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:

Monday, March 29, 2010

"The Real Story Behind Reconciliation" - (03/28/10)

Over the past weeks and months all of us have watched as our United States Senators and Representatives have wrangled and argued over the proposed comprehensive health-care bill. We have listened as they have expounded the perceived merits or inadequacies of the legislation, depending on which side of the aisle they usually sit on.

In the discussions about how to get the bill passed through the House and Senate the politicians and pundits have thrown a particular word around a lot—the word, “reconciliation.” This morning I don’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, an Independent or a Libertarian. I don’t care whether you are happy or sad about the newly-passed health-care bill. I just want us to focus our attention on this word that has been so bandied about recently. What does “reconciliation” mean? What does it imply? Where does it come from? And how does it affect us?

The dictionary is almost always a good place to start. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that the English noun, reconciliation comes from the verb reconcile, which comes into English straight from the Latin word, reconciliare. That is a compound word from re, the prefix meaning “again, anew, over again,” and the Latin verb, conciliare (in English, conciliate), which means (“to bring together, win over, soothe the anger of, make friendly, placate.”) Thus, our English word “reconcile/reconciliation” means “to make friendly again, or win back over to a friendly attitude.”

But under what conditions is reconciliation necessary?
1. When a break in fellowship has occurred.
2. When a friendship has been compromised.
3. When an understanding has been lost.
4. When the lines of communication have been cut.
5. When people see one another as “the enemy.”

The powerful boys and girls in Washington D.C. did not invent this big word, “reconciliation.” They just borrowed it from the Bible. Moreover, when they use the word they are referring to the effort to make the House bill and the Senate bill and the President’s amendments all come together in a friendly way. They want to bring all their differences to the table, have everyone agree on everything, kiss, make nice and make up, and everybody go away happy. That is their idea of reconciliation.

However, there is more to reconciliation than this. It just isn’t that simple! Reconciliation always has a cost factor. It always costs somebody something. Now I’m not here today to talk about politics. Truthfully, I’m sick of politics. I’m sick of watching unscrupulous politicians that we voted into office make bad decisions that will financially enslave generations yet unborn. If my faith were based on the so-called “goodness” of human beings, governments, politicians, scientists, or religious leaders I would probably go out and drive my car off the end of a bridge somewhere. Thankfully, my hope is in the Lord, who never lies, never cheats, never fails, never deceives us, and never leaves us. He is the Rock of my salvation and a Shield about me. Praise God!

In the N.T. the word for “reconcile” is katallássō (καταλλάσσω) and it means, “to change from enmity to friendship.” But with regard to the relationship between God and man, the use of this word (and related words) shows that “reconciliation” is what God accomplished by exercising His grace towards sinful man on the ground of the death of Christ as the atoning sacrifice under God’s judgment that is due to man’s sin. Through this reconciliation sinful men are invited to “be reconciled” to Him; that is, to change our attitude, and accept the provision God has made, whereby our sins can be forgiven and we can be justified in God’s sight in Christ.

The Bible says that the breakdown of fellowship between God and man is due to “hostility.” However, it is very important to understand that the hostility is, and has always been, on man’s side, not God’s. It is man’s hostility toward God that is the big problem, not God’s toward man. Not once in the Scriptures is God said to be “reconciled” to man. The enmity is all on our part. Therefore, we are the ones who needed to be “reconciled” to God, not God to us. And it is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross that makes the “reconciliation” possible to those who will receive it. His blood is the basis for our reconciliation to God. Without that blood sacrifice reconciliation would be impossible and all men would be forever lost and without hope. J.B. Lightfoot, in his book entitled Notes on the Epistles of Paul on page 288 says, “Whenever the writers of the NT speak upon the subject of the wrath of God, the hostility is represented not as on the part of God, but of man. And this is the reason why the apostle [Paul] never uses diallássō (διαλλάσσω) in this connection, but always katallássō, because the former word denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility, an idea absent from katallássō.”

“Mutual concession after mutual hostility.” Did you understand that? Let me explain. There are two words in Greek meaning reconciliation, but there is an important different between them. Diallássō would be the correct word to describe what our Senators and Representatives have been trying to do. Between the various sides there has been mutual hostility. There has been give-and-take of anger, threats, ultimatums, etc. Now they are coming together to attempt, through mutual concessions to be reconciled to one another. Mutual reconciliation—get it?—because there has been mutual hostility. That is diallássō. Mutual concession after mutual hostility. Katallássō, on the other hand, is the word used in the NT to describe the reconciliation of man to God, but it is different. It is not a mutual thing. It is one-sided. Remember, God is not the one who moved away. God is not the one who broke fellowship. God is not the guilty party. God is the victim. Therefore, God does not need to be reconciled to us. No, we need to be reconciled to Him. But for that to happen, somebody had to die. According to the Bible a sacrifice was necessary, and Jesus was the Lamb who was slain so that sinful man could be reconciled to Holy God.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem on that Sunday of what would turn out to be the last week of His life. Just a few days later He would be hanging on a Roman cross, shedding His blood for you and for me.

Many have referred to that Sunday morning as “The Triumphal Entry.” In fact, many of your Bibles have that as the chapter heading for Luke 19 and the other Palm Sunday texts. However, that adjective is somewhat of a misnomer because there was little about Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem that was truly “triumphal.”

First of all, only a few people showed up. Oh yes, there were quite a few people on the road but many of them were arriving with Jesus, for the celebration of Passover. A few others from Jerusalem showed up to greet Him, but notably absent were the leaders of the city, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, the City Commissioners, the president of the Better Business Bureau, the Chief of Police, the motorcade, the fire trucks, the hundreds of school children lining the road, the religious leaders decked out in their finest robes, the flags waving, and the bands playing. You see, that’s what would have been going on if a truly “important” person had been arriving. All Jesus got was a few poor disciples, a bunch of kids, and a handful of sore-headed Pharisees who showed up to kibitz and criticize. In fact, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was important exactly for what was missing. It was that that broke Jesus’ heart and brought Him to tears, because what was lacking revealed the fact that the people of Jerusalem had no clue that their Savior, their Promised Messiah was coming to town. Luke 19:41 says, “And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.’” You see, God did not turn away from man; man turned away from Him. For that reason, all of us need to be reconciled to Him, not the other way around.

Maybe you think that this is a small thing, an insignificant difference, but it is not. God has already done everything He is going to do. He has made reconciliation possible, but we have to avail ourselves of it. He will not force it on anyone, unlike our politicians in Washington who have managed to force their reconciliation plans on all of us. God is not like that.

Though the word “reconciliation” is found in several other places in the N.T. there is one particular chapter that deals with this issue in greater depth. It is II Corinthians chapter 5, verses 17-21. Let’s look at that text for just a moment.

Verse 17: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
  • This is my life verse. It tells me that God doesn’t look at what I was in the past but at what I am now. I am His child. I belong to Him and He has made me into a new person, a totally new creation.
Verse 18: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
  • Who gets the credit for transforming a person? Only God. “All these things are from God.” Hebrews 12:2 calls Him the “Author and Perfecter of our faith.” And Paul says here that God is the one who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. He provided the Way by which we could come to Him to be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. That Way is through Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the whole world.
  • Not only did God make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him, He then turned around and entrusted us with the ministry of sharing this Good News with others. Paul calls it, “the ministry of reconciliation.” In the next verse he explains what he means by that.
Verse 19: namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
  • So who was the active Agent in this peace process called reconciliation? God! “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” What man could not do, and would not do, God did. He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, and to have our trespasses not counted against us.
  • But again, Paul tells us that with this privilege goes the responsibility of passing on to others the “word of reconciliation.”
Verse 20: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
  • We are God’s ambassadors, His special envoy sent out into the world. Our job is to give out the message without watering it down and without softening it up. In ancient days an ambassador’s job was to memorize the king’s message word for word so that he would leave nothing out or add anything to the message. They would even try to use the same tone of voice that the king had used when he entrusted them with the message.
  • You and I are God’s voice. Paul says that it is as though God were speaking directly through us and begging people, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. That means, when we speak they should hear God.
Verse 21: He [God, the Father] made Him [Christ, the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [in Christ].
  • This is a precious verse. God, the Father laid all of our sins on His Son, Jesus. Jesus carried those sins to the cross and died in your place, and in my place, that we might come to God through His shed blood. His death paved the way for us.
The Palm Sunday story is recorded in all four Gospels: Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12. Evidently God thought it was so important that He had it recorded by all four of the Gospel writers.

Today we have been reminded of that day long ago when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt, fulfilling all the prophecies of the OT concerning the coming of Messiah. He was welcomed and praised by a few. But He was either scorned or ignored by the majority. Not much has changed from that day to this. Most people today still either scorn Him or ignore Him. Only a few welcome Him. So how about you? What are you going to do?

But the Bible says in John 1:10-12 (NLT), “He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. 11 He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. 12 But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” That deal still goes today. He is still in the life-saving, life-giving, life-changing business.

If you would like to be reconciled to God, just place your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Savior. He is the Redeemer. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He is waiting right now for you to call out to Him to save you from your sins and to make you a child of God. Won’t you believe on Him right now? Don’t put it off. The Bible says in II Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, today is the day of salvation.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Camels, Needles, & The Donald" - (03/21/10)

Donald John Trump (born June 14, 1946) is an American business tycoon, socialite, author, and television personality. He is the Chairman and CEO of the Trump Organization, a US-based real-estate development company. He is also the founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts, which operates many casinos and hotels across the world. Trump’s extravagant lifestyle and outspoken manner have made him a celebrity for years, a status amplified by the success of his NBC reality show, “The Apprentice,” for which he serves as host and executive producer. He is especially known for his catchphrase, "You're Fired", made popular by this television series. Trump is also known for his distinctive hairstyle, which he has maintained throughout his career.

Donald was the fourth of five children of Fred Trump, a wealthy real estate developer based in New York City. Donald was strongly influenced by his father in his eventual goals to make his fortune in real estate development, and upon his graduation from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 Donald Trump joined his father's company, The Trump Organization.

Starting out with the renovation of the Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt, his greed and self-importance led him to expand too far and too fast into too many venues. This expansion, both personal and business, led to mounting debt, which eventually forced him to declare bankruptcy and virtually start over. Much of the news about him in the early 1990s involved his much-publicized financial problems, creditor-led bailout, extramarital affair with Marla Maples, and the resulting divorce from his first wife, Ivana Trump, a native of the Czech Republic. Today, Trump is popularly known as “The Donald”, a nickname given to him by the media after his ex-wife, Ivana, referred to him as such in an interview.

In the late 1990s Trump saw a turnaround in his financial situation and fame. He remains a major figure in the field of real estate in the United States and is a popular celebrity. It is estimated that his current fortune is somewhere around 2.0 billion dollars and recently listed him as the 488th most wealthy billionaire in the world.

And yet, with all his money and all his celebrity, he seems like a man without a life. He can’t seem to maintain a relationship with a woman. He’s been married 3 times. He has few close personal friends because no one trusts him. And people constantly make fun of him behind his back. He is a mere caricature of a human being. He is proof positive, in my opinion, that in this life money just isn’t that important. Money and possessions cannot fill the void in the human heart. Only God can fill that space.

Last Sunday we looked at Mark 10:13-22. In verses 17-22 of that text Jesus had a conversation with a rich, young man who came to Him with a question. The young man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” You’ll remember that Jesus worked the conversation around to point this wealthy young man to the fact that only a personal relationship with Him, the Savior, can get a person to Heaven. No amount of good works, no amount of charitable contributions, no amount of religious sincerity can get a person even one step closer to Heaven. The simple answer to the man’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” would be the concise answer the apostle Paul gave to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” You see it’s all about Jesus.

However, the young man was not ready to set everything else aside to follow Christ. He was still clinging to his money and his possessions. Those things were “god” in his life and there was no room for Jesus. Verse 22 ends this way: “At this [comment] from Jesus the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” In other words, his money kept him from coming to Christ. He chose earthly possessions over eternal wealth. So what happened after that? Let’s look at verse 23…

Verse 23: Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”
  • As He so often did, Jesus used this rich young ruler as an object lesson. The disciples of Jesus had heard every word of the conversation between Jesus and the young man, and they had seen the guy walk away. Now Jesus uses him as an example of “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Notice that He didn’t say “impossible.” He said “difficult, hard.” That young man could have trusted in Christ as his Savior. He could have laid his baggage aside and believed in Jesus, but he allowed his wealth to keep him away. He made a choice, and it was the wrong one.
  • The “Kingdom of God” here refers to the present, spiritual kingdom, composed of the regenerated people of God. Jesus used the same term when He spoke with Nicodemus in John 3:3-5, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again." 4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" 5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
  • I never want to end up being an object lesson for God to use to teach people how not to be. I want to live my life for Christ in such a way that I can serve as a positive example of faith, godliness, integrity, and love. By his choice this rich young man has forever been cast as a tragic example of someone who let riches choke out his opportunity to gain eternal life.
Verses 24-25: The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
  • The disciples were “amazed.” Why? Probably because they, like the Pharisees and other Jews regarded wealth as a token of God’s special favor. Now Jesus is dropping this bomb on them that wealth is actually an impediment to a person coming to know God.
  • Note that Jesus saw their growing perplexity and addressed it. And He did it gently. He called them, “Children,” a term of endearment.
  • Some have tried to say that Jesus was here referring to a small gate in a city wall through which a camel could enter only on his knees. However, although this makes a great story it is without warrant or support because the word Jesus uses for “needle” is the usual word for a sewing or darning needle. On top of that, Jesus was not talking about what man would consider possible, though difficult, but rather about what is truly impossibility without God’s intervention. Physically speaking a camel cannot crawl through the eye of a sewing needle.
Verse 26: The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
  • They were “amazed” in verse 24. Now they are even “more amazed.” Jesus’ word picture made it sound like a total impossibility for a rich person to ever get saved. But that is exactly His point. Salvation is not merely difficult, it is impossible! Without God’s intervention no one, rich or poor, could ever be saved. That is exactly what Jesus was saying.
Verse 27: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
  • “With man this is impossible.” What is impossible? For a man to get saved by any efforts on his part. Salvation by works is an absolute impossibility! But God is in the saving business. He can take the worst vile sinner and turn him into a saint. God can take sins that be red like crimson and wash them white as snow. Jesus can transform the worse of men and make him into a man of God, a man of faith, a man of holiness. With man that would be an impossible task, but with God, all things are possible.
Verse 28: Peter said to Him, “We have left everything to follow You!”
  • All this talk about what a person has to do to inherit eternal life has gotten Peter to thinking. In verse 21 Jesus told the rich young ruler: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
  • So Peter pipes up, “We have left everything to follow You!” I think there was a bit of a question in his voice when he said that, meaning, “Is that enough? Have we done enough to inherit eternal life?”
  • The parallel passage found in Matthew 19:27 includes Peter’s statement with a question attached: “We have left everything to follow You! What then will there be for us?” Even though they had indeed left everything to follow Christ, in that moment I hear a little bit of selfishness in Peter’s voice. “What are we going to get out of this? What’s the payoff for us?”
  • Yet in that moment Jesus did not reprimand Peter for asking. He did not chide him for having a selfish moment, though He could have. He just moved on to explain that serving God is always a good deal, always a good investment, both in the “here-and-now” and in “the age to come,” meaning eternity.
Verses 29-31: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the Gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
  • These verses are a little bit confusing so let’s unpack them piece by piece. First of all, Jesus’ phrase, “I tell you the truth (Verily in the KJV)” is a solemn assurance from the Lord himself so we know that we can take this to the bank.
  • He says that any of His followers who give up the things of this world to follow Him will not be disappointed nor cheated out of their reward. They will gain blessings in this life, and also in the life to come. In other words, you can’t outgive God.
  • Notice however, in verse 30, at the end of His list of things the servant of the Lord can expect to receive in this life He inserts these words: “…and with them, persecutions.” It’s a package deal. Yes, the one who steps out to serve the Lord can expect to be rewarded in many ways, but he can also expect persecutions, trials, tribulations, and raw hatred from some people. This is not the path to popularity with men.
  • But anything you give up to serve Christ will be more than repaid. Sometimes that payment comes in another form, however. For example, British missionary C.T. Studd gave away his inherited fortune and dedicated his life to serve as a missionary, first in China, then in India, and lastly in Africa. Yet God more than made up for the things he gave up in spiritual blessings, friendships, and joys that money could never buy. Another example… Adoniram Judson left the comforts of his New England hearth and home to carry the Gospel to the people of Rangoon, Burma. While there he and his dear wife, Ann, suffered untold danger, illness, imprisonment, torture, pain, and misery, including the deaths of their two little children (and later, the death of Ann herself). Yet at the end of their lives they testified that what they gained in their service for Christ was worth much more than what they had given up. Such has been the testimony of countless servants of God. Even in this present life it pays to serve God.
  • However, what awaits the servant of God in Heaven, “in the age to come,” is marvelous beyond our ability to comprehend or even dream. The Bible says in I Cor. 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
One of my all-time famous quotes is by Jim Elliott, a missionary who along with 4 of his colleagues gave his life as a martyr in Ecuador for the sake of the Gospel. In his diary just a few days before his death Jim Elliott wrote these words: “He is no fool who gives us what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

God has called us, as His people, to reflect the values of Heaven in our lifestyle. Money and possessions have their place, but we must never allow them to usurp the place of God in our life. Money and wealth are tools entrusted to us to build the Kingdom of God and to spread the Gospel.

What stands out to you from this passage? What are you going to do differently this week as a result?

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Come Like a Child" - (03/14/10)

In July 1955 Walt Disney opened his famous theme park, Disneyland, in Anaheim, CA.  Since then several other Disney parks have been opened around the world but all of them are called “The Magic Kingdom.”   Disney’s dream was to create a make-believe world where children and adults could come together to enjoy the fantasy world that he had created.  He believed that the world would be a better place if we could just see it through the eyes of a child.  He created a “kingdom” with castles, characters, and attractions where for a few dollars a person can lose himself for a few hours in a magic wonderland of make-believe. (Show the slides of Disneyland.)

It has been said that children come into this world as a “tabula rasa”, which means, “a blank slate.”  That is not completely true because, according to the Scriptures, children have a sin nature, but in many ways they are a story waiting to be told. 
Children look at the world differently from adults.  They see things from a different perspective.  Jesus said that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must come as little children; but what does that mean?  Hopefully, our text for today will shed some light on that question.

Verse 13: People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 
  • This scene is in such sharp contrast to what we see today.  Nowadays, young mothers don’t want any man touching their children.  We have become so paranoid about child sex offenders we figure that any man who likes children very much must be some sort of pervert.  It was not so in Jesus’ day.  The times were different.  The culture was different.  But also, Jesus was different.  The parents sensed it.  The children sensed it.  They mobbed Him wherever He went.  The mothers had reverence for Jesus and wanted Him to touch their children.  He hugged the children.  He held them on His lap.  He put His hands on their heads and prayed over them, blessing them.
  • So let’s recap… Jesus was OK with what was going on.  Moreover, the children were thrilled, and the parents thought it was wonderful too.  So who was against it?  The disciples of Jesus.  They got angry and peeved, and told the parents to take their children away and leave Jesus alone.  They probably thought the Lord’s time was too valuable to be wasted on kids.  But where did they get such nerve?  And why did they act so bossy?
  • Personally, I think that they didn’t like for Jesus to show so much attention to other people.  They were jealous of His affections and attention.  They thought that they had a special relationship with Him and didn’t want to share Him with anyone, even with a bunch of kids.  They still had a lot to learn.  They still didn’t understand that they had been chosen by Jesus specifically to share Him and the Good News about Him with the whole world.  They were going to have to get over their self-important, selfish attitude if they were ever to function as His witnesses.

Verse 14: When Jesus saw this, He was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” 
  • A moment before the disciples were indignant.  However, now Jesus is indignant against them.  The tables have been turned.  There are only a few times in Scripture when we see Jesus really angry.  He got very angry at the moneychangers in the Temple, and chased them out with a whip.  Another time Jesus showed anger was in the synagogue of Capernaum.  When the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ questions, Mark 3:5 says, “He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”  I believe He was also angry when He rebuked Peter saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.”  But here in Mark 10 His anger was directed at all 12 of His boys.
  • His response to them was, “Let the little children come to Me, and stop hindering them!”  That is the force of the verb: “STOP IT!”  The reason He gives them is interesting: “…for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  That must have burned the disciples’ bacon because they thought that the Kingdom of God belonged to them.  After all, Jesus Himself had told them that they would reign with Him, and that one day their names would be engraved on the foundation stones of the Heavenly City (Rev. 21:14).  He had said that they would be seated next to Him on thrones in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 19:28).  Now He was saying that the Kingdom belongs to a bunch of snotty-nosed little kids!  That was totally unacceptable to them!

Verse 15: “I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 
  • So how does a little child receive the Kingdom of God?  The same way a child learns to obey its parents—simply and uncomplainingly.  Here Jesus uses the little child with his trusting, simple, loving obedience as the model for adults in coming into the Kingdom of God.  However, this does not mean that children are automatically in the Kingdom.

Verse 16: And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. 
  • The age of these children is suggested by the fact that Jesus gathered them into His arms.  This was a direct and visible rebuke to the selfish and over-zealous disciples.  It was also a reminder of what He did back in 9:36 when He taught them the lesson about servanthood and who will be considered greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • The construction of the sentence in Greek means that He in turn blessed each child.  Imagine the joy of the parents, and the stories they must have told they children for years to come about the day that Jesus held them, loved them, and prayed over them.

Verse 17: As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him.  “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 
  • This is a fascinating story and Mark gives us some details that both Matthew and Luke leave out (Matt. 19, Luke 18).  This rich young ruler was a man of power, substance, and influence.  People like that do not run, ever, to get anywhere.  They might run at the gym, or while playing sports, but never to catch up with a shaggy back-woods rabbi from Galilee.  Secondly, a man like him would never throw himself at the feet of another man.  How unseemly!  How degrading!  Yet this young man ran to catch up with Jesus and then knelt at Jesus’ feet to ask Him a life-and-death question: namely, “How do I get saved?  How can I go to Heaven?  How can I inherit eternal life?” 
  • Apparently the man had not found the answer in power, fame, influence, inherited wealth, education, athletic prowess, sexual fulfillment, or the praise of men.  He had searched for the answer with no luck.  But somewhere along the line he had heard about Jesus.  Peter said it this way in John 6: “You alone have the words of eternal life.”  So the young man ran to Jesus to find the answer to the question that was gnawing at his heart and keeping him up at night.
  • From his question, however, it is obvious that he conceived of eternal life as something to be earned by doing good works.  He said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”   How many people today are operating under the same misconception?

Verses 18-19: “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus answered.  “No one is good--except God alone.  19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 
  • This must have seemed to the rich young ruler like a very strange answer.  Jesus responded to his question with another enigmatic question related not to the man’s core question but to the greeting he had used to address Jesus: “Good Teacher.”  But you see Jesus’ question was aimed at leading the young man to consider His true identity.  Jesus was trying to bring the man around to understand that it was all about Him, and what the young man thought of Him.  Our inheritance of eternal life is not based on what we do or how many good deeds we perform, but rather on who we believe Jesus is.  That’s the thing that will take you to Heaven or lock you out—Who do you believe He is, and what have you done about that belief?
  • The young man was hoping that Jesus would give him a prescription—“Take two aspirin, do 10 Hail Mary’s, work 3 nights in the kitchen at the Rescue Mission, go on two short-term missions trips, give $1,000 to the Haitian Relief Fund, sponsor 5 World Vision children, and go to church every Sunday.  If you do those things you will inherit eternal life.”  Not easy to do, but still doable!  A list that I can check stuff off of until I get to the bottom of the list.
  • Instead, Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Good’?  No one is truly ‘Good’ except God alone.”  This seems confusing to us but it helps if you understand the word the young man used for “good.”  In Greek there are two main words meaning “good.”  One is kalos (καλός), which means good or beautiful in an external, physical sense.  The other word is agathos (αγαθός), which means good in character, in constitution, and in essence in an internal, moral sense.  This second word is the one the young man chose when he addressed Jesus as “GOOD Teacher.”  So Jesus played off the fact that only God is truly good in the purest sense.  Jesus was forcing the young man toward a conclusion about who He really was.  We know, in fact, that Jesus was God in the flesh, and therefore truly good (agathos) in every sense.
  • But then Jesus seems to tell the man that the way to obtain eternal life is to keep the commandments.  Is that really what He is saying?  No, of course not.  He is simply reminding the young man of something he already knows from experience—that man is incapable of keeping the Law perfectly.  Man is occasionally kalos, but he is never truly agathos.  For all his trying, man cannot get to that level of goodness.  We are fundamentally flawed on the inside and all the good works in the world can’t fix what is broken in us.

Verse 20: “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 
  • I can hear the frustration in the young man’s voice.  He had been trying so hard, for so long, to be so good.  But he had failed to live up to the standard of perfection that the Law demands and he was desperate to find another solution that would get him to Heaven.  His righteousness was merely an external obedience like that of the scribes and Pharisees and that’s not enough to get anyone to Heaven.  However, the good news is that he had come to the right place for help.  The bad news was that he was not yet ready to throw himself completely on the grace of God and to believe in Jesus as his perfect sin-bearer.

Verse 21: Jesus looked at him and loved him.  “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven.  Then come, follow Me.” 
  • This is a precious verse to me.  This wealthy young man had a problem.  Jesus could see it right off.  He could see into the guy’s heart, and He knew his whole life-story.  He knew that the young man’s priorities were all messed up.  And yet, Jesus loved him anyway.  “He looked at him and loved him.”  This is an observation that only Mark includes.  He uses what is called an ingressive aorist participle and verb construction, which literally would be, “Looking upon him He began loving him.”  Jesus fell in love with this charming young man.  I’m so glad that Jesus loves us in spite of us being a mess.
  • But Jesus also knew the real issue in this man’s life, the thing that was holding him back from believing in Jesus—his love of money, his devotion to his wealth rather than to God.  So Jesus very gently put His finger on that hot button.  The Lord said, “Here’s what you do.  Go out and sell everything you have and then give all the proceeds to poor people.  Then come back and follow Me.”  But notice, Jesus says, “then you will have treasure in Heaven.”  He does not say “you will inherit eternal life” by giving your stuff away.  He was not promoting a doctrine of salvation by good works.  Jesus could see into that young fellow’s soul and He knew that the guy’s possessions were the roadblock to him coming to Jesus.  The Lord was trying to get him to see that anything that keeps you away from the Savior must be jettisoned ASAP.

Verse 22: At this [comment from Jesus] the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 
  • I love stories with happy endings.  I love movies with happy endings.  I hate stories where the hero dies.  The movie “Braveheart” comes immediately to my mind.  However, in this story here in Mark 10 we don’t have a happy ending.  Upon hearing the Lord’s request, the young man grew sad, turned, and slowly walked away.  I imagine that his countenance dropped and the furrowed brow returned.  When he came running up to Jesus and fell at the Master’s feet his voice was filled with hope that he would hear from Jesus exactly how he could find peace with God and the assurance of a home in Heaven.
  • What is sad is that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the Way to Heaven.  But in order to come to Him we have to leave our baggage at the door.  This young man was not yet ready to do that.  He wanted to come while still holding onto the possessions of his old life.

            All of us struggle with certain things in our lives that try and hold us back from following after Christ with our whole heart.  Our flesh and the devil use these things to keep us weak and of little use to the Kingdom of God.  It may be a besetting sin that you have been unwilling to give up.  It may be a load of unforgiveness that you have held onto for years.  It may be a habit or a vice that has robbed you of joy and been like an albatross tied around your neck.  It may be fear.  It may be the love of money and possessions as in the life of the young man in our text.
            The answer for all these things is found in Hebrew 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The Lord calls on us today to lay aside every encumbrance and every entangling sin so that we can serve Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and bring others to know Him.

            What stands out to you from this text?  What should we take home with us today to help us live a more committed and dedicated Christian life?

Monday, March 8, 2010

"The Master's Marriage Manual" - (03/07/10)

"The Master's Marriage Manual"

When you want to get an Oregon driver’s license you have to study the Oregon Driver’s Manual prepared by the Dept. of Motor Vehicles so that you can pass their written test.  It’s the same thing for getting a CDL to drive the big rigs.  And if you want to work as an engineer in a commercial radio station you have to study the FCC manual to pass the GROL exam to get your General Radiotelephone Operator’s License.  In fact, for many different kinds of jobs there are manuals you have to study to prepare you for the required examination, because it is so important that you do the work correctly.  You have to study the book to pass the test to prove that you are qualified for the job.  And you can’t get hired without it.
However, when it comes to marriage people can jump into the job with a bare minimum of study and preparation, and no test whatsoever.  This stupid system results in a 50% failure rate because people have little or no idea of what they are getting into, or how to make the marriage work.
The sad part of all this is that God, the Architect of Marriage, the One who invented the idea in the first place, has given us a detailed Marriage Manual, which if studied and followed, will guarantee marital success.  That Manual is called the Bible, God’s Holy Word.  It lays out in detail what a Christian marriage should be like, the obligations and privileges of both the husband and wife, not to mention the warnings of what not to do if you want to have a happy home and a blessed marriage.  The tragedy is that many people, including many Christians, ignore the Marriage Manual that God has provided for us. 

In our passage for today Jesus is questioned by a group of Pharisees who just want to trip Him up, and find a reason to accuse Him of heresy or blasphemy.  Their question centered on the issue of marriage and divorce.  Jesus used the opportunity to teach them and the other people who had gathered around concerning God’s original intentions for mankind with respect to marriage.  Turn in your Bibles to Mark chapter 10.

Verse 1: Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds [multitudes] gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. 
  • The NASV has kind of a funny way of putting it because it is such a literal translation.  It sounds like maybe Jesus jumped up out of bed and took off running for Judea.  That’s not how it was.  You’ll remember that in our last study Jesus was in Capernaum, perhaps in the house of Peter.  This just means that it was from there that He and His disciples set out headed south toward Jerusalem.  They chose the route that ended them up on the east side of the Jordan across from the ruins of ancient Jericho.
  • “He began to teach them.”  The Greek verb here is in the imperfect tense signifying a continuing occurrence, rather than a one-shot-deal.  He taught them along the way—kind of a walking classroom.

Verses 2-3: Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife3 And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”
  • “Testing Him.”  The Greek word used here can mean either to tempt (KJV) or to test.  Obviously, the Pharisees had an evil ulterior motive here for their question and were hoping to trip Jesus up in some way.  This question posed by the Pharisees was a hot-button issue of that day and was being debated all over Israel by the scribes and other teachers of the Law.  The scribes and Pharisees, who followed the teachings of Rabbi Hillel concluded that a man could divorce his wife for almost any cause.  On this subject they were the liberals of that period.  On the other hand, those who followed Rabbi Shammai were more conservative and insisted that divorce was lawful only in the case of adultery.  In either case, the Pharisees who posed the question to Jesus were not interested in His position.  They were just trying to trap Him into saying something that they could use to discredit Him and make Him look stupid in front of the crowd.
  • Matthew chapter 19 is the parallel passage in Matthew’s account and there he adds some words to their question that Mark leaves out of verse 2—“for any cause at all?”

Verse 4: They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
  • The Pharisees are referring here to Deuteronomy 24:1-3.
  • However, the Pharisees themselves skirted Jesus’ rebound question by not stating the condition under which Moses permitted divorce.  There was only one—sexual indecency.  They know that and so did Jesus.

Verses 5-8: But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he [Moses] wrote you this commandment.  6 But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.  7 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, 8 AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
  • “Because of your hardness of heart.”  This phrase is very interesting.  In telling them why Moses granted this concession Jesus used a long medical word, sklerocardía.  You’ve undoubtedly heard the terms arteriosclerosis, meaning hardening of the arteries in the heart, “multiple sclerosis,” and “sclerosis of the liver” meaning hardening of the liver, etc.  The Greek word for heart is cardía (καρδία) and sklerós (σκληρός) is a word meaning, “hard, tough, or dried up.”   Put these two words together and you get sklerocardía, “hardening of the heart, or hardheartedness.”  Even back in Moses’ day, because of sin men’s hearts had become dry and hard and as tough as old saddle leather or moose jerky.  Moses’ stipulation in Deut. 24:1 was not a command, but rather a concession, because of men’s unsatisfactory spiritual condition.  It was his attempt to regulate and control divorce rather than to encourage it.  
  • “But from the beginning of creation.”  Here Jesus goes back beyond Moses’ concession in Deut. 24:1 to quote Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as His supporting arguments against the position of the Pharisees, who supported Rabbi Hillel’s very popular liberal view of divorce for almost any cause.  By doing this He was aligning Himself with those who followed Rabbi Shammai’s teaching on this subject, which further ticked off the Pharisees.  But rather than make this just a theoretical rabbinic debate Jesus points them to God’s ideal, laid out in His original design.  He reminds them that God intended for marriage to be an “until death do us part” union, with no exceptions.

Verse 9: “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.”
  • Here we can hear the iron in Jesus’ voice.  There is a threat implicit in His words.  Oh, man is so proud, and so full of himself.  But the Bible makes it clear that marriage is God’s doing, not man’s.  It was God who performed the first wedding, back in the Garden of Eden.  He made Eve and then presented her to Adam.  God is the Architect of Marriage and of the Home.
  • Yet man has trampled this sacred relationship and taken it upon himself to decide when it starts, and when it’s over.  People break the covenant for the most stupid and selfish reasons.  Now we’ve even written it into our legal codes—“dissolution of marriage due to irreconcilable differences.”  What does that mean?  There are no irreconcilable differences if both parties are willing to work at repairing the marriage.  The final rift only happens if one or both of the parties decides that they want out at all costs and are unwilling to work at repairing the damage.  However, if both the husband and wife are committed first to God, as well as to their marriage and their vows, then there is nothing that can tear them apart—not financial problems, not infidelity, not differences over child-rearing, nothing at all!  But if one gives up and decides to walk, then all the superglue in the world won’t be able to hold that marriage together.

Verses 10-11: In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again.  11 And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.”
  • First Jesus takes up the case of a man wanting to rid himself of his wife.  He is talking about a man divorcing his wife without cause, that is, without her having committed adultery.  That is bad enough by itself.  However, if he divorces his wife and then goes on and takes another woman, then according to Jesus he has inextricably shattered the marriage covenant and is an adulterer in the eyes of God.  Jesus explains that the man, in this case, commits adultery against his wife, not because of the divorce itself, but because of the remarriage to someone else.  Even though he may have gone through all the manmade civil/legal divorce procedures in the world, in God’s eyes he is still married to his first wife and not free to remarry.
  • Matthew’s Gospel adds a couple of enlightening words in Matt. 19:9: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” This word, translated “immorality” is interesting.  It is the Greek noun, porneía (πορνεία), from which we get the words pornography and pornographic.  It is a general term which means illicit sexual intercourse, and in fact, sexual immorality of all kinds.  It is sometimes translated as “fornication or harlotry” other times as “adultery,” though there is also another Greek word specifically meaning adultery, which is moichós.  This word porneía always carries the idea of filthiness, impurity, and shamefulness.  I can think of quite a few common 21st century practices that I think fit into that category, though Jesus does not spell it out for us here in our text.
  • Related: fem. noun pórnei (πόρνη), harlot, whore, or prostitute
  • Related: masc. noun pórnos (πόρνος), whoremonger, fornicator, “john”
  • Related: verb porneúo (πορνεύω), to commit fornication, adultery
  • I think it’s important to point out here that porneía is the one exception that Jesus gives here to the divorce/remarriage rule.  Porneía breaks the marriage covenant and opens the door for divorce to occur, with eventual remarriage of the non-adulterous, innocent partner.  In other words, if there are biblically justifiable grounds for the divorce then for the innocent party there is biblical justification for remarriage as well.  There are Christians today who claim that remarriage is never allowed after a divorce.  However, Jesus does allow remarriage of the innocent party, but not of the guilty one.

Verse 12: “And if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
  • Here Jesus speaks of a woman who divorces her husband and bails out of her marriage.  Again, that is bad enough.  However, if she then goes out and takes the next step of getting remarried while her former husband remains single, then it is she who has finally shattered the marriage covenant and sinned against God and her marriage vows.
  • You see, while neither one of them involved themselves with another person there was always the chance of repairing the marriage and reconciling their differences.  However, the moment one of them remarries someone else, all hope for reconciliation is gone.
  • A supporting passage showing Jesus’ view of marriage, divorce, and remarriage is Matthew 5:31-32.  It says, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  As I stated before, in cases of marital infidelity (adultery) even Jesus allowed remarriage of the innocent party, but not of the guilty one.  He left the door open for divorce in cases of marital infidelity, though that step is never encouraged in the scriptures.  Divorce is always a tragedy, under any and all circumstances.

            In the United States today, with our “no-fault divorce” laws, the most commonly given reason for marital breakups is “irreconcilable differences.”  I don’t know who came up with that term but they were not very bright, and certainly not aware of the truth of Scripture.  There is no such thing as an “irreconcilable difference” as long as both partners in the marriage are willing to hang in there and work at fixing what is broken and willing to allow God to have His rightful place in their marriage as the third partner.  Even when adultery or some other form of marital infidelity or porneía has occurred, the marriage can be repaired and healed if both partners are willing to invest the time, effort, and forgiveness needed to plug the holes and shore up the foundations of the marriage.
            My goal today is not to make anyone feel guilty.  Praise God!  The purpose of the Gospel is not merely to inform, but to transform.  Many of us have been down the marriage failure trail and we can understand very well why God says in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce!”  Notice however that He does not say that He hates divorced people.  There is a big difference between those two things.  He hates divorce because He knows the devastation that it brings to the people that He loves.  So He follows up those words with these: “So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”
            The wonderful thing about God is that He is always ready to forgive and to let us start over again.  Just because we have failed in the past does not mean that we are locked into being a failure for all time.  The Word says that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We can begin today to make our marriages divorce-proof by following the Marriage Manual that God has provided.  We can decide to put aside all forms of porneía so that they cannot work like an acid to erode our marriages.  God is committed to good marriages.  He will be the third partner of our marriage if we let Him in, the glue that holds us together through anything that comes along.

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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