Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity

As we near the end of the church year, our readings begin to focus on the end times, but notice that they aren't all about the moon turning to blood and the sky rolling up like a scroll.  They are about being ready for the end, because it will come like a thief in the night, and although we, as Christians, don't know the day or the hour, we will still be prepared for it, when it comes, because Christ has given us everything we need to know in his Holy Word.  In Paul's letter to the Philippians, his words are filled with joy as he appreciates the Philippians for their steadfast faith.  He prays that their faith and love will increase more and more.  What does this have to do with the end times?  Well, the period of time between our our conversion and our death is a period of sanctification.  This is a time where we increase in faith in God and love for our neighbors, so that we can make a good showing at the end, like finishing a race.  Sanctifying works are not related to God's wrath or hell.  Salvation from God's wrath and hell has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ's death on the cross and has been applied to us by the Holy Spirit in our conversion.  As justified sinners, we no longer fear hell.  However, the life we live afterwards is a constant striving against sin and a continual doing of good works for our neighbors.  This is Christ's righteousness, imputed to us, being lived out in us, more and more as we become more sanctified, until the end comes.  This is Paul's prayer for the Philippians, and it is his prayer for us as well.

Remember, we are still sinners, and failing to do good works during our sanctification doesn't mean we are suddenly "unsaved," but not trying to live a Christian life may mean that we were never saved in the first place.  Antinomianism, or an anti-law philosophy, says that since we have been saved, we don't have to do good works, and--more importantly--if we try to do good works, we are not really saved, because only unsaved people try to do good works.  This is false.  Pre-salvation works are like filthy rags to the Lord, but post-salvation works are merely the righteousness of Christ shining forth in the believer.  Let's look at Paul's first thoughts in his letter to the Philippians (1:3-11):

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 

So, one of the aspects of the Philippians' sanctification is their partnership in the gospel, which means that they immediately began to spread the gospel after conversion.  Let's flip back to Acts 16 and see it in action:

So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Paul and his assistants found the place of prayer, and they sat down and spoke to the women there.  Women would have been shunned by pre-salvation Paul, but women are equal under the new covenant of grace.  It seems that only one woman, Lydia, is regenerated out of all.  The text says, "the Lord opened her heart to pay attention."  Is this conversion?  Yes, because the next sentence says that she was baptized, which is the outward visible sign of the inward invisible grace of the Lord's regeneration.  Also, her household was baptized, too, to reflect the grace that God bestowed upon the whole family.  Even if some don't quite yet believe, God is faithful to continue to grow faith in the family of a true believer.

An incident in the marketplace lands Paul and his group in prison.  Here comes the next conversion and addition to the Philippian church:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

God seizes the Philippian jailer with fear, bringing him to his knees.  God gives him the initial seed of faith to believe in Jesus, and this faith is extended to the jailer's household!  Paul and Silas water the seed by preaching to the household, and then the jailer responds with a good work for new brothers in Christ--he begins washing their wounds.  He and his whole family were then baptized.  The jailer feeds his pastors and the whole household rejoices at God giving him the power to believe.  So, two entire households were the start of the Philippian church.  And, according to Paul, they have remained in partnership in the gospel until now, the writing of the letter.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 

Now, we have the other side of the Christian life, the other bookend. Paul prays that their sanctification will be brought to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.  Let's look at what that means by reading 1 Thessalonians 5:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 

We may not know when the day of the Lord will come, but our sanctification makes us prepared for it.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 

The end won't surprise us, because we are living in the day.  Paul's prayer for the Philippians is essentially a prayer that they live continually in the day, so that they will be prepared for Christ's return.  Living in the day also means that we are doing the works of the Lord, because good works are done in the day.

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Note that Paul says that "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."  This is just more proof that our salvation is solely a work of the Lord.  We watched as God gave Lydia and the jailer saving faith, and we watched as God extended that salvation to their households.  Note in the rest of Paul's words to the Philippians how not only our salvation but our sanctification is a work of Christ:

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 

Not only are the Philippians partners in the gospel, but they are partakers of grace.  They are partakers in Paul's imprisonment, even though they are not there with him.  How is this so?  Because the Christian life is full of persecutions.  Even though they are not physically in jail, the Philippians--as well as all true Christians--experience tribulation.  This is the Christian life.  If you are having your "best life now," you need to be worried. Note that Paul doesn't say, "sorry that you're going through trials."  No, he rejoices in tribulation.  Persecutions and trials are actually signs that the Lord is working in our sanctification.  Now, getting into messes because of secular reasons does not count as Godly tribulation.  Acting like an unbeliever and getting immersed in worldly trials like an unbeliever is not the same thing.  This is why Paul attaches "defense and confirmation of the gospel" to "imprisonment."  The persecutions within our sanctification come with our defense and confirmation of the gospel, not only with our lips but in our lives.

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 

Even the affection that Paul has for fellow believers comes directly from Jesus Christ.  Remember, Paul is a fruit-bearing branch on the vine of Jesus Christ, just as the Philippians are.  He isn't a special vine in his own right, with his own religion, his own righteousness, and his own set of rules.  He is a fellow partaker in the righteousness that Jesus bestows on all his children.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Here Paul reaffirms that the purpose of our sanctification is so that we can be presented pure and blameless (or as pure and blameless as possible for justified sinners to be) for the day of Christ--for that final judgment day.  He also reaffirms that the fruit of righteousness, the good works that come out of our sanctification are through Jesus Christ as well.  Jesus is our justification and the source of our sanctification.  And all of this is to the glory and praise of God.  When the end comes, eternity with Christ begins, which consists entirely of glory and praise to God.

Going back to 1 Thessalonians 5, we can see Paul confirm this:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Some of the most comforting words in the whole of scripture: "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."  He surely will.  You have nothing to fear, because not only is God alone capable of sanctifying you, but he is faithful to do it, too.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Twenty-First Sunday After Trinity

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:46-54)

We are nearing the end of the church year (we have four Sundays left), and as we near the end, the subject matter of the gospel readings becomes more and more eschatological. This means that we are getting more and more concerned with the end times.  Last week we had a parable of the wedding feast, which had eschatology all over it.  This week we have a healing.  In what way does this event near the beginning of Jesus' ministry concern the end times?

First, notice that Jesus responds quite negatively to the official (actually a better word would be nobleman). A few weeks ago, we looked at Matthew 8, in which a whole bunch of healing takes place.  Here is Matthew 8, starting at verse 5:

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The centurion comes and asks Jesus practically the same thing, "come heal my servant."  The nobleman in our passage says, "come heal my son."  Isn't a son more important than a servant?  Jesus says to the former, "I will come and heal him."  To the latter, Jesus says, "you're just looking for a miracle, you unbeliever!"  Now, the nobleman is a Jew and the centurion is a Gentile.  The centurion actually stops Jesus from coming, saying he isn't worthy to have Christ come under his roof.  Is this the difference between the two?  The faith of the Gentile is coming through, whereas the Jewish nobleman is expecting Jesus to come because he himself is a royal official?

A major theme in the Gospel of John is that the people Jesus came to, his own, the Jews of Israel, rejected him.  "They received him not," the text says.  But we see over and over again in the Gospel the same people, his people, wanting Jesus' miracles, but not wanting him.  They seek Jesus' WORKS, not his WORD.  Look at John 6 for a great example of this. After Jesus feeds the 5,000, they chase after him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Then this exchange happens:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?

They are seeking his WORKS, not his WORD.  In the same way, this nobleman is looking for Jesus to heal his son, but Jesus knows that he has no faith.  The centurion had faith, because he knew Jesus could heal his servant without even being in the same physical space.  It's as if Jesus had said, "come on, let's go do this miracle," and the centurion responded, "wait, you're the Son of God, you can heal him just with a word."  This is the faith Jesus sees.  The nobleman says to Jesus, "come and heal my son!"  He doesn't believe that Jesus can heal from afar with a word.

Another thing is happening here that we can only see if we read deeper and connect some pieces.  After Jesus tells the nobleman that he is just a sign-seeking unbeliever, the man just repeats his request, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Then Jesus does something.  He changes his attitude and says, "Go; your son will live."  The ESV doesn't render this phrase accurately.  The Greek and the NASB say, "Go; your son lives."  Then the scripture says, "The man BELIEVED the WORD that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way."  What happened?

Jesus turned his heart.  The man was NOT altering his point of view based on Jesus' chastisement.  He continued to ask Jesus to come.  Jesus actually reaches into the man's heart and changes him from a sign-seeker to a man of faith.  He changes him from a man who wants Jesus' WORK to one who is satisfied with Jesus' WORD.  He has turned the man's heart away from something.  What is it?  It's the impending death of his son, the most valuable thing in his life--his idol.  Jesus has turned the man's heart from idolatry to faith in Christ. All that matters to the man is that his son live, but after Jesus turns his heart, he is okay if his son dies.  Why?  When we render the text properly, "your son lives," we realize that Jesus is not only talking about the current state of the son's health.  He is talking about everlasting life.  He is talking about the salvation of the man's son.  Your son lives.  He is no longer dead in his trespasses.  I awaken him from afar, and he will live--forever.

The man doesn't ask again for Jesus to come down with him.  His heart is different.  He believes in the Word of God and departs.  He finds out later that his son was physically healed at the exact moment Jesus said, "your son lives," but the faith already has been put there.  The man believes, and through his testimony, all his household believed, too.  This goes beyond a physical, temporal sign and into the realm of faith in Christ for everlasting life.  So, we, too must believe in Christ's word, but as we see in this passage, the faith to believe Christ's word comes from Christ himself.  Nothing we can do, think, or say can give us the power to believe.  Only Christ.

See what happens when we stop looking at this event in the life of Christ as a temporal healing and begin to look at it as an eschatological event?  We are no longer putting our faith in God for our earthly comforts but looking for him to salvation from the wrath to come.  Indeed, with Christianity comes persecutions and trials.  When the nobleman was immersed in the traditional covenant of works, all he could think about was his son living.  When Jesus transferred him into the covenant of grace, he put his faith in Christ's words.  Only trusting Jesus mattered.  Believe, you and your household, Jesus can and will save all of you from afar.  Your son lives.  Your daughter lives.  Have faith and live.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Are You a Good Person?

Read this passage from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10:

And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Did you see what Jesus did?  He immediately focused on the use of the word “good” and responded that only God alone was good.  If you asked anyone on the street if they thought they were good, they would almost 100% respond “yes.”  Even the ones who respond “no” are only displaying a false humility.  Everyone really thinks they are good people.  You think you're basically a good person.  At least, you try, right?  But Jesus says that only God is good.  He then demonstrates that no one is good by going through several of the ten commandments:

You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
Now, the young man is completely lying.  As it says in Romans 3: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  We commit murder every day, because Jesus said that if we are angry with our neighbor, we commit murder in our hearts.  We commit adultery every day, because Jesus said that if we look with lust, we commit adultery in our hearts.  We steal every day when we put ourselves before others, when we make things all about ourselves.  We lie every day when we make ourselves look innocent instead of the guilty wretches we are, when we try to take advantage of other people, even slightly.  We hold our elders in derision, constantly rejecting their wisdom.  We have not kept any of these commandments, especially from our youth.  The young man hasn't either, and he is lying to Jesus' face.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Even though we are all lying, thieving, blasphemous, murderers and adulterers at heart, Jesus loves us anyway.  He calls the young man out as a liar by telling him to go sell his possessions.  Anyone who keeps the commandments would have no trouble following this command, because living as a child of God means living your whole life in light of the next one.  You cannot take your stuff with you.  Your stuff, and especially your wealth, causes you to break the commandments.  Why?  Because our need to have more and more things, makes us lie, steal, hate, lust, covet, and dishonor our parents.  Living without actually breaks us of breaking the commandments.  Jesus knows this.  He had nothing on earth, even though, as God, he owns everything. Jesus isn't telling us to become paupers or monks.  He knows we are unable to live sinlessly.

Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The rich young man does not give up anything.  He realizes that following Jesus Christ is impossible, and he walks away.  Is that how you feel right now?

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
This is a horrible conclusion!  The rich, young ruler asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life.  An inheritance is actually something that one does not earn.  You get it for free, but you get it passed down from your father.  Is God our father?  Jesus has responded to the question with the most troubling answer of all time.  If we do not obey his commandments—and we can't!—we    cannot follow Jesus.  We cannot be God's children, and since we cannot be God's children, we do not get his inheritance!

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”
Something has changed here.  We are no longer talking about inheriting eternal life but being saved from something.  What are we in danger of?  The wrath of God himself.  You see, anyone who does not inherit eternal life inherits instead eternal death: everlasting ruin in hell.  Why? Because God is pure goodness, pure holiness, and nothing evil can stand in his presence.  We have already established that we are unable to keep the commandments, but why?  We cannot keep them not because we are helpless, but because we are sinful, depraved creatures.  Our wills are in bondage to sin and evil.  We cannot choose to do good, because we are stubborn rebels who only choose what we want, and what we want is to do evil things. Try to go through the day and keep the ten commandments.  Not only will you find it impossible, you will think it stupid, too.  The ten commandments seem to be there to prevent us from having any fun!  We actually like to look with lust!  That's what makes movies so popular.  We like to hate people and see them get their comeuppance!  Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.  We may not act out on these thoughts, but Jesus says it's the thought that really counts, anyway.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
So, Jesus confirms that it is impossible for us to be saved.  We deserve hell, and we will find ourselves in hell after we die.  However, notice that he did say, “but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.”  What does this mean?  It means that God himself found a way for us to be saved from eternal destruction.  Remember when Jesus rebuked the young man for calling him a “good teacher?”  Well, that really wasn't a rebuke—it was a confirmation.  “No one is good but God alone,” Jesus said.  That is true, but what Jesus is saying that he himself is good, because he is God.  Only God is good.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is good.  The name Jesus means, “he saves.”  Why would Jesus be called that unless it were true?  God came down to earth as a man—Jesus Christ the righteous.  He lived a pure and sinless life, obeying all the ten commandments through his 33 years with us.  Even when he was dying on the cross, he made sure his own mother would be cared for!  Why did he keep the moral law perfectly?  Because then he could make a great exchange: his righteousness for our sin!  On the cross, all of our sin was placed on him, and all of his righteousness placed on us.  Then God the Father in heaven poured out his entire cup of wrath—meant for us—onto his own son.  Jesus died in our place.  Then he rose from the dead after three days in the grave, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father to intercede for us.  That means, whenever we sin—and we still will—Jesus vouches for us, “reminding” the father he has died for all the past, present, and future sins of his children.  God will never punish us, because he has punished Jesus instead. 

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
Did the disciples just say that they are able to give up everything to follow Jesus?  That they are able to keep the commandments?  How can this be?  Because when Jesus has saved us, we are able to keep the commandments out of gratitude!  This is how we know that we are saved, if we are able to keep the commandments.  This obedience to the law does not save us but is proof that we are saved.  In writing to Christians, John the evangelist said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  In other words, even as Christians, we still sin and will continue to do so, but Christians also will repent and be forgiven.  Through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, we are saved.  We are children of God.  We are inheritors of eternal life.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Twentieth Sunday After Trinity

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

This is a fascinating parable, because although it has parabolic elements, it's not really a parable--it's a prophecy.  Yes, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast, but there is also going to be an actual wedding feast.  The king, the Lord of Heaven is going to throw a wedding feast for his son, Jesus Christ, and the bride is the church.  In Revelation 19:7 we read, "Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready."  So this is an image of something that is going to happen in eternity.

Now, servants are sent to call those who were invited to the wedding feast.  There are actually two kinds of calling in this parable and also in reality.  The first is a "general call, by which," Calvin claims, "God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word--even to whom he holds it out as a savor of death, and as the occasion for severer condemnation" (Institutes 3.24.8).  This call is made to all, so that no one will have an excuse on judgment day that it wasn't heard nor understood.  Also, this call to everyone is a detailed call.  Remember, the proclamation of the word of God is detailed.  It's not an obscure invitation, like a a general, "you're invited to a party, where there will be surprises galore!"  The call is detailed, but since it is a general call, not everyone responds to it in the same way.  There are actually four kinds of responses, as we see in the parable.

The first is a rejection of disinterest.  "I'm just not interested in Christ," people say.  I talked to someone just the other day.  He was friendly to me and very warm, but he just wasn't interested in coming to a discipleship group.  In the parable, people just go on their way to work.  The second group is like the first, rejecting the gospel, but they are hostile.  In the parable, they treat the servants shamefully, and even kill them.  In life, these are the people who speak out against Christianity in the news, the media, the Internet, in the world.  And there are some out there who WILL kill Christians when they encounter them, and we may eventually have the same situation in our country. These two types are unbelievers, and they eventually are destroyed.  At the time Jesus told this parable, these first two groups of people represented his own people, the Jews, whom he had come to first, and they had rejected him.  Eventually, the Gentiles of the world are incorporated into Israel, grafted in, so to speak, like the shoot of a different vine grafted into the vine of Israel.  These Gentiles are the people that the king now invites to the wedding feast.

Notice something different?  Even though these new people are invited, the scripture says, "those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  The latter two kinds of people are gathered by the servants and compelled to come into the wedding feast.  So the wedding hall is filled with guests, but these new guests are drawn in by the king.  Remember what Jesus says in John 6: "No one comes to me unless the father draws him."  Both "bad and good" are brought in, because who does the king come across when he is making his rounds at the feast?  Someone who does not have a wedding garment.  This is someone who has not "put on Christ."

In the church are true believers, those who believe in the Christ of the Bible, and there are also hypocrites, those who attend church, think they believe, but they believe in a Jesus who is NOT the Jesus of the Bible.  They haven't "put on Christ" because there is no garment for the "Jesus" that person believes in.  The Jesus they believe in does not exist.  Remember the Philippian jailer in Acts 16?  He asks Paul what he must do to be saved?  Paul responds, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."  Sounds easy, except there are about a million false Christs that the devil has created over the centuries to deceive us.  So, there are people in the church who believe on false Christs.  These are not really saved, and they will perish.

Jesus ends his prophetic parable with these words, "many are called, but few are chosen."  The only people not talked about in detail in this parable are the ones who are actually successfully called--the elect.  Their calling is a special call.  This is an irresistible call only for them, and it never fails.  Look at II Corinthians 2:14-17:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

The general call is so broad that it is like a fragrance.  People sniff the aroma and are either drawn to the source or are repulsed.  Those repulsed either run or attack.  Those drawn either submit or try to change the aroma to suit them.  Only one of these four kinds of people has the effectual call, the call to believe in the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures.  The rest are cast into the outer darkness: eternal punishment. 

So, which call are we hearing?  Are we rejecting a general call or heeding the effectual call?  Well, at first it seems simple, doesn't it?  We examine ourselves: have we rejected the Gospel?  No?  Are we hostile toward Christianity? No?  Have we repented and put our full trust in the Jesus Christ of the scriptures?  Yes?  Then our salvation is assured.  It's really does seem to be that simple.  That may be the end result, but the process is much more amazing than that.

Shall I offer an offensive suggestion?  May I suggest the we, all of us, are those who were invited but refused to come?  In fact, may I even suggest that we have even slipped from the "indifferent" category into the "hostile and violent" category?  Remember, we are rebels from birth.  We're no longer talking about Jews and Gentiles and who Jesus is referring to historically.  This is about everyone's reaction to the gospel.  We are rejectors of God from birth.  God tries to make the offer as inviting as possible, but we still reject it, and we get more and more violent as we do so.  As unrepentant sinners we began to store up God's wrath for judgment.  We were unworthy to attend this Wedding Feast.

But God does something amazing.  He sends out his servants, his angels, to invite as many as they find, and they not only find them, but they gather them in, both good and bad, filling the wedding hall with guests.  I would say that all were bad.  But the king compelled them anyway, and he brought them into his feast, and he gave them all wedding garments, garments of repentance, garments of faith in his son, Jesus.  The bride of Christ, the Church, after all, must wear a bridal gown.  There are still those who do not stay, who are bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness, but these are merely unrepentant sinners.  The wedding guests, the ones with the gowns, they are sinners, too, but they are repentant sinners.  They are justified sinners.  They are saints and sinners at the same time.

When we worry about whether we are guests at the feast or not, when we worry about whether we have a wedding garment or not, we must remember that we don't deserve either.  Zechariah 3 helps with a striking image:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

Are you not a brand plucked from the fire?  Behold, Christ has taken your iniquity away from you, and he will clothe you with pure vestments.  Welcome to the wedding feast.  Welcome to everlasting life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Christianity and Success

There's a misapprehension that if one becomes a Christian, he will become successful at his life.  Where once there was struggle, now there is ease.  God has blessed the Christian's life, so things are going to naturally fall into place for him.  Actually, this is not the case.  Things may actually get more difficult for the Christian.  Persecutions arise, conflicts result.  But one thing that becomes successful in the Christian's life is the pursuance of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Let's say you are a restaurant owner, and business is slow.  You may have to close shop.  You then become a Christian.  The business isn't going to suddenly take off.  You may have a different attitude about it, because you are at peace with the Lord, and so you may become less stressful about the state of the industry.  Maybe that peace transfers to actual material success.  Maybe it doesn't.  However, Jesus has given his children the Great Commission, which commands us to make disciples from all the nations.  A true Christian stops looking for earthly success but success in fulfilling this commission.  So, even if the restaurant fails, if the Christian owner is finding ways to proclaim the Gospel through that business, he has become a success after all.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

For the entire chapter after the Sermon on the Mount ends (Matthew 8), Jesus is doing two things: traveling and healing.  He comes down from the mountain, from the delivery of his true interpretation of the law, at the beginning of the chapter, and immediately cleanses a leper.  He enters Capernaum and heals the centurion's servant.  He goes into Peter's house and heals the Apostle's mother-in-law.  Now there's a water crossing.  Jesus preps potential disciples on the cost of following him, not only spiritually, but as they cross the sea in the midst of a storm, emotionally and physically, too.  On the other side, in the country of the Gadarenes, Jesus exorcises demons from two men.  In our passage, the beginning of chapter 9, Jesus has been rejected by the people of the Gadarenes, and he has now crossed back to his own city, Capernaum.

After each travel, and before each healing, Jesus encounters faith.  The leper kneels before him.  The centurian claims he is not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof (Jesus marvels at his faith), and Peter has already repented.  The scene on the sea of Galilee, when it storms, Jesus calms the storm and then questions their lack of faith.  The people of the Gadarenes beg Jesus to leave their region after he exorcises the demons.  Here is an example of no faith being present. The result is a rejection of Jesus.

The leper is healed based on his own faith (even though it is Christ's will). Remember John 1:12-13: "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." We cannot will our own salvation, but only God can.  The centurion's servant, however, is healed based on the faith of the centurion.  Peter's mother-in-law is healed based on Peter's faith, and in our passage, the paralytic is healed based on the faith of the people who brought him to Jesus.  Jesus didn't need to look into their hearts to see their faith.  Just by their actions, bringing to him a paralytic, who would be an outcast in ancient society, their faith is revealed.

So, we have Jesus traveling, sometimes great distances, like across the sea to heal his people.  And notice that all happens at his own discretion.  He seems to heal based on faith, but the exorcism of the demoniacs happens without faith, and in fact, the town of Gadara rejects Christ completely.  Jesus also stills the storm in the midst of a lack of faith.  Faith, however, plays a part.  Faith is a gift from God, not something we bring to the table.  God acts, he heals anyway, even when we do not have faith.  However, when faith is present, it's usually the faith of someone else on the sick one's behalf that Jesus sees.

Likewise, it's not our faith that saves us but Christ's faith on our behalf.  God saves his elect on the merits of his Son.  His elect may have a weak faith or no faith at all, but the good news is that we are saved by Christ's faith, not our own.  When Jesus' righteousness is imparted to us, we find that we do have a Godly faith, but it's an alien faith, one we are incapable of possessing naturally.  With Christ's faith in us, we can do good works for our neighbor, including discipleship, as we shall see.

Here's a second thing we learn from our text: Christ's forgiveness comes BEFORE he heals, or saves, us.  The people of faith bring the paralytic before the Lord in order to heal him, to give him life.  Jesus heals all throughout the Gospels.  He didn't come to heal everyone, because many were left unhealed, but he healed many.  The healings serve two purposes.  One is that of authority.  Jesus was who he said he was.  His words now have the authority of God, and he himself has the authority of God.  We can also see the symbolism: Jesus Christ came from heaven to save us.  He traveled from heaven to earth, found us desperately sick and doomed to destruction, and he healed us from our infirmities by taking our debilitating sin upon himself on the cross.  By his death, we are saved.  However, our salvation comes through the forgiveness of our sins.  Forgiveness isn't an emotional thing.  Forgiveness means the cancellation of debt.  Christ's act of self-sacrifice on the cross, as both God and man, cancels the debt we have accrued.  He has forgiven our sins.

Now, this forgiveness takes place first: in the sequence of events in our reading, and in the history of the world.  Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins two-thousand years ago, through God's eternal decree, though his eternal plan, this most major event.  And it's through Christ's faith in the success of this event that we get our faith.  Jesus forgives the paralytic, aloud, in front of the Scribes. They accuse him of blaspheming, but then Jesus actually heals the paralytic in front of them, once again for two reasons: to give authority to his statement of forgiveness and to show that his forgiveness SAVES, even to this day.  He tells the paralytic to take up his mat and walk, giving him his first, post salvation work to do.  After we are saved, we do good works, not for our salvation (that has already happened) but for our neighbor to show our fruit of faith.  "Taking up our mats" can mean us bringing more "paralytics" to Christ.  Our faith is expressed in our actions.

The last thing that happens is the reaction of the crowds.  They were afraid, they glorified God, and they were given authority.  Fear of the Lord, we are told in the Proverbs, is the beginning of wisdom.  We must always know our place as beneath God, not above him or even AS him.  This is true humility, and we have as our finest model Jesus himself.  He humbled himself to the point of death.  When we have a true, healthy fear of the Lord, our only response is repentance, and that is how we are forgiven.  We receive Christ's forgiveness and salvation through repentance, which also is a gift from God.

Second, they glorified God, they praised him with their whole being, through thought, word and deed.  We are to fear God when we compare ourselves to him, but we are to glorify God when we compare him to anything else.  God was glorified through creation, but through Jesus' death and resurrection He is most glorified.  Remember, everything points back to Jesus, and we glorify God the most by worshiping his son.

Finally, Christ gives us the authority.  In our passage, the crowds marvel at the kind of authority God has given someone they perceive to be only a man.  However, after the resurrection, they know who he truly is.  Jesus then gives them authority.  What kind of authority?  We discover this at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, in the great commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

We fear God because Jesus did.  We glorifiy God because Jesus did.  And we pass on the authority that Jesus has given us: to make disciples of all nations, to baptize people into the Church, and to continually teach them through the scriptures.  How can we do this?  We can do this because Christ is with us: his faith becomes our faith.  His declaration of forgiveness becomes our declaration of forgiveness.  His proclamation of everlasting life becomes our proclamation.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

In this passage, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus in a legal problem, and he responds with not only the full Law of God but the Gospel as well.  He has just finished trouncing the Sadducees with their silly question about the resurrection.  The Pharisees are much more learned in the scriptures, so they may feel that this is a prefect time to hit Jesus when he is feeling victorious.  A lawyer asks him which is the greatest commandment, knowing the answer, but probably hoping that Jesus will pick one of the 10 Commandments (actually the first commandment and the great commandment are pretty unified) or one of the 600+ application laws in the Old Testament.  The goal is to ridicule Jesus as a theologian.  If we can prove that Jesus has no idea what he is talking about, we can cause his disciples to lose faith in him. 

Jesus answers correctly with the text from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."  Trap avoided.  However, Jesus then comes in for a left hook.  This second commandment is so familiar to us, that we think that the two great commandments are always paired together, but this second commandment is from Leviticus 19:18: "And a second is like it," Jesus says: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these TWO commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."  This is true.  We can break the ten commandments into two tables: the first four are about loving God (the first great commandment) and the other six are about loving our neighbor (the second commandment).  But Jesus is not adding this second great commandment to "fill in the gap" so to speak.  He's not telling the Pharisees that they "forgot" the other half of the great commandments of the Law.  He is sharing something with them that they didn't know. We know that they don't know the second great commandment, because they do not KEEP the second great commandment.  They do not love their neighbors as themselves.  In fact, they won't even take care of their parents, if they can get away with it.  They tithe the money they would have used for their parents to the temple.  They are going to keep that first, great commandment at all costs, even at the expense of their neighbors.  What Jesus is saying here is that if one does not keep this second commandment, one does not truly love God--one is not keeping the first commandment either.

We show that we love God by loving our neighbor.  If we try to keep the law in order to please God, we will fail, because we are sinners.  However, God gives us works to do on earth, in our lives.  These works are not works that save us.  They are works that prove that we have been saved.  God gives us work to do, and at first they don't seem like a big deal.  God has given us our spouse, our kids, our boss at work and anyone working under us.  There's the guy at the coffee shop that we see every morning, the guy who fixes our car, the lady at Staples. God has put these people in our lives for us to love as ourselves, not in a romantic way, but in a self-sacrificial way, in a gospel-sharing way.  These are the works that God has given us to do: every day life--exactly the thing that the world says is NOT important.  They will say you need to make a great business deal, so you can conquer one of the seven mountains and get Christians into high places of power, etc.  You don't have to search for the things God wants you to do.  God gave them to you already.

But if we are sinners, how are we able to do these works?  If the Pharisees, keepers of the Law, are unable to love their neighbors.  What chance do WE have?  Here's where Christ comes in with a question of his own:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

His question for them is a question for us: "What do you think about the Christ?"  Stop right there.  He's about to give them a question they can't answer, stumping them again, but let's stop right at that first question.  "What do you think about the Christ?"  Do you see what Jesus has just done?  He has given us the Law--not just A law, but the whole Law, the summary of the Law--and now he is giving us the Gospel.  What is the Law?  Love God with everything you got and love your neighbor as yourself.  How do we respond to the law?  We sin.  We fail.  We break the law with everything we got.  Jesus then asks, how do you respond to the Christ?  This is the Gospel.  The Law shows us our sin.  All we've got left is the Gospel.  What do you think of the Christ?  Who is he?  Whose son is he?  Do you have the right Gospel?  Do you have the right messiah?  Who is he?  Jesus.  He is the messiah.  The anointed one.  The Law crushes you, the Christ sets you free.  Who is he?  The Pharisees respond that he is the son of David, revealing that they only think of the Christ as a man.  Jesus then shows them through Psalm 110 that the Christ is not only fully man but is fully God, too.  Jesus shows them the full and true nature of Christ: fully divine and fully human.  This is necessary, because an only-human messiah can only save one person by living a sin-free existence.  A fully-divine messiah can save everyone.

The Pharisees can't respond, because they don't get it.  They hadn't even understood the full law, either.  Many churchgoers today don't get the simple truth: it doesn't matter how you respond to the Law, what matters is how you respond to the Gospel.  The Law shows us our sin.  Our response to the Christ can only be repentance and faith.  He took our full sin upon himself on the cross.  He is the only way we can be saved.  Everytime we fail at loving our neighbor, we should be reminded that we don't love God.  Everytime we hear the Gospel, we should be reminded that God loves us and forgives us our sins.  Our response is true repentance.  Repentance is not a work but a sign that we have been forgiven.

What do you think about the Christ?  Do you know Jesus Christ, the one the Bible proclaims?  Unbiblical Christs are proclaimed every day, but do you know the one of the Holy Scriptures?  Only by him are we saved.  He is God himself, full divine and fully human.  Fully human so that he could be tempted, as we are, yet keep the commandments and die on our behalf.  Fully divine so that he could rise again, save us from all our sins, and give us eternal life.  How do you respond to the Christ?  Repent and be forgiven.