Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

Live Strong by Faith

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Hebrews 11:1–3 (NLT) Great Examples of Faith

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.  By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

Hebrews 11, called the “Hall of Faith,” is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible.  In Heb. 10:37, 38, the author quotes from Hab. 2:3, 4 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.  And my righteous ones will live by faith…”

As he thinks about living by faith.  He begins with a definition of faith.  He says, “Faith is resolute confidence…”  The word translated confidence in the NLT is hupostasis.  Hupostasis is a noun meaning ‘resolute confidence,’ literally, standing under or understanding; assurance.  The word translated as “conviction” is elegchos, meaning certain persuasion.  In this case, “Faith is the resolute confidence of what we hope for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (v. 1) The author’s 2 fold definition suggests that if we can see it, then it is not faith.  Faith is acting on what God has revealed about God’s will and character.  “For by it the people in days of old gained a good reputation.”  (v. 2)

In v. 3, the author begins to repeat this phrase, “Pistei…” meaning “By faith…” “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”  This is a fundamental belief of both Judaism and Christianity (Gen. 1:1-3).  God created everything in the universe that we can now see, and it was all created out of nothing.  A life of faith understands that, by analogy, God’s promises are real and will be called into reality by God, even if at present they are unseen.

The normal Christian life is a life lived by faith.  This is the main point of the text.  God is faithful and can be counted on to bring to completion all of God’s plans and promises.  The normal life of faith means living in the light of eternity.  All of the examples that follow (vv. 4-31) demonstrate this life of faith.

The remainder of the chapter can be divided up into 3 sections and a conclusion:  Introduction (vv. 1-3); I.  Examples of faith from Abel to Abraham (vv. 4-12); Interlude:  Faith of pilgrims (vv. 13-16); II.  More examples of faith from Abraham to Rahab (vv. 17-31); Conclusion:  Overview of the history of OT faith (vv. 32-40)

For example, Enoch was taken up into heaven and did not face a normal death.  (Gen. 5:24).  The author uses Enoch as an example to cite this principle in v. 6:  “And it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who sincerely seek God.”  The author alludes back to his theme verses from Hab. 2:3, 4 (Heb. 10:37-38).  The belief that God exists is a properly basic belief.  And the second belief follows it, that the God in whom we believe is able to fulfill all God’s promises.  God is faithful and trustworthy.  God will fulfill all God’s promises.  In all our difficulties and trials, we can trust in God and anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promises.

In the example of Abraham, the author cites 2 events in Abraham’s life:  the calling of Abraham (vv. 8-10; Gen. 12:1-2; 10:-13:18); and the birth of Isaac (vv. 11-12; Gen. 22:17)  The OT account tells us that Abraham obeyed God, and God counted his obedience as righteousness.  Abraham stepped out in faith, not knowing where he was going, but only obeying God as he understood that God promised him a land which not he, but his descendants would possess:  the promised land (a major theme in this text).  And the author identifies the Promised Land with “a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” to which Abraham was confidently looking forward.  He takes the Promised Land to be, not the physical land of Canaan, but the heavenly Kingdom of God.  (v. 10)

In the interlude (vv. 13-16), the author says that “All these people died still believoing what God had promised them.  They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.  They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.”  (v. 13)  They were strangers (xenoi) and exiles (parepidemoi).  Xenos means a guest, stranger, meaning a friend although a stranger.  Parepidemos means a stranger, a sojourner; not simply one who is passing through, but a foreigner who has settled next to native people.  This points out a basic understanding of the nature of the Christian life.  This world is not our home, rather we are here as strangers and foreigners, immigrants if you will.  We are passing through this world until we get to our real heavenly home.

Living strong by faith involves resolute confidence in response to what God has made known (11:1-3).  As seen in the examples of faith in Hebrews 11, living strong by faith is the normal Christian life.  We live in the light of eternity.

Living by faith as demonstrated in the example of ch. 11 shows how faith worked in the lives of Abraham, Moses, and the other OT saints.  The danger is that we might say, “I’m not like Abraham, or Moses, or David.  They are in the Bible.”  But when you examine the biblical record you find that Abraham was a liar as was Jacob. Sarah was a doubter.  Joseph was a tattle-tail.  Moses was a murderer.  David was an adulterer.  The account ends with Rahab the prostitute.  These were just ordinary people living ordinary lives, until they responded to the call of God.  And even after stepping out in faith they still struggled.  They never received the promises of God, they lived in the light of those promises, understanding that God is faithful.  And the faithful God who calls us to step out in faith, will also be faithful to fulfill his promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ.  So the author concludes:  “For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”  (v. 39)

 

 

Our Blessed Hope

Titus 213–14 [widescreen]

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

 

Matthew 2540 [widescreen]

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.”

 

 

 

Christ’s Good Soldier

2 Tim 2_4-4

2 Timothy 2:3–7 (NLT)  Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.

Paul is writing perhaps his final letter to his beloved son in the faith Timothy.  As he sat in prison, he was thinking about all the things that he wants Timothy to know.  The things he would tell him in person if he were present.  When I was activated for Operation Desert Storm, my son was only about 4 years old.  As we had no idea that the war would be so short (it was actually finished before we had finished our training), we were all thinking about what might happen to us.  I wrote in my journal many pages of what I wanted my son to know as he grew up in case I never returned.  Thankfully, the war was very short and I returned safely after only half a year.

Paul uses a couple of metaphors in this passage.  He compares the Christian life to that of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer.  As a retired soldier, I am often reminded that the values of the US Army are deeply ingrained in me.  Many of these values are the same or similar to Christian values:  loyalty, duty, respect, self-less service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

As Christians, Paul says we should be like soldiers.  Paul had in mind, perhaps, the Roman soldier who kept him captive and had charge over him in the Mamertine prison.  What Paul says is still true for soldiers today.  Soldiers don’t involve themselves in civilian affairs.  (v. 4)  Instead they endure suffering along with their comrades.  A study was conducted in WWII as to why soldiers fought.  The answer was not because they believed in the mission (even though most did), nor because their commander told them to, nor because of patriotism (although they were patriotic), but rather, they fought because they wanted to protect their friends, their comrades in arms, the man to the right and to the left of them in line.  They had endured the suffering of hard training together before they deployed, and endured the hard suffering of the war together.  So they fought not to let their friends down.  Paul is encouraging Timothy to endure suffering like a good soldier by having a mission focus.

Mission focus is a concept that the Army came up with maybe 30 years ago.  The overall mission of the Army “is to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.”  Everything that the US Army does is to fulfill that mission.  Each combat mission has a military mission statement that falls under that mission statement.  The Army’s focus then is on fulfilling the mission.  They have mission focused training, and mission focused structure that enables the US Army to fulfill its mission.

Likewise the church has a mission.  Our mission statement is given in Matt. 28:19, 20:  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Everything we do should be focused on fulfilling this mission.  Everything means everything:  how we live our lives, how we structure our church, how we conduct business in the church, our outreach to new people, what kinds of programs we have in the church, how we welcome and make places for new people in the church.

In the realm of all possible good things, there are many good things that the church can do.  But every church struggles with the same limitations, no matter how large or how small.  We all have limited resources of time, money, and volunteers.  Everything we do should maximize our mission accomplishment.

How do we do that?  In my ministry, I have tried to focus my time and energy on the 20% of activities that will accomplish 80% of the mission.  These are what we used to call mission essential tasks.  If we do these 20% of activities, then we will accomplish 80% of the activity.  What would our churches look like if our entire focus was on fulfilling the mission which Christ has given to us?

Many people think that the church in the US is declining, because of increased theological liberalism, others think it is because we are not liberal enough.  My research on church growth has indicated that theological bent (however we describe it) has little or no bearing on church health or vitality.  What makes the difference is whether a church is focused on the mission of reaching new people and making new disciples for Jesus Christ.  If a church is focused on reaching new people with the Gospel through evangelism and witness, and outreach and mission, then they will probably be a vital and healthy congregation, and they will grow, no matter where they are, or what circumstances they are in (the demographics of the area).

Lord, help me to endure hardship like a good soldier.  Help me to have the same mission focus that you had, to always keep your mission in mind, that I will please you, my commanding officer.  Forgive me for the times when I forget my mission and lose my mission focus and get involved in trivial controversy and fighting over words.  Strengthen me to control my tongue.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

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.

 

The Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6_13

Ephesians 6:10–17 (NLT) A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we* are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.* 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.* 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Paul’s final word to the church in Ephesus is to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”  He wants to remind believers of the real power behind the opposition against us, the devil, and to urge us to protect ourselves with the power of God.  So he uses the metaphor of putting on the whole panoply, the whole armor of God.

In the western world, we have come to discount the “rulers…powers…the forces of this darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  (v. 10)  We either say that they don’t exist or we spiritual-ize them, identifying them with abstract evils in this world:  alcoholism, slavery, prejudice, hatred, etc.  However, Christians in the majority world have a different understanding of what is taking place in the spiritual realm.  Just as those who lived in the ancient near east, they recognize that the world as we know it consists of the earth, and heaven, yes, but also the in-between world of the spirit.  Someone has called this the “excluded middle,” and it explains the difficulty that mainline churches have had in reaching immigrant populations in the US.  We’re missing a part of how they understand the world.

Marva J. Dawn tells us that the language of powers fell out of use in the Reformation due to the excesses of certain apocalyptic groups.  The rise of liberalism through Schleiermacher and others led them to view the Kingdom of God as subjective and non-cosmic.  So they spoke about evil of injustice in the economic powers, or the evils of social ills:  prejudice, hatred, greed.

In her book Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Eerdman’s 2001)asks us to consider that both might be true.  On the eve of the rise of the power of Nazism in Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:  “How can one close one’s eyes at the fact that the demons themselves have taken over rule of the world, that it is the powers of darkness who have made an awful conspiracy.”  There seems to be a mind and a purpose that links together evil in the world.  And Paul says that our battle is not just with these human representatives of evil, but also with spiritual forces of evil in this spiritual world.  This helps to explain the pervasiveness of evil in our world.

There is evil in the world, and it is not just evil people.  There is a spiritual battle in the world, and our battle is not against evil people, but against spiritual powers of this darkness.  (v. 12)

Spiritual warfare requires spiritual weapons.  So Paul exhorts us to put on the full panoply, the full armor of God.  He asks us to imagine a Roman soldier as he puts on his gear and gets ready for battle.  (v. 13)  Almost all of the equipment is defensive. “The sword of truth, which is the word of God” is our only weapon.  Paul’s focus is not on the precise function of each piece but on God’s gifts.  Our grounding in Christ and the Word of God provides us the protection and ability to stand your ground.

I was watching a TV show recently that depicted a Roman battle.  As an old soldier, I’m often interested in watching war movies.  This one got it all wrong.  They showed the Roman soldiers jumping out of line and hacking their enemies with their swords.  That was not the case, the armies of Rome always fought in lines and squares.  Each soldier’s shield actually protected their left side and the right side of the soldier next to them.  They marched together as a unit, never breaking ranks.  When they reached the enemy, their “sharp, two-edged sword” was useful for thrusting into the unprotected heart of their enemy.

Paul’s metaphor for spiritual warfare goes against our lone ranger mentality in the US.  We admire the heroes who jump out and go it alone, who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.  But there are no lone rangers in the Kingdom of God.  We are supposed to be in this together.  Almost every book in the NT was written to the church (the exceptions being Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).

Yet people think they can live the Christian life apart from the church.  Is it no wonder, we so often fail?  Is it no wonder, we fall away from the faith?  Is it no wonder the church in the western world is so weak?  Why is the church in the majority world so strong?

They recognize 1.  We are in a spiritual battle.  2.  They recognize that they are not in the battle alone, but together in the church of Jesus Christ.  3.  They put on the whole armor of God so that they may stand in the fiery trials they face on a daily basis.

In contrast, we crumble and fall away at the least bit of opposition.  It is why the devil has had so much success in causing the church in the US to fall away and wither.  We don’t recognize that we are even in a spiritual battle.  And we don’t use the gifts that God has given to us in that battle.

Paul says earlier in Ephesians why God has given to us the church:  “to equip God’s people to do God’s work and to build up the church, the body of Christ…until we all come to such unity in our faith and understanding of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”  (Eph. 4:12, 13)

You want to be strong in the Lord.  You want to stop failing in your walk with Christ.  You want to be able to stand firm against the devil:  Get up and out of bed 15 min. earlier and read the Word of God and pray each day.  Get up out of bed on Sunday morning and get to church.  The secret ingredient is there is no secret ingredient.  It’s simple obedience to what we should know are the Lord’s commands.

 

Salvation by Grace through Faith

grace_8925c

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.