(from our midweek Lenten service)
It can happen that after a politician is elected, he forgets the struggles of the people who elected him into office. No longer does he hold their interests in mind; he works only for his own advantage. Perhaps he starts endorsing an agenda contrary to the political beliefs of those in his district. He may fight bills that would actually benefit his constituents. Maybe his constituents reach out to him for help, but he ignores their pleas. Politicians can lose touch with their constituents. People elect him to fight for them, but he may fail to do so.
When a politician no longer fights for his constituents, people are hurt. Their needs are not being met. They grow frustrated because no one listens to their challenges. Eventually those constituents stop trusting, supporting, and voting for that particular politician. They end up replacing him.
Maybe you battle a similar feeling when you approach Jesus. You know he died for you. You know he rose from the dead and promises to raise you also. You know he entered heaven and is preparing a place for you. He blesses you, but when temptation beats you down, you may feel as though Jesus is a politician who has forgotten about you. That he remains only a high, majestic God who is far too busy with the universe than to deal with your troubles.
In our selection from Hebrews, God combats any fears you may have in approaching Jesus, your great High Priest. Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses and who strengthens you in weakness.
Remember the content (and background) of this letter. The title “Hebrews” identifies the ethnicity of its recipients; “Hebrews” are Jews. Now, these Jews do not reject Jesus as Savior, they are not embracing the teachings of Judaism. These are ethnic Jews who are Christians; they follow Christ.
Yet, they confront a significant challenge. In Judaism, they saw a high priest minister to their needs. One time each year the Jewish high priest would enter the temple. Half of the temple was partitioned off with a large, thick curtain. One side was called ‘The Holy Place’ and the other side: ‘The Most Holy Place.’ Inside the Most Holy Place rested the Ark of the Covenant. God’s presence dwelt there. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and approach the Ark of the Covenant. Yet, the high priest could not enter any time he desired; he could approach only once each year after offering a sacrifice for his own sins first.
For some of these Jewish Christians, they wonder if Jesus understood the struggles they had and if he could identify with their sin. After all, Christianity did not have a high priest. Could Jesus fill them with the same concrete comfort of peace with God?
It would be nice, right? It’s really no secret that life has changed from 30AD to 2018AD. You live in a mobile society; planes, trains, and automobiles allow you to cross vast distances in mere days. Technology lets you receive instant information and reach others immediately. We have a democratic government, instead of a Roman Empire dictator. Life is different. As a result, you face different challenges.
Sometimes you may wonder if Jesus really understands the tempting struggles you face each day. Does Jesus know what it’s like to fight lust in the 21st century? You live in a hyper-sexualized society where suggestive images are used to sell clothes, relationships, and television shows. Does he know how difficult it is to fight sexual temptation as a teenager? …or at home alone? …or when watching television?
Does Jesus know how difficult it can be to obey your authorities? To obey teachers even when they do not care for you? To respect your parents when they sin against you? To support a government which passes (and pushes) un-Christian agendas? Does Jesus understand?
Does Jesus understand just how difficult it is to stand up for your Bible-based beliefs in a society which demands you compromise? Has he ever felt that immense pressure to cover up your faith in front of a friend? Does he know how politically incorrect it is to speak Scripture on sexuality and marriage, abortion and end-of-life, raising children? Has Jesus ever felt the inner struggle of accepting the Bible as truth when you wonder if all of it is right and true? Can Jesus relate to those struggles, or is he just another politician who has lost touch with his people?
How often Satan succeeds in getting us to believe just that! That Jesus does not understand your present-day temptations. That his life cannot possibly forgive 21st-century sins. That Jesus is not your compassionate High Priest!
“So, go find someone else!” the devil tempts. Go rely on another person, another method, another way to wipe away sin! To find forgiveness in someone other than Jesus Christ Our Compassionate High Priest is to turn away from the greatest High Priest of all time.
Listen to our reading again and discover exactly how Jesus ministers to your every need. It reads: We have a great high priest. Out of all the high priests in the Old Testament, Scripture never calls any of them “great.” It only calls Jesus, the Son of God, the “great” High Priest. In other words, Jesus is superior to any other Old Testament high priest. How? The Old Testament high priest grew old and died, but Jesus did not die. Neither did Jesus have to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before entering the presence of God. In fact, Jesus did not enter the Most Holy Place only one time each year, he went somewhere better. We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. Jesus entered heaven, stands in the presence of God, and he remains there!
[W]e do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. To “sympathize” means to “bear alongside with.” Jesus also bears your temptations. Two thousand years may separate you from Jesus Christ, but no matter how many years have passed, sin remains sin. Lust remains lust— whether you lust after someone decked out in a 30AD-dress or 2018 clothing. Rebellion remains rebellion— whether you riot against a 30AD overlord or fume over a 2018 politician. Changing the Word of God remains the same— whether you deny Jesus before the lions or before your friends.
You can be sure the devil tempted Jesus with the same things with which he tempts you. Jesus is tempted to destroy the Roman soldiers who repeatedly strike him. You can be sure he felt like taking revenge on the religious leaders who wanted him to bend his teachings. You can be sure Jesus knew what it was like to question God’s presence— especially when he prays and does not receive the answer we would want: “Deliverance.” Jesus is tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
As your perfect High Priest, he sacrifices his life for you. His blameless blood sprinkles from the cross in order to make atonement for you. To remove your rebellion, your lust, your faithless challenges. To make you “at-one” with God.
When a politician remembers his constituents, he is able to fight for their needs and pass bills for their benefit. In the same way, Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who not only sympathizes with your weaknesses, but also strengthens you in weakness.
That means you can approach the throne of grace with confidence. Thrones symbolize power, sovereignty, and respect. Imagine meeting the President of the United States. You stand in the Oval Office and he sits behind his enormous desk. Here sits the most powerful man in the world and you can ask him anything. Nervous? You may watch your words closely so that you do not offend or anger him, or ask for the wrong thing. And you certainly do not want to forget to ask him something important. The entire time you are there, you remain on edge; you feel a little inadequate.
Yet, you can approach God’s throne with confidence. Jesus Christ is Your Compassionate High Priest. He ministers to you, just like a priest would. He identifies with you, experiencing temptation, but never sinning. Now standing in the presence of God, he remains your mediator between you and God. You can approach God with confidence because you have received mercy. God does not treat you (and me) as your sins deserve. He forgives you because Jesus paid sin’s price. You have also found grace. Even when you stumble and fall, God, in undeserved love, wipes away sin. No Jesus, no confidence. With Jesus, you can approach God for help in [y]our time of need.
So when tempted, run to Jesus Christ Your Compassionate High Priest. Jesus knows what it’s like to struggle with temptation. He understands the feelings of anger and resentment, revenge and hate, lust and greed, pride and arrogance. He also knows how to conquer them.
Instead of relying on yourself to stand up under temptation, run to Jesus Christ Your Compassionate High Priest. Receive strength from Jesus to fight sin. Receive the strength needed by reading the Bible. Greed vanishes when you find contentment in God. Lust goes away when you run away from temptation. Hatred goes away when you focus on the fact God does not hate you, but rather treats you in love.
When temptation presses you down, approach God’s throne for help. When you’re mentally exhausted, ask God for strength. Strength for clarity and perseverance. When you feel impatient, when you must speak to someone you lose your temper with, ask God for patience. You have a Compassionate High Priest who strengthens us in weakness.
Jesus is not a politician who is unable to sympathize with you. He is your great High Priest who ministers to your every spiritual need. He remains a High Priest who has been tempted in every way like you. A High Priest who remained without sin. A High Priest who gave his life as a sacrifice for your sin. A High Priest who assures you that you truly stand in God’s presence forgiven. A High Priest who helps you fight the devil. A High Priest who gives you every reason to approach his throne with confidence.
So, the moment you feel temptation creeping up inside of you and you do not know where to go, run to Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses and who strengthens you in weakness.
The Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. It must be completed in under 17-hours. Each segment has its own time limits. You have 2-hours, 20-minutes to finish your swim. Eight-hours to finish biking. Six-hours to run across the finish line. So, seventeen hours to cross about 140-miles of terrain! Could you do it?
You know, I wonder what kinds of thoughts float through the competitors’ minds during that race. Can you just imagine the mental strength needed to press on? You will get tired when swimming. The brain will try to convince you that if you are tired now (so early on), you will never complete the race. So, just quit. Your energy will drain as you bike. Halfway through your 112-mile bike ride, the brain will argue that the race too difficult; you just are not equipped to finish. Your legs will be beat exhausted as you run. The brain will praise you for the race you have run and will tell you that an unfinished race is just as good as completing the race.
I’m not sure what is more difficult about the Ironman Triathlon: actually competing or overcoming your doubts. The race is grueling, but surrendering forfeits victory. Push through the pain and the mental agony you can boast in complete victory.
Your Christian life may sometimes feel like you are competing in something more grueling than an ironman. You experience wonderful blessings with God, but the suffering in your Christian life grinds you down. Your mind may even tempt you to wonder if suffering is really worth continuing your race of faith.
This morning God encourages you to Rejoice under the Cross! God’s grace does not fail you and so You persevere to your eternal hope.
This morning we are discussing the Christian cross. You might have heard someone say once before: “Well, that’s my cross to bear in life.” Yet, let’s take a moment and define what the “cross” is. The Christian cross is all suffering that comes because you follow Jesus— because you listen to him, because you obey his Word.
So, the “cross” may be (1) the suffering which comes because you believe in Jesus. You become a target for those who reject Jesus. Politicians label your beliefs as “dangerous,” “narrow-minded,” and “outdated”— and your reputation suffers from ridicule. Friends call your God a ‘mythical-fairytale”— and you hurt because someone mocks the God you love. Your own child, who was raised to know Jesus, may admit that he “just does not believe that stuff anymore”— and you ache watching a child reject his need for a Savior. You agonize under the insults, the shame, the ridicule, the laughter others heap on you all because you follow Jesus.
The “cross” may be (2) suffering from a personal affliction. Your health is failing and despite your many prayers for healing, you just do not get better. You lose a loved one unexpectedly. He was so young, so healthy, so needed. You trip, fall, and break a bone. The timing of this particular accident makes no sense. Now you are confined to a house, tied up with restrictions and can do very little and travel nowhere. When your body hurts, when you suffer unexplainable tragedy, you still trust God, but you also feel the push to give up on him because you do not receive the answers you want.
The Christian cross is all suffering that comes because you follow Jesus. It might be others harming you for your beliefs; it may be you trusting God, but also wanting to let go of God.
When a cross presses down on you, it becomes easy to lose sight of who you suffer for. When a cross presses down, your (and my) eyes want to look down at yourself. When that happens, you begin trying to determine if (1) you have earned this suffering or (2) if you are worthy of this suffering. You look at cancer, puzzled. “I exercised. I ate well. I am a moral person. Why is this happening to me? I committed no wrong to deserve this.” A loved one leaves life too early. You begin reflecting on their life. She was an excellent [grand]mother, making each of her [grand]children feel uniquely special. He had friends and always helped out, everyone loved him. They committed no crime; they did not anger dangerous thugs— and yet they still died. Why? You love God and therefore obey him; you live an honest, patient, humble, life of service. Yet, your neighbor still laughs at your beliefs, shaking his head because he pities you. Professors not only reject God, but even call you “dumb” for believing in the unexplainable. You are left looking at yourself, wondering why you suffer for living the way God wants.
If your (and my) eyes are locked on yourself, then you will determine that you have done nothing to deserve this suffering. Instead, you discover that much of life’s unpleasantries come because you are connected to God. The easiest way to end personal suffering is to end your connection to God. If you stop clinging to a Savior, then no one will insult your beliefs. If you stop trusting the promises of God, then you no longer have to wait for him to act (or try to make sense of trouble). Throw down the cross, quit the faith, leave Jesus, end the race, and life appears to be better.
That’s true— kind of. Throw down your cross and you may have pleasant days on earth, but throw down your cross and you will suffer forever.
My friends, the Christian cross does not come because of who you are, but rather because of who you are connected to! When you hold to God’s promises, your (and my) sinful nature tells you to quit following Jesus. The godless world insults you so that you may quit following Jesus. The devil pokes your pain so that you quit following Jesus. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature try to drive a wedge in between you and God in order to split you from him forever.
And so, when the Christian cross presses into you and the temptation remains to fixate on yourself, God lifts your (and my) eyes up to the cross of Jesus. Why do we focus on Jesus’ suffering instead of ours? Because God is telling something very important: we have been justified through faith.
“Justified,” means to “declare someone ‘not guilty.’” God sets you free from suffering his anger and wrath. Yes, you heard that right; you (and I) do deserve God’s anger. Your (and my) very nature is ungodly. You are sinful from birth, sinful from the time your mother conceived you (Psalm 51:5). You are born dead in sin— not able to bring yourself to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1). You are an enemy of God— someone who fights against him, behaving the exact opposite of what he commands (Romans 8:7). You (and I) once stood completely helpless to change that status.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When you (and I) suffer, God points you to Jesus’ cross. Why does Jesus suffer? Why is he rejected, crucified, and killed? Jesus suffers because he would not forsake God. Jesus suffers because you (and I) have forsaken God by our disobedience. Jesus suffers your (and my) sentence for that crime. Christ died for us.
By his suffering on a cross, you (and I) have the guarantee of glory. You see, if Jesus had never suffered the cross, you (and I) would still be accountable for your guilt. Since Jesus suffered the cross, you hold the certainty that you also will share in his glory.
When the cross presses into you, lift your eyes and rejoice! Rejoice that you are not suffering because of who you are, your reputation or behavior. Rejoice that you suffer because you believe in a God who wipes away sin and gives you eternal life.
A personal cross may try to blind you from seeing God’s grace. You may be tempted to despair. So, God strengthens you to press on through your earthly race.
Look again at verse 1: we have been justified. “We”— that is personal, that means you (and me), the work of Jesus is done for your benefit! Neither does not say: “We have justified ourselves,” rather, we have been justified. Someone else did all the work and it all depends on what that person has done. The moment Jesus cried out on the cross: “It is finished!” God slammed down his gavel and declared you: “Not guilty!”—once and for all time.
Now you live reconcile to him through the death of his Son. “Reconcile”— you know what that word means, right? Reconciling is bringing two opposing parties together as friends. Your status was once that of “enemy,” but now Jesus has changed it to that of “friend.” Since you are reconciled to God, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only did Jesus cancel out the debt of your sin, but he will bring you into heaven; it is impossible to think otherwise! That is “grace,” God’s undeserved love.
The Christian cross make tempt you to believe that God does not love you. Yet, God’s grace does not fail you. He demonstrates his love by sending Jesus to make your eternity secure. With God continually pointing you to Jesus in order to remind you of his love, you persevere to enter your eternal hope.
Be sure, the devil will try to convince to quit running your race. Yet, you may also rejoice in [y]our afflictions. That sounds odd. Why Rejoice under the Cross? Rejoicing does not mean you walk around with a great big smile plastered on your face under the cross. It does not mean you must force yourself to be happy at a funeral. It does not mean you must smile when hearing tragic news. It does not mean you skip and jump for joy when some insults your faith. Rejoicing means you can take pride in your suffering. You can take pride because you know where to turn in suffering; you turn to Jesus. (1) You know God loved you to wipe away your sin. (2) You know God has opened heaven. (3) You know you may run to your Father for strength, comfort, and peace. This the how suffering produces perseverance. You persevere through troubles to enter your eternal hope.
As a result, your character grows. Have you ever faced a stressful situation that you never knew how you could conquer? Yet, when you finish the test, you recognize that you have grown. You are capable of managing your time better, you can learn many facts, or you increase personal strength to push through recovery. As you persevere through affliction, your Christian character grows. You stop relying on yourself and rely on the promises of God more. You pray more, bringing your stress and anxiety to God. You lift up your eyes to your heavenly hope, knowing this is the end-goal of your faith—this is what life is all about. And— like you heard last week, your perspective on life is properly adjusted.
Some of you are carrying a cross right now, and it feels excruciatingly heavy. You still feel raw after a funeral. You grieve over the fact life will not be as it once was. You struggle to come to grips with illness. You wonder if you can remain Christian in a society growing “Christ”-less. Yet, you are looking at the cross. You daily remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending a Savior. You remember eternity is set. You press on through challenges with God at your side, strengthening you, comforting you, and still blessing you. You persevere to reach your eternal hope.
I’m not sure what is more difficult about the Ironman Triathlon: actually competing or overcoming your doubts. Your Christian life may sometimes feel like you are competing in something more grueling than an ironman. You experience wonderful blessings with God, but the suffering that comes as a Christians grinds you down. Your mind may even tempt you to wonder if suffering is really worth continuing your race of faith.
When the cross presses into you, look up at the cross. There see the One who suffered shame but now sits in glory. See the One who suffered for you so that you may join him in unending glory. This is the reason you may Rejoice under the Cross! God’s grace does not fail you. Persevere to enter your eternal hope.
(from our midweek Lenten service)
Did you know parents actually have a reason behind the instructions they give to their children? Parents are not mean! Their instructions are truly not farfetched! Their instructions have a reason!
I learn that lesson more every day. Being a parent myself, you often find yourself repeating the same instructions you once bristled at as a kid. [For example:] “Eat your vegetables.” I did not want to eat veggies as a kid, but now I find myself saying the exact same thing to my kids: “Eat your veggies.” That instruction is not meant to punish kids, but to preserve health. Or, every single time I came home from a friend’s house, my parents asked: “When did you go to bed last night?” That was their thinly veiled way of asking: “How cranky will you be today?” Of course, as a kid, I always felt they were being cranky by asking that question, but now, when my kids wake up tired, I recognize just how frustrating overly-tired kids can be.
As you grow older, you have the opportunity to hear instructions from two different perspectives: from that of a child and that of an adult. As a child, the will of the parent feels overbearing, restrictive, and unpleasant. As a parent, you understand that your will is meant for your child’s wellbeing and protection.
In the Lord’s Prayer, you pray: Thy [Your] will be done. Now, God’s “will” are his desires, his wants. He reveals his “will” only in the Bible.
In the Bible, God clearly says: “My will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:40). God wants us to have faith in Jesus as Savior. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3), that you live a holy life. What is the “holy life” God expects? Well, look to the Ten Commandments. There he reveals his “will,” his desires. Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself. Show selfless and self-giving love to your spouse. Respect and honor the reputations of all people. Keep your heart free from greed (Exodus 20:1-17). If you want to know God’s will, then look in his Word.
As children of God, how easy it is to pray “Thy [Your] will be done” as God’s will matches our wants. We like God giving us daily bread— our clothing, homes, and stuff. We like God blessing us with strong relationships and a good reputation. We enjoy God granting good days and good recovery. Yet, the moment God’s “will” does not match my “will,” how quickly that prayer becomes: “God, let my will be done! God, approve of what I want!”
The heart craves that answer in one of two ways: (1) You fight against God’s will. Relationships strain. Instead of selflessly caring for the needs of my spouse, I demand that my spouse work harder to make me happy. Instead of listening to the emotional needs of an upset friend, speak first so your friend knows how they wronged you. You determine the course, act, and demand that God approve. Or, (2) you blame God for not meeting your expectations. When life falls off track and frustrations pile up, the heart impatiently demands that God instantly come and help! You complain that God does not heal you sooner. You fault God for the money-mistakes you made.
You see, a part of the heart does not want to be in a position to receive instructions— be it from an authority-figure, your neighbor who stands correct, or your God. The heart does not want to submit; the heart wants to lead. It wants to follow whatever feels right and makes sense to the mind— even if its “will,” its wants, its desires will lead to death.
In mercy, God sends Jesus Christ, your Perfect High Priest to bring wayward hearts in line with his will. During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death… Do not overlook that simple, but profound truth: Jesus lived on earth. Put another way: Jesus Christ is true man. As true man, he has human needs— hunger and thirst, clothing and shoes, the need for rest and the strength to work. He has emotions— laughing and crying; he pours out righteous anger against abuse and holds heart-felt sympathy for those wandering in spiritual darkness.
You see his humanity on full display in the Garden of Gethsemane. As death approaches, Jesus collapses and offered up prayers and petitions:“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mathew 26:39). He winces at the thought of nails piercing his hands, his body pulled and stretched out across a cross, his entire body weight sagging onto his lungs. His mind plays the taunting, the jeering and laughter from smug soldiers surrounding the cross. He looks at the road ahead only to see death. And not just physical death, no— the greatest pain of all is carrying the crushing weight of our guilt, our shame, and our rebellion.
Physical pain pales in comparison to the thought of God forsaking you. Imagine that if you can— because no one has ever, ever experienced God-forsakenness. That you, a believer, cry out to God, only to hear nothing in return (as though you shout for help in the Grand Canyon, only to hear echoes bounce off the walls). God is not present to reach down from heaven, destroy your enemies and rescue you. God has turned his back on you.
As horrific suffering barrels towards him, Jesus pleads: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). “Your will be done, what you instruct, O God, let this be done.” Although the sight of suffering, crucifixion, and death is repulsive, Jesus does not run from the Father’s will. Instead, he submits to God’s will.
And He was heard because of his reverent submission. Yes, Jesus is heard even when he suffers, is crucified, and dies. God did not deliver Jesus from suffering, crucifixion, and death. Rather, God’s answer is found in granting Jesus the strength needed to press on to Calvary. God’s answer is found in Jesus drinking the whole cup of sin’s punishment— dregs and all— to its very bitter end. God’s answer is found in raising Jesus from the dead. God’s answer is found in declaring you: “Not guilty! Forgiven!”
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. As you watch Jesus Christ, Your Perfect High Priest, you watch him learn obedience, or another way of putting it, be obedient himself. He does what you (and I) fail to do in order to change your status (and mine) from that of “rebel” to that of “friend.”
Now, Jesus Christ is Our Perfect High Priest who becomes our source of obedience. [A]nd, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. “Made perfect?” It sounds as though at one time Jesus was not perfect. Like he had sinned once before and had his own sins scrubbed on the cross. Yet, the Greek word for “made perfect” means to bring to an end or bring to its goal. Jesus completed his mission to save you. He marched through death and back in order to bring a self-centered heart back to God.
That means, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. The “source,” the “cause,” the “reason.” If I dig a well for water, that well becomes the “source” of my water. I cannot run to a tree, knock on the trunk, and hope something comes out. I will not find water in a rock. I cannot expect water to even come through my sink faucet without pipes connecting to the source of water. Only in this well is water found, only in this source and nowhere else.
The ever-flowing source of eternal life is Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has flooded your heart with faith. You trust that Jesus stepped into your world and obeyed God the Father perfectly in your place.
Now, the Holy Spirit constantly bends your wills to become obedient to God’s will. You place God’s wants above your own wants—even when it means you must sacrifice some possession. Even if it means you must remain patient a little longer. Even when it means you do not seek revenge on someone who intentionally harmed you. Your new desire is to live a holy life.
How can you do this? Run back to the source of obedience. Set your eyes on Jesus, who obeyed the Father’s will and humbly submitted himself to death in order to free you from sin. Set your eyes on Jesus, whose cries and tears were answered as he was raised from death and into heaven. Set your eyes on Jesus who continues ruling this world according to his will, his desires.
As you grow older, you have the opportunity to hear instructions from two different perspectives: from that of a child and that of an adult. As a child, the will of the parent feels overbearing, restrictive, and unpleasant. As a parent, you understand that your will is meant for your child’s wellbeing and protection.
Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, comes to rescue wandering hearts. He lays down his obedient life in order to meet your great spiritual need. Because he is obedient to death, your disobedience is forgiven. As you walk towards your heavenly goal, the Holy Spirit fills you with the humility needed to follow the voice of Jesus Christ is Our Perfect High Priest. The One who learned obedience and who becomes our source of obedience.
On Saturday, January 13th, approximately 1.5million Hawaiians and hundreds of thousands of travelers to Hawaii woke up to their smartphones buzzing with this text message:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Hawaii had 14 minutes to find shelter. In just 14 minutes homes would be demolished. Cars and boats, outdoor pools and lounges gone. Schools, stadiums, stores— all those comforts of life— would be unrecognizable. Just 14 minutes to grab personal treasures before leaving everything else behind. That means people had just 14 minutes to weigh what was valuable and what was not.
Forty agonizing minutes passed before another alert went out: < THIS IS ONLY A TEST >. For 40 minutes a false threat was considered a reality. Millions believed a real missile was on its way. Millions had just minutes to decide what items were most important to them.
[Speaking with all respect] I wonder how many have adjusted the way they live as a result of that test. Do they still recognize what objects are important and which ones they can live without? Or, have many returned to loving perishable things? Do they better grasp just how quickly life can end? Are churches a little more full? Have more turned their attention to the forgiveness God offers? Or, have people put off eternal matters for another day?
A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart. When you must determine what holds the number-one spot of your heart, you recognize that you cannot love every aspect of life with the same intensity. You heart can only love one thing the most; it can love only one thing at a time.
In order to make sure that your heart remains anchored on your imperishable treasure of eternal life with God, God Tests You (and me). God Tests You so that you can Purge personal idols and for you to Grasp God’s unchanging promises.
In Genesis 22:1 you read: Some time later God tested Abraham. Let’s understand one chief matter: God tested Abraham; he did not tempt him. Tempting a person is to entice them into improper behavior (definition of the Greek word, πειράζω). God does not daggle juicy, attractive situations in front of you, hoping that you will wander away from him. Rather, the Bible clearly says: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone (James 1:13).
Instead, God tests Abraham. Testing a person is: to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways (definition of the Hebrew word: נָסָה). The purpose of a test is to refine a person. To purge away everything that interferes [stymies] your trusting in God. To make sure God remains the top priority of your entire life.
God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering…” God cuts right to Abraham’s heart. “Abraham, take your son, oh yeah, that’s right, your only son, and in case you forgot, it’s Isaac, and yes, this is the son you love.” This test presents Abraham with two choices: (1) Obediently submit to God’s instruction at the risk of losing your dearly loved child or (2) Reject God’s command because you love something else more.
If this feels offensive— that God is doing something wrong— again, I urge you, please, remember the purpose of a test. A test is to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways.
Testing sometimes hurts, not God is at fault, but because we have grown a little too much in love with our world. If God approached you today and said: “Leave everything—your home, car, hobbies, video games, life-comforts, abandon them all and live in a hotel room for the rest of your life,” could you do it? It would be difficult, right? If you’re like me, the instant reaction is to start negotiating with God. “God, you can’t be serious!” “God, no! I need these things!” “God, why can’t I have these comforts?” What’s the purpose of those negotiations? It’s the heart’s way of saying, “God I love my stuff more than I love obeying you.”
Thankfully God has not demanded that you sacrifice those significant blessings, has he? He often instructs you to sacrifice smaller ones (in comparison). God instructs: On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…
(1 Corinthians 16:2). He says, “Consider how you have lacked nothing. Give a portion of portion of what I have given you back to me, demonstrating your undivided love for me.”
That’s his instruction. What does the heart want to say? “God, I can’t give that much to you. I need food, I need entertainment, I need gas. My kids have sports. I need recreation: my hunting, my gardening, my traveling. God, I’ll give you my leftovers, but not my firsts because I just don’t have it.” In reality, the heart is admitting: “God, I love my money more than I love you.”
The purpose of a test is to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways. Another way of saying that is: God Tests You for the purpose of purging personal idols. An idol is an object the heart worships. It does not have to be a little golden statue to which you bow down, sing, and pray. An idol can be any object you worship. Your status/popularity, your self-reliance, your pride. If you love these objects, you will worship them. You will trust them. You will make sure no one steals away your time with them— even if that person is God. Left unchecked, the idols of the heart can drag you away from God.
God knows that. So, He Tests You (and me) so that you (and I) do not turn our backs on him. A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart. With a test, God cuts out a misguided love that will kill. With a test God purges away personal idols.
Yet, testing is not always to drive an idol out; testing may involve strengthening our grasp on God’s unchanging promises. Scripture never implies that Abraham loved Isaac more than God, and God had to intervene. Abraham already trusted the promises of God. With a test, his trust in God’s promises would grow stronger.
Watch Abraham grow by the way he responds. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham trusts that he and Isaac will return from Mount Moriah—someway, somehow. Isaac asks: “[W]here is the lamb for the burnt offering?” and Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Abraham even goes so far as to lay Isaac on the altar and take the knife to slay his son. How does he have the strength to do such a thing?! Abraham grasped God’s unchanging promises.
You see, a year before Isaac is born, God promised: My covenant I will establish with Isaac (Genesis 17:21). First, God names Isaac before he is even born! Second, God promised to bring Jesus through Abraham’s son.
This test is one of those moments when what we see cannot fathom how God will keep his promise. Either (1) Abraham will kill Isaac and the line of Jesus will die out and God will prove himself a liar, or (2) God will keep his promise, let Isaac live, and Jesus will enter the world. That’s really what the test boils down to and Abraham grasps God’s unchanging promises.
The book of Hebrews says: Abraham [even] reasoned that God could raise the dead (11:19). Even if Isaac died, Abraham was so sure God would keep his promise of a Savior that God would have to raise Isaac from the dead [in order to keep it].
God kept his promise. “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants numerous… and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Abraham and Isaac walked down Mount Moriah alive. Later on, Isaac had two boys— Esau and Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons. Those 12 sons had 70 sons. Those 70 sons had many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, (etc.). God allowed Abraham’s physical descendants to be as numerous as sand on the seashore—but that does not compare to God’s greater promise. The Bible says: Those who believe are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7; Romans 9:7). Think of all the believers who have ever lived— from Abraham to now— the billions and billions of Christians, people who shared Abraham’s faith; they stand as numerous as the stars in the sky. God kept his Word: Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.
Abraham and Isaac’s great Descendant, Jesus, is your (and my) eternal blessing. A blessing because does what we could not. He fights Satan and wins.
For forty days and nights the devil launched one temptation after another against Jesus—trying to convince him that God does not have his best interests in mind. “Look, Jesus, you’re starving. God will not help you.” “Jump off the temple. See if God will really save you.” “Jesus, worship me, and you can have all the wealth and fame in the world— the kind of life your Father should already be giving you.” Satan repeatedly tempts Jesus, trying to get him to stumble and fall. And Jesus destroys each temptation with one short statement: “It is written” (Matthew 4:1-11).
Jesus grasps God’s unchanging promises, considering them as good as kept. Yes, even he is laid on the altar of the cross. Even when he is slain and life pours out of his veins. Even when his life is sacrificed in place of yours (and mine). Jesus grasps God’s unchanging promise on Calvary: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10-11).
Jesus faces pressure to turn away from God’s saving plan. Each test tempts him to believe that God does not care. Yet, he grasps God’s unchanging promises, knowing that his Father does not lie (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). So, he marches through each trial and temptation in order to break the devil’s hold on you (and me). He crushes Satan so that you no longer believe his lies. So that you may grasp God’s unchanging promises of a new life with him.
Perhaps you are being tested right now. Illness makes you question God’s care. Loss of a loved one makes you feel alone. The frustrations in life make you wonder if God really blesses you. The devil will twist your troubles in the hopes of convincing you that God does not care. The devil will always try to persuade you to doubt God’s presence in life so that you can fall into unbelief and join him in hell.
Look to the cross and see God’s promise kept. Be strengthened knowing that God is for us, no one can be against us. God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).
Fight the devil with the same words Jesus did: It is written! God is beside you because he has sworn by himself to be there. So God Tests You that your faith in him might become like the most rugged, hardened steel. When the day of trouble comes, you will not despair. You will tell the devil: “Go away! God has sworn by himself to be with me— and he will not change his Word.
I really do wonder how many have adjusted the way they live after that Hawaiian false alarm. Have more turned their attention to the forgiveness God offers? Or, have people put off eternal matters for another day? Do they still recognize what objects are important and which ones they can live without? Or, have many returned to loving perishable things? A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart.
So, God Tests You—not out of spite or anger— he tests you in order to purge away personal idols. To rid your (and my) heart of anything that might interfere with our trust in God. You do continue holding God’s blessings of family, relaxation, and possessions. Yet, you do so with eyes lifted up to your God, thanking him for carrying out his promises. You do so with a stronger grasp on God’s unchanging promises.
(from our midweek Lenten service)
I have a confession to make: sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I stand in the hardware store and I know I need screws, but nails are so much cheaper. So, I try to save a few dollars by purchasing nails when I really should be buying screws (and even though I save a few bucks, nails do not hold my project together). A fly buzzes around the window screen in my upstairs computer room. It annoys me. I really should run downstairs, go into the kitchen and grab the flyswatter, but I’m already holding a pencil. And I don’t want to run downstairs. So, I try to use my pencil and poke a dancing fly to death. (Here’s the disclaimer: It doesn’t work.)
Sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I push forward with the wrong solution in the hopes of solving my problem, but it doesn’t work. What felt right in my mind was not the answer I needed. It’s the answer I thought I needed, but it still didn’t solve the problem.
Life presents a very uncomfortable reality: You are mortal. It means that one day you will stand before God, the Judge of all. What can you rely on to solve this matter? Be sure, many have created solutions to solve their accountability problem before God, but there has always remained just one solution. That solution is found in Jesus Christ Our Great High Priest! who is qualified to serve us and qualified to purify us.
This Lenten season we will study the book of Hebrews. You will quickly notice that it connects the Old Testament sacrifices and worship rituals to the work of Jesus Christ; it really ties the Old Testament to the New Testament.
The title “Hebrews” does not mean the book was written in the Hebrew language. Rather, “Hebrews” most likely identifies the ethnicity of its recipients; “Hebrews” are Jews. These are not Jews who cling to the teachings of Judaism and are still looking forward to the coming Jesus. These are ethnic Jews who are Christians; they follow Christ.
But life is growing difficult for them. After all, they are Jews. Many who share their flesh and blood [their ethnicity] practice Judaism. That means mom and dad still worship in the synagogue and read only the Torah (first five-books of the Bible). Their neighbors elevate the teachings of Moses and Elijah the prophet, treasuring these words more than the words of Jesus. Friends and co-workers do not share the view that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Instead, they’re still looking for the coming Messiah.
These Jewish Christians stand at odds with their family members. It’s difficult to hold onto Christian beliefs when the majority do not.
To further complicate matters, these Jews live in the Roman Empire during a time when Christianity is not embraced. The Roman Emperors are ramping up persecutions against Christians. Some lose their property because they worship Jesus. Others get arrested and still others are staring down the sword. (Imagine losing your house, your land, your retirement savings because someone found out you were here this one day.)
There’s immense pressure to give up on Christianity and to return to Christ-less beliefs. Life would feel so much easier for these Jewish Christians if they just cut their connection to Jesus and returned to the popular, tolerated religion of Judaism. That’s the solution to make life feel better.
That’s the solution so many still embrace today. “Sin” is not a popular subject. It does not make you happy to face the reality that you (and I) are nothing but dust and ashes; you (and I) are mortal. It does not feel good to admit that you (and I) are truly the only one at fault for breaking God’s commandments. It does not fill you with joy that you (and I) are accountable for indecency going through your head, the hurt you inflict on others, and the evil which festers in your heart. Since this is an uncomfortable reality, the natural, manmade solution is to find another belief, another teaching that will make you feel happy. Leave Jesus and find a new, popular, tolerated belief.
It’s easy to do, right? And maybe you realize it occurs in your life a little more frequently than you care to admit. Downplay the seriousness of sin. “It’s alright if I have hold little feelings for someone other than my spouse. It’s natural… It’s acceptable that babies come before marriage. Everyone does it. God cannot possibly care.” Or you compare yourself to others: “God cannot be angry that I lose my temper. My neighbor abuses his spouse. He’s so much worse than me!” Or you attempt to justify and defend your actions by blaming others: “I wouldn’t be an irritated parent if my kids behaved better… I would be friendlier if she didn’t backstab me… I could listen to my President if he didn’t (fill in the blank) .”
Each time you (and I) attempt to justify sin, you declare that you have done nothing wrong. Your heart dares to stand before God and tell him that he and his Commandments are wrong. That you, and your behavior, are acceptable.
If you wish to walk down this road, then be sure: you are using the wrong product for the problem. Ignoring sin does not solve your mortality. Considering disobedience as something of little significance does not change the fact God hates sin and will punish it. You (and I) are not qualified to change our status before God and live.
So, the book of Hebrews emphasizes one truth, a truth that is still true today: Jesus Christ is Superior.
For those Jewish Christians, the pressure to abandon the Christian faith is intense. They could leave— and who could blame them? They have family tensions, the government wants to kill them, their emotions are worn down. Yet, if they return to Judaism, they would leave Jesus, the only solution behind.
So, the author of Hebrews contrasts the Old Testaments to Jesus. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. As great as Elijah is or Isaiah or Jeremiah or Moses, they did not have the complete picture of (1) who Jesus is, (2) what he would do, and (3) the peace he brings. Each prophet held just one piece of the puzzle. Sometimes on a television show, six different characters hold six different clues to a riddle. When they come together, put their clues together, they discover the complete answer.
You see, each prophecy built on another. God promises his Son would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). A prophet said Jesus would come from King David (2 Samuel 7:14). Another said he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Another said he would be the Son of God (Psalm 2:4-7). Another said he would be crushed and broken for our sin (Isaiah 53). Still another said he would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:10-11).
That’s why our writer says: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, but today you have something better: in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. You have the privilege of piecing all these prophecies together and clearly seeing: Jesus Christ is Our Great High Priest. Jesus is the One God promised to send. Since Jesus is God-approved, it means he is qualified to serve our spiritual needs; he is the only solution to our problem of sin. Since Jesus Christ is Our Great High Priest he is qualified to purify us.
You see, sin presents the serious problem of death. God demands a pure heart, a pure mind, and a pure soul— and Jesus has it all. So, Jesus carries your (and my) attempts to downplay the seriousness of sin. He gathers them up, carries them to Calvary, and destroys them one-by-one. For blaming others for my guilt, Jesus is beaten. For my excuses for my ill-temper, Jesus bleeds. For me daring to think that God is overbearing and that God’s commands are wrong, Jesus endures God’s wrath, anger, and abandonment.
Jesus, Our Great High Priest uses his innocent blood to purify us from all sin. “Purify,” that is, he removes the inky scarlet blot from our lives and cleanses us inside and out. Sin is gone once-for-all.
To emphasize the thoroughness of his work, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Jesus has completed his work to remove sin; there’s no more work to be done. That’s why he can say: In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3). Since Jesus has removed guilt, since Jesus has fixed your (and my) mortality-problem, you can live with confidence that your stand forgiven, holy, blameless, innocent before God.
Sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I try to save a few dollars by purchasing nails when I really should be buying screws. I’ve tried to poke a dancing fly to death. I push forward with the wrong solution in the hopes of fixing my problem, but it doesn’t work. What felt right in my mind was not the answer I needed. It’s the answer I thought I needed, but it still didn’t solve the problem.
The solution to our mortality is not to run away from this consequence. The solution is not to try and make sin look better than it really is. The solution is not to compare my morality with others. The only solution is to lay what you (and I) have done wrong at the feet of Jesus and watch him purify us from all sin. Jesus Christ Our Great High Priest! who is qualified to serve and qualified to purify us.
Fear gripped him. He stood still, absolutely paralyzed. The long, dark alley stretched on in front of him for what seemed like miles. But this was his only way home; he had to walk through it, and it was terrifying. Dumpsters hid danger in its shadows. Suspicious people lingered in the distance, eyes locked onto his next move. The alley blocked out public visibility; he would walk by himself; no one would know if he fell into danger. Fear gripped him. He stood still, absolutely paralyzed because he did not know if he would make safely home.
Just as he lifted his foot to take his first step forward, a security guard popped out from a side-door. Can you imagine how he felt? That security guard walked in front of him. Shiny, golden badge glistening on his chest, a badge trumpeting his authority to everyone. Walkie-talkie clipped to his shoulder, ready to call in additional help. Taser on one hip; mace and baton strapped to the other. That sight, oh, that sight melted away his every fear. He felt safe. Even though this security guard marched before him, danger did not automatically disappear. People did not instantly grow warm and friendly. The sight of that security guard and the knowledge of what he is capable of doing fills this man with comfort. With security guard marching before him, he also marched through this dark, dangerous alley confident that he would reach his goal.
Can you relate to that kind of feeling? Troubles can absolutely seize you with fear. You don’t know where to find the answers for cancer. Your heart cries out when yet another responsibility is heaped on you. You feel so hopelessly crushed and burdened when another hope fizzles out. It can feel like you stand at the opening of this long, dark valley of the shadow of death and no one is there to lead you through its awful dangers.
That is why God includes this Transfiguration account in the pages of Scripture. Look with the eyes of faith and watch someone completely capable of handling any danger that comes your way. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see and for you to stand in comfort.
Imagine if that security guard’s identity is covered up by street clothes. You don’t see a badge, you don’t see a walkie-talkie, you don’t see a baton or taser. He pops out in front of you, but all you see is just another man who looks like you. You wouldn’t know that he really possesses the power to fight danger. You wouldn’t feel any safer. You need to see his real identity.
The disciples knew Jesus’ real identity is God. After all, they were in the boat when Jesus calmed the stormy sea and howling winds. They watched him take five loaves of bread and two small fish and transform it into a feast for thousands. They witnessed demons fly away screaming, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the mute speaking, the paralyzed walking. It led them to confess: You are the Christ! (Mark 8:29). Remember what is meant by calling Jesus: “Christ?” “Christ” means “Anointed One.” When you call Jesus: “Christ,” you are confessing that this person is more than just another man; you confess that he deserves your worship, your songs of praise; you treat him as God because he is God.
The disciples knew Jesus’ real identity is God. Yet, in just a short time, that would not be so clear. Jesus had shared some shocking news with them: the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and after three days rise again (8:31). They will watch the Son of God, the One through whom the universe is created, trudge up Calvary’s hill, beaten, bloodied, bruised, and be killed. Can you imagine what emotions would grip the disciples when they see this? …the desperate fear? …the absolute confusion? …the paralyzing questions of what to do next? Their Jesus would not look so powerful. He would look quite power-less. He would look defeated.
So, After six days… (six days after telling the disciples what must happen) Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. Which is what they need, right? To be alone with Jesus when life’s gut-wrenching troubles weigh heavily on the mind. So, they leave behind the sights of religious leaders scheming against Jesus. They stop thinking about the intimidation of Roman soldiers. They block out the Jewish crowds who misunderstand the purpose of Jesus’ life— they leave it all behind. They stop ministering to those in need, to those who are sick, to those who cry out for help for just a moment and they go to be with Jesus alone.
That’s something we need— not just some times, but all the time. To leave behind the constant anxiety that comes from cancer. To shut off our frustration of watching a society run astray. To stop fretting about personal struggles for just a moment and to spend time alone with Jesus. Why? So that you can see Jesus’ glory.
Up on that mountain, [Jesus] was transfigured before them. Transfigured means Jesus’ appearance changed (or transformed). His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. Jesus is not reflecting light; he radiates light just like the sun shines light. In fact, looking at this transfigured Jesus is like looking directly into the sun. On this mountain Jesus reveals a glimpse of the glory he possesses as God. It’s as though he removes a veil just a little bit so that you can see that he is God.
What a sight! Look at this Mount of Transfiguration and remain focused on who your Jesus truly is. Because the devil will twist your (and my) troubles to darken this scene. He wants you to see Jesus as beaten down by life, bloodied by men stronger than him, and killed without a fight. The devil holds up the picture of Calvary in front of our eyes hoping to convince us that this is the real Jesus: powerless, defeated, crushed.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, the devil often succeeds, doesn’t he? He succeeds in getting us to fall into despair and to feel that Jesus has no power to help.
The doctor walks in with a cancer diagnosis. You may be the one who has to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. You may be the one who has to sit beside your beloved spouse (or friend). You know the body will get tired and grow weak. Not to mention, there’s always the lingering fear that treatments will not help. It gets scary because this is something so out of your control— and it may feel that you have nowhere to turn for solid strength.
Life changes— and it gets stressful. The hobbies you once did, you can no longer do. Time heaps new responsibilities on you: a new job with a new schedule and the need for money, the ever-changing needs of children, your ailing spouse, your parents who rely on you. The stress from these responsibilities can just press you down.
Or you realize a habit is growing into something worse. Self-control is slipping through your fingers. You’re losing control over the thoughts in your head. Your incessant fretting over politics is consuming you. It feels as though no one is able to reach down and bring you out of this darkness and into safety. It can feel like you are all alone, walking through this valley of the shadow of death, hopelessly drifting from day to day.
That is why Jesus Reveals His Glory. He’s like that security guard who pops out a side-door and instantly fills you with peace. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see.
Did you notice that? Listen again. After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. Before them! Before Peter, James, and John! Jesus does not hike up the mountain alone, stand in a little nook, shine his glory as God, speak with Moses and Elijah in secret, come back down the mountain and act as though nothing happened. He brings Peter, James, and John to this very special mountain so that they can see with their eyes that Jesus is God— their God.
Yes, for a brief time Jesus’ glory will be hidden. He marches up Calvary carrying sin on his back. Nails hold him to the cross. He hangs under God’s angry frown. He will look so powerless. Yet, he is actually powerfully crushing the head of the devil. The devil wants us to believe that God does not love us. He wants us to believe that the presence of trouble and the feeling of fear means God does not care. Yet, Jesus destroys those lies by living and dying for us.
Then, Easter Sunday, that glory radiates from the empty tomb! Jesus has won! He has conquered Satan! He has opened heaven for you and me! Jesus Reveals His Glory on the Mount of Transfiguration to show us that God deals with our sins. Jesus Reveals His Glory on the Mount of Transfiguration to show us the full glory he has now and the resurrected and living Savior!
Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see and know beyond any doubt he is God. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see so that you may stand in comfort.
As the disciples stand around Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” If we forget Jesus’ identity, then listen to God the Father. If there’s any worry that Jesus has limitations, then listen to God the Father. If you do not know where to turn in trouble, if you feel alone and abandoned, if you feel hopeless, then listen to God the Father say This is my Son.
More than that, Jesus is my beloved one. Not just God’s friend. Not someone God just has sincere feelings for. God himself says that he gives you his very best. Jesus is not leftovers or unwanted. He is loved— and the Father sends you his most loved treasure to make sure that you can be forever connected to him.
Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to stand in comfort. As you watch this Transfiguration scene, you realize you have a place to turn in times of trouble.
The devil will still try to block out Jesus’ power. He will whisper: “Sickness proves God does not love you.” Don’t listen to the lies. Listen to Jesus who comes to earth because he loves you. He dies for you. He promises eternal life to you. This is evidence of his love. The devil will push: “You’re all alone to make life-choices.” Don’t listen to the lie. Listen to Jesus who speaks unchanging promises in the Bible. The devil will question: “Why follow him? Look how tough life is!” Don’t listen to the lie. Remember this: Jesus suffered too. He suffers for sins he did not commit. In fact, he could have ran away from paying for our sins. Instead, he listens to the Word of God. He listens to the Word even though the Word of God leads him to the cross. Yet, because he holds to the Word of God he wins heaven. You (and I) continue holding to the promises of God even though life appears dark. We hold to this Word because we too will rise in glory.
Troubles can absolutely seize you with fear. You don’t know where to find the answers for cancer. Your heart cries out when yet another responsibility is heaped on you. You feel so hopelessly crushed and burdened when another hope fizzles out. It can feel like you stand at the opening of this long, dark valley of the shadow of death and no one is there to lead you through its awful dangers.
So, Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see. For you to see his power as God. The sight of Jesus with you and the knowledge of what he is capable of doing fills you with comfort. Just like a security guard marching before you, so you (and I) can march through life confident that we will reach our heavenly goal.
That is why God includes this Transfiguration account in the pages of Scripture. Look with the eyes of faith and watch someone completely capable of handling any danger that comes your way. Jesus Reveals His Glory for you to see and for you to stand in comfort.
“She’s not coming back.” That’s what one church councilman said to rest of the councilmen (myself included). She was not a member of the congregation, but certainly was under its spiritual care. She worshipped there quite regularly for years. In fact, she had even studied the congregation’s Bible-based teachings with the Pastor. Now, after many years spent in worship, after creating many friendships, after spending time in the Word, she was not coming back. Why? Let me put it in her words: Someone from the congregation told her ‘that she must give a larger offering.’
I wish this was the only time I heard of such things happening in a congregation. The truth is, each of you is different. Look around. Some are elderly; others young. Some have families; others are single. Some of you are lifelong Christians; others pretty new to the Christian faith. Some work; others do not. Some have physical handicaps and others have no troubles with their health or body. Each of you is different. Each of you are at a different stage in life. Each of you have different personal preferences.
Those are important factors to remember when you gather for worship. After all, what instrument do you use in worship? A piano? …An organ? …A computer? How should children behave in worship? Where should people sit? How should guests who sit next to you act? Should you wear a suit or jeans? …a dress or slacks? These matters seem so trivial and yet disagreement on these matters have pushed people away from the Savior.
The question is not: How do you reach agreement on these things? Rather: How do you reach agreement so that everyone may grow closer to Jesus?
Well, by gathering around the one thing that unites you all together: The Gospel. Only The Gospel Frees You from obligations of the Law and it frees you to serve all with the gospel.
Over the past few weeks we’ve touched on a Bible reality called: “Christian Freedom.” This morning we’ll dig into (1) what “Christian freedom” is and (2) what it means for you.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19 you read: Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. That verse sounds a little contradictory, doesn’t it? The man speaking— the great missionary-Pastor Paul— says that he is both a free man and a slave (two things that seemingly cannot exist at the same time). Yet, Paul is not talking about the civil freedoms he enjoys as a Roman citizen. Rather, he describes the freedom that he possesses as a Christian. Freedom from what? From the stinging, bitter penalty that comes from breaking God’s Law.
You see, when God gave his Ten Commandments, he laid down his moral expectations for all people: Love God with all your heart, mind and soul. Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). It sounds simple enough to do, or at least, it’s something you want to do. And yet, you reflect on your words and realize that you do not respect your friends like you should. You reflect on the thoughts racing through your mind and recognize that you love money, your status, the comforts of home more than you love the One who gave them all. You (and I) may want to love God, but we do not. We cannot. Our hearts resist (Romans 8:7).
God makes it clear: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). The wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23; see also Galatians 3:10). When you break a single command of God, you become a slave; you are enslaved to its penalty. You are not free.
Yet, Jesus came to do what you and I could not: obey God’s Law perfectly. The devil tempts Jesus with wealth, kingdoms, and status, and Jesus orders: ‘Go away!’ (Matthew 4:1-10). Although he is true God, as true man Jesus humbles himself to obey his parents (Luke 2:51). When Jesus runs into people who made a mess of their lives, he does not gossip or proudly look down on them, but rather ministers to their heart’s real need (for example, John 4:5-26). You see, Jesus comes to do what you (and I) cannot: obey God’s Law perfectly (Matthew 5:17). To obey it in your (and my) place.
Jesus carries no moral fault, no blemishes. He chooses to take your place under God’s death sentence. Jesus takes on our sin and suffers our penalty of death (2 Corinthians 5:21) so that you (and I) never will. His resurrection from the dead declares that he has wiped your (and my) record against God clean. Jesus sets you free from the penalty of death.
That is gospel truth. Remember what the word ‘gospel’ means. ‘Gospel’ simply means: good news. The gospel specifically proclaims the ‘good news’ that Jesus endures your penalty for breaking God’s law. The gospel tells you that Jesus has set you free from obligations of the Law. No longer do we follow the Ten Commandments in order to earn eternal life. That’s not the way you enter heaven! Faith in Jesus as the Savior who lived, died, and rose for you gets you into heaven! So, you follow the Ten Commandments out of love for everything God has done for you. This is how you live a God-pleasing life.
That’s why Paul says: I am free… I am free from the enslaving penalty of the Law. I am free from the fear spending life in hell. I am free from the soul-crushing guilt that comes every time I fail to match up to God. I free because I see the Savior who forgives.
This is ‘good news.’ This is the Gospel that Frees You from obligations of the Law. The Gospel that Frees You to serve others with it.
So, missionary-Pastor Paul says: Though I am free and belong to no man… even though God has not handed down specific commands on what I eat or how I dress or what I do in my free-time, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible. This is the Christian’s number one priority: to share the ‘good news’ [gospel] of Jesus with all people.
Paul brings the gospel by meeting specific needs of specific groups. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. Paul adopts Jewish customs. When he preaches to those with Jewish backgrounds, he presents himself a certain way. He stays away from pork and eats only kosher foods. He uses their Old Testament Bibles to point to Jesus.
Now, he does not have to. He could eat hotdogs and skip over the teachings of Moses and the prophets—he could because God has given no New Testament laws on these things. Paul is free, but if he behaves carelessly, he may lose his Jewish audience. Some of the Jews may not know why they could eat pork. Others may be offended if Paul appears to disrespect Old Testament prophecy. And so, Paul acts like a Jew so that he has an opportunity to teach Jesus and grow them in Christian living.
God has not placed orders as to how you worship. He makes no mention of the use of organs, pianos, drums, guitars, or any other instrument. He does not command that you must use the Common Service or the Service of the Word in worship (any other service being called ‘sinful.’) God does not demand the Pastor wear a white robe or black or any robe. God does not even demand that the Pastor stand behind a pulpit when preaching.
Yet, to the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To Christians gathered here, become like them to win them, to be a blessing to their faith, not a burden. Even though you and I are free to worship as we please, we still embrace rich worship practices. Why? Because many here already appreciate our rich worship practices. For me to stand up and preach walking around in a suit (or jeans!) is not wrong. Yet, if I act without explaining to others this freedom they have, I can hurt them spiritually. If I act without listening to them and their appreciate for what we already have, I can drive them away from Christ!
So, even though I may prefer one style of worship or I prefer to wear something else, for the sake of others I lay aside my freedom. I choose to not make us of my wishes and my wants so that I do not damage the faith of my fellow believers.
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. Paul even ministers to the non-Jews, the Gentiles. They did not grow up with the Law of Moses. They did not have certain eating rules or worship days or civil laws. (They did have God’s commandments inscribed on their hearts.) In short, Gentiles act differently from the Jews. They are not circumcised. They eat any kind of meat. Some are uneducated with Jewish customs. Yet, Paul serves the Gentiles by adopting their customs and practices. He does not push a kosher diet on them. He does not force them to get circumcised. Paul enslaves himself to Gentile customs so that he may have an opportunity to share the Word with them.
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. Those who worship alongside you may not act like you. The automatic reflex for us is to make a new law. We want to force our wants on others. To make a certain behavior “right” and a certain “wrong.” How many stories have you heard of a congregational member asking someone to “get out of their pew?” How many demand that those around them be quiet instead of moving to another seat? How many have turned around and stared down the parent of a crying child— all because that “noise” was unwanted? How many have complained that shirt, ties, and dresses are the only “right” clothing for worship and anything else is inappropriate?
And you may not have seen those troubling matters here. Great! What blessing! And yet, those are true stories I have heard in my brief ministry. This same mindset of creating rules for people to act like us is a constant temptation. In short, we want to make laws even though Jesus sets us free from laws. Jesus sets us free for our eternal benefit and we want to enslave others for our selfish benefit.
In humble, selfless love, Jesus meets your needs. Your selfishness. Your needless insecurity. Your desire to control. He meets them all and sets you free from the hell they deserve. That is good news. That is the Gospel which Sets You Free—free to serve it to others.
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. The truth is, God has not made commands for how people act in worship. God has only given a guiding principle: Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:40).
So, you are free to determine the atmosphere of your worship, but you may need to set aside your preferences in order to meet the unique needs of others. For the sake of younger families, it may mean that you move so that you can hear the message with greater ease and so that younger families can quickly and quietly step out of the sanctuary. For the sake of the elderly, it may means that you take into account their needs— recognizing if your child (or your coughing, etc.) is getting uncontrollably disruptive, for their sakes, you lay aside your freedom and address the issue. Imitating Christ-like humility, I put my needs below the needs of others. Why? I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
This is tough. To be honest, it’s tough because of the sinful nature inside each of us, a sinful nature that wants you and your needs placed ahead of the needs of everyone else. Yet, to let this selfishness go unchecked can wreak havoc among you fellow Christians.
Each of you is different. Some are elderly; others young. Some have families; others are single. Some of you are lifelong Christians; others pretty new to the Christian faith. Some work; others do not. Some have physical handicaps and others have no troubles with their health or body. Each of you is different. Each of you are at a different stage in life. Each of you have different personal preferences. How do you meet those needs?
By gathering around the one thing that unites you all together: The Gospel. The good news that you are set free from obligations of the Law. The good news you get to serve to all people. The good news that each of you gather together around one Lord and one Christ and that each of you get to grow in this Christ. So, go. Live in harmony with one another. Serve your Lord in gladness. Because The Gospel Frees You from obligations of the Law and it frees you to serve all with the gospel.