Monday, April 24, 2017

Deep Compassion for the Poor

Good News for the Poor

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. 
- Jesus Christ 

How do we feel toward people we would label as poor? I am not asking do we give to the poor or whether or not we have ever dropped a quarter into someone's metal coffee cup. I am not wondering whether or not we have purchased a Big Mac for someone who told us they needed money for food. How do we feel towards them? What emotion rises up within us as we encounter the beggar outside Wrigley Field, when we have just spent several hundred dollars to watch millionaires compete in a sport? If we are honest, we often feel a strange mixture of fear, judgment, and disdain. To be a bit more specific, we sometimes feel thankful - thankful that "we are not like such men" (See Luke 18.11). These feelings reveal that we still have parts of us that need to be transformed by the Gospel. When we are being transformed by the Gospel, we will begin to notice the Spirit of God working within us a deep compassion toward all people, especially the poor. Jesus himself reveals God's heart of deep compassion for the poor. In fact, Jesus' entire message can be summarized in the text he chose for his first sermon - a text he proclaimed was being fulfilled through him.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4.18–19, NIV)
How can we follow Jesus in proclaiming a message and embodying a lifestyle that is "good news to the poor?"

Remember that in the most important sense each of us is poor.

In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul is exhorting his readers to show generosity to the church in Jerusalem. Before he makes his request, Paul leverages the Gospel so the Corinthians will be generous to the poor. 
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:8–9, NIV)
Instead of resorting to guilt (Look at all the food you have and let me show you a picture of a hungry little boy from Jerusalem.), Paul leans heavily on the Gospel. Jesus, who in the most important sense was "rich," set those pleasures aside that he might come to us in our poverty to raise us up with him to enjoy the utmost pleasure, communion with the Triune God. So we can find compassion toward the poor when we remember our impoverished state were it not for Jesus.

Fellowship with those in need. 

In Philippians 4, Paul is joyfully thanking his readers for the generosity they have shown him through the gifts sent to him through Epaphroditus. 
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only. (Philippians 4:14–15, NIV)
When Paul says it was good of the Philippians to "share in his troubles," he uses the word koinonia; a word we normally translate fellowship, deep communion, or even, kinship. Many of the friendships we developed in Seminary were some of the most significant we have ever known. I am convinced the quality of our connection with those people was due to the fact that we were all struggling together toward the same goal. Likewise, the Philippians were so committed to partnering with Paul for the spread of the Gospel, that they were willing to enter into suffering with Paul, if it meant relief for him that enabled him to spread the Good News of Jesus around the Mediterranean world. While there is nothing wrong with many of the ways we share resources with the poor (relief funds like the Salvation Army, Compassion International, and Operation Christmas Child), Paul is calling us here to a kinship with the poor. He describes a willingness to give to the point of suffering, so that the poor's burden can be relieved, and the Gospel can be proclaimed.

Worship Jesus who always showed compassion to the poor.

Finally, because we become like the God we worship, we must remember that King Jesus always showed compassion to the poor. In the writings of Luke, Jesus and the Church always have a compassionate posture toward beggars. In Luke 16.19-31 Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a beggar named, Lazarus. Of the many things this parable teaches, one of the most important is that when the reign of Jesus finally comes in its fullness, the wealthy who abused the poor in this life will be judged. Furthermore, the poor will finally enjoy the healing this world never provided. What's more in Luke 18.35-43 Jesus encounters a blind beggar. Notice that Jesus doesn't try to get the man to leave him alone - something we all have done along as did Jesus' disciples. Instead, Jesus has the man brought to him, and after a conversation, Jesus, full of mercy, heals the man. Furthermore, the early church continued to approach the poor with the same merciful heart of Jesus. See Acts 3

Jesus is calling the church to proclaim and embody a message that is good news to the poor. Paul wrote to the Galatians: "All they asked was that we continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do" (Galatians 2.10, NIV). Are we eager to remember the poor? If we remember the poor, we will encounter the presence of Jesus. Did Jesus not say that when we show compassion to the least of these, his brothers and sisters, we are showing compassion to him (Matthew 25.31-46)? Speaking of Jesus' parable of the sheep and goats, we conclude with a compelling commentary from Gary Anderson in his book, Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition.  
If almsgiving funds a heavenly treasury, then the hand of the poor provides a privileged port of entry to the realm and, ultimately, the being of God. In short, there is a deeply sacramental character to the act. The poor become a necessary and indeed nonnegotiable point of access to the kingdom of God (Gary Anderson).
Will you remember the poor?

Click here to download to listen to our message, Good News for the Poor.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter 2017


Did Easter Let You Down?

How was your Easter? On Easter, Pastors often feel like the manager of a Pizza Hut on Super Bowl Sunday. And if each of us "clergy type" is honest we feel a self-imposed pressure to make Easter "better than ever." What's more, as our kids search for Easter eggs on Easter afternoon, that not even those who hid them can find, we all feel a little disappointed. The service didn't live up to our expectations, or the perceived expectations of others. Brothers and sisters, the point of Easter is not dresses and suits, eggs and chocolate, or special music and knock it out of the park sermons! The point of Easter is not even the worship gathering that celebrates it (although, Christians should make gathering to worship a priority). Brothers and sisters, the point of Easter is that Jesus was crucified and buried for our sins and was raised to life three days later! This cannot be improved upon. This cannot be leveraged for the purpose of increasing attendance at a local church. Jesus really was dead and now he really is alive. If this is really true, whatever disappointed you this past Sunday DOES NOT MATTER, because the implication of Easter is this. God is not disappointed with you. Paul puts it this way. 

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:23–25, NIV)

You are not a let down. You are accepted.

This is one implication of Jesus' resurrection. He was raised to life that we might be justified. What does Paul mean by the word, "justified?" Of the many things this word means, let's emphasize two. First, when Paul says believers are justified he means we are considered faithful members of the covenant family. Throughout the New Testament, the problem facing local congregations is the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers. Who are the true people of God? "Who are the true children of Abraham? Paul's answer is that membership belongs to all who believe the gospel of Jesus, whatever their racial or moral background" (N.T. Wright).  Among the people God is saving there are no disappointments. No lesser-than or greater- than. We are all one in Jesus Christ. God has rendered the verdict of faithful over everyone who believes the good news concerning Jesus. Second, the foundation of God's verdict of faithfulness is Jesus' death for sinners and his resurrection from the dead. In other words, Jesus exhausted the curse that was in the way of his promised blessing (Galatians 3.10-14), and with the curse no longer operative, Jesus' resurrection paves the way for all who are united to him to be welcomed by the Father (Romans 4.23-25).

What is causing you disappointment post-Easter? What is making you feel like a disappointment? Believe the truth of Easter that Jesus was raised to life that you might have your disappointments buried and hear the welcoming and loving and life-giving voice of your Heavenly Father! Brothers and sisters this is a message that cannot be improved!

Click here to download and listen to our Easter message at Somonauk Baptist Church.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Reversal of Adam's Sin and the Cross

One Theory of Atonement

During this Lenten Season we have been exploring different aspects of the atonement. We have been examining images from Scripture that help us understand Jesus' death for sin. Over the past 6 weeks we have learned from the cross that the heart of God is full of justice for the oppressed: the heart of God overflows with forgiveness: and that the cross of Christ defeats evil. These are all aspects, motifs, or theories of atonement. To understand Jesus' death we must seek to grasp these essentials. During our final message we wrestled with this question: Is there one theme that captures all the essential aspects of the Cross? Do the Scriptures present one grand summary of atonement? I would say the recapitulation theory of atonement summarizes as good as any other theory, all that Jesus did to make atonement for sin. The doctrine of recapitulation teaches that Jesus came to earth to reverse the sin of Adam and its consequences.

Jesus and Adam

Romans 5.12-21 describes recapitulation by comparing and contrasting Adam's disobedience and Jesus' obedience. In other words, this text teaches that Jesus comes behind Adam to restore what the sin of Adam destroyed. In every place where Adam disobeyed, Jesus obeys. In the Garden of Eden, Adam says to God, "Not your will, but mine be done." In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says to God, "Not my will, but yours be done." It is this kind of contrast between the first and second Adams that Paul is emphasizing. Permit me to point out this contrast.  
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. (Romans 5:15–16, NIV)
In these verses Paul highlights how the first Adam and the second Adam are different with respect to their disobedience and obedience. Adam's one act of disobedience led to condemnation. God's gift, on the other hand, followed many acts of disobedience, but led to justification.
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:17, NIV)
Paul is teaching here that Adam's trespass resulted in the reign of death. The grace of Christ, however, produced the reign of life.
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18, NIV)
Finally, Paul summarizes Jesus' work of atonement by showing that just as Adam's one trespass led to condemnation for all, so Jesus' act of righteousness leads to life and justification for all.

Brothers and sisters, Adam's disobedience resulted in death. Jesus' obedience resulted in life. Adam's trespass resulted in condemnation and exile. Jesus' righteousness resulted in justification and homecoming. Jesus' work of atonement is best summarized as undoing all that Adam did. Furthermore, when the Spirit unites us to Jesus as the second Adam, all that he accomplished is ours by grace.

Jesus and Adam and Us

Up to this point atonement theories can remain impersonal. We can confess that Jesus "undid" all that Adam did and carry on with our day. In Romans 5.1-11 Paul is describing how we, who were God's enemies have become reconciled to God. What's more in Romans 5.12 Paul says that in dealing with Adam's sin, he was also addressing our sin problem. Therefore, Jesus obedience unto death was not only the undoing of Adam's sin, it was also the undoing of my sin and yours. We no longer have to be defined by our trespasses. We were born united to Adam and his/our sins defined us. By faith we have been united to Christ by the Spirit and have been given a new identity. Each of us has an element of our story that we are tempted to receive as an over-arching identity. What painful scene from your story threatens to define your life? In Jesus, this doesn't have to be the case! When we are united to Christ we become those "who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness" and "who will reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." Thanks be to God.

Listen to our final message from our Lenten Journey, Understanding Jesus' DeathThe Last Adam and the Cross.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Cross and the Defeat of Evil

What need does Jesus death on the cross address? One of the most significant summaries of what the cross accomplishes is called Christus Victor. This understanding of Jesus' death emphasizes that on the cross God was working to defeat evil. The Scriptures address this theme in many places. Here are two of the more common texts. 

**And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered (Mark 3.26-27).

Indeed, these verses describe Jesus as the Stronger Man who came to bind up Satan, the strong man, and plunder his property! 

**The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3.8b). 

So the Scriptures are clear. Jesus came to defeat Satan and rescue the world from his evil grasp. The question is, how did Jesus defeat the enemy? Take a listen to our most recent messages that describe how God defeated Satan and his domain through Jesus' death and resurrection. Thanks be to God. 

How is Satan defeated by Jesus on the Cross? Click here to download and listen to our message, The Defeat of Satan and the Cross

Was Jesus' death a descent into hell? Click here to download and listen to our message, The Defeat of Hell and the Cross

Monday, March 20, 2017

Jesus, Our Older Brother

Relationships between siblings have the potential for incredible grace and extraordinary pain. This is why there are so many many stories in Scripture that revolve around the relationship between brothers and sisters. Think about it. If we were to remove all the sibling stories from the Bible, some of our most favorite moments would disappear. Indeed, a Bible without Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus would be no Bible at all. What's more, the person and work of Jesus would be described in a much different way, if not totally meaningless without the theme of Jesus as the older brother coming to rescue his younger siblings and restoring them to the Father. Because sin has powerfully dominated the sibling relationship, Christ had to come to us that our sibling relationship with him might be healed along with all other sibling relationships. Paul Zahl is helpful in this regard.
Almost all sibling problems have to do with a child's feeling that the affection of his parents was unevenly distributed. The middle child thinks the eldest is favored, but the youngest is really the favored one. The youngest basks in the affection of his less-uptight parents, who have become wiser in their child-rearing. ... Grace demolishes this idea of proportional loving, It demolishes it ... because God's love is one-way, removed from any relation with the receiver, there is no "rivalry." This grace of Christ is the first stage of the healing of siblings who are furious at one another.
Is it not maddening when an author we don't even know seems to describe our reality as if he is a member of our family? Brother and sisters, our sibling relationships are unparalleled in how they reveal the reality of the fall. The good news is Jesus came into the mess of our sibling relationships as our good and loving and rescuing older brother (Hebrews 2.11-13).

In the early 90s, Robert Redford directed and narrated the well-known film, A River Runs Through It. More than being a film about fly fishing with amazing scenes of trout fishing in the rivers that run through the Montana Mountains, this was film about family. More specifically about the love and pain that brothers often share. Norman and Paul Maclean are brothers whose father is a stern Presbyterian minister. Norman is the firstborn son who does nothing but satisfy the cold expectations of Reverend Maclean. Paul, on the other hand, is the younger rebellious son who abuses alcohol, gets into bar fights, and becomes "overly involved" with too many women. Nonetheless, Norman has deep and abiding affection for Paul. He wants to help his brother, but is unable, because he fails to understand his brother. Norman explains this loving struggle to want to help Paul, even though he is unable.  
Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding. 
Paul's life ends after being brutally beaten and left for dead in a back alley. This devastates Norman and he responds by doing what he and Paul used to always do together, fly fish. To return to the river without his brother was more loneliness than Norman could bear.
In the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand, but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as "our brother's keepers," possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting instincts. It will not let us go. 
The good news is that Jesus as a faithful older brother is willing and able to come and save us because he does understand our plight. He is the true brother's Keeper. This is why Hebrews says: "he had to be made like [his brothers,] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people (Heb 2.17, NIV). As N.T. Wright says,  
Jesus is the older brother of a much larger family and he did come to where his siblings were. He wallowed in the land of sin and death. He identified with them, shared their fate, and thereby rescued them from it (N.T. Wright). 
Click below to download and listen to our exposition of Hebrews 2.10-18.

Sin, Substitution, Sacrifice, and the Cross

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Justice of the Cross

Why were Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden? When God responds to our sin we often only think of him in terms of punishment. We are therefore led to believe that God was punishing our first parents by casting them out of the Garden because he couldn't stand the sight of them. He couldn't tolerate their presence as sinners, so they had to go! Is that what the text says? No! Instead, God's Word describes God as seeking them out, even in their state of sin and shame. Furthermore, Genesis 3.22 describes why they were exiled.
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Gen 3:22–23, ESV)
Love for Adam and Eve motivated the LORD God to send them out from the garden of Eden because if they were to eat from the tree of life, they would remain forever trapped in their sinful state. God's love would not allow this. This is why God exiled Adam and Eve. Furthermore, God knew what this exile would cost him and that costly sacrifice is what we encounter in Isaiah 53. As this second full week of Lent begins let's meditate on one truth from this text.

On the cross God suffers with us.

Often the cross is described as Jesus suffering something instead of us. It goes something like, "Jesus endured the cross so we wouldn't have to." While themes of substitution are apparent in other texts, this is not the emphasis of Isaiah 53. Instead of suffering in our place, Yahweh's servant suffers with us in the place of exile we have created. "He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors" (Isa 53.12, ESV). The suffering of Yahweh's servant described in Isaiah 53 fulfills the promise of Isaiah 43.3-7.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, "Give them up!" and to the south, "Do not hold them back." Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:3–7, NIV)
In Isaiah 53 Yahweh has sent his servant to every place you and I can imagine in order to bring us home. Specifically he must enter into our place suffering in order to rescue us from it. Indeed, Jesus' suffering is why God can say:
But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." (Isaiah 43:1–2, NIV)
N.T. Wright summarizes well the way some have misunderstood the cross in a unique paraphrase of John 3.16. "For God so hated the world that he killed his one and only Son." N.T. Wright rightly identifies this as a misunderstanding of Jesus' work of atonement on the cross. Instead of this distortion the Word of God reveals that the suffering love of God sent the Son of God to the cross that we might bring us home. Thanks be to God!

Click here to download and listen to "The Justice of the Cross," our second message in our Lenten Series, Understanding Jesus' Death.  


Monday, March 6, 2017

The Weakness of God

"The weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (1 Cor 1.25b, NIV). What does that mean? One of the truths we meditated upon yesterday was this. It was in weakness that God was mighty to save. For the Apostle Paul, the cross of Jesus calls us to a wholesale  transformation. Jesus' cross must transform our understanding of God. A more literal translation of 1 Corinthians 1.25 would go like this: "For the foolish thing of God is wiser than humans, and the weak thing of God is stronger than humans." What is the foolish thing? What is this weak thing? The foolishness of God and the weakness of God is the cross. This is why Richard Hays writes: "This foolish and weak thing is the event of the cross itself. The cross is the key to understanding reality in God's new age. Consequently, to enter the symbolic world of the gospel is to undergo a conversion of the imagination, to see all values transformed by the foolish and weak death of Jesus on the cross." Have we been converted by the cross? What does it look like to be converted by the cross?

A Transformed View of God

To be converted by the cross is to have our understanding of God transformed. Most of us seem to be born into this world with a theology that goes a bit like this. God is very big and very powerful and very high up on something like a mountain. His natural mood is disappointed and I must summon as much strength as I can to neutralize his opinion of me. I firmly believe Jesus came to destroy this idolatrous understanding of what God is like. Indeed, Jesus reveals a God who humbles himself in order to save his enemies! John 17 defines for us what the one true God is really like. Before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, John records Jesus' final prayer. Listen to how Jesus' prayer begins and ends.  
Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, ... Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they will see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the world's foundation. Righteous Father, the world has not known you. However, I have known you, and they have known that you sent me. I made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them and I may be in them (John 17.1, 24-26, CSB).
In this passage Jesus uses words like glory, know, and name, so we may understand him to be speaking of what is essentially true about God. He prays the Father will glorify him, the Son, so that the Son can in turn, glorify the Father. In other words, the glory of the Father and the Son will be made visible through what is about to happen. Furthermore, Jesus declares that as the Son, the one who knows the Father, he has come to make the Father known and will continue to make him known, so that the love the Father has loved the Son with, may be in us! How will this sharing of love happen? What will be the means by which the Father is made known and the love of the Father and the Son is shared with us? The cross is how. Yes! As the blood and water flowed from the wounds of the Son, the love of the Trinity was being shared with the world. Jesus opens his prayer with these words: "Father, the hour has come." Throughout John's gospel it has been declared that the hour has not yet come (See, John 2.4, 7.30; 8.20). But now, Jesus knows the hour has come for him to leave this world and return to Father (See John 13.1). This means, "the hour has come," means it is now time for the crucifixion. You see it is through the weakness and foolishness of Jesus' death that we learn of the inner love of God and it's through the cross that love the Father and Son have shared for eternity is poured out for us. This means that our understanding of what God is like must be shaped by the cross. This is why Paul argues in Philippians that because Jesus existed in the form of God, "he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death - even to death on a cross" (Phil 2.7-8, CSB).

What does the "god" in our heads look like? According to Christianity the one true God looks like Jesus pouring himself out for his enemies on the Cross. Let us confess with the Roman soldier one of the most essential truths of our faith.
When the centurion, who was standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15.39, CSB)! 
It is Jesus' dying breath that reveals Jesus' true identity. The cross calls us to a transformed understanding of God. Not just Jesus, but God! God is like Jesus dying on the cross. There is no other God behind the cross. God was in Christ on the cross reconciling the world to himself. This is summarized well by Plantinga.
“The Son of God just does what he sees his Father doing. He empties himself and takes the form of a servant because that’s the way they do it in his family” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.). 
Click here to download and listen to yesterday's sermon, The Curse of the Cross.