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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Baptism and Sanctification

In our theological survey of Colossians 2 and 3, one of the truths we discerned together was this: Baptism is a gracious initiation into and resource for growing in holiness. Let me unpack this a bit. 

Baptism as Gracious Initiation 

To understand what Paul is teaching in Colossians 2 and 3, it is helpful to remember our definitions of justification and sanctification. Justification is God giving a new name to the Gospel-believing sinner. In other words, the moment we believe the good news of King Jesus’ death and resurrection we are declared faithful members of the people of God. Did you catch that? The Gospel teaches that God forgives and gives a new status to Gospel-believing sinners while they are still sinners. 

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness.” Now to the one who works, pay is not credited as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believed on him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness (Rom 4.3-5, CSB). 

Sanctification, on the other hand, is God the Spirit shaping the Gospel-believing into the image of his/her new name. While sanctification and justification are closely related (both are by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone), it is important to remember how they are different. Justification is a one-time declaration. Sanctification is a life-long process. Justification is God’s gracious declaration of faithfulness to the Gospel-believing sinner. Sanctification is God’s gracious shaping toward holiness for the Gospel-believing sinner. 

For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Rom 8.29-30, CSB). 

In the words above Paul brings the two together. The ones God justifies, God will also conform into the image of his Son. 

What do justification and sanctification have to do with baptism? Baptism is the initiation rite that welcomes Gospel-believing sinners into the family that is being conformed into the faithful image of Jesus. This is where it’s important to recognize the order of things. First, sinners believe the Gospel. That means we trust in the death and resurrection of King Jesus for our salvation. Second, Gospel-believing sinners receive baptism as an earthly drama that reflects the heavenly reality. Finally, the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus begins. In other words, we are welcomed into the Church family where everyone believes the Gospel and strives together to respond to God’s gracious work in our lives to make us holy. It is critically important that we not confuse the order. Jesus himself confirms the above order in what we know as the great commission to make disciples of all nations. 

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28.17-20, CSB). 

Step One: We go and proclaim the good news to sinners and by God’s grace some respond to the invitation to follow Jesus. Step Two: We baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This step welcomes them into the family God is saving. Step Three: We teach them to obey Jesus. Notice this step only comes after baptism. Sometimes people think they can only be baptized if they have learned to control the sin in their lives. Brothers and sisters, this is a distortion of the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Only the grace of God in Jesus Christ can defeat sin. We are hopelessly unable to do anything to overcome sin in our lives, but the good news is this: “While we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6, CSB). Indeed baptism is a gracious initiation into the process of holiness. This leads us to our second truth. 

Baptism as Gracious Resource 

Baptism is also a gracious resource in the process of holiness. You see, God loves sinners so much he works on their behalf to transform them. Furthermore, baptism is one resource through which we are reminded how God goes about making us holy. Here’s what I mean. Often when sin is being addressed in Scripture, the Bible reminds the readers of their baptism. In Romans 6, Paul is addressing the possibility that a misunderstanding of grace will lead to more and more sin. Notice how Paul responds. 

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?  Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,  since a person who has died is freed from sin (Rom 6.1-7, CSB). 

When his readers were tempted to sin, Paul reminds them that is not who they are anymore. He recalls their baptism and invites them to live out the implications of it. Likewise, when we are tempted to sin, we must remember who we are by recalling our baptism. Baptism is a gracious resource in the process of holiness. 

In Galatians 3-4, the readers are tempted to exclude Gentile Christians much like Peter was in Galatians 2.11-14. Notice how Paul responds. 

For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise (Gal 3.27-29, CSB). 

When the Galatians are tempted to segregate the Church based upon ethnic identity, Paul reminds them of a greater more significant identity and this identity was conferred upon them at their baptism. Likewise, when we are tempted to segregate or show favoritism to people more like us, we must remember who we are by recalling our baptism. Baptism is a gracious resource in the process of holiness. 

In Colossians 2.8ff, the readers are tempted to turn their backs on Christ by turning to philosophy and human tradition that is based on worldly principles. Notice how Paul responds. 

You were also circumcised in him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ, when you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (Col 2.11-12, CSB).

When the Colossians are tempted to root their identity in anything other than Christ, Paul again reminds them of what their baptism reveals. They are yoked to Christ in whom the “entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily” (2.9). They have been united to Christ in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2.3). They are one with Christ who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (1.15). Brothers and sisters, when we are tempted to treasure anything more than Christ - when are lured away to false identities, we must recall our identity is in Christ and who he is and what it means to be united to him, are all called to mind, when we remember our baptism. 

Brothers and sisters, in order to start doing the right thing more often, we must remember who we are. In order to grow in holiness we must learn to live out of our new identity in Christ. This is the ethical message of the New Testament. Remember who you are. And the best way to do that is to remember your baptism. 

Baptism is a biographical fact of life. A change has happened. God has done something to you. … All of us must take our cue from baptism and do less talking about what people ought to do or be and do more proclamation of who people are. (Will Willimon).  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Holiness and the Spirit: Part One (Galatians 2)

When was the last time you spoke TO someone ABOUT a difficult person? Maybe your supervisor spoke disrespectfully to you in front of your colleagues and during lunch that day you had several conversations ABOUT your supervisor instead of speaking WITH your supervisor. Perhaps you had a strong disagreement with your spouse and instead of working things out WITH your husband or wife, you hashed it out with a friend. Edwin Friedman calls this "an emotional triangle" - speaking ABOUT a difficult situation to an uninvolved person rather than speaking to the actual person in a way that could lead to resolution. These triangles form because we are uncomfortable with one another and this discomfort MUST work itself out in some way. In families, churches, neighborhoods, and businesses these "triangles perpetuate treadmills, reduce clarity, distort perceptions, inhibit decisiveness, and transmit stress." Triangles may feel good for a moment, but they are bad news. They will not make the situation better. In fact, triangles affect communities like a virus. They attack. They spread. They compromise the health of the entire system. Likewise, a virus was threatening the church in Galatia and Paul's letter is medicine that is designed to boost the Galatians' immune system so the virus can be eliminated. This virus was a distortion of the Gospel as it required Gentiles to submit to Jewish Law in order to be fully accepted members in the Christian community. Interestingly, in his book A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman argues that to remain immune to emotional triangles, what a leader needs is a healthy sense of self. This is exactly what Paul helps us build in Galatians - a Gospel sense of self that is rooted in the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah (Galatians 2.162.20). This message speaks directly into our exploration of Holiness. We will realize a Gospel kind of holiness, only when it is rooted in the faithfulness of another, namely, Jesus the Messiah. Here's how Paul's message of Gospel holiness works.

The Gospel is about our sense of self.         

Peter's sense of self was wobbly and this is understandable. When we follow Peter's story in the book of Acts, we notice that Peter had a number of run-ins with Jewish leadership (see Acts 4 and 12). What's more, this conflict always surrounded how the Apostolic Gospel welcomed Gentile believers. Peter's conviction regarding the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God was rooted in the word of God that was spoken to him in Acts 10.9-16. Not too long (God had to say it three times!) after the vision, Peter visited a Gentile man named Cornelius.  Peter had this to say. 
You know it's forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner, but God has shown me that I must not call any person impure or unclean. That's why I came without any objection when I was sent for (Acts 10.28-29a, CSB). 
This was quite a transformation of identity for Peter who had previously responded when God was telling him to eat something that used to be considered unclean: "No , Lord! I have never eaten anything impure and ritually unclean" (Acts 10.14, CSB). It took a while, however, for Peter's identity (his sense of self) to be fully overwhelmed by the Gospel. Paul records Peter's struggle in Galatians 2.11-14. Peter was faithfully obeying the Gospel and did not have any objection to regularly eating with Gentiles (2.12). He wavered, however, when pressured by Jewish leaders who came from Jerusalem and objected to Peter's new found identity. In this moment, Peter forgot what the Gospel says about him and others and out of fear "he withdrew and separated himself." Because Peter's identity was not strongly rooted in the Son of God who loves Peter, who gave himself for Peter, and who was faithful unto death on Peter's behalf, Peter forgot who he was and listened to others' evaluation of him rather than the evaluation of God. Paul calls this heresy. Indeed they were deviating from the Gospel. Tom Wright's translation is helpful. He writes: "When I saw that they weren't walking straight down the line of gospel truth." Did you catch that? Prejudice and favoritism are gospel issues. RACISM IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH THE GOSPEL! Prejudice is a denial of orthodoxy! Brothers and sisters, may the voice of God drown out the loud competing voices that try to make us forget that the Son of God loves us (and them), that he gave himself for us (and them), and was faithful unto death on our behalf (and their behalf). What gospel consequences will God produce through this truth in our lives?

Two Gospel Consequences

First, the gospel will necessarily create hospitality in us toward those who are different from us. What is your posture toward those who are clearly different from you? What about the person whose yard hosts a political sign for a cause or candidate you do not support? What about the cashier or waitress who just seems too different from you to establish a connection? What about the person at work with whom you just experienced conflict this morning? What about your infuriating spouse? If we have truly been changed by gospel, we will find ourselves supernaturally drawn to connect with these people. This is why "welcoming the stranger" is one of the things that will distinguish between sheep and goats "when the Son of Man comes in his glory" (Matthew 25.31-46).

Secondly, we must return, again and again to who the gospel says we and others are. A good summary of the Gospel is found in Galatians 2.20. "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (NET). When the world seeks to name us - that is, when the world seeks to give us our core identity, we must remember that we are not who the world says we are. We are not first and foremost, American, Republican, Democrat, Married, Single, Divorced, etc. We are first and foremost the ones in whom Christ lives because he loves us and gave himself for us. One of my favorite films is The Help. In this movie, Viola Davis plays Aibileen, a Nanny to "little white girls" who are mostly neglected by their mothers. Aibileen loves these girls like her own and wants to "give them a chance." At pivotal moments in the story, Aibileen will repeat these words to these neglected children: "You is kind. You is special. You is important." Aibileen understands the good news. She grasps what Peter was failing to grasp and what had turned Saul of Tarsus' life upside down. In order to become what God has gloriously planned for us, we must have a Gospel sense of self. We must believe a different self-narrative than the world is giving to us. Beloved, if we are in Christ, we live by the faithfulness of the Son of God who loves us and gave himself for us. Nothing else matters! Thanks be to God. 

Click to here download and listen to our message, Holiness and the Spirit: Part One  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Holiness and Hope: 1 Peter 1

1 Peter 1 describes one primary way God develops holiness among his people. Hope. Hope is one of the principal means by which the Spirit of God does his sanctifying work. At this point, it is important to understand what the New Testament means by the word often translated, hope. Some difficulty is found in the fact that our English word, hope, does not carry the same meaning as the Greek word often translated, hope. In English, hope necessarily implies uncertainty. I hope New England doesn't win another Super Bowl. I hope the Bears find a good quarterback. I hope the milk isn't sour. I hope I find my wallet. In each of these sentences, uncertainty is assumed. In the New Testament however, the idea of uncertainty is NOT present in the Greek word. In fact, the standard New Testament lexicon defines our word as "The looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment" (BDAG). When we take a long drink of milk that doesn't quite taste right, and we respond: "I hope that milk wasn't sour," we are implying that there is a reasonable chance this experiment might not end well. This is exactly what the New Testament does NOT mean when we see the word, hope. Notice the element of confidence in 1 Peter surrounding the concept of hope.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4, NIV) 
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)
Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21, NIV)
Brothers and sisters, our hope is our confident expectation. It is an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. Our hope is guarded in heaven for us. The New Testament doesn't teach us to think Jesus will probably return, but he might not. No! The one who was raised from the dead will come back to earth and raise all who are in him. Beloved, this is our hope and we confidently expect it to happen.

What's more, the Scriptures teach that when we confidently expect Christ to appear again, this confident expectation makes us holy.
Dear friends, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure (1 John 3.2-3, CSB).
Did you catch that? When we confidently expect to see Jesus again, we will be like him and this hope purifies us. Expecting to see Jesus in the future and expecting to be transformed when we do, has a purifying effect in the present. The New Testament is calling us to imagine the holiness of Jesus, and the holiness we will then experience, and the Gospel promise is that we will begin to develop holiness now.

One of my first non-Chicago baseball memories was game one of the 1988 World Series between the Oakland A's and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Oakland was heavily favored to win the World Series and the lowly Dodgers weren't even expected to put up much of a fight. It was the bottom of the ninth and the A's were leading 4-3 with Dennis Eckersley on the mound, who was at that time the best closer in the game. With a runner on first and two outs, Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda rolled the dice and called Kirk Gibson to pinch hit. Kirk Gibson was the leader of that team, but was also dealing with severe injuries - a bum knee on one leg and a pulled hamstring on the other. With the count 3 balls and 2 strikes, Gibson launched Eckersley's back door slider into the right field bleachers to which Vin Scully responded: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!" Jack Buck's call was even better: "I don't believe what I just saw!" Oakland never climbed up off the mat and the Dodgers won the Series in five games. In an interview shortly after his iconic home run, Kirk Gibson described his approach. "I mentally imagined hitting a home run and it happened just like I imagined." Gibson had hope. He confidently expected success and success was his. Likewise, we are called to hopefully imagine the holiness that will be ours in the age to come and by the Spirit, holiness will become ours.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13, ESV)
Click here to download and listen to this morning's message, Holiness and Hope.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How Love Overcomes Evil: Luke 4.1-13

Very few things - maybe even nothing is more important than knowing the love of Christ. Ephesians 3.14-21 serves as a hinge between the the two major sections of Paul's letter. In Ephesians 1.1-3.13 Paul tells us what is true. To over-generalize, his is the "doctrinal" section of Ephesians. Ephesians 4.1-6.20 comprises the "practical" section of the letter. In this portion, Paul tells us what to do. Paul transitions between what is true and what we must do, by praying in Ephesians 3.14-21 that we "may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (3.18-19). Did you catch that? The foundation upon which obedience is built, is knowing the love of Christ. The only hope we have for obeying the commands of Ephesians 4-6 is to comprehend the love of God in Christ described in Ephesians 1-3. This directly relates to this morning's study of Luke 4.1-13. Only because Jesus had absorbed the unconditional and affectionate words of his Father at his baptism (Luke 3.21-22), was he empowered to defeat evil in the wilderness. This is the same truth Paul teaches in Ephesians 3. Comprehending the love of God in Christ is the indispensable key to seeing sin defeated in our lives. What's more, we must believe God loves us before we begin to obey God in the way God desires. This is counterintuitive for most of us, because we accepted a false narrative about love. Indeed, we have reduced the definition of "love" to an emotion that is on display when Jerry Maguire says to Dorothy Boyd, "You complete me," to which she responds, "You had me at hello" (insert eye roll). Brothers and sisters, love is so much more than this sappy and emotional sentimentalism. It is love that gets a parent out of bed at 2:30am to comfort a feverish child. It is love that leads aged parents to rush to the side of their daughter whose husband has just suffered a major heart attack. It is love that drives an eighteen year old soldier to storm the beaches of Normandy. It is love that smothers a live grenade to save fellow soldiers. Beloved, the biblical concept of love is so much more potent than the fickle emotions on display in most romantic comedies. C.S. Lewis is helpful when he writes:
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
To love is dangerous. To love is to take a risk. To love necessarily includes pain. To love means your heart might be torn apart. And this is what God was doing in Christ on the cross. And thanks be to God this act of love defeated the Devil forever. May we never underestimate the evil-defeating power of sacrificial love.

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