Sunday Sermon Notes: September 19, 2021

Colossians 3:18-4:1

In this section, Paul gives insight to how Christians should behave in the major personal relationships of daily life.  In 3:18-19, he speaks of husbands and wives, in 3:20-21 he speaks of parents and children, and from 3:22-4:1, masters and slaves, or today we would say employers and employees.  If you think about it, we spend most of our waking lives in one of these relationships, at least most of us do.

We can easily sum up all of these relationships by saying that in each, we are to put others ahead of ourselves. This is certainly true in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives, even though he uses language in verse 18 that isn’t modern.  That wives should put their husbands first may not sound contemporary, but husbands are also to put their wives first; this might be a little clearer in the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:22-33.

The same thing is true of the relationship between parents and children.  Both are to put the other first, giving honor where honor is due and giving love and nurture where they are due.  In the case of master and slave, or employer and employees, we have again the idea that both are to consider the other, with workers doing their very best always “as working for the Lord” and the boss is told to always do what is fair and right “because you know that you have a Master in heaven.”

I think that what is really important in this passage is the principle of putting others first.  This principle is at the very heart of “love your neighbor as yourself.”  All too often, people approach the concept of love looking at what they will get out of it, but this is surely not what Jesus had in mind when He taught us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  We love and serve others because we love Jesus Christ, not because we want something. In short, we serve others because we have been called to serve, and in doing so we are serving our God, because we love Him.

Yes, there are always some who will want to take advantage, but we know that we are serving the Lord, and that “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (v. 25).

One final thought, for some this is a hard concept to embrace, but it lies at the heart of Christian discipleship.  It is all so normal to expect that we receive something from our efforts, be it money or appreciation or loyalty, and people often disappoint us.  The key is that we are not merely serving the other person, we are serving our Lord, and He never disappoints.  Seek His presence, seek His love, focus your thought process on your relationship with Him… and follow where He leads.  He will lead you to serve where you should serve, and to avoid what should be avoided.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:2-6

This is a really neat little passage; there’s so much to see.  As Paul closes out his letter, he reminds the people to be devoted to prayer, and while this may seem routine, after all, Apostles talk about prayer a lot, Paul here seems to bring it to life.  I’m always struck by the idea of prayer being “watchful and thankful.”  Maybe thankful, as in giving thanks isn’t so surprising, but watchful?  How often do you hear someone say that we should be watchful in our prayers?

Watchful for what?  Things you want God to give you, like little favors?  “Oh yes, and Father please send me that new Lexus…” something like that?  Somehow, I doubt it. Maybe watchful for someone who needs intercession, maybe an opening for the Gospel, maybe something that is within God’s priority system− yes that seems more like the kind of “watchful” that Paul has in mind.  He continues by asking for the people to pray for him, but again, not in the way we might expect.  Notice, that even though he is in prison, he didn’t ask them to pray for his release, he asked them to pray that he might preach the Gospel effectively.

I don’t know about you, but that gets my attention every time!  When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:5 ff. He taught us to pray for God’s priorities. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  Do we remember to do that? Are we watchful for specifics that fit into this category?  Well, I can only speak for myself, but truth be told, I forget or overlook this more often than I’d care to admit. Paul seems to continue in this line of thinking when he advises us to be wise when speaking to “outsiders,” non-Christians.  We are to be ready to make the most of every opportunity, to show them the love of Jesus Christ: Maybe we should pray for those opportunities.  We are to speak to them “with grace, seasoned with salt…” Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor” meaning that we are to deal with them in love; more love than they might deserve.

I have a little secret for you to consider:  Speaking to someone with grace is not telling them that they are wrong, even if they are.  It doesn’t mean calling them names, or being critical of the way they live.  Yes, there is a fair chance that they live as unbelievers, but guess what? They are unbelievers, and that may be just how they are supposed to live.  Our job isn’t to correct the world, it is to save the world for Christ.  This requires grace, not criticism.  Salt is an interesting metaphor; I’ve heard many different explanations for this, so I’ll throw out my thoughts.  When we season food with salt, we add it to bring out the full flavor of the ingredients, and when we speak with grace, seasoned with salt, we are sharing the full love of God who so loved the world that He sent His Son to die to save it.  We need our speech to be so full of His grace, that nobody hears the slightest little bit of condemnation come from our lips.

So, when you put this all together, maybe I should remember to pray that God will bring me opportunities, and give me the words to share, so that some may be saved.  What do you think; do you need to join me in praying this way? If not, I’d love to hear why that is.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 5, 2021

 Colossians 3: 5-14

In the last section, we saw Paul tell us how to live our new lives, by setting our hearts and minds on the things that are above, and not on the things of this world.  In this section, he expands on this theme by listing items which are of the old life, and certain items that are of the new life in Christ.  In verses 5-10a we get a pretty good idea of the kinds of things we are to “put to death” in our lives; these are all from our “old selves” and they include… sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry. He says we must rid ourselves of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, lies and filthy language. I’m quite sure that there is no need for me to elaborate on these things, other than to say that when our attention is drawn to any of them, it’s time to set our minds on higher things.

Verses 10 and 11 move in transition to the next part by pointing out that we are to move away from those old practices into a new way of living where there is no Jew, no Greek, nor circumcised or uncircumcised… and no other social or ethnic distinctions: only Christ. Verse 12 provides a summing up and conclusion in an interesting way:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

I hope that you will take notice of two things.  First, who are “God’s chosen people” in the New Covenant?  They are not old Israel; they are the redeemed in Christ.  Recall that in verse 11 there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, and in verse 12 , “God’s chosen people”.  Next, note the listing of things that are attributes of our new selves.  These are coupled with his admonition in verse 13 to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, and then in verse 14 to put love over all of this.

Again, I doubt that I should need to expand this picture any further, other than to point out that love is over all things in the Christian life.  How we interact with others, is all about love.  How we relate to God, is all about love… and the old way of living is loveless, for it is all about self.

Overriding love amongst Christians is where unity can be found.  We often wonder why it seems that the Church is divided; can you see why after reading this section?  It’s because we are more interested in disputes about doctrine, tradition and being first, than we are on loving our brothers.  May we all come to the day when we can live our lives as new creations, when we finally get that “old self” put into the grave for good.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:15-17

God has called us to peace, in community as the community of believers, and in that community is where peace and love and healing should be found in Christ. So, as we enter His presence today, let His peace rule in your heart… and give thanks.  Next, let’s let His word dwell within us, as we teach, admonish and sing spiritual songs to our Lord.  Note the teaching and admonishing are for us to do with one another… as His Body so that all will benefit by it. This isn’t really for the lost; they need the Gospel of the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Finally, whatever we do this day, let’s do it in the name of Jesus our Lord, filled to the brim with thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all that He has done for us, and in our lives.  What a great recipe for living, what wisdom and simplicity for a life that is not only godly, but that is a testimony to the world of what it is to dwell in his love.

You know what?  Whatever this day may bring, I think it’s going to be a good one!

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 29, 2021

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Colossians 2:16-19

Remember that we left off with God’s triumph over the law, the authorities and powers at the cross, and now we draw some conclusions.  Since we are newly alive in Christ, have died to sin and have our sins forgiven, and since we have the fullness of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are not to allow people to criticize us for what we eat, drink, or observe, as they might have done under the Law.

Pay careful attention to verse 17: These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. All of these festivals, customs and regulations were at best but a shadow of what was to come in Christ, and we often miss that fact.  Many elements found in the Old Testament are like that, but we want to focus on them… and that includes the Temple itself, according to the author of Hebrews.  Jesus is the reality, and all the old forms were a mere shadow of what He would bring us, and He has now brought us the reality.

In verse 19, Paul refers to the kinds of people who are always critical of a person who has found the liberty that is in Christ.  They are puffed up, falsely humble, etc., etc.  At the end of this brief passage comes the part that will really give us insight about this sort of thing.  People who are hanging on to the forms of religion and seeking to impose them on their brother or sister have sadly cut themselves off from the Head of the Body.  

If I might add something here, the same is likely true of those who would have us tied to new “Christianized” forms, rules and observances.

Since we know that Christ is the Head, these poor folks who seek to impose rules are not growing with the Body, being cut off.  Maybe God has put them in our path so that we can help them get back in touch with the Head.

Oh, that would bring us back to the concept of relationship, love, serving and making disciples, wouldn’t it?  

Yes indeed, most lessons come right back to that.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:  “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Colossians 2: 20-23

My Mom had this great story.  It takes place when she was a high school student in a little town in West Texas over 80 years ago.  It seems that the school had a street dance one Friday night, and all of the kids were there.  There was also a Youth Pastor from a nearby church who was seen there.  Well, as she told the story, his attendance at the street dance came to the attention of the church board, and since everyone knows that dancing is a very wicked, sinful activity, the Youth Pastor was fired.  To her last day, my Mom had nothing to do with that denomination.  Her reasoning?  If his job is taking Christ to the youth, shouldn’t he be where the youth are?  I can’t argue with that kind of reasoning, can you?

I recall a conversation with an irate lady who was upset because a couple of members of our church were smokers.  She wanted them straightened out or kicked out because smoking is a sin.  When I asked her how she knew that, she replied that it’s a sin because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  I thought that was interesting and asked her about the context of that verse (1 Cor. 6:19). She had no idea, but everybody knows it means you can’t smoke.  She turned bright red when I pointed out that in context, Paul was talking about sexual immorality in general, and sex with a prostitute in particular.  Sorry, smoking may be crazy, but it isn’t a sin (I’m a non-smoker and always have been: no axe to grind here!).

These are the kinds of things Paul is addressing in this paragraph.  We have all sorts of “rules” that come from culture, from society and from religious traditions that have nothing to do with any Bible teaching.  Now it may be that there are certain things my conscience won’t permit me to do, but that doesn’t make it a “rule” for everyone else. Paul’s logic is simple and clear: We have died to sin, the Law and the ways of this world.  Why do we linger?  Stop it and follow Jesus Christ.

The end of the passage is quite interesting. All of these rules and traditions lack any value in restraining “sensual indulgence.”  Let’s try not to have our minds go straight to the gutter here, for “sensual indulgence” covers a lot more than just sex.  

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

In the previous several verses, Paul has been writing about things such as the fact that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ, that our old life was buried with Christ and we are a new creation.  Then he went on to challenge us to leave the old things behind and live new lives, free from the old silly rules and traditions.  In these verses, Paul moves from the what to the how.

As these things usually are, the answer is simple: Set your hearts and minds on things that are above, not on earthly things. I’ve been told that this is very difficult, and that only a small number of people can really accomplish this ‘looking above’ kind of life… but I totally, completely and utterly reject that notion.

Does that surprise you?  Does it irritate you?

Have you ever noticed that you usually find what you’re looking for?  Well, OK, yes, sometimes you might look for your keys and not find them, but that isn’t really what I mean.  Have you ever gone somewhere looking for trouble?  How about a fight?  Have you ever gone in search for a bad relationship, bad company… or a good relationship or good company?  OK, if that didn’t grab you, let’s try this one:  Have you ever bought a new car, and then noticed that it seems like everyone has the same kind of car?

See?  You really do find what you’re looking for!

To set your heart and mind on the things that are above, you need to start looking for such things.  Now Paul, in the next sections will get into which things are which, so we’ll be talking more about that as we go, but the quick version is that we can seek His presence by just entering it.  We can focus on the things that are above, by thinking about them and looking for them… as opposed to things of the earth.  Look, if all we think about are our bills, then bills and finances will become our lives.  The same is true if we look only for other problem areas of this life. If we think about the things of God, then what will our lives be about?

This passage ends with the reminder that we died with Christ, rose with Christ, and now our lives are hidden with Christ. Now that we have died with Him, to our old way of living, and have arisen with Him as new creations, the focus of our lives, and the very reality of our new lives, are “hidden” with Christ in God. Our new creation status is an entirely new kind of life that isn’t simply physical and biological; it isn’t discerned simply by the physical senses.  It is Spirit and Truth. It is eternal.  It is about much more than bodies, senses and things, it is the life God created humanity to live. As long as we are focused merely on the things of the earth, the world around us and problems and hassles of this world, we are missing out on that which is wonderful in Christ, and… our lives on this earth will be much more difficult as we are pulled in multiple directions at the same time.

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 25, 2021

John 20

Last time, our lesson closed when Pilate finally sent Jesus away to be crucified.  Now we pick up the story after the crucifixion has been completed, on the first day of the new week with Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb very early, while it was still dark and found that the tomb was open and the body of Jesus was gone.  John has already used “darkness” in this Gospel as a metaphor for disbelief several times, and this is no different, for upon discovering the empty tomb neither Mary nor Peter and John believed that it indicated Jesus had risen from the dead, for they had not grasped this concept in advance. As the sun rose and light began to spread across the land, this would change…

The drama begins early in the morning, before sunrise when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty.  She rushes to tell the disciples that the body has been moved or stolen and Peter and John race to the scene where they confirm that the body is gone.  John completes this part of the story by pointing out in v. 9 that none of them understood from Scripture that Jesus would rise from the dead.  I might point out that they also didn’t understand this from the things that Jesus had told them.  It would be beneficial for all of us to understand that we have the same problem today very frequently because we are used to thinking in earthy terms.  Very few Christians today, at least in America, have what could be called a Biblical world view, instead most of us have a cultural or secular world view which inhibits our ability to see things as they really are, and we need to be aware of this to avoid misinterpreting not only Scripture but the world around us. As for Scripture in this regard, take a look at what Peter said in Acts 2:25-32: Obviously, he understood what Scripture taught on this point by the Day of Pentecost.

Mary had found the tomb empty, had run back to tell the disciples, Peter and John had come running and confirmed the tomb was empty… and had in turn gone back to their homes leaving Mary at the scene crying.  Still crying, she looks into the tomb again and this time sees two angels inside; there is nothing in the text to tell us that she understood that they were angels.  They ask her why she is crying, and her reply demonstrates that she has no concept of their double meaning; she is crying because someone has stolen the body.  She did not comprehend the second meaning that there should be no cause for crying any longer: He has risen! She turns and sees Jesus standing there but does not recognize Him.  Her lack of recognition is interesting, for it shows us that there is nothing remarkable in His appearance.  That she doesn’t realize who He is shouldn’t be that shocking, for I cannot recall a time in my own life in which I would ever expect to see someone walking around and talking when I had gone to visit their grave.  She assumes He is the gardener.

Jesus asked her why she was crying and then who she was looking for, a question He had already asked twice on the night He was arrested.  She answers Him by asking about the whereabouts of the body.  Jesus calls her by name; the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads then out” (10:3). Immediately she is “called out” of her unbelief!

Jesus says a curious thing at this point, “do not hold on to me.”  A close look at this reveals that His meaning is something like: Do not try to hold me here on earth for I have to return to my Father (go to prepare a place for you 14:2) go and tell my brothers that I am going to prepare their co-inheritance.  She returns and tells them these things; note that John goes to lengths to make sure we know who was the very first to give testimony about having seen the risen Christ.

The scene shifts from the tomb to a place in town where the disciples, excluding Thomas, are gathered behind closed and locked doors: Suddenly Jesus is in their midst. He simply says “shalom” and lets them see His wounds; they are thrilled!

This is no social call; Jesus is all business, giving them three pieces of vital information.  First, He tells them that He is sending them out just as the Father has sent Him.  They are to carry on His mission of salvation into the world, now that they have seen all that they had seen.  Second, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit.  This appears to be a foreshadowing of the Day of Pentecost.  It appears to be a foreshadowing as there is no apparent reaction to this act yet, but when the Spirit is poured out in Acts 2 the reaction is dramatic. Third, He gives them an awesome charge saying that if they forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven, if not they are not forgiven.  Obviously much has been written and speculated upon with regard to this, but I can’t help thinking about what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 16:18 ff. saying that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I can’t help noting that it was Apostles who wrote what would be required to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus in the New Testament…

20:24-31 is the story of “Doubting Thomas” who had stated that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had arisen from the dead until he put his fingers into the wounds on His body.  Jesus suddenly appears in the room and offers Thomas the chance, Thomas replies with a hugely significant statement of faith: “My Lord and my God.” This is of course the highest statement of faith found in the New Testament, theologically speaking, equating Jesus not only as Lord but also as God.  Jesus quickly bursts his bubble by pointing out that anybody with a brain would understand that with what Thomas has seen, but many more will come to that understanding based only upon the testimony of others. John ends the chapter by telling the reader the purpose for the book:  Many wonderful things were done by Jesus that are not recorded here, but what is recorded is recorded so that the reader might come to the same conclusion based upon John’s eyewitness testimony, that Thomas came to by seeing Jesus after the resurrection.

John 21

Chapter 20 is John’s record of events concerning the risen Christ in Jerusalem; chapter 21 is John’s story from Galilee.  Why the disciples had traveled there isn’t given, but it makes sense that they wouldn’t be staying on in Jerusalem after all of the recent events.  I would imagine that the disciples weren’t entirely sure what to do with themselves after following Jesus for over three years…  The scene opens with a cast of seven disciples near the Sea of Galilee when Peter announces that he’s going fishing.

Note that John refers to the “Sea of Tiberius” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee in those days.  Tiberius is the name of a large town, which in those days was a new Roman town located on the shore of the lake.  Today it is the largest city in the area.  The guys all joined Peter in the boat for a night of casting the fishing net, but their results were lacking entirely, and by early morning there was a man on the shore who noticed their bad luck.  John identifies this man as Jesus, although they could not yet recognize Him from the boat.

From the beach, Jesus calls out to them and recommends that they cast their net on the other side of the boat.  A fishing boat of the time would normally remain close to shore and cast on the shore side to get the best catch of fish, so most likely Jesus was telling them to try the lake side instead, and what a payoff!  They caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul it into the boat.  John realizes that it was Jesus who was on the shore, and Peter grabs his clothes and jumps into the water swimming to shore leaving the others to tow the nets to land. When they arrive, it seems that Jesus had a campfire going and was cooking breakfast. Jesus had a menu of bread and fish, something that we’ve seen Jesus do before, but this time, instead of the disciples rounding up fish and loaves that Jesus multiplied, Jesus has fish and loaves and the catch of the disciples will be the multiplier; Jesus has passed the torch, you might say.

John provides us with some eyewitness details in this portion of the text: there were 156 large fish in the net, Peter drags it ashore and Jesus is not only the cook, but the server.  Interesting, isn’t it?  A guy who was executed, dead and buried is putting on a fish fry!  He is no ghost, for I can’t recall a single time when I’ve ever heard of a ghost eating fish:  Jesus had arisen from the grave bodily.

After their meal, Jesus walks off a distance with Peter and asks him three times if he loves Jesus.  Each time Peter assures Him that he does, but by the third time Peter’s feelings were hurt because Jesus kept asking.  Much has been made of the Greek used here, but it seems to me that Greek nuance isn’t the point that Jesus is making.  Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His arrest, and Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him.  Could it be that that had dawned on Peter?  Could it be that Peter felt terrible guilt over his cowardly denial?  Let’s not forget that this is the first time that they had been off together since Jesus’ death, and Jesus has some business to settle with him.  Peter must learn to care for the other followers of Jesus, His “sheep,” and this means taking the charge seriously and selflessly, a lesson that must not be lost on all leaders of the church today.

In v. 18 Jesus gives Peter some insight into the manner in which he would die as a martyr for the Gospel, as John points out in v. 19, and then says: “Follow me!”  This is the same imperative with which Jesus began His ministry in 1:43 and sets the tone for the conclusion.

At this point, Peter notices John following behind them and says “What about him?” Jesus is not having any of this; it would have been better if Peter had said something more like, “Yes sir!” Jesus lets Peter know that whatever He has in mind for John is none of Peter’s business, for Peter’s call is to follow Jesus.  None of us is in a position to know what adventures we will experience in following Jesus, but we must know that our call is to follow Him, and not to question whether or not someone else might have an easier time of it, and Jesus makes this abundantly clear. Peter’s imperative was to “follow” Jesus, and so is ours.

A Final Thought

When I was a boy, I read a book about the life of Jesus, and it really got my attention. As I thought about it, and as I thought about this Jesus guy, I really had no problem believing that He was the Son of God, and it occurred to me that I should try to be more like Him, but there was one thing about Jesus that kind of bothered me: He cheated!

To my nine-year-old mind, Jesus cheated when He went to the cross because after all, He was God… and He knew how the story was going to end; that’s cheating! It was almost as if it didn’t count if He knew all the things that He clearly knew before He allowed Himself to be taken prisoner. Gee whiz, I would do the same thing if I knew all that stuff.

Yes, to be young again…

When I was a teen, that attitude stuck with me, in fact, I didn’t really see the implication of this until I was in my 30’s; yes Jesus knew how the story ended, and He went to the cross knowing that the story wasn’t nearly over yet. He would suffer greatly for a time, and then…? Victory, honor, glory, reigning…

John says that he wrote the gospel so that many might come to believe in Him, and many have done so, but how deep is our belief? Ah yes, an uncomfortable question, surely, for some of us might believe like I used to, accepting the basic facts, and still holding something back.

My thinking changed one day when reality hit me like a freight train: Yes, Jesus knew how His story would end… and so do I know how my story ends; victory, honor, glory!

Jesus knew He would rise from the grave, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would ascend to Heaven, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would suffer for a short time, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, and I know that I am co-heir with Him.

Because Jesus knew these things, He did His Father’s will, will I do the same?

Dear reader, this is where we come to the always inconvenient question: Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?

It is one thing to accept the basic facts on an academic or theoretical level, but will we allow them to affect who we are on a fundamental level?

Well, will we?

We will if we really believe that what we believe is really real.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 22, 2021

I want you to know how hard I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

Colossians 2:1-5

In these verses, Paul mentions to his readers that he has been “struggling” for them (v. 1) and that his struggle was that they come to know the full riches of a complete understanding of the mystery of God, namely Christ (v. 2). We know that the “mystery of God” is one of the ways that Paul refers to the Gospel, so he is struggling so that the people might come to see all that they have in the Gospel.  To put it another way, Paul is struggling to make disciples, to assist these people in growing in their faith to a mature level of understanding.

It struck me that this is what we are all called to do.  To “struggle” so that our brother or sister may come to fully understand the riches that are in Christ is our purpose in this life.

In verse 3, Paul goes on to say that in Christ are all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and it strikes me that this statement runs counter to what the world around us sees as “wisdom and knowledge.”   Verses four and five are really telling: Paul tells his readers that he is doing this so they will not be deceived by “fine-sounding arguments.”  I love that, “fine-sounding arguments”!  What shall we take from this?  As I see it, we have a serious role to play in leading our “younger” brother to stand firm in the knowledge and truth of Christ, to help them, to guide them and yes, to struggle for them so that they will not be deceived by the “wisdom” of this age, and to nurture them into the fullness of Christ.  I wonder how often we see this imperative as our goal, rather than looking out for ourselves only…

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:6-8

People are sometimes surprised when I say that Christian theology is basically simple to understand, and these three simple verses sum it up pretty well; it is simple to understand them, don’t you think?

We received Jesus Christ as Lord; continue to live in Him.  We do this by being rooted in Him, built up in Him and if we are strengthened in the faith just as we were taught, we will overflow with thanksgiving.  What should our priorities in life be?  Simple, we should be in Him, rooted in Him and strengthened by Him, or to put in another way, our life’s priorities are all about Jesus Christ.

Verse eight follows with a bit of practical advice, which is to seek Christ and let go of the hollow ways and teachings of this world.  It goes without saying that if we are seeking after Christ, then we are not seeking after the things of this world. If we are seeking Christ, then we will find His ways and want to follow them in our lives, rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing.

You see, none of this is complicated, in fact it is so very simple that sometimes we feel the need to complicate it− but then making the simple difficult is one of the ways of this world.

As we seek His face, as we seek His presence, as we seek His Truth, we seek after that which is good, wholesome and true.  As we do this, our faith is strengthened, our walk closer and dearer, and our outlook on everything else will change forever.  When that happens, we will be filled to overflowing with thanksgiving, praise and… His presence.

 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Colossians 2:9-12

Continuing on, we come to a paragraph that is both full and rich in meaning, and yet often cluttered up with unnecessary doctrines.  Consider the opening sentence, Paul points out that in the Person of Jesus lives all the fullness of God:  Jesus is all God and Jesus is all man: God lived in His physical body.  Jesus has also brought you and me to fullness, but fullness of what kind? Here it is in simple terms:  All of the fullness of God resided in Jesus Christ, and in Christ the fullness of the Holy Spirit resides in you and me. Neither you nor I are the Messiah, nor are we divine, but we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He is divine.  Kind of makes you wonder why we don’t follow His lead more often, doesn’t it?

Paul continues to state that Jesus is the head of every power; He is at the right hand of God running the universe… and we are in Him.

Not a bad place to hang out!

The next sentence goes on to say that we have received a circumcision that wasn’t performed by human hands.  This is puzzling until we recall what circumcision was in the Old Testament.  There, circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham; it was how people would recognize a man in covenant relationship with God.  That was the covenant that set God’s covenant people apart from everyone else, and circumcision was a kind of mark or seal of that covenant. Paul is talking about another kind of seal or sign of our covenant relationship with God, a sign that marks us as belonging to Him.

The last sentence in our text answers a question, and raises another:  

The first part answers a question when it identifies Christ as the one who performed this circumcision without human hands, and that tells us that this circumcision is not a physical procedure at all, but instead a spiritual procedure.  In this procedure, our natural self that lives according to the flesh is put off, and I think most of us will agree that this happens when we enter a relationship with Christ.  This would be really easy if Paul stopped right there, but he goes on…

Here’s the whole sentence again:

Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

The trouble happens when Paul followed the having been circumcised by Christ with “having been buried with Him in baptism”.  I say that there is trouble here, because this is where Christians like to divide into camps and slug it out.  We aren’t going to do that though, are we?

It appears to me that there is some kind of a connection between this “circumcision” and baptism, but what is the connection?  If we were “buried with him in baptism” what were we buried into?  Well, when He was buried, He was dead, having died on the cross.  So, if we are “buried with him” then we must be buried into His death… right?  If this “circumcision” was the link between the old man and the new man, and it is also linked to baptism into His death, then there must be a link of some kind being established here… see it?  They are parallel. Notice that Paul also mentions that we are “raised with Him” by our “faith in the workings of God.”

OK, so here’s what we’ve got so far:

  1. What an awesome thing it is to be in Christ!
  2. He is the central focus of our lives, our all in all as the old hymn says.
  3. In Christ, we have the fullness of the indwelling Holy Spirit: Amazing!
  4. Paul has made a comparison between Old Testament circumcision, a new kind of circumcision and baptism.
  5. Paul elaborates on that comparison in the next section…

When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15

As we pick up from the last passage, we see right away the connection we discovered. Notice the link between “dead in your sins” and “uncircumcision.”  Here they are used interchangeably, and since they are used this way, we can be certain, that circumcision here is not the literal procedure done in physical terms.  While we were in our sins then, God made us alive in Christ and forgave our sins.   So far, this is easy to understand, and wonderful to behold, full as it is with the love and mercy of a loving Father in heaven.  It gets even better…

God cancelled the “written code” with its “regulations” that were “against us.”  So not only have our sins been forgiven, not only have we been made alive in Christ, but the Law that condemned us has been ended; from now on it’s all about Christ.

God, in effect, nailed the old laws and rules to the cross with Christ and killed it.  Christ rose from the grave, we rose with Him from baptism (2:12) and the written code remains in the grave… and there’s still more…  

In doing this, God has “disarmed” the “powers and authorities” and triumphed over them at the cross.  These “powers and authorities” are the very ones who accuse us.  Even now they may try to accuse, but they have been defeated at the cross; the ballgame is really over!  Our sins are forgiven, we are alive in Christ, and when they attempt to accuse, they are exposed for the liars they have always been, for there is no written code any more.

This is one of the great liberating facts of our Faith.  Those accusers have no audience with God, for they have been humiliated by the cross.  Who is the one who accuses?  It is Satan, his allies and those who would do his bidding on the earth.  What Jesus has done for us on the cross has rendered their accusations altogether irrelevant, and we need not be concerned with them ever again.

What a gracious and loving Heavenly Father we have− what a glorious Lord we follow!  

There can be no doubt that we are indeed a blessed people.

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 18, 2021

John 18:28-40

Our story has progressed from where we left off last time.  Jesus and the disciples left the upper room and went to the garden where Jesus was arrested while at prayer.  His response to their demand for Him of “I am he” proved to be enlightening to the soldiers and guards who had come to take Him in, but He went along quietly in order to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose.  He was taken before the Jewish leaders, roughed up and convicted of a phony charge in a joke of a trial.  Peter, as Jesus had predicted, denied knowing Jesus three times, and now, early the next morning He is taken before Pilate, the ranking Roman official, for trial, because only the Romans could impose capital punishment.

In vv. 28-32, the Jews approach Pilate with the request that he condemn Jesus to death.  Note that Pilate doesn’t seem interested in granting them their wish.  Note also the way they have approached him:  First, they cannot enter the palace because they would be “unclean” and ineligible to participate in the Passover meal, so Pilate must come out to them.  One might wonder what their ceremonial condition was after the role they played in putting the Son of God to death!  The upshot of the exchange so far is that they need the Romans to agree to an execution, and oh by the way, Jesus had predicted the manner of his death in 3:14.

Pilate has Jesus brought to him for a few questions; one can’t help having a little sympathy for old Pilate here.  Jesus, like the Jews outside isn’t all that respectful of Pilate’s predicament in His answer to Pilate’s first question about whether or not He was a king.  “Is that your own idea…?”  Pilate’s answer to Jesus’ question reveals that he wants nothing to do with any of this; “Am I a Jew?”  The rest of his question in v. 35 is basically ‘what have you done to tick these people off?’  The answer he receives in the next verse is the crucial point of the text:

“My kingdom is not of this world.”  It is from “another place.”  The Jews were looking for the Messiah to bring a kingdom to the world; a worldly kingdom.  It would throw the Romans out, defeat their enemies and restore the former glory of Israel, and the Jewish leaders would have tremendous power in that earthly kingdom.  Jesus actually came with an entirely different kind of kingdom; a kingdom of faith and forgiveness.  Forgiveness was the last thing the Jewish leaders were concerned about.

Pilate jumps on the king aspect: “You are a king then?”  If Jesus were an aspiring king without the endorsement of the Roman government, then it could be asserted that He was plotting treason against Caesar.  Even now, however, Pilate is troubled by this whole thing; he isn’t buying the idea that Jesus is a threat to the government.  In His answer, Jesus admits to being a king, but again demonstrates that He is not an earthly king, for His reason for being born is to testify to the truth.  In all likelihood, Pilate would have a hard time putting truth and kings together as treason.  In fact, as we also know, kings, governments and truth are strange bedfellows.  Pilate’s response to Jesus’ truth assertion shows us all we need to know about him: “What is truth?” It reveals a high level of frustration as it is one of the great unanswered questions of worldly life.  Little did Pilate know, Jesus had answered this question earlier: “I am the way, the truth and the life” The answer to the great question about truth is that Jesus is the very embodiment of Truth.

Pilate goes back outside and tries again to end the standoff with the Jewish leaders, announcing that he finds no basis for any charge against Jesus.  In doing this, he of course is speaking in terms of Roman law.  He reminds the people that the Romans offer an annual pardon to a Jewish prisoner at the Passover, sort of a goodwill gesture.  The Jews want Jesus dead and silent; they demand a man who deserves to die for the safety of the public.  Their hatred of Jesus and the truth that He has brought to them from God Himself; the truth that they should be rejoicing for, is so great that they will do anything to be rid of Him and by extension God.  It is really a shocking and reprehensible thing they are doing, one that they will pay dearly for in the future.  It is also an indication of how many will react to the truth of simple Christianity for centuries to come… as Jesus warned his disciples in the upper room.

John 19:1-16

These verses comprise one of the most amazing narratives in all of world literature.  They tell a terrible story of betrayal, hypocrisy, and weakness, evil and hate, yet through this quagmire of politics, dishonesty and intrigue God’s great eternal purpose is assured.  Irony?  That would be putting it mildly! These verses tell the story of Jesus’ condemnation to the cross, a story in which there are no heroes, villains aplenty and in which the system of this world is manipulated to condemn the very Son of God by the most religious of all God’s people:  It is shameful, penetrating and a source of great insight into the motivations of those who will oppose God.

After Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus was thwarted in favor of Barabbas (18:39-40) Pilate orders Jesus flogged, a very severe application of torture that would precede crucifixion or that could be a form of punishment on its own.  These verses describe briefly the treatment that Jesus suffers at the hands of his soldiers and the “fun” they have with Him, and then Pilate goes back out to the mob to once again attempt to release Jesus.

Pilate has told them he can find no basis for a charge against Jesus, and when Jesus appears he makes his fateful statement, “Behold the man” (KJV). What the crowd was “beholding” was a man broken by torture.  Bleeding, beaten, bruised and in a condition fit only for the Emergency Room, there stood Jesus not looking like much of a threat to anyone.  The bloodthirsty crowds led by their holy religious leaders go crazy demanding His crucifixion. It could be that Pilate thought they would be appeased by the sight; if so, he was mistaken.  His frustration is clearly evident when he says, “You crucify him!”  The Jews will not relent; they want their Messiah dead and silenced once and for all.

In verse 7 the Jews finally tell Pilate the real reason they want Jesus dead: He has claimed to be the Son of God.  In a sense they were right; making such a claim was a capital offense in the Law… unless of course Jesus was telling the truth.  Pilate’s reaction was one of fear, and he goes back into the Palace taking Jesus with him.  It is not clear from the text exactly what the source of his fear was: Was he afraid of an insurrection, or was he afraid of Jesus?  In any event, Pilate asks Jesus a surprisingly intelligent question: “Where are you from?”  The turning point in Jesus’ relationship with His disciples was when they finally came to realize that He had come from God, but when Pilate asks, Jesus is not going to answer.  The hour for Him to die has come; it is the reason He has come to earth; everything hinges on this.  Pilate points out that he has the power to have Jesus crucified, and this time Jesus does answer him.  Jesus reminds Pilate that his authority is not his own, but that it came from above, in the immediate sense from his Roman superiors and in the larger sense from God.  Such a reply under the circumstances is truly impressive. It is as though Jesus were trying to make Pilate feel better about his position when He pointed out that the leaders of the mob outside (the chief priests) have the greater guilt in the situation; Pilate is a pawn in a much bigger drama between God and Satan.

Pilate wants this to end, and he wants no part in killing Jesus.  The mob responds with a threat to his career, having forgotten all about their religious claim; incredible the length of disingenuousness that they will go to!

There are many opinions about Pilate’s words in the final verses (13-16), but it seems to me that his frustration has turned to anger toward the Jewish leaders.  He brings Jesus back out and sits in the judge’s seat.  Whatever he announces from here is legally binding.  Pilate’s reference to Jesus as “your king” in vv. 14-15 is a deliberate taunt to the crowd.  Here is the pagan Roman governor sitting in judgment over the broken and bloody man they want killed and calling Him their king is incredibly insulting to a people who see God Himself as their ultimate king.  Pilate is rubbing their noses in the fact that pagans rule the proud Jews; he has had enough of them.

And then it happens…

The chief priests shout back that they “have no king but Caesar!”

Now who has committed blasphemy and treachery?  One can imagine the foundations of Heaven itself quaking at that moment.  Pilate does what he has to do, and Jesus is taken away to save the world by shedding His precious blood on the cross.

Surely the word “perfidy” came into being to describe this scene.

Before the next lesson, carefully read what happened next in John 19:17-42; our story will pick up after that.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 15, 2021

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Colossians 1:15-18

How can you read these few verses and not just fall into one of those “Wow!” moments?  Even if you only read the first sentence: Wow!

It is ‘content rich’ to say the least.  Consider the first sentence, The Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is the image of the invisible God; let that sink in…  People sometimes ask how they can know God, and the answer is to look at Jesus Christ; He was here, on this earth as a man.  He is a historical figure, who left behind a written record of what He thought, said and did.  He was a Teacher, so His teachings are there for all to see.  He was the image of God, and He spoke directly to us, so if we want to know what God is like, learn what Jesus was like… and you will have it! Jesus, the Son, is also the firstborn of all creation− don’t skip that phrase!  You and I are part of the Creation of which Jesus is the firstborn… yes, that means you and I are meant to have a relationship with Him, after all that is why He came to the earth in the first place.  Oh, my, reflect on that for a while…

This is exciting!

Moving on, we see that in Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth.  Of course, we know that Jesus was present when God spoke the word and the universe came into being, but now it seems that Jesus might have actually done the talking. A careful reading of John 1 will confirm that Jesus was actually the Word itself!  He is not only the firstborn, but the Word that created everything.  All I can say is “WOW!”

Every single thing there was, is, or will be was created by, through and for Jesus Christ, including you, including me. There are certain times when the enormity of something makes it difficult to describe it with mere words, and honestly this is one of them.

Our Lord, the Son, is the head of the Body, which is the church of which all Christians are a part.  Yes, you and I are a part of the Body of the One who created everything.

He is also the firstborn of the dead, which is to say that He is the first to die, and then to rise again in glory, but He is not to be the last, for you and I will also arise in glory in due course.

I hope that you will take a little time to reflect and pray on these few verses.  As you do, please consider that this Jesus wants a relationship with YOU!  He is there, He is calling your name, will you respond? No, that question was not for the unbelievers−  It is directed by me to all of us, including myself, who profess to be His followers.  Will we all join together to answer His call to relationship, with the One who created all, who arose from the dead to prepare our way; will we respond to His invitation, to pull up our chairs and listen at His side as He shares with each of us?

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

In vv. 15-18 we see the “how” of Creation, in these two verses, we see the “why”.  God, it must be said, had a reason for sending His Son to the earth:

First, notice how verse 19 begins: God was pleased to have all of His (God’s, the Father’s) fullness dwell in Him (the Son, Jesus). It seems telling to me, that this fullness of the reality of the Person of the Son is called “pleasing” to God; to me that sounds like purpose is involved here: God’s purpose.  Everything about Jesus and His mission to earth is deliberate and purposeful, and Jesus mentioned this quite a bit as I’m sure you recall.  God was definitely at work.

So, all of God’s fullness was dwelling in Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ, God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself.  Again, let’s just slow down and consider what this is saying.  With God’s entire fullness dwelling in Him, Jesus does something to reconcile all things to God, thus pleasing God. All things, in heaven and on earth were reconciled… because Jesus made peace by shedding His blood on the cross.  

Here’s a proposition to consider:  If Jesus had to reconcile all things to God by “making peace” then a state of conflict must have existed prior to the cross.

Of course, we know that there was indeed a state of conflict from the moment that Adam entered into open rebellion against God back in Genesis 3. We often refer to “sin” as though it is nothing more than the violation of an ordinance, which is how the Law of Moses codified it, but “sin” was around long before it was so clearly defined, or codified.  Sin is actually rebellion.  We were in rebellion; God reconciled us by having Jesus make peace. Jesus made a Peace Treaty, and a Treaty is a kind of covenant.  Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:28) See how this comes together?

As we go through our day, what an amazing thing we have to reflect upon: God’s love for each one of us is so great, that He was pleased to send His Son, full of all of the fullness of the Father Himself, to die on the cross to make peace with us. Can there be a greater expression of boundless love than that?

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:21-23

There was a time when each of us was alienated from God; we saw ourselves as His enemy because of our evil deeds.  I broke this into two parts, because I’d like us to think about two ideas here.  First, we saw or thought (in our minds) that we were God’s enemies.  In Scripture, God never made us His enemy; it is we who made the choices that headed us in this direction.  It is (or was) our own attitudes that created the problems. It was never God; it was always us.

Second, “because of your evil deeds.”  Which evil deeds do you think Paul is talking about?  I would suggest that most people, certainly most preachers, would assert that Paul is referring to some sort of list of infractions, a Bill of Indictment, so to speak.  I hope we might take a different approach, and hope you will give this a little thought.  It isn’t so much a list of violations that Paul is talking about here; it is the very condition of being in rebellion against God that he is talking about.  If we are in rebellion against God, then we are not in relationship with Him.  If we are not in relationship with Him, what are the rules, anyway? Consider the Jews and the Gentiles.  From the Jewish point of view in the Old Testament, a Jew was good or bad based upon his or her keeping the Law, the 613 laws of Moses.  If they disregarded the law, they had problems, if they kept the law all was as it should be.  The Gentiles on the other hand, weren’t even in the ball game.  Nobody expected them to keep, or even to know the law.  They had no covenant with God, they had no Law.  How could they “get right” with God? Not an easy thing to do: The very fact that they were Gentile made them evil and unclean. We were enemies with God in our minds because of our evil deeds of rebellion against Him, and this transcends a rule book and petty violations.

“But now he has reconciled you…” (v. 22) Because of what Christ has done on the cross, everything is completely different.  He made a peace treaty; you accepted its terms and signed on to it. Now you are in a whole new kind of covenant, and that covenant has made you as clean as though you had never sinned, in God’s sight.  All of that rebellion is forgotten, expunged from the record− over.

Well, now we haven’t quite finished the sentence.  This is a tough spot, beginning at verse 23 with the word “if.”  You may agree with me, or you may disagree, but as I see it, the word “if” makes this a conditional statement. “…free from accusation— if you continue in your faith…”  As I see it, and I think the rules of grammar back me up in this, we have the blessings of the promises in the New Covenant, unless we decide to totally renounce our faith in Jesus Christ and go off and follow other gods.

This passage ends with Paul pointing out two things, did you catch them? The work of Jesus Christ on the cross has established peaceful relations between God and Man; your sins are taken away and you are blameless before God.  This is the Gospel, and it is the first point of summation.  Paul has become a servant of this Gospel (and by extension, so have you and I).  This is the final point of summation.

God loved us so much, while we were still thinking of ourselves as His enemies, that He went and did all of this. And not only that, but we are a part of the spreading of this awesome demonstration of the boundless love of our eternal God.

May He draw all of us closer to Him in His Word today.  May He fill our hearts with glad assurance of the truth of His Word, and may He increase in our lives as we grow in our faith and in our desire to draw ever nearer to Him in everything that we do.

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 11, 2021

John 17

This is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the entire New Testament.  Jesus is clearly one who prays a great deal, and we can gain a great deal of insight into prayer in this chapter.  For the purpose of these notes, I will attempt to resist the temptation to engage in theological discussion or analysis of what the prayer consists of or what this or that “means” from a theological point of view, instead I hope to focus more on what we can learn about prayer itself.  A good point of beginning is to take notice of Jesus’ posture as He prays; note that He is not sitting quietly with bowed head and closed eyes but rather is looking heavenward with eyes wide open.  In fact, He is most likely standing with the disciples, and if you take note of His language, it might seem that He is not speaking in a very quiet voice.  Of course, we might say that our traditional posture results in a contrast because Jesus is the second person of the Godhead while we are not.  Might not this view overlook the fact that we are His co-heirs?  Well, it’s food for thought anyway…

Jesus opens this prayer by praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled; this is and has been the principle focus of Jesus throughout His ministry.  Praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled is entirely consistent with the idea that the fulfillment of God’s purpose is the reason for His being on the earth in the first place, and by extension is also consistent with the idea that this same purpose is our reason for being His disciples.  Throughout this Gospel, Jesus has used the expression “glorify” to refer to his death and resurrection, His work of atonement on the cross, and this is not different here.  Being thus “glorified” is God’s ultimate purpose for Jesus. Returning to the glory of heaven as He was before coming to this world is indicative of His having completed His work (purpose) in the world.

In 6-19, Jesus is interceding for His disciples.  He will complete His work of “glorification” very shortly and return to the Father, but they will remain in this world and they will have a rough time of it here. In a way, this section reads almost like a report, for Jesus repeats three of the things that He has just taught the disciples in chapters 14-16.  Keep in mind, that while we have been looking at these things over a period of weeks, and they cover the last few chapters, chapters 14-17 all occur in one place in one evening over a short span of time; a dinner.  Those three things that He repeats here are: 1) the belief that Jesus came from God (16:30); 2) the promise of complete joy (16:24); and 3) the coming hate of the world (15:18).  Then He prays for God to protect them as Jesus has protected them.  It is instructive for us to note that this “protection” was not always to protect them from the harm that the world might inflict upon them, and the book of Acts records quite a bit of that harm.  Indeed, nearly all of them would be killed by the world eventually.  The “protection” that was provided for them was a protection of their faith and their message, the two things that enabled them to serve God’s purpose.

Verses 20-26 are broken into two smaller sections, the first of which is vv. 20-23.  In these verses, Jesus is praying for the unity of all believers so that the world may see it and believe their message.  The message is the point, for it is through their message they have received that the gospel will be spread and the commission He left them with (Matt. 28:18-20) will be accomplished; it is the purpose of God again. The second section within these verses is vv. 24-26 where Jesus prays for all believers in their ultimate destination: eternity with Him.  Note that there is a comparison in all of this:  Jesus is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God sent him, and then He returns to God’s heavenly presence.  The believer is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God has placed him there and then goes to God’s heavenly presence with Christ.  This is our purpose, our challenge and our destiny.  Jesus has taken this seriously enough to die on the cross, the Apostles took it seriously enough to suffer and die for their message: How seriously do we take it?

Jesus has taught the disciples that they will have a powerful prayer life; that anything they ask for in His name will be given them.  Each time He has spoken on this point, the context has been doing God’s work; serving God’s purpose.  You will have noticed by now that every aspect of this prayer is in this same context: God’s eternal purpose.  Our prayers are powerful things, how much more powerful they could be if they were for God’s purpose to be accomplished rather than that we get the things we want?

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 8, 2021

Ruth 4:1-12

After Ruth left Boaz and returned to the place where she and Naomi were staying, Boaz went to town. He stopped at the town gates where the Elders were to be found, which was a customary place for them to conduct their duties. When the other kinsman-redeemer came along, he asked the man to sit with him in the hearing of the Elders to discuss the situation. You will no doubt recall that the night before, Boaz had mentioned to Ruth that there was a closer relative who was first in line as kinsman-redeemer, and this is the matter Boaz brought up that morning.

It would seem, from verses 3 and 4 that Naomi had inherited her husband’s property, so Boaz mentioned this to the man first. Previously, I mentioned that a kinsman-redeemer would buy the land of the dead husband from the widow so that she would have money in her old age with which to live, since she probably wouldn’t be able to make a living from the land by herself, and this other kinsman-redeemer, whose name is never mentioned in the text, agreed to buy it. If he had the cash, then why not buy it? He could do his duty to the family and add to his own income in the bargain; so far, so good. Then something strange happens:

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (3:5)

Oh dear, there’s a catch – that Moabite woman!

At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (3:7)

Did you notice that as long as Boaz just mentioned Naomi and her property, the other guy was willing to redeem, but when he mentioned the Moabite woman was part of the deal, the other guy backed out? Why do you suppose Boaz mentioned that she was a Moabite, of all things?

For an Israelite to have a gentile in their household was problematic enough, but a Moabite woman was really too much; they had experience with Moabite women in the past; these women were trouble! No way, the man was not going to redeem, even though it was his duty; Boaz could have the deal. Thus, with all of the Elders as his witnesses, Boaz acquired the right to redeem, and bought the land and Ruth from Naomi, and Ruth thus became his wife. I know that to the modern reader, this transaction sounds pretty weird, but this took place a very long time ago, and was proper and binding in that place and time. The Elders agree and gave their blessing to the arrangement: Done.

Boaz was a very sharp man; he knew how to get things done in this world. He did so with wisdom and intelligence, and by the rules of the day. In the process, he did his duty to his family, to Naomi, to Ruth and to their husbands’ family line, and he did it with justice for all concerned. In so doing, he provides all of us with an excellent example of what it means to be a godly man.

 

Ruth 4:13-22

After the scene that takes place in verses 1-12 of chapter four, Boaz and Ruth are married. There is not a single word in the text about their life together; other than they had a son named Obed. From what the text has told us, Ruth is humble and loyal, Boaz is kind, of high character and righteous, so we can infer that they lived happily ever after. Certainly, there is nothing to cause this inference to be brought into question. It’s probably safe to infer that Naomi lived out her years in happiness as well.

The text mentions a son as the only specific about the lives of Ruth and Boaz because that son becomes a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is a very big deal indeed. It places Ruth in that same lineage; a Moabite. Of course, she is not the only gentile woman in that lineage, and I suppose that we should pause to clear up any confusion resulting from this point, since ultimately this line will pass to Jesus through Mary.

The Old Testament Law states that to be a Jew, someone must be of the seed of Abraham, a quaint old-fashioned way of saying Abraham’s genetic descendant. This “seed” passes from the father, thus Obed is Jewish by birth even though his mother was a gentile. The Father of Jesus was not strictly speaking a Jew; instead He was God. So how could Jesus be a Jew?

I hope you were sitting down when you read that; it is not a joke. You see, unless something happened first, Jesus would be the Son of God without being a Jew.

But something did happen.

During the captivity in Babylon, Jews began to intermarry with gentiles. After the return from captivity, many Jews chose not to return, while others returned and continued intermarrying. It seems that men were much more likely to take a gentile bride than women a gentile husband and eventually, after much controversy and confusion, the Law was changed, so that descendancy from Abraham came through mothers instead of fathers. Thus, you could only be born a Jew if your mother was Jewish. If your mother was gentile and your father was Jewish, you were considered to be a gentile, and this is so to this very day. Thus, Jesus was Jewish because Mary was Jewish.

If you read this book again carefully, there would seem to be either a lot of coincidence or a lot of luck in the story. I think the biggest one of these took place when Ruth went out to work in the fields that first day, and somehow came upon the fields of Boaz. Why didn’t Naomi tell Ruth where to go? By all rights, shouldn’t she have directed Ruth to the fields of the other kinsman-redeemer, the one with first right of redemption? No, somehow Ruth just got lucky and stumbled into Boaz’ life!

You can be quite sure that there are no coincidences here, and no dumb luck either, for God was at work in the lives of these people. Now here’s a question for everyone to ponder: Why did God choose Naomi, Ruth and Boaz to be in this story, and thus to be part of the lineage of His Son? (Hint: it’s in the text)

Looking at our adventure in the book of Ruth, it should be obvious to anyone that this story has much to teach us. I’m not going to say that the things I mention about them are an exhaustive and encyclopedic analysis, but I hope that what follows will give you a pretty good picture of the kinds of people they were.

Naomi

Here is woman who went through a terrible time; she can almost be compared to Job in her affliction. First there was the famine that tore her family away from their lands and lives in Bethlehem, forcing them to move to Moab just to try and survive. She was an outsider there, not knowing the customs or the people, being a foreigner in a foreign place. Thus, she had only her family to cling to; her husband and two sons. The sons then come of marrying age and they marry foreign women, a cultural problem that their parents had to deal with, and then her husband and two sons die leaving Naomi destitute with two foreign daughters in law. In this time of trial, Naomi becomes an embittered old woman, by her own estimation, and begins making drastic decisions. She tried to do right by her daughters in law, releasing them from their obligations to her and urging them to return to their own, and one finally does so, while Ruth insists on being loyal to Naomi, and then Naomi returns to her homeland and her God and family. Upon her return home with Ruth, Naomi guides Ruth on several occasions, and even though some of her advice was risky, it turns out that Naomi was a very good judge of character and gave advice that can only be described as “harmless as a lamb and crafty as a serpent.”

Naomi, while she had her low points in a life marked with tragedy and adversity, overcame that adversity by returning to her God and making very wise choices. I’d say we can learn from her example.

Ruth

Whole books have been written on Ruth’s character, so I’ll keep it short; Ruth had the heart of a servant. She was loyal to the family of her husband, she was humble, she worked hard and without complaint, and she was submissive to her elders. In all of this, Ruth shows us what it means to deal with self, for there is no “self” on display in her story.  To top it off, let us not forget the fact that Ruth made a conscious choice to follow the God of Israel. How different she was from the way we are today, and great was her reward.

Boaz

Boaz was a leader of men, but he was not like many leaders of men, for Boaz was a servant-leader. Remember when, on Ruth’s first day in the fields, Boaz returned from town and “greeted” his workers? Maybe you recall that he told his men not to lay a hand on Ruth. Was there any mention of an incident taking place, or of any grumbling about that? How about when Boaz went to the village gate and asked the elders to come and listen to his discussion with the other kinsman-redeemer; did they say they were too busy? Did they tell him to buzz off? No! They immediately did as he asked because they respected him, just as his workers did. Yet in everything we know of Boaz, there is no indication at all that anybody’s respect was borne out of fear, for Boaz built relationships with other men that enabled him to lead them by gaining their trust.

I once knew of a man who was working in an office in which he was quite high in the management. Other managers criticized him because he took the time to get to know his subordinates as people. He helped them solve problems and listened to their complaints and helped them work things out when necessary, without yelling or being obnoxious. Other managers simply made demands of people and demanded explanations, yelling and carrying on in the belief that they needed to control everything. In a crisis, the other managers hollered and made threats to motivate their teams, but our guy would call his crew together and ask them for their help in meeting an impossible deadline. His team gave their all and always met impossible deadlines early, because they wanted to do their best for the man they respected, while the other managers’ teams could never seem to come through in a pinch. Which type of manager was Boaz?

On that fateful night when Boaz awakened to find Ruth lying at his feet, how did he react? He reacted with mercy, kindness and gratitude for the opportunity to serve. That all of this must include a healthy dose of humility, should go without saying…

Now dear reader, when you put the characteristics of these three people together, what do you have?

You have the type of person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I would submit to you that this is why God chose to work through these three people, and why their story has resulted in their names being forever associated with the lineage of the Son of God.

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Photo of the Week: August 5, 2021

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