Whatever It Costs, It’s Worth It!

Our Immerse reading is almost complete! Week 7 covers Hebrews, James, & John. Today I want to focus on Hebrews. The anonymous writer basically sends a written sermon to Jewish believers who had confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and were now facing great persecution for their belief. Instead of giving up and turning back to Judaism, the Hebrew writer encourages these believers to continue in their faith, and does show by showing how much greater (superior) Jesus is than anything, or anyone else! Here are some of the examples the Hebrew writer gives:

  • God now communicates to the world through Jesus (1:1-4)
  • Jesus is greater than Angels (1:5-14)
  • Jesus suffered just like you, and will help you! (Chapter 2)
  • Jesus is greater than Moses (3:1-6)
  • In Jesus we find the ultimate Sabbath Rest (4:1-13)
  • Jesus is the greatest high priest (4:14-7:28)
  • Jesus established a better covenant relationship for us (8:1-9:28)
  • Jesus is the greatest, eternal sacrifice (10:1-18)

In between these sections of comparison are encouragements to these persecuted Jewish Christians to keep their faith, and persevere even though it’s difficult to do so. And then the book comes to the main argument in chapters 11 & 12: Continue in your faith and run the race Jesus has set before you!

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.”

Hebrews 11:1-2 NLT

According to the Hebrew writer, faith requires verbs! Action is a must! Faith isn’t something that just happens between the ears, it’s lived out. All of chapter 11 are examples of Biblical characters that were commended for acting on their faith. This is written to a group of Jewish Christians who would be persecuted for acting on their faith, and the Hebrew writer calls them to go full steam ahead! Don’t back down, don’t hide, live out your faith! RUN THE RACE! And we find our strength to run by considering what Jesus did for us!

“Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.”

Hebrews 12:3-4 NLT

In our sermon this week we’ll be looking at Mark 8 & 9 where Jesus reminds us that if we are to follow him, we must DENY ourselves, CARRY our crosses, and FOLLOW him (Mk. 8:34). Notice the VERBS?

Following Jesus isn’t easy. It isn’t always comfortable. As a matter of fact it may very well cost you your life. BUT IT’S WORTH IT! 

Whatever you are going through this week, live out your faith. Deny yourself, carry your cross, and follow him. Whatever it costs you, it will be worth it to be His disciple!

The Only Thing That Counts

For the next 6 weeks the attention of our bulletin articles will be to support our readings from Immerse: Messiah. If you haven’t decided to join us for Immerse yet, it’s not too late. We have 5 groups meeting on 5 different days in 5 different locations. Hopefully you can make one of them fit into your schedule.

Our readings for this week will take us through the 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. One of the things that has really stood out to me in Paul’s letters is how he calls us to love as Christ has loved us! Paul comes back to this theme in practically all his writings, but let’s just look at a few verses in Galatians.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:6 NIV

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14 NIV

Paul is writing to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who are wrestling with their identity in Christ. Apparently there was a particular group of Jewish Christians who were discouraging the Gentiles in Galatia by putting them down, specifically as it related to following the law of Moses. I can almost hear them saying, “Of course you know you aren’t real followers of the Messiah unless you are just like us and keep the entire law of Moses, circumcision and all!”

Paul writes this part of Galatians to encourage the believers. Their identity isn’t found in the law of Moses. Their identity isn’t found in circumcision or non-circumcision. Rather their identity is found in the way they love others as Jesus had loved them. Through humble service to each other, and loving those around them, they were fulfilling all the requirements of the law. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

I’ve been blessed to see some excellent examples of this in the lives of some of our East Side family members the last couple of weeks. I’ve seen people quietly and humbly tend to the needs of other church members. I’ve seen people abandon their own schedules in order to assist both members of our family, and people in our community we are trying to reach. I’ve seen people sacrifice time, money, and talents all in the name of loving others for the sake of Christ.

Jesus made it very clear. The world will know who his disciples are by the way we love.

So I ask you: How well are you loving your neighbors? How well are you loving the “others” in our community? When was the last time you went into the mess in order to lovingly bring someone else out of it?

Loving “others” is radical. Spending time with them, listening to them, praying with them, feeding them, caring for them…the Kingdom of God is made to do exactly this. Read Mark’s Gospel, and make note of what you see Jesus doing.

And then “go and do likewise.

Mary’s Song

As we approach the last Sunday of Advent, I’d like to draw our attention to the words of a young teenage girl who just received news that she would become pregnant. 

46 And Mary said: 
“My soul glorifies the Lord 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for he has been mindful 
of the humble state of his servant. 
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— 
holy is his name. 
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
from generation to generation. 
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
but has lifted up the humble. 
53 He has filled the hungry with good things 
but has sent the rich away empty. 
54 He has helped his servant Israel, 
remembering to be merciful 
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, 
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:46–55 NIV

Rather than dread, and fear, Mary sees her life mission as a blessing. But look specifically at how she saw this as a blessing. First, she acknowledges that God has chosen to use someone of a “humble state.’ (v. 48) We know from Luke that Joseph and Mary lived in poverty (Lk. 2:24, Lev. 12:8). Second, she realizes this is a reversal of the power structure. Thrones will be toppled and humble (poor) will be elevated, the starving are filled and the rich are not. (vv. 52-53) The last statement I want us to consider is vv. 54-55. Within her womb resides the help of Israel, the mercy of God, and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, and subsequent promises to his “descendants.” (Gen. 12:3)

This is the moment the prophets foretold, and would confirm again at the temple (Lk. 2:25-38). This is the promise of a Savior, of a King, of a Messiah. It is something brand new, and yet very old. It is the end of centuries of waiting, and the beginning of more. It is a moment on which everything that was, everything that is, and everything that will be hinges. 

Praise our faithful God! He has come, and He is coming again!

Sermon Text for 12/22/19 – Psalm 113; Psalm 146; Luke 1:67-80; Luke 1:46-56; Luke 2:1-14

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

Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-72)

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 14:32-72. This passage covers Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, and the unjust trial of Jesus. Because there is so much material to cover here, I will simply provide a list of things to consider while reading this passage.

  • “Gethsemane” means olive press, a place where great pressure was placed on olives to extract useful fluids (oil). (vs. 32-34)
  • This is the night of Passover, where everyone was to stay awake and “keep watch/vigil.” (Ex. 12:42; Mark 14:34, 37-38, 41)
  • The Passover utilized 4 cups, but a 5th cup was used by some to represent God’s wrath that would be poured out at judgement. Jesus had already had the 4 cups at the Passover earlier that night (14:12-26). Was this the cup he was thinking about at Gethsemane? (14:36)
  • Judas had shared many meals with Jesus, one on this very night. It was beyond human reason at the time that someone who had shared a meal with you would ever betray you, let alone with a kiss. These were all signs of commitment, and covenant. (14:44) Yet as we know from Mark and the other Gospels, Jesus still washed Judas’ feet, and gave him a place of honor (sitting next to him) at the dinner that evening. (14:20)
  • The Sanhedrin broke many of its own rules and laws that night. The Sanhedrin was never to meet at night (This all happened during the dark hours as Passover took place at sunset, and Jesus was taken to Pilate at daybreak – 15:1). No case was to be considered unless there was ample evidence (14:53). Cases were to be dismissed if conflicting testimony was presented (14:56-59) There were to be 2 or 3 witnesses who confirmed a charge before it was to be considered (14:63). By their own rules, this trial should have never happened the way it did, and should have been dismissed immediately when false and conflicting evidence was presented.
  • Peter is often criticized for disowning Jesus during his trial, but he deserves some credit. While it seems all the other disciples were hiding (with possibly the exception of John, per John 18:15), Peter was getting as close to Jesus as he could safely get. He ultimately failed Jesus with his denial, but we have to ask ourselves the question honestly: Would we be there with Peter, or would we be hiding somewhere?
  • The difference between Judas’ denial of Jesus (14:10-11, 44-46) and Peter’s denial (14:66-72) was that Peter came back to Jesus (John 21:15-19).  Judas gave up (Matthew 27:1-5).  In moments of weakness in this life, we will likely deny Jesus with our words and our actions. But let’s have the spirit of Peter, seeking forgiveness and reaffirming our commitment to Jesus, not just giving up like Judas.

QUESTION: What do you think about when you consider the words and actions of Jesus at Gethsemane?

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 6

Last time we explored the significance of the cups of wine used in the Passover celebration. This article will examine a reference that Jesus and Paul make to one of theses cups.

The third cup comes right after supper. This cup is mentioned specifically in Luke 22:20 – In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This third Passover cup is known as the Geulah which means redemption, and is sometimes called the cup of blessing. As mentioned previously, the phrase “new covenant in my blood” is an allusion by Jesus to Jeremiah 31:31-34. “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”  The passage ends with the words: “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.”

It is a powerful statement Jesus is making by taking the cup of redemption, or cup of blessing, and interpreting it as God’s new covenant with humankind. The third cup reminded the Jews of God’s blessing by redeeming them out of slavery in Egypt on the very night of the original Passover. In a similar, but far greater way, God will redeem his people once, for all time through the events that would begin the very night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. This was to be a new feast to commemorate God’s eternal redemption of his people.

The apostle Paul alludes to this third cup in his letter to Corinth. The church in Corinth was apparently involved in consuming food that had been sacrificed by pagans to their idols. Some saw nothing wrong with eating the food, while others were deeply offended by this claiming the Christians were worshipping idols in eating these feasts.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread.

Barclay offers the following commentary on Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians. “…a man who has sat at the table of Jesus Christ cannot go on to sit at the table which is the instrument of demons. If a man has handled the body and blood of Christ there are things he cannot touch.”

Those of us who have entered into “the new covenant in [Christ’s] blood” have pledged our faithfulness to him. Eating this feast is worship, and when we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are not only reminding ourselves of his sacrifice, we are recommitting ourselves to this new covenant in Christ which excludes worshipping any other god.

All Christians who eat the Lord’s Supper are “one body” in doing so. Unfortunately we still allow idol sacrifices to divide us today. We often place our allegiance to our denominations, our worship preferences, our schedules, our convenience, as well as other idols before our allegiance to unity in Christ. In many ways, we fail to remember the body (church) of Jesus when we eat this feast.  May God forgive us for our lack of unity, and may God strengthen our bond to him and each other through the body and blood of Christ.

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 5

Last week we explored the significance of the blood being applied to the doorposts of the houses of Israel. God had spared the children of Israel because the blood of the Passover lamb had been applied to their homes. In this article we will look at the wine used in the Passover celebration, and the symbolism that Jesus applied in the Lord’s Supper.

A cup of wine is not mentioned in Exodus 12, and nobody really knows when this tradition was added to the celebration, but it was in place by Jesus’ time, and two references are made to drinking from it as part of the ceremony. (Luke 22:17, 20) The participants of the Passover celebration each have a cup of wine, and on four separate occasions would use the wine in their cup. Each time the cup has a specific name and symbolic significance in the ceremony.

The first cup which opens the meal is called Kiddush which means sanctification. A blessing was given thanking God for the “fruit of the vine” before taking this cup. Most likely this is the drink referenced in Luke 22:17-18 –  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

The second cup was known as the cup of plagues which reminded the Jews of the wrath of God poured out on the Egyptians in the form of the ten plagues. This was not a drink from the cup, but rather a dipping of the finger, and a drop of the wine on their plates for each of the ten plagues.

The third cup comes right after supper. This cup is mentioned specifically in Luke 22:20 – In the same way he also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This third Passover cup is known as the Geulah which means redemption, and is sometimes called the cup of blessing. (We’ll explore a New Testament reference to the cup of blessing next time.)

The fourth cup known as the Hallel or the cup of praise accompanied the singing of hymns. These hymns are in your Bible as Psalm 113-118. I don’t have room to include these passages here, but you should read through them to see what Jesus sung just before he was arrested. And though this fourth cup is not mentioned specifically, it would have been taken with the hymns sung by Jesus and his disciples. (Mt. 26:30, Mk. 14:26)

Christians don’t usually pick up on the statement Jesus was making when he used the phrase “new covenant in my blood.” This phrase is only used once in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 31:31-34. “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”

Jesus’ statements during the Passover, and his use of the Passover emblems and traditions made it clear that he was the chosen Messiah of God, the true Passover lamb that was sacrificed once and for all to take away the sin of the world. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” Jeremiah 31:34b

For further reading on this subject, you can visit Jews for Jesus, or Chabad.

Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 1
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 2 
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 3
Connections: The Passover and the Lord’s Supper – Part 4