Sunday, April 22, 2018

Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:11-20 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. 
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” 

Last week we went with the women to where Jesus had been buried, only to find an empty tomb. Then two brilliantly shining men appeared and asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They were expecting to find a dead body — but Jesus isn’t dead. He is alive!

But Jesus’ resurrection was not the first time that the people of God were instructed to seek life. Now the background of today’s scripture: the book of Deuteronomy is called the second giving of the law. That’s what the word Deuteronomy means, deutero = second; nomos = law. At this point in history, Moses is finishing his ministry. Moses was the great leader of God’s people — he led Israel out of Egyptian slavery, through the Red Sea. He led them as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. He went to the mountain and met with God, and God gave him the Ten Commandments. Now he is at the end of his ministry; he wants the people of Israel to make a choice.

I’ve been in places where a leader gets everyone all excited about the decision they are making. They make the choice look very attractive, and they get the people emotionally charged up to make the decision. But when they go out from the church, they realize that they cannot follow through. But Moses tells the people that this commandment that he is giving them is not too hard. It is something they can accomplish. And it is not far off; they don’t have to wait to start. They don’t need an angel or a missionary to bring it to them.

I want to pause here for a moment. There are people who think that the only way the Methodist Church in Lusaka or in Zambia can be successful is if a missionary does it for you. I have been personally chastised and embarrassed by our own district members because I have not built for you a building. Some people have a worldview called “entitlement.” This means you expect someone else to do everything for you, to find you a job, to give you money, always expecting a handout. Moses is saying, “You don’t need someone else. But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:14)

We don’t need someone else to do it for us. We don’t need someone to tell us or explain to us; what we need to do is to obey what God has told us. We often ask a lot of questions about God’s will, about what God wants from us, and we can make it so complicated and hard. Moses explains things simply. But he also shows how important this is. The choice is the choice between life and death, good and evil. 

How do we get life? We refuse to seek the living among the dead! Deuteronomy 30:16 tells us: 
“If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” 

God tells us: “obey Me.” How do we obey him? Love God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments. You want to know God’s will for your life? Obey God. Love him. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments. There are plenty of people who want to know God’s will for their lives, but they don’t want to be bothered by these little things like obedience. They don’t want to walk in his ways; they want God to walk in their ways. And when God does not do that, their hearts turn away. They worship other gods and serve them. Now, most of us do not think about other gods, like Baal or Molech, but what we do is turn to other things. Other things become more important than God. We seek first after money. We seek first after relationships. We seek first after the approval of other people. Then we find ourselves living terrible lives, without money, without relationships, without the approval of man, and, most importantly without God’s blessing.

The sad thing is that we are all seeking life, but when we seek anywhere else but in God’s good and perfect will, we are seeking the living among the dead. And the result of seeking life among death, looking in dead things for the means of life, then we receive death. This is also God’s promise to his people! 

But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 

The choice is before us. Life or death. Blessing or curse. You don’t need a pastor or a missionary to tell you this. You don’t need an angel visit or a vision or a dream to give you this word of Truth. 

Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

This is our objective. This is our goal. This is why Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). And this goal comes from our choice: choose life. Choose obedience. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead

Over the last days, we have been looking at some of the more important characters of Holy Week, looking in depth at Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Both were Jesus’ disciples, but Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and Simon Peter denied that he even knew Jesus. While both ministered alongside Jesus for three years, when Jesus was crucified, they, along with the other disciples, abandoned Jesus. 

There are certainly other characters involved in Holy Week. Perhaps next time we could look at Pilate or Caiaphas. But none of these, nor Joseph of Arimathea, who gave his tomb to bury Jesus, nor the women who discovered the empty tomb, none of these are the central character to Holy Week.

The main character in Holy Week is none other than Jesus. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was praying? He had a choice in the matter here. He could have said, “No, I’m not doing this.” But instead he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. He chose the cross.

When Jesus went to trial, he refused to speak up in his own defense. Why? Because he would have swayed Pilate, Caiaphas, and even Herod with his wisdom and innocence. But instead, he chose the cross. 

And so Jesus died a criminal’s death on the cross. He died, and was buried in a tomb. His very interesting three year ministry was over. Except that it wasn’t. 

We can find the rest of the story in Luke 24:1-10. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 

Perhaps my favorite moment in this passage is when Jesus asks, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

This is a brilliant question. It is brilliant because with that one question he changes our focus. Our focus changes from death to life. In reality, all life apart from God is really merely a slow death. As Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come to bring life, and life abundant. 

When we live life under our own power, in our own strength, we are seeking the living among the dead. But Jesus alone gives life. There is no life apart from him. As he told Mary and Martha before he raised Lazarus from the dead: I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even if he dies. And those who live and believe in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) 

Therefore, our Christian focus is no longer the cross, but the empty tomb. We do not focus on the death of Jesus, but his resurrection. Some Christians like to point to Jesus death as the turning point of history. When he said, “It is finished” he did away with the old system of sacrifices, as he took all of the sin of the world, past, present, and future, upon himself. However, when he rose again, his resurrection refocused everything, from death, to life. 

Because he lives, we, too, can live. Because his tomb is empty, we know his claims are true. He was not simply a martyr who believed in a cause enough to die for it; he died for us, but he rose again! 

And if our lives are oriented toward the resurrection, then we will live and strive as though knowing Jesus and being with Jesus is the greatest possible future.  We learn that from the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10—“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead” moves us from the death of the cross to the life of the resurrection.  That redirection enables us to live lives of radical sacrifice, love, and hope.

Now, can you imagine how the women were feeling when they went to the tomb on the first day of the week? Mourning. Wondering. Fear. With all the strong emotions, it’s tempting to interpret everything through their feelings. We can feel so deeply that we give our feelings the last word. We can say to ourselves or others, “I don’t care what they say or what the facts are or even what the Bible says.  I know how I feel!!”

But this question—“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”—confronts their feelings. The question confronts the authority of their feelings by pointing to a higher authority, a more sure source of knowing. The question points to God’s word. We have to believe… and remember. Our feelings can betray us. But remember what Jesus told his disciples shortly before he was crucified: (John 14:1-4) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.

We most need that redirection from feeling to Scripture when our feelings are strongest and our experiences most surprising. That’s when we need to be focused on God’s word because that’s when our hearts and minds are most vulnerable.  This question powerfully redirects the mourning disciples from their feelings and fear to the solid promises and reality of the Gospel. Living in light of the resurrection keeps us living in light of God’s promises. No matter what is going on around you, you can trust in God’s promises. Do you actively live in that light? If not, why not? A key is spending regular time in the scriptures. That way, when you need them most, when you are feeling your worst, you will have them as a treasure to give you hope.

Finally, when we refuse to look for the living among the dead, we are moved from grief to joy. If Jesus is alive and is not dead, then all who trust in Him have the supreme reason to rejoice. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….

Verse 6:“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Because of the resurrection, we have a new birth and an eternal inheritance that gives us joy and praise greater than our grief. So much so, Peter writes in verses 8-9:
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now [while suffering through trials] “you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

If you want to be happy and full of joy in this life and the life to come?  Focus on Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead and He Himself is our inheritance. He gives us joy unspeakable, even in the face of our own struggling and suffering.

We do not seek the living among the dead. Jesus is alive, and everything has changed because he lives!

The Characters of Holy Week: Simon Peter

Yesterday we looked at Judas Iscariot, the villain of Holy Week. It is easy to describe him as the villain among the disciples, as he did the unthinkable; he betrayed Jesus to his death. Today we look at another disciple, Simon Peter.

John 1:41-42 records when Peter first met Jesus.
Peter’s brother, Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist. They were together when John saw Jesus and pointed him out. “Look, the Lamb of God!” The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Cephas, or Peter, is translated “the Rock.” So Jesus renamed Simon “the Rock.”

One of my favorite stories about Peter comes in Matthew 14. Jesus sent his disciples across the lake in a boat and went to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peter was the one who got out of the boat and walked on water!

Peter is also the one who made the great confession of faith, In Matthew 16:13-18, when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do people say I am?” “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 

At the Last Supper, when Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him, Simon Peter joined with the others in questioning him. “Surely not I!” Simon Peter told Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus told him, “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” 

So, in John 18, we see Jesus arrested. 

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard,16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus. And as this happened, Simon Peter was still standing there, warming himself. 

25 So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

Matthew 26:75 tells us that Peter went outside and wept bitterly.

And Jesus was crucified. Dead. Buried.

We know what would happen next. Jesus rose again, victorious over death. But what of Simon Peter? … He went back to fishing. And one day, while he was fishing, Jesus showed up on the shore! They had caught no fish, but Jesus told them to cast on the other side of the boat, and when they did, they caught so many fish that they couldn’t even haul in the net. John recognized Jesus, and when he did, he said, “It’s the Lord!” At that, Simon Peter jumped in the water and swam to the shore to meet him.

We pick this story up in John 21:15. 
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot found themselves in similar positions. Both of them were Jesus’ trusted disciples. Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied that he even knew him. But the difference was — where Judas continued to take matters into his own hands, delivering his own judgment in the form of suicide, Peter went back to fishing. He figured that he had washed out of Jesus’ program, might as well go back to what he knew. But Jesus had other ideas. He reinstated Peter, who went on to be a leader of Christ’s church. 

What does this have to do with us? We may be sinners. We may have done wrong. We may be full of guilt and shame. But Jesus gives second chances.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Characters of Holy Week: Judas Iscariot

Rarely has there been a clearer villain. He was hand-picked by Jesus as a disciple, one of only twelve to be in Jesus’ inner circle of closest friends. Yet he betrayed Jesus to his death. It can be easy to simply dismiss Judas as the “bad guy” in the story, but as with everyone, his story is much deeper than simply the villain.

As I reminded you yesterday, there was a reason Jesus chose Judas to be one of the Twelve. The Twelve regularly went on mission, healing the sick, driving out demons, preaching the Gospel, and there is nothing to indicate that Judas was not a part of this ministry. He was so much a part of the Twelve that John 13:29 indicates that he became their treasurer. Jesus saw him as a follower and a disciple and even among the disciples, Judas had a position of leadership.

Unfortunately the Bible does not record Judas doing much more that we can call positive. In John 12:3-5, we see Mary taking a expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet with it, drying his feet with her hair. While others were doubtlessly moved by the selflessness of Mary’s actions, Judas questioned her motives, demanding, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” John interprets in Judas’ question a deeper motive — Judas was the disciples’ treasurer and he apparently regularly helped himself to their money. He took a payment from the priests, thirty pieces of silver, to betray Jesus. The Apostle Paul later records that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” and it seems that Judas had that love of money.

There are those who say that Judas was bad from the beginning. They say that he never really followed Jesus. I don’t think the scripture says that or suggests that at all. But I do think that Judas had some wrong expectations of Jesus.

Though Jesus explained things multiple times, that the Messiah must suffer and die and on the third day rise again, it does not seem like the disciples understood what he was saying. They understood the concept of the Messiah incorrectly. They thought since the Messiah was to be in the line of David, that he would be an earthly king, like David. David was known for his leadership over all of Israel. But due to bad, sinful leadership, Israel and Judah had not continued as a united kingdom. After David’s son, Solomon, the country divided. Soon they were exiled. And ever since then, the people had been looking forward to a Messiah who would unite the kingdom and rule over it like in the old days.

Except that wasn’t really what the Messiah came to do. It became obvious in those last days. There were those who wanted to make Jesus king by force, as reported in John 6:15. I think Judas thought, “I have a unique opportunity to force Jesus’ hand in overthrowing Rome AND I can make some money on the side.”

It could be that he thought, “If I turn Jesus over to the authorities, he will show his power. I know he has the power to do whatever it takes. Now is the time.” And so he betrayed Jesus. Now, to be sure, this is just a guess on my part. But we know the rest of the story. Judas left the Passover meal, and shortly thereafter, Jesus Peter, James, and John, and they went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. 

While [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.

And Jesus was beaten and mocked, and eventually was sent to his death on the cross.

Why do I spend my time on Judas?

It is easy to scoff at Judas and call him the betrayer, but the truth is, we are all but one step away from Judas ourselves. We all have the capability of becoming like Judas. You see, many of us in the church have our own ideas of how God should move. We want God to do certain things, and we are convinced that if God doesn’t do things like we want him to do them, then we should take matters into our own hands. The prosperity gospel is all too prevalent; people think they can manipulate God into giving them money and financial wealth and physical health. And when God does not do what we demanded that he do, then we turn our backs on him.

Judas also embodied the spirit of the crowds. The crowds shouted “Hosanna” when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but in a few short days, they were shouting “Crucify him!” Likewise, Judas was a follower of Jesus when it served his interests — when it helped him get money — but when following Jesus didn’t serve Judas’ goals, Judas betrayed him. 

We do the same thing. We can be church members all our lives, but if some day we don’t like the new program the pastor is leading, then we launch a full-on revolt. When the church doesn’t make me the big man anymore, then it’s time to tear down everyone around me, and we often do it just like Judas, in secret meetings at night. 

Each of us is but a step away from being Judas ourselves, but we all have a choice. Just as Jesus told his disciples in the Garden: “Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation.” I will go so far as to say that I firmly believe that had Judas approached the resurrected Jesus and asked forgiveness, Jesus would have reinstated him. So no matter what you have done, no matter how you have taken matters into your own hands, no matter how you have sinned and betrayed Jesus, the very fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the fact that he rose again victorious over sin and death, means that forgiveness is available in Him.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Seven Essential Questions: Who is Jesus

Matthew 16:13-16 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

As we begin these forty days of Lent, the preparation for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, I am arranging my sermons around the topic “Seven Essential Questions.” These are questions that are most important in the life of Christians. The first question we will look at is “who is Jesus?”

I get confused for different people all the time. Last year, when I was in the USA, I got an American SIM card for my phone. Instantly, I started getting SMSs. “Happy Birthday!” “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Just wanted to make sure you’re ok. And Happy Birthday!” “Hey man, wanna party?” Then it was “You owe this amount of money…” “This is the last warning to pay this bill…” When I answered the phone, half the time I ended up having to explain to the person on the other end, “No, I’m not Jameric. No, he doesn’t have this phone anymore. If I hear from him, I’ll let him know, Officer.”

There are times when people mistake us for someone else. Have you ever had that happen? Or, maybe, just maybe, you’ve mistaken someone’s identity. I have done this — I see someone I know, I shout out, “Hi, Chris!” and they turn around and it’s not who you thought it was at all.

There’s another kind of mistaken identity. When you know someone, or you think you know them, but then you find out that they have certain expectations of you. For example, there are many people in Zambia who think that because we are white missionaries, we are going to build a huge center like the New Life Center or Kafakumba. Mistaken identity!

Jesus had to deal with all kinds of expectations and mistaken identity. Now, in the scripture we read, Jesus comes to his disciples with a question. Who do people say I am? They’re talking. You hear the talk. What are they saying about me?

The disciples answered, “They think you’re a prophet. Maybe you’re one of the famous prophets of old, come back.” It is similar to now, when there are many people who think Jesus was just a great teacher. He taught with wisdom that transcends time. He taught nice things like “love one another.”

While Jesus was a great teacher, some people say he was only a great teacher, but not the Messiah, not the Lord. That can’t be the case, because Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” in John 10:30. Now, if Jesus was NOT the Messiah, if Jesus was NOT the Son of God, if Jesus and God were NOT one, that would mean that Jesus was a liar. And a liar is by definition NOT a great teacher.

So some people could say, “Well, he just thought he was the Son of God. He must have been mentally ill or at least extremely deluded.” That would be valid, except that Jesus did things that nobody else could do. He fulfilled countless prophecies. He did countless miracles. AND he rose from the dead. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jesus told his disciples, “I know everyone else is saying a lot of things about me. But who do you say I am?” Peter answered with the great confession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” While the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” It is God alone who gives the blessing of life — and this abundant life comes only from Jesus. 

Jesus alone is the Son of God. Jesus’ very name means God saves. Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us. But Jesus was also 100% human. He was tempted in every way we are, and he can sympathize with us fully. Yet he lived without sin, and died a physical death, a horrible death on a cross. But on the third day, he rose again!

A key fact about Jesus is what he said in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the only way to God. And Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:32-33: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

This is all important because beliefs are important. What we believe shapes what we value. What we believe and value thus shapes what we do, and what we do shapes who we become. If we believe these things about Jesus, if we really believe them, then we will live them out. We will be fearless, because if He is for us, who can be against us?

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Benefits of Discipleship

The Benefits of Discipleship

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is hard. Two weeks ago, we looked at how hard it is. Following Jesus doesn’t mean everything will now be easy. He said we have to prioritize him over everything else.

Today we will look at the benefits of discipleship. Before we get to today’s topic, I have a question for you. Would you invite a false prophet to speak at church? Would you invite a false prophet to come and teach you individual lessons at home? Would you willingly look to a false prophet for guidance in your daily life, to disciple you?

This is exactly what we are doing when we leave the television on. When we’re watching Bollywood, African Magic, Telemundo. They are discipling this nation, and they are offering a false gospel. They offer guidance that says:
  • Money is the answer to your problems.
  • Your spouse isn’t good enough; you need to have an affair.
  • There is adventure in lying and cheating.
  • You need this product or that product to fulfill you.

The television is a false prophet. And not only do we invite it into our homes, we actually pay for its false religion. Let’s look at what television gives us. It gives us unrealistic expectations for the people who love us. It sells our souls to Mammon, the false god who attaches itself to money. It trades our true relationships for counterfeits. It sucks away our time and our energy. We sit and watch these shows instead of looking for work, and then we go to bed hungry at night and wait for the government to give us handouts that will never materialize.

Being a disciple of Jesus, however, comes with benefits. First of all, God protects his disciples. Listen to Matthew 7:24-27: 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

A disciple is one who hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice. Jesus says that if you do, your foundation will be firm and you will stand firm. Indeed, in Romans 8:31-39, Paul asks: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

God protects his disciples, and nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

God gives his disciples peace. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” He knows there will be difficulties, but only in Him may we have peace in spite of tribulation. Indeed, Isaiah 26:3 tells us that: [God] will keep in perfect peace all who trust in [him], all whose thoughts are fixed on [him]! 

So God protects his disciples and gives them peace. But that’s not all. God also makes his disciples a part of his family. Ephesians 2:19 tells us: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Do you realize what this means? As disciples we are given a new identity, the members of God’s household. His family. But that’s not the only benefit of being a disciple of Jesus.

We are now getting to the best benefits. Because other people can offer protection. You can pay some cadre to protect you. Some tough guy from the neighborhood can watch over you. A guard can watch your house. We can sometimes pretend we have peace by ignoring the world around us or by working really hard to appease everyone else. But there are some things that the world can not give. Jesus’ peace is not like the world’s peace, but the biggest benefit to being Jesus’ disciple is the blessing.

Proverbs 8:32-35 “Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord.”

Blessed are those who keep my ways. Blessed is the one who listens to me. We want to be “blessed” don’t we? What does it mean to be blessed? Unfortunately, we who have been in church for a long time have heard the word “blessing” so many times that it has no meaning whatsoever. 

The key to what it means is held in that same Proverb. Listen to the last line again: “Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.” When we read about God’s blessing, what we are reading about is life itself. There is no one else who can bestow blessing. Indeed, Jesus says, in John 10:10 that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 

 We can only receive abundant life from God, and we receive it by being Jesus’ disciples. We receive abundant life in this earth, but we also receive eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8 tells us; “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” 

We who sow to the Spirit will receive eternal life. If we do what the Spirit leads us to do, we receive eternal life. In other words, if we are Jesus’ disciples, he grants us eternal life. So… as Jesus’ disciples, we receive life, abundant life. We receive protection and peace and eternal life.

Nobody else can make that offer. It will cost everything, but it’s worth even more than everything.

Can You Be a Disciple?

Last week’s sermon was all about discipleship.We focused on Jesus’ last command before ascending into Heaven: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, even to the end of the earth. (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Since this was the last thing Jesus said to his disciples, we also looked at how Jesus called his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were all fishermen. He told them to “come, follow me” and he promised that he would make them fishers of men. They immediately followed.

It can be easy to say “be Jesus’ disciples” — especially as a pastor — but listen to what Jesus said in Luke 14:25-33. 

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Throughout the Bible, we see God making this clear: he gives his followers the option to follow him or not. In the Old Testament, following the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were following Moses. After Moses’ death, as the people were about to enter the Promised Land, Joshua gave them an ultimatum. You can find it in Joshua 24:15. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

You see what Joshua did? He tells them that if they don’t want to serve God, they don’t have to. God isn’t forcing anyone to serve him. The Bible (and life in general) is clear in this: whoever we are, we will serve something or somebody. In Luke 16:13, Jesus famously says: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” You will serve something or someone. 

So, if your choice is to serve God, Jesus invites you to “come, follow me.” But he also gives you a choice to not follow. There are Christians out there who will tell you that if you follow Jesus, all of a sudden everything in your life will be great. This is not what Jesus says! I want to say that again! Jesus does not say that if you follow him, you will instantly get rich. He does not say that you’ll be popular. He says you have to prioritize Him above family. When Jesus tells his followers to count the cost of discipleship, he is on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. Salvation is free, but discipleship costs. Jesus wants anyone who follows him to be clear on what those costs are, and he gives examples of why. If you want to build a tower (or a church building) won’t you first see if you have the resources to finish? Otherwise, you’ll be the object of ridicule. People will make fun of you. Or if you’re a king taking your people to war, you’ll try to identify if you will win or not. If you know you won’t win a battle, why get your people slaughtered? Instead, you’ll send a delegation to come to peace terms, saving the lives of all your people.

So, what is the cost of discipleship?

First Jesus says one must hate his own family. Does this mean what it looks like? Why would Jesus, who even tells his followers to love their enemies, tell us we have to hate our families? The answer is that Jesus is really saying that we must set aside our family, clan, and tribal allegiances. We are no longer Bemba or Shona or Losi or Mzungu. In fact, Jesus is saying that our primary identity is now Christian. To be Jesus’ disciples, we have to put aside our personal feelings and preferences as well. Because, as Paul put it in Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now we find our belonging and even our identity is shaped by Christ. 

Now we don’t have to carefully create an image for others to see; instead when they look at us, they will see Christ! That’s what discipleship is supposed to be all about! This hints at the next cost of discipleship: Jesus says in verse 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. When he says this, he doesn’t mean we have to physically carry a cross. He doesn’t mean that we have to be crucified literally. He is saying that the old self must be crucified. The old self is full of sin. The old self believes Satan’s lies about you: that you can never accomplish anything, that you are no good, that you will never succeed, that you don’t deserve Christ’s love. The new self is remade in God’s image. Carrying the cross is a reminder that we have to daily surrender to Christ, daily walk in his steps. 

Jesus finally says that a disciple must follow him. It is almost silly to have to say this, but there are people who call themselves Christian who have no intention to actually follow his commands. They say that they like this idea of a Jesus who is a good teacher, but they’re unwilling to actually do what he says. That is not a disciple. In fact, if you’re in a job and you refuse to do what your boss tells you to do, you will get fired. Immediately. If you’re on a team and refuse to do what your manager tells you to do, you won’t play. Listen to what Jesus says about that, from Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

So, the cost is clear. Next week we will look at the benefits of being Jesus’ disciple.