Category Archives: Sermon

Proverbs sermon (3.1-15)

I preached this Sunday (2-6-2011):

Wisdom Sermon

If you want to get around the flash player and download this, open up a window or tab and copy the following URL:

Then you can “save page as” and it should download to your hard drive.

A couple of oddities. I couldn’t find my ESV pulpit Bible so I used my NASB. But my notes are from the ESV. So the initial reading is slightly different.

Also, at some points the pipes started banging for some reason. Sounded like someone outside with a hammer (due to icy conditions we were not meeting in the usual sanctuary.

I recorded the sermon with a portable mp3 recorder that was put on the pulpit for me. The file was compressed so that it could be emailed to me. Not the best quality but sufficient, I think.

RePost: You are rich enough to give

Let us start here with an observation: When people feel guilty or ashamed, they can become the most ready to judge and accuse others. Feeling vulnerable to accusation themselves, they become defensive and are easily prone to implement a strategy based on the idea that the best defense is a good offense. They snap at others. They tend to raise their voices. And most of all they find fault in others around them. Those who feel accused, rightly or wrongly, can easily become zealous accusers.

In effect, a common part of human depravity is a widening circle going from sin to guilt to more sin to deal with the guilt.

The Gospel directly addresses that human problem. That sin and that temptation to sin results from a desire for justification, and the Gospel declares that in Christ we have that vindication. As a result, we can be freely forgiven for all our sins and can leave them behind us in the past. That fact results in new possibilities in how we behave toward others.

The Gospel breaks the cycle of sin to guilt to sin by eradicating the guilt and removing the temptation.

The Precondition for Generosity
Before I go any further, let me make another observation. People who believe themselves to be wealthy are those most likely to be generous. If you have a great deal of money, it is or should be, easier to give some away.

More than Gratitude
We often hear that God has chosen us and saved us so that we should be grateful. This is true, but it is often treated as the one true key to Christian behaviore and obedience to God.

Believe it or not, gratitude can become a form of bondage to the law. Yes, God has been generous to us. But we need to be careful about being motivated or motivating others by the obligation to be grateful. It can become, unless kept in perspective, a desire to repay God and end up all the more legalistic even as it speaks of God’s grace.

Now, I’m sure that there is some Biblical basis for sometimes relating gratitude to good works. Paul speaks of children making repayment to their parents by taking care of them in their old age. It certainly seems possible to have some similar motivation toward God. But the fact is that while the New Testament is filled with exhortations to live by faith, we see virtually no exhortations to live by gratitude.

We can never pay God back, and a debtor’s ethic could easily foster pride and arrogance. Our primary motivation according to the Gospel has to be faith—confidence in what God has given to us and has promised to give us.

Don’t “Gut It Out”
What this means is that we, as Christians, are never supposed to merely “gut it out.” We don’t tell ourselves that we need to simply endure because of our obligation to be grateful. No, we endure because we hope in what God promises in the Gospel.

Hebrews 11, among other passages, makes this extremely clear. It speaks of what the saints do “by faith” and makes quite clear what that means. Noah didn’t come home to his wife one day and say, “Well honey, I know life has been good. But God has told me we have to build a big boat in the middle of dry land, and become a laughingstock to everyone around us. It will take time and money and destroy my credibility but we should do it because we should be grateful to God for making us and besides, he’s God and it is always wrong to disobey God.”

No, he came home, and said, “Honey, God is going to destroy all flesh on the earth, but he’s granted us forgiveness and a way of escape. He’s given me the plans for a boat so that we can float safely on the water until he brings us to a new world!” Noah didn’t gut it out. Noah trusted God and hoped in what was promised to him.

Likewise, when God called Abram to leave his home. Abram didn’t roll up his sleeves and say, “Well this is awful, but if God tells us to leave our home, we’ve just got to do it no matter what. After all, since God’s done so much for us, this gives us a chance to show we’re thankful. No! Abram left his home because he trusted God to do a lot more for him!—to give him a better home and a better future. When God ordered him to sacrifice his son, his only son, he didn’t do it simply by gutting it out and obeying God at the cost of all his hopes. No, Hebrews 11.19 is quite clear: He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead. Abraham’s hope was based on God promise and that is what motivated his obedience.

Likewise Moses did not side with Israel because he thought God was ordering him to be destitute. He did it because of a confident faith and hope in the Gospel. Hebrews 11.24-26:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

And even Jesus himself operated by that same faith. Even Jesus, believe it or not, gave himself because of his trust and hope in the Gospel.

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, 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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

Now, if anyone should have been able to simply gut it out, to simply obey because God ordered him to do so or simply out of gratitude for past blessing, it should have been Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God. But that’s not what the inspired word of God tells us is it! No, he did what he did because he hoped in God and new that the path God had for him to trod would leave him infinitely better off than any other course of action.

The Flow
Let me simply walk through this passage and make sure we all grasp the flow.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

This is not simply about imitation but about giving what you’ve been given. You have it to give because God in Christ has been so generous with you. Remember Paul’s earlier words in Ephesians: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.”

We are rich! We have received kindness. We have received and are receiving the tenderhearted care of God. We have been forgiven. Paul only explicitly states the last as being something we have received from God, but it implies all three things. God is kind to us in Christ; God is tenderhearted toward us in Christ; God forgives us in Christ. As a result, we can afford to be kind to one another, tenderhearted to one another, and forgiving to one another.

Now, let’s not lose sight of those other words “kind” and “tenderhearted.” It is all too easy to claim that you forgive other people when in fact you are really apathetic about what those people say or do. If you don’t really care about someone, it is not too difficult to say “no problem” or “don’t worry about it,” when they seek your forgiveness about something they said or did against you.

But the Gospel calls people not to be apathetic. We are to deeply love one another, which means in the case of sinful human beings, become vulnerable to being hurt by one another. What Paul writes to the Ephesians should be true of every Church, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints” (1.15). In that context, in the context of being genuinely kind and tenderhearted, we are exhorted to forgive.

I said that it is all too easy to ignore what people do to you if you are apathetic. I should also warn that it is very difficult to genuinely forgive people unless you care for them. If we aren’t cultivating kindness and tenderheartedness toward each other, then we are fooling ourselves if we have some sort of confidence that we will forgive them when they do manage to hurt us.

Do you find it hard to reach out beyond your own household toward others? Remember that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were completely satisfied with the love of one another and had no compelling need to reach outside themselves in creation and providence. Much less, did they have any reason to reach out in redeeming sinners. Do you realize the amazing inversion of values that occurred at the cross! The Father gave up his only Son to death for the sake of sinful outsiders, strangers and enemies of his family. One can almost see why someone would think of the Gospel as perverse when they realize what it really means.

But that’s your calling. Eventually, Paul will give directions for domestic relationships–husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. But here he is talking about the congregation as a whole, the new family of God in which we are brothers and sisters to one another through Christ.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The “therefore” refers again to what God has done for us, not simply to remind us that we are obligated to live in gratitude, but also to remind us of what we have. If we are God’s sons, then nothing can touch us and no one can ultimately harm us. Paul says here that we are God’s children and that Christ was given for us. He writes the Romans about those same themes and there he says:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If you really believe that about yourself, as God has declared it to you in the Gospel, then does it make any sense at all to hold a grudge against someone else?

God has given you his son–Christ has offered himself up as a sacrifice for us–who can really take anything important away from us?

God is your faithful guardian who promises to avenge every wrong, how can we possibly hold grudges if we trust that promise?

God is the one who sent his son to die for the sins of your brothers and sisters. How can you possibly demand anything more for their sins against you?

We can forgive others because we have been forgiven. We don’t need to prove ourselves better because God has declared us better than we ever could have imagined. We can be generous and care for others because God is generous with us and has made us heirs of all things.

If you have problems forgiving others, what you need is not simply a reminder of your duty to obey God, though that is a factor. You need to also remember that you can afford to forgive others and that God given you the resources to do so. You need to remember what is promised to you both now and at the resurrection in glory.

Believe the Gospel; forgive others as you have been forgiven.

Ambassador of the Cross: a Sermon on the Gospel Mystery from Ephesians 3

Paul has written about the work of Jesus Christ–a work of reconciliation in which God, through the death and sacrifice of his son, has reconciled us to God and to each other so that we are becoming one new man with Christ as our exalted head. Paul begins our text this morning with this transitional phrase: “For this reason.” In doing so he is linking everything he has just said about Jew and Gentile alike having their access to God through Christ in the Spirit with what he is about to write now. And what he writes about is his own Apostleship.

But in writing about his own ministry to which he was ordained as an apostle, Paul is also involving us in other things as well. He is also, as we will see, telling his readers about Jesus and his work for them and he is at the same time telling his readers about their own role in God’s plan as Christ’s ambassadors. Paul has describe what Jesus did and he is going to be giving the church directions about how they are to live as the people of Jesus commissioned to spread his kingdom. Our passage here is a middle term between the work of Jesus and the work of the Church where Paul uses his own mission identity as a reminder of Jesus and an example for us.

Now, central to seeing how this all works is the Gospel. Paul speaks of the mystery of Christ and he says that it is his job to reveal it. In verse 7 he makes it clear that the revelation of this mystery is good news–the Gospel. So for me to clearly reinforce what Paul is saying we need to grasp what Paul means by the Gospel, the good news or joyful message.

So, before we can get to our mission as the church revealed by Paul’s commission as an apostle and the work of Jesus himself, we need to ask “What is the Gospel?”

What we learn here is that the Gospel is not the message of justification by faith.

The Apostle Paul does not write in verse 6 that “this mystery is that we are saved by grace through faith and that not of our own doing, it is a gift of God, not of works so that no one should boast.” The Apostle Paul believes and teaches that doctrine and it is essential to all true Christianity, but that is not the mystery that was hidden from previous generations. Paul does not say that it was hidden from previous generations that they were saved by grace and not by their works. That is the only orthodox doctrine that there is or ever was both before and after Jesus.

Let me just reiterate this in case you might forget. When we read from the Old Testament in the worship service we are not reading from a time where people thought or when God claimed that humans could be saved by their good works. When we read the Ten Commandments in worship, we are not claiming that we can or should rely on our good deeds to give us standing with God. The First Commandment means trust God and no one else to save you–trust God and not on your own works for the forgiveness of your sins.

That is a cardinal doctrine in the Bible and Paul reiterates it both in the face of paganism and Judaism for various reasons. But it is not the Gospel. It is not the good news precisely because there is nothing new about it. Paul tells us quite clearly what the Gospel is, and it is something different.

So what is the Gospel? Verse 6: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” That’s the Gospel and it ties in perfectly with what Paul said in the last chapter about the mediatorial role of Jesus. Chapter 2, verse 18, for example: “For through him [Christ] we both (Jew and Gentile) have our access in one Spirit to the Father, so then you are nolonger strangers and aliens but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” Jesus has died and risen again so that he has, in himself become the peace and reconciliation between Jew and Gentile.

Now let me give you some points to help you understand why the work of Christ would have this effect and the Gospel would be this declaration.

  • First of all, what Paul is saying here about Jew and Gentile applies to all national or ethnic or economic of cultural division. We know this without doubt from Colossians 3.11: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” So language that applies to Jew and Gentile can also be applied to other groups. Remember the word for “Gentile” is “ethne” from which we get our word for “ethnic.” These can be nations, social classes, races, language groups, communities, etc. They are all being united in the Church as Christ’s body.
  • And it is also important to remember, if you want to understand why the unity of the nations is so essential as to be the mystery of the Gospel, that the nations did not develop from natural migration and spread. No, God curse the human race with different languages and forced the nations to form from the tower of Bable. The story of Genesis 11 is behind everything here. Remember, in the story of the tower of Babel, the people involved wanted to make a name for themselves. After they are scattered then God calls Abram and promises to make his name great. Furthermore, in Abram all the families of the earth will be blessed. God chose Israel as his special nation precisely to minister to the other nations. Redeeming the world from the curse of sin entails reversing the curse of the Tower of Babel which led to the divisions of nations.
  • So the Gospel, the mystery of Christ, is the fact that now Jew and Gentile are one in Christ in the church. The Gospel vindicates God because it announces the fulfillment of his promises. Remember what he said to Isaiah about Jesus in chapter 49, verse 6:

    It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved out of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

    The Gospel is about the fulfillment of that promise and the realization of God’s love for the whole world. Yes at one time God chose Abraham and his seed but that was not to have a special priestly people forever for their own sake. God called Abraham for the sake of all the families of the earth, and in Jesus God fulfilled the goal of his covenant with Abraham.

That’s the Gospel. That’s the mystery that had been revealed to Paul. That’s the mystery of Christ.

And since Jesus had offered himself up to unite us all together to God, Paul’s job as his Apostle was to spread that message of victory that was hidden from previous ages. Paul is one of those Apostles who with the New Testament prophets must now reveal the mystery. In fact, Paul has been especially called to the Gentiles as God’s Apostle.

When you hear the word “apostle” think “delegate” or “representative.” Conceptually, the word is very close to “Ambassador” and Paul will later call himself an Ambassador in change. The work which Christ did.

So Paul is God’s Ambassador to the Gentiles or the nations, but there is a problem. You see if is nice to have an apostle devoted to your service. It is nice to know that God has commissioned an Ambassador to see to your real needs. But what if that ambassador is in chains? What if God’s Apostle is taken prisoner? You might be tempted to be discouraged by such a thing. Paul begins this passage mentioning that he is a prisoner and ends it by asking his readers not to lose heart over what he is suffering.

Why shouldn’t they lose heart? Look at the end of verse 13. The should not lose heart over Paul’s sufferings because Paul’s sufferings are their glory. Who else do we know about who suffered in order to bring glory to people?

Notice something else. Paul states in verse 7 that he was made a minister by God’s grace. And he describes that grace in a very specific way. He writes that the grace “was given me by the working of his power.” Where has Paul said that before. Look in chapter 1, verse 19 where Paul says he is praying that the Church will realize

What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us hwo believe, according to the working of his great might, that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and enthroned him at his right hand in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…

So God’s grace has been working in Paul–the grace working in the Church and that first worked in Jesus himself raising him from death and exalting him in new life. Paul is pointing out that his calling as an Apostle images the calling of Jesus. Jesus suffered death and through that death God bestowed on us his graciously given glory. So now Paul tells the Ephesians that he is suffering and that should not be a discouragement because in union with Christ Paul’s suffering is for their glory. Paul’s sufferings don’t merit anything for the Ephesians, but through Christ his sufferings are means of grace to his people.

Paul has told us of Christ suffering for the glory of the nations and their salvation. Paul is now telling us of his own sufferings by the grace of Christ for their glory. In only a few paragraphs he will be telling the Ephesians that they must suffer for one another. Ephesians 4.32ff:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another; as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Did you catch that? The love of God compels us to love one another and the sacrifice of Christ compels us to suffer for one another. That’s what Paul is working toward when he mentions his own suffering as working toward their glory and he uses language he used from when he described the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His role as an Apostle is unique, but it applies to the Church as a whole and we can and must all follow his example in our own circumstances.

The Gospel, the good news, demands exactly that sort of ethic in God’s community the church. That’s the sort of ministry Paul is destined to have if he truly is an apostle of Christ crucified, and ambassador of the cross. And that is shocking to people. That’s why he has to tell not to lose heart. They are embarrassed that their Apostle is in prison. But Paul is confident that just as God has lavished glory on us all through his son submitting to death, so in union with Christ he can be sure his suffering is not in vain for the Church.

And Paul says that we in the Church are to share in that commission to present the challenge of the gospel to the nations that must submit and trust Christ and become his people. Look at verse 10: Paul says that his witness to the Gospel is done “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Now if the Church is going to bear witness to the gospel that now all nations are to come into the Church as one, then the church is going to be bearing witness to those who want their own dominion to remain intact. If the Church says that Jesus is Lord and all both must submit to him and are welcome in his Kingdom, Caesar is going to say, “Wait a minute, I’m supposed to be lord of the Roman Empire.” And the Priests and Elders in Israel are going to say, “Wait a minute, what about our special status as God’s covenant people?”

Those are the powers in the heavenly places whom Jesus has already in principle displaced by ascending over them into heaven and raising up the Church to be seated in him. And the Church, by embodying the Gospel–by being a community of love in which entrusting oneself to the Lordship of Christ is the only membership requirement–proclaims to these powers that Jesus is Lord and that all nations are subject to him and welcome to him for every blessing–the forgiveness of sins and everything else.

Now, we’ve half forgotten this in the U.S., but the fact is that the powers don’t respond well to this sort of Gospel-driven community. Paul says that he’s suffering for this Gospel and then says the Gospel is being “made known” to the rulers by the Church. His implication is that the people of God are themselves in union with Christ going to need to prepare themselves to suffer for the Gospel as well.

Let’s remember: In communist China where the Church has been persecuted to various degrees, it is not because the government takes it’s orders directly from Satan. It’s because the Church dares to claim and to live according to the idea that Jesus is the source of their identity, the source of their life, and most offensively the source of a new community which is not beholden to the state or to the wider society. And that is intolerable, just as it was intolerable to faithful Jews to see a society where circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles ate together on the basis of nothing more than “Jesus is Lord.” That sort of community is often found intolerable to our political rulers just as it was intolerable to the worshipers of Caesar that a group would worship together claiming that Jesus and not Caesar was Lord.

That’s the Gospel and it means community. On the part of each one of us, it means a willingness to suffer for the sake of the glory of others. It means being human, being a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a boss, an employee, a child, a student in such a way that it manifest Jesus Christ and him crucified. And central to all of that, it means living as ambassadors of the cross in the Church so the Church itself becomes an Embassy of the Cross.

The only way the gospel can be clearly seen in the witness of the Church is by its members willingly dying to self and living for the sake of one another. They do this as they realize what the Gospel means and by doing this they better understand what the Gospel means: God’s love for the world inviting all nations and tribes and people and social classes and economic classes back to his kingdom as one people of God by faith. That’s the challenge we face to live as Christians.

Remember Jesus’ words in John 17 when he is praying for his disciples:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

That is what the Apostle Paul is saying: Through the Church the Gospel is to be made known to everyone, even to the rulers of this age. We should have confidence and access to God’s throne room as one people together. Paul has written, in the last half of chapter two, that our access is in one Spirit through Christ who offered himself up for us. We should expect then that our access and confidence in faith should mean that we are marked out by the cross of Christ.

Paul as Christ’s Apostle, his representative, shows us the form of the Christian life: “a prisoner for King Jesus for the sake of the nations” and “one who suffers for the nations for their glory.” Jesus’ own call for us to take up our cross and follow him is still the only call there is.

If we want glory, if we want to see the glory of the Lord more visible in and around us, we need to embrace the pattern of the cross, dying daily to self and living for God and for his Gospel–for other people.

“The Great Exchange” A sermon I preached at a local PCA church today

Mark 1.40-45

This story is God’s word to you this Lord’s Day morning and I want to help you take it to heart and think of how you can work it out in your hands.

But first I need to talk a bit about what it doesn’t mean.

There is no reason to think that the sickness of this “leper” is Hansen’s disease. There is a rather horrible disease that is known as Leprosy. A Norwegian physician named Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen identified the bacterial cause of it in 1873. It is a serious condition in some places with inadequate medical treatments.  It is not nearly as serious if it is treated.  But it unhappy that this word has become mixed up in our Bible translations.

In Leviticus 13, “leprosy” is something that can happen to human skin, or to human clothing, or to a house.  In the case of human skin, the issue is not that it is contagious or that it is especially unhealthy. Rather, the point is that it means exclusion.  Exclusion first from the sanctuary of God in Israel and then also from all the towns or gathering places in Israel.

Remember, God placed his special presence in Israel. He gave Moses instructions for building a royal tent, the Tabernacle. And when that Tabernacle was completed and sacrifices were prepared, the fiery presence of God, that had appeared on Mount Sinai, moved into it. God was with his people. Generations later it was continued in Solomon’s Temple, a more glorious replacement of the Tabernacle.

But that gift of God’s presence was not only a blessing but a liability. It was something like having a nuclear power plant in your home town. The abundant power would be great, but there would be risks to having all that power so close. Much of the instructions dealing with the Tabernacle had to do with maintaining barriers. People needed to not come too close. They had to stay on the far side of the boundaries. And like humans need hazard suits for certain environments, the priests called to do service within the walls of the Tabernacle had to wear special garments and take other steps to make sure they could safely enter God’s presence.

This concept goes back to the Garden of Eden. Eden was the original sanctuary and Adam and Eve could be their naked and unashamed. But after they sinned they were ashamed of their nakedness and had to be excluded from the Garden.  God even clothed them in dead animal skins.

The problem of “leprosy” as it is called in our English Bibles is about access to the presence of God. Just as one needed special covering to get close to God, if one’s normal covering was compromised, if one had some kind of sore or blemish that went deeper than the skin, then one had to move away from God’s presence.  One could no longer offer sacrifices at the altar in the Temple forecourt. You were banned from Passover and the other sacramental festivals in Israel where God invited his people to eat and drink with him. The idea was that sin must be covered and sin is found in our inward being. The laws of “leprosy” or skin problems were a symbolic embodiment of the barrier of sin and how God cannot permit it in his presence.

When this man comes to Jesus, the main problem is not that he is seriously ill or contagious. The main problem is that he is banned from God’s presence. He is not permitted access to God’s sanctuary.

And he is also therefore banned from the places where God’s people congregate. There is a sense in which all cities and town in Israel are also places where God is present and therefore the person with this skin problem must go out into the countryside away from them. The law also demands that he cover himself and call himself unclean to any passerby.

Unclean means banned from God’s presence. How is Jesus going to restore this man to God?

What Mark shows us is a picture of an exchange. Jesus could have healed this man with just a word so that he would be given back Temple access.  In Luke’s Gospel he tells us about ten lepers Jesus healed in this way.  He could have also not told us of the leper’s disobedience and how it affected Jesus. But instead Jesus actually touches the man with the skin problem and then Jesus ends up suffering as if he had the skin blemish himself, as if he were unclean and unable to enter God’s presence.

Notice first, the action Jesus takes. The man comes to Jesus knowing he needs help and that Jesus has the power to help him. He kneels and begs and ascribes the power to Jesus. Jesus’ first response is to touch him. “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’”

Now, given how much hype has been placed on leprosy in the Bible stories, this may seem like an amazingly risky move. But there is surprisingly little in the Bible about coming into contact with someone who has been ruled to be unclean in this way. Leviticus 22.5 indicates that touching a person with this condition made one unclean until evening, but that probably wouldn’t be too inconvenient for most people other than priests serving at the Temple. There’s nothing in the Bible about the risk of a contagious disease.

Nevertheless we can be pretty sure that, to Jesus’ contemporaries, what Jesus did was shocking. Even though they were far away from the Temple, the teachers of the law would have thought that touching a leper was scandalous. It will be awhile before we learn this in Mark’s gospel explicitly, but it is clear in all the Gospels that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day saw it as a mark of piety to “intensify” everything the Bible said about holiness and cleansing. The Bible nowhere says that going into a Gentile house will make an Israelite unclean, but the religious leaders refuse to enter Pilate’s house according to John 19 because they don’t want to become unclean for Passover.  And in Mark 7 we find that the Pharisees expect all devout believers to wash their hands of uncleanness even though there is no such law in the Bible. Jesus there direct challenges the practice of adding to the law.

So the fact that Jesus did more than just speak healing, but actually first reached out and touched this man would have been noticed. It might even have been offensive to some onlookers.

Jesus accomplishes two things by touching this man. First, he publicly violates the fake “holiness” expectations of the religious leaders of his day. Secondly, he shows he has new life that he can afford to share through personal contact. Jesus later explains that what is outside a person cannot make them unclean and we have to apply that to these laws. The only reason humans could become unclean by contact was because they themselves, as sinners, had interior uncleanness that was “drawn out,” if you will, by the uncleanness they contacted. As a person without sin, Jesus could not really become unclean but no one would be able to see that. If Jesus had touched the leper and nothing else happened, then it would be a matter of doubt.

But there is more going on. In the Old Covenant, uncleanness spread. You could become unclean by contact, even if only until evening, but no unclean person ever became clean simply by touching a clean person. Until now!

Now Jesus touches a leper and, rather than becoming unclean until evening, the leper is cleansed. He is healed of his skin blemish. Life spreads and death recedes. Jesus is shown to not only be impervious to uncleanness, but to be the conqueror of it. “I am willing; be clean.” Jesus gives us health and life.

But the way the story is told, we see that Jesus suffers more than a normal person who touched someone who had this skin problem. If a priest, for example, touched a leper, it would only mean he could not serve as a priest until the evening sacrifice had been performed. But by God’s providence and Mark’s recounting of the story, Jesus is affected far more.

Jesus told the man to only bear witness when he got to Jerusalem by following the law for the restoration of people who were unclean in this way. Verse 44: “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But the cleansed ex-“leper” doesn’t obey.  He tells everyone he sees. I’m not sure how severely we should judge this man for his disobedience.  Later, Jesus will command people to tell everyone but they will remain silent.  At least this man wasn’t ashamed or afraid, even though he should have obeyed Jesus.

Still, the results are astounding: Verse 45: “Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places.” Compare that to Leviticus 13.46 describing the person who has this skin problem: “He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

Jesus cleanses a man with a skin condition that makes him unclean and, in exchange, Jesus himself becomes someone who is treated just like he would be if he had a skin condition that could make him unclean.

These miracles are signs of how God brings salvation to Israel and to the world. What Mark shows us in how he describes these events teaches us what Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 5.21: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” For our sake God made him to be unclean who knew no uncleanness, so that in him we might have access to God.

Or consider Second Corinthians 8.9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Mark is telling us of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was clean, yet for your sake he became as one who was unclean, so that you by his suffering as one alienated become clean—might have access to God.

Now this obviously has a vertical dimension. We should hear this story and learn yet again that Christ is a sufficient and available deliverer from all that would keep us from God. Because in all that we read in the Gospels about Jesus being born, and growing, and serving in Israel, and dying, and rising again, and sending the Spirit—in all those things Jesus did and submitted to he was doing one thing: He was reaching out and touching you, joining you, declaring his solidarity with you, sharing all he had with you to give it all to you and, in turn, taking all your guilt and sin and curse and frustration on to himself. God loves you. He has given you his son. God is overjoyed to share Jesus with you and put every one of your burdens on him both now and forever. And Jesus agrees with His Father. To each one of us he says always, “I am willing, be clean.”

But I want to also tell you that when Jesus did what he did, he was communicating to God’s people who they themselves should behave. There is a horizontal dimension to this great exchange.  We see it in several ways. For example, consider Paul’s words to Philemon when he wants Philemon to forgive and accept Onesimus who has sinned against Philemon.

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.

Do you see the double move there? Paul wants Philemon to receive Onesimus just as if he were Paul, to regard him as Paul himself.  And then any debt that Onesimus owes Philemon he wants Philemon to charge to Paul’s account.

Every Christian you know, including the many you don’t like comes to you the same way. God is sending them to you asking you to regard them as a representative of Jesus and to ascribe all their offense against you to God’s account. He will repay us—to say nothing of our owing him our own selves.

Or think how Paul describes his Apostolic ministry in preaching the Gospel and establishing churches: Second Corinthians 4.11, 12: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

What Jesus did is unique. Only he could exchange his life for ours in a way that got rid of our sin and gave us his kingdom.  But as those who belong to Christ, we are called to share in his ministry by following his example. In our own derivative way, we can and are called to give our lives for others through personal contact.

Two obstructions need to be dealt with to allow us to fully implement the great exchange in the way we live.  First, we must deal with the temptation of false pride and then we must resist the unbelief and stinginess that masquerades as humility.

Dealing with the first obstacle, it is the one Jesus will address over and over again in his ministry. Here he touches a “leper.” Later he eats and drinks with tax-collectors.  In Luke’s Gospel he later allows a sinful woman to touch him.  His disciples, we discover, do not use the proper hand cleansing ritual. All the Gospels give us one consistent picture of Jesus as a man who hates the way these unnecessary barriers have been used to rationalize withholding grace and fellowship from other people.  Even parents were neglected by their children according to some of these rulers and that neglect was rationalized as piety.

Jesus lived a different way. He taught his followers that the true god was kind and generous to all and that they had to imitate him if they believed in the true god.  He touched the untouchable and ate and drank with people who were not considered table-worthy.

But the second obstacle is the conviction that we don’t have enough to offer ourselves to others. After all, we’re not Jesus so we can’t provide what he can provide.

It is true that we are not Jesus and can’t provide what he can provide. But Jesus has provided for us and has provided us for one another. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter about the church as the body of Christ, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (12.21). Then likewise, the hand cannot say to the eye, “I have nothing to offer you.” Nor again the feet to the head, “I am useless to you.”

You don’t know what you have! You don’t know what you’re capable of! The terrible truth isn’t that you have weaknesses that prevent you from helping others. The terrible truth is that you are missing the opportunity to witness how God will turn your weaknesses into special advantages you have because you are too intimidated or demoralized to reach out and touch the lives of others.

You may think you have nothing to give, but Jesus has given you himself so you have more than enough to give. Paul’s motto for his ministry can be imitated by all Christians in their various walks in life: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3.4, 5).

You may be frustrated that nothing you can think to do is really going to help the person whom you are concerned about. After all, God doesn’t heal people when you touch them. But you don’t know how God wants to use you and you can’t find out until you take the initiative and reach out. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12.15 that we should “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” So if someone is going through hard times and you can’t make them magically better, your calling from God is to simply identify with what they are going through. Sympathize with them. Empathize with them. If that is all you can do then do that. Don’t allow frustration that you can’t do more prevent you from doing less.

God has reached out to us through Jesus. In his son he is touching us now. “I am willing; be clean” He gives us access. And he sends us out to be used by him to do the same for one another and for others.

Paranoia Will Destroy You: A Sermon on the Fall of Adam and Eve

Genesis 2.25-3.7

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Have you ever had the classic dream where you show up for class or for work and everyone is staring at you? You find it odd and wonder what is making them look at you in such a strange way. Then you glance down and realize that you forgot to get dressed that morning. You’re naked!

That feeling of sudden shame due to the realization of exposure and vulnerability is basic to our passage this morning. It begins with the declaration that Adam and Eve were both naked yet unashamed. It ends with them scrambling to find some innovative way to cover themselves. We have here a clear movement from confidence to shame – from oneness to alienation. Adam and Eve now find they need barriers between one another. They will also need barriers between themselves and God.

Those fig leaves — those barriers — represent what has in fact already happened in the process of listening to Satan and eating the forbidden. Sin involves turning away from God and naturally leads to separation from him. And here we see that separation first affects Adam and Eve themselves. They need clothing in regard to each other because they are alienated from each other.

How have they become alienated from each other? What have they done to each other?

Well look at verse 6: “she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” What is the import of that tiny prepositional phrase, “with her”? Is the Bible taking the time to explain to us that when Eve went and found her husband and gave him the fruit, that at the time she handed it to him that he was “with her”? I don’t think so. That’s useless and redundant information. By telling us that Adam is with Eve, the Bible is dropping the bombshell that Adam isn’t unaware of Eve’s conversation with Satan. He is right there. He is standing by silently while Eve is being tempted to disobey God’s law and eat the forbidden fruit.

What is going on? Adam witnesses Eve’s conversation with the serpent and says nothing. Bear in mind that Eve was not present when God forbade them to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. All she heard God say was that they could eat from every tree. Adam must have taught her that they were prohibited at the time from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet Adam does not speak despite the fact that he, not Eve, is the expert on what God actually said.

But that’s not all. He remains silent and then watches Eve take and eat the forbidden fruit. Only after he sees that she is still alive does he take some from her and eat himself. Instead of loving his wife, Adam is using her as a guinea pig in a grand experiment. He is the original abusive husband.

As the Apostle Paul states in 1 Timothy 2, “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” Adam was self-conscious about what he was doing. He was created first. He heard the prohibition. Eve was created after and had to learn about the prohibition second hand. She was deceived in a way that Adam wasn’t. Adam stood by and offered Eve no support. He waited until she ate and lived before he ate.

No wonder, then, that Adam and Eve can no longer be exposed to one another. Eve sinned and shared her sin with her husband. Adam silently allowed Eve to sin and ate after she took the risk. Though he was the one who had heard God’s command, he was silent in the face of the serpent’s temptation.

So that is the state of alienation in which Adam and Eve ended up.

But how did they get there?

What was the mental process that they used to decide to eat the forbidden fruit?

Quite simply, it is this: God hates us and has a horrible plan for our lives. That is one of the most tragic aspects of the Fall. Adam and Eve decided to believe the serpent’s story. And what was that story? Verse 5: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

In verse 4 Satan claims that God was lying when he said that Adam and Eve would die if the ate the fruit of the tree. And verse 5 is his explanation for God’s alleged lie. “God is trying to keep you down. The creator of the universe is worried that you might get too great, Eve, so he is lying to you in order to make you less than what you could be. God is worried about you advancing yourself too high, Adam, so he has made something up to cause you to fear for your life. The god who made you has surrounded you with a web of deceit in order to make sure you are never his equal.”

This is an incredible lie that Satan is telling Adam and Eve. God raised them up from the dust, but Satan is saying that he is trying to make them stay in the dust. God made Adam and Eve to be like God, made in his image, but Satan is saying that he is trying to prevent them from being like him. God gave Adam and Eve eyes for seeing but Satan is saying that God is trying to keep them blind because he is restricting them from the fruit that can open their eyes.

I think it might be helpful to look at Satan’s proposal from the standpoint of Adam and Eve’s self image. According to Luke 3 Adam was God’s son. But according to the worldview set forth by the serpent, Adam had an abusive, tyrannical father. According to John 14.18, Jesus promised the disciples that he would not leave them as orphans. But that is precisely what Satan is saying about Adam and Eve: They are orphans. The have no father they can trust.

That fundamental mindset is what moved Adam and Eve from a state of unity and unashamed exposure to one of alienation and shame. They decided that they were on their own without God and without hope in the world. God had made them king and queen of creation, but they decided to believe that they were prisoners within creation.

Do you see the irony? Because Adam and Eve sinned they lost their standing before God. God created them as his son and daughter, but they sinned and thus were disinherited and in a sense disowned. God created them holy, but they sinned and thus became unholy. God created them rightly related to him – in a word, justified before him – but they sinned and became condemned before him.

But they lost all those things precisely because Satan convinced them that they never had those things. As I’ve mentioned, Satan convinced Adam and Eve that they were already orphans. Satan convinced them that holiness of character was a farce since consecration to God’s service was merely slavery and obedience to his commands was simply a way God was exploiting them. Finally, Satan convinced them that they had no right standing with God because God had been deceiving them from the beginning.

It is a mystery to me how Adam and Eve could have believed something so false. I don’t understand how they could deceive themselves so much as to believe that God hated them and had a horrible plan for their lives. But I do know that since our first parents imagined such things of God and his treatment of them, it has now become human nature to be suspicious of God. Paranoia is prevalent throughout the human race – cosmic paranoia that imagines God is out to get us.

And it is not simply more common because of a human propensity to distrust God resulting from the inward corruption that began in the first sin. Obviously, all sort of new desires and inclinations are now part of human nature because of our inborn hostility to God that originated in original sin – that’s why it’s called original sin, after all. But I’m speaking of something else very closely related but distinct.

Think of it. In the midst of paradise, Adam and Eve became suspicious and distrustful of God – suspicious and distrustful of his attitude and actions toward them. In the midst of the Garden of Eden, having been given license to all of creation (minus one tree) Adam and Eve actually thought that God was holding back from them. That he was doing things that were ultimately not in their best interests.

Think of the way things are now. We are all guilty before God. We are under his wrath and curse. We are destined to eternal punishment unless we repent and believe – unless we cease being suspicious of God and trust him. How much more powerful then, is the temptation to believe that God’s rules are simply ways to keep us in poverty and misery. The serpent’s whisper that God does not want our eyes open, that he does not love us, that he means us harm, is now a deafening shout. Satan has a lot more evidence to point to.

That is one of the basic temptations for believers. The Gospel says that Jesus has suffered the curse in our place and been given resurrection life – a life he promises to share with all who trust God. Trust God. Trust Jesus. Don’t let anyone tells you that he means you ill.

Think of the exiles in Babylon separated from God’s presence in the Temple, separated from the Holy City Jerusalem, separated from their inheritance of God’s promised land. By every definition from their upbringing they thought themselves cursed by God. But what did God’s prophet Jeremiah tell them on God’s behalf?

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5 ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their produce. 6 ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 ‘And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ 11 ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,‘ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 ‘And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

The author of Hebrews has to deal with Christians suffering persecution for their faith who are tempted to return to Judaism. This would not have simply been a decision in their minds for comfort rather than God’s favor. Part of the temptation would have been to interpret the persecution as a sign that God was not on their side anymore, that in leaving Judaism they had departed from the true faith. But the author of Hebrews offers them a different interpretation:

7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Justification by faith is a Protestant shibboleth. Rightly so! But it is often simply a form of words without much content. Why is faith so important to justification? One simple reason that you need to remember from our text this morning is that condemnation came through unbelief. And that unbelief involved specifically doubting God’s intentions toward us.

That’s probably why Jesus, speaking to a generation in the promised land suffering under pagan oppression and a corrupt priesthood, went out of his way to assure them of God’s attitude toward them even while he was exhorting them to repent or else face judgment.

25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? 26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? 28 “And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. 30 “But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?11 “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 “Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.

In the midst of suffering, persecution, and poverty, that is how Jesus presented God as trustworthy.

We must trust God. That is what faith means. Adam and Eve needed clothing. In baptism, God has clothed us in Jesus Christ – Galatians 3.27. But we don’t see anything visibly different. We have to trust God that he has taken care of our nakedness and sin and that we will be clothed with visible glory at the resurrection.

But that’s not all; we must encourage one another to trust God. Think of how many times we are told to forgive one another.

Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us into the glory of God

Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

Why all this? Part of the reasons is that we each need the assurance that God has indeed forgiven our sins despite the adversity around us and our consciences within us. If Adam and Eve can be tempted to doubt God in paradise, how much more can we be tempted to do so now? But the Church is now God’s sanctuary and we should be helping one another believe that God loves us by loving one another. We should be helping one another believe that God forgives us by forgiving one another.

Just a couple of verses later in Genesis chapter 3 we can read Adam’s condemnation of Eve as if she was to blame for his sin. That’s not the way it should be in the church. We’re supposed to support one another, cover over offenses in love, or when necessary forgive one another, and even restore one another. In that way, we are ministering grace to one another. If we do that, we will find it much easier to trust God to forgive us and save us.

But there is always the temptation to deal with the problem of guilt and doubt another way. Another way to believe that one is close to God is to find others who you can regard as farther away from God and compare yourself to them. Churches can become gathering points for people who regard themselves as more important than others, because of some real or imagined criterion of sanctification. Every good thing can be abused in this way. Reformed theology can be used as a tool to exalt oneself as above others. Evangelistic zeal can serve the same purpose. There are a host of lifestyle issues, some perhaps good ideas for some people and most of which are bone-headed, but all of which are a stench in God’s nostrils when used, as they often are, to practice a form of pseudo-spiritual one-upmanship which one another.

When we play spiritual one-upmanship in the Church, we are following in the path of Satan, the accuser of brethren, and we are playing Satan’s role in Genesis chapter 3 by misrepresenting God. Think about it: we have been each commissioned as priests to represent Jesus Christ to one another. We can be so commissioned because, as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was willing to be oppressed and afflicted yet did not open his mouth. When we open our mouths, or role our eyes, or shake our heads, when a brother or sister in Christ somehow falls short of our most obscure scruples, we are making a statement for Christ. That is an inescapable consequence of being Christ’s representative. And it is a false statement. We are misrepresenting Jesus. We are misrepresenting God.

But God is trustworthy. His attitude is one of love and his intentions are kind toward us. He has shown through Jesus our Lord that even in the most severe abandonment he is bringing about a glorious deliverance. The curse leads to life, death to the resurrection. Don’t be like Adam and Eve. Trust God and love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray that he will help you in the midst of the unbelief that you and I both struggle with. Pray that God will empower you to demonstrate the belief he has given to you by acting like God does. God will give you the Spiritual power you need. God is trustworthy.

RePost: The Grace of the Law

I had a dream last night. It was more than a dream, actually: it was the sudden recollection of a distant and repressed memory from my infancy. Actually, it was from even before my infancy. Even before I was born somehow my father and I communicated with with each other He offered to make me exist and to love me as his son on the condition that I agreed to love and obey him. After I agreed to meet the conditions of that covenant, then he agreed to conceive me and raise me from then on as his child.

OK, I lied. I didn’t have that dream. And such a dream could never be a repressed memory. It would really be a weird nightmare. Parental love is not based on a contract. It is not based on on some previous agreement. There is no time to make such an agreement. From the moment a person is conceived, that person is in a relationship with his parents. The child may fail to continue in that relationship the right way. But when that happens, it is not because the child failed to enter into a covenant with his parents, but rather because he broke the covenant already established. He is not an autonomous individual. He’s just a runaway.

Likewise, God didn’t create Adam and then make an arrangement whereby Adam was blessed by God. On the contrary, God’s covenant relationship with Adam existed from the moment Adam first existed. Adam didn’t have to love and obey in order to be God’s son, he had to love and obey God because was God’s son. And he was God’s son because of an act of God’s will, not his own. True, he could respond to God’s love and grace in making and adopting him, but he could never initiate God’s love and grace. God took the initiative.

Now this seems rather obvious, but there is something in human nature which rebels against it. We don’t like to think of ourselves as utterly dependent, and subject to certain moral obligations as an essential part of our identity. We would rather be self-existent autonomous beings under no obligations except those we impose upon ourselves. This desire manifests itself in our in our intellectual life. Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, claimed that each human person pre-existed there own body and life history. Each of us existed as a pure mind with perfect knowledge, so that no experience in this world really taught us anything new or actually changed us. Rather, they simply reminded us of what we ultimately already knew.

This fantasy of autonomy also manifests itself in the way our society does not understand how to explain the rights of a child. Abortion, and all sorts of other evils, comes down to the idea that a person is an autonomous being with no obligations other than the ones he or she voluntarily takes on.

Now what does all this have to do with the Ten Commandments? Quite simply this: Time and time again, the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, have been treated as if they were, at least hypothetically, a way of earning salvation—of initiating a relationship with God. But there is no way that such an interpretation can be made to fit the facts. On the contrary, the first three verses of Exodus 20, in the context of Exodus as a whole, make it clear that the Israelites are not supposed to obey God in order to be saved, but because they are saved.

Just to make my point clear, let me read you again the first three verses of Exodus chapter 20:

Then God spoke all these words, saying,

You shall have no other gods before Me,

Then I will be the Lord your God,

and I will bring you out of the land of Egypt,

out of the house of slavery.

Now with a couple of minor modifications, those are the first three verses of chapter 20 of the Exodus. But the message has now been completely perverted because I switched the order of verses 2 and 3. Instead of having deliverance precede the command, I reversed it and made the command precede the deliverance. But that gives us an entirely different picture. And it is inaccurate. God didn’t hand out the Law in Egypt and tell the Israelites to obey it in order to be delivered from Pharaoh’s kingdom. Exactly the opposite. God first unilaterally saved Israel and then gave Israel the law. The Law is not about initiating or earning a relationship. The Law is about thanking, trusting, and continuing in a relationship which you could never hope to initiate, earn, or in any way, deserve.

You see, our inherent drive to imagine ourselves autonomous gets tangled up with an assumption that people were saved in the Old Testament by their works while in the New Testament we are saved by God’s grace through faith. But that is ridiculous. The Apostle Paul’s argument throughout his letters is that we are saved by faith now because that is the only way anyone was ever saved at any time. Abraham and David were saved by faith. According to the author of Hebrews, Moses was saved by faith. There is nothing new about being saved by grace through faith. There is one way of salvation, one relationship with God, or as theologians like to say, one covenant of grace throught history both before and after Jesus.

Let me give you an example of how we can misunderstand God’s revelation through Moses. Turn with me to Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 15ff, where we hear Moses conclude his farewell sermon to the Israelites:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Now, this is usually read as if it was all about earning or deserving salvation. Like in my dream where I have a conversation with my father before he conceived me, God is here offering the people of Israel life on the condition of obedience.

But think through what that scenario would mean. The Israelites are listening to Moses. There hearts are pumping blood to their ears and brains so that they can hear and understand him. Their lungs are breathing oxygen so that their blood has something to give to their brains and ears. They have already been given life. They are not in some sort of third status that is neither life nor death because there is no third alternative. They are being told to keep choosing life as people who have already been given life. In fact, Paul sites this passage from Deuteronomy in Romans 10 as a reference to the gospel. Moses is giving the people the gospel.

You see the message of the Ten Commandments is not, do this to earn my love. The prologue makes it very clear. The message of the Ten Commandments is, I am God. I have saved you. Be loyal to me.

Consider something else Moses said in Deuteronomy:

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them. Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. And the Lord will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you. And you shall consume all the peoples whom the Lord your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.

I am God. I have saved you. Be loyal to me. That’s the message of the Ten Commandments. That’s the message of Deuteronomy 7.6-16. Now let’s consider something from a gospel:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Whether it’s Moses or Jesus, the message is the same. I am God. I have saved you. Be loyal to me. And I should point out, the same basic message was given to Adam and Eve. They hadn’t sinned so they didn’t need to be saved in that sense. But still, the message had the same structure. I am God. I have created you and exalted you over all things. Be loyal to me. Granted, for Adam and Eve, loyalty entailed perfect obedience as well as faith, but that was because they were sinless. If they remained in covenant they would continue to not sin. God’s covenant with them was a relationship of love unilaterally initiated by God. It was not a labor contract.

Likewise, the Ten Commandments were never given as a contract. They were never given, even hypothetically, as a way for men and women to earn or merit eternal life. They were given as a means to grow in grace and faith. They were given to sinners whom God had freely chosen to forgive and adopt as his own children.

Now I should mention that there are passages in Paul which say pretty negative things about the Law. But Paul is replying, in these passages, to people who think the Mosaic Law is complete apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. Yes, without Christ the Law can only condemn. Yes, without Christ, one must change the Law beyond recognition and make it into either a way of earning salvation or a reason for boasting in one’s national heritage. But that is not what the Law was intended for. The Ten Commandments presuppose grace and salvation. Jesus is God. He has chosen us and delivered us. We must be loyal to him.

Bear in mind, that it is not only the Old Testament Law which accuses and condemns. Some theologians historically, have made a big deal out of the fact that when the Law was given at Sinai, it was given in thunder and lightning and fire so that everyone was fearful. The gospel, they said, contrasts with the Law in that it is all assurance and promise of good will. I think something is missing from this sort of assessment. When the Apostle John saw the risen savior Jesus Christ, he was struck down like a dead man. When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus, he was thrown to the ground and blinded by the blaze of Jesus’ glory. The Mount of Transfiguation is quite comparable to Mount Sinai.

The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that his preaching of the gospel is the

fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.

And consider Hebrews 10.28-29

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

So, contrary to many popular interpretations floating around today, in the presence of unbelief, the gospel is even more condemning than the Old Testament law. Why? Because the grace of God is revealed even more clearly. It’s true that God is holy. It’s true that every sin deserves his wrath. But that’s barely half the story. God isn’t just holy, he is loving, patient, and forgiving. And in the face of that loving, patient, and forgiving God, men and women continue in unbelief and rebellion. Like Eve we convince ourselves that God’s commands are simply a way he’s keeping us down. That’s what condemns us all the more. And that’s why the Gospel can be even more condemning than anything written in the Old Testament.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating. Imagine a husband in some way sinning against his wife so that it costs her. Let’s say that I put us deeply in debt by gambling so that my wife Jennifer and the children have to bear the financial consequences of my sin. And let’s say that Jennifer, on her own initiative, arranges to get a job which, even despite childcare, will pay off those debts. So she comes to me and says, “Mark, I forgive you. And I have arranged it so that I can pay off your debt.”

Now what should I do, in response to that word of pardon and promise? Obviously, I should repent of what I have done. I should repent, true, simply because I have sinned against my wife. But all the more, if I have one living nerve left in my seared heart, I should repent becaus my wife loves me and has, at great cost to herself, covered over my sin.

But what would I do, if I followed in the way of human nature? Editing out the swear words, I would probably say, “Who are you to forgive me.” To a hardened heart, words of grace are even more condemning than words of command.

The upshot is that much of the claims made about the necessity of hearing the law before hearing the Gospel aren’t all that cogent. It is true that we need to know what sin is, and that can be taught to us through the law both before and after we enter the kingdom. But the gospel itself contains a revelation of our sinfulness.

Back before seminary when I was working in a bookstore, I remember a co-worker who for some reason had to attend a Roman Catholic service. When she came back, she spoke bitterly of how ridiculous the liturgy was because of some of the words that had been said. The made her feel guilty and condemned. Why. Did she hear the commandments from Sinai? No. She heard about the bitter sufferings and death to which our Lord Jesus Christ submitted himself because of our sins. That is what she hated. How could anyone claim that anything she had done had sent a man into torture for her sake.

Of course, it would be fine to use the ten commandments in the liturgy as well. But not simply because they are commands. Rather, because they reveal the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who has, more than Moses, brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, out of the domain of darkness, out of the house of sin. We are learning how to walk in the light as he is in the light. God has initiated a relationship with us. And he is teaching us how to continue in it because he loves us.

If we truly believe that God loves us then the prospect of obeying the commands should not seem burdensome. Think of an awkward and mediocre-looking young man at a dance. And a beautiful woman grabs his hand and says, “Dance with me!” That’s what it should feel like to know that God, the lover of your soul, wants to teach you the steps for walking with him.

Jesus is God. Jesus has saved us. Let us be loyal to him. Let us trust him. The Ten Commandments are an important summary statement of how to trust God. And they presuppose grace. We are to obey God not in order to become his children, but because he has made us his children. After all, he is about to feed us at his table, just like any loving parent does for his children. The Ten Commandments aren’t things we do to come to the Lord’s Supper. No, we participate in the Lord’s Supper in order to obey the Ten Commandments. God nourishes us that we might serve him.

May God make us truly grateful then, that in his power we might live according to his word.

Even though Xmas is Over, here is a repost of a Christmas sermon I’ve preached in the last few years

WHY FAITH? THE GIFT OF THE NEW CREATION: Luke 1.26-38; Romans 4.16-25

What is the meaning of the virgin birth?

Perhaps the most popular answer to that question is that it is necessary to believe in the virgin birth in order to defend and affirm the deity of Christ. Jesus is both God and man. If Jesus had a human father, then that would mean that he was only human.

But the fact is that Jesus could have united himself to a human nature formed in the normal way just as easily as a human nature formed from only his mother. The full humanity and deity of Jesus did not require that he not have a human father.

(Now, there is a rather obtuse but important theological point which is easier to defend because of the virgin birth. It is easier to defend orthodoxy against Nestorianism. Nestorius claimed that in the savior there were two distinct persons who worked together, the human person Christ and the divine person God. So it is alright to call Mary the Christotokos, but not the Theotokos. We can call her the bearer of Christ, but not the bearer of God. There were two separate persons involved and Mary was the mother to only one of them, the human one. Now, if Jesus was produced by both a man and a woman, this heresy would have been much harder to refute, since one could argue that a human person is the inevitable result of human procreation. But because of the virgin birth, we have additional reason to assert that there was one and only one person involved in Jesus, the person of the eternal Son of God united to a human nature so that the one eternal person was both human and divine. However, as I said, this is a rather obtuse point.)

Another explanation assigned to the virgin birth is the sinlessness of Christ. Christ didn’t have a human father because a human father would have contaminated him with original sin. The problem with this idea is that women are sinful too. The virgin birth has nothing to do with Christ’s sinlessness. In any case, as soon as we invent human cloning and find that the offspring of women are just as sinful as those conceived in the normal way, we will have empirical counter-evidence for this possibility.

One last explanation that I will mention is that the sinlessness of Christ requires a virgin birth because sexual activity involves lust, in therefore inherently sinful, and thus contaminates the offspring with original sin. There are several problems with this. First of all, sex between a husband and wife does not involve lust. Lust is an unlawful desire and there is nothing unlawful about desiring one’s spouse. Second of all, the Bible nowhere teaches that there is some sin in the sex act which makes the offspring sinful. Rather, the Bible teaches that we are sinners because we come from sinful people. Finally, there are people who have been conceived through in vitro fertilization and they are just as sinful as the rest of us.

So neither Christ’s deity, nor his sinlessness, require a virgin birth. Why, then, was Jesus born to a virgin?

It was a sign miracle. A sign of what? We’re given a clue in Luke 1.35:

The angel answered and said to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

Now, this may sound like the virgin birth is tied to Christ’s deity, but I think there is something else in view of that phrase in Luke’s Gospel. If we flip over a couple of chapters to chapter 3, verse 22, we read that when Jesus was baptized,

a voice came out of heaven: You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.

And immediately then, in verses 23 through 36, Luke launches into a genealogy of Jesus, which ends with Adam and calls Adam “the son of God.” Being the son of God means being a new Adam, a second creation.

JUST TO MAKE SURE you all know that my theology is orthodox, let me show you how Luke reveals the deity of Christ in what he tells us about his birth. We see it in the song of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. In Luke 1.76, we read from his prophetic song to God regarding the infant John, where he says.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
“For you will go on before the LORD to prepare his ways.”

Zacharias is quoting from Malachi 3.1, which speaks of an angel going before the Lord God. So according to Zacharias, John is going to prepare the way for God himself to visit Israel. Yet it is patently obvious that John is intended to prepare the way for Jesus. Elizabeth, remember, calls Mary “the mother of my Lord.” Everyone involved knows that John was born to be the forerunner of Jesus. Yet somehow he is, at the same time, the forerunner of God.

Preparing the way for Jesus means preparing the way for God. In Luke, as we have seen in First Corinthians, we find the most distinctive Christian messages precisely at the places were it is most obviously Jewish. The deity of Christ is affirmed through the use of Old Testament prophecy.

BUT, IF SON OF God is a term in Luke used not to designate the deity of Jesus but his status as a second Adam, then the virgin birth makes perfect sense. As in the case of Adam, God formed Jesus in a unique and different way—by a direct act, if you will. Jesus is shown, in the virgin birth, to be something new. He is not simply the product of the past, but is a genuine second creation, a new beginning.

In such a case, then, we’re in a position to think about the meaning of the virgin birth. The meaning of Christmas as a whole would indeed include reflection on the incarnation–on God with us in the person of Jesus, even the infant Jesus. But by singling out the virgin birth I think we have a rather precise target to aim for. Listen again to what the angel says in Luke 1:

The angel answered and said to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.

God has the power. He can do the impossible. He can make all things new. He can save us.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written: A father of many nations have I made you.) In the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

God has the power. He can do the impossible. He can make all things new. He can save us. For this reason it is by faith.

FOR THIS REASON IT is by faith. Deliverance from death and damnation is given to those who believe. Why? Because that is the only appropriate marker for those who are saved utterly and entirely by God’s gracious gift. Ultimately, God does not save those marked out by good works, or by circumcision, or by baptism, or by regular church attendance, or by monogamy, or by any other way of life. If those things have any part to play whatever, it is only because they demonstrate or reinforce faith. And, of course, it should go without saying that anyone who thinks anything they do can actually earn or merit from God their deliverance from sin and death is suffering a demonic delusion.

You see, just like Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias could do nothing to produce a child, so none of us could do nothing to save ourselves. Just as Mary could not produce a son as a virgin, neither can we escape the curse unless God sovereignly delivers us from it by a mighty act of his power. Like a barren women weeping for the son that she will never have, we are in a hopeless position unless God works on our behalf—unless he chooses to save us.

Jesus taught, as recorded in John 3.6:

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Mary’s flesh was as good as dead. Of herself, her womb could produce no life. Life had to come from God—from God’s Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. Mary is unique, but yet a unique member of a set. She is the climax of a long list of women who found themselves barren. Elizabeth is just one example. Before her, Hannah was barren. But she cried out to God and God heard her cry and gave her new life. She gave birth to Samuel, a judge and deliverer of his people. Before Hannah there was the mother of Samson, who was also barren for some time until the Angel of the Lord appeared to her and promised her a son. Before her was Rebekah and then Sarah the wife of Abraham. All these women and others were barren by nature but given children by the powerful intervention of God.

These children were not a triumph on the part of these women. They were not the result of painstaking toil and effort. No, they were completely and totally gracious gifts with which they had nothing to do. The same is true for Mary. All she could do is receive the news of God’s gift with gladness and trust him to fulfill his promise. Just like Abraham:

In hope against hope he believed; so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken—So shall your descendants be. Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised He was able also to perform.

So Abraham contemplated death all around him, yet he believed God and gave him glory in the confidence that God was both willing and able to bring life from death. Contrast Paul’s description of Abraham with Paul’s description of unbelief in Romans 1.20ff:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

So mankind as a whole looks at nature, at themselves and at the other animals, and at the things around them, and they conclude that they or the animals or inanimate things, must be God. Abraham saw only death around him and gave glory to God. Humanity normally sees the divine all around them and gives glory to these dead things. Of itself, nothing in creation can give life. It si all entirely dependent on God. But man mainly imagines these mere created things to be worthy of divine worship. Abraham contemplated himself as dead but believed in God. People contemplate themselves as alive and believe only in themselves.

LET ME REMIND YOU that this analysis of belief and unbelief goes all the way back to the first sin. In the third chapter of Genesis, we read that the Snake tempted Adam and Eve by claiming that they would not die when they ate from the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Rather, the fruit would automatically, against God’s wishes or plan, make them wise. God had lied to them about death resulting from eating the tree. The tree would impart life and make them like God—make them divine.

There you have it. The first sin is unbelief. God’s promises cannot be trusted. Things work of themselves and give us divine life without God’s help. Those were Satan’s lies. Eve did not contemplate the fruit as dead and yet believe God’s promise and give glory to God. Rather she exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of a piece of fruit. Original sin is unbelief. The act of official disobedience which followed was simply a consequence of a lack of faith.

SO THE OPPOSITE OF original sin is faith. And it is the key to salvation as well. Why? The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 4.16:

in order that it may be in accordance with grace

It is all a gift. It has nothing to do with what we can do. That is what Paul says when he invokes the example of Abraham trusting God to give him a child by Sarah. Sarah’s womb was dead but Abraham trusted God to do what he promised—trusted God to give life to the dead and call into being that which did not exist. Mary does exactly the same thing—trust God to give life to her dead womb and call into being that which did not exist.

So the message of the virgin birth is the message of the Gospel. God can do anything. He can even save sinners. And the only appropriate response to the virgin birth is the same as the only appropriate response to the Gospel: belief; faith; trust. God has promised to provide a complete deliverance for us from all our sins and all the effects of the curse. Indeed, that deliverance has already begun. The conception of Jesus by the power of the Spirit and his subsequent birth was a milestone in that deliverance. The rebirth of Jesus by the power of the Spirit in his resurrection from the dead was the beginning of that deliverance. But both demand a response: believe the good news of God’s deliverance.

If Jesus can give life to an infertile womb, he can give new life to anyone whom he chooses. And whom has he chosen? Whom has he promised to justify?

Those who are good enough? Those who read the Bible to their children five days out of seven? Those who drive within the speed limit? Those who vote for conservative politicians? Those who not only observe the Sabbath but make sure everyone knows they observe the Sabbath?

No. He will vindicate those who believe his promise to save the ungodly. Abraham worshiped other gods. He had no claim on the true God except his need for mercy. But when God promised him new life, he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And when Mary heard the word of the angel promising her life in her womb and a deliverer from her sins, she followed in Abraham’s footsteps. She believed.

Behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.

As Elizabeth said to her a little later, in Luke 1.45:

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.

In the Gospel God has spoken a promise of mercy and new life to us. Let’s learn from the virgin birth. Let’s believe that God will fulfill his promise.

Resurrection Means Royalty & Rule: An Easter Sermon

Acts 13:

26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,

“‘You are my Son,

today I have begotten you.’

34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’

35 Therefore he says also in another psalm,

“‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’

36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything 39 from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,

be astounded and perish;

for I am doing a work in your days,

a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”

A great deal could be said about this passage, but I won’t be saying it.  If I was preaching through Acts I would want to expound on each paragraph here.  But on this Easter Sunday I am preaching a topical sermon rather than so much an expositional sermon—the topic, obviously, being the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

But while we won’t look at every detail of this passage this morning, please notice the prevailing theme in this declaration that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  Notice that Paul does not talk about any general promise of the resurrection, but singles out promises made to and through King David.

Briefly put, resurrection here and elsewhere is a act by which one is declared or made a king.  It is a coronation, an installation to office.  And it is not for himself alone that Jesus was raised, but for all those connected to him.  Remember Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesians that they would come to know

what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

When we who believe confess that Jesus is Lord we are saying something about not just Jesus, but about ourselves as well.  As I have said before, the confession that “Jesus is Lord” is something like saying, “My daddy owns this place,” or “My father just got elected President.”  But to say it right we need a more traditional picture.  To say Jesus is Lord is to say, “my older brother is the king and I am royalty.”

“Jesus is Lord,” is appealed to as the basic statement of faith in a couple of Paul’s letter.  But those aren’t just words.  Believers are supposed to believe something when they say them.  Paul gives us not only words but the meaning in Romans 10.9: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

When you confess that Jesus is Lord, you are referring to a royal office to which he attained by the resurrection of the dead.


And that means both vindication and authority.  Justification and the power of judgment are both included in the new status God gives us through our union with Christ by faith alone.  Daniel saw a vision of one like the Son of Man given a throne and an angel interpreted that the saints, after being persecuted, would be given a verdict in their favor.  Now that is translated in our Bibles as given a favorable verdict.  Being delivered from oppressors and given dominion was God’s declaration over his people—“Not Guilty.”  This promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who suffered the ultimate persecution and curse and was publicly shown to be in the right by his resurrection.

But Daniel’s vision also shows that the verdict is embodied in a new kingdom.  And this is even included in the words describing the justification of the saints.  The Aramaic states that the saints will be “given judgment.”  It could be taken to mean not only that they would be declared righteous, but that they themselves would be given the power of judgment.  In fact, in Revelation 20 that vision is referred to again when the saints are said to be given rule over the earth.  That is what we have in Christ’s resurrection—righteousness and royal reign.  We here today, farmers and mothers and teachers and students and children and others all rule in Christ.

Think about what a complete vindication this is for us.  Adam and Eve were put over creation.  They were, if you will, placed at the top of the world (There were four world-rivers that came from the Garden of Eden and water runs downhill).  They were not yet as powerful as they could be.  They were to take dominion over creation.  Yet they never fulfilled their royal charter.  Instead of trusting God to deliver to them all good things at their proper time, they believed that God was holding them down and sided with the Serpent’s slanders against God.

As a result of their disobedience, these heirs to the throne of the world became slaves rather than king and queen.  They became slaves to creation and had to work by sweat in order to get their food.  They became slaves to sin and from that point it became natural for them to sin.  Finally, they became slaves to death and ultimate judgment, destined for eternal punishment rather than for royalty.

And now all that is reversed.  The sentence of condemnation has been overturned because there is now no condemnation in Jesus Christ, the second Adam.  Thus Paul contrasts Adam and Christ in this way—Romans 5.17: If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. You would expect Paul to say that once death reigned so now life reigns.  But that is not what he says.  Rather, he states that once death reigned and now we reign.

Our vindication is not simply some prisoner being released from his cell to pursue a life of no concern to the court.  Our justification, due to God’s gracious sending of his Son and his faithful work, is more like a law student who was put in prison but then released and given a place on the Supreme Court.

2. Sanctification

Now what does it mean that we, normal human beings to all appearances, have been given a royal office in Christ.  Well first of all it means we are no longer slaves to sin.  And it establishes us in a mandate that, just as Adam and Eve were to subdue creation, so we are to subdue sin in the parts of our selves where it resides.

That is why the Gospel not only promises life in Christ but it also makes demands on us.  In fact, our status as Christians means that the Bible can severely reprove us and challenge us to live holy lives.  When an emperor sets up a king over a territory, that king has much freedom and authority, but he is supposed to obey the one who gave him that authority.  In fact, because he acts as the emperor’s representative, it is a terrible thing for him to act in a wicked way.

Thus our authority in the resurrected Christ gives us power for and demands of us holy living.  Paul after saying in Romans five that now we reign in life rather than death reigning in sin, tells us in Romans 6 that we must use this authority to live lives pleasing to God.    He writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  And he goes on:  “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

So Christ’s resurrection mean that we, who are united to Christ by faith, can live new lives to God.  And that’s exactly what Paul goes on to command Christians to do.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Easter is our declaration of independence from sin.  We have, in Christ, been brought into a new creation.  And just as Adam and Eve were told to take dominion in the first creation, so we are told to use the new authority we have in Christ by his resurrection.

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?


But our resurrection authority which we have in Christ means more than simply the power of a holy life on the part of each one of us.  It means that together we have access to God’s very throne.  Indeed we are God’s councilors who have access to his throne room.  We have this because Jesus offered himself up to the Father and the Father received him publicly by raising him from the dead.

Thus, those of us who have been raised with Christ have access to his very throne in public worship.  And in prayer we have the king’s ear.

The resurrection was an act of worship.  Think of the sacrificial system.  The sacrificial animal is slain and its blood is displayed to God on the altar.  That was Jesus on Good Friday.  He was killed and his blood poured out on the ground for our sins.  But then the animal is transformed and goes up to God, if you will, as smoke.  That is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus in a cloud.  That’s why, in Revelation 4 and 5, we see a vision from the perspective of heaven in which Jesus suddenly appears before the throne as a Lamb that had been slain.

So just as the saints under the Old Covenant had worshiped God through that process of slaying an animal and offering it up to God, so Jesus climactically fulfills such worship with his own ultimate act of worship, offering his very self to God.  The resurrection is God’s acceptance of Christ and we see as a result, in Revelation 5, that the saints are renewed in worship together.  They sing a new song.  Because we are united to Christ we are accepted in him.  And these saints, incidentally, are described as wearing crowns.  They have throne room access because they are royalty.

Thus we can worship God with boldness because we have an advocate raised for us to God’s presence.  We can be Royal council members because we have been raised in Christ.


All of this must be received by faith.  We did not see Jesus raised.  We have to believe God’s Word.  We have not yet been raised from the dead.  We must trust in God’s gospel promises.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

And that means that we must be careful to respond to the what we have heard.  If we believe our eyes rather than our ears we might think God’s vindication is not worth having, that holy living is not really possible, and that corporate worship is only as important as the good feelings that result from it.

But none of that is true.  Rather, the Easter story is true.  God really did raise Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection proves and makes possible the fact that all things will work together to good for those who love God.  We are kings

I recently heard of a missionary pastor in a pagan land whose church shared the Gospel with a young woman.  Now she is in a bind.  She may lose her husband and children because he has embraced the good news that God sent His Son to die for our sins and be raised for our justification.  Loyalty to Christ will cost her more than any of us have ever had to suffer.

How can she be faithful to Christ in those circumstances?  Because she really believes that God has provided blessing for her that are more than she could ever ask or think.  Because she really believes that God raised Jesus her Lord from the dead.

God has given His Son up for us and has exalted us in him.  In Christ we have resurrection.  In Christ we are raised as kings.  In Christ we have justification.  In Christ we have sanctification.  In Christ we have access to His presence.  Everyday we need to learn a little bit more how much we should value what God has given to us.  Everyday we need to live in a manner that is appropriate for those who have been raised in Christ.