Month: March, 2016

For Those Who Believe

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

A Sunday School teacher asked her class on the Sunday before Easter if they knew what happened on Easter and why it was so important. One little girl spoke up saying: “Easter is when the whole family gets together, and you eat turkey and sing about the pilgrims and all that.” “No, that’s not it,” said the teacher. “I know what Easter is,” a second student responded. “Easter is when you get a tree and decorate it and give gifts to everybody and sing lots of songs.” “Nope, that’s not it either,” replied the teacher. Finally, a third student spoke up, “Easter is when Jesus was killed, and put in a tomb and left for three days.” “Ah, thank goodness somebody knows” the teacher thought to herself. But then the student went on: “Then everybody gathers at the tomb and waits to see if Jesus comes out, and if he sees his shadow he has to go back inside and we have six more weeks of winter.”

This would be funnier if it wasn’t so close to the truth. We look at what Easter has become and we wonder where the message of it is. In much of the United States, the real reason for Easter, God’s greatest miracle in raising His only Son from the dead, has been neatly tucked away behind bunny rabbits and colored eggs.  It seems as if more and more have not come to truly understand what an awesome Christian holiday this is and why it’s the greatest of all holiday’s (and by that I mean Holy Days).

Some of us have some weird ideas about Easter. What does the Bible have to say about it? What’s Easter to you? What really happened? Why is it important for Christians, and what implications does Easter have for the world?

The response to the resurrection of Jesus is like anything else. We see, we hear, we question, we consider and we either believe it or we don’t. We all have choices to make. Will we celebrate God’s greatest act of love or will we be content to follow the trend of the world and water it down so it’s a little more believable. Will we place our faith in God’s Word as truth or will we convince ourselves that this is just another story with shades of truth. Will we put our full faith in the promises of our risen Lord or will we continue to live our lives as if God’s promises are only so reliable.

I remember watching David Copperfield do a magic trick in which he made an elephant disappear. When he performed the trick, I didn’t believe that the animal disappeared but I couldn’t understand how it seemed to have vanished. How could he convince a whole television audience that he had done the seemingly impossible.

I found out later it was done with some system of netting and lights but at the time it sure looked real. I knew it couldn’t be true but it sure looked convincing.

 

While we may not completely understand how David Copperfield does what he does, it’s fascinating to us, BUT NOT BELIEVABLE. It’s entertaining but we know going in that it won’t be reality. That’s why they call it magic.

Unfortunately, that’s how too much of the world treats Easter. They know that something happened, but they’re sure that there’s a reasonable and logical explaination. Maybe the body was stolen. Maybe Jesus didn’t really die. Some try to rationalize it away by convincing themselves that it was just an illusion to make people believe in a person who wasn’t what He claimed to be. Do you believe?

When we look at the response around our nation to the holiday of Easter, it tells us a lot about its people. People respond in different ways based on what they know or perceive to know. Some consider it but don’t really believe. To them it doesn’t make sense. No one raises from the dead.

Other’s believe in some but not all of the story. They believe that Scripture is only so reliable. They might believe that Jesus was a real person but they stop shy of believing in miracles.

Yet others believe it all. They understand the story and know of God’s power and love. They believe God can do all things so to believe that Jesus raised Himself from the dead doesn’t seem so farfetched.

Let’s look into these three types of people one at a time. First we’ll consider those who know the story but don’t believe it.

They might agree that Jesus was an historical figure. They might even believe that He was a wise and persuasive man, but they certainly don’t believe He was the Son of God or that He came from death to life.

Larry King, a television host that many here have heard of, describes himself as Agnostic. He believes in a higher power but not necessarily the Christian God. Once he said he would like to interview Jesus and ask Him if He really thought He was born of a virgin. It’s kind of interesting that He wouldn’t have first asked Him something a little more important like, “Did You really rise from the dead,” or “Are you really the only Son of God,” but at least he wasn’t afraid to consider Jesus, even if he doesn’t believe in Him. That’s more than many people seem to be willing to do.

  1. G. Wells once said, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history.” Still He fell shy of belief.

Many people today talk about Jesus. Some speak rationally while others speak from their heart. Many people talk about Jesus or Christianity in a general sense but something comes between them and belief. They may even want to believe in some way but they just can’t get themselves past what seems to them to be unbelievable.

We have to ask the question, why would someone not want to believe? Knowing that life will certainly end for them someday, how do they find contentment in believing that when you die, that just the end of it all. Why wouldn’t they want to believe in something greater than themselves or in the possibility of a better life than this one? To believers, this simply doesn’t make sense, much the same way that Jesus coming to life from death doesn’t make sense to unbelievers. To us who hold onto what we consider truth in Christ, it seems so sensible to believe in Jesus and heaven. So what keeps someone from believing? What is it that keeps them from recognizing Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world?

Believers know that Satan has to do with all the unbelief we see in the world. Yet less people believe in Satan then they do Jesus Christ. For those of you in this frame of mind, I invite you to take a step back for a moment and consider the world, what you see in the world. Next consider what you know of Christ and His plans for you.

If we can clear the mind from all preconceived notions and biases, as we look at the world, it makes sense that there is some force of evil working in it. It’s what the world leans to, sometimes even in the name of God. We can see the devil at work and it seems to make more sense that he exists because, even in the chaos of all the evil in the world, there is still order to it, as if something or someone has a plan.

1 John 2:15-17 says:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

These words speak of a better plan, much better than the world can offer you. The cravings of the world can make an unbeliever out of almost anyone and can keep them from believing because the world’s promises seem so enticing. But if we’re honest, we know that the world is fickle and disappointing because, even if the world happens to work out, it never truly satisfies. It keeps you wanting more because, inside, you know there has to be more than what the world can offer you.

But believing is not easy in a world that promotes unbelief. It takes discipline. It takes a rational but open mind.

It takes shedding yourself from the worlds grasp even at a times when its tentacles seem to surround you.  1 Peter 5:8 advices us with these words, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

At Easter we celebrate our Lord, who rose that He might prove His divinity. And because He arose, we can trust Him when He says that He cares for us. We can be assured that His promises of a better life are ours simply because we know His words to be true. We can face the world with confidence knowing that nothing Satan does to us in this world can harm us in Spirit because we have put our faith in greater things.

There is a fable which tells of three apprentice devils who were coming to this earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt and to ruin men. The first said, “I will tell them that there is no God.” Satan said, “That will not delude many, for they know that there is a God.” The second said, “I will tell men that there is no hell.” Satan answered, “You will deceive no one that way; men know even now that there is a hell for sin.”
The third said, “I will tell men that there is no hurry.” “Go,” said Satan, “and you will ruin men by the thousands.” The most dangerous of all delusions is that there is plenty of time.
Some people may consider Jesus but they won’t come to faith because Satan and the world are canceling out any faith that might develop in them. The time is now to put your trust in something greater than the world.

Secondly, there are those who know the story but only believe some of it. We call this a shallow faith. If something seems good I’ll believe it but if something seems too good to be true then I’m out. They’d like to believe in the miracle of Easter but they are much like the unbelievers, in fact, a shallow faith is really no faith at all.

Sometimes, this kind of faith is the most dangerous of all because it brings you to a place in your faith that seems to be good enough. If its “good enough” then we can believe what we want and not be constrained with the things we choose not to believe.

We can form a God in our likeness and make Him much less demanding. We can even call ourselves Christian and actually believe it.

It’s more dangerous because it allows one to get lost in their complacency. Worship is much less important. They’re happy with having to go just on Easter or Christmas or if someone happens to get married or someone has a funeral. It’s part-time Christianity that allows for the world to have its share of one’s life. The devil loves this because this, no rush, attitude has done well for him in the past.

How many of you are here because its Easter?  How many of you have decided to give God only so much as you cling to what you think the world can offer you? How many feel forced here because your faith isn’t quite enough to sustain you? My prayer for you is that you surrender the fight you have with God and except His promises for you. My prayer is that, despite what you feel you know, that you would yearn for more guidance from Christ in your life.

My prayer is that you recognize how dangerous your philosophy is and how easily you have been led astray.

In Revelation 3, God is speaking to the Church in Laodicea and He has this warning for them:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

God doesn’t want 20%, 50% or even 90% of you. He wants you to trust in Him with your whole heart so that He, in love, can give you all things. Don’t be satisfied with “good enough.”

Then there is those of us who have shunned the world because we believe that Jesus Christ died for a reason. We believe that upon Him all our sins were laid and that through Him all forgiveness for our sins has been won.

That’s why we sometimes get a bad rap for being ‘different,” just a little too happy and content, just a bit nerdier than your average person, maybe even a little backward and outdated.

We are this way because we have become different than the world. We don’t value worldly things as much as others, though we fight that fight every day. We find satisfaction in the things we accomplish but we give God the glory. We often are less discouraged because, ultimately, it’s not about us anymore.

That’s not to say we ourselves never suffer doubt. We live in the same world after all.

Even Billy Graham said once in August of 1949, “I was so filled with doubts about everything that when I stood to preach and made a statement, I would say to myself, ‘I wonder if this is truth. I wonder if I can really say that sincerely, my ministry had gone.”

The devil is quite good at what he does and he works on the faithful harder than anyone else because those who don’t believe or have a shallow faith he’s already won.

Billy Graham admitted that for a long time he didn’t understand everything in God’s Word but he was willing to accept it by faith. I’m sure that today, Billy Graham would have a lot more to say about believing in God and His Word because they have proven themselves to be true over his lifetime.

British Preacher Charles Spurgeon said: “I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe the Bible, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two.

We choose to believe because we have seen God at work in His people. We have seen things which can’t be explained in any other way. We believe because of what Christ has done for us and we know it was the only way in which our salvation could have been accomplished. We believe that Jesus Christ lives because our lives have been guided my His Holy Spirit from the first time we invited Him in.

Faith in Christ is not easily explained, but it leads to a lifetime of contentment and hope that this life is not all there is, that there is some place where the pains of the world will no longer exist. We see the handiwork of God throughout His creation and we marvel at His immensity. We know that there is something greater, not because we’re afraid to die or because we choose to live a lie. We believe because it’s the truth and we know it’s the truth because have put our faith in the only logical explaination of it all.

Someone once said, “If a man has a religion he is bound to do one of two things with it: give it up or give it away. If it isn’t true, he must give it up. If it is true, he must give it away.

What are you going to do? Do you believe in the resurrection and the promise of Christ or have you given it up? Are you willing to think outside the box or are you content to believe only what the world tells you to believe? Are you going to make an effort to find this truth of which we speak or are you content to simply exist and die? Are you going to claim what Christ has won for you or are you going to choose to place your trust, only in what the world can give you?

Our Savior, yours and mine whether you believe it or not, rose from the grave to continue His work on your behalf. He was not content to let His people suffer in a world of sin so He came to do something about it.

He suffered and died so that we might live, not just this short time we have on earth but forever with Him in paradise. Just idle dreams you say? Not for those who believe. Amen.

Cries of Hosanna

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…
Please pray with me…
It’s Palm Sunday, a Sunday in which we celebrate the victorious entry into Jerusalem by our Savior that would eventually end up in His crucifixion and later His victory over sin and death. It’s a unique day in the church calendar because there’s actually a prop that goes along with it, the Palm branch. The palm branches are indeed a unique part of the celebration, but the branches are not really what makes this day unique.
For centuries the church has celebrated this day, the first day of Holy Week, with palm branches and shouts of Hosanna. We memorialize a time when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to find people laying palm branches and cloaks before Him, saying in this way, that the King of Kings had arrived just as it had been prophesied.
The Gospel tells us a great crowd assembled, gushing with excitement, lining the road in front of Jesus as He slowly rode into the city. As He made His way step by step on top of a beast of burden, a sort of carpet was being laid in front of Him. Fresh green palm branches, probably picked from nearby trees, and thick, worn clothing, likely from the backs of the people who were there in celebration. Together they formed a sort of tapestry of endearment towards Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.
But actually, it wasn’t the palm branches that made the day unique. It was what the people were saying. Our Gospel lesson tells us in verse 13 that the people were shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!”
This was no ordinary statement. These people are harkening back to a verse in Zechariah 9:9 which says:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
This is why the leaders of the church didn’t want Him to make it to Jerusalem. They were afraid this would happen because Jesus had been stirring up the crowd for many months with His miracles and His teachings. To them, this could be the beginning of the end. The end to their power and influence. The end to their rule. The end to their financial gain. Should they let Jesus get away with this, everything for them would change. No, they couldn’t let this happen.
So some of the Pharisee’s try to get Jesus to quiet the crowd, to make them stop. They ask Him to rebuke the crowd for what they are saying – this whole, “blessed be the king” bit.
But Jesus would have none of that. You see, he knew this was a unique day too. Last week we looked back to Psalm 118 where, in verse 22, the coming Messiah, the rejected stone, would become the cornerstone, a marvelous work that would launch the day of salvation for all who believe. The day that had been anticipated for centuries. The day of the long-awaited deliverance that Israel was beginning to think would never come. Well, today marks that day. The day the Lord rode into Jerusalem in victory to the cries, “Save us we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” (Psalm 118:25)
God’s people knew that this would not be your average king. No, this king would bring all people together again. He would usher in a new and better era. This Messiah of God would rescue His people. So the shouts continue to ring despite the Church leaders request for silence.
Without doubt, this crowd lining the streets of Jerusalem, taking their cues from Zechariah and the Psalms, were declaring Jesus to be this long-awaited Messiah. A cause for celebration for the crowd and a great threat to the Pharisees. That’s why they tried to get Jesus to stop the madness. They say, “Do you hear what they’re saying? They think the Messiah has come to save us. Tell them to shut up!”

But their unbelief would not benefit them this day, because today was a day fit for rejoicing. Jesus was the Messiah. Instead of stopping the crowd He proclaims that the very rocks would cry out their Hosanna’s should the crowd stop. That’s how big a day this was. The Messiah had finally come to save His people.
The people, long-suffering from Roman rule desperately wanted deliverance. They wanted the King of Kings to come to their rescue. They wanted to flee from Gentile oppression and begin anew, even if they had to do it by force, even if by threats and plagues and another Exodus.
But after this triumphal entry everything began to change. The people were looking for power and military might, but what they would soon receive from Jesus was just the opposite. No, His words were of love and forgiveness. Instead of military victories, they got a bloodied and beaten man destined for the cross, rejected by their own church leaders, hanging next to common criminals. They wanted a Holy King but they’re being told Jesus is just a beaten blasphemer, a charlatan of the worst order.
The sounds of Hosanna would soon turn to shouts of “Crucify Him.” Their hearts had turned to stone guided by the evil influence of the very people they had been taught to trust.
For this reason, this day we celebrate, Palm Sunday, is a bit tainted. We hear the cries of Hosanna but we know other cries would come. Cries that would convince Pontius Pilate to condemn Him to the cross. We read the words from Jesus that claim the rocks would cry out but we know His betrayal by a man He called friend was yet to come. We envision the celebration but we know the trial Jesus is soon to face.
And as we imagine that day and the days that would follow, we gasp as if we would have done everything differently. We shudder to think that we could praise Him one day and ask that He be crucified the next. We expect that we would have been different somehow. But would we have?
The Pharisees were blind but they thought what they were doing was just. Just like we do sometimes when we’ve convinced ourselves that something isn’t true even when, somewhere deep down inside of us, we know that it is. If we know our hearts apart from God’s grace, if we could have been there as part of the crowd, many of our voices would have joined theirs. Even today, in our own little ways, we shout our Hosanna’s one day and condemn the Savior with our silence the next.
What started off in jubilation at the coming of the King of Kings, quickly turned into despair as so many were convinced that this was just another Messiah wannabe like so many before Him. Soon history would forget Him and everyone would begin that watch once more, hoping for their victorious King to arrive.
Yet, this was not the end of the story. Something even greater was about to happen. Something that would change all of mankind forever. The victory they all dreamed of would happen because of what this condemned man was about to do. Something greater than military might was about to be given by someone greater than any general who had ever lived. Violence would not win this day, but love. That same love they kept hearing about from Jesus. Their Messiah wasn’t finished. His greatest miracle was yet to come.
You see, Jesus didn’t come to be the next King David. He didn’t come to overcome the lowly Romans. His rule would overcome someone much more evil than any roman ruler had ever been or would ever be. His victories would come against the devil himself.
No, Jesus was not done yet and he proved it by doing what only God could do. He rose from the dead. Only God could have victory over sin and death and Jesus, by His resurrection, gave proof that the Messiah the people were waiting for had, indeed, arrived.
And he still lives today. He is still fighting for us. He has claimed us as his own, despite our cries of Hosanna one day and our silent defense the next.

In fact, everything went according to plan and the results speak for themselves. No man has ever had the impact on all people like Jesus of Nazareth. You could combine all the accomplishments of every general who ever lived and they, combined, wouldn’t come close to the effect this man who spoke of love had.
You see, God knows that love will always win the day. He knows that because he is love. The greatest act of love was seen that day when so many who witnessed it only saw His crucifixion as weakness. A love so great it could overcome anything the devil could do to us.
What started off as cries of Hosanna soon turned to cries of “crucify Him,” but those cries of Hosanna would come again when the Savior of the world would present Himself risen. His plan was complete. The ultimate sacrifice had been given to pay the penalty for all of our sin. The old covenant had passed and a new covenant of love had begun.
The Pharisees were worried that their world would change should they let Jesus assume His role as king, but little did they know that by their cries of “crucify Him” they were ushering in the day of salvation. In the end Jesus Christ would win the day.
So, what are you going to do with this greatest gift ever given? Are you going to continue to cry Hosanna on one day and then forget about Him the next? The very fact that you have a choice speaks to God’s love for you because it is a choice you have to be willing to make. Will you only give Him so much or are you willing to give Him everything?
Today we memorialize a very unique day, a day that has only happened once in all of history. Today we remember when our Savior rode in victory into Jerusalem. What the crowd didn’t know was that the victory could only come through the sacrifice of God’s only Son. In the end, His act of love was greater than they could have ever imagined.
And because of this act of love, His ultimate victory is also ours. No more do we have to cower in front of the devil because he no longer has the power he might have once had. Now all he can do is play the coward by having others do his dirty work for him. Today we have a reason to shout our Hosanna’s because our Messiah lives and he waits for us to claim the salvation that is ours. Amen.

Bible Study – John 12:12-19

Read Psalm 24:7-10. How does this depict Christ’s entry into Jerusalem?

What does the change in attitude of the people shouting their Hosanna’s say about humanity and how is it the same today?
What were the people of Israel looking for in a Messiah? How did this prevent many of them from placing faith in Jesus?
What do people in our culture look for in a Messiah? How does this prevent many of them from placing faith in Jesus?

In what ways do people’s expectations of Jesus overshadow the truth of Jesus and the gospel?

Where can we read other examples of how people turned from the faith? 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 1:15 Why do people fall from faith? 2 Timothy 4:10 (Philemon 24)
How much are false teachers to blame? 1 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-19; 3 John 9-10
Could it be said that the leaders of the church during that first Palm Sunday were false teachers?
What makes this part of Jesus’ ministry different than the rest? Mark 1:24-25, 41-44; 5:41-43; 7:33-36; 8:27-30
Why do you think Jesus allowed this display of public enthusiasm, when earlier He had discouraged it?

“Hosanna” means “give salvation now.” Why is it so fitting for this occasion in Jerusalem? Zechariah 9:9

What was it going to take to bring understanding of Jesus’ earthly mission? Verse 16
Luke 24:6-8,25-27,44-47

Why didn’t the Pharisee’s just stop Jesus right away? Matthew 21:45-46; Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47-48

Why is the death and resurrection of Jesus the key to understanding the person of Jesus?

Can you determine the date of this event in the Jewish calendar? If Saturday was the day before then this day is of course, Sunday but it is also then 5 days before the Passover sacrifice which must always take place on the 14th of Nisan [Abib/Aviv in Hebrew]. If Thursday is the 14th what date is this Sunday and why is that date significant for the crowds of people who have gathered? Exodus 12:3-6

“Wicked Tenants”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…
Please pray with me…
Luther once said that Scripture was like a wax nose and that parables were absolute sculptor’s clay. In this statement, he’s referring to the life within the Words. Reading a certain parable one day might give you a much different picture than it did the last time you read it because your need for the Word has changed. This can be good or bad. It’s good when it brings you into a closer relationship with the Savior. It’s bad when the words are twisted to support a certain agenda. Our parable today, has seen both.
On the surface, it looks quite obvious. The vineyard is the Kingdom of God with God as the landowner. The Tenants are the religious leaders who are probably very upset that this parable is being told. The servants are the Prophets of God who have been killed by the very people they were trying to save and the Son, of course, is Jesus, telling the listeners of His impending death.
Yet there has been much disagreement over this parable that seems so obvious to most of us. Many have made the meanings complex and even hard to imagine. They have put other characters in the place of the obvious one’s to make the parable work for them. In my opinion, this simply muddies the once pure waters, so, today, we’re going to take the road most traveled and see what happens.
This story is often seen as anti-semitic, as if all Jews are being described in the character of the tenants. Given the audience He is addressing, however, it is most likely that Jesus is talking about the religious leaders of the Jews. We’re introduced to this in the very beginning of the chapter where it says, “One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the Gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elder’s came up and said to Him, ‘Tell us by what authority You do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.’” The Parable of the wicked tenants is part of His response to them. It’s also a part of His response to the questioning of His authority after His cleansing of the temple.
In this parable, Jesus is offering a history lesson on the treatment of God’s prophets throughout Jewish history and he is also offering a look at the future when His Son’s fate would match theirs.
In our story, God sends servant after servant and they are all increasingly abused. The first is beaten, the second is killed and the third is stoned, stoned being the worst because it not only meant death but it meant dishonor. Finally, the Son is sent. Surely they will listen to him. Yet His life ended when the greed of the tenants caused them to kill, hoping for his inheritance.
This kind of description is not new to the Jews. Many times in Scripture they are equated to a vineyard. In Isaiah 5:1-7 it says:
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!
And in Psalm 80: 8-16
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! The symbolism would have been very clear.
The pictures this parable present speak of God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel. He blessed the nation abundantly. He tended to it and gave it everything it needed to grow in number and in faith. All he asked in return was that they believe, obey His Word and return to Him a spiritual harvest out of their lives. But, rather than being grateful for the abundance of His grace and giving Him His due in return, they proceeded to rob God and reject His messengers.
Yet, one of the most amazing parts of this story is that the landowner didn’t give up on them as they deserved. He continued to send servant after servant until, in the end, He had to send his own beloved Son. This not only speaks to God’s patience, but it also speaks to His immeasurable love.
In verse 13 of our parable, the vineyard owner, who represents God, decides finally to send His own Son, hoping that the tenants would then show their respect for Him. We see here a love so great that he was willing to send His own Son to win his people back to him, even after all they had done before. Yet, in their sin, they couldn’t look past the possibility of worldly gain.
Sin has a way of making people blind to the good. It puts pride before obedience and disrespect before humility. Even the most humble, the most loving and the most holy are affected by it. Instead of doing the right thing, the thing their contract with the landowner required them to do, They plot a murder so they may take what isn’t theirs by force.
As Jesus makes His way to the cross, He is telling the religious leaders that He knows of their plots to kill Him. He knows their intentions to turn the people against Him and he knows the jealous hate that is in their hearts.
Perhaps He is telling them this story so that they might repent. Maybe he is giving them one more chance to do the right thing. We can imagine that He is hoping beyond hope that they will change their plan. It could be His way of saying, “Is there any of you who is willing to change his mind and repent?”
If I might be so bold, I think that in this parable, Jesus is not just speaking to the religious leaders, He’s speaking to us.
We are so much like the tenants aren’t we. God gives us so much, yet we take it for granted and want more. He sends people to ask for Him what is His but we reject the message in a selfish attempt to get even more than we deserve. And what hurts Him the most is that we do this willingly. Step by step we fall deeper into sin. Moment by moment we transfer all our trust to ourselves.
Yet the Lord is ever faithful and He continues to send His servants hoping that, one day, our plots will be abandoned and our faith will become the driving force in our lives. He hopes that we will forsake the blinders we’ve gotten so used to and end our downward path towards destruction.
Unfortunately, for God, however, our hearts are hard and we have learned to reject His ways. Even some of you here this day have made the decision only to give God so much, and that much is not very much. The ultimate result in all of this is that we have become comfortable in our sin. It suits us because we have learned to live with sin so much that it no longer is sinful in our minds. We reject the message of Christ because we want more than we think He can offer us. We kill the Son over and over again in our vain attempts for self-satisfaction. We don’t respect God’s son enough to listen to His Words. And on top of that, we show no remorse.
But God will only take so much. There will come a day when the judgement for our sins will overwhelm us. Sin cannot go unpunished. And we say, “May it never be!” God asks us to realize the implications of making ourselves a god. He warns us of the cost of killing His Son. Yet we too often turn a blind eye of ignorance to Him thinking we’re getting away with our self-imposed satisfaction. We look for comfort from worldly leaders who place less faith in us.
Luke 17-18 reference a quote in Psalm 118:22 that reads:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
In the construction of ancient stone structures, the cornerstone was the first and most important stone laid down. Also known as the foundation stone or capstone, it served as the reference point for the layout of all corners of the building and its entire structure. In many instances, the name of the architect and the date of construction can be found on the cornerstone.
To qualify as the cornerstone, the stone had to be large, cut a certain way and have a certain flawless quality in look and substance. It was the stone most carefully scrutinized by the stone cutter, mason and architect, and the construction project could be greatly delayed until the right cornerstone was found and cut.
That cornerstone still serves us today. The role and significance of the Son in this parable can’t be heavily debated. Jesus is talking about Himself. On the one hand, the Son is really not a significant character in the story. The portion about Him only lasts a moment.
On the other hand, however, the Son is of most significance. Because his murder is the climax causing the final judgement in the story. Calling the son “the cornerstone” adds to His significance. This is more than a simple story about a clash between the landowner and the tenants, because the entrance of the son creates the turning point. By killing the son, the very foundation of their faith has been crushed and they don’t even realize what they are doing because they’re too concerned with maintaining what they already have.
Acts 4:11 reads: This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. It was because of His rejection that He had to be sacrificed. Calling Christ the cornerstone proclaims the judgement that would be soon to follow for the rejection He would have to suffer. But it is also a promise, that that same stone would still maintain its rightful place as the very foundation of our faith.
Luke points out the urgency of the message of the cornerstone when he tells his readers that Jesus gaze was laid directly on those he was talking to, in this case, the religious leaders standing before him. Jesus was making the point of His own rejection.
They rejected Him because he didn’t fill their pre-conceived notion of what the Messiah would be, but His resurrection would later prove that He was the one upon whom all eternity would be built.
Though the world continues to reject Him, Jesus Christ is still the centerpiece of God’s plan. Though you and I find ourselves rejecting Him in so many ways and though we continue to refuse to build our lives upon Him and His Word, there is no replacement of or for God’s precious and chosen cornerstone.
To fall upon that stone points to the repentance and judgement which has to accompany us in our sins. To fall upon that stone is to have your whole life broken to pieces. This brokenness then become your way towards salvation and restoration. It’s a breaking of oneself for the cause of Christ in our lives. It’s the promise through repentance to change the foundation in our life. The one who falls upon Jesus the cornerstone will indeed be broken, for its only in admitting our sin and our need for a Savior that we might begin the road to redemption. Rejecting God’s Son by failing to cast our lives upon Him can only result in our own destruction both now and in eternity. You see, those who aren’t broken before Him will one day be broken by Him. Because “Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10).
Our God wants us to grow good fruit not wild grapes. He wants us to bear spiritual fruit in keeping with His glory. God requires the fruits of righteousness from those who claim Him as their own.
Don’t be satisfied with bearing lesser fruit.
1 Peter 2:6 says:
“For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
There are all kinds of advisors in our lives, all kinds of experts but the only trustworthy expert is Christ. He gives us certain truth and has recorded it for all time in His precious Word. If we repent and fall upon Christ as the new cornerstone in our life, our life will be broken into pieces but it will learn to bear good fruit. Instead of being those who reject the Son hoping for even greater things, we’ll find out that the very best of all things can only come through the guidance of the Son. If we fall upon Him and build our life around Him, we will never ever be put to shame.
If you find yourself still looking past Christ in any part of your life, I urge you today to place your faith and trust in the Son who has come to make all things right. He’s calling on you this very moment to begin your life renewed. No longer do you have to be wicked tenants. Now you can be adopted sons and daughters of the landowner Himself.
As we continue to make our way to the cross with Jesus, let’s remember what this journey was all about. Because he loved us, even after we rejected Him and killed Him in our own ways, he was willing to do what he could so that we might be saved. Believe in Him. Cast yourself upon Him. Let Him guide you to greater things. Amen.

Bible Study Luke 20:9-20

In the other versions of this story, Matthew and Mark mention that a wall has been built around the vineyard and that a winepress and a tower have been installed. How does this change the story?
Looking again at the story in Matthew, three servants are first beaten than killed and then stoned, what is significant about the three punishments?
What is the similarity between the prophets in Jeremiah 7:22-26 and the servants sent to the garden in Jesus’ parable? What role do the servants play?
The landowner had every right to punish the tenants much earlier. Why do you think he didn’t?
How is the response to the son the same as the response to the servants? How is it different?
What similarities do you see in the son and the tenants?
Where in the Old testament does it show us that the prophets were killed? 1 Kings 18:4, 13; Jeremiah 26:20-23. Where does it say they were stoned? 2 chronicles 24:21-22
If Israel is the vineyard, then what are we? Romans 11:17-24
Why does God have right to expect good fruit to come from his people? 2 Peter 1:3 When does He ask for it?
How is God’s patience portrayed in the story?
How has our current society shown that they have again killed the Son so they might gain the inheritance?
How does Psalm 118 mirror this incident?
By parable and commentary Jesus pronounces final judgment on the leaders. How do you respond to his stern characterization of God?
Why is it proper to call Jesus the Cornerstone?
What does Jesus mean when he says that the kingdom of God will be “given to others?” Matthew 21:42-46
What is the point Jesus is making in the following passages? Matthew 7:28-29; 9:6-8; 28:18-20; Mark 2:10; Luke 4:31-32; John 5:26-27
What is the significance of Jesus telling the parable of “The Wicked Tenants” after “The Triumphal Entry”? Luke 19:28-40
How should the end of this parable affect the way we live? How does it affect us as Easter draws near?

“Reconciled”

testGrace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…
Please pray with me…
Last Sunday we approached the topic of repentance. We noted that repentance is one of God’s greatest gifts to us because it allows us to leave the ugliness of sin to be in a right relationship with God. Well, today, we will take one more step as we discover yet another amazing gift. The gift of reconciliation.
What is reconciliation? Amy Biehl died a violent death in 1993. She was a 26-year-old Fulbright scholar who had gone to South Africa to help register black voters for their first free election. But even though she was seeking to help the people of South Africa, as she was driving one day, she was dragged out of her car, stabbed and beaten to death by a mob which was committed to violence in order to overthrow of the apartheid government. Soon afterward, Amy’s parents, Linda and Peter Biehl, quit their jobs and moved from their Orange County, California home to South Africa — not to seek revenge, but to start a foundation in Amy’s name. Today, two of her killers work for the foundation. They call Mrs. Biehl “Makhulu,” or grandmother, because of the way she treats them. She says, “Forgiving is looking at ourselves and saying, ‘I don’t want to go through life feeling hateful and revengeful, because that’s not going to do me any good.’ We took Amy’s lead. We did what we felt she would want.”

That is the picture of reconciliation. It not only forgives, it reaches out to restore. It pays back good for evil. It is following the heart and character of God, for the Bible says in 2nd Corinthians 5:18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation”.
Today, our Gospel lesson is an excellent example of both repentance and reconciliation.
Pastor Larry Sarver tells the story of his 4-year old going to bed. As he did every night, he read his daughter a story from the Bible and on this occasion it was the story of the prodigal son. He discussed how the young son had taken his inheritance and left home, living it up until he had nothing left. Finally, when he couldn’t even eat as well as the pigs he was watching, he went home to his father who welcomed him. When they finished the story, Pastor Sarver asked his daughter what she had learned. After thinking a moment, she said, “never leave home without your credit card!”
That’s really not the lesson Jesus was hoping she’d learn, but for a four year old, that’s quite intuitive. I’m sure the lesson her father hoped she’d learn was the lesson of repentance and reconciliation.
Expanding on the story, we see a son who has made some bad choices. He made demands he probably had no right to make, he selfishly lived the life of luxury until all of the inheritance he got from his father was gone, and he finds himself alone and hungry. He has been driven to his knees and the only escape from his life of slavery is to repent to his father.
We hear the beautiful words of true repentance when the son says to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” In these words we hear true remorse. He’s not looking for reconciliation because he knows he doesn’t deserve it. He’s simply looking to be one of his father’s servants so he might escape the terrible life he has made for himself.
And then, the reconciliation. Whereas repentance comes from the one who is seeking redemption, reconciliation comes from the one being asked. The father doesn’t reject his son in the least. He is overjoyed to see his son again and brings to him the best robe and the ring on his hand to signify he is still loved and still very much a part of the family. Despite the evil the son has done, upon the son’s confession and repentance, the father forgets the sin and welcomes the son home in a way only the father can.
This hits very close to home for all of us doesn’t it. If we’re honest, we have to say that we see a lot of ourselves in the son. We take for granted the gifts our Father in heaven has given us until we find ourselves in hot water and in need of a Savior. In fact, all of us have to admit a cycle of this over and over again in our lives. And every time, as we find ourselves yet again on our knees, the Father welcomes us home. He hears our repentant hearts and he embraces us again and again with the same extreme love.
To reconcile is to make something wrong, right. It brings harmony to a very tense situation. It involves different parties coming to the same position, and it always involves change.
Christian reconciliation is the idea of being made right with God, and as we go on it’s important to remember that our relationship with God was broken through no fault of His own. It was and still is we who make the decision to separate ourselves from the Savior, not vice-versa.
“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
God has done all things to draw us to himself but we, in our imperfect state, continue to try a different way and, as a result, we end up worshipping ourselves and our own abilities over God’s.
He doesn’t need to change anything about Himself. He has already made all concessions and there is no middle grounds because God has already made it possible for reconciliation. One cannot serve man and God.

In fact, because of our sins, we are actually enemies of God and yet He still loves us enough to provide a way out of our desperation, Romans 5:10 says:
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Amazingly, Christ Himself took the first step towards our reconciliation by sacrificing Himself for the sins we had committed, those sins that separate us from God. Romans 5:19 says,
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
That obedience meant that our Savior had to hang on a cross and die so that we might be reconciled. Is reconciliation important to God the Father? Ask His Son. He knew that we couldn’t solve the problem we have with sin on our own so He took it upon Himself to do it for us. He did it because Reconciliation is absolutely necessary if we hope to see Him in heaven one day.
Colossians 1:20-21 makes it very evident as to the lengths our Savior was willing to go so that we might see that blessed day:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
Yet there is still a requirement on our part when it says in the next verse: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” He simply asks that we believe.
The fact that we need reconciliation at all, means that our relationship with God has been broken. Our sin has alienated us from Him.
When Christ died on the cross, He satisfied God’s judgement and made it possible for us, the enemies of God, to find peace with Him. Instead of banning us from salvation, His Son made it possible for us to be welcomed instead.

The oldest Christian site in Ireland is said to be St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.
It is a beautiful building, but it also has an interesting piece of history involving one of its doors– it is known as the “Door of Reconciliation.”
There’s a rectangular hole hacked out of its center. In 1492, two prominent Irish families, the Ormonds and Kildares, were in the midst of a bitter feud. As the feud grew and turned into an all out fight, the Earl of Ormand was besieged by the Earl of Kildare. The Earl of Ormand and his family and followers took refuge in the chapter house of St. Patrick’s cathedral and bolted themselves in. However, as the siege wore on, the Earl of Kildare concluded the feuding was foolish. Here were two families worshiping the same God, in the same church, living in the same country, trying to kill each other. So Kildare called out to the Earl of Ormand and pledged that he would not seek revenge or indulge in villainy — he wanted the Ormands to come out and the feud to be over. But the Earl of Ormand was convinced that it was a scheme full of treachery and refused to come out of the cathedral. So Kildare grabbed his spear, chopped a hole in the door with it, and thrust his hand through. There was a tense moment until his hand was grasped by another hand inside the church. The door was opened and the two men embraced, thus ending the family feud.
The Scottish have a saying, maybe you have heard it, “Chancing one’s arm.” It came about from the incident at St. Patrick’s – it means to “take a chance” especially in reaching out to someone in reconciliation.
Even though we rebel, God continually offers his hand to us in the spirit of reconciliation. Though He knows our weaknesses and has to suffer with our addiction to sin, He continues to “chance the arm.”
Our reconciliation to God, then, involves the exercise of His grace and the forgiveness of our sin. In return he expects us to, “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.”

The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is that our relationship has changed from enmity with God to a loving connection with God. Jesus says in John 15:15, I no longer call you servants…instead I have called you friends.”

Christian reconciliation is a glorious truth! We were God’s enemies, but now He has adopted us as His own. We were in a state of condemnation because of our sins, but we are now forgiven. We were at war with God, but now we have the peace that transcends all understanding.
Reconciliation brings with it peace. It heals wounds and smooths the waves. And because God was willing to reconcile with us, we should take the opportunity to reconcile with each other. But this is not a process we can carry out on our own.
God, through His Holy Spirit, intercedes for us and participates with us to fulfill His will that we come back to Him and to each other. He restores us into a right relationship.
In this Lenten season, we take time to recognize Christ’s journey to the cross. And as He was on that journey, the reconciliation of all people to Him was foremost in His thoughts.
Because the end of this journey saw Him die and rise again, we now enjoy peace with God as a result. Even more than this, we enjoy peace with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We look around us today in worship and we see we all have varied backgrounds, different likes and dislikes. We are all unique in our own way. Many of us are in a struggle with sin while others have come to terms with sin. But none of us can say that we don’t have a reason to kneel before God in repentance so that we, like the son in our Gospel lesson, can be in a right relationship once again with the Father.
Ultimately, that’s what the Kingdom of God is all about: being reconciled to man and God. In the kingdom every human being will at last be restored. And, as we learn to live according to the will of God, glorifying Him in all that we do and say, proper relationships among each other will continue to develop and grow.

This is a vital part of the message of Jesus Christ preached to the people along the journey that would eventually end in His death and resurrection, And that’s also the message the disciples took with them as they spread the Word of God throughout the whole world. The same message that we still preach today.
It’s a timeless message and as important now as it was then. We need to be reconciled with our Creator. We can be thankful that God allows us not only to experience it, but to share it with others as He proceeds with His plan to offer salvation to all mankind. Amen

Bible Study Luke 15:11-32

Bible StudyBible Study for Luke 15:11-32
This story is the last in a series of three lost-and-found parables that Jesus told. Does anyone remember what the lost items were in the other two parables?
What do they all have in common? How are they different? Luke 15:1-7, 8-10
After hearing all three parables, do you think the Pharisees understood the celebration of a repentant sinner as completely as they understood the celebration of a recovered treasure? Why?
In this parable, how did Jesus treat the seriousness of sin?
The younger son wanted to be free from his father’s control. But to do that, he needed something from his father. What was it?
What does this teach us about treasures?
Why did the father allow this to happen? Psalm 81:11-12
What was his most damaging sin? Ephesians 6:1-3, Proverbs 3:5
What would his life have been like had he not sinned in this way?
Everyone lives for something. The younger son decided to live for himself and his own pleasure. But as we can see from his example, that didn’t really work out very well. His life was filled with suffering. What does this teach us about freedom?
How does the description of the young son resemble the description of the Israelites? Jeremiah 5:23. (God’s response – Psalm 23:3)
Why, in your judgment, didn’t the lost son return earlier than he did?
The son was hoping his father would make him a slave. Instead, his father saw him while he was still far away and ran to meet him! How does this also describe God the Father and His relationship with us?
Is this parable complete without the story of the elder brother? Why?
It is interesting that the older brother said that he “always obeyed” his father. Can anyone honestly say that? What is the older son forgetting? Romans 3:23
How is the gift of reconciliation displayed in this parable and what makes it a gift? Romans 5:10, 19 2 Corinthians 5:18-19