“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
This morning at 855 and 11am services, we talked about setting aside Christ as Holy. So often we allow our lives and our faith to become a ‘catch-all’, drowning out the presence and voice of God from our lives. Our faith gets buried beneath demands that are ultimately not important compared to sacred time with our Lord. The congregation was challenged to take some things off the sacred table and time with God, and others were challenged to push things off, with force, in order to surrender their lives and schedules to Jesus. God want to do a mighty work in your life, and shows up often to meet with you. But will you do YOUR part and meet with him? Set aside Christ as holy in your heart and spend time with the Lord who sent His Son to die and rise for you, so that a mighty work can be done. Amen.
JOHN 14:1-3 ESV 1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Our text today is Jesus with His disciples on the eve of His death. He’s telling them that He will be leaving them soon and they’re not happy about. And because they don’t fully understand all that He means by leaving, they can’t comprehend that everything He is doing is for their own good; for their preparation and equipping as growing disciples and world-changers.
Jesus’ life and ministry have been one long witness to and example of how God is working in the world. And everything God has done, is doing, and will do is work that includes our participation. We’re invited through Jesus into the activity of God. Whether its feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, advocating for the oppressed, God is working and is calling us into life-transforming work with Him.
All of this work is caring work. We often forget that we come to faith in order to have a relationship with a God who cares about the needs of the world. God is truly a need-meeter. We watch Jesus, as the old hymn says, “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,” and we know that Jesus is making a way for others. The world doesn’t know how to provide for the soul, it only knows how to take from it. And so we come to this important section of verses for today, with my hope being that you will learn a bit today about the care of God.
Jesus says that He is going to prepare a place for His disciples. His redemption work makes way for the children of God to be with God. All of the care that He exercises for the world is to meant to create a place for His children and to mold them into godly children. He is sharing His nature, all of his need-meeting characteristics. And so, Jesus must first make a place for us to become like Him.
Like the love of a dedicated mother, the love of God for His children paves the way to godly prosperity through constant sacrifice and life-giving work. Jesus is gathering the children of God together, making a way for them when sin had taken away their place with God and scattered them about.
As I read this text in preparation for today and thought about Mothers Day, I couldn’t help but think about the things the mothers I’ve known did for us growing up that connected with a godly example. I had wonderful childhood experiences in my hometown and in the neighborhoods where I lived and played.
The moms I knew hosted the neighborhood kids at their houses, providing food from their own family pantry to feed scavenging nomadic neighbor-kids. Oh, the number of juice boxes and pitchers of tang and cool-aid consumed. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made and eaten. The gushers, fruit snacks, cookies and popsicles. The make-shift cots and pallets spread through the house for the overnight visits. The endless boxes of pizza and the many cases of Dr. Thunder and Mountain Lightning (smart moms buy the cheap knock-off colas when you gotta feed teenagers).
There were serious times, too, when other moms helped out. The times they would talk to us about what’s been going on at school, or about tough stuff at home when we were afraid to tell our parents. They laid down the law when kids argued or fought. They filled in other parents on what they were hearing in the backseat of the carpool van and taught us as a group what was right and what was wrong.
The mothers I grew up around were fierce and fearless. Sacrifice was a part of the job and they lived it. They created community through their acts of hospitality and kindness. They ruled with love in one hand and discipline in the other. And they knew EVERYTHING going on and we couldn’t figure out how.
If you haven’t thought about it, God uses moms to create community and this is what we need to see more of in both our homes and our places of worship. Like God, we are creating a place for people, space for them to live and grow. People become holy when they have a place that facilitates holiness. Children learn to play when they have a place to play. Kids make friends when they have a place to make friends. The same is true for salvation and sanctification. God saves by preparing a place for salvation. God sanctifies or makes people holy by preparing a place for holiness to take place.
Jesus was to return to heaven to finish preparations for those who would be saved. There is a place in heaven for you and for me, for the sinner and the saint, for all who will call upon the name of Jesus Christ because Jesus would be preparing for it. There is a place for you with God, it is what Jesus worked for through His ministry, His death, and His resurrection. Only through the care of God would humanity have a life-changing experience here, that would prepare a place for them in eternity.
This is a call to care. On this Mothers Day, you are invited to create community. To welcome in the neighborhood kids, to provide a safe place for them to grow and learn. Give them food, give them fun, but ultimately care enough for them that you will give them Jesus. Amen.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.
19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Let’s set the context this morning. The apostle Peter begins the chapter by urging Christians to set a holy example for the world. That example will expose the world to the life of Jesus. Peter then shifts to telling Christians to obey the earthly rulers and authorities. Submission to the powers that be is an act of amazing humility and patience. Such a lifestyle helps Christians to stay focused on God, no matter how bad it gets, and serves to show the world that we’re not going anywhere just because things are tough.
Peter’s driving point is that Christians can inject transforming grace into the system of government they live under by submitting to worldly powers. The apostle Paul was famous for using “the system” in his favor. It was what allowed him to end up in Rome with a royal audience in order to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
For both Peter and Paul, cooperation was the key to influence. Rebellion was never an option because it would only upset the balance and the influence Christians wanted to have in the world. Rebellions are violent, and Christians are interested in conversion, not destruction. We’re here to win souls, not judge them. It was through working within that Peter and Paul saw the greatest benefit to advance the gospel.
This reality is present in our selection, as Peter transitions from submission to rulers and authorities, to submission of household slaves to their masters. Peter’s context in this passage isn’t like the terrible American slavery of the 19th century. Think more along the lines of an ancient Downton Abbey. Indentured servitude was common but at times was very harsh.
So, Peter uses the widespread understanding of household slaves to make a larger spiritual statement about serving and suffering like Christ. He admits that there is no real honor in enduring discipline or punishment if you deserved it. But what about when you didn’t deserve it? A harsh master who did not worship Jesus would not see a believing servant as a brother or sister in Christ, therefore they would be punished harshly and without grace at the whim of the unbelieving master.
Peter, like the apostle Paul, is asking believing servants to remain in their situation as a witness to Jesus Christ. Through that witness, a very real and powerful picture of Jesus’ sacrifice comes to life, as Jesus suffered unjustly for our sins, testifying to the power and love of God for people.
What does this mean for us? Well, the text tells us. We have been called to follow Jesus’ example in order to win the souls of those who are trapped in sin. Verse 21 tells us we’ve been called to suffer as a witness, following Jesus’ example in how we live. But here’s where it gets interesting. The Greek word Peter uses for ‘example’ is hypogrammos which means “a copy to write after.”
The intention behind Peter’s word choice is not that we would be inspired by Jesus’ life or aspire to be somewhat like Him. This word means to copy Jesus’ life into our own life that we would live AS He lived. Think of the old writings tablets that many of us grew up with in school. The gray paper with the red and blue lines. Some of the books had dotted-lined numbers or letters for us to trace over and over so that we learned exactly how the lines were to be drawn.
Peter is relaying to us that Jesus brought redemption through suffering for us. It was how He freed us from our sins, by suffering and dying in our place. This is revealing because through His suffering we learn in verse 24 why He came. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected, not so that we would be bound by sin and death, but that we would die to sin, or as it is sometimes translated, that we would be free from sin.
Do we think that Jesus suffered so that we would stay in bondage to sin? God did not send His Son so that you would stay chained! Jesus came so that your chains would be broken, that they would fall with a loud, crashing clanking sound; freeing you and alerting the whole world that you are no longer bound! Just as the song says, Jesus is a chain-breaker.
Folks, I long to see the world turn their heads at the sound of sin-stained-chains falling to the ground! The only thing that will unstop the dull ears of a sinful world is the shout of men and women being freed from the tyranny of the devil. The question is, will you let the Victor over sin into your life and dwell within you richly? It very much starts with you, asking the Lord, begging the Lord, to take away the sins that clings so tightly. Freedom comes with your courage to say ‘enough is enough’ and repenting of the things that hold you down. Only Jesus can loosen the white-knuckle grip that sin has on our lives.
This is a decision that Jesus Christ has enabled you to make because of His work on the cross. He has won your ability to say ‘Yes, Jesus’. You can choose freedom through Jesus Christ. Will you choose it? Will you hashtag your life as #nolongerbound? I say do it. Take the leap of faith, come to Jesus. Amen.
ACTS 2:42-47 ESV
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is what Christian community should look like, yes? People filled with the Spirit, working together, giving to one another, providing for those in need, worshiping privately and corporately. This is the picture we all long for in the many of churches around the world.
But there are many expressions of what the Church should look like according to all of our denominations and non-denominations. And the problem that keeps creeping up within congregations is the idea that today’s text is to give us a model or a formula for what we should or shouldn’t be doing. But that’s not right.
What this text gives us is a revelation. It reveals to us that what we need in each of our churches, in each of our families, and in each of our individual hearts is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! We’re not to be about the business of what we should be doing, but only about the business of what God is doing. We’re not looking for the right way to do church. We’re looking to be given over to, guided by, and grounded in the Holy Spirit of God.
We do a terrible job sometimes talking about the Holy Spirit in the church. We think that the Holy Spirit is some sort of confidence or gasoline in our faith-tank. But that’s not right. The Holy Spirit is God Himself! God is giving us Himself, to come and live within, to mend broken hearts, to restore troubled minds, to raise up our dead parts. God desires that we should live WITH His presence and IN His power at all times.
Living with the presence of God means that we have what we need at all times and in all places. It means that when you are down, scared, worried, or lost, you are not alone and you are not ill-equipped. You have God with you. And tapping into that boundless well of resources depends upon whether or not you are willing to engage in real worship. Will you pray, will you read His word, will you include Him in all the areas of depression, fear, anxiety, and confusion?
Oh, to worship God is to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV). To worship God is to hate “what is evil,” and “hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9 ESV). To receive and use the presence of God is to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV). And we do these things, why? Because “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). And God is seeking to be present with you, so that His power can be unleashed on the world.
Living in the power of God is to claim His presence and His promises in your daily life. To reach out in faith and participate in that presence is to let God use the broken vessel that you are for His holy and redeeming work. For, God “is the one who gives power and strength to His people.” (Psalm 68:35 ESV). And we are called by God to do His powerful work in the world; we are sent as His messengers, just as the apostles, having the same Spirit. It was Peter who said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38 ESV). And so God is with us, wanting to use YOU to be a display of His power in the world.
God’s powerful redeeming work is the only power that can turn people from their sins, free them from shame and guilt, and renew their minds for godly work. Living with God’s power means that as you light up with His presence, others see you as a light house high above the raging sea of life. The presence of God fills you, his vessel, and His power shines forth, cutting through the fog of sin and death and lighting up the way for safe passage into the harbor of God’s love.
This is what a resurrection life looks like: a life that is filled with His Spirit and moved by His power. And the early apostles, disciples, and converts were only the beginning what God desires to do. It is our job to receive His invitation to be whole, to beg Him for His presence, and then to have God unleash His transforming power through our willingness to be used by Him.
Will you receive the Spirit of God? Will some of you today receive His Spirit for your salvation? Will some of you today receive His Spirit for your healing? Will some of you receive His Spirit for your equipping, for ministry in the world? There are many of you who need to come talk. Some of us need to take a walk together. Will you come? Will you walk with His presence? Will you walk in His power?
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem,14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning,23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther,29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This past Sunday we built on last week’s message, “Take Hold,” which encouraged us to take hold of the resurrected Jesus, just as the women at the tomb did. We are to take hold of Jesus through the Church, through prayer, through the Scriptures, through our service to the world for the sake of God and His love.
Yesterday, we saw the importance of holding on, that in lingering longer and waiting patiently on the Lord (Psalm 40) we know that we will not be disappointed. We know (and can know) that God will join us in our disappointments, our hardships and struggles. Jesus then, after joining us, will reveal the truth to us, and in many cases remind us of a truth we already know, so that our hearts might burn within us (or burn within us again) because of His truth coming alive.
We must “hold on” because the Lord is coming, joining us on our walk, holding on to us every step of the way. I hope you can enjoy the message audio for the full effect. Click the sound bar above to listen. See you soon! -RevWRM
1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”
8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Our text is so special today because it is the ultimate story. Death being swallowed up by the hunger of God’s love. But the women who come to the tomb don’t know that yet. They have no expectations of joy or life. Their hearts are broken, their joy has been shattered, and they come to the resting place of the one person who had done for them something that no one else had been able to do. Jesus had touched them with power in the center of their souls. Life had never been the same since Jesus had come into their lives.
Now, rather than feeling the warmth of His life-changing, soul-saving embrace, they would feel the cold and stillness that death had pressed upon their Savior and King as the finish the burial process.
These blessed women had watched Jesus work throughout His ministry and their connection to Him was was real and personal. He had turned water into wine for a married couple as he attended their wedding; he healed a lame man, whose friends took him to Jesus, lowering him on bed through the roof of an overcrowded house so he could be touched by God’s power; He raised a young girl from the dead, as her pale face flushed with life-giving blood once again.
Even they, the women who come to the tomb, were touched by Jesus, as He pulled them out of the life-draining circumstances He found them in. Oh, to experience His ministry of touch once again. But not today. Today there would be no warmth in His touch, no miracle to marvel over, just the mundane and sorrow-filled task of burying the one who should not have died.
They hated death. We hate death. We hate what it does to us. We hate what it does to those we love. We hate, with an everlasting hate, its cold grip. And so does God. As the women come to the tomb to embrace that dreadful and yet inevitable moment, they are touched by awe and disbelief. How was the curse reversed?! How is the inevitable undone?! The stone has been moved. They are greeted by an angel who gives them their task. And then, there, before them, is Jesus! Risen and ready to receive them! And He does, as the women fall to ground and take hold of His feet.
And there it is! That’s the moment we must take with us this morning. For in taking hold of Jesus’ feet, these women had proved to them that this moment was real, that it wasn’t too good to be true. The real Jesus, with a real body, really stood before them and they grabbed hold! Taking hold of His feet was the appropriate response for those who longed to experience His power and presence again. Death was dead and Jesus lived again.
Later, when He ascended into Heaven, it was difficult for the disciples to fathom how they would function without Him physically there. And yet, through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised and God the Father sent, the very real presence of Jesus Christ was IN and WITH them, as He is with us today.
This is the will of God, that until Jesus returns, we would live with the real presence of God in our hearts and lives. Jesus prepared His disciples for this reality as they were gathered together in the upper room, as He taught them saying, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23 ESV).
For those who have welcomed the Holy Spirit into their hearts, they have Jesus with them always. This is not a sentimental memory, like remembering the love of your grandmother or the strength of your dad. Residing within our hearts is the very life of God, moving in and through us, facilitating change in us and throughout the world.
For the women at the tomb, they were able to take hold of the risen Lord. For us today, we may take hold of the Presence of God (the Holy Spirit), anticipating His return, when on that day we may all be received by His powerful embrace.
Some in this room today need to be reminded of their love of God, that through that love you may have the power of God rekindled in your heart again. I pray that you will stoke the fire of your faith, feeling once again the powerful touch of God in your soul. Remember that the tomb is empty and that your Savior lives!
Others in this room today need to know that Jesus Christ desires to live within you, giving you an understanding of your need for His love, an assurance of salvation from your sin that comes only from accepting Him, and the power that comes from letting Jesus Christ rule in your heart, rather than your self-made self.
It is through the Church that God’s people “take hold” of God until He returns. He has promised His Spirit and we see God at work everyday in the lives of you, His saints. And so take hold of the word of God; take hold of your baptism and of Holy Communion each time we come to His table; take hold of His work and ministry, outside and inside the Church; take hold of Him in through our families, in our schools and community, and in the world.
You can take hold of Jesus, because He has given us tangible ways to unleash His presence in the world. Ministry and witnessing to His work in your life is your most effective way to touch the risen Savior for yourself. Will you do that today? Will you take hold of Jesus here and now, later and beyond? Your task is before you. Take hold! Amen.
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.””
Its a beautiful and vivid passage, filled with awesome power. A valley of dry bones re-organizing into whole persons; fresh flesh re-covering what once was a vibrant community; holy breath re-animating what was dead and lost. It is proof that God is not ok with broken relationships and sin-burdened people.
In our text, the people of Israel are represented as a valley of death because they were dead through their sins to the covenant God made with them. The people had been exiled from their land—a physical symbol of a spiritual reality, that through their disobedience and faith-less-ness, they would be cut off from the God who loves them. And so the people find themselves being ruled by foreign rulers, made to live in a foreign land, distant in their hearts from God. They are hopeless and afraid.
Then enters the prophet Ezekiel. God raises up the prophet to proclaim to the people that God will bring them new life. They will rise up, from the ashes of their failures, and be re-born as God’s holy community. They will not be left to their own devices—bound by sin and exile. God will cause the bones to gather, for their frames to be filled with flesh, for the life of His Spirit to be breathed into them, once again, so that they may live and live to the fullest.
All of this bears great meaning for us today because we are part of that holy community, that covenant people. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are not to live burdened by sin, dead to life that comes from God. We are people of the promise, filled with new life, commanded to COME ALIVE by the power of the Holy Spirit! No more is sin to reign in the hearts and lives of God’s people. We are called to holy living, to divine activity, and this is all through the work of God’s grace.
The challenge for us is to hear the call to come alive. Through Jesus Christ, God has proclaimed the life-giving Gospel, making possible the resurrection of our dry bones. But will we surrender our wills, understanding that apart from God we stand no chance of real life?
And the life-giving Spirit is all around us, in the Scriptures, through prayer, and in worship. The Scriptures are the word of God that give life. Prayer is the breathing in of God’s Spirit, animating our faith. Worship is the participation in the relationship that God offers EVERY DAY. As the Spirit is breathed into these dry bones, we are animated through His word, our praying, and the worship of God.
People of God, are you content in your sin? Are you ok with the burdens you bear? Will we continue to accept the death that wrecks our lives everyday? Or, or…will we open up our mouths and let the breath of God rush mightily into our dead hearts? Will we let God gather up our whitewashed bones and cover our nakedness with His glory?
This is what the practice of Lent is all about, accepting that we are dusty, dry, dead bones, and that apart from God there is no hope. And then, then, Holy Week begins, today, as Jesus Christ marches into the holy city of our hearts and redeems the city from the sieging enemy of sin. Death loses its stinging pain and is swallowed up by the hunger of God’s love.
O, Church. Will you let the Holy Spirit remove the sin that seeks to bring death to your abundant life? Do you believe the words of Jesus when He says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.9-10 ESV).
Let the Lord put you back together. For some of you, you’ve merely forgotten to breathe, letting the busyness of life and the mediocre spiritual diet of the world paralyze your abundant living. For others, you have been living empty, with a dryness about your spirituality, wishing the Creator God would show you you faith and fill you with peace. For both the busy and the empty: let Jesus re-create you from the bones up. Let the Holy Spirit fill you as God breathes merciful breath into the emptiness of our soul.
Listen again to v.13-14, “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
This is the God we serve. This is the God who created you, who is re-creating your heart and filling it with His glory. Let it be so. Amen.
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
We conclude our CONSTRUCTION ZONE series today. We’ve learned that God has a blueprint for our lives, making us into a soul-saving holy community; that we have a solid foundation in Jesus Christ that our life and faith are built upon; and we understand that the strong frames and walls that make up the house of our spiritual life are the work of God, that it is His might and power that build us up. Today we are talking about the FINISHINGS in the house. There are lots of personal touches that God wants to put into this spiritual house He’s created.
With the finishings going up, the house now has personality, unique to its builder. It’s not like other houses that have been built, because it now has a fingerprint that sets it apart from other structures. Paul’s language in our text this morning makes this point boldly, when he says, “…you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” Paul’s point is that to live apart from God is futile, empty, fruitless. But through the redeeming work of God, we can be built up, strong and fruitful.
We can have distinguishing marks, like the beautiful finishings in an soon-to-be-completed home. There’s crown molding that brings an elegance to the room; subtle variations of paint and furnishings that tie the space together; and accents of light that maintain a certain feel throughout the house regardless of the time of day. The Holy Spirit does things like this as our hearts are re-constructed, as our souls are sculpted by God’s mighty hand.
The spiritual finishings in our lives are important for two reasons. 1) They are the proof of our being redeemed, of the activity of God in our lives. And 2) they are the identifiable characteristics of God that speak and witness to the world.
On the first, the proof of our redemption is the driving force behind our spiritual growth. As we see and experience change, we are being assured of God’s activity in our lives. That assurance pushes us on, into each new step of discipleship. We can know that God is setting us aside by the fruit that we bear. And we have measurables that show us our progress. Galatians 5:22-25 calls them the fruit of the spirit. Paul says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
These marks, these holy characteristics are finishings in the spiritual house that God is building with you. Pray for these things; look for the evidence of them in your life. If we see these things in our lives, we can know that the Holy Spirit is working. These are finishing marks of God’s handiwork in our lives.
On the second reason, the finishings of God in our lives are important because they are a witness to the world. Through our relationships with others, they see the handiwork, providing us a chance to introduce them to the architect and builder. Think of it like this: there are works of art that have distinctive marks, characteristic to the artist alone. You know a Monet when you see one because of his impressionist style. A Rembrandt, whether a portrait or a landscape, has subtleties that send the mind racing. I found myself saying, “Is that a Rembrandt? That has to be a Rembrandt!” After a while, you get to know the true work of the artist, if you’ve spent enough time with them.
All of this glorifies God because God’s desire is to draw all people unto Himself. He’s drawing you in by shaping your life after Jesus’; He’s drawing in the world through His work in you. The finishings are what will set you apart for this purpose. Therefore, let the marks of God be impressed upon your heart, soul, faith, and life, so that you and the world will know that God is the Architect and Builder, the one who is saving you, building you up for glory. Amen.
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.””
The line from our text this morning that I want us to focus on comes from v.13, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'” It’s a powerful scene. People worshipping in the temple, praying and bringing their offerings. There’s two people in focus, a man who should have it all together spiritually and a man who shouldn’t.
We’ll look at the first. The Pharisee possessed things within his spiritual life that should be noted. But they shouldn’t be noted by him. He’s a teacher of the law, which means he’s educated and trained, with the power to lead and guide throughout the community. He is there in the temple that day to worship and to pray; he admits that he fasts and that he tithes from his entire earnings. He has come close to God and believes his nearness to the Holy One has something to do with his spiritual accomplishments. He should have it all together. But of all the qualities he possesses, he does not possess humility.
The Pharisee’s self-recognition puts the praise and spotlight on his own life rather than on God. Even his prayer proves that he believes he is close to God through his own doing. To be made right with God, to be on good footing with the Lord, is the work of God, not us. We are not justified by our goodness. We are justified only by the God who is good. A lack of humility means a lack of gratitude. And gratitude is the response of one who has received.
Our good and godly deeds are a grateful response to the God who has chosen to love us and meet our needs, especially because we don’t deserve it. The Pharisee believed that his life brought him close to God. But the text says the man goes down to his house un-justified. He would have been better off to leave room for the Lord to come near to Him, than to presume that God would be pleased with his pride. And here lies the lesson behind the importance of standing far off.
The second person in the scene is a tax collector. Despised by the surrounding culture and known for having more than others, this is the one person in the scenario who should not have it all together. And yet, this man’s attitude is the reverse of a man who many think would be proud, if not right out arrogant.
This man here is not one who revels in being a collector of money or having great means. This is not a proud man. He’s a broken man. And what he brings to the altar is not accomplishments for the Lord to receive. The currency of the tax collector’s tithe is brokenness.
This collector of taxes has nothing to offer the Lord but his sin and his admission of that sin. His words to the Lord are not boastful, but rather they are cries for mercy. His posture is not close, but far off. How can he come to the Lord? If there is to be mercy, the Lord must come to him. And the nearness of God is found through his recognition of his need for the Lord.
Even his prayer is off, being that Jews typically prayed with their head raised and their eyes lifted upward. The tax collector stands far off, gazing downward, and in that posture of brokenness the Lord comes near. We know this because Jesus tells the people that the tax collector is the one who goes home justified. The man is made right with God, not by doing many things for the Lord, but by recognizing he belongs no where near the Lord.
Scripture tells us in Psalms 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” The seemingly unrighteousness man is seen as righteous in God’s eyes due only to the mercy of the Lord, on account of the man’s brokenness. It has been said that the Lord is attracted to our weakness.
The Lord said to Paul,”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul knew that the power of the Lord would rest upon him when there was room for God to work. Paul made space for God to work by removing all pride and self-made strength. For what does today’s text end with, but v.14, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Our challenge today is this: to fight the temptation to come near to the Lord by our own strength and accomplishments. Let us drop to our knees, either in our hearts or in our church, and cry out for the Lord to be merciful. Let Jesus come near and make us righteous by His own power. May we know today that we are forgiven if we but cry out to him for mercy. Amen.