LET THE MOURNERS REJOICE

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LET THE MOURNERS REJOICE

Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b; 23a; 25b.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

“Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”

Last week we began this series on the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain by establishing the context — the historical background. We saw Jesus speaking to his newly appointed missionaries and a large crowd looking on. What Jesus is saying he is primarily saying to these twelve men. The blessings he pronounces on them. The command to rejoice is given to them.

Indirectly, Jesus is calling on the crowds to follow the example of these twelve men and to commit their lives to follow him as they have. But we have to keep in mind as we read this sermon that it is directed toward those who have already made their decision for Christ.

The first thing Jesus does is look at these twelve men and give an honest characterization of them. They are not naturally endowed with greatness, but they are poor. They are not naturally powerful, but they are mourners, they are meek. They are not even known for their righteousness, even though they hunger and thirst for it.

But Jesus sees in these twelve men qualities that they probably don’t even see in themselves. He says they are merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. It is these inner spiritual qualities that are not always evident at first glance that God values the most. Jesus blesses these men with a prophecy that they will not remain poor, but will inherit God’s coming kingdom. They will not mourn forever, but they will be comforted. They will not be subservient forever, they will one day rule. They will not always hunger and thirst for righteousness, but they will be satisfied with it. Their merciful nature is going to be rewarded with mercy. Their inner purity will be their ticket into God’s presence. Their peacemaking will make them children of God.

Today I want to zero in on one of these beatitudes. I want to talk about the fact that Jesus characterized these twelve men as mourners. Why did he call them that? Were these men cursed with an inordinate amount of death, sorrow, and despair?

When Jesus preached these words, the apostles were experiencing a time of great joy and accomplishment. They were not on the bottom, they were on top. They were following Jesus, and he was demonstrating God’s miraculous power daily. They were witnessing his power over the crowds as they thronged from all over the land to hear his words. They were his entourage and must have been respected and admired because of him.

Jesus was condemning the hypocrisy of the religious professionals of his day, humiliating them with the wisdom of his words. The apostles stood with Jesus on the winning side of those arguments.

Jesus encountered nature and proved his power over it. He turned some water into wine, and on some water, he just walked. He calmed raging storms. He cursed a fig tree and it died. He blessed five loaves of bread and two fishes, and the resulting miracle fed thousands, with baskets of scraps left over.

Jesus encountered the spirit world and delivered people from demonic possession. The demons feared him, not only for his power over them but also because they knew that he held their destiny in his hands. They knew that he was the one who would destroy the devil and all his works. The apostles were assistants to this master. So, why characterize them as mourners?

Part of the answer to that question has to do with the Bible’s wisdom literature.

Jesus shows wisdom by encouraging those who mourn, rather than those who laugh.

In Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 we read: “It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. Death is the destiny of every person,

and the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter because sober reflection is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking.”

Our lives as human beings are more about mourning than they are about laughing. We are more affected by the blues than we are by joyful songs. Eventually, most of us learn this. We learn it by watching our friends and family members die. We learn it by our memories of old times that we cherish because they are memories.

That is why Jesus could look at his young, healthy apostles and characterize them as mourners. He knew more about their lives than they did. He knew what was in store for them. Remember what he told Peter? He said “when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). Jesus could see a life of persecution and a martyr’s death ahead of that young man. He saw the martyr’s death for the others as well. All of the apostles Jesus looked at when he preached the sermon that day would die a martyr’s death except Judas, who would kill himself. He died a traitor’s death. John was the only one who would die of old age. But even he would suffer persecution and banishment for his faith.

But then Jesus tells the mourners to rejoice.

Remember that is the main verb in this passage. It sounds out of place, and it is. It would be out of place for Jesus to tell Mary and Martha to rejoice at the death of their brother. But he comes close to doing just that. He tells Martha “Your brother will come back to life again.” Martha said “Yeah, I know, I went to Sunday School. I know about the coming resurrection.” Jesus said, “allow me to demonstrate.” He raised Lazarus from the dead because he wanted us all to know that our mourning is temporary. He has set a day on which all who are in their graves will come out, and believers will come out of their graves never to die again.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

“Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

He does not tell them that their sorrows will go away in this life.

Oh, people, please do not tell anyone that if they come to Christ, their problems will be over. That is not the gospel message. Jesus himself is our example, and he was ” despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

On the cross, our Lord could quote Psalm 22:6-8 because he was “a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”

Isaiah would call him one who is “despised and rejected by nations” (49:7). John said that “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him” (1:11). Luke records that “Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished ” (18:31). Jesus endured the suffering he did as part of his sacrifice for sin. But he also endured it because he was setting a pattern for those of us who would follow him. Suffering first, then glory.

He encourages his apostles to keep a second-coming perspective.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

“Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

Whatever they experience in this life is not the point. The point is what is going to happen after that. Remember, I am not talking about death here. The day of our deaths is not the day of our deliverance. The day of our deliverance is the day of Christ’s return. Jesus taught these apostles about his coming. He said “just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37-39).

When Noah’s flood came, a handful of people had a complete reversal. They had been despised by the rest of the world. They had been mourning the loss of the earth, but most of the world ignored them and ridiculed them. Then the rain came. Suddenly, a boat sounded like a good idea. But only eight were saved. Most of the world was lost — destroyed by the flood.

Jesus tells his apostles — his mourning few — that a day of vindication is coming. A day of wrath is coming but his mourners are going to be delivered from it.

Paul found some of these mourners in Thessalonica. He praised them because they had turned to God from idols and were now waiting for him to come back from heaven — “our deliverer from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

The author of Hebrews tells us “just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay” (10:37). We may have a lot of weeping and mourning to do before that day, but when that day comes, our weeping and mourning will be over. So, we should rejoice, because that’s how we are going to spend eternity.

But Jesus does not command everyone to rejoice.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”

Hell will not be a place of rejoicing. Those who stand before the Judge without the benefit of his redeeming blood will weep because their fate is sealed. They will have lost the most important thing. They will also be gnashing their teeth in anger, knowing that their fate is sealed and the day of mercy is passed. Oh, friends, don’t be part of that number. Come to Christ today, because today may be that day.

If you do choose to come to Christ today, I cannot promise that you will live a better life. You just might live a life of suffering and grief like those apostles did. But I can tell you that there will come a day when your suffering will end and your sorrow will cease. “Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

LET THE MOURNERS REJOICE.mp3

LET THE POOR REJOICE

church sign

LET THE POOR REJOICE

Luke 6 20, 23a, 24 NET

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you. 23a Rejoice … and jump for joy, because your reward is great in heaven. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already.

Before I started writing this week’s message, I prayed for God to teach me what Jesus said in this passage, and to help me to teach it with all his passion. The sermon we are going to be studying is one of the masterpieces of the spoken word. Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 have been quoted for two millennia. They have also been misquoted and misrepresented for two millennia.

So, as I begin to analyze and expound on the text, I’m going to try to not only say what Jesus was saying but also explain what he was not saying. To start with…

This sermon is not directly designed to teach unbelievers how to become Christians (20a).

The sermon starts with blessings — we see an example in verse 20. If we are not careful, we can read those beatitudes as if they are a new law code and Jesus is the new lawgiver. I’ve heard preachers who say that the beatitudes explain what the Christians’ attitudes should be. It is as if Jesus is an evangelist telling us what kind of people we should be to live in his kingdom.

If Jesus is doing that in this sermon, then he’s only doing it indirectly. He had hiked up a mountain — not for the scenery, but to have some alone time with his Father. He stayed on the summit all night long praying. A group of his followers had joined him up there because at dawn he gathered this group around him and hand-picked twelve of them as his missionaries.

The thirteen of them descended and stood on a large area of open, level ground. A huge crowd found them there. They came for healing, for deliverance from demons, and to hear Jesus preach. We don’t know how large the crowd is, but we do know it consisted of people from several regions.

Jesus is preaching to the twelve here. They are his primary audience. That is why his sermon here is not patterned after his previous messages, which called on the crowds to repent and believe the gospel. He does not have to go over that ground again. That is why I am saying that the sermon is not directly designed to teach unbelievers how to become Christians. That is not what Jesus is doing here.

This is where I think a lot of people misunderstand the message of the sermon. Jesus starts with this list of blessings and we treat the blessings as if they are hurdles we have to jump to become Christians. Nope.

Look at Jesus. He’s looking at his twelve missionaries. They are the primary target of his sermon. He uses the second person here. He says “Blessed are you who are poor.” Who is the “you” that he is talking to? He’s talking to this small group of men who are already committed and commissioned as his missionaries. We see that clearly in verse 20. It says ” he looked up at his disciples and said…” He’s describing them.

He’s also speaking to the crowd. He is suggesting to the crowd that if they want to be blessed, they should follow the example of these missionaries. That is the context in which the sermon is given.

The main command of this text is to rejoice! (23a)

When I was taught how to analyze the Greek text of the New Testament, I was told to look for the main verb. Everything hangs on the main verb. I think we often treat the beatitudes as if they are a bunch of separate main verbs, but they are not. They are adjectives. They describe the missionaries.

The main verb does not show up until verse 23 when Jesus tells these missionaries to rejoice. That is the Greek word χαίρω, which means “‘be in a state marked by good feeling about an event or circumstance’ (Danker).

So, let’s get this straight. The first thing Jesus wants his true disciples, his followers, and his missionaries to do is to rejoice about something. They are blessed. Others are cursed, but they are blessed. Others are doomed to a destiny of suffering and destruction, but they are blessed with a destiny of joy and eternal life.

Jesus adds the phrase “jump for joy” — I think — just in case we are tempted to try to reinterpret rejoicing into some superspiritual contemplation thing. Nope. He wants us to jump for joy.

Also, this sermon is not designed to get believers to renounce wealth (20b).

Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.” He was saying that to the men who had just pledged their lives to serve him no matter what. Some of them had been rich by their standards, but they gave up their means of getting richer to follow him.

There have been many in history who have thought that to be a true believer, they would have to give up on a better life. Many in the crowd that day were probably looking at these twelve examples of kingdom citizens and questioning whether they dared to become poor like they did, to follow Jesus.

But Jesus is not highlighting the poverty so much as the commitment that led to the poverty. From his standpoint as the Son of God, everyone on the planet is poor. But he is commending his missionaries because they have chosen to seek his kingdom instead of their desires.

In the Old Testament, we learn that God is not against wealth. It comes from him.

Psalm 113:7

7 He raises the poor from the dirt, and lifts up the needy from the garbage pile, 8 that he might seat him with princes, with the princes of his people.

You don’t have to empty your bank account and go and sleep on the street to be a true Christian. But you do have to surrender anything in your life that might compete with Christ as the center of your life.

If you are poor and love Jesus, God wants to raise you from the dirt, to lift you from the garbage pile. He has a reward for you. It is a great reward. You may be poor now, but you are going to be rich later.

Your great reward is in heaven. Please note that it does not say that heaven is your reward. Jesus says he is coming back and his reward is with him (Revelation 22:12). If you are waiting to die then you are waiting for the wrong thing. You have the wrong hope. The Christian hope is not death, it is the coming Christ.

What Jesus was telling his followers in the sermon is that no matter how poor they seem now, the reality is that they are really rich. They have a great reward stored up for them in heaven. Hebrews 9:15 calls it the permanent inheritance. Jesus would later in the sermon tell them “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).

Now, there would be those who would like the best of both worlds. They would want to stay rich in earthly things, but also buy themselves an insurance policy by seeking a form of religion as well.

But this sermon is not designed to give rich people access to the kingdom (24).

The same Jesus who blessed his followers for their poverty also condemned the rich for their wealth. He said “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already.”

The Old Testament reflects this truth as well. In 1 Samuel 2:7 (part of Hannah’s prayer), we read …

7 The LORD impoverishes and makes wealthy; he humbles and he exalts.

The poor in Christ are going to be exalted. The rich without Christ are going to be humbled.

Christian singer Michael Card wrote a great book on the Gospel of Luke called “The Gospel of Amazement.” He points out how Luke emphasizes God’s love for the poor. Here are some quotes:

“Luke is known as the Gospel of the poor and marginalized because he shows more concern for women, who were the most marginalized group in the first century, and for those who existed on the bottom rung of Jewish society. Luke alone tells us of the shepherds who are the first recipients of the good news of the birth of Jesus. Shepherds were regarded as outcasts in first-century Judaism, barred even from testifying in a court of law. Only Luke tells of the impoverished baby who sleeps in a cattle trough. Only Luke tells us the story of the widow of Nain, as well as the widow who offers both of her remaining coins to the temple treasury” (Card, 20).

“A kingdom is coming where rich and poor will change places, where those who weep will laugh and where the laughing ones will burst into tears. That world … is coming. It is Luke’s favorite world to describe” (Card, 69).

“The pronouncement of blessings (birkot) was a very rabbinic thing to do. But Jesus pronounces a disturbing list of blessings no one has ever heard before. Who would have ever thought of blessing the poor? Their poverty was thought to be a curse from God” (Card, 90).

“The woes represent the negative side of the blessings. Although the poor will receive the kingdom, the rich have already gotten all they will ever get” (Card, 90).

Let me conclude today by clarifying something so that there is no mistake. Jesus is not saying that all you have to be is poor to be saved. Lots of poor people are going to reject Christ, and they are not promised eternal life. Repentance and faith in Christ are still prerequisites to being citizens of the coming kingdom.

But a commitment to Christ and his coming kingdom will mean that your priorities will change. You will be more interested in your future reward than your present bank account. So, many of us who name the name of Christ are going to find ourselves poorer than those who do not. Jesus’ command for those of us who find ourselves in that state today is simple: REJOICE.

Rejoice because we have something that cannot be taken away. It is a reward that is safely stored in heaven with our name on it. It will be delivered to us at the appropriate time by a very reliable shipper.

It is also important to state that Jesus gives a corresponding WOE as a warning to the rich. All those things that are more important to them right now are not eternal. When the Master returns, they will be found to be unfaithful and unworthy for eternity. If all they want is riches today, then they should enjoy those riches. They have received their comfort already. It’s a temporary comfort. Nobody writhing in hell’s agony will ever say “I’m so glad I had a bunch of nice things.” There will be weeping as they contemplate their permanent destruction. But they will all know that they had a choice in life.

If you are listening to this message today, and you have not committed your life to Jesus Christ, you have a choice as well. Don’t allow the temporary riches of this earth to keep you from investing in the next.

____________

Card, Michael. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2011.

Danker, Frederick W. Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 2009.

LET THE POOR REJOICE.mp3

HOW THE CHURCH WORKS

HOW THE CHURCH WORKS

Ephesians 4:11-16 NET

The Bible has a lot to tell us about the church. It tells us who the church is. It is a question of identity. We have two examples of that in today’s text. In verse 12 the church is called “the saints.” Notice that the term includes every Christian. It is not a word that is supposed to describe people who have attained some supernatural status or level of reverence. It is a term for all of us because we all need to be equipped for the work of ministry.

We see that reality also in the second term in today’s text that describes what the church is. According to verse 12 again, we are “the body of Christ.” A living body is designed to be always growing during its life. As members of Christ’s body on earth, we all need to be built up.

In other places in the Bible, other terms are used to describe and define the church. We are (for example) the salt of the earth, a letter from Christ, fish and a fishnet, the Ark, unleavened bread, branches of the vine, the vineyard, the fig tree, the olive tree, God’s planting, God’s building, Pillars of the truth, virgins, the Bride of Christ, citizens of the kingdom, exiles, ambassadors, the people of God, the family of God, the new creation, and this list goes on.1

Another way the Bible teaches about the church is by defining and describing the work that we are called to do as the church.

I like to use the acronym WIFE to outline the work of the church.

W stands for WORSHIP.

The church is God’s gathered community, designed to radiate his glory through (among other things) worship. When his people honor his person and praise him for his works, they help the creation reboot. Somewhere along the line, this planet has lost its purpose. Worship is our way of revisiting that purpose.

When Jesus was clip-clopping into Jerusalem at his triumphal entry, some Pharisees (who did not have a clue what was going on) demanded that Jesus stop his disciples from worshipping him. Not only did Jesus refuse to stop them, he told the Pharisees that if they were silenced “the very stones would cry out.” Now that our Savior has come, his worship is imperative. We all do it poorly, compared to how we will do it, but we try anyway. It is as natural as breathing for us.

Worship is supposed to be “in spirit and truth,” which is simply a way of saying “authentically.”

Its opposite would be worshipping in the flesh without a true feeling of awe or gratitude. Perhaps you remember the last time you attended a service that just seemed to be going through the motions? That is not worship. Authentic worship is a reaction to God’s felt presence, and God’s manifested works. It is not an expression of our “worth-ship” but his. The worshipper does not get carried away with herself but is caught up in him. That is why the fruit of the Spirit – self-control – must manifest in worship as well. Much damage has been done by confusing a self-honoring frenzy with God-honoring worship.

Yet, there is something to the process of worship which at times may seem like a loss of control. Paul told the formerly pagan Ephesians not to get drunk on wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. They were to replace one kind of intoxication for another. Instead of wine causing them to abuse one another, they were to drink deeply of the Holy Spirit, which would influence them. It would result in “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

When the Holy Spirit is manifested in our gatherings, he causes us to do things that outsiders may not understand, and may attribute to the wrong cause. At Pentecost, Peter had to remind the crowd that those who were receiving manifestations were not drunk; it was (after all) only nine o’clock in the morning. From that time on, “praising God” was a description of what believers constantly do.

I stands for INSTRUCTION

A true church is a discipling church, and a discipling church is a teaching church. One of the earliest criticisms that unbelieving authorities hurled at the early church was that they were teaching in Christ’s name. The apostles arose at daybreak and started teaching.

My sermons here at Piney Grove have mostly focused on teaching the commands of Christ. Even if we use an Old Testament text, it is usually to help us focus on something Jesus taught about that topic. Next Sunday, we will begin a series on the Sermon on the Mount and its Luke version, the sermon on the plain.

Discipling consists of bringing people to the point of commitment to Christ (baptizing) and then nurturing that commitment through a lifelong process of teaching. The gathered church is a teaching church. The means of the church’s teaching ministry is not a creed or a set of church traditions. It is the Holy Spirit, who is continuing the discipling ministry of Jesus Christ among us. The medium He uses is the Bible, the word of God.

Believers with the Holy Spirit inside them, and the word of God coming out of them, are a strong force for change in the world. Jesus intends for his gathered church to not simply sit by and wait until his return. He has commanded us to “engage in business” until he comes. “Until I come, (he said) devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” The gathered church is a teaching church.

F stands for FELLOWSHIP

The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by growing closer together and demonstrating our unity. This is done through fellowship. The act of gathering us together was intentional. God did not mean for us to be spiritual lone rangers. He does not have one church of doers and another church of viewers. He has one body, with many members. Fellowship is the way we show our unity among ourselves and to the watching world.

The gathered church is not a saved soul here, and a saved soul there. We are a collected crop. We are gathered sheaths, prepared to be harvested for our master on the last day. The gathered church is a fellowshipping church.

E stands for EVANGELISM

The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by snatching people from among the doomed and bringing them to eternal life in Christ. We do this through dynamic witness. Jesus told us that we would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”.

The church that truly evangelizes leads people from accepting Christ’s gift of forgiveness to embracing Christ’s authority and his coming kingdom. The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by bringing others into his kingdom through dynamic witness.

Our passage today explains how the church works when it is working right.

The church works by equipping the saints for the work of ministry (11-12a).

11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12a to equip the saints for the work of ministry,

When a church is working right, members with the equipping gifts help all the saints become better at doing the work that they do.

The list that Paul uses here is not a list of professional church leaders. Even the word pastor as Paul used it here did not refer to someone hired to lead a church. All these terms referred to church members who had special Spiritual Gifts designed to equip everyone else in their ministry.

The apostle was a missionary — someone who could cross cultural or ethnic or geographical boundaries and reach people with the word of God.

The prophet was a person empowered with a message from God — usually a message that challenged people to turn to God in repentance.

The evangelist was also a person empowered with a message from God — usually a message of comfort or encouragement.

The pastor was a person who could shepherd the hungry and hurting and bring them to a place of strength, rest, and healing.

The teacher was a person who could feed the spiritually hungry by systematically setting out the truths of the word of God in a way that hearers can understand and apply to their lives.

When these equipping ministries are present and do their work, the result will be that the saints who hear them will be able to do what God calls them to do.

The church works by building up the body of Christ (12b-13).

12b that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God — a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

A body that is properly built up is going to manifest two characteristics. First, it is going to attain unity. When we are first born, we have all the things that we need to do what people do. But we are not born with natural unity. We have feet, but we cannot walk. We have eyes but we only focus on what is straight in front of us. We have ears but we cannot always tell where a sound is coming from. We have to learn over time how to use our bodies as one. We call it coordination.

The unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God that Paul talks about here is something like that coordination. The more we gather together as a body, the more opportunities we have to get coordinated with each other so that we think and speak with a unified voice about the things of God. But, just like that baby, we have to work at it. It does not come automatically. Baptism does not make us work together. Working together is the only way to learn this kind of unity.

The second characteristic we need to attain is maturity “attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. Nobody is born mature. It seems like some people never mature. But if we don’t gather together for the equipping ministries to help us, we are not going to get built up.

The church works by maturing the members of the body of Christ (14-15).

14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.

Paul uses two images of the church in these two verses. He says that immature believers are like a boat. They are tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind. False teachers can make us like that. No teachers can also make us like that. If we fail to come together to learn the word of God, we will remain like children, and our boats will be flopping around everywhere, with no stability.

Another image Paul uses is the body. A body begins as a child, but it is expected to grow up. It is expected to mature. Maturity for the church is that each member grows “up into Christ, who is the head.”

The church works by all the members mutually supporting one another (16).

16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

Don’t forget this last verse of today’s text because it tells us something very important about how the church works when it is working right.

Let me put it this way. People imagine the church is working right when it resembles a concert. All the fans gather in the auditorium. The band plays on the stage. The fans listen, they cheer. The playing is over. Everybody goes home. If that is the way you think church works, you are bound to be disappointed.

Let me read that verse again: “From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.”

Every time we gather as a church, we do a lot of things (worship, instruction, fellowshipping, evangelism) but while we are doing that growth is happening. The growth comes from Jesus “from him the whole body grows.” But that growth does not come passively. In a concert, the band plays, and the fans listen — passively taking it in. But in a church service growth happens only “as each one does its part.” So church works by all the members mutually supporting one another. When that happens “the body grows in love.”

I want us to be a church that works. If we commit ourselves to be a working church, I think the LORD is going to surprise us. I think he wants to work with us to build up the body of Christ in this community.

1 For an example of this kind of study, see Paul Minear’s book, Images of the Church in the New Testament.

HOW THE CHURCH WORKS.mp3

THE MIRACLE ANNOUNCED BY CHRIST

church sign, 4/17/22

THE MIRACLE ANNOUNCED BY CHRIST

John 2:19-22; Mark 9:9-10

The resurrection was not a surprise. Jesus knew that he would be woken up from the dead and come out of his tomb on the first Easter morning. It was all part of God’s plan. He had to go to the cross, and he had to die there. He had to be buried in that borrowed tomb. Not one aspect of the life of Jesus was left to chance. It was all part of the plan.

Since it was part of the plan, we would expect Jesus to mention the fact that he would be dead for a few days, and then be raised. But Jesus didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about that. He did let the cat out of the bag at least two times, however. We are going to look at those incidents this morning. The two passages of scripture just illustrate what I have been saying: that the resurrection was not a surprise. It was part of the plan.

Early in his public ministry, the Lord predicted his resurrection (John 2:19-22).

19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus and his disciples were fresh from Galilee, where he had just performed his first public miracle. In Cana, at a wedding feast, he turned the water into wine. That miracle revealed his glory, and it strengthened his disciples’ faith in him. After a few days with family in Capernaum, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.

Has going to church ever made you mad? That’s what happened to Jesus. He went into the temple courts and he saw all the buying and selling of birds and beasts and the people making money by exchanging this coin for that. It made him mad. It made him violently mad. He was insulted by what he saw, and he felt like slapping them.

He made a weapon out of cords — a whip. He proceeded to chase every one of those bankers and merchants out of his Father’s house. He said “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!”

All this time his disciples were watching. They were learning. When he had made the water into wine, it revealed something about him — lots of things. The disciples had learned from that incident that Jesus had compassion for the master of the party. They learned that he cared about his mother, and wanted to give her what she was asking for. They learned that he cared about the couple being married, and he wanted them to have a happy wedding. Oh, and they learned that he had the power to convert ordinary water into wine — without it having to go through a long process of squashing grapes and letting them ferment!

Now, the time is different and the place is different. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem, at God’s temple. What are they learning about him here and now? John tells us that the disciples “remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” You can tell a lot about a person by what makes him mad. Abuse of God’s temple just ate Jesus up. He was obsessed with anger over the disrespect he saw in the temple courts. For all those bankers and merchants, it was just business as usual. But for Jesus, it was an insult to the presence of God.

There is a time and a place for buying and selling. Jesus walked by merchants and bankers all the time. They didn’t enrage him when they did what they did at the right time and in the right place. But God’s house is God’s house. It has to be shown consideration and respect.

So the disciples are watching Jesus, and they are watching him get mad. And it wouldn’t be the last time. They would see Jesus get angry in a synagogue when there is a man with a withered hand, and people were watching to see if he would violate the laws against working on the Sabbath by healing him. That kind of legalism made Jesus mad.

Anger is an emotion, and as an emotion given to us by God when he created us, it has a legitimate place. Jesus was not controlled by his anger, and he taught us not to be controlled by our anger as well. But there is such a thing as righteous indignation.

But there were some Jewish leaders in the temple that day, and they didn’t think Jesus had the right to display his anger. They were just fine with those merchants and money-changers and birds and beasts. They wanted to defend the status quo. So, they asked Jesus “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” They were looking for him to perform another miracle in defense of his outbreak.

Here we see the amazing self-control of our Lord. These Jewish leaders have just demanded that Jesus show them that he had the authority to force a change in their religious practice.

If I had been Jesus, I would have said “You want a sign, Okay, here’s your sign” and I would have unleashed all the power and wrath of God on them.

Folks, we need to remember that God is a God of wrath. His wrath sent the flood to destroy the world, saving only a handful in the ark. His wrath sent the plagues to Egypt. His wrath swallowed up Korah and his rebels. His wrath sent armies to serve his purposes by destroying his enemies. His wrath will one day be unleashed on all the unbelievers and rebellious in Gehenna hell, where Jesus tells us he will destroy soul and body.

It is a stupid and dangerous thing to ask the Son of God for a sign when he is angry. Fortunately for those religious leaders, Jesus chose to do something else besides annihilating them that day. Instead, he told them to “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”

Now, that got them thinking. They were not about to destroy their temple. They were proud of that temple. It had been under construction for about fifty years — so they doubted very much that Jesus would be able to reconstruct it in just three days.

Now, here is where John comes in with an editorial comment in his Gospel. He explains what Jesus meant. He says “Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body.

So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.”

So, this was the first incident in which Jesus slipped in a little hint of his coming resurrection. It probably went over the heads of those religious leaders that day. It probably went over the heads of John and the other disciples that day too. They didn’t want to think about it. Resurrection requires a death, and they were certainly not prepared to think about Jesus’ death that day.

But the words that Jesus said that day stayed in their memories. Those words bounced around in their minds, and now and again something else that Jesus would say would cause them to remember those words again.

Jesus would later tell Nicodemus “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Maybe his disciples stopped to think about what it meant for Jesus to be lifted up. Maybe a stray thought led them to imagine a cross. That would be an unpleasant thought — their master hanging on a cross. If they thought about it, they probably did not allow the thought to linger.

Jesus would tell his disciples that if they didn’t carry their cross and follow him that they cannot be his disciple. There was that cross again. What a bad thought it is. What a shameful, humiliating way to die. Surely our master is not going to die like that.

Thoughts like this keep coming back and bouncing around in their brains.

Two years later, the Lord predicted his resurrection again (Mark 9:9-10).

9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this statement to themselves, discussing what this rising from the dead meant.

Jesus had taken three of his disciples for a little mountain climbing. They hiked up a high mountain for a private show. When they got to the summit, they watched Jesus, and he “was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiantly white, more so than any launderer in the world could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. So Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus.”

What was the purpose of this day trip to the summit of a mountain? Jesus was going to show them who he really is. He would undergo a metamorphosis and they would see Jesus in all his divine glory. They would learn from this experience as well. They would learn that Jesus was not to be compared to any of the great men and women who have ever lived. Not even Moses — the great law-giver, nor Elijah, the powerful miracle-working prophet can be compared to him. Jesus is the one. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the one-and-only Son of God.

They saw Jesus as he really is. Now, as soon as they saw this amazing vision happen, all of a sudden it is over, and things are back to normal. Jesus tells them not to tell anybody else what they saw. What? I have just seen the Son of God in all his glory, and I have to keep silent? But Lord, people have to know who you really are! Okay, says Jesus. You can tell them, but wait “until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

There he goes again. Lord, I don’t want you to have a resurrection. That would mean you would have to die. I don’t want you to have to die.

In the third year, Jesus would have a little Supper with his disciples. He would break some bread and give it to them. He would tell them that the bread represents his body — broken for them. He would raise a glass for them to drink. This is my blood, shed for many, for the forgiveness of sins.

There he is again, talking about his death. But in the back of their minds, there are these nagging words: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again”; Don’t “tell anyone what you have seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Just some stray thoughts.

They come for Jesus — for his trial and crucifixion. He dies on the cross. The disciples hide. Then, Sunday morning, the ladies come with a story. They say they have seen him. They say he’s alive!

Then they see him themselves. Look, they destroyed the temple, and he raised it again! The Son of Man has risen from the dead!

Remember what they demanded of Jesus that day in the temple? They asked him for a sign — a miracle to prove that he had the right to interfere in their business. He gave them this answer. He challenged them to destroy the temple of his own body. Go ahead he says. I dare you to kill me. You can nail me to a cross if you want to, and I know you do. It doesn’t matter. Death cannot hold me. In three days, I will rise again. Do all you can on Good Friday, because Easter is my holiday. I’m going to come out of that tomb.

“Aint no grave gonna keep my body down.”

Brother — sister — you might be asking the same thing today. You might be wondering what the fuss is about this Jesus. You might wonder what right he has to interfere with your life — to demand that you believe him — to require that you obey him. You might want to just do your business, but he’s making up a whip and is gonna drive you out of God’s house.

If you dare to ask Jesus what right he has to interfere with your life, his answer to you will be the same he gave those religious leaders that day in Jerusalem. His resurrection proves that he has the right. The resurrection proves that he is who he says he is. Rejoice this Easter Day because Jesus lives. But remember that the miracle he announced — the miracle of his resurrection — demands that every one of us acknowledges him.

THE MIRACLE ANNOUNCED BY CHRIST.mp3

THE GOSPEL PAUL PREACHED

Isaiah 53:10-12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

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10 Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. 11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. “My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins. 12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes, he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful, because he willingly submitted to death and was numbered with the rebels, when he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels.”

1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received — that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.

At Easter, we focus on some historical events that took place over two thousand years ago. None of us lived during that time. Like other events in history, we only know about them because someone teaches us about them, and explains their significance. From today’s text, we learn what those events are from the apostle Paul. They are “that Christ died for our sins …and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.”

These three events that Paul mentions are the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. From verse 1 Corinthians 15:1 we learn that Paul is making clear to the Corinthians what the gospel is — the gospel that he preached to them. From verse 3 we learn that these three historical events are “of first importance” to that gospel message.

Note also in verses 3-4 the phrase “according to the scriptures” — which appears twice. Paul is emphasizing not only that these things happened, but that they had been predicted in the Old Testament. I have added a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah to today’s lesson. I didn’t have to go to Isaiah. I could have picked any number of Old Testament texts. The Old Testament predicts the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in many places. That’s why Paul said that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead “according to the scriptures.”

I want you to note also that Paul admits he did make up this gospel message that he preached. Not only did he say that the events had been predicted in the Old Testament scriptures, but he also said that he had received them (verse 3). That is, someone had revealed them to him. Paul was not present at the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He did not observe any of these events personally. The first time Paul met Jesus, it was on the road to Damascus, where he was blinded, and only heard the voice of Jesus. Jesus not only revealed to Paul who he is, but he also apparently explained the significance of his death, burial, and resurrection.

From that time on, Paul had a career change. He had been focused on destroying the church and silencing the gospel. But now he set his sights on building the church and preaching the gospel. One of the places where Paul had preached the gospel was Corinth. In today’s text, Paul said that he had already “passed on” this information to them (verse 3). But he writes to them now to make it clear to them (verse 1). The Corinthians had already received the gospel as Paul did. Paul calls it “the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand” (verse 1).

So, Paul’s purpose in explaining the gospel to the Corinthians was not to evangelize them. But he felt it important to go back over the facts of the gospel once again. One of the reasons this is true is that it was possible even for some of the Corinthians who had already received and believed to still wind up rejecting the gospel and not be saved by it. Notice how Paul puts this in verse 2: “you are being saved if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.”

Now, if Paul thought it necessary to go over the gospel one more time with the Corinthians — just to be sure that they believed it — then I don’t apologize for sharing the gospel with you today. I’m not going to say “stop me if you’ve heard this” because I’m pretty sure you have. But especially during the Easter season, it is a healthy thing for us to remind ourselves of the basic elements of the gospel that we have received, and on which we stand.

The first element of the gospel Paul preached is … Christ willingly died for our sins (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3).

Isaiah predicted a coming Messiah who would willingly submit to death. Isaiah said ironically that this Messiah would “be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted” (52:13). But then he goes on to explain what he means by that. He said “he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man; his form was so marred he no longer looked human — so now he will startle many nations. Kings will be shocked by his exaltation, for they will witness something unannounced to them, and they will understand something they had not heard about” (52:14b-15). What Isaiah is talking about is the cross.

Jesus knew that the cross was in God’s plan for him. God’s wonderful plan for his life included getting beaten half to death, the nailed to a cross to die. Isaiah says that Jesus willingly submitted to that plan.

Jesus himself said that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). He said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

There’s a chorus that goes “Lift Jesus Higher, Lift Jesus Higher, Lift Him up for the world to see — he said if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.” I used to sing that chorus, but I don’t anymore. It takes John 12:32 out of context. John 12:33 says “(Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)” The people who lifted Jesus on that cross were not believers, and they were not worshipping him. They were his executioners.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus willingly submitted to this death. He did it because God was offering him as the sacrifice “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Isaiah says “he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels” (53:12). This is the language of sacrifice. Under the Old Testament sacrificial system, a sacrifice of atonement required the lifting up of an unblemished animal, and the death of that animal to represent the destruction of the sin he represented.

When Jesus volunteered to willingly die on the cross, he knew that he was going to serve as a substitute for our sins.

The second element of the gospel Paul preached is …Christ accomplished the purpose of God by his death (Isaiah 53:10; 1 Corinthians 15:2-3).

Isaiah said “the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him (53:10). He was talking about the eternal plan of the LORD to redeem humankind from the bondage to sin, decay, and death. God had a purpose, and only Christ as the Son of God could fulfill that purpose.

Jesus did the hard part. He died for our sins according to the scriptures. But Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had a part to play in this divine purpose as well. They had the responsibility to receive this message by faith and hold firmly to it by faith.

The simple fact that Jesus died does not save anyone. The simple fact that Jesus rose from the dead does not save anyone. We celebrate Easter not because Jesus did everything but because he did for us what we could not do. Even if we got ourselves nailed to a cross and died, that death would not pay for the sins of the world. It would not even pay for our own sins. It would be a catch 22. Only a sinless sacrifice will do, and all of us are sinners. We needed Jesus, not to serve as our example, but to be our Savior.

Paul told the elders from Ephesus that he did not hold back from announcing to them the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27). I need to do the same thing. It was God’s purpose for Jesus to die on the cross. It is God’s purpose for you and me to believe it.

It is also God’s purpose for you and me to hold firmly to it — to not believe in vain. The Greek word for “in vain” is εἰκῇ. Godet mentions a classical expression that contains that word. The saying is εἰκῇ βάλλειν — to shoot an arrow that does not hit. 1

We need to believe what Jesus did because God wants us to apply what he did to our own lives. We cannot afford for Christ’s death to be merely a theological truth we affirm. It has to be for God’s purpose of cleansing us from sin. We have to respond to the cross by repentance and faith in the gospel.

The third element of the gospel Paul preached is … Christ demonstrated his victory by being raised from the dead (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Corinthians 15:4).

Isaiah says that the Messiah will divide the spoils of victory which means that he will be victorious. He will not only accomplish God’s purpose, but he will overcome in battle. That means that the Messiah’s death will not be the last phase of the battle; it will be the first.

Paul says that Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” Paul says that Jesus “was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification” (Romans 4:25). He died to pay the price for our sins. He was raised to demonstrate that we are now justified in God’s sight.

Now friends, if you believe that Jesus died, that’s good. But that is not enough. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, that is good because that is true. But that also is not enough. Paul told the Romans that “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” (Romans 10:9). The Christ of the Bible is no longer on the cross. The Christ of the Bible walked away from an empty tomb. The Christ of the Bible is victorious. The gospel of the Bible is not a gospel of defeat, but a gospel of victory.

We need the message of Good Friday, but we cannot stay there. The message of Easter Sunday is necessary. Without it, there is no victory, and without victory, we do not have the whole purpose of God. Without victory, we are preaching another gospel.

The ultimate victory Jesus experienced for himself was that he conquered death and was raised immortal, ascended to heaven, and returned to his Father. The immediate victory he experienced for us on the cross was the forgiveness of sins. But there is an ultimate victory that Jesus accomplished for us as well. He said “because I live, you will live too” (John 14:19).

Easter is the sneak preview of our permanent destiny. Each will be raised in order. Christ — the first fruits — was raised on Easter Sunday. We — the remainder of the harvest — will be raised by him when he returns. That’s the whole gospel that Paul preached, and it is the gospel that we preach too!

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1 Godet, Frederic Louis, and A. Cusin. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. v. 2. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. p. 328.

THE GOSPEL PAUL PREACHED.mp3