Month: March, 2017

Rejected Yet Again!

Text:  John 8:46-59

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

Please pray with me…

A tall handsome stranger walked up to an attractive young lady and began making belittling remarks about the men she had been chatting with off and on throughout the party. She laughed and said, “Ya, when I don’t want a man’s attentions and he asks me where I live, I just say, “I’m visiting here.” He laughed, appreciating her humor. “Where do you really live? He said. “Oh, I’m just visiting here.”

No one enjoys rejection. We’ve all dealt with it at one time or another. Maybe you were the last one picked for a pick-up basketball game. Maybe you found out that girl or guy you always wanted to date didn’t have the same feelings about you. Or, maybe that job or promotion you were hoping for never worked out. We’ve all had to deal with it from time to time and its rarely pleasant. No one likes to be rejected yet it’s a fact of life.

As we make our way through the Lenten season, we hear again the familiar stories of Jesus making His way to Jerusalem for the last time. Along the way, people are amazed at His teachings, they marvel at His miracles and they shout Hosanna to the King of kings. Yet, rejection has everything to do with His story.

What once were the shouts of Hosanna would turn to shouts to crucify Him. What once were eager glances have turned to glances of disdain and ridicule. What once were waving palm branches would become the waving of a whip.

This season has everything to do with both rejection and acceptance and we ponder on the decisions, for or against, that we will be willing to make in our relationship with the Savior. Will we accept Christ for who He is and show it in our thoughts, words and deeds? Or will we play the part of the rejecter once more, putting off our Hosanna’s for another time. Jesus demands that we respond. Our eternal lives depend on it.

So, if we choose Jesus, just what are we getting? Well, we know He is the very Son of God coequal with the Father and Holy Spirit. We know that He is our salvation and our champion who overcame sin and death for us. In our Gospel lesson today, we hear Him call Himself “I Am” clearly claiming to be God. In fact, we hear these things every Sunday. But do we live it every other day?

Historian Philip Schaff described the overwhelming influence which Jesus had on the history of mankind and the culture of the world:

“This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Ceasar, Mohammed and Napoleon.

Without science, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined. Without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet. Without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion and furnished more themes for more sermons, discussions, learned volumes, works of art and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.”

Jesus has proven over time to be just who He said He was. He is “I Am.” He is God in the flesh, the Savior of mankind, Lord of lords and King of kings. And all of this came even though we rejected Him then and reject Him in too many ways still.

We open the scene in our Gospel with Jesus in an all-too-familiar situation. He is debating with the Jewish leaders and this time they are understandably upset because up until now in the discourse Jesus has called them children of the devil, would be killers and ignorers of truth. And now He is clearly calling Himself God by giving Himself the title “I AM.”

The first claim He makes is in verses 48-50. Here He is talking exultation with the Father seeking glory for the Son.

Much like today, when the scribes and Pharisees find they are losing the battle they resort to insults. They accuse Jesus of being a half-breed Samaritan and a demon. The conversation is not going as they wish so they resort to name calling. Sound familiar? We see it every day on the news. Yet no cameras are rolling, only a tense debate in front of witnesses. Instead of communication we have attacks. Since Jesus didn’t agree with them, they think He must be from the devil.

Yet Jesus takes this rejection upon Himself as only He can and continues to proclaim the truth, even though His accusers are deaf to it. He is not seeking fame or glory and He doesn’t resort to untruths, as before His biting remarks are only biting because they ring of certainty. He quietly dismisses their accusations.

The second claim Jesus makes comes in the following verses, 51-53. Here He makes claim to eternity.

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 

His claim is a bold one. If we believe in Him we shall never die. When the Word of Jesus meets with our hearts, Jesus says we will not even notice death. Literally, we will never taste death.

These are beautiful words of truth but words that the Scribes and Pharisees have become deaf to because their interest is only in the destruction of Jesus and His teachings. They can’t open their heart to the truth because it has become calloused with earthly power and the devil’s deception.

Jesus wants to direct their attention to His timelessness but they can only conceive the counter argument. They cannot fathom how Jesus could have gotten to this point. He is implying He has the power over death but they can’t believe because hearing they do not hear and perceiving they cannot perceive. What is truly difficult for them is that Jesus is aware of the implications of what He is saying, yet He still says it. He is claiming to be the greater one, bigger than the church fathers before Him, superior even to death itself. Eternal and everlasting.

And then He makes His third claim, this time in regards to expectation:

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. 

Jesus continues to boast of His relationship with the Father, once again claiming the glory put on Him by the Father Himself. If He claimed it for Himself it would mean nothing, Yet He can lay claim to it because the source is from above.

This doesn’t mean He deserves little praise, far from it. The glory bestowed by God in this regard is being given to His only Son, the promised Messiah. No, He is certainly due His honor and praise. He and the Father are one, both laying claim to the name I AM. Yet both being rejected along with the Holy Spirit.

The Leaders problem here, as Jesus explains, is that they do not truly know God. They don’t know how He works or what He is offering them. They have not known Him in the past and they do not know Him now. Though He is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, their minds and ears are shut to Him and they reject His claims all the more.

Abraham knew that God would provide the sacrificial lamb. What He was asked to do, God has now done with His only Son.

Finally Jesus claims his Essence:

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 

The boldest statement of them all. Before time “I AM.” Before Abraham, “I AM.” Unto everlasting, “I AM.” They know exactly what He’s implying and they reject Him greater still to the point of picking up rocks to stone Him. They finally had the charge they were looking for to condemn Him. They had heard Jesus declare in clear terms that He was equal with the Father. They were so angry, in fact, that they were ready to take the laws into their own hands. Blasphemy would be the charge, the height of impiety.

Yet even at this, Jesus holds His tongue. He knows already it would do little good. If they didn’t hear Him yet, they surely wouldn’t listen now. He doesn’t look to convince them or compromise to get their agreement. He makes no attempt to calm them down. If the truth is not good enough than nothing can be done. He is rejected yet again, but His resolve has not been shaken.

Today, we are given the same choice. Do we believe in the Savior of the world, or will we hold our Hosanna’s for another day. Will we hold to His promise of everlasting life, or will we risk it for a few more days of worldliness.

During this Lenten season, we cover a lot of rejection. Jesus was made to suffer through it on our behalf. Even His disciples ran when He needed them most.

Yet His love for you has not been tarnished and His plans for you have not been lessened. He still sees you as the miracles that you are. Though we reject Him daily in our own little ways, His faithfulness never falters.

As we walk the path towards Jerusalem with Jesus, we can do so with faith or skepticism. The choice is still ours. Will we claim ourselves as rightful heirs of glory, or will our worldly ways win the day.

Everything we are comes under His Lordship. Every action is under His watchful eye. If we recognize Him for who He is then it is time to rejoice and worship Him because all credit is due Him. If we are willing to sacrifice every part of our selves to Him, then it is time to set about doing the work He has called us to do.

Our Lord deserves more praise than we could ever offer Him because, the truth is, He is indeed the Savior of all mankind. By His unselfish sacrifice we have all been set free from sin and death. By His blessed resurrection, He proved that He was who He said He was and, because of that, we can be certain of His promises.

I urge you to accept the claims of Jesus. He is God with us, God in the flesh; and so, when we keep His Word as he has asked us to do, we will not even notice death as we are ushered into glory. Hear and accept the claims of Jesus, for it is by Him that God has provided His lamb, He is our Lord and our Savior.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the one God our Savior Jesus Christ be glory and majesty and authority before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Bible Study: Rejected Yet Again!

 

 John 8:46-59

Why were the Pharisees so antagonistic to Jesus?

In verse 46, Jesus asks the Scribes and Pharisees which ones accused Him of lying. If Satan is the king of liars, what is He really saying?

What motivation do they have to call Him a liar and a Samaritan*? How do we see this same motivation used today?

*Interesting fact* “You are a Samaritan and have a demon” There is a possibility that the true contextual meaning is reflected in the Aramaic word translated by the Greek term “Samaritan,” which meant “the chief of demons.”

If you don’t know the Son, can you know the Father? Explain John 5: 22-24, 10:30, 17:21-23;      1 John 5:9-12

How is obedience linked to faith? Verse 51

Verse 51 is a strong double negative. What does it mean when Jesus says we must assuredly will not see death and never taste death? John 8:21,24; John 5:24, 6:40, 47, 11:25-26;                  1 Corinthians 15:54-57

What are the three stages of death? (1) Genesis 2:17, 3:1-24; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 7:10-11; James 1:15 (2) Genesis 5:1-5 (3) Revelation 2:11, 20:6,14, 21:8

Answer for Jesus the question posed in verse 53. What answer did the Scribes and Pharisees expect?

In what sense is the word, “glorify” used in verse 54? Romans 1:21; 1 Corinthians 12:26

How does one come to truly “know” God? John 1:10, 7:28-29, 8:19,55, 15:21, 16:3, 17:25

Is Jesus distancing Himself from the Jews with His statement in verse 56 by saying, “Your father?” (another example John 8:17)

How much do you think Abraham understood about the coming Messiah? Matthew 13:17; Hebrews 11:13-16

Why did the Pharisees and Scribes think Jesus was speaking blasphemy and want to kill him for it? Leviticus 24:16

In what ways did Jesus act contrary to their views of the coming Messiah throughout His ministry?

When Jesus hid Himself, was it a miracle? What might it have looked like?

In The Right Hands

Text:   John 6:1-15

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

Please pray with me…

In my hand, there is a ball of yarn. Now in my hands, it’s really nothing more than a ball of fat string. I have no power or skill to turn it into anything more than maybe a knot or…….well, that’s pretty much it. But, when you put this ball of yarn into the hands of someone who knows how to use it, it can become something quite beautiful.

Now, does the string suddenly find greater power in one person’s hand against another. No. In their hands, it’s still only a ball of yarn. The power is not in the yarn itself, it’s in the person who has been given the gift of using it. In my hands, a paintbrush is pretty much useless for anything more than painting walls, but in Rembrandt’s hands it was used to create beautiful art that most people would call a masterpiece.  You put a small loaf of bread and a fish in my hands its of little use, but if you put it into the hand of God, it feeds thousands. If Christ can do that with the minimum amount of resources, imagine what he could do if you allowed Him to hold you in His hands.

Many of us have this tendency to think we’re not of much use to God. We think our faith isn’t strong enough, we’re not eloquent enough, we don’t know the Bible enough. So, we stand in the background hoping others with greater gifts than ours will do the job.

When we do that, however, we’re not allowing God to use His power to transform us and enable us to do things we never thought we would be able to do. Because our faith in ourselves is so low, it affects the faith we have in God to use us.

Some of you might wonder what I pray as I knell at the alter before each sermon. Well, what I pray has much to do with our Gospel lesson this morning because I pray God will be able to use my simple words to do great things. I pray my empty words will be given life, that they will encourage and enlighten, that they will motivate someone to take the next step in their faith. Without God, my words of are little use, but with the power of the Holy Spirit behind them, they can start a process in faith that could save millions.

In our Gospel lesson, we are witness to an amazing miracle that involves the power of God and His ability to do mighty things with the bare minimum of resources. But this story also points to other things that challenge our faith.

First let us examine the crowds. By this time in Christ’s ministry, thousands are following Him. Our text says it was 5000 men. Matthew tells us in his Gospel that with these 5000 men were also women and children who weren’t counted, so we can be comfortable saying that there were as many as 10000 mouths to be filled, maybe more.

This story is apparently a very important one because, other than Christ’s death and resurrection, this is the only other story found in all four Gospels. That should tell us something. To the Gospel writers this was about so much more than the miracle itself. It also tells you much about its true nature because there were thousands who could have denied it had it been a fabrication.

10000 people following Jesus around the countryside. 10000 people looking for something. Did they know they were following the Messiah, or are they just looking for more goodies. Do they believe Jesus is the very Son of God or are they just flocking to Him to see Him do more miracles?

Now, this story in Scripture first tells us that these people made a great journey to the other side of the lake when they heard that Jesus had crossed to the other side. This is no small lake. It is miles wide and dangerous to travel on. Yet something urged them on.

We’re talking about people who have left their work, their own lives just to follow this man around from place to place. They even wanted to make Him king. Was it because they thought He was the King of kings?

No, it wasn’t because they thought He was sent from God. We know this because, later on, it said that many left Him when Jesus said something that challenged them. No, these people were seeking something else. They were looking for a miracle and they had seen that Jesus could provide them. He healed their sick, made the blind to see and the deaf to hear. He was speaking with authority about things of God. But, more than anything else, they were looking at what Jesus could do for them.

When Jesus saw the crowd, it was said that He had pity on them. He knew they had come seeking something, so He decided to try and teach another lesson. First, He challenged His disciples telling them to go and buy food for the people. He did this to test them. Did they believe anything could be done if put into the right hands?

Philip shows his doubt and the doubt of the disciples he was representing. He questions Jesus’ command wondering how they could possibly feed so many. So Jesus shows what can happen when even the barest of necessities are put into the right hands. With five barley loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds thousands. Not only this but Jesus provides even more than they need. Twelve baskets more. Imagine what He could do with you if you were to put your life into His hands.

This Lenten season, we revisit an amazing story of love and sacrifice. We study yet again how much the Lord can accomplish with the simplest provisions. It’s a story of what amazing things can be done in the name of tenderness and grace. It’s a story of God using humble fishermen, building upon a ministry that would one day save the eternal lives of Billions of people. It’s a story of unpretentious charity that will grow into a movement of grace and mercy affecting even more. With the simplest plan, the most complex system of love and compassion in human history was born.

And all this was done through people like you and me. Simple people with a, sometimes shaky faith. Faulty people that God uses to transform lives and spark a movement. Broken people who help other broken people to find themselves served more than the one’s they are serving.

Yet, it takes a willingness from us to be used in such a way. When the crowd was challenged later on in this story, most went back to their homes. They didn’t understand the amazing gift Jesus was offering them so they returned to the security of their homes unwilling to take the next step of faith. They chose comfort rather than commitment.

In reality, these people were like many of us. They didn’t trust Jesus enough to let Him mold them into something useful. Jesus asked them to accept the food only He could provide but they chose their own way instead, content to live their lives out on their own terms.

 In Philippians 2, Through the Hold Spirit Paul speaks to the people of Philippi:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the Word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” 

In other words, God is saying, “Trust in me to mold you as a potter molds his clay. Believe that I can work with little to make something great. Come to me in confidence and faith so that I can make you a beacon on a hill, that my light might shine through you as you do the work of my hands and feet in this world.

So, why are you following Jesus? Is it so that He will provide you with good things? Do you want to see Him do things that will inspire you? Or are you willing to let Him put you in His hands to mold you into something amazing?

Our Gospel lesson says that “After the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is come into the world!’” Actually, their conclusion was close. Among His many attributes was the ability to prophecy as foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to Him you shall listen,” 

The people following Jesus were the poorest of the poor and the meekest of the meek. They had little faith that they could do anything miraculous, so they came to the one doing miracles. What He wanted them to see was the miracle that was within them if put in the right hands. He pitied them because they were satisfied with the show and the food when He was prepared to give them so much more. As a result, they missed out on the greatest things.

Well, Jesus is offering you the same things He was offering them, the opportunity to do great things if you put your trust in Him and your life in His hands. He has amazing plans for each and every one of you. Plans that can transform this world of sorrows into a world of hope.

Even in death, Jesus was able to alter human history. In His resurrection, He ushered in His promise of everlasting life.

You are not too small or too insignificant to be used in great ways by a great God. In His hands lie the power to renew and change every life. In His hands lies the ability to turn your meager attempts of service into works of righteousness that can replace hopelessness with godliness. With two fish and 5 loaves of bread, Jesus fed thousands. With your life in His hands, He can feed even more. Will you trust Him? Will you put your life into His mighty hands?

Our God has so much more for you than a couple miracles and a free lunch. In His hands you can change the world. Don’t be content to stand and watch the work being done, let God direct you by His almighty hands to the places He has already chosen for you. Places you thought you’d never go, serving people you’ve never met. Let Him take you to the heights of heaven so that His light might shine in you. Amen

 

 

Bible Study: In The Right Hands

 

Bible Study Questions – John 6:1-15

This miracle has been called the 4th sign (of Christ’s divinity). What were the three before this? John 2:1-11, 4:46-54, 5:1-9

This is the only miracle, besides the resurrection, that is recorded in all the Gospels. What does this say about its importance?

Why is it significant that this was the time of Passover?

What further information do the other versions of the story give us? Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17

Jesus wanted to have some alone time with His disciples but the large crowd followed Him. What did He do with them and what does that tell you of His ministry? Luke 9:10

Why did Jesus ask Philip where they were to buy bread if He already knew? Do you think that Jesus does the same kind of things to people today? Explain John 1:44

Why did Phillip think these people could not be fed?

Why did Jesus test the faith of His Disciples? How has He done this with you?

What was Andrew describing when he said, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:9)?

How do you think the boy felt when his lunch was miraculously magnified to feed everyone until they were full-with lots of leftovers?

What Old Testament story does this one have similarities to? Do you think this is on purpose?   2 Kings 4:42-44

Why is the fact that Jesus gave thanks before distributing the food an important aspect of this story and worthy to be included? Verse 11

Why do you think Jesus’ fame spread and caused a great number of people to follow Him? What causes people today to follow someone?

Signs and wonders are important and have been used to showcase that God is at work. How can they get in the way of faith?

Who were the people describing in verse 14? Matthew 11:2-6, 21:11

What effect did this have on the people (verse 14), and how does this again demonstrate the nature and purpose of Bible miracles?

Why did the people want to make Jesus King? Why did Jesus withdraw from this by Himself?

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

A House Divided

 

Text:  Luke 11:14-28

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

Please pray with me…

Abe Lincoln was elected to congress in 1847. The Mexican war was going on, a war Lincoln opposed. Because of his stance and the many anti-war speeches he had given, which displeased many of his supporters, he knew he wouldn’t be re-elected. So, at the end of his term he returned to his home in Illinois to practice law. Then in 1858 he was nominated by the Republican party for Illinois state senator. Addressing the state convention in Springfield, he gave one of his many memorable speeches. As his huge hands gripped the speakers stand, he declared slowly and firmly: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

He was addressing a nation divided by war and slavery and he knew, should these very vital issues not be resolved, they could lead to a deep division in the country. Well, as anyone who knows anything about U.S. history, we know that this happened in the most dreadful way with neighbors killing neighbors and brothers killing brothers in the civil war.

 Today we’re once again looking at a country divided. Instead of focusing on how to make our country better, it seems we take the easy route of anger and selfishness we’ve been known for of late. Instead of leading with compassion, our leaders have chosen hate.

“A house divided cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln got that phrase from our Gospel lesson for today. He got that phrase from Jesus himself.

In our lesson, Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons, Beelzebul. Much like our leaders today, those opposed to Jesus saw sin in everything He did and tried to convince the masses. No matter what He chose to do out of love, they would try and find a reason to discredit him, thereby maintaining their own grasp on power. They were so clouded in their judgment that they couldn’t see that the Messiah had come.

Now, I’m certainly not calling our President the Messiah, far from it. But we are seeing much of the same anger and jealousy come out. Our nation is divided because of hate once more.

Yet, Jesus was in charge wasn’t He. Reading their minds, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, a divided household falls.” And that’s what gives us hope today, because Jesus is still in charge. He understands the dynamics of division and only He can fully resolve the problems we find ourselves in, even today.

Jesus brushes off their accusations and He does so with logic. His accusers allege Him to be in league with the devil because He has power over demons, but He points out the flaw in their thinking.

He educates his confronters in simple facts saying the phrase which Lincoln found so poignant. In other words, He asks them why the devil would attack himself. Why would he attack someone he already has control over? If that were to be the habit of the prince of darkness, his kingdom would stand divided.

And we see this same tactic of the devil trying to destroy this country once again. Left hates right, Muslim hates Jew, straight hates gay, white hates black, non-Christian hates Christian, denominational hates evangelical, and, of course, the animosity goes both ways. We are all guilty in some way of falling into the devil’s trap.

It seems that as fast as tragedy pulls us together, our divisions overtake us. So, we find ourselves living in a world of division, wondering how things got so bad.

There is only one place that division should be seen and that is the Christian opposition to the world. This is not an us versus them division however. Our God of mercy and grace has created us to reach out into the world in love and truth. He has called all believers to brush off the daggers the world throws at us by returning only love.

We are separated from the world by our belief in the unerring Word of God and that will never change. Yet too often we twist these words so that hate overcomes us.

God speaks against homosexual relationships so we hate gays. He values every life from conception so we burn down abortion clinics. He calls us to love all our neighbors but we chose to love only those who love us in return.

Do you see the flaw in this logic of hate? Does hate ever win? God does not call us, at any time, to lead with hate. Even to our enemies we are called to serve. If we are slapped on the right cheek, we offer them the left also. If they steal our cloak we give them also our tunic.

I’m not calling you to a state of passivism however, and neither is God. We must also be brave to stand up for our faith when we face opposition to it. We are called to boldly face the world with truth. We are to proclaim from the rooftops the way to salvation.

Our church was established in unity to serve, yet we have found ourselves divided just like the world. It says in Acts 2:1 that, “When the day of Pentecost arrived the Apostles were all together in one place.” We often brush over the call to unity this verse gives, but we should not anymore. Because the church of God is a fellowship. We are called to be an example to the world of unity, but we have fallen into the same disrepair.

Ephesians 4:1-6 tells us: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is concerned with the division he is seeing in their church. Different clicks were forming. The rich stay away from the poor and the Greek stay away from the Jew. They were quarreling among themselves and some had even taken others to pagan courts to settle disputes.

Paul’s letter to them was to address these problems but his letter is still of great value to us as we find ourselves in much of the same state. The hearts of much of the church has not changed, and neither has the principles that God works.

Our God still works from love and He always will because He knows that only one thing can overcome hate and that is love. He knows that angry words only cause pain and have no value. He knows that threats and dishonesty are only roadblocks to progress.

When Jesus came, many didn’t believe because they were expecting a warrior king. They wanted violence to overcome the Romans but all Jesus was offering was love. How could passive love overcome such a power as Rome they wondered.

Yet we look at the influence this carpenter from Nazareth has had on our world and its more than all the greatest warrior kings combined. In love, He established His kingdom of caring and from that came hospitals and charities. In love, He elevated the status of women, broke through doubt to establish His church and reached out to the broken.

If we are ever to come together in unity, we must not focus on the little that separates us, we must focus on where we are united. There is only one church and Christ is its head. A leader of compassion and tenderness yet one who stands up for what is right. We are called to greater things than hate and division. We are called to Christ-like love.

No more should man-made doctrine separate us. We are called to unity. Denominationalism is separation by its very definition. I find this disheartening because God’s church was never supposed to be like this.

Now, I am a Lutheran because I believe we have the best doctrine, but that should not stop me from working with all Christian churches to overcome those things that separate us from God.

You might be here for the same reason or maybe it’s only because that’s what your family has always been. But that should not stop you from working with your Christian brothers and sisters in every church to bring about Godly change.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. We have a God of unity who sent His one and only Son to bring all of us together, not to separate us. He died so that we could assemble as one against the evils of the world. He gave His life so that sin and death would no longer be our focus. Our separation is only a sign that the devil has been at work within us.

In a nation that is divided, we should be the example of unity God Himself intended us to be. We should lead the way Jesus did, in love but with conviction. We should open our hearts to all people, even those who oppose us, because only love can bring us together. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Let us be Christ-like examples to our neighbors as people who won’t stand for hate but rather stand together to promote the love of Christ. Amen.

Bible Study: A House Divided

 

Luke 11:14-28

What is the origin of the name Beelzebul (The Prince of demons)? 2 Kings 1:2

What does it mean to say that the devil has power over the world? Describe what that might look like? 2 Corinthians 4:1-4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19

Why does God allow that kind of power to Satan? John 12:31-32, 14:28-31, 16:7-12

Do we suppose, because bodily possession by Satan is not so glaringly manifest as it once was, that the great enemy is less active in doing mischief than he used to be? Explain.

What does this scene tell us about the power of God’s Word?

Why is it that some of the people thought Jesus might be working under the power of the Devil? Ephesians 6:12; 1 John 3:8

When Jesus is accused of being empowered by Beelzebul, what are the three points of his answer? Put these points in your own words. 17-18a, 18b-20, 21-22

How is this not unlike our own political atmosphere today?

Explain the phrase “A house divided against itself cannot stand?” How does this effect the church?

Who are the sons spoken of in verse 19? Acts 19:13

Where have we heard the term, “Finger of God” before? Exodus 8:18-19, 31:18; Psalm 8:3-4

Explain the parable of the strong man in verses 21-22 as it relates to this scene.

How was the devil ultimately defeated? Colossians 2:13-15

In our lives, there are only two choices in the task of deciding how one will live it, Christ’s way or Satan’s way. Describe some ways of living that fall on each side of this spectrum.

In Luke 9:49-50 Jesus says “Whoever is not against you is for you.” But in 11:23 he says “He who is not with me is against me.” Are these statements in conflict? What are we to learn from each?

What are “waterless” places? Psalm 63:1; 2 Peter 2:9-17; Jude 1:12

What are the dangers of seeing Christianity mainly in terms of family pride and responsibility, like the woman in the crowd?

How does one “keep” the Word? Leviticus 22:31; James 1:22-25; Revelation 1:3

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

Rejecting Rejection

 

Text:  Matthew 15:

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

Please pray with me…

Last Wednesday, right before writing this sermon, I did a chapel with our preschoolers about Jesus being our light, especially when we’re scared. First I asked them if they were ever scared of the dark like I used to be. Lots of hands raised.

Well, I’m no longer scared of the dark, but I’m still scared now and then. For the most part I avoid things that scare me. I doubt I’d ever go bungee jumping. I shudder at the idea of walking on a tightrope over a raging waterfall. I would never be caught swimming with sharks unprotected. These are things I have no trouble avoiding.

But, in life, there are many things that we can’t avoid so easily. Things that scare us. Will this tornado hit our house? Will this market crash cost me my retirement? Will this congregation like my sermon?

Well, as I was reading today’s Gospel lesson, I came across something else that scares me a little bit. The act of being rejected. Especially when I’ve really tried to do the right thing. I think we all share this in a way. We want to be accepted, looked up to, trusted. But when that comes crashing down around you, it can be devastating.

Marilyn Monroe seemed to have everything: fame, wealth, beauty. But, inside she was always very scared that she would be rejected.

In fact, it bothered her so much that she once said that she felt her whole life was one big rejection. This, no doubt, helped to lead her into depression, which, many speculate, caused her to take her own life.

We can all relate to rejection because we have probably all experienced it in one way or another to greater and lesser degrees. I’ve never heard of anyone who enjoyed it. They may get used to it, but they don’t look forward to it.

As we continue on in this season of Lent, we can say that rejection plays a large part. And it’s the worst form of rejection, the rejection Christ felt from the people He so dearly loved as he carried His cross. The rejection from His Father as hung on it. To me, this is the classic definition of what hell must be like, to forever feel the rejection of the Father.

In Romans chapter 11, Paul is speaking to the people of Israel, who have a long history of rejection, however, it’s not God’s rejection of them but rather their rejection of God. Over and over again, the great prophets warned of the consequences of rejecting their Heavenly Father yet over and over again they did just that.

So, Paul starts out the chapter by asking a question, after He’s reminded the Israelites of their pattern of rejection, and he says, “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? To which he replies, “By no means!”

Even after all they had done to show their distrust, their outright rejection of the Father, He still has not given up on them. And Paul knows this because he is one of them. Though, through the centuries the Jews have rejected the Father, He is still using Paul. Though they lacked trust in God to save them, He is still working within them to bring them back to Him just as He continues to work in us today, though we continue the same pattern of the Israelites.

So, where does all this rejection that we feel come from if not from God? For that answer we need to go back to the very beginning of history. The rejection we feel against us actually has become part of us because of that one fateful day when Adam and Eve first rejected God. Just as the Israelites would later do, they rejected the warning of God so that they might find their own way, and that pattern has continued from generation to generation to this very day. They struck out on their own path, apart from God, seeking to be their own Gods making their own decisions. Because of this they truly knew the difference between good and evil. Because God rejects evil, He had to reject their evil ways and ours.

And even when He came to save us, to redeem us, to justify us, we reject Him still in so many ways. Though we hear the warnings every Sunday, we follow our own worldly ways convinced we know better.

Though we were given the very textbook to know God’s will, we let it accumulate dust, too busy with our own lives to worry about what God might have to say.

Even so, with all this, as Paul says, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” In fact, not only has he not rejected us, He has chosen us as His very own, going so far as to offer us eternal life in paradise for following His ways and for believing in Him. Still today, God gift’s us with hope for something better than the mess we have gotten ourselves into. Still today he looks through the prism of His perfect Son to see our sins washed clean.

This brings us to our Gospel lesson where it appears that Jesus might be rejecting someone because they are not Jewish. At first read it seems harsh.  A woman comes to Jesus asking for a miracle saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Even after actually acknowledging Him as the promised Messiah in the line of King David, He seems unimpressed, not even acknowledging her in return.

His disciples take the hint and they ask her to be sent away. Finally Jesus speaks in what seems like an explanation to the mother saying that He has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Yet, even after this rejection, the mother doesn’t give up as she cries out once again for His help. Then rejection again as He seems to be equating her presence to that of a pet saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Harsh!! But this still does not stop her. She ignores this apparent rejection and humbly says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Though rejected over and over again, she is relentless and she is rewarded as we find the real reason for Christ’s apparent rejection of her. Knowing all, he knew this woman’s faith would not allow her to stop her pleas for help. Because of this her daughter is healed and His disciples were taught the art of rejecting rejection. Something they would have to do often as they spread the Good News of the Gospel message..

We were born sinners, a fate every person has shared since that first rejection of God. Yet God rejects that rejection by selecting us to be with Him for all eternity. As Paul says back in Romans 11, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” That’s you and me. We are the remnant of the faithful whom God has chosen to be His forever into eternity. Though we have rejected Him in so many ways by what we say and do, He has chosen us out of a love we could never comprehend. Though we have placed our trust in other things, he sees us as his dearly beloved.

What saved this woman and her daughter was their faith. She believed that Jesus could do all things. Somewhere in her life she has heard the promises and from that day she treasured them in her heart until the time she would be at the feet of the Savior begging for relief. She understood she probably deserved little, yet she will have nothing of any apparent rejection. She knows she has no right of anything from the master’s table, yet she relies on Christ’s grace and mercy to save her.

No, Jesus was not showing rejection, he was teaching a lesson on rejecting it. Jesus had already chosen her as one of His own because of her great faith. She had already been welcomed into the royal family despite her nationality because we are not saved because of who our earthly father is, we are saved because of who our Heavenly Father is. She was saved because she knew that even the scraps off the Lord’s table were enough to protect her. Though an outsider, she proved she was worthy of God’s grace. So, in return for her faith, she is gifted with Christ’s kindness.

And that same faith that saved her and her daughter will also save you. By choosing Christ and rejecting the world which rejects God, we are given the same reward from the master’s table. By staying steadfast in our faith, we receive the same royal inheritance from the Kings of kings. Because of that same faith modeled so humbly by the mother, we have also received our reward.

Sounds like pretty good news doesn’t it? Well, I ask you not to reject this good news, this saving message anymore. Claim your inheritance in faith. Be relentless in your worship. Let God speak to you and guide you by His Word and Sacraments. Accept His love even though you have rejected His in far too many ways.

On that first Good Friday, our Savior faced the greatest of rejections so that we might be accepted. By His grace he faced the cross willingly so that we would be rejected no more. In turmoil facing the rejection He received, even from those He so dearly loved, He carried the cross to our ultimate victory over sin and death. That is a God-sized love, a love that says all things are possible.

In the end, God rejects our rejection of Him and gives us reason for hope. Though we follow the pattern that Israel set, he sees in us something to love. Because of His abounding love, He has given you every scrap you need to be saved through faith and forgiveness. So,   come to His table, knowing that your faith will bring about great things. Amen.

Bible Study: Rejecting Rejection

 

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. What do we know about this region?* Ezekiel 27:32, 28:12; 1 Kings 7:13-14; Amos 1:9-10; Matthew 11:21-22; Luke 6:17—18

Why is this story so shocking?

What business did Jesus have in the land of the Gentiles if He came specifically for the house of Israel? Matthew 10:5-6

What other information do we get from this story in Mark 7:24-30?

How is the woman’s plea similar to that of Peter as he sank after first walking on the water? How is Jesus’ response different? Matthew 14:22-33

Why did Jesus not initially answer her, in verse 23?

Who are the dogs? Matthew 7:6, Philippians 3:2-3, Psalm 22:16

She calls Him “Lord, Son of David.” Why is this surprising? What does this tell us about the woman?

Who does the woman represent? Ephesians 2:8, Mark 7:29-30.

How is her response something we should do in our own life and tell others to do when they experience difficult situations?

Where do we find evidence that before this Jesus had helped other Gentiles? Matthew 4:24-25; 8:5-13

After being rebuffed by Jesus, what was significant about the woman’s response?

Why does Jesus sometimes put stumbling blocks along our path?

What moved Jesus to grant the Canaanite woman’s request?

What does this story teach us about faith?

Who Is the New Testament House of Israel? Matthew 15:24; Hebrews 8:8-10, Acts 2:36

How Does God View His People in the New Testament?  Matthew 8:12,15:24; Romans 2:25,28-29, 9:6, 10:1-2, 11:26-27; Galatians 6:15-16.

What words and actions of Jesus became the hope that this woman needed?

*Tyre and Sidon were the two main Phoenician cities just north of Mount Carmel on the coast. In the Old Testament times this was all the region of the Phoenicians, better known as Canaanitish tribes. The word does not refer to one specific ethnic group, but an amalgamation of different groups (usually a list of twelve or more people known as the Canaanites) living in the land of Canaan. The word “Canaan” is the ancient name of the whole land before Abram arrived. The word itself may be related to the purple dye of the shellfish, or the merchant class that traded in the material. Because of its seaports and corresponding trade the Canaanite empire became a dominant power in the third millennium B.C. It had weakened tremendously by the time of the conquest, but still provided a formidable military challenge for Joshua and then later the Judges. But the Canaanites were also thoroughly pagan and corrupt. Their presence in the land was a strong threat to the purity of Israel’s religion and morality. So there is a long history of spiritual and military conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites. David and his royal successors managed to control them; Solomon even did business with them when he was building he temple. But over the years the Canaanites were defeated and most of them fled the land. The bulk of those who fled settled in North Africa in Carthage, and met their doom in 146 B.C., which essentially ended the curse on Canaan and any threat from Canaanites. There were still people of various ethnic origins living in the area of today’s Lebanon and Syria, and they would be called Canaanites (like our term Americans).

Fun Fact:  This is the only time in the Bible Jesus directly tells someone they have great faith (he told the crowd that the centurion had great faith; he never told the centurion directly like he does here).

Notes on the translation of the passage

V21 ‘Jesus got out of there …’  The translation here is more forceful than you will find in other Bibles, which say ‘Jesus went away from there’.  However, the general story line indicates that Jesus wanted to get away from Galilee, and the Greek verb can have the meaning to ‘escape’.

V22 ‘A Canaanite woman who came out of that region’  It is not clear exactly what region is being described here.  However, the same Greek words are used in this sentence as for Jesus’ departure from Galilee in verse 21, and for this reason, it is possible that Matthew suggests that this woman was following Jesus from Galilee.  In this case, ‘that region’ refers to where Jesus came from, not where He was going.

V22 ‘suffers terribly with a demon’  The Greek word ‘diamonidzomai’ means to be possessed by a demon, not so much as completely dominated so as to be uncontrollable, but simply bound in some way due to the effects of the demon.  We may assume here that it was some kind of sickness, which is not stated in the story.  The notion of ‘suffering with a demon’ is one that should evoke pity in us not revulsion.

V23 ‘set her free’ Most Bible versions have ‘send her away’, but it is also possible to translate ‘set her free’, because the Greek word is a general one that can mean all kinds of ‘freeing’, and is sometimes even used to describe forgiveness

V25 ‘began to worship Him’  There is a disagreement in some of the ancient manuscripts about whether this should be ‘she worshipped Him’, or ‘she began to worship Him’.  You could say that it does not make much difference to the story, but the imperfect form of the verb (‘she began to worship Him’) gives a sense of the urgency and drama of the occasion, typical of the whole story.

V26 ‘offer it to the household dogs’  There were a number of Greek words for dogs, and the word used here indicates households dogs kept not so much as pets as scavengers that would eat up scraps just as in this story.

V27 ‘even the dogs eat the scraps …’ The Greek word here can mean crumbs of bread or scraps of meat.  With dogs, it is far more likely that we are talking about meat scraps thrown to the dogs rather than bread crumbs!

V28 ‘let your request be granted’ There are a number of ways of translating this, and the Greek says ‘Let it be for you as you wish’.  This is a straightforward way of granting a request.

(Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

The Perfect Example

Text:  Matthew 4:1-11

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

Please pray with me…

Today we are going to speak about something that all of us are far too familiar with, far too susceptible to and far too weak towards. It, in itself, is not a sin and yet it has everything to do with sin. In fact, we can say it’s the birthplace of sin. Today we speak of temptation, you know, that thing that some of you had this morning trying to convince you to stay in bed. Thanks for not listening.

Manfred, von Richthofen was a famous German First World War fighter pilot. He was better known as the Red Baron because he flew a distinctive red Fokker aircraft. He shot down more planes than anyone else on either side in the first World war. His known kill tally was 80.
On the 21st of April 1918, he began chasing a Canadian plane that was trying to escape the battle over the Mor-lan-court Ridge, near the river Somme. As the Red Baron pursued his prey, he strayed behind Allied lines. He dived too low into the enemy lines and he also missed seeing a Canadian pilot (Arthur) “Roy” Brown coming up on his tail to help his comrade. We will never know whether it was a shot from the ground – or a shot from Brown that killed Richthofen. But what we do know is that the “Red Baron” came to his end because he made the mistake of pursuing that Allied plane “too long, too far, and too low into enemy territory” (as one report so briefly put it).

In the end, temptation to go too long, too far and too low to gain the victory, added no doubt by his over-confidence, was his undoing.

It’s the same game many Christians play today. They have followed temptation for too long, too far, and too low into enemy territory. And as with Richthofen — they are then caught unawares and forced to deal with the consequences.

 Enticements happen to all of us, pretty much every day. Martin Luther said, “As long as we live in the flesh and have the devil about us, no one can escape temptations and incitements to sin. It cannot be otherwise. We are bound to suffer temptations, in fact, to be deeply involved with them. Our prayer is that we are not overwhelmed by them.”

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. A time we prepare ourselves with fasting, repentance and observance over 40 days until we come to  celebrate the ultimate victory of sin and death won for us on the cross at Easter. In short, it’s a time of contemplation where we consider our Christian lives and how they compare to our calling.

It’s appropriate, therefore, that we begin our Lenten celebration speaking about temptation, the birthplace of sin. To help us, we will study Jesus and how He was able to deal with it over forty days in the wilderness.

We have much to learn from Jesus, especially if we’re talking about how to avoid sin. Jesus was especially good at it.

Right after His Baptism, the Spirit leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted. During these 40 days, he survived without food or water and He had no one to help Him. No one would be there to keep Him from doing wrong. No one would be there to encourage Him to do right. No one, of course, except His Father in heaven.

The word, temptation, usually comes with a bad connotation. When we think of it, we think of the battle between doing good and evil. We think of the struggle to stay on the narrow path to heaven. We think this way because it’s what we know. It’s what we have to deal with every day. Yes, there are other temptations that we have to deal with like the urge to stray off our diet or the impulse to smoke one more cigarette. These too are temptations we must battle, but when we think of temptations in our spiritual lives, it usually regards our appetite to sin. It always involves a testing of sorts. A challenge to avoid the wrong, to overcome the persuasions the devil whispers into our ears. Think of it this way. Before metal can be put to use, it has to be tested to standards far beyond any stress or strain it will be required to bear; so does humanity have to be tested before God can use us for His purposes. God allows temptation sometimes to refine us, not to entice us.

So, what we call temptation is not meant to make us sin but to train us how to avoid it. This is what Jesus was doing for you and for me in the wilderness. He was being the perfect example of how to overcome the devil’s arrows. He was showing all of us where to go and what to do when compulsions strike. He did this to understand what we must deal with on a daily basis. We see this in Hebrews 4:15 where it says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 

So, why did Jesus, the very Son of God, have to be tested? Was it only so that He could serve as our example how to avoid it? Well, first we must remember that while Jesus was 100% God, He was also 100% human. And, as human, He was forced to live a human life filled with the sin we had inherited when we felt we wanted a piece of godliness to ourselves.

We think back to Genesis. There was Adam and Eve listening to the temptations of the devil. What they heard enticed them to do the very thing God asked them not to. Did they do this because they were looking for knowledge? Did they do this because they wanted to be like God?

No, I believe it was more than this. I believe they did this so they could make their own decisions about good and evil. They wanted to be their own God’s. After all, following our evil desires are ok if we just change the rules, right? Now we see the consequences of those actions everyday where right has become wrong and wrong has become right. From that first temptation, we have inherited a world of pseudo gods making all the wrong choices because they follow their own paths.

That was where Jesus found Himself when He chose, in all humility, to live as we live. None us of lives apart from trials anymore. None of us are free from temptations because of that first time in Eden when we gave into it. And, during His stay here, neither did Jesus. He experienced the full array of our struggles. He dealt daily as we do with grief and sorrow. How else could we compare ourselves? How else could His death have such great meaning to us?

That is why He chose to face the same kind of temptations we do, it was so that He could help us deal with our own battles. For 40 days, He stood alone against the devil and avoided every arrow so that we might better understand how we might do the same.

Just before this temptation, Jesus was Baptized in the Jordan River by His cousin John the Baptist.

After this, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Him as God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Christ had been anointed by His Father in heaven to begin His ministry. A ministry that would forever change the world. But to start that ministry, He was led into the wilderness to experience, for Himself, the full array of temptations that we are asked to face.

If we can avoid them, and we can if we trust in God as Jesus did, if we rely on His Word as Jesus did, then the lessons Jesus was so gracious to teach us as He faced the same kind of temptations we do will not be lost to history. Jesus was willing to suffer in this way because it meant enough to Him that we might avoid that same kind of suffering on our own. His love for us is that great. Even though He had just un-mistakenly identified Himself as the very Son of God at His Baptism. He was willing to do all he could to face the appeals of the evil one so we would not have to.

This person, who could have stopped at any time He pleased, who could have turned stone into bread if it so satisfied Him, who could have saved Himself with a host of angels with a mere wish decided against these things so that we might be given a blueprint on how to avoid our own demise.

That’s how much He loves you and me. Enough to endure that suffering and so much more so that we might be with Him in paradise for all eternity.

And during it all, He never lost sight of God His Father. And that’s when the temptations are strongest, when we lose sight of the Father. When we wonder what’s in it for me, when we are confronted with the enticements of the world to the point that they look even better than the promises of heaven.

There is no doubt that the trials and temptations that Jesus had to deal with over those 40 days are far greater than the ones we will be called to endure on our own. The trials he would later face as he was beaten, spit upon and hanged on a cursed tree are far more serious than anything that we will be asked to face. Yet we can learn from His example as he faced what He had to so that we might all be saved.

Through His example, we know to rely on God’s Word in our everyday bouts with temptation. In His life, He modeled how we are to overcome the adversities that are sure to come our way. In His death, he showed us what true love looks like and what it can conquer. In His resurrection, He showed us that we can rely on His promises to us.

As God’s children, we are entitled to the same defenses Jesus was given. And we will need to take advantage of them if we want to survive the battle the devil will surely wage against us. So, when temptation rears its ugly head, look to the Savior for your answer. Store God’s Word in your heart and know how to use it.

Keep your eyes on the goal of everlasting life and trust God in every facet of your life. If we stay focused, we won’t have time for anything else. Amen.

Bible Study: The Perfect Example

 Matthew 4:1-11

(Thank you to walkwiththelord.org)

To what perceived weakness is Satan trying to appeal?

Is it a sin to be hungry?

Then why is Satan suggesting that if Jesus truly were God’s Son that God would not allow Him to be hungry? Genesis 3:5

Why did Jesus never use His divine powers other than when it was absolutely within the will of God to do so? John 8:29

What is Jesus’ basic response in quoting Deuteronomy 8:3? Deuteronomy 8:1-6

What else does Jesus’ example teach us where the Word of God is concerned? Psalm 119:11;   1 Peter 3:13-17

How is Satan’s second challenge really an extension of Jesus’ answer to the first? How is Satan’s basic tactic here really the same as what he tried to do the first time?

Notice what the devil omits. Why is this omission important? Psalm 9:11-12

What is significant in Jesus’ response? Deuteronomy 6:16

Could Satan have made good on his promise in verse 9? John 14:3

But Jesus, knowing God’s Word and trusting not in current circumstances would have known what about the ultimate disposition of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”? Psalm 2:6-9

However, since Jesus knew the whole of God’s Word and will, what did He also know He had to do in order to obtain His kingdom?

What was Jesus’ response? Deuteronomy 6:13

How does Jesus compare to the Old Testament type of Adam in the course of His temptation?

How does Jesus compare to the Old Testament type of David in the course of His temptation?

How does Satan attempt to undermine our trust in God’s Word?

How does Satan attempt to undermine our trust in God’s circumstances?

How does Satan attempt to undermine our trust in God’s sovereignty?

Why is the most significant part of the answer to each of the above questions to know and compare all things to God’s Word, applying it to our daily walk?

(Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)