Hope in this Life: Luke 20.19-40

I love it when Jesus does this!

In Luke 20.19-40 He’s being attacked by enemies who dispute His authority. First, the scribes and chief priests come after Him: Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, or not? they ask (:22). Jesus asks them to produce a coin with Caesar’s image on it. Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, He says (:25).

Jesus’ answer has the following strokes of genius:

  1. In pressing them to pull out the image and likeness of Caesar, Jesus is forcing them to recognize that they already live in Caesar’s currency, for now;
  2. Jesus recognized a place for government within God’s order;
  3. Jesus recognized a BOTH/AND where others saw only an EITHER/OR.

Without falling into anybody’s trap, Jesus has made the point that God owns Caesar! And the day is coming when there will be no more Caesar. Until then, honor the emperor (See also 1 Pet 2.13-17; 1 Tim 2.1-2), and live life in light of everlasting life with God.

The trap has sprung, and Jesus isn’t in it!

Then come the Sadducees. These guys didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they hope to take down Jesus (and their enemies!) with a conundrum. Reaching back to the practice of levirate marriage (best known from the Book of Ruth) they spin a ridiculous question involving a woman who had seven husbands and now must live in a monogamous marriage in the afterlife.

Jesus goes after their assumptions:

  1. He challenges the assumption that everyone will know life with God. This is important, since His questioners were rejecting Him right at that moment!
  2. He overturns the idea that everlasting life is perpetuated the same way bodily life is here. God gives us marriage and childbirth in this life, because we’re dying. This will not be necessary in eternity, since we will be “like the angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage”.
  3. He rejects the Sadducees’ idea that God’s promises die with us. To make the point, He quotes Ex 3, the passage about the burning bush. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live in Him (:38).

God promised to deliver His people, and He did. Now, Jesus is standing right in front of them, offering them everlasting life with God. God is alive … the patriarchs are alive … God’s promises are alive, too! The benefits of knowing God go beyond this life.

Jesus has taken pointed, limited, even obscure and ridiculous questions and answered a major question we’re still talking about today:

WHAT IS OUR HOPE IN THIS LIFE?

My HOPE IN THIS LIFE is that I have everlasting life with God received by faith in Jesus. That’s my hope. My hope isn’t in prosperity and political freedom (like in the first passage). My hope isn’t in anything I can experience in this life apart from everlasting life in God.

My hope is in the God of promise. And focusing on Him and my life to come gives meaning to my present life as well …

Here’s a few questions to consider:

  1. Where do we (like the scribes and chief priests) see ourselves placing our hope in prosperity and political freedom? How does the first half of the passage challenge us on that?
  2. What might be some action steps in praying for leaders, in light of our own time in history, between Jesus’ two comings?
  3. Where do we (like the Sadducees) see ourselves placing our hope in immediate pleasures and benefits of this life? How does the second half of the passage challenge me on that?
  4. How does my present life take on meaning when I contemplate everlasting life with God through Christ, after my own resurrection?
  5. Is my hope in this life really that I have everlasting life with God through faith in Christ? How can I know if this is true?

Rejected from Blessing: Luke 20.9-19

What’s your mental image of Jesus? Do you think of His kindness or love? Do you see Him hating sin and rebellion against His Father?

In Luke 20 we find Jesus in Jerusalem, after entering the city as the rightful king of the Nation of Israel and the whole earth. He’s cleansed the Temple (19:45-48). He’s rebuffed a challenge to His authority (20.1-8). Now, He tells a parable, in 20.9-19. Set against a Old Testament parable from Isaiah 5.1-7, in which God removes Israel, which is likened to an unproductive vineyard, Jesus tells The Parable of the Wicked Tenants. 

The Nation rejected, because of rejection of God’s authority in JESUS (:9-16a). Jesus is up to something here. In Jesus’ retelling of this parable the land-owning farmer represents God. But we have the addition of tenants. Who are they? And who are the servants sent to them? And what is the vineyard?

The parable unfolds in six scenes. They aren’t hard to follow. The land-owning farmer, having left his vineyard for an appropriately long period of time, sends servants to collect produce. Each is treated badly by the tenants, disrespected, and turned out. Finally, the land-owner sends his own son (:13). The idea is that he has no one more important to send! The tenants, however, reserve their worst treatment for the son, casting him out and killing him outside the vineyard. “Reasoning among themselves” they expect the vineyard will become theirs, if the landowner and his son are dead, which they now believe to be true for both.

The parable ends with Jesus asking an obvious question. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them. He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others?” (:15b-16).

All others rejected, who reject God’s authority in JESUS (:16b-19). At this point in the passage the parable ends. The crowd Jesus addressed exclaims, “Surely not!” And Jesus looks at them (with compassion, I believe).

It’s clear at this juncture who the tenants are, and who are represented by the servants. The Old Testament is replete with passages condemning the Nation for its rejection of the prophets, sent from God. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers (Jeremiah 7.25-26; and many other passages).

But what is the vineyard? It can’t be Israel, as in the Isaiah parable, since Israel is already represented by the tenants. And who are “the others” who will receive the vineyard?

The vineyard in this parable should be seen as the place of God’s blessing. It’s bigger than Israel, and includes others besides the physical descendants of Abraham. It is the Kingdom of God Jesus will rule over at His coming. It includes a remnant of the physical descendants of Abraham (Rm 11), thus fulfilling Gods promises to Abraham. But, it also includes anyone else who receives Jesus. God is not rejecting one people and bringing in another. He’s adding to the existing people who love God (Rm 11.11-12). God is a multiplying God, not a subtracting or dividing God.

And Jesus is so important that to reject Jesus is to reject everything God is and does. To receive Jesus is to receive God and find blessing. That’s why Jesus quotes Ps 118.22, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” … Everyone who falls on that stone will broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him (:17-18).

How’s your mental picture of Jesus now? Does it allow you to conceive of Jesus as one who will crush God’s enemies?

Before you answer, consider one more thing: Jesus’ death will be the supreme expression of His love. Romans 3.23-25 makes the point: … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show the righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 

Yes, JESUS will crush God’s enemies at His return. But first, JESUS took their sin on Himself and was Himself crushed for them. In this way, JESUS expressed the holiness and love of God at the same time. Now, those who depend on JESUS by faith enter God’s blessing.

Peter will soon preach to the leaders of the Nation, after Jesus’ resurrection: This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in on one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4.11-12).

No JESUS, no blessing … Know JESUS, know blessing. 

 

Here’s a couple of questions to ask with others:

  1. What are the dangers of casting Jesus in our own image? In other words, what aspects of Jesus’ person do we tend to emphasize and what aspects are we inclined to leave out? (In still other words, how do we relate to this parable where Jesus will bring judgment from God?)
  2. What does this parable teach about the important of urgency in taking refuge in Jesus?
  3. What are the dangers of merely behaving religiously and drifting with Gods people? How do we know that we aren’t doing that?

Who’s in Charge?: Luke 19.28-44

Who’s in charge?

To be legitimately IN CHARGE isn’t the same as being in power. Really being IN CHARGE means you have authority from God and the responsibility to represent God.

The importance of the question underlies the news cycle this week—as different groups in our American government balance the desire to hold power with the need to govern justly. And the importance of the question lies front-and-center in our passage.

Who’s in charge? Who has the right from God to rule? 

Luke 19.28-44 begins the final section of Luke’s gospel. As Jesus moves toward Jerusalem creation itself recognizes that Jesus is IN CHARGE (:28-44). As Luke lays out the account, He shows Jesus demonstrating that He’s in charge through His all-knowingness (:28-34). Two disciples are sent ahead to fetch a donkey-colt who’s never been ridden. The owner, Jesus tells the disciples, will ask why they’re taking the animal. They’re to tell him that the “Lord has need of it”. Everything takes place, just as Jesus said.

Then, Jesus fulfills Scripture (:35-38). After entering Jerusalem in a manner that would have reminded the thoughtful follower of Zechariah 9.9, Jesus rides the unbroken colt into the city to the singing of His true followers. There’s not nearly as many of them as there should be, but their praise from Ps 118 describes the rightful king leading pilgrims to the temple and receiving welcome.

Then, Jesus dismisses political fears (:39-40). And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

The Romans claimed imperium, the right to rule. The Jews recognized Roman imperium, and in exchange received a degree of freedom, including the temple where they worshipped. The Pharisees feared Jesus, because worship of Jesus’ true imperium would certainly result in the loss of political peace with Rome.

Jesus responds that creation knows He’s IN CHARGE, even if His own people didn’t. The rocks will cry out, if need be. As Darrell Bock has said, “That which is lifeless knows life when it sees it, even though that which is living does not.”

The Nation did not recognize that JESUS is IN CHARGE (:41-44). In the final section Jesus mourns the Nation’s rejection. The “stones” which, in verse 40, threatened to shout out their praise will be cast down. The city will be leveled by Titus in 70 A.D. (as recorded in Josephus in his War of the Jews). Nothing was gained by rejecting Jesus. In trading Jesus for peace with the Romans, peace with the Romans was lost. The Nation found itself on both the wrong side of history and of eternity.

True followers of JESUS recognize that JESUS is in charge. 

This is true at the level of nations—though God permits different forms of government that ultimately find their authority in Him. This is true in churches. It’s true in families. It’s true in our private lives.

And, our lives will be transformed to the degree that we recognize JESUS is IN CHARGE.

The Good News is that we can embrace Him by faith. And then, we recognize His imperium in every area of our lives.

Jesus is in charge when … the MRI report turns up something … you lose your job … you’re taking care of an elderly parent who won’t get better … you’re a student athlete and you injure yourself and your season is over … you’re not invited to the prom … you want to get married but you’re not encouraged by the prospects … you get robbed or experience injustice … you’re a kid and your parents make a decision you don’t like.

JESUS reigns today! His rule will be established soon. While we press toward His return, let’s join His true followers throughout the ages in living our lives while knowing that JESUS is IN CHARGE.

Here’s some questions to consider with others: 

  1. Where in your life is it most difficult to recognize that JESUS is IN CHARGE?
  2. How would government, business deals, buying and selling, and our daily lives in our workplaces be different, if we consistently believed and applied the truth that JESUS is IN CHARGE?
  3. How does knowing that JESUS is IN CHARGE change the way we respond when we experience injustice?

Have a great week!

Discipleship—Multiplication: 2 Timothy 2.2

These days we’re thinking about discipleship—the business of following JESUS together. We’ve likened the discipleship journey to a pathway: Discipleship consists of people on a pathway and takes place when someone follows Jesus and takes someone else with him, or her. 

Having discussed, in recent weeks, the BEING of discipleship (gospel … God’s Word … our identity), we’re at last thinking about the DOING of discipleship. We’re asking questions like: Whom should you travel with on the discipleship pathway? What do you do in a discipleship-relationship? And how do you get started? 

Paul wrote Timothy in 2 Timothy 2.2: … and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Who are these people we’re to be traveling with as we follow Jesus together?

Everybody needs a Paul (1 Cor 4.15; 1 Tim 1.1-2). 

Paul wrote to Timothy: I Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith (1 Tim 1.1-2). He wrote again to the Corinthian believers: For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (1 Cor 4.15).

Paul-like figures are those who are further along on the pathway of discipleship than we are. “Pauls” take us along when we’re young, in life maybe, but certainly in faith. They’re precious figures God provides to us. They’re hard to come by. We pray that we’ll recognize them, until God provides them. Sometimes, we have to ask them to mentor us.

Who is your “Paul”? Do you have someone like that in your life?

Everybody needs a Barnabas (Acts 11.25-26). Barnabases are those who are basically at the same place we are on the discipleship pathway. Acts 11 gives us a good picture of how this got started. The original Barnabas entered the life of the original Paul at a time when Paul (an original opponent of the Way of Jesus) still wasn’t trusted. After a great work of God in the Syrian city of Antioch, we read: So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him too Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people (Acts 11.256-26).

Notice that in Acts 11 Paul wasn’t “Paul” yet. He needed someone to come alongside him on the discipleship-pathway to encourage him—and that’s what Barnabas’ name happens to mean!

I’ve had “Barnabases” in my life. Guys with names like Jim and Jon and Mark; Stefan and Andy. These relationships were friendships, but more than that. These relationships always included the components of WORD … LIFE … and PRAYER. We looked at God’s Word together, often memorizing it. We went life-on-life, talking about how we were struggling to trust Jesus in the moment. And, we prayed with each other. These relationships sometimes involved meeting together formally, but often informally. They were always intentional. In the best way possible, we had an agenda for one  another. We wanted to see each other follow Jesus better!

Who is your Barnabas? Do you have someone in your life with whom you may share WORD … LIFE … and PRAYER?

Finally, everybody needs a Timothy (1 Cor 4.16-17). Timothies are those younger than us on the discipleship-pathway. Paul wrote, once again to the Corinthians: I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church (1 Cor 4.16-17).

Paul sent Timothy to the Corinthians to be a “Paul” for them. Timothy knew how Paul followed Jesus, and Timothy will teach the Corinthians to follow Jesus like Paul. Notice how multiplication will result. As Timothy has grown in the faith, he’s able to disciple others. These, in turn, will disciple others. God’s people will be built up and equipped for service (2 Tim 2.15; Eph 4.12).

Ideally, as we grow in the faith, we’ll have more and more “Timothies”. I’ve found that the ones serious about following Jesus always want more, and they tend to not be afraid to ask for a discipleship-relationship. They respond to the same components of WORD … LIFE … and PRAYER that I’ve found so fruitful with my “Barnabases”. And, they want to disciple others. These relationships, in turn, might be formal or informal, but they’ll certainly be life-on-life and take place in the daily business of life.

That’s what following Jesus together on the discipleship-pathway looks like.

Who’s your Timothy? Do you have one?

It’s been said that all heart change begins with awareness. Awareness in the business of following Jesus starts with our need to BE a disciples first. Then, it continues with our need to take others along. As we travel, we need those who are a little ahead of us, in following Jesus; we need those who are right beside us; and, we need those who are coming behind, but want to follow Jesus too. And, we need to be aware of our need to be in these relationships.

If you don’t have people like this in your life, would you at least commit to asking God to help you recognize them? Then, would you ask the people themselves to follow Jesus with you?

Everybody needs a Paul … everybody needs a Barnabas … everybody needs a Timothy. 

Here’s a few questions to consider with others:

  1. Who have been some “Pauls” you’ve followed Jesus with?
  2. How about “Barnabases”?
  3. And then, “Timothies”. How about them?
  4. What were the components of these relationships? How did you see the basic plan of WORD … LIFE … and PRAYER play out?
  5. Which of these persons to you most feel the need for in your life? Would you commit to ask the Lord to help you recognize people who might travel with you in these roles?

Have a great week in the LORD!

Discipleship—Identity: John 21.15-19

This week we’re continuing to think about discipleship, the business of following Jesus together. Along the way we’re considering the core convictions about GOSPEL … GOD’S WORD … OUR IDENTITY … and MULTIPLICATION that must grow for us to progress in our discipleship relationships.

Today’s thought on IDENTITY is a big one! To make a follower of JESUS you must first BE a follower of JESUS.

Simon Peter, the most colorful of all Jesus’ disciples, illustrates this truth in the Gospel of John. In seven passages that work like windows to the discipleship process, Peter moves from knowledge about Jesus (1.35-42), to commitment to Jesus (2.11; 6.66-69), to seeing his life shaped by Jesus (13.6-8, 14; 18.25-27; 20.1-10; 21.15-17).

Along the way, Peter will enter into Jesus’ mission, fail miserably to follow Jesus, but then be restored FIRST to Jesus Himself, THEN to Jesus’ mission. John 21.15-17 is the critical passage. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter three times. “Feed my sheep … tend my lambs … follow me,” Jesus commands Peter in reaffirming and recommissioning him.

All this leaves us asking the very question Jesus asked Peter: DO I LOVE JESUS? It’s in loving Jesus first for His own sake that I’m made ready to take someone else along in following Jesus.

Get this thought right, and it’s a lights-out, mic-drop moment for each of us as we take seriously Jesus’ mission of bringing others along in our own Woodland culture of discipleship-relationships. Get it wrong, and we’ve taken our eyes from Jesus and endangered others meant to follow Him.

Here’s a few questions to share with others as we think about our IDENTITY as followers of Jesus:

  1. As we survey the career of the Apostle Peter in the passages above, where do we see Peter finally understand that he must first love Jesus before serving Jesus in Jesus’ mission?
  2. What might be the dangers of trying to take someone else along in a discipleship relationship without first loving and following Jesus yourself?
  3. Why is JESUS worth following anyway? Why not just remain respectably detached and make a good “religious” show of following Jesus for others to see?

Discipleship—God’s Word: 2 Timothy 2.15; 3.16-17; Romans 10.17

This week at Woodland we’re continuing our short series on discipleship.

Discipleship, as we’ve drawn up the picture, consists of people on a pathway and takes place when someone follows Jesus and takes someone else with her. And, along the way in our discipling relationships, we will grow in our core convictions about the gospel, God’s Word, our identity, and multiplication.

This week we’re thinking about how God shapes and forms His people by His Word in our disciple-making relationships. We’re asking the question: What is it about God’s Word that make the Word able to form and shape us in our discipling relationships? 

If you’re working through this with a group, you might want to take the four qualities listed below and look up the Scriptures includes. Then, give some thought to the questions at the bottom.

  1. God’s Word is BREATHED OUT by God: 2 Timothy 3.16; 2 Peter 3.16; 1 Pet 1.23; Deut 8.3; Acts 20.32; 1 Thess 2.13; Jn 17.17; Heb 4.12.
  2. God’s Word is UNDERSTANDABLE: 2 Timothy 2.15; 1 Cor 2.14; Ps 19.7; 119.130; Ezra 7.10.
  3. God’s Word is USEFUL: 2 Timothy 3.16-17
  4. God’s Word is EFFECTIVE: Rm 10.17; Is 55.10-11

And, here some thought questions to talk about with others.

  1. How much time are you spending in God’s Word?
  2. What ways of Bible reading and study have been fruitful for you?
  3. How are you sharing God’s Word with other people?
  4. How do you feel about starting over?

*Special appreciation is offered to Mike Bullmore and his talks on discipleship at the EFCA Fall Pastor’s Conference, October 2019. While the message this Sunday is my own, the general contour of these messages and many of the Scriptures cited do reflect these talks that can be heard on Spotify at Forest Lakes District—EFCA.

Discipleship—Gospel: 1 Cor 15.3; Rm 1.16

There’s certain themes every healthy church comes back to, again and again. At Woodland you’ll hear us talk about the Gospel (every week, I hope). You’ll also hear us talk about the place of God’s Word, God’s plan of redemption (creation, fall, cross, consummation), the church as family, and our work as image-bearers in God’s world. You’ll also hear us talk about DISCIPLESHIP.

Discipleship is simply the business of following Jesus together. It’s arguably the main way we glorify God in the Christian life, and it takes place when somebody follows Jesus and takes somebody else with him or her. And, at the beginning of a new year, we need to revisit what this following Jesus together looks like. We need to go over again the core convictions about GOSPEL … GOD’S WORD … OUR IDENTITY …. AND DISCIPLING RELATIONSHIPS that make following Jesus together fruitful.

What the Gospel IS (1 Cor 15.3). In our life of discipleship together we need convictions about the Gospel. Generally speaking, the Gospel is all God’s work in Christ. It includes everything God the Father does through Jesus Christ, from His creation in the past through Jesus to the future rule of Christ. But, the heart of the Gospel is God’s work in Christ at the cross. Consider 1 Cor 15.3:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. 

Did you catch that? Can you count on one hand the words that describe what the Gospel is? CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS. Now, you can memorize that quickly, counting on your fingers maybe. But the challenge in our life together is going to be in how we think carefully about just how the Gospel works in our lives.

Tomorrow at Woodland there’s going to be a 75 pound metal disc on the platform. It’s a fly-wheel from a John Deer tractor, and it’s going to help us understand how the Gospel works in our life of discipleship together. This big metal disc transfers power from the engine to the rest of the vehicle. You can attach other things to it (like the drive-shaft). And, once it gets going, it has momentum, and it’s very hard to stop. In the same way, everything God does in our lives He does through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What the Gospel DOES (Rm 1.16). Consider Romans 1.16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first for the Jew then for the Gentile. 

First, the Gospel changes what I think. This happens when the power of the Gospel is hitched to GOSPEL TRUTHS that take their power from the Gospel. They’re truths that operate in the mind because of the Gospel, and they address our hopes, fears, dreams, and picture of reality that also exist in the mind.

Examples of how this works can be found in Romans 5.1; 8.1, 32; 15.13; and 1 Tim 1.10-11. Take Romans 8.1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What’s true, in this verse? That I’m in Christ Jesus, right? That’s the GOSPEL, the result of the work of Christ in Romans 8. Now, what else is true? That God deals with me according to His loving relationship with Jesus. That’s the TRUTH that Romans 8 hitches to the power of the Gospel.

My growth in the Christian life is largely dependent on my willingness and Spirit-led skill in making these connections. And, what is true of my thinking resulting form the Gospel is also true of my behavior. Examples of how the Gospel changes what I do can be found in 1 Cor 6.18-20; 2 Cor 8.7-9; Gal 2.14; Eph 4.32, 5.25; Phil 1.27; and Titus 2.1. So, in 1 Cor 6.19b:

… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body

What’s true here? That we were bought with a price. There’s the Gospel, again. What ought to be true because that is true? That I need to glorify God in my body. That’s the Gospel BEHAVIOR that needs to be hitched to power of the Gospel, according to 1 Cor 6.

The Gospel is the power of God and central to following Jesus. And, while we’re learning to follow Jesus together all our thinking and behavior should increasingly flow our of the Gospel. And when we learn this God will start a disciple-making movement for His glory in our churches. It will be less like making snow, more like touching off an avalanche. Less like billowing smoke, more like a hot fire that burns cleanly. And, at the beginning of a busy year, we need to focus our thoughts and energies on disciples-making and the Gospel.

 

Here’s some questions that will help us measure our present effectiveness as disciples-makers with respect to the Gospel:

  1. How much time have you spent in thinking about how the Gospel actually works in our lives? (Have you ever read helpful contemporary authors like Tim Keller, Paul Tripp, or Jerry Bridges who work hard to apply the Gospel to life?)
  2. What other issues can you list that could be harnessed to the power of the Gospel?
  3. Who are you traveling with in an intentional, disciple-making relationship?

* While these message on discipleship are my own, I offer special appreciation to Mike Bullmore for his talks at the EFCA Forest Lakes District Pastor’s Conference, October 2019. Credit is given for the general contour of the messages, most of the Scripture examples chosen, and for the illustration of the fly-wheel.

God With Us—On the Mountain: Ex 33.1-34.9

GOD WITH US is a big deal! That’s been our thought as we’ve pondered JESUS together this Advent season at Woodland.

This week we’re in another unlikely passage from the Old Testament—Exodus 33.1-34.9. Unlikely, until we see the connections from Moses’ glorious encounter on Mt. Sinai with God in His glory and the baby JESUS, who is really and finally and perfectly GOD WITH US.

Having seen last week, in Genesis 15, that GOD WITH US in God’s plan of redemption will include a Redeemer to absorb the injustice of our sin, we learn more about GOD WITH US this week in Exodus 33-34.

God keeps His promises (33.1-6). Israel has sinned with the golden calf, choosing to be WITHOUT GOD. God, in response, pledges to lead Israel to the Promised God (because He promised Abraham He would, remember?). Only He will not go with them. Israel recognizes this “disastrous word” and mourns the loss of God’s presence. Who wants God’s promises without God’s presence?

All this reminds us of God’s promises throughout the ages to send a Redeemer. Galatians 4.4 reminds us of God’s fulfillment of this promise: But when the fulness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, so that we might be adopted as sons. 

Fantastic news! But how tragic that many will chose—like Israel and the calf at the foot of the mountain—to observe Christmas, but without faith in Christ. The lights, the food, the presents; maybe, they’ll hold a candle on Christmas Eve, but then go back to their Christ-less lives, because they never trusted in Him in the first place.

Sinners need a mediator (33.7-23). The middle section in this account is all about Moses mediating for Israel. No wonder Moses is such an enormous figure in redemption history! You’ve told me to lead this people, but you haven’t told me who will go with me … You’ve told me that you know me by name and I’ve found favor with you, Moses pleads making his case to God. Then, Moses’ request: Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people (:13).

In an interesting twist that shows that God (while not changing and always being true to His character) does alter the way He deals with us based on our response to Him, God relents: … My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (:14).

Moses then asks to see God’s glory as a sign of what God will do.

God shows Himself to His people (34.1-9). In an astounding scene, God passes in front of Moses. Hiding Moses in a cleft of the rock, so that Moses won’t be confused, God shields Moses, so only His “back” will be seen. This is clearly anthropomorphism (speaking about Himself in a way we can understand, since God doesn’t have a body like men). The scene shows that God always reveals Himself to those who desire Him.

God shows Himself to Moses. God will show Himself to Israel. And God shows Himself to us, in JESUS. While God approved of the imperfect Moses for the benefit of Israel, He approves of His perfect Son for the benefit of everyone who will trust in Him.

At Jesus’ birth His shikineh glory will take the form of a star and lead worshippers from the east to Jesus (Matt 2). At Jesus’ baptism Jesus will identify with sinners as the perfect mediator and the Father will say, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Mk 1). In His life Jesus will keep God’s law perfectly (Gal 3.24). At the tomb the Father will raise Jesus who has proved Himself the perfect law keeper and the perfect Redeemer. After the resurrection the Father receives Jesus back to Himself, and Jesus will send His Spirit to be God’s presence with us (2 Cor 3.18). When Jesus returns He will take us to be with Him and the Father, so that we shall finally see God’s face: No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it [the New Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Rev 22.4).

So … GOD WITH US is a big deal, because, in Jesus, God keeps His promises, provides a mediator and shows Himself to His people.

Because JESUS has won God’s approval, we have GOD WITH US. 

And that’s a spectacular thought to help us ponder JESUS this Christmas. May it be your thought. May you trust in JESUS by faith, and then go on depending on Him, looking forward to seeing God’s face at Christ’s return.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU!

God With Us—Under the Stars: Genesis 15.1-21

How’s your pondering going? That’s what we’re doing together this Advent. We’re thinking together about the phrase that is really a declaration—GOD WITH US.

And we’re pondering JESUS.

This week we’re in Genesis 15.1-21. It’s an odd Christmas message, I’ll admit. It doesn’t make me feel cozy, like I feel when contemplating the baby Jesus in the manger. In fact, it makes me feel sober, because in this passage Abraham encounters God’s presence that guarantees God’s promise, sworn on the life of God’s Son. And in this way, God “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” (Gal 3.8).

Promise of God, Under the Stars (:1-11). Remember the context of Genesis 15. In something like 2,000 B.C. God has called Abraham from Ur of Chaldeans and told Abraham to move to Canaan. In doing so God promised Abraham a land, descendants and blessing (Gen 12.1-3).

When we come to chapter 15 Abraham has obeyed God, but he still has a problem. He has no son, the land God promised him is filled with enemies, and (most importantly!), he’s starting to doubt God. What follows is a conversation between God and Abraham.

First, they talk about the son God has promised (:1-6). All this takes place under the night sky. And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (:5).

Think about this. We Moderns look at the universe like it’s a big Christmas tree, filled with gases and hot suns many light years away. But Abraham, as an Ancient Chaldean, had worshipped the stars before He knew Yahweh. God is saying, You know those things you used to worship? Well, your descendants are going to be more numerous and wonderful than anything you used to worship … Later in the story, we meet Isaac. And, of course, all of this is pointing to Jesus and His followers (Gal 3.16).

Then, God and Abraham talk about the land (:7-11).  I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to posses, God says (:7). Abraham responds with self-doubt. O LORD God, how am I to know that I shall possess it? (:8). Abraham doesn’t doubt God here. But he doubts himself. He recognizes in the covenantal language of verse 7 that God is about to cut a covenant, to make a contract. Abraham wonders if he’ll be able to keep his part of the deal.

Next, God instructs Abraham to lay out the articles of covenant-making. While we do this with lawyers and papers, the Ancients did this with severed animals. Those making the covenant would walk together between pieces of severed animals and recognize in the butchery that they would become like those carcasses, if they failed to keep their end of the bargain.

Presence of God, Under the Stars (:12-21). The rest of the passage is mysterious, and wonderful. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him (:21). While Abraham passes into a state of deep concentration, God appears in the form of a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot and passes between the pieces ALONE.

What God is saying is that if either He or Abraham and his descendants fail to keep their obligations, God Himself will absorb the penalty for lawbreaking! And that, of course, is what happened at the cross when Jesus absorbed the penalty for our sin.

Are you seeing how this passage fits into our Christmas celebration? When Jesus comes, Jesus is the collateral paid for our law-breaking. Jesus is God’s presence with us. Jesus is GOD WITH US.

All the promises of God flow in and out of Jesus. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ (Gal 3.16).

GOD WITH US is a big deal, because God’s promises come with God’s presence. 

Here’s a few questions to ponder with others, while you’re pondering Jesus:

  1. Why do you think this passage from Genesis 15 is relevant and worth talking about at Christmas?
  2. How do God’s promises to Abraham help you understand why Jesus came?
  3. What about Jesus will you ponder this week, now that you’ve spent time in Genesis 15?

Have a blessed week! And see you Sunday, at Woodland.

Ok, so that’s how it works …

Since we’re coming off our snow-day Sunday, you’ll find message material already posted, several posts back. Or, just go right here.

But, I owe you something from last week. At the points when I squeezed out the message post there was a tree sitting on my house. That was kinda stressful, especially since we were preparing to leave town for the break.

Quite a few of you offered help, and we do so appreciate the offers! But, the major takeaway from the ordeal is about how God uses unexpected things that go THUMP.

Certainly, that tree didn’t fit into our plans. In fact, I could have made the argument that a big red pine that takes on too much snow and lowers itself on to my roof—without appreciation for the way I was trying to serve or the family I was trying to visit—isn’t from God at all.

But, I know better. God uses things that go THUMP, especially unexpected things that seem to be in the way of what we think He’s doing. Here’s how it worked, for us:

Right after the THUMP, we called Don Hadden. He’s our insurance agent, but also our friend. Don popped over and made some connections, since this situation outsized us by a good bit. A bit later, our neighbor, Leon, who plows for us, appeared and assessed the situation. Leon knows a lot about trees. Then Tony, Don’s friend, turned up and promised to return with machinery in the morning. Next, we heard that Jim Blomberg was on the way. Jim made a plan to patch the roof, told of us his new ministry, and we prayed together.

The next day Leon appeared again, this time with his son and a just-shot deer on the back of his four-wheeler. (He talked about the tree, but I think he wanted to show me the deer.) Then Tony and his dad arrived with their mini-excavator and other impressive machines. Jim Blomberg returned, this time with Kevin Blomberg.

In a few hours, the tree was gone, the section of roof that had allowed tree branches to enter the upstairs closet had been patched, and we were on our way to the southern part of the state for Thanksgiving.

Now, what just happened here? An unexpected THUMP did alter what we thought we were to be doing. But, hey, the Lord knew we’d be snowed out Sunday. And without an urgent need to prepare for the service (though I didn’t know that!) He created opportunity for—what was it?—eight visits by five different friends and neighbors. And not all of them know the Lord either!

This all makes a great gospel case study in what to think and do when things go THUMP. Listed out, here’s what I’ve seen, once again:

  1. I’m about as finite, weak and in need of God’s grace as I could be. The tree from the sky reminded me of that, again.
  2. God has everything in hand. If ” … Christ died for our sins …” (1 Cor 15.3), and He did, then things that go THUMP are well within His control and command.
  3. Faith in my Redeemer is both a gift of God (Eph 2.8-10) and a spiritual skill to be exercised. My right response to the Gospel will result in the discovery of both gospel truths (God loves both me and my neighbors) and gospel behaviors (I should pause to see what God is doing, each time my plans are interrupted.)

How about you? What’s going THUMP in your life? How do you, now, plan to respond next time you experience the unexpected?

Have a great weekend. If you’re around here, hope to see you this Sunday, at Woodland.