Thursday, March 26, 2015

Though I was a Husband to Them

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)
“And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
It’s a wonderful thing, a great and precious blessing to have God as your God, to belong to him as his people, because he is God, the cattle on a thousand hills are his. He really is your God whether you want him to be or not. He is the one we all answer to on our deathbeds. He is the one who created us and ordered the seasons. He is the one who has made this day for us to rejoice and be glad, the maker of heaven and earth. And it is his law that kills, the law written in letters upon stone, millstones for our necks, the covenant he made with the Fathers of Israel in the time of Moses when he took them by the hand, covenanted with them like a husband to a wife, to be their God, but they broke his covenant. They were unfaithful.
Covenants are a bit like that. Marriage is perhaps the one covenant we most have experience with in this life. It is perhaps also the hardest type of covenant there is to live with and by also. So difficult people are afraid to enter in to this covenant today. There are different types of covenants, but most, unlike a will or testament, have a two way street aspect to them. Two parties bound to do their part. God is faithful and Israel the bride makes like Gomer, goes after other gods, hires herself out chasing the glory of this world, when it was really God all along who had given her all she had, even as it is God who gives daily bread to all evil people. It was God who gave the Egyptians all the wealth the Israelites plundered as they left asking their masters and mistresses for gold and jewelry.  This world belongs to God and everything in it too, everything we receive including our very own lives is a gift from him. And this is true whether or not we honor him with it.
And, of course, this is what God wants. When he speaks here of being their God, and them being his people, he speaks of you. It is a special relationship that God wants with you. It is actually a special relationship that he wants to have with all people. And it is this that he promises here. When he talks about a new covenant, not like the one the fathers broke, a new covenant that cannot be broken. A new covenant that fulfills the old in the death of his son, Jesus Christ the Son of Man, the new testament in his blood. This covenant is not like the old, because it is one of promise on behalf of God to forgive sins and remember iniquity no more.  
The old covenant was written on stone, but the new on our hearts. The old was a matter of letter, the new a matter of Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes with baptism, a circumcision made not with hands. Now is the Spirit within us, daily and richly forgiving all our sins, that we know the Lord now intimately the way a husband knows a wife, and a wife her husband. It isn’t a matter of law, but of love. And though we in this life never truly love God with all our heart soul and mind, or our neighbor as ourselves, though our conscience be ever able to recount times when we showed less patience than Job, when tired we were perhaps harsher with our children than was warranted, annoyed by a spouse, broken and mad at ourselves, yet we know now through the death and resurrection of Jesus the love of God, who loves you, yes, even the whole world with all his heart all his mind and all his soul even with his very own life itself the blood of the new testament shed for the forgiveness of many.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Rite of Purification

15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.
17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, [3] and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.”(Acts 21:15-26 (ESV)
What better way to show that you do not forsake the law than to pay the expenses for four men to complete their vows? This was meant to show that Paul still had regard for the law of Moses. And we can see that he did in that he himself seems to have been under this same vow with these men. Paul could be a Jew to the Jews and a gentile to the gentiles in his work as an evangelist. He could even offer sacrifice in the temple. This of course was the expense that had to be paid for these men to be able to complete their vows, they had to by sacrificial victims. And Paul does! And this despite his faith in the once and for all perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
It was not as if worship in the Temple, and the temple sacrifices suddenly became sinful the day after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus, of course, had made it unnecessary. Yet, for a time this would still be an act of devotion sanctioned by God. He still accepted the sacrifices of the pious there, still blessed them. The early church in Acts was said to have worshiped at the temple even daily. James himself would be murdered there, beaten with fullers clubs as he worshiped.
The destruction of the temple in 70 AD put an end to that. Even if a new temple was built and sacrifices began again, these would be sacrifices to a false god, to an idol, in as much as to worship there today would be an outright rejection of Jesus Christ as true God and true man as the once and for all final sacrifice for man, even as modern Judaism is the same. This however does not mean a person can’t respect and enjoy Jewish culture today the way Paul did then. It is ok to refrain from cheeseburgers, and eat pastrami on rye instead. Circumcision is nothing, as long as one is not imposing it upon you as a prerequisite for salvation.  

It is a curious thing that the whole reason Paul makes this trip is to bring an donation to the church in Jerusalem, but once he gets there not a word of it is mentioned. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Just gone.

I don't know where I have been. I guess things started adding up and this went a little by the way side. But I'll be back at it now.

Lent V

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, [4] 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave [5] of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45 (ESV)
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and gives his life as a ransom for many.”
It wasn’t what the disciples were thinking. James and John, the sons of Zebedee looking for the places of glory in the kingdom of God to be seated at the right hand and the left. It wasn’t for Jesus to give. They didn’t know what they were asking, he says. Those who would be at his right hand and left hand in his glory had already been determined, and they would not be persons anyone would expect to accompany the Son of Man in glory. But then even today Jesus in his glory is too often misunderstood. No, to share in the glory of Jesus is to drink of his cup, the cup before which Jesus sweats blood. To share in the glory of Jesus is to be baptized with the baptism he is baptized with, his death and resurrection. It is there that Jesus pays the ransom for many, it is there that Jesus glorifies the Father and is therefore glorified, the cross, Golgotha. Where those sitting at his right hand and his left would be common thieves, but nonetheless men for whom he died, who he would redeem, pay the price of their ransom with his blood, the blood of the New Testament shed for you for the forgiveness of many.
No, it was not what they were thinking, and it would not be for them. Jesus asks them if they could drink this cup, if they could be baptized with this baptism. They answer the challenge. Whatever it is Lord, we’ll do it. You can hear the enthusiasm, the determination, the loyalty. They meant it, every last word like a band of brothers going into battle. And they were ready for that. They were ready for battle. Swords drawn and ears chopped off, death in a blaze of glory, this they could understand. But glory amidst ignoble death? This they could not see. To see their Lord give himself up? To die amidst criminals, after shameful humiliation? This would be too much. But they would live, they would drink, and they would know the same shameful treatment, the same shameful death and in that death they would come to know the glory of God who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, even as they would live and die to serve the purposes of God who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. That is why they had to live, why they couldn’t go out in a blaze of glory, or even accompany Christ on the cross to die with him amidst the criminals. They had to continue to live that they could proclaim the reconciliation of God in the death of Jesus.  
It’s just not always what it would seem. Glory in this world, we revel in this kind of glory. Christians are not immune to it either. And often we read these passages as denigrating to worldly honor and glory, as saying these things should not be sought and should not be given. But there is more here than that. In actual fact, it is God who is in charge of this world, who has ordered this world to work the way it does. And when it comes to things in the world, give honor to those to whom honor is due. It is only right, and honestly, it also shows humility in its own way, also to accept an honor.
Yet, at the same time, we as Christians no longer live for ourselves, but for others, and we, like Jesus find the greatest honor, the highest glory in serving others. It is perhaps counterintuitive, but it is still true, and sometimes it is the living that is the harder thing to do. This is what the disciples would learn. Going out in a blaze of glory would have been easy compared to suffering the guilt and shame of abandoning their Lord, when of course they had no other choice, really. Situations like that you have one of two choices fight or flight, and Jesus took away the option to fight. Now they had to live. To die is gain, to live is Christ, this is what it means to be Christian now. To live is Christ. Every second we live here on earth is a moment we could be sharing Paradise with the thief who sat at the right hand of Jesus in his glory to die with him there in that ignoble death. And by every standard that is better. But then when we live, well then we like Christ suffer this world, not for ourselves, but for our families and friends, coworkers and communities. Here we stay, here we live, here we serve, here we work and toil and labor and love and all to the glory of God who ransomed us from sin and death.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Your Bronze Serpent

4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze [3] serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
(Numbers 21:4-9 (ESV)
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
I think this is one of the funniest passages in scripture. They can’t seem to make up their mind and get the story straight. Is it that there isn’t any food, or is it that you just don’t like this food. The Israelites remind me of picky little children at the table.
Here God has brought them out of Egypt. Miracle after miracle has sustained them on the way. They have been freed from slavery and yet they would rather be slaves if they could just have their fleshpots and cucumbers again, and leeks! Don’t forget the leeks! Oh they ate so much better then than they do now with this manna, this heavenly bread that falls from the sky every morning covering the ground like dew the perfect breading for frying the quail that flutter into the evening camp.
But they complain, so God gives them something to complain about. They sin, and God delivers the consequences. Fiery serpents invade the camp. God the Father disciplines his children.
Oh, its easy to pick on them. But are they any different than us. Have we really come so far as that we can point and laugh at these brothers and sisters of ours in the faith who had to wander the desert for those forty years? A whole generation of them that yes, they would die in the desert that the next generation could enter the promised land. Might we too not have grown tired of manna?
I dare say we would, we have. I mean there are all sorts of parallels here between this manna, and the worship of us pilgrims here on earth who are sustained on the journey through this desert of death by the bread from heaven which is Jesus Christ given for you in the Lord’s Supper. It doesn’t always keep our attention.
But more than that, we who were slaves to sin, who have been freed by the forgiveness of Christ constantly struggle with sin in many other ways too.
At times I hear it in objections to things like deathbed conversions. It makes me stop and ponder. “You mean that guy just got to go ahead and do all that?” The litany of sins can go on for sometime, drunkenness, whore mongering, drugs, abandonment, divorce are the typical culprits. “and they repent of that on their deathbed and it is all good?!!” I sure hope so. If not we are all doomed.
But it sort of misses the point. People who live in that way, do not live with the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. We think, perhaps, that it all looks like a good time, these people who live for themselves. I think were often for a loss to even begin to comprehend how broken and vain their lives are as they strive after the wind looking for happiness. And our own jealousy, as it often is, of those flesh pots and cucumbers, says that we would rather be slaves to the pleasures of this world, the emptiness if we thought we could get away with it. Yes, that is the Serpents bite. The sin within us, the voice that keeps calling us back to Egypt.
So sometimes God lets them bite. Oh, make no mistake, our camp is filled  with the treacherous worms, demons, the powers of the prince of the air, tempting us at every turn. When Jesus speaks of his followers picking up serpents and not being bitten, not succumbing to them, it isn’t just the literal manifestations of that happening like Paul on Malta that he talks about, but the spiritual realities of our relationship to the viper’s brood that surrounds us. It isn’t an invitation for us to put God to the test while vacationing in the Ozarks. But there are times when these serpents bite, as they did the Israelites in the desert.

There are times when we find ourselves tempted, when perhaps we find ourselves having fallen. There are times when the bite has been so bad we wonder if God could ever redeem us. When jealousy of another’s sin has led us back to the  flesh pots of Egypt, or to complain against God and the church for this or for that. Then we have our own Bronze serpent. Look to him, Jesus Christ lifted up, there on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Your sins. There yes, he has forgiven every last one. There is the cure for the serpent’s bite, there is the answer to the viper’s brood.   

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Will of God Be Done

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers [2] and stayed with them for one day. 8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:7-14 (ESV)
And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
We, Luke is writing. Luke himself is questioning Paul’s resolve to go to Jerusalem in the face of so many prophecies. But Paul knows he has no choice. It’s the Lord’s will that he go and do this, and suffer these things. But it is also the will of Paul. Paul will be imprisoned, and even die for the name of Jesus. If that is what it will take to proclaim his name.
The ways of God are mysterious. We say that. It’s almost become cliché. His ways are not our ways. We want ministry to be a perpetual Pentecost, 3,000 and another 3,000 for a few minutes of preaching. The Holy Spirit working one glory after another, but glory in the way man perceives glory. With God, glory is a different manner. Jesus glorified his Father on the cross. God’s glory isn’t all the things we associate with his glory, his omnipotence, omniscience, etc. All of these God himself was willing to cast aside, that his true glory could be seen, hidden in a man who would sweat and bleed, cry in anguish, who would give up his ghost and rise again. How glorious that he had that power, power enough to even put aside the power. Truly, nothing is impossible for God, not even the salvation of the wicked, the repentance of the unbeliever.

The will of God be done. And it will be despite all our best efforts. It is done in Paul. There is a miracle to be seen there, that a man who once persecuted the Lord, who once could not conceive of the cross as glory, is now willing to suffer persecution for the name of God. He knows what waits for him, and he goes. May we all be given such faith and strength in the name of the Lord. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Seven Days in Tyre

“21:1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. [1] 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.” (Acts 21:1-6 (ESV)
The first part of this sounds like a modern day  travel itinerary for that cruise I keep wanting to take. Though I think I’d rather spend seven days in Rhodes, someday I will make it.
Paul stays in Tyre where the ship unloads its cargo. Tyre is famous throughout scripture as being a port town made wealthy with trade. Paul finds disciples there and stays with them for seven days. It took time to unload a ship, and to load it with new cargo.

Here the disciples he stays with, that is fellow Christians, constantly warn him not to continue. The Spirit warns of the dangers ahead. But Paul can’t listen to them. When the seven days are up, the congregation accompanies him to the beach where they pray at his departure. You get an insight into the hospitality of the early church here, and also again you see that Paul was a very beloved personality. Not only the men walk with Paul to give a farewell, but the children and wives also. Luke mentions this especially.  Presumably this is to show how much Paul had connected with the entire congregation, men women and children. Which would not have been expected at this time when women and children, both in Greek and Jewish cultures were often not only treated as second class citizens but often also separated and shielded from the general population. It wasn’t common for a man to be speaking to a woman that wasn’t his wife or daughter. Men spoke with men. But here, Paul makes an impact on all of them, he treats them all as equal, all worthy of the same gospel and the same love, because Christ has died for them all the same.