October 6, 1991
One young woman told her pastor, “I’m waiting to find a Christian husband, and then I’ll have a Christian marriage.” I wish it were that simple. We all wish it were that simple. She is in for a painful disappointment if she thinks all that is required for a Christian marriage is for two Christians to get married.
Even the hymn, “O Happy Home, Where Thou Art Loved,” has the line, “O happy home, where every wounded spirit is brought, Physician, Comforter, to Thee.” Even in Christian homes we find wounded spirits. Even in Christian homes we have broken places. Yes, even in Christian homes we have broken marriages.
How can this happen? Why don’t two Christians live “happily ever after”? Why is divorce so prevalent. How can we guard against it? How should we react to it? How can we prepare for it? Didn’t Moses allow it in the Bible (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)? If it’s allowed in the Bible, maybe it is approved of God.
All of these questions are questions that Jesus’ hearers had in biblical times, for the issue of divorce was a very controversial issue then. Most of the people embraced one of two schools of thought. The followers of Hillel believed that a man could divorce his wife if she ever found disfavor in his eyes. They felt that a woman could be divorced for spoiling the dinner, for untying her hair, for speaking to another man in the street, for speaking disrepect-fully to his parents, or for even raising her voice so that she could be heard in the next house.
The school of Shammai was more conservative and felt that a man could divorce his wife only for adultery. Let a woman be as mischievous as Jezebel, so long as she did not commit adultery, she could not be divorced. These two schools of thought were hotly debated in every marketplace and synagogue in every community, with the more liberal school the predominant one.
It is not surprising that our Scripture lesson tells us that some Pharisees came to Jesus in order to ask him a “test question,” and the question turned out to be about His attitude toward divorce. This was a “hot potato.” They were going to force Him to take a stand, and thereby hope that his position would at least alienate the other side.
“Is it right for a man to divorce his wife?”, they asked. There it was. A direct question, and it demanded an answer that everybody could hear. This was not a private letter written to Jesus that He could thoughtfully ponder over a long period of time, then carefully word His answer and mail it back quietly to the author. This was a public question, designed to pull Jesus into a local controversy, and asked in such a way that it would certainly make Jesus look like He was either “one of them or one of us.”
One thing we know is that Jesus knew His Bible. He asked the Pharisees, “What has Moses commanded you to do?” He knew that Moses had spoken on this issue. “Moses allows me to write a divorce note and then to dismiss her,” they said, thinking that they had, in fact, trapped Jesus. Now, they felt that Jesus would not only identify Himself with either the liberal Hillels or the conservative Shammais, but he might also repudiate the great prophet Moses in the process.
But Jesus refused to become embroiled in the local, human controversy. He took the whole discussion to a higher authority and raised it to a higher plain. The issue is not the very human question, “Is it allowed? Is divorce permissible?”, but the theological question, “Is it God’s intention?”
Jesus responds by explaining why Moses gave them the decision that divorce was allowed. In the words of our text, “It was because you knew so little of the meaning of love that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives.” We humans lack the ability to fully love, and so Moses adjusted to that reality and allowed divorce. “But,” added Jesus, “that was not the original principle.” In other words, that was not God’s original intention for either men or women in marriage.
Nobody gets married in order to get divorced. Jesus goes back and reminds us of God’s creation of humankind into male and female so that we would cleave to each other. We were created for each other, and when a male and female are married they shall, says the Bible, “become one flesh. So that in body they are no longer two people but one. That is why man must never separate what God has joined together” (10:8).
The witness of the Scripture is that divorce is a breaking of God’s intention for our lives. That is a sin. When marriages break up, and children, property, and emotions are divided up, that is a sin. When the one made one by God becomes two, that is a sin.
Life east of Eden can be close to Hell, and that’s the point. We do not live in Eden. We do not live in Paradise. God’s intention, however, is that we live in Paradise forever, but we chose to eat the apple and to disobey God. We continue to disobey God in our marriages and in all that we do. We should not be surprised that one Christian man plus one Christian woman does not automatically equal one Christian marriage, for we know as Christians we are not always all that we should be.
We know that we are not always loving and kind in everything we do. We know that we do not always love our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us. We know how hard it is to be patient and long-suffering. One Christian woman and one Christian man in marriage equals one marriage where two people are struggling to be all that God intends them to be; in some instances they fail, and that is sin, but that does not mean that God does not intend for us anything but the very best.
God is not the author of broken marriages. Divorce happens because we know “so little of the meaning of love … But that was not the original principle” (Matthew 19:18, Phillips). War happens because we know “so little of the meaning of love” also. Greed and selfishness happen because we know “so little of the meaning of love.” All the crimes listed in today’s paper happen because we know “so little about the meaning of love.”
The Bible is not predicting that we are all sinners. The Bible is describing what is going on in our world. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and sinned in our marriages, if we are married, or simply sinned in our relationships with other people, if we are not married. Moses’ permission for divorce is always second best. It is not God’s first intention for our lives.
The Pharisees wanted to talk about what Moses wrote, but Jesus answered by describing what God intends. The Pharisees wanted to discuss loopholes that might be permitted, but Jesus responded with intentions that are expected of us. The Pharisees wanted to talk divorce, but Jesus came back talking about marriage, for divorce is grounded in law while marriage is grounded in God’s creation.
We enter into marriage in order to become all that we should be. God gives us a mate in order for us to become the very best people that we can be. According to Genesis, God saw our loneliness and for our own good provided a mate for us.
In the Presbyterian service of marriage it says, “God has established and sanctified marriage, for the welfare and happiness of humankind.” That’s why we have marriage. For our happiness and welfare. God desires that we become the very best for Him.
My intention is not to add any guilt to anyone who has been divorced. Most of you have already accepted enough guilt. As Christian brothers and sisters in the faith, we owe you our compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Divorce was not your first choice, as it was not Moses’ first choice, but now that you are divorced, accept God’s forgiveness of the past and get on with the rest of your God-given life. God isn’t through with you yet.
You have been broken. Can you now become strong at the broken places? God forgives your past. Have you? (CTH)
October 13, 1991
What Are You Protecting?
I read a sermon entitled “Protecting Your Hubcaps.” The minister related that a friend from college had fancy and expensive hubcaps that were the envy of everybody in town. His buddy took prudent steps to protect his prized possessions. Everywhere he went, he removed the hubcaps from the wheels and locked them in the trunk!
The sermon author reflected that we all smile at this youth’s misplacement of values, but noted that his friend’s hubcaps were somewhat symbolic. The symbolism is that for many, life is little more than the wholesale protection of chrome and tinsel that tickles the sensual. He said that it was also symbolic in a sense that most of us have our shiny “hubcaps” of life and continually go through life protecting them.
The scriptural background places Jesus with a young fellow who was having his own struggle with life’s “hubcaps.” Like so many people, the rich young man had been led to believe that the best things in life comes in materialistic packages.
Jesus said he had to sell all of his possessions and follow Him! The biblical record indicates it was a bit too much for this fellow because he went away from Jesus sorrowfully. His possessions meant too much to give up, even for Jesus.
He was unaware that Jesus offered him more than his money could ever provide.
I. The Rich Young Ruler Traded Away Christ’s Gift of Love (v. 21)
Jesus looked at this young man with love! The man could have had all Christ offers, but he was too much in love with the wrong things. His priorities were not God’s! Christ offers His eternal love to anyone who would receive it.
Jesus looked deep down in the depths of this young man’s heart and admired the virtuous character. Christ sees, as David McKenna in the Communicator’s Commentary writes, “the potential of his drive and vision for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” The Lord sees our potentials, but we trade it in for “fancy hubcaps” that will soon tarnish.
II. The Rich Young Ruler Traded Away Christ’s Gift of Eternal Loyalty (v. 21)
This young man had become loyal to a fleeting god called money. He had forgotten the commandment from Exodus about not having other gods before the true God. Before we modern sophisticated westerners point an accusing finger, we must ask what has become of our God? So many things have taken our loyalty away from Him. Items like study, degrees, jobs, sports, fun, pleasure, cars, boats and so on, have usurped God of His rightful place and sapped our loyalty away from Him. We must put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Carved over the entrance to a European fortress are the words: “Die under the ruins of this fort rather than surrender.” No doubt it has served to put steel in the hearts of many soldiers. Our warfare is spiritual. We are called to remain loyal to our Jesus, as He remains loyal to us, always!
III. The Rich Young Ruler Traded Away Christ’s Gift of Eternal Life (v. 27)
Eternal, everlasting life could have begun right there on the spot, but the shine of his fancy hubcaps blocked the view of eternity. How sad! Jesus offered him eternal life — real life, beginning right then — but he missed it. He actually turned it down.
Many today are doing the same. Their expensive, and inexpensive, toys are much too important. More valuable then heaven. Millions will turn down Christ’s gift of eternal life. What will you do? How rich are you? (DGK)
October 20, 1991
Jesus, the Great High Priest
Sin separates us from God as it forms a tremendous chasm between us and the Father. We cannot get to God with unrepentant sin in our lives. God will not force us to repent; however, He will do all that He can to show the way to salvation.
The joyous news comes that we have an intercessor, a High Priest who brings the infinite God and finite humanity together. His name is Jesus.
I. Jesus The Son of God Is Our High Priest (v. 14)
Jesus is spotless humanity. Christ, the Son of God is, as W. T. Purkiser said, “undimmed deity.” Both humanity and deity are essential to the concept of the High Priest’s office.
The human priesthood was composed of men who were the conscience and moral leaders of the nation of Israel. Their job as holy men in God’s service was to offer prayers, thanksgiving and sacrifices on behalf of others. The priest became the representative of the people pertaining to the things of God and, as such, was the intervening resource of power and forgiveness.
The High Priest was the one who represented all priests — he was the “chief executive officer” of the order of the priesthood. He was different from the “ordinary” priests for his specific function was to enter the Holy of Holies once per year on the great day of atonement, sprinkle the blood of the sin offering on the mercy seat, and burn incense within the veil. He alone could do that function.
The Hebrew writer sees Jesus as the eternal High Priest. He had been set apart to make intercession for you and me — to stand in our behalf before the Father. He was “anointed” to do that.
My relationship with God is based upon my relationship with Jesus. God’s relationship to man is through Christ. If I want to get to know God intimately, I must know Jesus Christ, the Messiah and High Priest, intimately.
He is the one who brings my petition, my fears, my anxieties, my wants, my desires, my requests, my thanksgiving, my praise, my joy, my happiness before the God of the universe. Oh, how I need Him! I cannot get through the day without Him. My confessions, prayers, petitions are heard and understood by Him. He bears with me. He helps me shoulder my burdens.
II. Jesus, Our High Priest Is Understanding of Our Situation
Ethelbert Stauffer, in Jesus and His Story, wrote: “… God was fulfilled in the form of a man, not only of a fallible, suffering, mortal man, but of a human man; in the form of a new humanity and brotherhood, in the forward-looking form of a wholly new humanitas. God Himself had become man, more human than any other man in the wide expanse of history.”
God took the form of a human so He could know first-hand the problems of the human race. Listen again to the writer of Hebrews when he says (v. 15), “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.”
Do you have sin in your heart? The Great High Priest is able to dissolve it. Is there temptation you think you cannot overcome? The Great High Priest will share it with you. He knows what the temptation principle is, for He has been tempted; but He overcame His temptations. He was victorious. He will give us the strength we need to be victorious in our lifestyle.
Have you ever watched a pottery maker? He puts his hands on the inside and on the outside of the “in-the-making” pottery vessel. That’s what God does through Christ. Because Jesus was tempted, He knows just where we need supporting — where our weaknesses and flaws are — because He has His great hands in our lives. (DGK)
October 27, 1991
Jesus the High Priest
Hugh McKail, a Scottish Covenantor who was executed in Edinburgh, prayed the night before his death, “Now, Lord, we come to thy throne — a place we have not been acquainted with. Earthly kings’ thrones have advocates against poor men, but Thy Throne hath Jesus an advocate for us.”
The Hebrew writer continues his compelling commentary on the High Priesthood of Christ in chapter 5, verses 1-6.
I. Jesus: The Compassionate High Priest (5.1-3)
This word “compassion” has a multitude of definitions: mercy, pity, to spare, love, yearn, to show mildness, to suffer with another, to display moderation. Jesus our Great High Priest is moved to compassion for us because of our sinful state of being.
There is that great concern for us all, individually. His compassion compelled Him to the cross. He suffered on our behalf! His cross thrusts us from our complacency. If He suffered for me as my example, then there will be times I must suffer for Him and for others! It will mean a sacrifice of time, finances, physical strength, prayer of intercession, or something else.
There is no room for carnal selfishness. My yearning is to be a helper — a positive influence for Jesus Christ. Christ models that experience for me.
This leads to another reality:
II. Jesus: The Intercessory High Priest (5:4-6)
An intercessor is someone who does something on someone else’s behalf. That is what Jesus did while on earth — and does for us now that He is in Heaven. Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation” (v. 19). His intercession gives us strength to live life here and for all eternity.
There are some key words in this section: suffering, submission, obedience, salvation. They are building blocks to living. They are not pleasant sounding words, not too much glory or glamor; but they are solid, foundational words.
Purkiser observes, “It is characteristic of our author that he puts the qualification ‘them that obey Him’ in the present tense. It is not ‘those who obeyed Him once and have since lapsed back into disobedience.’ It is ‘those who are obeying Him,’ whose walk is a life of obedient faith.”
Our experience must be up-to-date. In order for that to occur, our obedience allows our High Priest to do His job of being our intercessor now. (DGK)
November 3, 1991
Be Careful to Obey
A parent watches his pre-schooler begin the walk two doors down the block to visit with a neighbor, and calls, “You be careful.” The teenager, after a long struggle to go hunting without adult supervision, hears the parental admonition, “Now, you be careful!” As the children and grandchildren leave for home after a day’s visit with grandparents, the last word is “Be careful on the way home!”
It is not a matter of trust. The parents know that the child can be trusted. It is not a matter of unnecessary worry. The parents’ concern for the wellbeing of their children is a matter of love.
It may be that we have so often heard and expressed that admonition to “Be Careful” that it is a cliche. We may speak those words as a reflex, not thinking about their meaning. But the words “Be Careful” are spoken from the depth of experience and addressed to those who may not have had enough experience to discern all the pitfalls on the journey.
That may well be why Moses said to the people of Israel, “You be careful, now, to obey!”
Moses had lived his 120 years. The people of the exodus were preparing to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. As the tribes gather on the plains of Moab, the great leader offers his final words, his last message as the spokesman for the Lord of Hosts, the God of Sinai. The 6th chapter of Deuteronomy records that message. Moses tells his people about the charge from their God, about the decrees and the laws, about the teachings they should always remember and do. He challenges them to hear, to absorb their truth, and “to be careful to obey” them.
Moses knew from his own personal experience the importance of obeying God. The careful obedience of God was important when he was born or else he would have perished. As the favored one in the house of the Pharaoh, his anger rushed forth in defense of his own people, even killing an Egyptian. He was obedient to the love of his people even when it resulted in the loss of status in his powerful adopted family.
Those lonely years in the land of Midian gave Moses time to think, time to pray, time to draw closer to God and allow God to come closer to him. Directed by the voice from the burning bush, Moses hesitated but finally obeyed because he had learned one must be careful to obey God. Back in the palace of the Pharaoh — this time as adversary, not as family — Moses realized again how important it is to obey God. Challenging his adopted land through one plague and then another, Moses continued to stand fast in his obedience to God.
Faced with the barrier of the Red Sea, Moses again realized how important it is to obey God. Without that obedience to what seemed to be an impossibility, the people of Israel would have been encircled and enslaved again. Coming down from the mountain with the laws of God in his hand and seeing for the first time the golden calf, Moses knew again the importance of being careful to obey God and God alone.
Moses knew from his own personal experience how important it is to be careful to obey. So, there the great leader stood, at the end of life. Alone on the side of Mount Nego, looking over the people he loved — those his leadership had nurtured — they prepared to move forward into the land promised to them. Surely there must have been some heaviness in his own heart because he could not join them. Surely there must have been some deep regret that he was to lie down and sleep with his father just short of the fulfillment of that dream of a new and holy land and people.
Moses knew from his own personal experience the importance of carefully being obedient. So, he addressed the people:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you.”
Be careful to obey! (HCP)
November 10, 1991
Not Equal Giving but Equal Sacrifice
Of all the topics I as a preacher am called to speak about, none produces a reaction more intense than talk about money.
What is said about money really grabs our attention. There is something about money that is so personal. It’s so reflective of how we see ourselves. It is so important to us in the way it enables us to convey the image of who we would like to be.
In I Talk Back To the Devil, A. W. Tozer reminds us, “Money often comes between men and God. Someone has said that you can take two ten-cent pieces, just two dimes, and shut out the view of a panoramic landscape. Go to the mountain and hold just two coins closely in front of your eyes — the mountains are still there, but you cannot see them at all because there is a dime shutting off the vision in each eye.”
It doesn’t take large quantities of money to come between us and God, does it? Just a little placed in the wrong position will effectively obscure our view.
My calling is to teach a biblical understanding of stewardship with its multiple facets, knowing that when God’s people respond obediently to the instructions of God’s Word, financial concerns become somewhat incidental. The fact is that every congregation of Christians is gifted by God with enough financial resources to accomplish those tasks which God wants to accomplish in the life of that local congregation. It’s just a question of whether God’s people will be willing to be faithful stewards of what God has shared with them, bringing minimally their tithes, ten percent before taxes, to the work of Jesus Christ. Some are able to do more and will do more. We, as a fellowship of believers obedient to God’s Word, can and will accomplish, through the application of spiritual principles, that which the greatest secular fund-raising techniques could never begin to realize.
For several weeks now I have reflected on these teachings of Jesus. They are explosive in what they have to say to you and me about both our religious practices and our use of money. Let’s focus on three specific messages Jesus is endeavoring to communicate through this passage recorded by Mark.
Message One: Don’t be a religious phony.
A religious phony is a person who lives with a major discrepancy between his/her outward appearance and inner reality.
What appears religious often isn’t. The people to whom Jesus was speaking were familiar with the lifestyle and attitudes of the highly religious. He was talking to people not quite so pious and religiously prominent, warning them against becoming what they didn’t like in the lives of those who were supposed to be their religious leaders. He notes three manifestations of spiritual pathology.
A religious phony is one who likes to dress up and play church. The scribes were this way. They walked around in flowing robes. These robes were a sign of the leisured person of honor. Some even loved to enlarge the borders of their garments.
In obedience to Numbers 15:38, the Jews wore tassels at the edge of their outer robe. These tassels were to remind them that they were the people of God. Apparently some of these religious scribes, legal experts, wore over-sized tassels for special prominence.
A religious phony has a way of gravitating toward high-profile positions. We like the best seats in the synagogues, the church, and being placed at the head table at banquets. In the synagogue there were some special seats right in front of the ark where sacred volumes were kept. There those most distinguished persons sat, facing the congregation. It was such an honor to be seen in those seats.
And, at the religious feasts, there was a most highly developed protocol. The places of honor were strictly fixed, the highest being to the right of the host, the second on the left of the host. The pecking order alternated right to left around the table. A person’s status in the community was determined by the place at which he sat.
Religious phonies specialize in matters of outward appearance. We dress for success. We bear the right titles. We are seen in the right place with the right people at the right times.
Nobody can do a better job of ripping off innocent people than a religious phony. Some people trust religious people until they get burned. It’s pretty hard to distinguish between the real item and a “knock-off.” The other day when we got off the ship in Turkey, we were overwhelmed by shops filled with IZOD and Gucci items selling for a small fraction of their regular cost here in the States. Some of the uninitiated began to spend money like crazy. Some of us had been warned that these were not the genuine items. These were cleverly disguised copies, pretty good looking “knockoffs.” They were not the originals.
Innocent people can follow after religious leaders who exploit them. We are appalled when we read stories about carefully designed financial appeals timed to coincide with the arrival of Social Security checks. It’s one thing to raise money for legitimate needs. It’s another to cynically feather one’s nest in the name of Jesus Christ, pretending to be engaged in significant world mission activities which become only a front for one’s own profiteering.
To promise healing in the name of Jesus in exchange for money is diabolical. The “name-it claim-it” brand of Christianity which exploits the widow, the widower, or the physically and emotionally battered one stands judged by God. Jesus states it bluntly, “They will receive the greater condemnation.'”
Jesus looks at me as your pastor, and He looks at you as a religious person, and He urges you and me to make sure that who we are and what we are doing and how we carry ourselves has a spiritual authenticity to it. He urges you and me to daily examine ourselves humbly before Him so that our outward appearance and inward realities function with a degree of congruence in which we acknowledge how quickly religious sincerity can turn to pomp and circumstance while we neglect the weightier things of God, which are righteousness and justice.
Message Two: There is nothing wrong with being rich and giving large amounts of money if it is done in the right way and with the right motive.
The pages of the Bible are sprinkled with the names of some wealthy, prominent persons who humbly take their place alongside others of more modest reputations and financial resources. Abraham was prosperous. David was wealthy. Joseph of Arimathea was a man of financial substance. Lydia was a successful businesswoman.
Although none of these was perfect, contrast them in their better days of faithful service to the Lord with the rich people who strutted into the temple making a big fanfare over their large gifts.
There was in the temple area, between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women, an area called the Gate Beautiful. In the Court of the Women, there were thirteen collection boxes called “the trumpets” because they were so shaped. Each had a special purpose such as to buy corn, or wine, or oil for the sacrifices. These would be the equivalent of our special offerings for the deputation ministry, the deacons, the One Great Hour of Sharing, our local and world mission, or the building program. Some people, with great fanfare, threw in large contributions.
There was nothing wrong with a large contribution. It was the fanfare that accompanied it. Those of us who are blessed materially can begin to think that we are the reason for our blessing. Perhaps I am smarter than someone else because I earn more money. Perhaps my good health is a result of the fact that I am such a good Christian. I can begin to think that God is impressed with me because I not only tithe but I give more than a tithe. I become an exploiter of my privilege instead of humble worshipper of God who expresses gratitude for blessing.
There is nothing wrong with being rich and giving large amounts of money if it’s done in the right way and with the right motivation. But I had better not do it with an attitude of superiority that sees myself one single bit better than that person who lives in infinite poverty. I just happen to be a very fortunate person who, because of no effort of my own, was born in an environment which gave me the opportunity to work hard and improve myself. Thank you, Lord. I don’t quite understand it, but I will do my best to be a good steward of the resources you’ve given to me.
Message Three: You may not have much but you are just as important to Jesus as the wealthiest person.
Some of you have heard me say that I hate to raise money but I love to talk about stewardship. I love to talk about stewardship because everyone of us is gifted in some way and each of us has the privilege of both acknowledging that everything we have comes from God and then giving back to God the first-fruits, the tithes and offerings. It doesn’t make any difference to Him whether that proportionate amount is big money or small money. The fact is He honors the generosity of that improverished widow who gave her whole self to the Lord, putting her last two tiny coins in the offering.
There is no reason for you to feel uncomfortable if you are not able to make a large contribution. I urge you to tithe. The principle of tithing covers those who are unemployed. The principle of tithing deals with the youngster whose only income is from that paper route or the job at the frozen yogurt shop. You may not have much, but you are just as important to Jesus as those who are listed in the Fortune 500.
Last Sunday after church, a man walked up to me. He reached out, grabbed my hand, and he said, “Hold my hand. Let me touch you for a moment. I need a spiritual energy I don’t have because this week I am going through bankruptcy. I’ve failed. I’ve lost everything. I’ve brought terrible disaster to my family.” I’d never seen him before. But I held his hand tightly and prayed that the Lord would give him the strength he needed to face a terribly tough week.
Don’t let the talk of money threaten you. If you have only a little to give, and that little represents some portion of your tithes and offerings to the work of Christ, give it, knowing that God knows precisely what that represents. He honors you every bit as much as the person who gives a large gift so great that in some environments the building would be named after him or her. God knows the reality of who has truly done the most.
That’s why the theme of this message is “Not Equal Giving but Equal Sacrifice.” What is a sacrifice? Initially we think to really make a sacrifice we probably have to sell everything we have and go and do the kind of work which Mother Teresa does. Don’t be so sure. I happen to believe Mother Teresa is having a wonderful time. I think she enjoys her work probably more than some of us who live in opulent affluence.
What is sacrifice? Sacrifice is simply giving to God until you feel the impact of that gift. It touches you in a specific way. Sacrifice is an offering to God that costs you something. It’s not a simple little gratuity, a casual tipping of the Divine.
Sacrifice is an offering to God that does cost you something. David knew precisely what it meant. On one occasion he had disobeyed God and initiated a census of the people. The consequences were severe. David, in repentance, pled for God’s mercy toward those who were experiencing the consequences of his sin.
He went to a man named Arau-nah to buy a piece of land in order to build an altar to the Lord. Arau-nah’s immediate response to David was, “You are the king. Take the land. It’s yours. Here are the oxen for the offering, and here is the wood for the fire. I give this all to you.” David’s response was, “No, but I will buy it of you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). So David bought the land, the oxen, and the wood, offering a sacrifice that cost him something.
The sacrifice has a certain abandonment to it. It stands flaunting a superior value system to that of most people because it sees life in an eternal perspective. It doesn’t hold back on God. It really sees oneself as part of God’s enterprise.
The good steward knows that God has designed life so one can live on the 90%, or the 87%, or the 85% that is left over after the first-fruits are given to the kingdom. The good steward isn’t always grasping for more but knows what is enough and is able to live within limitations with a sense of joy, trusting the Lord’s care more than one’s own financial brilliance.
A good steward is not the religious phony but is the person of modest or more substantial resources who has come to that life-altering realization that “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last!” That person increasingly is coming to an awareness of authenticity, knowing the final payoff is not measured in human terms but when the voice of Jesus says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into your eternal rest.” (JAH)
November 17, 1991
The Final Argument
The Letter to the Hebrews is an example of only a handful of writings directed to Jewish Christians and to the concepts of Judaism which preceded Christian faith. The Gospel of Matthew and the Letter of James are also thought to have been addressed more directly to those who clung to Jewish ways. Some have suggested that 1 Peter is an adaptation of such a direct message transposed for Gentile Christians.
As the Christian community grew, including those whose roots were deep in Jewish tradition and those who lives had been lived and their thoughts fashioned by the culture of the Greek and Roman worlds, conflict inevitably developed between these two groups. Jesus had been Jewish: He often criticized Jewish religious practices, but also emphasized many strands of Jewish responses to God as appropriate and essential.
The Letter to the Hebrews is cast in a form which would be familiar and comfortable to many Jewish believers. George Buchanan, a New Testament professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, has written a commentary for The Anchor Bible Series which views The Letter to the Hebrews as a midrash on Psalms 110. A midrash was a contemporary method of biblical interpretation which recounted the truth of the Scripture and interpreted it to the shape of the circumstances in which the hearers lived.
Hebrews 10:11-18 is the concluding section of a midrashic argument that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the practices of Jewish worship. The argument is simple. Jesus is much superior to any religious response to God. His body is a temple that is superior to the tent of meeting or to the temple itself. His priesthood is in the likeness of Melchizedek, one who was selected as a priest in the Old Testament over the Levites because of his superiority. Christ is the gate to entry into the New Covenant, one far superior to the Old Covenant.
The final argument is the superiority of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ over that made by the priests. The most telling argument is that the priests of old made sacrifices daily. It was necessary to continue the sacrifices because they did not fully eradicate the sins of the people of God. Now Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice one time, and has completed the reconciliation of man and God. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, RSV).
But what is the outcome of this argument. It is certainly not some disdain of the Jewish past. The 11th chapter of Hebrews recounts the faith of the Hebrew forebears. The outcome of this final argument is not to discard every vestige of the past. The goal of this final argument is the commitment of all disciples to a life of effective faith and assured living.
When I was a child, my bicycle was a single speed one. It was the best that I could afford, and was just what I could use to transport me to my destinations. My children were the owners of ten-speed bicycles. Of course, their bicycles were far superior to the one I had ridden as a young man. Yet we did not rewrite my personal history and say that my one-speed bicycle was a useless and ineffective mode of transportation. Our family rejoiced that something new was better. And our understanding of the value of our new method of cycling caused us to rejoice and to respect our modern ten-speed versions.
The superiority of Christ as a vehicle to bring us to God should not cause us to reject Jewish traditions, but to move with joy to the new life He provides. (HCP)
November 24, 1991
An Open Book
The Book of Revelation is a strange book. J. B. Phillips once stated that a study of this last book of the New Testament is the “opportunity for the diversion of cranks and fanatics.” Many discuss the Book of Revelation, yet it remains a closed book to many contemporary persons. The Book of Revelation is intended to be an open book, understood by all the followers of Christ, and received as a message of hope for all the ages.
It is difficult to understand and remains a closed a book for many because of the symbolic and figurative language of the visions. It confounds many because of its emphasis on “the last things.” All such materials in the Scriptures focus on persecution, on the evil that seems so powerful, on the suffering of God’s people, on the testing of the saints, on the reality of the uncovering of evil, and on the dawning of the ends of the ages. Yet, the purpose is to reveal why God allows the righteous and the faithful to suffer.
The Book of Revelation is just such a book. It is meant to be an open and opened book, however. It was written to be understood and to bring clarity of understanding to its readers. Revelation 1:3 says “… blessed are those who hear …” It was not written to confuse or confound. There seem to be five central themes in the book.
First, the theme of “the absolute power of God and God’s purpose to destroy all evil.”
Second, the theme of “the judgment of God on evil and idolatry.”
Third, the theme of “the need for patient endurance.”
Fourth, the theme of “the reality of earthly life apart from battles and tribulations and the spiritual security of the faithful.”
Fifth, the theme of “the truth that the worship and adoration of God is the pattern for the recognition of God on the earth as well as in heaven.”
This selection from Revelation 1:4b-8 begins the account of the visions of John on the Island of Patmos. The introductory images are of the love, grace and peace of God Himself. That grace and peace comes from the eternal being of God. God is now, has been in the past, and will be in the future.
The image of Revelation includes heavenly figures comparable to earthly realities. The “seven spirits who are before his throne” refer to the heavenly counterparts of the seven churches of Asia. Those heavenly counterparts are the perfect reality of which the earthly is only an imperfect reflection. Yet the heavenly reality seeks the perfecting of the earthly.
God in Jesus Christ is described as “the one who loves us.” The images of the apocalyptic messages are not those of simple spite and destruction. The tribulations of life must be viewed through the lens of divine love. God loves. God redeems and sets free.
The God of the Book of Revelation is more than a distant and absentee authority. “He is coming with the clouds” to be seen and recognized by faithful and unfaithful. The human response to this divine incursion into a wicked world will be anguish and sorrow. John’s word is “Even so. Amen.” Or, paraphrased, “We may see sorrows in our future, but beyond the shadows there is the reality of God Himself. If it must be that way, let it be that way!”
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” is the word of God. He who has created will consummate. The God who began the journey of people upon the earth will be the one who re-creates life on earth and shapes it into the form of the divine will. If God is active, is it any wonder that there is more praise than fear in this message? (HCP)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: C. Thomas Hilton, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Pompano Beach, FL; Derl G. Keefer, Pastor, Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI; John A. Huffman, Jr., Pastor, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA; and Harold C. Perdue, Development Officer, Texas Methodist Foundation, Round Rock, TX.
October 6, 1991