Friday, December 28, 2012

The Reason for the Season

You may have heard the phrase bandied about or even on the sign when you entered this building: "Jesus is the Reason for the Season."  This is usually a statement in response to the overcommercialization of Christmas by the culture, and this is true, but the solution to this problem is not just remembering Jesus at this time of the year.  We can remember that he is the reason for the season, we can stop ruining his birthday, but do we understand WHY he is the reason for the season?

The reason is in the words Jesus spoke to Philip in John 14: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  Before the incarnation of Christ, we were dead in our sins.  There was nothing for us beyond death.  We hit it like a wall, and that was it--the end.  Now, with Jesus' incarnation, his death and resurrection, he has punched a hole through this wall of death to the other side, where there lay a new form of life for his children.  This is an imperishable, everlasting life.  Now, the hole is small, and none of us can find it.  It takes God's guidance to lead us to the pinhole in death and through to the other side.

Christ was with God from the beginning.  He has always been from the beginning.  But it took the incarnation, it took the human form, for the God-Man to do the thing that none of us could do, and that God the Father could not do as the first person--the mind--of the trinity.  It took the second person of the trinity--the Word--to become flesh and take upon himself the sins of the whole world, to distract death, to impute his righteousness to us, and to smuggle his children--the ones who believe in him--through that hole to the other side of death--to everlasting life.

This Christmas season don't just remember that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, also remember that the reason is a single and amazing way for God to save his children from destruction.  We had no way, and now we have a way.  Thank God that we have a way.


In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." (Luke 1:39-55)

Let's look for the Holy Spirit in this passage.  Often we overlook what the Holy Spirit has done to Elizabeth, because we are too busy focusing on what it does to John the Baptist in his mother's womb.  Look!  The unborn child leaped for joy in the presence of his Lord!  How neat!  But look at Elizabeth now.  "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting!"  Luke makes a point that it is upon hearing Mary's greeting that she is filled with the Holy Spirit.  And Mary's greeting didn't contain, "It is I, Mary, who has been told by an Angel that I will carry our Lord and I believed the angel!"  Mary didn't send a messenger ahead of her.

No, the Holy Spirit has given Elizabeth the understanding of things beyond her human capacity.  All Mary has to do is share a greeting and Elizabeth is aware of who the baby is in her cousin's womb.  Elizabeth also knows that Mary believed the conversation between herself and the angel.  Elizabeth has an acute understanding of reality beyond what is capable by a human being unaided by the supernatural.

There are three kinds of understanding--three levels, so to speak.  There's purely human understanding, which involves research and study of books.  Usually, purely human understanding ignores the supernatural, doesn't believe in God, and therefore ignores over half of reality.  There is more heaven than earth, so the lack of understanding when we take out the supernatural is way over half.  Sir Isaac Newton is probably the greatest scientist who ever lived, and I believe it was because he was a true believer and took into account the Godly realm when he engaged in science.

Think about a painter who only fills half the canvas and then says he's done.  Try reading a novel and only going through the first chapter before putting it down and saying that you're finished.  We're getting less than half of the whole picture.  Strictly human understanding is inadequate at best.

Then there's the understanding of the externally supernatural.  If we look at the passage before this gospel passage, when Mary is receiving her information from an angel, we see that he fills her in on what is happening on Elizabeth's end.  Mary has not received the Holy Spirit yet.  She is getting her information from external means, but here is the angel filling in Mary on what is happening in Elizabeth's life.  Elizabeth hadn't sent out a Christmas letter to her family--this is new news for Mary, just like the information that Elizabeth gleaned through the Holy Spirit.

Likewise in the gospel of Matthew, Joseph is intent on quietly divorcing Mary, but an angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream.  This is the second level of understanding at work again.  Think of your own dreams.  Have you ever done a repetitive job or activity, like data entry, and then it started infiltrating your dreams?  Think about how much of the worldly culture we intake from day to day.  Then we wonder why we keep having dreams about our favorite sitcoms and don't get messages from the Lord.

Now there's the third and highest level of understanding, which is what Elizabeth exhibits.  The Holy Spirit is so powerful in Mary now that John leaps for joy and Elizabeth is filled.  The Holy Spirit provides perfect understanding of a subject.  We will never see the whole picture that God himself sees, but on a particular subject we can have a more complete understanding by not only accepting the supernatural aspect of it, but by being open to the Holy Spirit's prompting.  When reading scripture, these stories about other people in other times and places become relevant to us, because the Holy Spirit pulls the meaning and message out of the text for us to apply to our lives.

What does being filled with the Holy Spirit look like?  Just one part of Mary's song informs us: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  What does a soul magnifying the Lord look like?  Well, it is one that rejoices in God as the savior.  We may have assurance of our salvation, but do we find ourselves rejoicing at this knowledge?  And not just our external human selves but our inner souls.  Do our deepest selves rejoice at the knowledge that the creator of the universe has saved us from destruction?  Or are we so numbed by the culture that we can't move ourselves to feel anything anymore?

Let us pray that God continues to fill us with Holy Spirit, so that we may have the fullest understanding possible, and that our souls may magnify the Lord and rejoice in our salvation.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Eucharist and Evening Prayer

Every Sunday Morning at 11am the church meets at 205 E Baltic St in Nags Head for Holy Eucharist.  Our music is quiet and contemplative with flute and/or violin.  We sing in unison.  The service is traditional and liturgical, with reverence for our Lord.  We move through the liturgy of the Word, with scripture readings, a bible-based sermon, and prayers; we provide words of encouragement and testimony; and finally we come to the table together for Holy Communion.  The service lasts about an hour and 15 minutes.  Usually there is coffee and conversation afterward.

Each Wednesday we meet at the Johnson's residence (please call the church for directions) at 7pm for Evening Prayer and Small Groups.  We sing together a few Hymns from the 1982 Hymnal and use the Evening Prayer Rite II service from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  After Evening Prayer, which takes no more than 30 minutes, we split into small groups that are engaged in scripture or book study.  These groups meet for about an hour.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress

Christiana: There are strange opinions in the world. I know one that said, it was time enough to repent when we come to die.
Mr. Great-Heart: Such are not overwise; that man would have been loth, might he have had a week to run twenty miles in his life, to defer his journey to the last hour of that week.

Resting in God's Love

The theme of all of our readings this morning can be summarized in the first song of Isaiah, the phrase, "I will trust and not be afraid."  In the face of the horrible tragedy that happened in Connecticut a few days ago, this is difficult to do.  How can we trust in God and not be afraid?  When evil like this happens, we focus on it and try to solve it as if God was nowhere to be found.  We demand God get out of our lives, our country, and then we demand to know where God is when the tragedy happens.

We try to rationalize things in our minds.  I talked with a woman who said, "God wanted a bouquet of children, and so he called them home."  Not only was this rationalization disturbing, but it is also biblically wrong.  Our God is not Zeus.  In addition to the rationalizations, we come up with worthless solutions that will never succeed, because we've lost focus on the creator.  Without God, the fear of evil is all we have.  It's our only motivator.  It's tangible.  We can see the evil happen, and the solutions we provide can be seen, too.  All of this politicizing and posturing helps us to keep forgetting about God and to keep him far away from the solution.

Fear of evil and death are unhealthy fears.  The only healthy fear is fear of God himself.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and without that healthy fear, we are running around in circles.  How do we restore the healthy fear of God and put our unhealthy fears of evil and death back in the proper places?

I think the solution lies in a small phrase in Zephaniah 3:17.  The phrase in the NRSV reads, "he will renew you in his love."  The actual translation directly from the Hebrew is closer to "He rests in His love."  Notice that there is no "you" in there.  There's another man-o-centric change we made to the text.  What we are talking about is that God rests in his own love.

When we think about the phrase this way, it changes the meaning of "love" for us.  For us, love always means something that we bestow on each other.  I give you my love.  You give me your love.  God gives us His love.  The implication is, though, that the love can be taken away, too.  I will take away my love.  I know people who grew up loved by their parents but in fear that the same love would be taken away at any minute.  We use the clause, "in love," but we still think of something given and taken away.

Love is not like that, but even as adults, we can't get our minds around what love really is.  We cannot stop thinking of it as an object that can be given and taken away at will.  But here, in this little phrase, "He rests in His love," we have a different view of love.  God is that of which no greater thing can be thought.  We cannot conceive of anything bigger than God, and when we do, we must go one bigger to get to God.  Think of the universe, now go one bigger and that's God.  God is the largest thing in existence.  Now, read the phrase again: "He rests in His love."  Do you see it?  God's love is even bigger than God is!  We know from the first letter of John that God is love, but in this phrase from Zephaniah, we can see the love of God extending in all directions in space and time, from BEFORE the creation of anything to eternity.  God's love is so vast that we cannot help but find ourselves immersed in it.  Remember, He created us and He sustains us.  We are immersed in his love at all times.

Now, these bursts of evil and death, the things we fear as mortals, these things are not vast and expansive like the love that God himself rests in.  Evil and death are staccato.  They are little bits of debris that drop into the sea of God's love and distract us from reality.  In our natural states we seek out these bits of evil and death and we cling to them like flotation devices.  The problem is that we are in advent, and God will scoop those bits of debris out of the water with a big pool net at the judgment day.  We do not want to be clinging to these pieces of debris.  We want to let go and float off into the vast sea of God's love.

Let us pray that God will pry our fingers from these broken pieces of evil and death.  As is says in our Philippians passage, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  God, grant us the peace which surpasses all understanding.  Let us rest in your love with you.  Deliver us from evil.  Let us trust in you and not be afraid.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sandy Daniels' testimony of divine help receivied through John Newton's letters

Some years ago Sandy compiled a number of quotations from John Newton on the subject of suffering as a Christian trusting in the Sovereignty of God. It was her testimony then and continues to be. Her husband Rick has made a scan of this and the PDF file is now available online. May the Lord be pleased to use it to help us all to look to Him in every trouble.

Click to view document

Pilgrim's Progress: Fear of the Lord

Then Christian addressed himself thus to his fellow:
Christian: Well, come, my good Hopeful, I perceive that thou and I must walk by ourselves again.
So I saw in my dream, that they went on apace before, and Ignorance he came hobbling after. Then said Christian to his companion, I much pity this poor man: it will certainly go ill with him at last.
Hopeful: Alas! there are abundance in our town in his condition, whole families, yea, whole streets, and that of pilgrims too; and if there be so many in our parts, how many, think you, must there be in the place where he was born?
Christian: Indeed, the word saith, “He hath blinded their eyes, lest they should see,” etc.
But, now we are by ourselves, what do you think of such men? Have they at no time, think you, convictions of sin, and so, consequently, fears that their state is dangerous?
Hopeful: Nay, do you answer that question yourself, for you are the elder man.
Christian: Then I say, sometimes (as I think) they may; but they being naturally ignorant, understand not that such convictions tend to their good; and therefore they do desperately seek to stifle them, and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts.
Hopeful: I do believe, as you say, that fear tends much to men’s good, and to make them right at their beginning to go on pilgrimage.
Christian: Without all doubt it doth, if it be right; for so says the word, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10.
Hopeful: How will you describe right fear?
Christian: True or right fear is discovered by three things:
1. By its rise; it is caused by saving convictions for sin.
2. It driveth the soul to lay fast hold of Christ for salvation.
3. It begetteth and continueth in the soul a great reverence of God, his word, and ways; keeping it tender, and making it afraid to turn from them, to the right hand or to the left, to any thing that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully.
Hopeful: Well said; I believe you have said the truth. Are we now almost got past the Enchanted Ground?
Christian: Why? are you weary of this discourse?
Hopeful: No, verily, but that I would know where we are.
Christian: We have not now above two miles further to go thereon. But let us return to our matter.
Now, the ignorant know not that such conviction as tend to put them in fear, are for their good, and therefore they seek to stifle them.
Hopeful: How do they seek to stifle them?
Christian: 1. They think that those fears are wrought by the devil, (though indeed they are wrought of God,) and thinking so, they resist them, as things that directly tend to their overthrow. 2. They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their faith; when, alas for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all; and therefore they harden their hearts against them. 3. They presume they ought not to fear, and therefore, in despite of them, wax presumptuously confident. 4. They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.
Hopeful: I know something of this myself; for before I knew myself it was so with me.
Christian: Well, we will leave, at this time, our neighbor Ignorance by himself, and fall upon another profitable question.
Hopeful: With all my heart; but you shall still begin.
Christian: Well then, did you not know, about ten years ago, one Temporary in your parts, who was a forward man in religion then?
Hopeful: Know him! yes; he dwelt in Graceless, a town about two miles off of Honesty, and he dwelt next door to one Turnback.
Christian: Right; he dwelt under the same roof with him. Well, that man was much awakened once: I believe that then he had some sight of his sins, and of the wages that were due thereto.
Hopeful: I am of your mind, for (my house not being above three miles from him) he would oft-times come to me, and that with many tears. Truly I pitied the man, and was not altogether without hope of him; but one may see, it is not every one that cries, “Lord, Lord!”
Christian: He told me once that he was resolved to go on pilgrimage, as we go now; but all of a sudden he grew acquainted with one Save-self, and then he became a stranger to me.
Hopeful: Now, since we are talking about him, let us a little inquire into the reason of the sudden backsliding of him and such others.
Christian: It may be very profitable; but do you begin.
Hopeful: Well, then, there are, in my judgment, four reasons for it:
1. Though the consciences of such men are awakened, yet their minds are not changed: therefore, when the power of guilt weareth away, that which provoked them to be religious ceaseth; wherefore they naturally turn to their own course again; even as we see the dog that is sick of what he hath eaten, so long as his sickness prevails, he vomits and casts up all; not that he doth this of a free mind, (if we may say a dog has a mind,) but because it troubleth his stomach: but now, when his sickness is over, and so his stomach eased, his desires being not at all alienated from his vomit, he turns him about, and licks up all; and so it is true which is written, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again.” 2 Pet. 2:22. Thus, I say, being hot for heaven, by virtue only of the sense and fear of the torments of hell, as their sense and fear of damnation chills and cools, so their desires for heaven and salvation cool also. So then it comes to pass, that when their guilt and fear is gone, their desires for heaven and happiness die, and they return to their course again.
2. Another reason is, they have slavish fears that do overmaster them: I speak now of the fears that they have of men; “For the fear of man bringeth a snare.” Prov. 29:25. So then, though they seem to be hot for heaven so long as the flames of hell are about their ears, yet, when that terror is a little over, they betake themselves to second thoughts, namely, that it is good to be wise and not to run (for they know not what) the hazard of losing all, or at least of bringing themselves into unavoidable and unnecessary troubles; and so they fall in with the world again.
3. The shame that attends religion lies also as a block in their way: they are proud and haughty, and religion in their eye is low and contemptible: therefore when they have lost their sense of hell and the wrath to come, they return again to their former course.
4. Guilt, and to meditate terror, are grievous to them; they like not to see their misery before they come into it; though perhaps the sight of at it first, if they loved that sight, might make them fly whither the righteous fly and are safe; but because they do, as I hinted before, even shun the thoughts of guilt and terror, therefore, when once they are rid of their awakenings about the terrors and wrath of God, they harden their hearts gladly, and choose such ways as will harden them more and more.
Christian: You are pretty near the business, for the bottom of all is for want of a change in their mind and will. And therefore they are but like the felon that standeth before the judge: he quakes and trembles, and seems to repent most heartily, but the bottom of all is the fear of the halter: not that he hath any detestation of the offence, as it is evident; because, let but this man have his liberty, and he will be a thief, and so a rogue still; whereas, if his mind was changed, he would be otherwise.
Hopeful: Now I have showed you the reason of their going back, do you show me the manner thereof.
Christian: So I will willingly.
1. They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.
2. Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.
3. Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.
4. After that, they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.
5. They then begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmities they have espied in them) behind their backs.
6. Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.
7. Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.
8. After this they begin to play with little sins openly.
9. And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress

Thus they lay bewailing themselves in the net. At last they espied a Shining One coming towards them with a whip of small cords in his hand. When he was come to the place where they were, he asked them whence they came, and what they did there. They told him that they were poor pilgrims going to Zion...  So he rent the net, and let the men out. Then said he to them, Follow me, that I may set you in your way again. So he led them back to the way which they had left... Then he asked them, saying, Where did you lie the last night? They said, With the shepherds upon the Delectable Mountains. He asked them then if they had not of the shepherds a note of direction for the way. They answered, Yes. But did you not, said he, when you were at a stand, pluck out and read your note? They answered, No. He asked them, Why? They said they forgot.

[When we are at a stand, let us remember to pluck out and read our notes (Bibles)!]

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Murals, Novels, and Orbits

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:25-36)

This first Sunday in Advent, we don't yet get to the story of John the Baptist.  We don't get to Mary or Joseph.  That comes later.  This Sunday is a reminder that we are in Advent.  We are in the middle of the second Advent, at the end of which Jesus will come a second time.  We are going to hear some amazing stories in the upcoming weeks, and over the next church year, and this first Sunday is a reminder not to get too distracted by the beauty.  Jesus still is coming.

But look at those verses about the signs that Jesus is coming soon.  We don't know exactly when this is going to happen, but this passage tells us that we will know when it is close.  Of course we are living in a time where we are constantly hearing fellow Christians say, "this is it!"  Times can't seem any worse.  Did you read the news today?  Jesus will probably be here later tonight!

But we have to remember that every generation thinks this.  Oh no!  Rome has fallen!  It's time!  World War II: this must be it!  But it never seems to happen.  What is God thinking?  We've talked about this before: God is the only one who can see the big picture.  There is a vast, beautiful mural that only God can see in its entirety.  Ours are covered with ugly wallpaper, and God peels up a corner for us.  And the more we study scripture and live our lives in God's word, the more of the mural we see, but its always a corner--just a piece--of the big picture.  God is the only one who can see the whole mural.

As St. Peter writes, to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.  Remember those science shows that told us that if we laid out the history of the world as if it were a calendar year, mankind would only take up the last seven seconds?  Well, God takes all that in and can see those seven seconds all at once.  God created everything, and he sustains everything, each moment, and he also keeps in mind each moment coming before this moment and each moment after. He sees the whole mural.  He sees the beginning of creation.  He sees Noah's ark.  He sees Christ on the cross.  He sees your face.  He sees the end of everything--all of this at one time.  He holds everything in perfect context.  He wants to think of each one of us in context with all of creation and the sacrifice of his son.

When Charles Dickens finished David Copperfield, he was sad to have to end the book, he loved the characters so much.  He said that he had written everything there was to say about them, so he was done, but he missed them.  The book is over 900 pages.  Now, imagine God writing a 900 page book about everyone who ever lived or will live, all combined in one book.  Except this isn't an entire novel.  This is only the preface to the actual novel.  The actual novel begins after this second Advent is over.  Some of the characters won't make it to chapter one, even though they were important in the lives of the characters who WILL make it to chapter one.  The characters who will make it seem to be getting fewer and fewer all the time.  Of course, Jesus Christ is the protagonist.  The story is all about him.

Jesus is the gravitational center of the universe.  We all orbit around him like planets orbiting the sun.  Let's say we start in Earth's orbit.  Every decision we make, every thought we think, every action we take brings us into a closer orbit to the sun or a further orbit away from it.  There are no neutral decisions in life.  Some of us are nearing the orbit of Venus.  The saints of history were around Mercury.  A wrong decision could take us out beyond Jupiter.  Some people are like Halley's comet, coming in very close to the sun and then heading out beyond Pluto.  Scientists say that when our sun eventually dies, it will become a red giant, and its edge will then encompass the orbit of Earth.  As a metaphor for our walk with God, we want to be inside the edge of that red giant when the star dies--when the second Advent ends.  Let us find ourselves inside that crucial orbit, where the edge of the sun lay, so that we may find ourselves in chapter one of the great novel.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

End of Church Year Quiz: Who Is Jesus?

We have reached the end of another church year.  This is the last Sunday of this year, and next Sunday will be the first Sunday in Advent, the first of the new church year.  So, since it is the end of the year, and we've learned so much about Jesus this year, it's time for a quiz!  Turn to the back of your Bibles!  You didn't know there was a quiz there?  Yes, turn to Revelation 1:4-8, and we can find in verse 5 a definition quiz.  Here is where we will define some terms.  Ready?

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

So, first definition of Jesus Christ: the faithful witness.  What does this mean?  It means that of all the authorities we can turn to, Jesus is the only faithful witness of reality.  He is the only one who will not lead us astray.  And the Bible is the only place where we can access his exact words.  We have to trust that this book is completely reliable, and then, we must turn to the words of Christ and the words ABOUT Christ (which is all the other words in the Bible) and study them.

Before we found Jesus, we relied on the authorities of this world--our scientists, our experts, our politicians, our judges, our doctors--for knowledge and wisdom.  After finding Jesus we know that he is the only one we can faithfully turn to, because he is the only faithful witness.  Check your answers.  Did you get the definition right?

Second definition: the firstborn of the dead.  What does this mean?  It means that before Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected, we lived this life and then we died, like a fly trapped in amber.  Stuck in death.  Jesus' resurrection, however, defeated death, punched a hole through death, and found life on the other side.  We must remember that this new life is wholly unlike the previous life.  This is not a Lazarus resurrection.  We don't just return to life only to die again later.  We punch through death TO THE OTHER SIDE, where there lies everlasting life.  This is a different kind of existence altogether, and Jesus was the one who punched that hole through the amber.  He tied a lifeline around his waist and it trails into this life now.  We hold onto the lifeline and when we pass through death, we will not be trapped in the amber.  Jesus has saved us from death.

Before Jesus we lived our lives selfishly, because this was the only life there was for us.  Why not live for this life, since it is all that we have?  After finding Jesus we realize that there is another life beyond this one, an imperishable life, and we now live our lives around that one, which causes us to live our lives differently on this side of death than before.  Check your answers.  How did you do on that definition?

Third, we have the ruler of the kings of the earth.  What does this mean?  Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world.  However, after his death and resurrection, Jesus was put in charge of all things.  Let's look at Paul's letter to the Philippians.

Christ Jesus, 
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name, 
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. 

After his death, Jesus was highly exalted to be above everything in existence.  He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.  Before his death and resurrection, the devil ruled the earth.  After, Jesus is restored to his rightful place as king.

What does this mean for us?  Well, this is a difficult aspect of Jesus to define, because we just had a presidential election, and at those times even the most faithful of us desire to turn to humans as our saviors.  Whether you're happy with the results or not, the truth is that the winners in this election have it harder now.  For another four years, the winners will be be putting their faith in an earthly king.  The losers have no choice now but to put all their faith in Jesus, the King of kings.  Before Jesus we put our faith in the authorities of this world, and after we discover Jesus, we put our faith in him.  Check your answers.  Did you get this one right?  How did you on the quiz, did you get a passing grade?

Well, never fear!  I have a bonus question.  Move down to Revelation 1:8: "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.  Here is another description of Christ.  What does this mean?  According to John 1, Jesus was with the Father at the beginning.  All things were created through him.  He was at the foundation of everything, and so he is the Alpha, the beginning, the start. Place an anchor right there at the beginning of time.  Jesus is also the Omega.  He will be there at the end.  All things will be RECREATED through him.  Put another anchor at the end of everything.

Now stretch taut a lifeline between the two anchors, one that runs through all of our lives.  We don't know when it will happen, but this world will pass away.  It is already passing away.  We need to be holding onto that lifeline, because everything is going to drop away under our feet like an elevator with the cable cut.  We think to ourselves, "I'll just let go of the lifeline for a quick sec, go over here and do my sinful thing, and then I'll run back over here and grab hold again.  I've done it countless times, and there's been no problem, so I'll just do it again.  We don't know what will happen this time, so it is better to keep holding that lifeline.  Pray for God's grace that will compel us to hold onto it, because we want so badly to let go.

Before Jesus came into our lives, we had no hope of salvation.  Now that he is here, we have the ultimate hope of salvation.  Hold tight to the lifeline and thank God for the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the alpha and the omega.  AMEN.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress

Then said Interpreter, Come in; I will show thee that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light the candle, and bid Christian follow him; so he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.

Then said Christian, What means this?

The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand: he can beget children, travail in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ on his lips: it is to show thee, that his work is to know, and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death.


Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)

The second half of the book of Daniel is an apocalypse, much in the same way Revelation is an apocalypse, and we see things in this passage (Daniel 12:1-3) that we see in the New Testament, specifically the gospels, as to what happens to people at the judgment, the separation of the wheat from the chaff, the ones destined for everlasting life from the ones for everlasting "contempt," as verse 2 says.

Here in verse 3, we have a verse that claims that the wise will shine like the brightness of the sky.  What does this mean?  Does it mean that we will be like the angels, with a halo and harp, glowing like a firebrand?  Will we have our own light source?  The key word here is "like."  Think of the brightest object in the night sky--the moon.  It does not shine with its own light, but reflects the light of the sun.  Likewise, we will reflect the light of the Son, Jesus Christ.  He is our light source, and we reflect him.  Jesus is wisdom, and at the judgment, the wise--those who followed Jesus--will reflect the Son's light purely, like the brightness of the sky.  We don't have to wait for the judgment, however.  We can reflect the light of the Son now, today, although, instead of being covered with pure, reflective moondust, we are covered with the dark rocks, mud, and filth of sin.  However, we can still reflect the light somewhat.

The second part of this verse is equally puzzling.  Who are "those who lead many to righteousness?"  Does this verse mean that unless we are evangelists, converting many, we are doomed?  That sounds like a lot of hard work that, frankly, many of us are not cut out for.  Think about the fellow with a memorized script and a set of statements that are geared toward instigating a rapturous reaction for Jesus.  Is it not the excitement that is appealing, not the Son himself?  Think of this person converting a man named Steve, and at the judgment our evangelist faces our maker and states, "look at my list of converts!  May I shine like the stars now?  Take this man, Steve."

The Lord may well respond, "Well, about Steve: the week after you converted him, he met a woman, and they shacked up together, and it was exciting, too, and she was into witchcraft, and so he tried that, and it was exciting, and then she left him, and so he traveled to a Buddhist community in Australia, and he lived there for a time, because that was exciting, too!"  We can't know what happens to these people, when we use "methods" to convert them.  We can't have Steve handcuffed to us for the rest of his life to keep him in line.

I believe that "leading many to righteousness" is another way of saying, "offering our spiritual gifts."  God has given each of us a spiritual gift, sometimes more than one, that we are to OFFER back to God.  Sometimes we use our spiritual gifts for others, and then we get overworked and burned out.  This is because we are taking our gifts and treating them like work.  However, if we treat our gift as an offering to God, it won't feel like work.  This is essentially true worship, and it is invigorating.  We think that because we don't feel the spirit, we are just going through the motions, but in actuality, we are not offering our gift to God.  God initiates, gives us the gift, we offer it BACK to him, and then he responds with an increase of spirit.

Each Sunday my offering is this sermon.  I study and work on it all week, and now is this time for me to offer it to God.  Everyone in this room happens to be hearing, and even though my offering is to God, everyone here is brought closer to righteousness because of it.  Cathi plays flute each week for us, and before she got all the technicalities down, she thought of it as work, and it was not a worshipful experience.  Now she is familiar with the weekly task and she now offers her flute playing to God each week.  As a result, she feels that she is worshiping.  We are all brought more into righteousness because of it.  These gifts are offered to God, but they are also offered in public, so that we may lead many to righteousness.

What is your spiritual gift?  Are you using it?  Are you bogged down with other things that are not your gifts? If you are using your gift, are you using it as work or as an offering to God?  Look at Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What is Mary's gift?  Learning.  What is she doing with it?  She's offering it to God. She is not going to run off to the far east and study under Buddha as soon as Jesus leaves the house.  Her gift is solely offered to God, but this scene plays out in the gospel of Luke for our benefit.  Many are made righteous from this passage, as they wish to model their lives after Mary.  When Jesus scolds Martha, he is not telling her that she needs to put down her dishrag and sit at Jesus' feet, too.  He is showing her that as Mary offers her learning to God, so Martha should, too, offer her gift of hospitality to God, and she wouldn't be worried and distracted anymore.  Martha is not offering her gift to God.  How many people are made righteous through Martha when reading this passage?  I'd wager the number is zero.

The final offering is the big one: Jesus' offering on the cross.  He didn't get an elated feeling when he did it.  It wasn't a "mountaintop" experience.  It was a "tomb" experience.  Offering our gifts hurts, because it is sacrifice, the purest form of love there is--agape.  Jesus may have suffered and died, but three days later he had risen, and he is risen.  Sometimes our gifts hurt, and we don't get an elated feeling.  But as long as we are offering them to God and are leading many to righteousness through them, we will continue to reflect the light of the Son in this life and the next.  We gain everlasting life, and we shine like the stars, like the brightness of the sky.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crossing the Jordan

And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king's household, and to do what he thought good. (2 Samuel 19:18a)

This small piece of information comes to us after the death of Absalom, and King David has been invited back into his kingdom.  The danger is over.  The household of the King now comes to the Jordan and is ferried over to the other side, where David's kingdom lies.  Jerusalem.

When we read these words, our imaginations quicken, and we picture not only the ferry going back and forth across the Jordan, carrying the royal family, but, if we are imaginative, we can see ourselves, at the end of this life, all our worries and troubles and cares behind us, waiting for passage to the other side, to the golden Kingdom.  To heaven.

Myths exist about such a passage.  The river is Acherong and the ferry boat driver is Charon, who usually is depicted as a skeleton wearing a flowing and shredded cloak.  This is the passage across the river of death, and who knows what lay on the other side.

But as Christians we know what lay on the other side: everlasting life.  Eternal relationship with our Lord, the creator of everything.  We are still stuck on this side of the Jordan unless we take the ferry.  This is a true metaphor: we have to get on the ferry.  What is the ferry?  Answers may differ.  Jesus himself is an obvious answer.  The cross is another.  I've talked before about the cross being a sort of second ark that rescues us from the second flood--the eschaton: judgment day.

But what about the church?  The church has gotten a bad rap these days.  The phrase "organized religion" has become detestable.  When we think of salvation, we think of individual salvation, as in, God saves each one of us.  We transfer that knowledge into an idea that we don't need community.  We don't need to be a member of a "people set apart."  I have my personal relationship with God, and that is all that matters.  That's also why we entertain the dubious idea of "deathbed salvation."

Jesus is our savior--yes.  The cross was his vehicle, but the church is our vehicle.  Perhaps you've heard the description of the yawning chasm that is ever present between us and God.  As the story goes, we try and try to cross that chasm or to build a bridge across it, but we never can accomplish this.  God himself must bridge the chasm, and he does so with the cross.  It's a great metaphor, and many people have come to Christ through that metaphor, but the end result is the image of a bridge across the chasm in the shape of a cross, and we still individually--one at a time--cross over the bridge to the other side.

The ferry metaphor is more powerful.  The ferry can be in the shape of a cross, yes, but it carries MANY across the river at the same time.  The people on this ferry are the church, the bride of Christ, set apart.  If we are living the Christian life alone, we may not be on the ferry at all but still on this side of the Jordan, trying to figure out a way across.

Jesus saves, yes.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY life.  But he saves individuals within his church.  He is the ferry man.  We are his passengers.  The church is the vessel across the Jordan.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Widow and the Temple

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 12:41-13:2)

This passage in Mark about the widow and her two copper coins has been used in stewardship campaigns probably for centuries, and this passage holds an essential truth about Christianity.  To give to God means giving everything you have, not just out of your abundance.  It is a powerful message and it deserves to be preached and heard.  However, I want to talk about the story of the widow in comparison with the temple.

The first Bible to have verses was the Geneva Bible in the mid-1500s.  Before that there were no verses.  Before that, in 1227, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton inserted chapter breaks into his Latin Bible. Wycliffe used those same chapter breaks in the first penned English Bible, and those chapter breaks have been used ever since.  Before 1227 there were no chapters.  When the Gospel of Mark was written, we had KATA MARKON at the top of a scroll and then a whole string of capital Greek letters without spaces that told the story of Jesus.  Those scrolls are gone now, but we still have a codex, which looks more like a book.  My point is that until 1227, the story of the widow and her two copper coins at the end of chapter 12 and Jesus' statement about the temple at the beginning of chapter 13 were right next to each other.

So we first have Jesus pointing out to everyone--disciples included--that this widow has just exhibited the true nature of a Christian by putting into the coffer all that she had.  And then those same disciples go outside and marvel at the size of the temple and its stones.  Jesus has to call them on their cluelessness with the prophecy about that same temple's destruction.  The point is that God is with the widow.  He is not with the temple.  God can be found with the old woman.  He cannot be found in the temple.

This has great implications.  If you are seeking God in a building, you are not going to find him, because he is supposed to be with you already.  If he is not with you, guess who moved?  And if you leave one church for another, because the first church is without God, guess what?  The new church won't have God either, because you are seeking God in the wrong places.

This building in which we worship is not very attractive, but that is not the point.  Where two or three are gathered in his name, there he will be in the midst of them.  We bring Christ to this building, and we worship him in spirit and truth.  If we think he is waiting for us in a building, what are we going to do?  We're going to choose the cathedrals to worship in and not the dingy warehouse or community center.

Have you ever been inside a cathedral?  It's gorgeous! It's breathtaking!  Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!  It is awe inspiring.  You can almost FEEL the Holy Spirit moving around you.  It's exciting, and this is the problem with modern American Christianity today.  We are looking for the excitement, and we are marveling at the size of the temple, and the size of its stones, and we are ignoring the widow.

There is an exciting video on the internet.  I just saw it for the first time this weekend.  I must admit it nearly brought a tear to my eye, it was so powerful, and so I share it with you now.  A painter is on a well-lit stage with a canvas.  There is an audience, but they are submerged in darkness.  He dances about the stage, splashing paint on the canvas, Jackson Pollack style, and what he is making looks like a complete mess.  He's dancing here and splashing there.  The image looks like an incomprehensible blob.  Then, at the last second, he whips the canvas upside down and there is the face of Jesus.  The crowd goes wild!  We hear them cheer from the darkness. The painter throws up his hands in praise.

Click here to see the video.

It's beautiful, and Jesus IS EXCITING.  BUT.  If we are seeking Jesus in the excitement.  If we are seeking Jesus in the upside-down canvas.  If we can only find Jesus in the blazing lights and the cheering and the rock song and the painter and the canvas and the splashing paint.  If we cannot find Jesus in the dark, on our knees, at the side of the bed, weeping.  If we cannot find Jesus while doing the dishes.  If we cannot find Jesus in the mundane.  If we can only find Jesus in the massive temple and not by the side of the widow...

When he hung there on the cross, there was no cheering.  Not even the Roman centurions cheered, because at that moment the sky turned black, in the middle of the day, and there was an earthquake, and people saw their dead loved ones.  It was not a time of rejoicing and yet it was the most important moment on earth.  Ever.

When we seek God, not the excitement, we find the widow.  We stop caring about the temple and we find ourselves putting in our two copper coins--all that we have--everything we've got.  Jacob fell asleep, dreamed of the ladder with the angels ascending and descending upon it, woke up, and declared, "surely the Lord was in this place all along and I never knew it."  Such is God with us.  Emmanuel.  He is with us in the dark places and he is with us in the light places.  He is with us for better or for worse.  Those of us who are married remember that vow, but Jesus said that vow, too, when he married the church.  He is with everyone in this room for better or for worse.

He is with us on the boring train ride, not just the exciting stops at new and unique stations. Jesus is on the train, not just at the stations.  Get on the train and seek him.  Surely he was here all along and we didn't even know it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Greek Bible Study; 11-1-12

John 4:17-21
by Marlene Schumm

The Samaritan woman says that she does not have a husband.  Jesus replies that she is right.  The Greek word for "right" varies from the English translations.  She is living with a man who is not her husband.  She needs to admit that she is a sinner.  She calls him "sir" and says he is a prophet because he knows all about her.  The Greek word for "sir" has other meanings, which must be determined from the context of the statement.  These differences make reading the Greek very interesting.

She changes the subject again, talking about the proper place of worship.  She says that her fathers worshiped on the mountain, but the Jews claim that Jerusalem is the proper place.  The woman at the well was better informed about Jews than today's average person.  Jesus says that there will be a time when neither will be the proper place.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The King and the Teacher

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

The healing of blind Bartimaeus is a wonderful expression of the healing power of Christ.  It is a great proof text of Christ's divinity and salvation.  However, in these few verses lies a microcosm of the gospel.  This is a perfect study of our relationship with God, so let's really analyze this passage and treat it as a parable of our relationship with Jesus.

Obviously, we are Blind Bartimaeus, sitting on the side of the road in Jericho, probably shaking a cup for alms.  We may not be physically blind, but sin has blinded us to the truth.  We are unaware of reality.  Note that Jesus is on his way out of Jericho.  We only have a limited time before he is gone.  There is a sense of urgency here.

"When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth..."  Jesus is near!  We hear that he is near, and we hear from Christians.  Christians are to be the means of grace.  God is drawing us to him, yes, and he does so through the Holy Spirit, but the means of grace is other people!  We help each other come closer to God, through preaching the word or preaching our actions, our behavior.

Bartimaeus' response to the presence of Jesus is one of repentance.  He cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  This should be our initial response to the presence of Christ.  We have heard that the shortest prayer ever is "Help!" and that is true, but it may not be the best prayer.  The Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" also is a prayer for help, but it is also a prayer of repentance, which is crucial for establishing the relationship between us and the king.  Note the words "Son of David."  This is a call to Jesus the King, the King of Kings, the King of the World.  The king is the one who can forgive, to have mercy on us.  So, too, should we appeal to the king for mercy.

Notice what happens next: the world sternly orders us to be quiet.  "Don't repent!" the world chastises us.  "Where is your DIGNITY?  We bow to NO ONE! Do not submit!  We are Americans!"  This is ingrained in our noggins from birth.  This is the tidal wave of anti-God sentiment we have to break through.  But Bartimaeus cries out all the louder in repentance, and so should we.  "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Our relationship with Jesus is one of balanced response.  God is always previous.  He always initiates the relationship, as we see in this passage.  He has come to our Jericho, and we respond to his presence with repentance.  He then responds to our repentance with a call.  "Call him here," Jesus says.  And the Christians about us identify that call, and they encourage us to get to Jesus.  As Christians, we are to help our fellow men and women, who have repented, and encourage them by saying, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."

Now this is interesting: In movies or our imaginations, we may see people gently guiding the blind man to the savior, because he is blind, you see.  But look at this sentence: "So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus."  This sounds like a call so strong that Blind Bartimaeus didn't need guidance.  He sprang up and made a bee-line to our Savior.  Often we hear about the reluctant convert.  Or that we were dragged into the faith kicking and screaming, but here is a good example of a proper response: one with energy, with vigor, and one that can make it right to our Savior's side, even when we are blind.

So we respond to the call with vigor, and Jesus responds to our response with a question: "What do you want me to do for you?"  Jesus knows the answer, but this is a test.  We can easily answer, "Well, I'd like a new car, and some supermodels, and a whole lot of money!  500 TV channels would be nice!  I know I can't see, but I like to listen to what's on."  Even something simple like "a new begging cup" is possible, but either way, we've failed the test.  The answer--the ONLY answer--is that we want to see again.  We are blind to reality, blind to the truth, and we want to see again.

Notice how Bartimaeus addresses Jesus now.  "My teacher, let me see again."  When we are repenting and desire mercy, we pray to the king.  When we ask to see again, we pray to the teacher.  The king is the one who bestows mercy.  The teacher is the one who can give sight to the blind.  Notice he does not say, "my healer," or, "my doctor."  That is a giveaway.  The historic account is of a physical healing, but the fact that Bartimaeus says, "teacher," proves that we are to look at this passage as applicable to our spiritual healing, to the restoration of our spiritual sight.

Only through Jesus' teaching do we lose our blindness to the truth.  Only through the teacher is our sight restored to reality.  Only through the study of God's word and discipleship are we in any kind of harmonious relationship with God.  And herein lies the problem with most modern churches today.  If there is ANY appeal to the king at all, if there is ANY call to repentance, then the relationship ends there.  Once the person has fallen to his or her knees and wept openly and committed to Christ: CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE ONE OF US NOW!  What about the followup?  You have plead for mercy from the king.  Where is the church now to say, "Take Heart!  Get up!  He is calling you?"  They aren't there.  The repentance is all there is.  Thank God we got the repentance at all.  Most churches don't even go there, or give it lip service only.  Now in the handful of churches that DO call for repentance, the forgiveness and the weeping comes, but then what?  Where is the "teacher, let me see?"

Either we don't get discipleship at all, or, instead of Jesus as teacher, we get the pastor as teacher, teaching a worldly discipleship.  Instead of going to the Word, we go to the stage.  We get Jerry Seinfeld: "what's up with hot dogs?  What's up with airport security?  What's up with cold cereal?"  Everlasting life is knowledge of God, and knowledge of God can be only gathered through his word, through the scriptures.  If I'm not preaching from this book, I'm doing it wrong.

First we appeal to the king for mercy, and then we appeal to the teacher for everlasting life, for knowledge of God, for sight.  Jesus responds, "Go; your faith has made you well."  We have repented, we have been called, we are learning from the teacher, and now we are called to go into our ministry.  Note that Bartimaeus not only regains his sight but follows Jesus on the way.  Is that a contradiction?  How can Bartimaeus GO and FOLLOW at the same time?  Well, it is the true and only path that we must take.  In order to go on our ministry, we have to be following Jesus constantly.  We cannot just drink from the living waters once.  Or weekly.  We must daily, hourly, drink from the living water.  We must daily, hourly, learn at the teacher's feet.  We must live in the Word in order to keep our sight.  God embraces us and keeps us in his teaching, but we respond to God as well.  Every day, we should be kneeling before the Lord and praying, "Son of David, have mercy."  Then, before we open this book, we pray, "Teacher, let me see."

All of that, all that relationship with Jesus Christ is found in those few verses about Blind Bartimaeus.  If we could only preach one passage for the rest of our lives, let that one be the one.  It contains the Gospel, it contains our relationship with God and how we respond to God's work in our lives. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  My teacher, let me see.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Greek Bible Study, 10-18-12, 10-25-12

Verses 10-12 of John 4
by Marlene Schumm

Jesus is traveling through Samaria.  He has a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.  The Samaritans were outcasts, but received Jesus with respect.  He speaks of the gift of God, the living water, which she doesn't understand.  Her world is only of the actual, not the spiritual.  She cannot relate to Jesus, who she doesn't know, as greater than Jacob, who gave the well, which provides for people and cattle.  They believe in something they can actually see.

John 4:13-16
The conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well continues.  Jesus is trying to explain the difference between actual water in the well and the spiritual concept of the living water, which will go on forever.  In v.12 the Greek word used means well, but in v.14 the word used means spring.  The Greek words make it clear that He is transitioning from the actual water in the well to the living water, which will spring up into eternal life.

In v.15 the woman addresses Jesus as "sir," a formal word.  He is starting to impress her, then asks her to bring her husband.

To be continued

Monday, October 22, 2012

We Do Not Know What We Are Asking

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:35-45)

I have been preaching for three years now, and this passage fueled one of my first sermons.  I, of course, jumped on the James-and-John-bashing bandwagon, pointing out the ambition of the two apostles and how we should strive to live lives of "service" and not "status."  However, three years later, I note there are several positive aspects to James' and John's request.  If we take out the ambition aspect, the sons of Zebedee attempting to get special treatment from our Lord and a higher status above the other ten, we see some good things in the brothers' prayer.  Yes, it IS a prayer.  Just because they are seeing our Lord in the flesh and talking to him physically doesn't make it any less a prayer.

First, the brothers ASK.  This sounds simple, but how many of us do not ask things of our Lord for various reasons, such as us not thinking our requests are any good.  Elsewhere in the Gospels we have scenes where Jesus asks the apostles what they are talking about.  "Nothing!" they respond, even though Jesus already knows: they were arguing about who was the greatest.  Here, James and John actually come up to Jesus and ask him!  How often we stop ourselves from praying, because of our lack of faith in not only God but ourselves.  I don't know how to pray, we tell ourselves, and so we don't.  When we remember that prayer is a dialogue with the creator of the universe, we realize that practicing conversation with God is more important than just coming up with a good request.  When we get in the habit of conversing with God, we find that we are more ready to ask, when we need to.

Second, the brothers' request is DEFINITE.  There is a particular thing that they ask for.  They aren't general.  They want to be at Jesus' right and left hand in his GLORY.  You can't get more specific than that!  How often do we have no faith in the praying process.  We have no faith that we can ask for the right things, and we even have no faith that God will fulfill our requests, and so we say general prayers like, "your will be done," or, "you know what's best for me, so just do that."  We're not really taking God seriously. Jesus says, be specific.  Ask for something, even if it is a dumb request.  If we are asking for dumb things, when the important things come up, we won't hesitate to ask.

Third, the brothers were SINCERE.  They really wanted this request to be fulfilled.  They didn't just think that morning, "what should we ask Jesus for today?  I know!  Glory!"  They had been pondering this for some time.  This is a sincere request.  We, too, don't really believe that prayer is effective, that it works, and so our requests are not really sincere.  We don't plead with all our hearts and souls.  We fulfill our prayer duty for the day and then we move on to REAL life.

Because of the sincerity of James' and John's request, we have to try to understand this request better.  What exactly is it?  It is a request to be AS CLOSE TO JESUS AS POSSIBLE.  In the end, I see nothing WRONG with this prayer.  We write it off as too ambitious or status-seeking.  But I don't think that the sons of Zebedee considered that they were asking to be above the other apostles with this petition.  They were only thinking that they wanted to be as near Jesus as possible.  The other ten complained when, from their point of view, the request turned out be at their expense, but James and John were simply asking to be as close to our Lord as possible.  This is a GOOD prayer, and it is one that should be in our prayer lives often: "God, bring me as close to you as possible!"

Now, Jesus' response is an interesting one.  It is, "you don't know what you are asking!"  We understand this in its immediate context, that the way to Jesus' glory is through death and torture and rejection and crucifixion.  James and John don't know what they are asking.  They think this is easy street.  They are wrong.  We, too, are wrong.  We don't know what we are asking--across the board--from asking for a new bike to being as close to Christ as possible.  When we understand that whenever we pray, we don't know what we are asking for, two things become clear:

First, we will understand why the answer to prayer is sometimes "No."  Why?  Because we don't know what we are asking.  God sees the big picture.  We cannot.  He knows when we can handle a prayer being fulfilled or not.  When the answer is no, it is because we are not ready for it to be yes.  This becomes clear when we realize that we don't know what we are asking.

Second, when the answer is YES, but we don't see that the prayer has been fulfilled, because it has been fulfilled in such an unexpected way.  Sometimes it takes us YEARS to see that the prayer was fulfilled.  When you pray for someone to get off drugs and instead they go to jail.  Well, they DID get off drugs, didn't they?  When you pray for someone who has cancer to be healed, and instead they die.  Well, that soul is completely healed now.  When we understand that WE DON'T KNOW WHAT WE ARE ASKING, both of these things make sense, and we will understand when they happen.

Three years after sermonizing on this passage and still there was so much to learn from these words.  James' and John's prayer was a GOOD ONE.  They asked.  They were definite.  They were sincere.  Still, they did not know what they were asking.  When we pray to the Lord, we should make sure we ask, we should be definite, and we should be sincere.  And over all that we should remember that we do not know what we are asking.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ruthie's Kitchen on November 6

Something else to look forward to on election day: Church of the Good Shepherd will be the host of Ruthie's Kitchen on Tuesday, November 6th. This takes place every Tuesday evening at His Dream Center (205 Baltic Street, Nags Head). All churches on the OBX participate to feed the homeless, poor, and hungry. Setup will begin at 4pm and dinner will be served at 5pm. I have written about how Christians desire to remove themselves from the world in order to not be stained by the culture's brush. The Apostle James says that this is only one half of what religion is all about. The other half is to visit the poor and needy in their affliction. The Christian cannot have one half of the equation without the other, and both are needed to practice true hospitality. Ruthie's kitchen will give us the opportunity to practice both outreach and upholding the truth in Christ. We hope you will want to join us in this expression of true Christian love.

Asking the Question

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

What must I do to inherit eternal life?  Is this a valid question?  It sounds like it on the surface.  In fact, it sounds like the most valid question possible--the most important question possible.  Eternal life is the most important thing a person can inherit, so this sounds like it would be a good question to ask our Lord.  Jesus answers, essentially, "Keep the commandments."  Now, here is where the young questioner gets arrogant, gets obstinate.  He suddenly holds his head up high and says, I've been there, done that.  I've kept all those commandments since my birth.

What does Jesus respond?  If we were he, we'd all be shouting LIAR!  But Jesus is not so crass.  He looks on him and loves him.  He knows what is in the man's heart.  The man is not lying.  He honestly believes he has kept the commandments.  Once I led someone through the Confession of Sin and when we got to the line, "We have not loved you with our whole heart," she stopped.  "I can't say that," she told me, "because I HAVE loved God with my whole heart."  What do you say to that?

Well, did you have breakfast this morning?  Yes.  Did you pray over your breakfast before eating?  Yes.  Did you think about God while you ate?  Well, no.  I had a issue of the Coastland Times in front of me.  I was thinking about a ratchet that I was going to buy at Ace Hardware.  You see, we CANNOT love God with our whole heart.  It is impossible to love God with our whole hearts, because it means constantly thinking about him and loving him.  We have too many distractions.

But it wouldn't matter if you got rid of all those distractions.  Get rid of the World and you have the Flesh and the Devil to contend with.  Somewhere, there is a monk in a cell kneeling for prayers.  He is trying to love God with his whole heart, but suddenly this song from childhood pops into his head, and he is distracted from God.

Jesus responds in an interesting way.  This is a very misunderstood response, because it seems that the young man has stumped Jesus with his answer, "I HAVE kept all the commandments," and Jesus now has to think of another challenge for the man.  "Drat!" Jesus thinks, "Now I have to think of something... Aha!  Now, what I want you to do is to sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor!"  There!  Try that one on for size.  Sure enough the young man walks away.

Is that what is happening?  No!  Jesus is not turning the tables.  He's not adding a layer of challenge on the already righteous young man to weigh him down.  Jesus is merely pointing out the "untruth" in the young man's response.  Jesus is merely saying that IF one is REALLY keeping the commandments, then he has ALREADY sold all of his possessions and given the money to the poor.  IF you have NOT done such a thing then you are not really keeping the commandments.  Did I mention that the commandments are impossible to keep?

What does it look like when you keep the commandments?  Well, it looks like selling your stuff and giving the money to the poor.  Have any of us in this room done that fully?  I know we are charitable, but have we given up everything? No.  Because we can't keep the commandments.  We are unworthy for eternal life.  Now, here is something interesting that Jesus tacks onto the end of his command.  He adds this, "THEN, follow me!"  Those two words, "follow me," are actually the ANSWER to the young man's original question. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  "Follow me."

So why the other stuff in the middle?  Why does Jesus go through the Q & A with the young man when the answer is really just "follow me?"  It seems like Jesus is setting up a sequence.  FIRST, obey the commandments, okay?  Done that?  Now SECOND, give everything to the poor.  And then, once you've done that, THIRD, follow me.  Shouldn't we be following Jesus first?

Exactly, and that is why the young man's original question is NOT A VALID QUESTION TO ASK GOD! We thought it was.  It sounded great.  It's a question that we all want to know the answer to, but the question should never have been asked.  The young man should merely have dropped everything and followed Jesus.  That is why Jesus went through all this Q & A.  Because he already knew that the young man was NOT CALLED to follow him.  The young man is trying to achieve salvation through human means: WHAT MUST I DO, and Jesus has called him out.

Did Jesus come up to the twelve and say to them, "have you kept the commandments?  Have you given all your stuff to the poor?  Then follow me!"  No, he said to them, "follow me," and they followed.  It's only AFTER we are following God's call that we are able to keep the commandments and begin to release ourselves from all the garbage that we have gathered unto ourselves that distract us from God.  I have a massive DVD collection that has been sitting in the cabinet for years without being watched.  Following Jesus comes first.

Jesus knows that the young man will not follow him.  Jesus knew that when the first question was asked.  You are hearing these words, reading this far, because God's voice is calling your heart to follow him.  What must we do to inherit eternal life?  Follow Jesus.  Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things--keeping the commandments and giving to the poor--will be added unto you.  Following Jesus is the answer to the question.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Petitioning the King

Although, the Old Testament events are actual history, they are also parables, and since the central character is God, we can look at Old Testament events as parables about God and the Kingdom of God.  Our reading from Esther this morning is a great example (Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22).

Characters: the king represents God, Queen Esther represents us, and Haman represents who?  The devil?  Ungodly man?  Let's say the World, the Flesh, and the Devil: the temptations that we face every day.  We won't really get into Haman's role here.

The first thing we learn from this passage is that God is the initiator.  Esther 7:2: the king again said to Esther, "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled."  The king spoke first.  God speaks first.  As we talked about last week: God is always previous.  We tend to think of us asking for God first, but God has put the idea into our heads.  We look at Jesus walking on water, and we think that Peter telling Jesus to command him onto the water, too, means that the whole relationship process with God is up to us to initiate: “Jesus, command me onto the water with you!”  But the idea wouldn't have occurred to Peter had he not seen Jesus walking toward him first.  Likewise, we don't think of a relationship with God until we see God coming toward us, asking us, as he asks Esther, “What is your petition?”

Some may say that Esther invited the King to her dinner, which puts the initiation back in Esther's, and subsequently our, hands.  However, we must always remember that the King picked Esther to be his queen.  We could say that he “elected” her.  Likewise, the King elects us to be part of his kingdom.  Once again, the initiation falls into the king's hands.

The second thing we learn is something we usually consider a throwaway statement: even up to half of my kingdom.  Dude!  God just offered us half of his kingdom!  Why would we not take that?  In fact, that is EXACTLY what we, in our fallen states, would choose. Our sin-depraved selves would always choose the material possessions and power that this world offers over anything else—even our own lives. That is the predicament we are in!

But Queen Esther does not respond that way.  She passes the test.  We, too, must pass the test, if we are to enter God's kingdom, and choose something other than worldly things.  Esther chooses life.  Verse 3: Then Queen Esther answered, "If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me.”  She is pleading for her life.  We, too, when asked by God what our petition is, must respond with “everlasting life.”

Let's look at some other examples.  Here is first Kings 3:5: “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”  See the similarity?  One, God initiates.  Two, the sky is the limit on what we can ask for!  What does Solomon ask for? “Give to your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”  Wisdom.  And from scripture we know that Wisdom is Christ; 1 Corinthians 1:24 says, “Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.  Knowledge of Christ is also everlasting life.  As it says in John 17: “This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  Wisdom and knowledge of God are everlasting life.  Essentially Solomon asked for life.

In 2 Kings 2:9 Elisha asks for a double helping of God's spirit.  Here is another who passes the test, and instead of asking for wealth and riches and power, Elisha is asking for God's spirit.  The Holy Spirit, Wisdom, and Everlasting Life are all bound and wrapped up in each other.

So, Esther asks for life.  She describes her situation thus: “For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.”  This is the human condition she is describing.  We have sold ourselves into the enemy's hands and our destination is destruction, annihilation.  Everlasting death.  Esther says that if we had merely sold ourselves into slavery, we would still have peace.  We are slaves to sin.  We are slaves to unrighteousness, but that's not the problem.  The wages of sin is death.  If we were merely slaves on this earth and then continued on to everlasting life, that would be okay.  But, as we stand, our paths lead to everlasting death.  And in the meantime, we are slaves.  We think we have liberty when we are not following God, and that following God then restricts us.  We instinctively reject following God.  But the truth is that we are slaves NOW.  We have no liberty NOW, and when we follow God, he liberates us.  We are freed from slavery.  It's as if we were purchased by someone we thought was a slave master, but when we fall into his hands, he immediately frees us.  However, we are too scared to choose God, because he appears to be a slave master.

So, take your pick.  The way out of this slavery that leads to everlasting death is one of three things: either Wisdom or Spirit or Everlasting Life.  All of those things are wrapped up in Jesus Christ.  So take your pick: Jesus or slavery.  It sounds like a reasonable choice, doesn't it, and yet we will choose slavery all of the time.  God is the one who walks to us on the water and asks us the question, “what is your petition?”  Otherwise we would never desire to choose life, and we would remain slaves to death forever.

Turn to Christ, and as it says in that final verse in our Esther reading, we will gain relief from our enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil—and our days will turn for us from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; and we should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Rejoice the Lord is King; Again I Say Rejoice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

God Is Always Previous

Our Sunday morning discipleship group has been reading A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God, and in the very first chapter, Tozer writes that God is always previous.  Our desire to pursue God ONLY comes from God himself.  He plants that desire in us.  Without God planting that desire, we would pursue something else, like punk rock or action movies at best, sex and drugs and pain at worst.

The idea that God is always previous helps take us out of the “helpful gospel” realm.  That is the realm in which we believe that we are really working out our own salvation, and God is on the sideline, like a football coach, cheering us on as we run the ball across the goal line.  Woohoo!  God shouts.  You did it!  You remembered all the things I told you.  When we realize that God instills the desire in us, we move away from the idea that we are saving ourselves.

Then there's the other extreme: that we are merely robots without free will.  If God is first, then he must be controlling our actions, and there's really nothing we can do, so why talk about God to anyone?  Why live a Christian life?  God is just going to save us anyway.  Turn up the punk rock!

But Tozer writes that God may be previous, he may have instilled the desire to pursue him, but we still RESPOND, with our free will, and actively pursue him.  Even though God gives us the grace to pursue him, we must positively build on that grace.  God is the foundation, but we are building on the solid rock of Christ.  And as we build, he supplies us with even more grace, and our Christian structure grows more and more.  It's a collaboration.

But that previous grace is always there—that foundation.  Without it, we are building a structure on sand—pretty much like every building here on the Outer Banks—and that will not last forever.  God being previous should always be in our minds when we read Paul saying, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  This doesn't mean we're doing it all alone.  God provides the foundation, the hammer and nails, the concrete, the drywall, and, most importantly, the DESIRE for us to build, and the more we build, the more desire he gives us.

The letter of James is such an important book of the Bible, because when it is read on a foundation of God being previous, we can see where that teamwork between us and God is taking place. The last verse in our James reading, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” sounds like we are acting first, but keeping in mind that God is always previous, we see that God gives us that desire to draw near to him.

Working backwards: we can resist the devil because God gives us the power to resist the devil.  The verse before that one is key: Submit Yourselves to God.  God gives us the desire for submission, of course, but it is that submission that is truly our work in this partnership.  Even after all this talk of teamwork, we still can't shake the image of us crossing the finish line with Coach God on the sidelines, jumping up and down and cheering.

But when we get the image that our part of the teamwork is really SUBMISSION, everything changes.  We suddenly get a glimpse of the big picture, because submission is exactly what we have the most trouble doing in all circumstances.  Our pride keeps us from submitting, but submission IS the work that we do.  Suddenly we stop being the quarterback with God being the coach, and God starts being the quarterback and we're the BALL.  Our job is to stop trying to play the game by ourselves, realize we are just a ball, and stay in the quarterback's deft hands.

It takes great amounts of free will to subvert our free will.  Without God's guidance, our free will goes crazy and we start choosing between all of these horrible paths for our life.  God gives us that initial push for us to actually crucify our free will and submit and cling to God's will.  Then we're like a surfer, riding God's wave.  Our job is to stay on the board, and God takes us in to shore.  There's my first surfing metaphor in almost two years of living here.

Models of submission are throughout the scriptures, and when you realize that its not just our submission, but it's God's electing us and drawing us and influencing us and the world around us, we suddenly understand how blessed we are.  Remember, in Genesis, Joseph had the dreams first.  God knew where he was going to go, and how he was going to get there, and what the end result was going to be.

Moses resisted his calling with every effort, but God called him to submit, and submit he did.  David was a small man but his victories in battle were enormous.  His life was blessed by God.  He submitted to God and everything went his way.  It was when he refused to submit to God's will and began to run his own destiny, that's when his kingdom began to crumble.  Not because God was punishing him, but when we take the reins, we drive the stagecoach off a cliff, each and every time.

The ultimate submission was Jesus Christ.  What is most incredible was that Jesus is God in the flesh, and still he perfectly submitted his will to the will of the Father.  Jesus had to let go of his own will when it came to suffering under the authorities, being tortured and killed.  None of us would be able to submit like that.  Thank God that Jesus was able to subvert his will and submit perfectly on our behalf, because that was our place that he took on the cross.  We were supposed to submit, but we cannot.  We fail.  Jesus does it for us.  Perfect submission.

Before I wrote this message, God laid the foundation for it.  Before you heard this message, God drew you to this place first.  If you find it easier to submit to God after today, thank God.  He has laid the foundation for your submission and has given you the tools to do it.  God is always previous.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Do Not Tell Anyone

This passage of Mark 8 is a popular one.  We have the disciples confirming Jesus' identity as the messiah.  Peter is actually the one who gets it right on the nose.  We have Jesus' teaching about how he was going to die, and then we have Peter immediately pulling a one-eighty and rebuking Christ for his prophecy.  Then we've got the whole taking up our cross deal, if we are to follow Jesus.  We save our lives by losing it.  Gaining the whole world will lose our lives, etc.  This is a very quoted passage of scripture.

There are two very small things I want to talk about today.  The first is something that occurs often in the Gospel of Mark: Jesus orders his disciples and others who witness his miracles to not tell anyone about him.  We see that after miracles, and we see that after Peter correctly identifies him.  Verse 30: “And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”  There are numerous times in this gospel that Jesus does this, and each time we ask ourselves, “Why?  Don't you want to let the world know that God is in our midst?  How are you going to save the world unless people know about you?”

But there's a second little thing that is just as important as the first one.  In fact it is more important, and it is more important because it comes DIRECTLY after the first one.  In fact, we need both of these verses taken TOGETHER in order to make sense out of them, and so that the second verse carries the impact of the first plus its own impact.

After verse 30, we have verse 31: “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Now the crucial verse with the crucial word, verse 32: “He said all this quite OPENLY.”  Do you see it?  Jesus performs a miracle or reveals his identity as the messiah, and he immediately tells everyone to keep silent about it.  THEN, he reveals the manner in which he is to die, and his resurrection, and he is quite OPEN about it.  He WANTS everyone to know these things.  He wants everyone to pass this information on.  Peter tries to silence him, and he rebukes Peter sternly.  This is information that CANNOT be silenced.  This is information that must be spread!

Why?  Because it is the gospel.  The gospel is not that Jesus is the messiah.  That may be part of the gospel, it may be PROOF of the gospel, but it is not THE gospel.  Jesus performed miracles.  He healed many.  Is that the gospel?  No.  It's an aspect of the gospel, it is the PROOF of the gospel, but it is not the full gospel.  There is only one part of the gospel that can stand alone as the full gospel.  There is only one part of Jesus' life that can be called the “saving part.”  Knowing that Jesus was the messiah does not save us.  Knowing that Jesus could physically heal people and cast out demons does not save us.

Jesus' death and resurrection saves us.  Jesus' death: not just that he died, but the manner in which he died.  The torture, the rejection, and both of these by the most important people: this is what his death was.  His was a death of rejection by the important people of the world, by the fallen world.  Jesus' resurrection: after three days he would rise again.  He would be alive again.  All the significance of this: death being defeated, our sins being destroyed, the world being saved—all of these things are compressed in that one small idea.

Jesus' death and resurrection are the gospel.  They are the big idea that has changed the entire world.  Of course Jesus would want this idea preached openly from the beginning, even during his ministry.  Everyone getting the word out that Jesus heals people doesn't save people.  It burdens our Lord down as everyone rushes over and tries to get Jesus to heal them.  Getting the word out about Jesus being the messiah doesn't save people.  It floods our Lord with disgruntled Jews who want to overthrow the government with Jesus in the lead chariot.  Healing and fulfilling prophecy were the ways that Jesus PROVED that he was who he said he was.  Those cannot be our target.  If we are seeking after the proofs—the healings, the prophecies—in the Bible, then we are only seeking after the benefits of God.  We are not seeking God.

This is why Jesus wanted everyone to clam up about the proofs.  Without the cross, the reason Jesus came to earth, the SAVING aspect of the incarnation, the proofs become false idols.  If we are coming here for the wonders of Jesus—what he can do for us, how we can be successful, where we can get God's help in our lives—then we seeking after the wrong thing.  We are engaged in idolatry.

Seek GOD.  The only way to seek God is to seek his salvation, and that is not through his miracles NOR through his fulfillment of prophecy.  Jesus' salvation is through his DEATH and RESURRECTION.  Jesus without the crucifixion and the resurrection is not a God that we need.  Without those two things, Jesus is not a savior.

Understand the death and resurrection of our Lord.  Study every aspect of it.  Learn the meaning and significance of it.  By this knowledge of God are we saved.