My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Peeking Behind the Veil" - (01/24/10)

There is something in most of us humans that makes us want to see what is hidden.  We want to see what is behind the curtain.  We want to lift the veil to see what it hides.  We want to know what is in those packages under the Christmas tree.  I had one uncle who was famous for sneaking down in the middle of the night and carefully unwrapping his presents to see what is inside.  Then, just as carefully, he would wrap them back up again and sneak back to bed.
Moses wanted to see the Lord.  While he was up on Mt. Sinai Moses asked God to reveal Himself to him.  I believe that in part, Moses was just curious to see what God is like.  They had talked, the Bible says, “…as a man talks with his friend.”  But finally, Moses asked to see God’s face.  You remember the story.  The Lord told him, however, that no human could look upon God and live.  So the Lord allowed Moses to see just a little bit of His glory, His Shekinah.  And even that was so powerful that Moses glowed in the dark for weeks to come and had to cover up his face with a veil because the effect continued long after he came back down from the mountain.
In our passage for today the Lord Jesus drew back the curtain for just a few moments and allowed three of His disciples to see Him as He really is.  He did not do it merely to satisfy their curiosity, however.  He did not do it in response to any request by them.  He did it so that later on, after His death and resurrection, they might serve as witnesses of what they had observed and experienced, to bear witness to His divinity.
Oh, they thought they already knew everything about Him.  They had walked and talked with Him, eaten and slept with Him, sat at His feet and looked into His face but never before had they seen Him like this.  They had never seen His glory, the glory He shared with God the Father from eternity past.  For a few brief moments they got to see Jesus as we will one day see Him when we step from this earthly life into His glorious presence.

            The Transfiguration account is recorded by three out of the four Gospel writers: Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36.  The three accounts are almost exactly alike with just a few minor variations, which taken together, give us a very full understanding of what took place there that night.

Verse 1: And He was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the Kingdom of God after it has come with power.” 
  • The chapter division at this point here in Mark is unfortunate because this verse is clearly the conclusion of the discourse recorded in the last 5 verses of chapter 8.  Moreover, we see from the next verse that there was a six-day interval between verse 1 and verse 2.  Matthew and Luke’s accounts both place it with the previous discourse.  And what was Jesus saying in those verses?  He was talking about what it means to be a true disciple of His, and the fact that the day would eventually come when His true glory and majesty would be revealed for all to see.  That statement in 8:38 leads directly to this one in 9:1 and they tie together.
  • However, the content of this verse has confused many people over the years.  Some claim that Jesus was referring here to the future destruction of Jerusalem.  Others say that He was speaking of the beginning of the Church at Pentecost.  Still others believe that Jesus was speaking of the end of the age, when He will return to set up His Messianic Kingdom.
  • But I don’t believe He was talking about any of those things.  Look again carefully at His words.  He is speaking of a soon occurring event that will obviously reveal the power of God’s Kingdom.  He says that some of those standing there that day would witness this demonstration of the power of God.
  • So what was He referring to?  Here’s a hint: in all three Gospel accounts the thing that immediately follows these words is the Transfiguration in which Jesus revealed His glory.  I believe that He was referring specifically to this event, and apparently so did Matthew, Mark, & Luke.
  • Moreover, Peter, who was one of those who was “standing there” referred to the Transfiguration using the very same words.  He writes in II Peter 1:16-18, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from Heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.”  Indeed he was there.

Verse 2: And six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves.  And He was transfigured before them; 
  • “After six days” means six days after Jesus uttered the prophecy in verse 1.  And here, at least for the three disciples who witnessed it, was yet another fulfillment of what Jesus had said.  They got to see a foretaste of the glory that Christ had, and will have again in Heaven.
  • Luke is the only one of the three Gospel writers to tell us when this event occurred.  In Luke 9:32 we read, Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.”  From this we conclude that this all happened at night.
  • Notice who was orchestrating this event—Jesus.  He chose Peter, James, and John.  He chose the place where this would occur.  He isolated them and prepared the scene by getting them alone.  But why didn’t He take all 12 disciples along?  I don’t know.  Several times He singled out these same three men for further training or instruction, perhaps because they were His key leaders and He knew that this experience would give them status in the eyes of their fellow disciples.  Or maybe out of the 12 they were the three who were most spiritually perceptive.  I don’t know.  Or perhaps is was because of the “3 witnesses” rule in Judaism, referred to in Matthew 18:16 quoting Deuteronomy 19:15 (see also Deut. 17:6), which states: “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” 
  • “He took them to a high mountain.”  No one knows exactly where the Transfiguration occurred.  Some believe it happened on the slopes of Mt. Tabor.  Others think it occurred on one of the spurs of Mt. Hermon.  The mountainous area around Caesarea Philippi is the third, and perhaps the most likely possibility, given the fact that that’s where they were in chapter 8 (cf. 8:27).
  • “He was transfigured before them.”  The Greek word used here is the verb form of the word used in the field of Biology to describe the process of transformation by which a worm turns into a butterfly.  We call that metamorphosis.  It means a radical change in the very essence of the creature in question, not merely a superficial change of outward appearance.  As the disciples watched Him Jesus changed before their very eyes.  In that moment Christ’s human body was glorified.  Everything about Him was suddenly different—His body, His hair, His clothing.  It is in this glorified body that He will one day come to set up His Kingdom.  The details of the change are given in the next verse.

Verse 3: and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 
  • This Greek word metamorphóō is the same word used in II Corinthians 3:18, which says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  Paul uses the same word in Romans 12:2 where he writes, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 
  • Only a moment before His garments looked pretty much like everyone else’s clothes.  His robe was probably light brown or tan.  But now, suddenly, He is clothed in shining, dazzling white raiment, as white as snow.  But this wasn’t the most shocking thing.

Verse 4: And Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were conversing with Jesus. 
  • This verse has drawn much criticism.  Peter, James, and John could obviously just look up and see that there were two other men with Jesus, and that they all three glowed.  But how did they know who the two men were?  Well, perhaps they didn’t in that exact moment.  But remember, after this was over they talked these events over with Jesus.  Moreover, there may have been something in the way Moses and Elijah were dressed that gave away their identity.  Nevertheless, we know that they were indeed the two great men from the OT.
  • Why Moses and Elijah, rather than, say, Joshua and Daniel?  That’s easy!  The Jews thought in terms of basically two categories of Holy Scripture: The Law, and The Prophets.  Moses was the famous Law Giver.  Elijah was the prince of the Prophets.  They were perhaps the two most respected men of Scripture.
  • Luke 9:30-31 says, And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure [lit. exodus], which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  So apparently Moses and Elijah were discussing with Jesus the events which would take place in Jerusalem a short time later, including His death, burial, and resurrection.  This should have proved to the disciples that the death of the Messiah was in no way incompatible with the Old Testament scriptures.
  • Seeing Christ’s Transfiguration as a kind of preview of the Messianic Kingdom (cf. 16:28) the great Lewis Speery Chafer, in his fine commentary on this passage, points out that Moses (who had died and been buried by the hand of God – Deut. 34:5-6), and Elijah (who was taken to Heaven in a whirlwind without passing through death – II Kings 2:11) represent the two groups that Christ will some day bring with Him to establish His Kingdom: dead saints who are resurrected, and living saints who have been “translated.”  I don’t know if that’s why these two were chosen by the Father to come and comfort and encourage Jesus, but it’s an interesting theory.

Verses 5-6: And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.  Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  6 (For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.) 
  • Have you ever been so scared or so beside yourself that you lost track of what you were saying?  Have you ever been in a situation where you heard yourself saying stupid things but didn’t know how to shut off the flow?  I have.  And I have also been on the receiving end, when people in their desire to comfort me, said stupid stuff and made ridiculous comments.  It would have been far better and much more comforting if they had said nothing at all.  Here we see Peter “loosing it.”  He was beside himself because of what he had just witnessed.  He was, as my dad used to say, “running off at the mouth.”
  • Peter offered to build three little shrines, one for Jesus and one for each of His heavenly visitors.  What was that about?  Poor old Peter was so shaken up that all he could think to do was to build a monument.  That’s what the Jews did whenever God did something amazing.  He parted the Red Sea so they built a monument.  He gave them the Law so they built a monument.  God led them across the Jordan so they built another monument.  It’s what they always did so that was the only thing Peter could think to do.  Interestingly, Jesus didn’t even comment on Peter’s offer.  He knew that Peter was beside himself.
  • However, the show wasn’t over yet.  Just when they thought it couldn’t get any better, God Himself spoke to them in an audible voice.

Verse 7: Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud: “This is My beloved Son.  Listen to Him!” 
  • Matthew’s account adds a couple of other little tidbits of information: He [Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’  And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid.”
  • Apparently Peter was cut off in mid-sentence by the cloud and the heavenly voice.  His voice was stopped by God’s voice.  But that’s how it is—when God speaks, everybody else shuts up.  Peter was just running off at the mouth, but God had something important to say.  I’m afraid that sometimes we are so busy speaking that we neglect to listen for His voice.
  • This “cloud” was not some kind of fog or a mere rain cloud.  It was the Shekinah, the visible manifestation of God’s glory, which throughout the OT always marked the presence of God (cf. Exod. 13:21-22; 40:38; Num. 9:15; Psalm 99:7; Isa. 4:5; II Chronicles 7:1).

Verse 8: And all at once they looked around and saw no one with them any more, except Jesus only. 
  • Can you picture this in your mind?  Only a second before they had witnessed Jesus and His two back-from-the-dead companions glowing in the dark amidst a heavenly radiance that defied description.  For Jews to be in the presence of Moses and Elijah would have been a breathtaking experience.  But now, to suddenly realize that Moses and Elijah were mere servants who had been sent from Heaven to minister to Jesus must have been mind-boggling.  This one with whom they had been living, eating, conversing, and traveling was far greater than the OT law-giver and the greatest of the prophets.  WOW!

Verses 9: As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man should rise from the dead. 
  • Matthew 17:9 is even clearer: “And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’”
  • This is odd.  It was His idea to take them up on the mountain in the first place.  It was His choice to reveal Himself to them in that way.  So now why would He tell them that they have to be quiet about it and not tell anyone?  Can you imagine what a burden that put on those three men?
  • Apparently this was in keeping with Jesus’ policy of restraint in order not to add fuel to the fire of the inaccurate and erroneous Messianic teachings that were already floating around and the possibility of the disciples inadvertently inciting a popular uprising.

Verse 10: And they seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what “rising from the dead” might mean. 
  • In spite of their desire to run out and tell everyone what they had witnessed, from what we can tell, Peter, James, and John obeyed the Lord’s instruction.  Only after the resurrection did they share this story with the other disciples.  But it must have been a very difficult secret to keep.
  • They didn’t understand the “why” behind His command but they obeyed Him, nevertheless.  There is a lesson here for us.  Obedience is based on trust, not on full disclosure.  Sometimes God does not tell us all the reasons for what He does, but by experience we have come to know and believe that His way is always the best way.
  • But their vow of non-disclosure didn’t keep them from whispering to one another.  Jesus really confused them by His “rising from the dead” speech.  They didn’t know what to make of it.  They analyzed the words.  They parsed the sentence.  They studied the context and the syntax.  They tried to come up with theories of what He could possibly mean by those shocking words.  However, at this point in the story they still did not get the fact that He had come to die on the cross to save sinners.

          I believe that this passage is holy ground. In it the veil between earth and Heaven is parted for an instant and we get a chance to see Jesus the way He will look when we next lay eyes on Him, in all His glory, surrounded by the hosts of Heaven. This is a foretaste of glory, a preview of coming attractions. It is similar to the experience of Moses on Mt. Sinai when the Lord allowed him to see just a glimpse of the Shekinah glory of Jehovah.
          Peter, James, and John were not participants in this story—they were there merely as witnesses. However, the day will come when we will indeed share in Christ’s glory because His Word promises that we too will be transformed, in the twinkling of an eye. We will all be changed, transformed; We will no longer be sinners but will indeed be saints. Our mortality will be changed into immortality. Everything will be made new. I John 3:2 puts it this way: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He [Christ] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Handlers of Truth" II Tim. 2:15 - (01/10/10)

"Handlers of Truth"
II Timothy 2:15

This morning our emphasis is on God’s amazing Book, the Holy Bible:
  • The English word Bible comes from the Greek word, bíblos (βίβλος), which simply means, “book, or scroll.” But the Word of God is unlike any other book in all of history.
  • It was written by more than 40 authors from many different walks of life – kings, rich men, poor men, fishermen, poets, government officials, teachers, and prophets.
  • It was written in three languages – Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
  • It was written on three continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe.
  • Its writing spanned a period of over 1,600 years.
  • It consists of 39 Old Testament books, plus 27 New Testament books, forming a collection of 66 books, that are really one united book.
  • The Bible is the biggest “Best Seller” in history – over 6 billion copies have been printed worldwide.
  • World sales of the Bible are more than 100 million copies every year.
  • There are approximately 6,800 distinct languages in the world. The Bible has been translated (in whole or in part) into around 3,000 of those languages.
  • Many people died translating it into the common tongues.
  • Countless people have died protecting it.
  • It is the most hated and most beloved book in all of history.
The Bible makes some audacious claims about itself, including that it was written by men under the direct control of God who guided them in writing the very words that perfectly reflect the heart and mind of God himself.
  • II Peter 1:20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
  • II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
  • Hebrews 4:12 says of the Scriptures, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
But today I want us to concentrate on another familiar verse that speaks about the Scriptures, but with a different emphasis. If indeed the Scriptures are the God-breathed revelation of the Living God Himself as we believe, then what is our obligation to that revealed Word? What is incumbent upon us if that is true?

Paul tells us in II Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of Truth.”

What do we mean by “accurately handling” the Word of God. Let me tell you a story that illustrates what it does NOT mean:
A man was looking for some specific guidance from God so he prayed and asked God to make his Bible open at the page He wanted him to read. So the man opened his Bible randomly and the first verse that his eyes met was II Corinthians 13:12. It said, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” A little discouraged he tried again, and this time he found himself at I Corinthians 14:39, “Do not forbid the use of tongues.” Somewhat confused yet undaunted and convinced he was on the right track, he tried again and the first verse he found was Matthew 27:5, “…he went away and hanged himself.” The very next verse “God led him to” was Luke 10:37, “... go thou and do likewise!”
Let me ask you, was that man “handling accurately” the Word of Truth? No! He was using the Bible like an Ouija Board or a deck of Tarot Cards. People twist and torture the Scriptures all the time to try and make it say what they want it to say, but that is not a legitimate way to handle the Word of Truth.

So let’s look at II Timothy 2:15 again to see what it really says:
“Be diligent”
  • That means to spare no effort or expense. We are exhorted to put in the time and study of God’s Word necessary to understand it. See chapter 4 for the same expression used twice. In 4:9, “Make every effort to come to me soon.” In 4:21 Paul writes to Timothy, “Make every effort to come before winter.”
“…to present yourself”
  • This is a military term meaning “to report for duty or inspection.” We need to take God’s Word seriously, like a soldier reading the orders from his general telling him to report for duty.
“…approved to God”
  • Don’t kid yourself. God sees, He knows, and He weighs the thoughts and intentions of the heart. I don’t know about you but someday I want to hear His words, “Well done, Mike, good and faithful servant!”
“…as a workman”
  • As Christ’s disciples we have a task to perform that requires effort. The Christian life is not a pony ride or a walk in the park. It is about working while there is yet time.
“…who does not need to be ashamed,”
  • What are the kinds of things that make a workman feel ashamed?
    • Getting caught being lazy
    • Getting caught being dishonest, stealing, etc.
    • Getting caught doing lousy work
    • Getting caught bad-mouthing the boss
“…handling accurately”
  • KJV says, “rightly dividing,” a phrase that is somewhat confusing but not inaccurate. The Greek word Paul uses here means to “cut straight.” It implies:
    1. Exegeting God’s Word carefully— “What does it really say?”
    2. Interpreting God’s Word correctly— “What does it really mean?”
    3. Applying God’s Word honestly— “How does it apply to me?”
“…the Word of Truth.”
  • Here Paul refers to the Bible, the Gospel, the Word of God, the Law of the Lord, etc.
  • In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of His disciples. In verse 17 He prays, “Sanctify them in the truth. Thy Word is truth.” There can be no better testimony than that of Jesus himself.
Many years ago, as recorded in John 18:38, Pontius Pilate posed the famous question, “What is truth?” The world asks the same question today in many different ways:
  • Are there really such things as “right” and “wrong”?
  • Does absolute truth exist?
  • Whose truth sets the standard to follow? Mine? Yours? Some guru’s?
  • Are there such things as absolutes, or is everything relative?
Jesus gives the answer to all these questions in John 14:6: Jesus said [to Thomas], “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” He was claiming to be the absolute embodiment of truth, as well as its final arbiter.

Pontius Pilate would have fit in well in America, 2010. He was very much like the majority of people around us.
  • People in post-modern America are uncomfortable with the idea of absolute truth. In my opinion we Christians are largely to blame. We have waffled and blinked time and again when we should have stood firm on the truth.
  • The American legal system with its horror stories about dirty attorneys, cops, and judges has left us somewhat jaded and disillusioned.
  • The commonly held belief that we come from pond-scum has led to a devaluing of human life. But on the other hand, everyone is looking for self-esteem and meaning in life. You can’t have it both ways.
  • Fetuses are just tissue with no soul, so it’s OK to “abort” them. But we will spare no effort to save a preemie. That is illogical. Yet when does the soul show up? Two minutes before birth?
  • People are saying that homosexuality is just a perfectly normal alternative lifestyle and they add, “You have no right to judge me!”
  • Our schools are teaching that there are no moral absolutes and we make our own truth. But then, what gives you the right to tell me I’m wrong to beat an old man to death with a tire iron and steal his spare change?
The world is confused and rightly so, because in too many churches the preachers in the pulpits and the Christians in the highways and byways are afraid to speak the truth for fear of offending anyone. The problem with that approach is that the Gospel and the Word of God are by nature, offensive. They present man as sinful and rotten to the core with no hope of salvation by his own efforts. Saying that tends to offend sinners. I would point out that Jesus offended sinners every time He opened His mouth. If we are faithful to the Word of God, we too will offend the world.

TRUTH is kind of like a tiger in a cage. A tiger can be gentle or it can be very rough. It can show love or it can kill. People feel uneasy around both tigers and truth because we can’t really control either one.
  • We work with them
  • We respect them
  • We don’t abuse them
  • We must not take them for granted
That is why Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:15 to “…speak the truth in love.” Truth needs to be handled lovingly, carefully, accurately, and precisely because it has the power both for great good and great harm. Just think of some of the expressions we commonly use:
  • “The truth will come back to haunt you.”
  • “The truth will out,” meaning that the truth will be told sooner or later.
  • “Lies, like chickens, always come home to roost.”
The Word of God is TRUE. We need to love it, respect it, and work with it; but never take it for granted. To twist it or ignore it is very dangerous. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth: Truth Incarnate.

The following by an unknown author is a fitting tribute to the Holy Bible.
“This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened, and the gates of Hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened in the judgment, and will be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents. It is the Book of books—God’s Book—the revelation of God to man.” (Author unknown)

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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