Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

Get Ready! Get Set! Go!

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Hebrews 12:1–2 (NLT) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.* Because of the joy* awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

These 2 verses are very important to me.  In fact, they are my life verses.  Christians sometimes have a life verse, one or 2 verses that seem to speak to the person’s life and purpose in Christ.  For me these 2 verses offer direction and inspiration for my life and walk with Jesus Christ.

The first thing that the author reminds us is the great cloud of witnesses of which he has just spoken in ch. 11:  Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samson, David, Samuel and all the prophets.  And not only these witnesses, but the great cloud of witnesses that have come down through the centuries, the great saints through the ages:  Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and John Wesley, just to name a few.  And all those who have influenced me:  Thomas Oden, Eugene Petersen, Justo Gonzalez, and all my seminary professors:  John A. Cook, Joseph Dongell, Jeffrey Frymire, Richard Gray, Craig S. Keener, Kevin Kinghorn, Frederick Long, Ellen L. Marmon, Stacey Minger, Steven O’Malley, Greg Okesson, Joseph Okello, John Oswalt, Michael Petersen, Stephen Seamands, Timothy Tennent, Thomas Tumblin, Russell West, Ben Witherington III, and many others especially my friend and mentor Rev. Dr. William Sillings.  Then I think about the great saints of the churches I have served and where I grew up in the faith.  I think about Calvary UMC, Windber, PA and especially Rev. Dan Orris who confirmed me and took an interest in me and led me into the life of faith.  I think of all those ladies who took the time to teach children’s Sunday School.  I remember the faith of my grandmother Mary Felix Herdman, and my mother, Carol Martinez.

When you begin to name the names of those people of faith who have influenced me, just one life, it soon becomes a great cloud of witnesses.  I am grateful all those who influenced me for Christ.  I can’t even remember all your names, but in my life y’all have been a great cloud of witnesses, as influential and important as those listed in the Hall of Faith (Heb. ch. 11)

And then the author uses this metaphor of running the race.  Like we are in this great race, like the Olympic marathon, and we are entering the stadium to the cheering throng of believers who has gone before us.  I had the experience of running the Stuttgarter Zeitung Half-Marathon.  It runs 13.1 miles through the streets of Stuttgart.  The finish is in the stadium for the VfB Stuttgart 1893, the professional soccer team.  As you enter the stadium, it was filled with all the well-wishers and family and friends of those running.  They actually film you entering and they announce you as you surge toward the finish line, “Here comes Steven!”  And you feel like a professional athlete, like you are winning the Olympics.  And everyone who finishes gets a medal.

That’s what it’s like to run the race of faith.  “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses to the life of faith, cast off every impediment and the sin which so easily entangles us…”  (Heb. 12:1)  The word translated as cast off is apothmenoi, meaning to lay aside, to put off in a figurative sense.   The word translated impediment is ogkos, meaning a tumor, mass, magnitude, weight, burden, impediment.  The impediments or encumbrances are those things which might not be sins, but are things that might call us away from the life of faith.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus calls these things “the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for others things.”  So Jesus says, “so no fruit is produced.” (Mark 4:19)  Sports are good, but when sports cause us to avoid going to church, for example, they become an impediment or encumbrance to our faith.

The word translated as sin is hamartia meaning sin, missing the mark.  Sin is missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is God.  Sin is an offense in relation to God with an emphasis on the truth.  The basic sense of this word is as if you aiming at a target  and you miss it.  In this case, the author is speaking of “especially the sin that so easily trips us up,” by which he means particular sins and especially the sin of unbelief, that is, leaving behind faith in Jesus Christ.

What the author suggests is that the life of faith is like a race.  And in a race, the runners don’t wear their regular clothing (in fact, in Greco-Roman times, the Olympic athletes would run naked).  But they wear special running clothes, light weight clothing and special racing shoes.  They want to run as fast as they can, so they get rid of every weight that would slow them down.  That is how we should run the race of or life of faith.

“Run with endurance the race God has set before us.”  (Heb. 12:1)  In the Greek, this is the only imperative.  It’s the key part of these verses.  It’s what the author is emphasizing.  The word for race is agon from which we get our English word ‘agony,’ meaning a contest or race for victory such as running, boxing, or wrestling.  So Paul says, “Fight the good fight of the faith…”  (1 Tim. 6:12)  and “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize?  So run to win! ”  (1 Cor. 9:24)

The word translated endurance is hupomone meaning bearing up under, patience, endurance as to things or circumstance; perseverance, patience, endurance, constancy under suffering in faith and duty.  In the letter to the Hebrews, the author is writing to the church who are suffering persecution and as a result are wavering in their faith and in fact, some may have given up the faith and returned to Judaism.  So the author wants to encourage them to continue to run the race with endurance and patience even in suffering.

How do we run the race of faith with endurance?  “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”  (Heb. 12:2)  Jesus is the supreme example of faithful endurance (Heb. 3:1)  Our endurance and perseverance in the Christian life will depend on keeping our focus on Jesus and on his saving work .  He is the champion who has gone before us and has accomplished everything necessary for faith under the new covenant to be a reality.  He is our leader and our supreme example, and he is also the firstfruits of salvation in the resurrection.  His resurrection proves the truth of our blessings of eternal life and the resurrection:  our blessed hope.

Lord, we thank you for this race of faith into which you have invited us.  I’m grateful for the great cloud of witnesses who have been influential in my life of faith, both those I have known personally and those whose influence has been through books and sermons.  I’m especially grateful for the example of faithful family, my grandmother and mother who have run the race and are now looking down on my race and cheering me on to the finish line.  Give me that faith of those who went before me that I might too run the race to the finish.  Give me that faith to endure to the end, following my Captain and Champion, Jesus Christ, never losing sight of Jesus, my Lord, as he runs before me.  Amen.

Our Blessed Hope

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Titus 2:11–15 (NLT) For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

15 You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say.

In Titus ch. 2, Paul provides Titus with instructions on relationships in the church.  How should older men, older women, younger men, and slaves live the Christian life in a pagan culture?  He commands older men to exercise self-control to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely.  (v. 2)  He tells Titus to teach older women to live in a way that honors God.  (v. 3)  In the same way, he tells Titus to encourage the youg men to live wisely, and to be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.  (vv. 6, 7)

Why should Christians live wisely, the kind of life that reflects wholesome teaching?  (v . 1)  The rationale for right living is in vv. 11-14.  “For the grace of God has been revealed bringing salvation to all people.”   (v. 11)  Paul literally says, the grace of God has appeared, meaning Jesus Christ.

And Paul summarizes the teaching of Christ as “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”  (v. 12)  Paul emphasizes the positive virtues:  wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.  In the Greco-Roman world, these three virtues represent virtuous conduct in general.  These virtues counter the vices of the Cretans.

The adverb translated “sensibly” or “wisely” is sophronos, meaning soberly.  It suggests the exercise of self-restraint of all types of passion and desire, which enables the believer to be conformed to the mind of Christ.  Dikaios is the adverb translated “righteously” or “justly,…in accordance with what is right.”  God is righteous, so righteous behavior is that kind of behavior that is in accord with God’s will, especially God’s will as it is revealed in the Scriptures.  Eusebos is an adverb meaning “piously, or godly.”  (Vine)  To live a godly life is to live in a holy manner (2 Tim. 3:12)  Righteous and godly living renders to God the reverence and worship that comes from a holy life.

Paul sensibly tells Titus to instruct the church to live in a way that pleases God and even ungodly people would approve of this kind of living.  These three virtues were the same virtues that the Greek and Roman philosophers praised for the person who would live a wise life.  Likewise, these virtues are also praised in the Hebrew wisdom literature.  (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Eccles., and Song of Songs, also Book of Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Sirach)

For Christians, our blessed hope is “that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.”  (v. 13)  Christ’s epiphaneia, his appearing or manifestation, can refer to Christ’s first appearing, but Paul only uses this word to refer to Christ’s second and future appearance (2 Thes. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1).  (Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary)

We shouldn’t miss the fact that in this verse (v. 13), Jesus Christ is called God.  This is one of the few verses in the NT, where Christ is called God outrightly (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1).  Yet this claim is consistent with the roles and attributes of Christ and the worship that is given to him.

V. 14 summarizes the saving work of Christ:  “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”  We are no longer our own.  We have been redeemed from sin, bought with the blood of Christ.  We no longer are slaves to sin, but now are slaves or servants of righteousness.  Paul’s whole argument here is that we should live up to our calling, our blessed hope.  We should not live as we used to live, doing the sinful things we used to do.  But as citizens of heaven, we should live into the hope of eternal life.

Salvation produces a people who have the desire and capacity for good works.   Those who follow Christ are now God’s people.  As God’s people, the Holy Spirit leads us into keeping God’s covenant.  And this covenant is no longer written on stones, but the new covenant is written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  If you want to live a holy life, you should live in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit day by day and moment by moment, following the Spirit’s leading and teaching.

Lord, help me to live a life of total commitment to you.  Help me to walk in the way that you have called us to walk, as Christians, as the wise, not as we formerly used to walk, but with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.  Help me to live a wise, righteous and godly life through your Holy Spirit in me, the Spirit of Christ.  Amen.

 

 

The Rise of Radicalism

 

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Matthew 25:31–46 (NLT) The Final Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man* comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations* will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,* you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.* 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

As I write this, I have just heard the news that the UK has voted to leave the EU.  This morning, we awoke to this news with the markets in disarray.  David Cameron, the British PM has resigned.  It seems the Brexit campaign won mostly through a campaign of fear, much those in the American presidential campaign, by preying on the fears of others:  the stranger, the immigrant, and the Muslim.  In the US, we have seen it in verbal attacks on particular groups:  first the fear of Mexicans and other immigrants, then after the recent  terrorist attacks, the fear of Muslims.

But Christians have not been given “a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  (2 Tim. 1:7)  Throughout the Bible there is a concern for those on the margins of our society:  the poor, widows and orphans, the stranger, the homeless, and the immigrant.  In fact, in many of the OT wisdom writings, “the poor” are synonymous with “the righteous.”  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus makes it clear that we will be judged, not on the basis of whether we said a sinner’s prayer or any such modern contrivance of what salvation means, but on how we treat the other:  the poor, the immigrant, the stranger, etc.  Jesus calls them “the least of these my brothers and sisters.”  The Son’s words of damnation to those who treated others poorly are: “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.  For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me.  I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home.  I was naked and you didn’t give me clothing.  I was sick and in prison and you didn’t visit me.”  (Matt. 25:41-43)

Karen, my wife, and I have been reading a devotional called A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Each day has a selection from some of Bonhoeffer’s writings.  The reading for June 23 was entitled “The Rise of Radicalism.”  Bonhoeffer is writing, of course, in Germany during the period of the Nazi regime, probably one of the most reactionary governments that has ever existed.  Hitler rose to power by playing into the fear of the other, in particular, he focused his vitriol on the Jews, and so we had the Holocaust.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “Radicalism always arises form a conscious or unconscious hatred of what exists.  Christian radicalism, whether it would flee the world or improve it, comes from the hatred of creation.  The radical cannot forgive God for having created what is… When evil becomes powerful in the world, it simultaneously injects the Christian with the poison of radicalism.  Reconciliation with the world as it is, which is given to the Christian by Christ, is then called betrayal and denial of Christ.  In its place come bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for human beings and the world.  Love that believes all things, bears all things, and hopes all things, love that loves the world in its very wickedness with the love of God (John 3:16), becomes – by limiting love to the closed circle of the pious – a pharisaical refusal of love for the wicked.  The open church of Jesus Christ, which serves the world to the end, becomes kind of supposed ur-Christian ideal church-community that in turn mistakenly confuses the realization of a Christian idea with the reality of a living Jesus Christ.  Thus a world that has become evil succeeds in making Christians evil also.”  (Ethics, 155-156)

In order to remain the church of Jesus Christ, we must resist those in our society who prey upon our fears.  We have not been given “a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  In order to remain the church of Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to love the other among us, as Jesus has commanded us and as Jesus demonstrated to us through his life, and especially through his death upon the cross.  “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  Everyone means everyone.  To remain the church of Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to love the other:  no matter whether they are different from us, whether they are Christians or not, whether they speak our language or not.  John Wesley called this perfect love:  “Love for God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and “Love for one’s neighbor as we love ourselves.”

And in the end, we will not be judged in the court of public opinion, but in the court of the Lord on the day of judgment.  I hope that he will say to me, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”

 

 

 

New Life in Christ

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Colossians 3:1–10 NRSV) So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

One of the first works of God the Holy Spirit in the new believer is regeneration.  That is we have new life in Christ.  Regeneration is the spiritual rebirth which produces new life in the believer in Christ.  The word translated regeneration is palingenesia (Tit. 3:5), meaning new birth. Regeneration is used of spiritual regeneration, involving the communication of a new life in the believer by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5, 6) through the “word of truth” (Jas. 1:18) and “the washing of water with the word.” (Eph. 5:26)

Paul says, “But when God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done but because of his mercy.  He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.”  (Tit. 3:4, 5)  In these verses Paul tells us that the work of regeneration is a work of the Spirit.  He goes on to link the work of regeneration with God’s work of justification in Christ, “Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”  (Tit. 3:7)  So the work of regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit and is firmly linked to the work of justification.

Since we have this new life in Christ, we should live up to the standards of this new life.  (Col. 3:1)  How do we do this?  In the flesh, living the new life is impossible, but only in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  (Rom. 8:1-13)  Our reality is that we live on earth, while we are yet alive.  But our new life is in heaven with Christ (v. 3), so we should “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”  (v. 2)  Our eternal life is oriented toward heaven and so we should no longer be controlled by the flesh, but by the Holy Spirit.  Our orientation should be toward heaven, where Christ rules.  As an added motivation, we should remember, that when Christ returns, we “also will be revealed with him in glory.”  (v. 4)

While we are yet alive, we live in the world.  But in Christ we are no longer part of the world.  So we should not live as we used to live lived when we were part of this world (vv. 5, 6).  In v. 8, Paul uses the metaphor of taking off one’s old clothing, literally stripping oneself of the old rags of worldliness and sinfulness, our old sin nature.  And “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”  (v. 9)

In the church in earlier days, Christians would put on new clothes when they were baptized as a sign of the new birth.  In a similar manner, we strip off our old life and put on Christ’s new life.  We allow the Christ to be our Lord and to guide us through his Spirit in the way we should live.  The new life in Christ is only possible through the Spirit working in us day by day and moment by moment.  This new life in Christ means walking in the Spirit and allowing the Holy Spirit to remake us into the image of Christ, which is the work of sanctification.

 

 

God’s Radical Hospitality

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

Luke 7:36–50 (NLT) One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.* 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver* to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”

50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Introduction:  Witness

This week we went to the North Texas Annual Conference.  The theme for Annual Conference this year was “Witness.”  We heard the witness of Scott Chrostek, the pastor of Church of the Resurrection Downtown, Kansas City, MO.  He shared about how he planted the church in the downtown of Kansas City as a daughter church of the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS with only 9 people in 2012.  In his book, The Misfit Nation:  How to Change the World with Surprises, Interruptions, and All the Wrong People, he shared how God took these 9 people, started a church, and grew them to over 1,000 in regular attendance in 5 years.  He called himself and those first 9 people  the misfits, because from a worldly perspective, they were all the wrong people.  They are reaching people who formerly considered themselves non-religious or nominally religious.  He illustrated how people can discover their innate passion for knowing and serving Christ, and how a church can become an integral part of the community.

Scott Chrostek’s witness is an example of how God can use anyone, even a group of seeming misfits, to extend God’s radical hospitality and extravagant generosity to those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Excellent churches display the signs of growth and health.  They practice the strategies that produce fruitful ministry.  Bishop Robert Schnase of Missouri wrote a book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.  In it, he identifies five practices that are present in every fruitful church. Some fruitful congregations are large, and some are small, some in the city, and some in the country.  But whatever the context might be excellent, healthy churches display some common characteristics.  These 5 practices are radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.

For the past 6 years, we have been studying, learning, and practicing these 5 practices in our ministry here at First United Methodist Church of Bells.  Bells First United Methodist Church is already great church, but we need to constantly remember our core values.  We need to remember who we are and what we are all about.  We need to think about ways we can improve and be an even better.

In this passage, Luke tells us about something that Jesus did that represents how we should treat people.  So today we are talking about hospitality. It’s such a friendly word. Hospitality is the ministry of inviting and welcoming people who might be a part of our fellowship and ministry.  Actually the Greek word for hospitality is literally, “stranger love,” that is showing love to people you do not know.  Partly it’s about evangelism—introducing people to Jesus.  Partly it’s about making people feel like they belong to the church family. Hospitality means caring for the outsiders and making them insiders. It’s more than entertaining. Hospitality is related to words like hospital and hospice. It’s a way we care for people who are hurting, people who need help, people who have sin-sick souls. It’s a way we offer rest and peace and comfort and love on behalf of Christ.

Key Point:  In this passage, Jesus demonstrates God’s radical hospitality and extravagant generosity.  In that, God has sent his Son to die upon the cross for our sins so that we might have eternal life.

Jesus was anointed by a woman.  It was quite common to invite a visiting rabbi or teacher to the Sabbath meal after he had taught in the synagogue.  If it was a banquet meal, Jesus may have been invited because of his reputation as a prophet.[1]  Maybe Simon felt that he was “honoring” Jesus by having Him in his home and perhaps felt a little proud of himself.  Jesus was a very popular teacher and Simon was curious about His teachings.

Luke 7:37 (NLT) When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  How did she get in? It was not uncommon for uninvited guests to be found at a banquet, and among them was a woman well known as an immoral woman[2]  Everyone knew who she was and her reputation.  Luke doesn’t give us her name.  The text says simply that she was a sinner.  She was known as a notorious sinner.

Luke 7:38 (NLT) Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

Jesus was reclining at the table. People reclined on low couches to eat, rather than sitting at a table like we do.  She washed his feet with her tears and wipes his feet with her unbound hair. She anoints him with her greatest treasure, an alabaster jar of perfume.  Probably this jar of perfume represented her entire life savings.

Luke 7:39 (NLT) When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”  Pastor Jesus, don’t you know who this is?  Can’t you see by the way she dresses what kind of woman she is?  She’s a sinner!  What kind of prophet is this who can’t tell a sinner from a saint?

Transition:       Secondly, Jesus welcomes sinners.  Then Jesus told a parable about 2 men who owed a man some money.

Luke 7:41–42 (NLT) “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver (a denarius was the price of a day’s work for a common laborer, so he owed about 2 years wages) to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts.  Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”  43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”  “That’s right,” Jesus said.

Love follows forgiveness.  Then Jesus turned to the woman, and speaks to Simon.  vv.  44–48 (NLT) “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

III.       Jesus friend of sinners (vv. 47-48)

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

One of the accusations that the Pharisees made of Jesus is that he was the friend of sinners.  Yes.  Thank God, Jesus is a friend of sinners!

One of the images of the church is that of a hospital.  A hospital is place to take care of and heal sick people.  In one of his mission statements, Jesus characterized his mission as a ministry of healing for sinners:  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.  I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”  (Luke 5:31, 32)

Love follows forgiveness.  Those who have been forgiven much, love much.  How much have we been forgiven?  How much do we love God?  How do we show Jesus that we love Him?

Do we love Jesus enough to extend his radical hospitality and extravagant grace to people who are different than we are?  Even to people who are notorious sinners?  Even to people we do not know?

But sadly, the Pharisees who sat around the table asked, “Who is this who forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49–50)  Only God can forgive sins.  But the very Son of God was sitting right there among them.  And he would have forgiven them of their sins also, but they were too comfortable in their own self-righteousness.

God’s Radical Hospitality and Extravagant Grace

Key Point:  In his response to the sinful woman, Jesus demonstrates God’s radical hospitality and extravagant grace.  “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  (Rom. 5:8)

Here is the challenge:  How can we reach out?  The focus of fruitful congregations is on the outsiders, just like Jesus, loving and welcoming people who are different from us, even notorious sinners.  The church is the only organization on the planet that exists for the sake of those who are not yet members.  Most churches don’t get that, and they struggle to be fruitful. But when they do get it, it’s awesome!

How is God calling us to respond to His call to radical hospitality?

Casting Crowns, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners”

Jesus, friend of sinners
We have strayed so far away
We cut down people in Your name
But the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners
The truth’s become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You
But they’re tripping over me

Always looking around but never looking up
I’m so double minded
A plank-eyed saint with dirty hands
And a heart divided

Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world
At the end our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Break our hearts for what breaks Yours

[1] Robert H. Stein, vol. 24, Luke, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 235-36.

[2] D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Lk 7:36–50.

 

Salvation by Grace through Faith

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Ephesians 2:1–10 (NRSV) You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

In this passage, Paul describes what became the essential doctrine of the Reformation:  salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.  The three solas of Luther were:  sola scripture (only by Scripture), sola fide (only by faith), and sola gratia (only by grace).

Grace is God’s unmerited favor.  God is love (1 John 4:8), and grace is an expression of the love of God.  In this case, Paul is speaking of God’s justifying grace, the grace of God that the Holy Spirit works in a person to justify them with God.  To be justified is to be “made right.”  In the work of justification, being made right with God means that we are freed from the guilt and punishment of our sins and receive new life (regeneration).  Only the presence and power of God can free us from the guilt and punishment of sin.

Before we believed in Christ, we were dead through our many sins.  This is true for every human being.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Rom. 3:23)  We once lived following the passionate desires of our sinful nature, and in fact, obeying the devil.  The devil is the “commander of the powers of the unseen world.  He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.”

I had another preacher ask me, “You mean to say that my little granddaughter is a sinner?”  I answered, “Yes.  She is.”  Although God does not hold her accountable until she is old enough to give account.  She is born a sinner.  “All” means “all.”  One of the first words that a child learns to say is, “No!”  Where does that come from?  It is the sin nature raising it’s ugly head leading a child to disobedience, which is sin.

But by God’s mercy, kindness and love, we who are joined to Jesus Christ are saved from the consequences of sin (Eph. 2:4, 5), which is death.  (Rom. 6:23)  Paul says literally, that God “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in heaven in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph. 2:5, 6)  Since we are joined with Christ, we will share his resurrection.

When does the resurrected life begin for the believer?  Paul suggests that in some way, we have already begun living the resurrection life.  Although our physical bodies will still die, yet our soul will continue to live in heaven and we will also share in the kingdom of God with Christ.  All these blessings are a result of our union with Christ:  resurrection, eternal life, the Kingdom of God, and all the other blessings of the Kingdom.  They are as sure as if everything has already taken place.  Christ’s resurrection is the evidence that it is all true.  The Spirit of Christ living in us is the guarantee that we have a share in these blessings.  So we should endeavor to live into our resurrection, live into our eternal life, and to not live as those who have no hope.  (1 Thes. 4:13)

Ephesian 2:8, 9 are probably two of the most important verses in the Bible, in that, they concisely describe how a person is saved.  “God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  (v. 9)This is how Protestants have understood the process of salvation since the Reformation.  People are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own goodness nor through good works nor through any of our own merit.  Only by grace through faith are we saved.  (Rom. 3:21-4:8; Gal. 3:2-10; 5:1-6)  This is the great theme that runs through all of Paul’s letters.

Lord, help me to live in the light of eternity.  Help me to live into my resurrection life.  Help me to live each day as a citizen and ambassador of the Kingdom of God, and to help others know you and the glory of the blessings in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

The Spirit-filled Life (Part 2)

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Romans 8:5–11 (NLT)

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life* because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

The freedom from sin accomplished by the saving work of Jesus Christ results in a new way of living.  Paul contrasts those who live according to the sinful nature with those who live according to the Spirit.

Those who live a life dominated by the sinful nature (flesh) means essentially everyone apart from Christ.  Paul has already spelled this out, but here he rehashes what he already said.  Those who are controlled by the sinful nature live a life that leads to death.  Their whole orientation is hostile to God.

There is no such thing as being indifferent to God.  You are either oriented toward God, or you are hostile toward God.  So letting the Spirit control one’s life leads to eternal life and peace.  The peace to which Paul refers is first and foremost peace with God, as if we were at war with God.  So Paul said in v. 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been made right by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” For that reason, “those who are under the control of the sinful nature can never please God.”  (v. 8:8)

In contrast, those who have the Holy Spirit living in them are not controlled by their sinful nature.  Instead, we are controlled by the Spirit.  (v. 9)  The Holy Spirit directs the lives of believers.  This doesn’t mean that we do not sin.  We are still sinners saved by grace.  However, it does mean that the orientation of the believers life is now toward God, when it previously was toward sin and death.  That is what the word repentance implies, a turning away from sin and toward God, a reorientation of life from what the sinful nature desires to what God desires and wills for us instead.  We turn from death toward life in Jesus Christ.

This reorientation of the will is accomplished by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is part of what it means to say we have new life in Christ.  We are regenerated.  And because we are regenerated, we have the Spirit of Christ as a sign and seal of that regeneration.

Some folks have gotten the idea that we do not have the Holy Spirit in us after baptism, that it awaits some second event that will make us super saints.  But Paul disabuses that notion.  He says (parenthetically), “And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.”  (v. 9)  So in the United Methodist Church, after you are baptized, the pastor lays hands on you and prays for the Holy Spirit to “work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  There is an understanding that this life of following Christ is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.  So Paul says that this same Spirit consistently opposes sin and death in our lives.

Paul is aware that not all the blessings of the Kingdom of God have been realized.  We still are subject to death until Christ returns.  (v. 10)  But the Spirit is the agent of eternal life.  The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the first sign that we have eternal life through Jesus Christ.  And the presence of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the Spirit will resurrect us from the dead, “just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

In some mysterious way, we are already living eternal life since the day of our salvation.  Since that day, the sanctifying grace of God has been at work in our lives transforming us into the image of Christ.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us reason to think that the life of glory has already begun in our lives.  Although we still live in this body of clay, in our spirits we have already begun to break away from this present age into the Kingdom of God.  So Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of God is already among you.”  For wherever the King is, there is the Kingdom.”

The sinful nature is dead in us as a result of the work of Jesus Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit.  But Martin Luther said something to the effect that the old man who is drowned in baptism, but the old man is a good swimmer.

Lord, help me to live each day into my baptism.  Help me to walk day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.