted with the rattling of our mundane world with the reality of death, we still just accept it. We still continue in our mundaneness.
Yet, God calls us away from the acceptance. God calls us into the breaking of the mundane world, and into his life. A life that throws off the sins of this world. The focus on self, the worry that calls to us, the anger we hold towards others. God calls us to experience the resurrection daily in our lives. 

And we can only begin this journey, by accepting Jesus’ as our Savior. His death and resurrection are not a passing blip on human history. The world did not just keep moving forward as it always had. Kingdoms and nations were radically changed by this event. Jesus stands in the course of time, as the crux of everything. There is nothing in this world that hasn’t been touched by the work of Jesus. 
He calls us out of the mundane and into the work he has for us. The work of God that tells us that there is more to this world than the mundane. More to experiencing the creation, than we could ever imagine. More to loving others than we have ever done. More to ourselves that we could ever realize, because we are called to a relationship with our Creator. But it all begins at the empty tomb, because at the empty tomb the mundane is shattered. The one common event for every person, death, is broken and every day after it, the mundane can never truly be the same. Because Jesus is risen!

So where are we right now? Are we trapped in the mundane of life. Are we trapped in worry, anger, uncertainty, fear? Jesus has come to break through the mundane of these trappings, but we must come to the tomb. We must come to a realization of why there was a crucifixion, that we are sinners. We desire ourselves over others. We desire our life over God’s. And we follow what makes us happy, rather than God’s will. This is why Jesus had to die, because we have created a gulf between ourselves and God, that we cannot cross. But God can, Jesus came to us to build a bridge through the cross back to God. Back to the life that we were created to live. And the exit point of that bridge is the empty tomb. The empty tomb which leads to new life in God, where worry, fear, selfishness, and even death has no power over us. And the mundane things of this life, are renewed in the light of God’s work around us.

All we have to do is accept the empty tomb. Last year, I took time and gave all the reasons why the tomb wasn’t empty on that first Resurrection Sunday. But all of them fell short. The tomb was historically empty, looking at the evidence, no one can deny that. So now we must make a choice, do I accept that Jesus is risen, or do I not? Do I accept the mundaneness of this life, and my ultimate destiny of everlasting death, or do I accept that Jesus shattered the mundane and that I can live a life that breaks every facet of the mundane?

The empty tomb lays bear before us, calling us to make a choice that has eternal ramifications. We must deal with it. I have accepted that Jesus left that tomb. I accept this because of historical evidence, of philosophical evidence, and personal evidence. And each of us must ask ourselves what happened then?
If the tomb was empty but Jesus isn’t risen, then the mundane of this life will continue until the earth passes away into cosmic dust, as a mundane event that has no reason behind it. 
But if the tomb was empty because Jesus is indeed raised, then there will be a day, when Jesus returns and calls us to account of what our choice was with his empty tomb.
To the Christians hear today, are you living in the reality that the empty tomb shattered the mundane. That you are called to share the gospel with those around you, before it’s to late for them? That no virus, or war, or anything else holds fear over you? Let today spur you onto praying for people to receive the gospel and to share it with them in the coming weeks. Stand firm in your trust in Jesus, and let it show to the world around you.
To the one who isn’t following Jesus, I want to call you to repentance. That means that you come to an understanding that you are, what the God calls, a sinner. That means that you have fallen short from God’s perfection that you were created to uphold. You’re not alone, I am there with you. Each of us has fallen short of God’s perfection, because we go after our own wants rather than God’s. And by doing so, our lives reflect the destruction it brings. Even if one lie, or one angry thought passes from us, we have put ourselves away from God’s perfection. But that’s why Jesus had to come and die for us. God himself coms and dies for us, to bridge the gulf between God’s perfection and our sinfulness. Jesus took all our sin on himself, even thought he didn’t deserve it, just so we could have the opportunity to come back to God. And this is that opportunity, and all we have to do is bow our heads and say something like this, “God I’m a sinner, and I am undeserving of the gift Jesus offers me through the cross. Jesus I accept the empty tomb, that you are risen, come and save me, and guide me as I follow you the rest of the days of my life.”

If you prayed that prayer, then the mundane has shattered in your life. I would love to pray for you to be used by God as he created you to be used. To work with him to shatter other people’s mundane lives. Let us all look back at the empty and no longer live this life as if it’s simply mundane, but in the reality that God truly changed the world and there is no going back. Amen.