October 6, 1991
Broken Marriage
(Mark 10:1-12)
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?
(Mark 10:17-30)
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
(Part I)
(Hebrews 4:14-16)
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
(Part II)
(Hebrews 5:1-6)
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
(Deuteronomy 6:1-9)
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
(Mark 12:38-44)
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
(Hebrews 10:11-18)
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
(Revelation 1:4b-8)
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.

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August 4, 1991
Who Can Figure?
(2 Samuel 12:15b-24)
Roman Catholic piety draws a sharp distinction between the forms of our contrition, the motives of our repentance. “Imperfect contrition” is self-centered. It’s being sorry for your own sake, sorry that you got caught, or that it cost you dear to do the wrong. Repentance in this case is also imperfect in that it is something of a strategy — like an act of appeasement to get yourself off the hook, perhaps, or motivated by guilt.
“Perfect contrition,” on the other hand, is sorrow of a different sort. It’s being sorry, not that you got caught or hurt, but that another, or Another, was hurt or wronged. Repentance in this case is not strategic, but salvific. This kind of contrition is life-changing, as shame can sometimes be.
I
It’s hard to figure which contrition is at work in our lesson for the day. It may always be hard –decipher Judas’ grief if you can. This famous partial-episode in the life of David is every bit as confusing.
The pericope omits the famous “Thou art the man!” of Nathan, the parable wherein he points the finger at David’s sin and hypocrisy. It is that prophetic parable, of course — that prophetic finger-pointing — which provides the immediate context for David’s contrition. We all know the story.
And still you wonder. Is David grieving for himself? For Uriah or his wife, Bathsheba? Is David grieving for the child that is sick unto death? Is he praying and fasting for the lot of them? Is his contrition perfect, now that he knows the truth of his sin, or is it a case of imperfect contrition, strategic repentance? Listen!
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me, and the child may live’.”
Nathan’s preaching notwithstanding, this sounds rather more self-centered than selfless, or at the very least not uncomplicated. On the scale of these ears, David’s contrition tips a bit more toward the imperfect.
II
But who really knows, about David or any of the rest of us? Who can figure? When we are contrite, when we are repentant, who knows the truth at the heart of it but God alone? Perhaps we don’t even know (cf. Romans 8:26). Perhaps all our prayers — whether of confession, or sorrow over our sins, or contrition — maybe all of it is a tangle, a snarl, a thick braid woven with strands of both self-centeredness and selflessness.
Maybe all of our prayers are knotted so — so knotted that, as Frederick Buechner says, only God is able to comb them out. That seems the sentiment of Paul, as well (Romans 8:27).
III
Suffice it to say that even when we are a tangle of emotions and wills, strategies and humility, God remains the same. God forgives the tangle, remembering that we are dust. The constancy and forgiveness of God is evidenced in that God’s purpose is always to bring redemption to His people, even to those who least deserve it. Nowhere is that more powerfully demonstrated than in this episode of David’s life.
And lest the shallow moralizers, the easy-to-preach “reap what you sow” crowd — lest they have too much their way with this story of the death of the son of David and Bathsheba’s adultery, note well: their second son was Solomon.
God not only forgave David and Bathsheba their sin; God went so far as to make it a part of the holy history of His chosen people. A pretty scandalous grace from this God of ours, wouldn’t you say?
Who can figure? (TRS)
August 11, 1991
Moods of the Gospel?
(Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
Herod the Great ascended the throne in this wise: After being proclaimed “king” by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C., Herod was supplied with an army and told to sail home, to make good his claim, to take the kingdom that was already “his” by decree. The political indicative gave rise to a military imperative. That imperative framed the way he would and should rule. Such were the “moods” of Herod’s reign, the nature of his monarchy.
I
Something like that is at work in Paul’s understanding of Christian life. We might even call it the “moods of the gospel,” as the indicative of Christian salvation gives rise to the imperative of Christian ethics; as the imperative of living for Christ frames the subjunctives of such a life.
It is characteristic of Paul to ground his exhortations to believers in the indicatives of salvation. “You were marked with a seal for the day of redemption,” is the indicative here, and very similar it is to the baptismal affirmation of Colossians 3:1: “Since you have been raised with Christ … you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” These indicatives proclaim the preemptive grace of God, the work of God on our behalf, the free gift offered without price. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves….” That is another indicative, wherein even our faith is a matter of God’s initiative.
II
The indicative of salvation gives rise to the imperative of Christian ethics. “Since you have been sealed,” “since you have been raised with Christ,” since you have been saved, live that way!
Be angry, but do not sin … and do not make room for the devil … Let not evil talk come out of your mouths … Do not grieve the Holy Spirit … Put away all bitterness and wrath and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving …
And why? Why do the imperative? Because of the indicative. Because we are “members of one another,” because we “were marked with a seal,” because God in Christ has forgiven you.”
For Paul, over and over again, the fact of salvation occasion the act of faithful ethics. The fact of our new life in Christ demands a new way of living.
III
When it comes to the specifics of the imperative, Paul often changes moods, moves to the subjunctive — “Let us speak the truth to our neighbors,” for example. Being a people free from the law, as we are, the subjunctive comes in handy as a way of describing without prescribing. Paul’s subjunctives are useful ways of suggesting, rather than exhausting, appropriate expressions of the ethical imperative as they flow from the graceful indicative of God’s salvation.
Jurgen Moltmann says something to the effect that Christian are those who are already living a life that is yet to come. It’s like being a king already, but having to take the kingdom. It’s like already being saved, but needing to demonstrate that salvation. It’s hearing what should be done, and doing more besides. Such are the moods of the gospel. (TRS)
August 18, 1991
Hearing, They Do Not Hear
(John 6:51-58)
John, chapter 6, is a rather complex passage of scripture which includes two demonstrations of Jesus’ power — the feeding of the 20,000 (5-14), and Jesus walking on wind-blown water (16-21). Sandwiched between the bread and the breeze is the attempt to make Jesus king (15).
It seems clear that the attempted coup is a cumulative result of the miracles Jesus has done and the people’s response to them, that many of the people who are following Him do so in order to benefit from His power (26). They are users, these who follow for their stomach’s sake; users like those who came to Him only for the healings. They want to make Him king because they long “for this (kind) of bread always” (34), long to be taken care of, long for this kind of beneficence.
Jesus, however, refuses the crown they offer Him just as He refused that other crown He was offered, by Satan in the wilderness. Neither does He continue with signs on demand. Rather, He spends the last portion of the chapter trying to explain to those who are following Him the real meaning of the signs, the truth of His power, the essence of His ministry.
His explanation, His sermon, is so metaphorical that the crowds cannot understand it — neither the “users,” nor yet the “Jews,” that is, the religious leaders. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven,” Jesus says in verse 51, offering His flesh, His life, as a feast greater than the miracle in verses 5-14. But hearing, the leaders do not hear.
They understood His words but not His meaning. That seems the case almost everywhere in the gospel of John. Jesus speaks, but few comprehend. And it’s ironic, really, to note how Jesus had such power that the wind and seas obeyed Him, that He could multiply loaves and walk on water — but He could not make the people understand.
I
I have become quite a fan of “Calvin and Hobbes,” that daily comic strip by Bill Watterson which features six-year-old Calvin, precocious and hyper-active and more of a theologian than he knows, and his constant companion, the philosopher-Tiger Hobbes. One of the strips goes something like this: Calvin comes into the kitchen, where his mother is reading a paper and drinking some coffee, hoping to nab a snack for himself and Hobbes.
“I’m hungry, Mom,” he says, and heads to the cookie jar. Without looking up, his mother says, “You can have an apple or an orange.” “But Mom, I want a snack,” he says, his arm already half-way into the jar. She replies, “I said, you can have an apple or an orange.” Disgusted and empty-handed on his way out of the kitchen, Calvin observes, “We are both talking English, but we’re not speaking the same language.”How often it is in John that Jesus and the Jews are both talking Greek, or Hebrew, even, but they are not speaking the same language.
There is the famous Nicodemus passage when Jesus tells him, “You must be born from above,” and what Nicodemus hears is “a second time.” Nicodemus heard without hearing. Likewise in Chapter 4, the woman at the well understands Jesus’ reference to “living water” as meaning “running water.” Throughout the gospel, Jesus speaks put is misunderstood, whether because Jesus’ words are loaded with c ouble meaning, or because the metaphor is deeper than its words.1 They are all using the same words, but they are not speaking the same language.
II
Such may be the case when we hear the teaching of Jesus, and far more often than we would like to admit. That hearing, we do not hear. Perhaps we, too, are users, looking for the quick fix without being willing to understand the nature of our salvation. Maybe we come to be filled but demur the lasting feast, feasting on Christ Himself.
Yet if we feed on Him, both eucharistically, as is the sense of the passage, and spiritually, we will never be hungry again.
Are we speaking the same language? (TRS)
1. Paul D. Duke, Irony in the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: John Knox Press), 1985. See especially pages 143-5.
August 25, 1991
Bearing Reality
(John 6:33-69)
T. S. Eliot once remarked that “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” It is a melancholy thought in any event, but particularly so when read in the context of a “final sermon,” this one by the late John A. T. Robinson, who was dean of Trinity College at Cambridge. The title of the sermon is “Learning From Cancer,”1 and what Robinson tried to do before he died was really to learn from his illness.
He had preached a sermon two years before at the funeral of a sixteen-year-old girl, also a cancer victim, and he had
said stumblingly that God was to be found in the cancer as much as in the sunset. That I firmly believed, but it was an intellectual statement. Now I have had to ask if I can say it of myself, which is a much greater test.
The reality which was hard to bear, of course — at least in his particular case — was the cancer. Hard as it was, however — and while many would prefer not to know it if they had it — Robinson proclaims that “Christians above all are those who should be able to bear reality and show others how to bear it. Or what are we to say about the cross, the central reality of our faith?”
I
It is a powerful statement, to be sure, and I think of it here, looking at this text from John where we see the “drawing back” of “many of His disciples.” They left Jesus on account of His “hard sayings.”
It’s quite ironic that there were disciples who followed Jesus, not for His teaching, as you would expect a disciple to do, but so as to benefit from His power. Healings, meals — that’s why they came and stayed.
When Jesus began teaching, however, trying to explain to those around Him the source of the signs, the meaning of His power, then they left. They couldn’t bear very much of the reality of Jesus’ teaching, couldn’t give Him their hearts and minds as well as their stomachs.
II
John A. T. Robinson says that one of the best things about the reality of cancer is its ability to “sift” life. “Preparing for eternity means learning to live,” he says, not “just concentrating on keeping alive.”This learning to live — embracing life’s quality over its quantity — involved a natural sifting out of excess duties and appointments. He went through his calendar, canceling this lecture, that appearance.
The positive sifting was found in the ways “relationships, both within the family and outside, [were] deepened and opened up … It has been a time of giving and receiving grace upon grace.”2
One can see the “sifting” going on in this passage, as Jesus’ relationships to the crowds are “canceled,” while at the same time His relationship with the twelve is deepened. It is a tragic moment, to be sure, the near abandonment of Jesus by many of His “disciples.” And yet, the reality the crowds could not bear, the hard sayings, the hard truth of who Jesus is as it is revealed not only in the signs but as it will be revealed in His destiny — that same truth provided a deeper bond between Jesus and his closest friends.
“You’re not going too, are you?” Jesus asks them after the others have left the dinner party. It may be Simon Peter’s best moment in all the gospels when he says, “We’re sticking close to you, Lord, because you have the words of life.” Peter’s discipleship was never more exemplary.
III
Christians must not only bear reality, Robinson says, they must also show others how to bear it. And, for him, “the appearance of a cancer or anything else is a great opportunity … for God is in the cancer as in everything else. If he is not, then He is not the God of the Psalmist who said, ‘If I go down to hell, thou art there also,’ let alone of the Christian who knows God most deeply in the cross.”3
The sifting we see in this gospel text, which anticipates the sifting we will see later in Jerusalem — the sifting we witness during the illness of Robinson and others like him — all of it is evidence of the occasion for deepening faith, faith that will repel the shallow interests of some, but will draw others more nearly to Jesus and His words of life. Words of life — words that help us bear especially the tragic realities of our days. (TRS)
1. John A. T. Robinson, Where Three Ways Meet (Nashville: Abingdon), 1987, p. 189.
2. Ibid., p. 191.
3. Ibid.
September 1, 1991
Soldiers of the Cross
(Ephesians 6:10-20)
Paul was accustomed to being chained to a man in uniform and thus drew upon this experience as he wrote the Ephesians. He realized that the Christian not only fights on the surface level of life but also on the deeper, spiritual realm.
Christ asks us to put on His uniform to go out for battle. Paul specifically tells us the items to wear.
I. The Uniform Includes the Belt of Truth (v. 14)
It was the belt which encompassed the soldier’s tunic, on which his sword hung and which gave him freedom of movement. While others grope and guess about life, the Christian moves about freely and quickly because he seeks the truth, desires the truth, and discovers the truth.
There are forces in our world that would have us believe something less than truth about God, humanity and life. If we want to resist the temptation of half-truth then we must gird our minds with the whole truth as God revealed it through Jesus Christ. Jesus is truth.
II. The Uniform Includes the Breastplate of Righteousness (v. 14)
Paul refers to righteousness as right character and practice. That simply means integrity. Someone said that we catch the meaning of integrity as we relate it to the word integrate, which means to bring together, or fuse, or unite in one coherent whole. That means that one is the same person in every situation — in the home, the office, the council chamber, church service, and the vacation. We are people whose character rings true and whose nature is undivided.
III. The Uniform Includes a Strong Pair of Shoes (v. 15)
Soldiers, whether ancient or modern, are alike — both need shoes to keep them balanced and standing straight. Forces all around us wait in the lurches to push the Christian over, to catch us off balance and knock us out of action for life.
IV. A Uniform Includes the Shield of Protection (v. 16)
Fiery darts were one of the most dangerous weapons used against the soldier fighter. It was a dart dipped in pitch, set on fire and then launched at the warrior. He needed a shield to protect himself from the onslaught, not a small parade-like shield, but a great oblong shield that gave real protection. This style of shield was made of two sections of wood glued together. When the dart hit the shield, the dart sank into the wood, and the flame died.
Faith is our great shield. Paul was saying take up your shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Some of today’s arrows include pessimism, failure, sorrow, illness, bereavement, despair, hopelessness, or complaining.
V. The Uniform Includes the Helmet of Salvation (v. 17)
A minister in a rural community answered the question: “Are you saved?” with the reply, “Yes, and I can name the day and hour of my salvation. The day was Good Friday, and the hour three o’clock in the afternoon.” That’s the foundation of Christian faith.
God’s great act of salvation is in the cross of Jesus. Take that cross as the starting point of the Christian life, and it will be an unfailing resource that protects you like a helmet against the weapons of visible and invisible enemies.
VI. The Uniform Includes the Sword of the Spirit (v. 17)
Our offensive weapon is the sword of the spirit. God would never commit a Christian to battle without the sword — and scripture is that sharp sword. A sword will never do a soldier any good until he learns how to use it.
As Christian soldiers, we must be committed to studying, memorizing, learning, absorbing the word of God so that we sincerely know how to use the sword at the proper time and place.
Put on the uniform, soldier of God. Wear it for protection, wear it proudly! (DGK)
September 8, 1991
Positive Healing
(Mark 7:31-37)
A real friend is someone who helps us to think great thoughts, do our best deeds, and to be all that we can be in life. While in the district of the Decapolis, Jesus encounters a man who had friends that cared enough to bring him to Christ. These men wanted the best for their friend, and Jesus responds by performing a miracle that demonstrated His concern for people.
Mark relates that the man could not hear, and used only guttural grunts for words because his tongue was bound. I know folks who are heard of hearing, and the more one tries to communicate by shouting at them the more frustrated they become because they cannot hear.
Jesus understands this man’s frustration, and takes him to the side so as not to embarrass him. The deaf man knew nothing of the language of sound, so Jesus decided to address him in the language of signs. Christ touched the man in the places he would be healed.
The Master Physician put His fingers into the ears to show that the obstructions would be taken away and sound might enter. Then the Lord touched the tongue with moisture from His own mouth to lubricate the stiffened starched tongue, to loosen whatever impediment confined it, and restore its agility of motion. Christ gave these signs to help the man understand that He was the source from which the healing power flowed!
In an act of praise and joy Jesus lifts His head and eyes toward heaven, indicating to the man that the Father cared about his situation.
Instantly upon Christ’s command the ears opened and the tongue loosened. Put yourself in that setting: how would you have reacted if you were the friend or if you were the man? Three valuable lessons emerge from this incident.
I. The man had a personal encounter with Jesus (v. 32)
Jesus did not consider this man just another statistic; He considered him an individual! What a comfort to us. Though billions of people have lived and still live, God looks at each one individually. He knows us inside and out.
The playwright George Bernard Shaw was asked: if he were Noah and there was a flood, and he could pick anyone to live with him on the ark, who would he choose? His cryptic answer was, “I’d let them all drown!”
Isn’t it good news that God doesn’t feel that way? He actively seeks us — individually.
II. The man had friends to intercede (v. 32-35)
Faith began in the friends of the handicapped man. They were endowed with the ministry of intercession, the true ministry of concern.
A pilot during World War II described the experience of bringing back his plane to his home base in England after a mission over Germany. He said that as they flew back, the English landscape was dotted with an incredible number of churches. Many of the buildings had tall, stately spires that afforded them excellent landmarks. When the weather was bad, they used these churches to guide them home. He said that they had become so familiar with them that when the plane came down through an overcast sky, they looked at the churches and knew if they were on or off course.
The spiritual weather in this morally-befogged world is horrible. The churches of Jesus Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are the signposts of the eternal God pointing the way to our eternal home!
III. The man had healing faith in Jesus (v. 32-35)
Faith is a positive response to God. What God desires is that we put our faith into action.
Dwight L. Moody told of how he came upon a group of wealthy Christians praying for the removal of a $500 debt on their church building. Moody said, “Gentlemen, I don’t think if I were you I would trouble the Lord in this matter.” It was time to do something with their faith.
Do you feel it’s easier to pray about something than to put your action into it? Some pray about their marriage, but never actively do anything to improve it. Some pray about their nasty or sinful habits, but never attempt to stop. Others have prayed to be saved, but never acted upon their prayer. Faith reaches out to God with hands and feet.
Today, will you allow God’s positive healing touch to be laid upon your life and heart? Will you respond to Him? It is up to you — God is ready! (DGK)
September 15, 1991
Costly Discipleship
(Mark 8:27-38)
Jesus declares the invariable law of Christian life to the crowds that constantly dogged His travel: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34, NIV).
The death of Christ means nothing except to those who are willing to die to sin and self, and to follow Him as His servants. The bearing of the cross does not mean to absorb some little or great initiation, burden, or distress; rather, it is to go to the place of crucifixion and die. Following Christ involves denial and the death of self — that desire or bent to sin. Our true desire is to follow Jesus.
I. Following Jesus means denial of self
The oldest Christian church in the world is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Built in the fourth century, it was partially reconstructed in the sixth century and has been standing ever since. In a crypt below is the traditional manger where Jesus was said to have been born.
The main entrance to this massive stone church is a small doorway, perhaps four feet high by two or three feet wide. It once was high and wide, but during the middle ages the Moslem Turks used to ride in on horseback and massacre the Christian worshippers. Today, one must get down on his or her knees and crawl in.
They call this the Door of Humiliation. It is a parable of the entrance to the Christian life. Most of us entered on our knees, asking God’s forgiveness for all our past. We have to deny ourselves if we would be Christ’s disciples. We must reject our way, to accept His way.
II. Following Jesus means death to self (v. 34)
Ralph Earle points out that the Greek says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must also take up his cross.” This means far more than bearing the cross of sickness or affliction. It expresses a voluntary act of taking up the cross.
The cross is the symbol of death, of crucifixion. Self-crucifixion with Christ is the price of spiritual power and freedom (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6). There can be no resurrection into the life of full victory in Christ until there has been first a crucifixion with Him. This is what it means to take up one’s cross. It is more than sympathizing with the crucifixion idea; it is being there.
III. To follow Jesus means determination
The verbs “deny” and “take up” are both in the tense of momentary action. These two words suggest the crisis of a crucial conversion and complete consecration resulting in holiness of life as described in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
The word “follow” is in the present tense of continuous action. After the crisis there must be a long life of following Jesus step by step, involving a constant determination to do His will regardless of what comes.
IV. To follow Jesus is to obey
In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us that God’s call needs a response from us, and that response is “single-minded obedience.” Nothing or no one should stand in our way.
Christian discipleship does not always demand exactly the same kind of sacrifice from each person, but it does demand sacrifice. The sacrifice comes in all forms, human and material. Peter and Andrew left their nets and fishing business in the hands of their partners. James and John left their fishing nets too, but with an added dimension — they also left their father. They became detached from him.
Some of us are called to missionary service, some are called to teach classes in Sunday School, others to preach, others to other tasks, but all to obedience.
Someone said that Christianity is more than obstetrics; it is pediatrics, public health, internal medicine, diagnostic care, surgery, and geriatrics. Years after Jesus left to go to heaven to be with the Father, His followers were still known as disciples. One never outgrows the need to listen, learn, follow and lead.
Have you counted the cost of discipleship? (DGK)
September 22, 1991
Recipe for Greatness
(Mark 9:30-37)
After a hard days work at the office I enjoy coming home and preparing the evening meal — it’s my relaxation. My wife has left out the meal plan and I go to the recipe box and pull out recipe(s). I get out the pots and pans, the ingredients, and then proceed to bake, fry, broil or boil
If I follow the recipe it turns out great! Once in awhile I misread the recipe, or something has been left off the handwritten card, and it’s not so great!
Let’s look at our text for a recipe for true greatness!
I. The recipe for greatness calls for ministry (v. 35)
As Jesus and His disciples walked to Capernaum, a heated discussion boiled in the back of the crowd. These men had great difficulty understanding the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. Their toughts were on a powerful theocracy, with Israel victorious over all the nations and Christ as the Messianic earthly king. The question troubling the disciples was on which side of Jesus would they sit? Would it be on His right side of power, or His left side of recognition?
Once they arrived at their destination Jesus asked what their hushed conversation had entailed. They hung their heads in the shame of being caught.
Illustrating the point, Jesus takes a young child and points to the recipe of true greatness that calls for ministry. A synonym for ministry is service.
What motivates our service? Wendell Wilkie once asked President Franklin Roosevelt why the President kept the “frail, sickly man” Harry Hopkins always at his elbow. President Roosevelt replied to Wilkie, that through his office door flowed an incessant stream of people who almost invariably wanted something. “Harry Hopkins,” Roosevelt said, “wants only to serve me. That’s why he is so near me!” In light of that thought we ought to reflect on what motivates us to serve!
We must realize that service does cost. Howard Hamlin, former missionary and medical doctor, says that during his first year in college a missionary came to campus to speak to the students in the Foreign Missions Fellowship. He shared that on the streets of his mission land there was never a day that passed that he was not stoned. He explained that upon the religious holidays, peddlers would go about the streets selling crucifixes and miniature crosses; and as they traveled the streets would cry out: “Cheap cross! Cheap cross! Who’ll buy a cheap cross?”
With a searching voice of conviction that missionary queried his audience, “Is your cross a cheap cross? Is the cross we bear for the sake of our Lord a cheap cross?” Paul said, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Do we bear any marks for Jesus?
II. The recipe for greatness calls for caring (v. 36-37)
The hospital in our small community has signs up all around town that say, “we care.” Christians by their demeanor wear “we care” signs. People will equate caring by our involvement.
Today we need to care about a burned out family, a hapless homeless person, a small child, a wayward teenager, a hurting invalid … you fill in the omission. Who needs you today? Ask yourself: “Do I care enough to get involved in somebody’s life?”
Jim Schibsted tells that while walking in a park with his wife, Penny, a ten-year-old boy came running up to him and asked, “Dad, where’s Amy?” The boy realized he had made a mistake and apologized to Schibsted, who assured him everything was okay and that everybody makes mistakes.
As the boy walked away it was obvious by his features that the child had Down’s syndrome. After walking about thirty feet the lad turned and retraced his steps towards the Schibsteds. He said his name was Billy and that they had been nice to him. He wondered if it would be alright to give them a hug. After he did, he told them that they were his friends and he would be praying for them.
Jim related that sometimes God uses the Billy’s of the world to break down walls of sophistication — to demonstrate what care and kindness is all about. We must never underestimate the impact that a hug, smile, or encouraging word may have on a person’s life.
III. The recipe for greatness is knowing inclusive love (v. 35-37)
The world Jesus lived in shunned, spurned and sinned against Him; yet He loved them with all His heart. That’s inclusive love. He includes us in that love! As He does for us we must do for others.
Augustine said that love has hands to help others and feet that hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. Love has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. Have you found the all-inclusive love of God? Have you shown it to someone today?
The ingredients of greatness are ready to be mixed in your life; they are waiting for you to taste. (DGK)
September 29, 1991
Lessons from the Master
(Mark 9:38-50)
The Master constantly was in the process of teaching His disciples valuable lessons. His desire was that they become the best leaders possible.
David McKenna, in The Communicator’s Commentary, suggested that Mark 9:14-50 was a great teaching time for Jesus to His disciples as Christ taught them about prayer (9:14-29), about passion (9:30-32), about pride (9:33-37), and about prejudice (9:38-50). All of us need to learn lessons from the Master.
Lesson I — Outlawing intolerance (v. 38-41)
The word tolerance means freedom from bigotry or prejudice or the idea of permissible allowance for differences. Chuck Swindoll said recently on his radio broadcast that “Prejudice is inconsistent with God’s purpose.” He’s absolutely correct.
Can you imagine God saying to someone that because of their color they would be excluded from heaven, or that their sex eliminated them from His love, or their weight made it impossible for useability for Kingdom business? If prejudice is inconsistent with God’s purpose, it certainly has no room in God’s church!
An evangelist recently shared that when he pastored in Chicago, a young lady from the wrong side of the tracks visited the church one Sunday morning. One of the ladies came up to her and told her that their church didn’t want or need “her kind.” The fifteen-year-old girl never returned. How tragic! How many people have been lost to the church and the Kingdom because of an attitude “Christians” hold?
The apostles in our text wanted to have an exclusive club, but Jesus would not allow that attitude to prevail. “For whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40, NIV) is as relevant today as then.
Lesson 2 — Outlawing sin (v. 42-48)
The severity of this portion of scripture does not have to do with the literalness of the action of mutilation of the body. It does demonstrate the severity of eliminating sin from our lives.
Vance Havner once wrote that he had heard Lucille Ball say, “I’m shocked that I’m not shocked anymore.” The church and the Christian can say the same. Little by little, sins appear to be less sinful. Someone said that our Christian society is being homogenized, absorbed, assimilated into this age. We accept its music, its literature, its art, its language, without inner or outer protest although we are commanded to hate and abhor evil, to abstain from the very appearance of evil. “People used to blush when they were ashamed, now they are ashamed if they blush,” said Havner.
Jesus came to outlaw sin from our hearts through his blood. Christ came to save sinners from their sins, ab John 3:16-17 boldly states.
Lesson 3 — Outlawing blandness (v. 49-50)
Most commentators agree that these verses are difficult to interpret; however, examining the uses of salt helps shed some light on the principle that Jesus relates.
Salt is used as a purification process. David McKenna states that the seasoning of the sacrifice became a prediction of His suffering which His disciples would come to share.
Suffering pulls people together. I have found in my own personal ministry that I’m closest to those with whom I’ve shared painful circumstances. We are working against overwhelming odds of worldliness, Satanic forces, carnality, hatred; we do not have time to bicker and fight with one another. God’s Kingdom is too important. Maybe we need to suffer together more.
Salt is used as a flavoring process. Blandness disappears when we add salt. Christians are counterbalances to despair, discouragement, purposelessness, lifelessness, liberalism, lostness. We are everything that brings taste to life! Is that true in your life?
Salt is used as a preservative. Salt preserves from spoiling. The world would have been utterly unbearable and unendurable centuries ago had it not been for the “salt factor” of the saints!
Salt is used as an irritant. When salt is used it initiates a sore spot. Honest Christian living will rub this sinful world the wrong way, and Jesus gives us permission to do that. When the world’s standards are not God’s standards, the Christian reminds the world that we are still under God’s laws. Is it any wonder that the Christian’s stand on issues like abortion, gambling, euthanasia, pornography, etc., rubs the world the wrong way? We are salt!
Lessons can be painful, embarrassing and humiliating, but the real issue is what we learn from them. (DGK)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: Thomas R. Steagald, Pastor, Highlands United Methodist Church, Highlands, NC; and Derl G. Keefer, Pastor, Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI.

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