Why You Really Need Joy and Sorrow

Our thoughts for the past couple of weeks have centered around a Season of Hope, and our theme at East Side this year has been “Hope.” Advent is a season of hopeful waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

The last several weeks have been looks at the prophecies leading up to the destruction and exile of Jerusalem & Judah. Last week we looked at Isaiah 40 and the hopeful promise that God’s people would return home, and he would come to them! This week we see the fulfillment of God’s promise that the people will return home, but not all is joyful.

Ezra begins in the same way 2 Chronicles ends with a proclamation from Cyrus king of Persia. Ezra also wants us to remember that this fulfills the Jeremiah 25 & 29 prophecy that the people would return home from exile. God is keeping his promise to the people!

Ezra 3 tells the story of the reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem. The altar was rebuilt and the people celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). I find this a fitting first celebration for the newly resettled exiles. Tabernacles was to remind the Israelites of the time they lived in temporary huts during the journey out of Egypt. The entire festival recalls the journey out of Egyptian slavery/exile to the promised land; a fitting reminder to those having just journeyed back to the promised land from Babylonian exile. In both generations, God was faithful in keeping his promises.

Our text in Ezra this week ends with the end of chapter 3 and the laying of the foundation of the temple of Yahweh. I find this text both beautiful and haunting.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:11-13 NIV

Notice that everyone praised God in this moment, but the emotions were very mixed. Some were joyful to see this day come. Some were lamenting the loss of the original temple. What brought joy to some brought mourning to others. Excitement and weeping. Yet a great shout of praise came from all.

Our church family is much like this group in Jerusalem, a place of rejoicing and mourning. Sometimes those two feelings are so intertwined that we feel them all at once, especially this time of year. A friend recently reminded me Advent is a time for the church to come together as one, despite our emotions, in hopeful expectation of the second Advent of Christ.

For some the waiting brings joy, for others sorrow. We need both. We are called to rejoice together and mourn together because we are called to be together! The church becomes more like Christ when we rejoice and mourn together.

Wherever you find yourself in the emotional spectrum, you are welcome here. Join the body of Christ as we worship our God in hopeful expectation of his Advent! Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon text for 12/15/19 – Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 3:1-4, 10-13; Luke 2:25-32

Waiting Beyond Death

During this Season of Hope, we are studying texts related to the Advent, or coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Just like ancient Israel had to wait for his coming, we too wait for his second coming.

Isaiah 40 makes reference to this time of waiting.

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
“All people are like grass, 
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
Surely the people are grass. 
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6–8 NIV

In these verses we have a heavenly voice (the speaker is unclear, perhaps Yahweh, an angel, or some other heavenly being) telling Isaiah that humans are like grass and their works like flowers. What the voice is reminding us is that grass and flowers are only around for a season before they wither and fade away. They do not last forever. But the word of God does indeed last forever.

Let’s put this in the context of Israel coming out of exile. They have been away from their homes for a generation, and there is this promise of return. God will make the path easy, he will restore Jerusalem, he will keep his promises. His word will not fail! But humans don’t live forever. We all die. God’s promises, however, do not die.

Isaiah is trying to remind us that we may wait for God to fulfill his promises, and they may not be fully fulfilled in our lifetime before we “wither.” Isaiah wants us to remember that our waiting does not negate God’s promises. Even if we never see them fulfilled, we can rest assured that they will be fulfilled because God’s word endures forever.

Centuries after this text was written, one would come as “a voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.” (Isa. 40:3, Mark 1:3). Mark, as well as the other Gospel writers, want us to realize that God kept this promise fully in the ministry of John the Baptist, “and the glory of the LORD” was revealed in the Advent of Jesus (Isa. 40:5).

Though Isaiah’s words to exiled Israel were not fully realized in their lifetime, God fulfilled his promise through the Advent of Jesus. And though God’s kingdom has not fully come, we can rest assured that God will fulfill his promises through the Advent of Jesus.

Sermon text for 12/8/19: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4 

Awaiting The Promised Messiah

Our faith heritage in the churches of Christ has often shied away from the season of Advent as being “unauthorized in Scripture.” However, the word “advent” simply means “coming.” The OT is full of hope in expectant waiting for the coming Messiah, the only one who could set the world aright.The NT is also full of the same hope as the church expectantly awaits Christ’s return. Advent is a season of expectant waiting for the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. We look forward to Christ’s return through the lens of those who waited for his first coming. 

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.”

Jeremiah 33:14 NIV

This week we turn our attention to Jeremiah 33 and Mark 8, and the promise of the Messiah. God had promised in the Garden that a descendant of Eve would eventually crush the head of the serpent, and in doing so the human would be struck (Gen. 3:15). God promised to Abraham “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). God promised through Moses that he would “raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15). 

This promise from God had been a long time in coming. Centuries of waiting for the one who would defeat evil, bless all nations, be the voice of God that we listen to, and many other prophecies, came at the perfect time, but for humans, the wait seemed endless.

And when the Messiah came, the majority of the people were not prepared.

As Israel and Judah awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise, we also wait for the fulfillment of the second coming of the Messiah Jesus. Many of us have forgotten that we are called to watch, to listen, and to open our hearts in expectant preparation for his coming (Matt. 25:1-13). 

We are called to listen to his Word. We look for signs of his presence in this world…a light in the darkness, a voice in the silence, and a stirring deep within us. We’re good at singing worship songs that reiterate these things, but do we truly expectantly wait and prepare for his return?

All of the Gospel writers want us to realize that the life of Jesus was the fulfillment of promises of old (Mt. 1:22-23; Mk. 1:1-4; Lk. 4:17-21; Jn. 1:45; etc.) and the renewal of promises yet to come (Isa. 65:17; Mt. 14:37; Lk. 12:40; Mk. 13:35; Jn. 14:2-3; Rev. 21:5). In Christ, God has and will continue to fulfill all promises.

And so we wait.

And the question that we all must answer is, “Am I ready for the coming of Christ?”

Josiah’s Passover & The Lord’s Supper

This week we wrap up our series Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We’ve taken an overview of the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of God’s faithfulness. We’ve discovered that Yahweh keeps his promises regardless of what we humans do. We also discovered that our actions affect the way God’s faithfulness impacts us. When we live the life he calls us to then his faithfulness is a blessing. When we live contrary to his faithfulness, our sinful actions have painful consequences. This is what we saw the last two weeks as we looked to the 8th century BC in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah. The sin of Israel and Judah will bring painful consequences to the people, but God will remain faithful to heal and to save when they repent.

This week we turn to 2 Kings 22 and look at the story of Josiah. About 100 years after Hosea and Isaiah the 8 year old Josiah became king. Following the wicked reigns of his father and grandfather, Josiah chose not follow in their footsteps. We read that he was much like King David, and today is recognized as the 2nd greatest Davidic king.

All of Jerusalem had forgotten Yahweh. His temple had fallen into disrepair and had become the site of worship for Baal, Asherah, and star worship. Josiah ordered to restore the temple of Yahweh, and during that restoration a copy of the Torah was found (presumably Deuteronomy). Nobody knew about God’s word, or what to do with it. When Josiah heard the Torah read, he ripped his robes and sent his advisors to the prophet Huldah to confirm if what they were reading was true. 

The female prophet told these men that indeed the word of Yahweh was true and the punishment foretold in the Torah was coming. But she also had a word of peace for Josiah because of God’s appreciation for his heart. This destruction would come upon Jerusalem, but because of Josiah’s repentant heart, it would not happen during his lifetime.

Josiah calls all the people of Judah and reads aloud the Torah (as prescribed in Deuteronomy). When the people heard the words of Yahweh, they all pledged themselves to keeping the covenant. All of the idols and instruments of pagan worship were destroyed and removed and Josiah issued this decree:

“Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” – 2 Kings 23:21 NIV

In celebration of the renewed hearts and renewed commitment to Yahweh, the people eat the Passover.

Every Sunday at our gathering, we renew our hearts, we renew our commitment to Yahweh, and we eat the Lord’s Supper, a reapplication of the Passover by Jesus on the night he was betrayed (Mk. 14:16ff).

This week as we gather to worship, let us recommit to the mission and the covenant that Yahweh has made with us. And then let us eat the Passover of Jesus.

Sermon Text for 11/24/19 – 2 Kings 22:1-23:23; Mark 14:16-25

Are You Bearing Fruit?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week as we look to Isaiah’s Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5. God uses the imagery of the nation of Israel and the people of Judah as a vineyard that God himself had planted. He did everything to make sure that it flourished, but no good grapes were found. Then through Isaiah’s prophecy, God tells the listeners what will happen.

“Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Isaiah 5:5-7 NIV

Isaiah’s prophecy did come to pass. The people were carried off into captivity. Their cities, including Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed as well. But God did promise to restore his people and to do so by sending the Messiah (Isa. 11).

Now fast forward about 700 years. Jesus is born and begins his ministry. He goes around teaching people about God’s kingdom, healing people doing the things that only the Messiah could do. When the religious leaders question his authority, Jesus references John the Baptist, but then goes into a parable to explain what his ministry is about (Mk. 12).

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

Mark 12:1-2 NIV

Jesus uses the exact same language of Isaiah 5, but places himself into the story. Jesus says the vineyard owner sends his son (Jesus) to those who rented the vineyard after they had beaten and killed many other representatives. Instead of responding to the son, they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Mark 12:9 NIV

Mark tells us that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they knew he was speaking against them. In these two texts we discover that twice God has planted a vineyard, and twice the vineyard and its caretakers have been destroyed and removed because they failed to manage the vineyard for God. How are we doing?

Now go read John 15. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches, but we can only bear fruit if we remain in him. Think about your life for a moment. Think about the ministry that God has called you to. Are you bearing fruit? If not, perhaps you need to consider the words of Jesus:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5 NIV

You Don’t KNOW God!

This week we continue with Great is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the book of Hosea. If you are unfamiliar with Hosea, it should only take about 10 minutes to read through the whole book. I’d encourage you to do so before our Sunday gathering. The focus of Hosea is to remind Israel (and us) of the painful consequences that come from rebelling against God, but at the same time reminding us that God’s love and mercy are far greater than all our sin.

Hosea does this by using two main images. The first is comparing Israel’s idolatry to prostitution/adultery. The second is more subtle, and involves the Hebrew root word yada which is frequently translated as “knowledge” or “acknowledge.” But yada is more than just knowing about someone. It is deeply and intimately knowing someone. In short, it’s true relationship that God desires from us. Over and over Hosea points the reader back to this truth. Let’s look at a few uses of this word in Hosea. (I’ll italicize the related word to yada in each verse.)

  • Hosea 4:1 – “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.”
  • Hosea 4:6 – …my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests…
  • Hosea 5:4 – “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.”
  • Hosea 6:3 – Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him.
  • Hosea 6:6 – For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Did you notice that last verse? Jesus quoted that on several occasions, and Mark’s gospel ties it to the Greatest Commands (Mk. 12:33-34). In Matthew 9:13 Jesus quotes this verse to explain to the Pharisees why he is eating with sinners and tax collectors. In Matthew 12:7, it is in regards to the Pharisees accusation of Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath laws.

It seems to me that Jesus was trying to get the Pharisees to realize that they were acting quite a bit like the northern kingdom of Israel that Hosea was speaking to. They “knew” God, but they didn’t have the kind of relationship that He wanted them to have. They had exchanged relationship for ritual. This caused them to see Jesus’ actions as violations of rules rather than the Kingdom of Heaven on display. They became spiritually blind because they didn’t yada God.

This same sin plagues the church today. Some of us get so wrapped up in the ritual (wanting our worship the way we want it) rather than the relationship our God seeks from us. Hosea’s message is that God’s ultimate purpose is to heal and save. If we aren’t doing the same in our churches, our communities, and our families, then we don’t yada God! I’ll let Hosea have the last word.

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Hosea 14:9 NIV

Sermon Text for 11/10 – Hosea 11; Mark 10:13-15

Make A Choice!

Johnson Medidi, our missionary from India, will be speaking to us Sunday morning. Since I’m not preaching I thought I’d share a summary of the text I had originally planned to preach this Sunday morning. Our text is 1 Kings 18:17-39. We’ve been talking about God’s faithfulness versus our unfaithfulness. When we choose to walk with God he is always faithful. And when we choose to go against God, he is still faithful…and sometimes when we stand in opposition to God’s faithfulness we bring harm upon ourselves.

We talked last week about the division of the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12) and how the northern kingdom never had a good king, while the southern kingdom only had a few decent kings. During this dark time of the kings, God sent prophets to try to bring the people back in line with His will. Elijah was one of those prophets sent to the northern kingdom. King Ahab was leading the nation into sin. God had sent a famine on the land for several years, but promised Elijah if he would go before Ahab, God would send the rain. Meanwhile Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, was killing off the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4).

Elijah arranges to meet Ahab on Mount Carmel, which was the site of much pagan worship throughout the centuries, but especially during this time. Elijah sets up a demonstration to show that Yahweh is more powerful than the idols these Israelites had been worshipping, Baal and Asherah – both of whom were worshiped with child sacrifice. 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah were present for the showdown.

The question Elijah presents is this:

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

1 Kings 18:21 NIV

To prove who is God, Elijah has the prophets of Baal sacrifice a bull and put it on the altar. They danced, they cut themselves, they prayed as loud as they could all day, but Baal did not answer them. Fire never came from Baal. Next, Elijah rebuilds the destroyed altar to Yahweh with 12 stones to represent the tribes of Israel, then has 12 large jars of water dumped on the altar to soak the wood.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV

God answered Elijah’s prayer immediately. Fire fell from heaven, burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and the water! The people fell down and acknowledged Yahweh as God! After the people were convinced of the power of Yahweh, Elijah prays 7 more times and a heavy rain fell on the land.

God’s faithfulness to Elijah and the people is evident through the whole story. Unfortunately, the kings still didn’t turn their hearts back to Yahweh. So next week, we’ll look at the words of Yahweh through Hosea telling us He will not give up on His children, even in their unfaithfulness.