Making the Invisible Visible: 1 Peter 3.21-22

Quick quiz. Which of the following is visible?

Faith … repentance … the effectual calling of the Spirit of God … the new birth … the baptism of the Spirit that joins the new believer to Christ … water baptism?

I bet you said “water baptism,” and that answer is … CORRECT!

This Sunday at Woodland we’re celebrating baptisms. Our local church family will surround four of our own and recognize them as those who belong to Jesus. That’s one facet of water baptism, and there are others. There’s the believer’s recognition of sin and the proclamation of the Gospel through the ordinance. There’s the believer’s testimony that she has trusted Jesus by faith and turned from sin to follow Jesus. And, there’s the identification of the believer with the finished work of Jesus.

Water baptism makes all these invisible realities visible.

In 1 Peter 3.21-22, Peter charges his readers to make a picture of the saving work of Christ, even while they wait for Christ’s return and suffer hardship in a hostile world. One way we (along with his first readers) are to do this is through the ordinance of baptism that makes a picture by pointing to another picture.

Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ … 

The other picture water baptism points to is the baptism of the Spirit of God that is received by faith. (See Romans 6.3-4, too). Water baptism points to that “appeal” (ESV), that request that the believer makes to God for a good conscience. The picture here is of the believer going to God and saying, “I know I’m far from You, Lord. I believe that Jesus paid for my sins on the cross, and that You raised Him from the dead. Please save me and make me alive too, like Jesus!”

God responds to the believer’s faith by granting  a “good conscience,” the new birth. All of this is based on the work of Jesus, stamped by the resurrection and punctuated by Christ’s victory and present reign.

… Jesus Christ … who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 

Did you know that water baptism points to so much? Have you ever thought of the dunking of a man or woman in a newly lacquered horse tank (that’s what we use here at Woodland!) is invested with so much significance?

Baptism has significance, because water baptism makes a visible picture of the work of Jesus that become ours by faith in Him.

And that’s what we’re celebrating Sunday!

Waiting on Jesus: Luke 8.40-56

Have you ever had to wait for something? Maybe, you wanted to grow out a bad haircut. Or, like many of us in the Northwoods, you waited for plants to emerge from the ground after a long winter.

In Luke 8.40-56, we learn about a fantastic double miracle. Both recipients rely on Jesus to care for them. One recipient has to wait on Jesus.

An Urgent Request (:40-4a). Jesus and His disciples have just returned from the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They’re met by crowds which, in Luke, often function as curious, uncommitted onlookers. Suddenly, the leader (arch-leader, in fact) of the synagogue is at Jesus’ feet. It turns out that his twelve-year-old daughter is in the act of dying. Jairus has flung himself on Jesus. Jesus responds instantly, and departs to Jairus’ house.

An Immediate Response (:42b-48). While Jesus travels the crowd presses on Him. (The word “presses” is the same word used of the thorns that choke the good plants in 8.14). There’s no room to turn, to maneuver. Stealthily, a woman slips through the crowd. We’re told that she is bleeding. Her disorder is something on the order or a uterine hemorrhage. Doubtless, she’s physically weak and ceremonially unclean. According to the law of the day, anyone touching her would be likewise unclean. It’s deeply personal and psychologically damaging. We’re told she’d suffered so for twelve years, spent all her money, and nobody could help her, until now.

Believing Jesus could heal her she touches the fringe of His garment … and is immediately healed!

Who was it that touched me? Jesus asked (:45, ESV). It’s not that He doesn’t know. He’s up to something. Nobody confesses, so Peter (always with a flair for the obvious) gets involved.

Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you (:45b), Peter contributes. Jesus declares that power has gone out from Him. And, while it sounds a bit Harry Potter-like to us, we’re reminded that power is at the heart of Jesus’ relationship to both the Father and the Spirit (e.g. 1.35).

The woman is exposed. Though healed, her fears are realized. Perhaps, she’s made Jesus unclean. Certainly, she doesn’t want her previous condition made known. But, she is most horrified, perhaps, because she is no longer hidden. Jesus is forcing her outside of herself.

Even so, Jesus recognizes her faith. It’s not that she had much faith, but she had faith in Jesus as the object of her faith. (See also Luke 17.5-6). Jesus declares her at peace (:48). Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace. 

And with that we see that Jairus, an exalted man, has made himself vulnerable, and a vulnerable woman has been exalted.

But, what of Jairus?

A Timely Result (:49-56). Jairus is still there. Waiting patiently, maybe. Until a messenger approaches from the house. Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher anymore … (:49). Jesus’ diversion has cost a life, apparently. We can’t fault Jairus, if only quietly, he is crushed and frustrated at Jesus for dinking around. Certainly, he’s had to wait.

But, Jesus has compassion on Jairus. Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well (:50). Faith is the opposite of fear here. Wait, Jairus … do you still believe?

Jesus enters the house privately. The paid mourners perform outside. She’s dead, and everybody knows it. Yet, Jesus has come to overcome death, and we get a little taste of the endgame here. Jesus takes the girl’s hand and shouts to her, like she’s asleep. (I think he’s playing along here a bit.) The girl is raised; she eats, and life returns to normal. Her parents are amazed, and Jesus (curiously) instructs that nobody be told of the event. He hadn’t come to do miracles; He’d come to die. And the manner of life His followers will live will not consist in one victory after the next, but in suffering and sacrifice until they are transformed and alive with Him.

Like a complex dish of food with many flavors coming through, there are complex themes that come through in this account. The strongest of them may be this one:

Those whom Jesus includes depend on Him to care for them, but in His time. 

Both Jairus and the woman received from Jesus. Jesus said YES to the woman, and she received from Him right away. Jesus also said YES to Jairus; only to Jairus, He said YES, BUT NOT YET. And Jairus had to wait for Jesus while Jesus turned up at the time of His own choosing.

So, have you ever had to wait for Jesus? How do you wait for Jesus well?

I love John 15.7-8: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you (in other words, you’re walking with Jesus), ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 

When we’re waiting for Jesus, anxiously like Jairus, maybe, we need to pray that we’ll grow in faith. We need to pray that God will be glorified. And, we need to know that Jesus always says YES to those in His will. Sometimes, He says YES, NOW. Sometimes, He says YES, NOT YET.

All of this has to be seen in light of the end. As surely has Jesus has overcome death at the cross and the tomb, He’ll return to mop up and take the plunder. (First Corinthians 15 comes to mind.) Some of our requests won’t be granted till then. We’ll be like Jairus who had to wait for Jesus to turn up in His time. But, then it will be YES … YES … YES, in Jesus.

As surely as Jesus has saved us and is coming back, Jesus cares for those who depend on Him.

  1. Which of the two figures in the story do you most identify with? The woman, or Jairus?
  2. Have you ever had to wait on Jesus? What was it like?
  3. Did you grow during your time of waiting? How?
  4. Thinking along the lines of John 15.7-8, what does it mean to pray according to God’s will?
  5. What does it mean for Jesus to say YES, BUT NOT YET to our prayers that are asked according to His will?

Proclaim Jesus! Luke 8.26-39

These have been some fantastic Sunday mornings at Woodland!  This time of year our “snow-birds” return to us; our “cabin people” take up residence; and Forest Springs staff haven’t quite hit the level of activity at which they will find themselves a few weeks from now. These make for wonderful, upbeat Sunday mornings of joy and celebration!

Oh, and we keep learning more about Jesus from the Gospel of Luke! This week, in 8.26-39, we discover yet another unlikely follower of Jesus in the person of the demoniac. Jesus takes His disciples on a kind of spiritual retreat. But what a venue He’s chosen! It’s the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the Gentile side where we imagine a pallid sky, a moonscape filled with rocks and tombs, and a herd of pigs.

Jesus steps out of the boat, and a man approaches (:27). This man has “demons”. And there is a kind of calculated chaos in Luke’s presentation of the number of evil spirits who possess the unfortunate wretch of a man—sometimes it’s one, sometimes many; sometimes the demons use “I”, sometimes “we”. Like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings the man is submerged in darkness of every kind—mental fragmentation, social isolation, physical nakedness and a strength that far surpasses that of any healthy man.

The demon(s) recognize Jesus (:28). What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Have you come here to torment me? Important here is that the demon(s) are absolutely lucid with respect to the reality of their situation: they’re going to be confined to darkness and brought to judgment (see 2 Pet 2.4). Only they don’t want to go there yet. Instead, they prefer to wander in desolate places looking to be hosted by flesh-and-blood creatures (see Luke 11.24-26); and, they’re crying “unfair” to Jesus who threatens to judge them before their time.

Jesus examines the demons (:30). “What is your name?” He asks. Legion, the demons answer, for many demons had entered him. This is instructive. It appears that Jesus will need to demonstrate His authority in a manner not yet shown. Since a great army of demons possess the man, a large number of hosts will be required to possess the spirits, if Jesus is to grant the request. He does, and allows the demons to enter into a herd of pigs who then rush to their destruction (:32-33).

As miraculous of a display of power as this is, we haven’t yet arrived at the point of the account. In verse 34, the herdsmen flee for fear into the city and “announce” (“tell,” in the ESV) what has become of the pigs. In verse 35, those of the city go out to their lost herd, only to find the man in his right mind sitting at Jesus’ feet. Those who find the man “announce” (there’s that word again) what Jesus has done for the man. The man, whom we’ve not yet really met in the story, is now mentally, emotionally, physically, socially at peace. And, he has found JESUS!

Like the demons, the people of the city fear Jesus, because they want something other than Jesus. They ask Jesus to leave, and He does, because He won’t remain where He’s not wanted. Then, while Jesus is getting into the boat (which functions like a pair of bookends in the story), the formerly-possessed man asks to come with Jesus.

Jesus’ reply really makes the story: Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you, Jesus tells him. Then we are told, … he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him (:39).

The major application of the account can be found in the three verbs of proclamation, in the second half of the story: announce … declare … and PROCLAIM.

Sometimes, in our attempt to be informal and friendly, we get too casual about reporting what Jesus has done. This story helps us. Those freed from darkness need to PROCLAIM what Jesus has done. And this brings us to three take-aways:

  1. We all begin in darkness and seek rest in Jesus. The demoniac is an extreme case, but we’re not entirely unlike him. We don’t begin life seeing clearly our spiritual condition. We need the Spirit of God to illumine our situation, and we need peace in Jesus in order to be free from our sins. And this is possible, because, unlike the demons, Jesus died for us.
  2. the Gospel is something we proclaim! Sure, we can talk about “sharing the Gospel”. (I probably won’t give up that language.) But, those who have been freed from darkness won’t talk about Jesus like He’s a marketing plan. We will proclaim the facts of what Jesus has done—at the cross and in our lives.
  3. We at Woodland are increasingly a people who proclaim what Jesus has done. This needs to be our business, in our services, in smaller group studies and home gatherings, and, finally, in our community, as we urge others to trust Jesus and make God’s story of redemption part of their story of redemption.

Those freed form darkness proclaim what JESUS has done!

And so Jesus gathers to Himself yet another unlikely follower. This time He’s displayed previously unseen power over a myriad evil spirits and demonstrated that He is truly “Son of the Most High God,” with power over all God’s creation. And we have once again seen our Savior at work.

Let’s think back to Jesus’ work at the cross this week. And, as we do, let’s tell somebody about what Jesus has done. Then, let’s reflect on what it’s like to find peace from darkness by faith in Jesus. And as we do that, let’s proclaim Jesus all over again.

And, as you do, have a great week in the Lord!

Forgiven Much: Luke 7.36-50

Have you ever felt not worthy? Maybe, you knew you weren’t up to somebody else’s standard, and you knew it. Some of us live in there, don’t we?

Jesus loved much by a sinner needing to know peace (:36-39). In Luke 7.36-50, we meet another unlikely candidate to be a follower of Jesus. The account opens with Jesus being invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee. And, we picture them reclining together, some disciples and other Pharisees around, maybe. The front door of the Middle-eastern home opens on to a courtyard where servants work and mix with the locals.

Then, she enters. That woman whom everybody, except Jesus (it is assumed) knows to be a “sinner,” a”woman of the city”. Bringing a bottle of expensive oil, she anoints Jesus’s feet—weeping from gratitude, wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair, kissing his feet, and anointing his feet all over again.

The scene is an uncomfortable one. Simon responds, If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner (:39, ESV). Note that that Simon has now revealed his motive for having Jesus over: he wants to find out what Jesus is all about. Note also that Simon has assigned everybody a category: woman—sinner! Prophet—knows everything and condemns everybody! Jesus—can’t be a prophet, because He hasn’t cast the woman out.

Note also that Simon has only thought this. Jesus, accused of not knowing the woman, responds ironically by not only knowing the woman but knowing what Simon is thinking!

Jesus loved little by a sinner needing to know forgiveness (:40-50). Jesus interrupts Simon’s thoughts. Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered him, “Say it, Teacher” (:40).

Jesus then proceeds to tell a simple story about a man owed the equivalent of 2 months work by one man and 15 months work by another. After cancelling both debts, it is obvious that the man with the greater debt will love the debt-holder more. Simon must agree, and after pointing out Simon’s lack of civility in not offering to wash His feet or give Him the customary kiss of greeting, Jesus sums up the situation: Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little (:47).

The account ends with those around the table beginning to get the picture. If Jesus can forgive sins, then He is (at least) from God. The woman, long judged by others, receives assurance of her forgiveness and the peace that comes from leaving her burden behind. Your faith has saved you; go in peace, Jesus tells her (:50).

Forgiven much … love much … much peace and assurance. 

Some of us relate to the woman. We recognize our sins that are many, grievous, secret and shameful. Yet, we cling to Jesus, knowing He offered Himself, the infinite payment for an infinite number of sins. We experience forgiveness, and we love Jesus … But, we’re yet afraid to enter the presence of those we think have sinned less than us.

Those of us who relate to the woman need to remember whom she looks at while she endured the scorn of those who judged her. Exclusively at Jesus, right?

And, some of us relate (or ought to relate) most to Simon. We’ve hedged our bets; we’ve dabbled in some grey areas, but we’ve never been over the line. We’ve thought of Jesus as a roadside assistant: a “nice, nice Savior who gives us a hand when we break down.” But, if that’s how we view Jesus, we won’t love Him very much. If that’s how we think of Jesus, our eyes won’t be on Jesus, they’ll be on other people, so we can measure ourselves against them.

The tragedy of Simon is that he was every bit the sinner the woman is, only he didn’t know it. The woman experience peace and the confidence that comes from assurance of acceptance by God.

  1. What is it about this true account that makes it such good drama? Where do you feel the tension? Where do you feel the discomfort and, finally, resolution?
  2. Which of the figures in the account proves to be the most unlikely follower for Jesus?
  3. Whom do you relate to in the account? The woman or Simon the Pharisee?
  4. How can we know that we are loving Jesus “little”? How does one remedy a Pharisee-heart like Simon’s?
  5. How should this account affect our fellowship as a church family? How does it change our picture of what the family of God is like?

Commendable Faith: Luke 7.1-10

Have you ever made Jesus “marvel”? How would you know if you had?

Moving through Luke we’ve been following this gospel writer’s broad theme of discipleship. What does it look like to follow Jesus and bring others along?

Now in chapters 7-8, we come to a series of passages that ask and answer the question: Whom does Jesus include as His disciples? After His sobering sermon in chapter 6, you’d think Jesus would include the material poor, those who suffer material loss for their association to Him. And so He will, but Luke has a surprise for us in 7.1-10.

Jesus returns to Capernaum (:1). This account takes place as Jesus moves back to Capernaum. You’d expect Him to move among the materially poor of His own people. Maybe, He’ll preach a sermon in the synagogue. Instead, He receives an envoy from a centurion who doesn’t seem to fit the demographic Jesus is talking about. This man comes from Israel’s enemies, for one thing—the very kind of person Jesus has commanded His followers to love. On top of that, this surprise follower is wealthy.

Jesus responds to humility (:2-6a). In addition to Jesus there’s three figures or sets of players in this account.

Jesus receives a message from a centurion. He’d like Jesus to come and heal his special servant. Commanding 100 soldiers this middle-level commander would be like a captain or major in our military system. We find out in the dialogue that  he’s a lover of the Jewish people; and, he respects the Jewish practice of not allowing a non-Jew to come under the roof of a Jewish home. Jesus is apparently reaching into the upper strata of society. More important, He has found someone who is not materially poor but is yet humble toward God in a spiritual way.

There’s also the centurion’s servant. He’s described as “highly valued,” a word indicating that he’s not just useful, but loved. This man “lingers to die,” and it grieves the centurion. We never meet the servant, but he’s the catalyst for the story.

Then there’s the local Jewish leadership. These men come to Jesus urging Him to act on the part of the centurion. He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (:4-5, ESV), they assure Jesus. By their estimation of the centurion, he has earned an audience with Jesus. And, it’s not hard to see how there might be advantage in this for them, too. Today, we could imagine them pressing for a photo opportunity or a “selfie”—them, Jesus, and the Roman centurion. “Don’t mess this up, Jesus,” we imagine them thinking.

And Jesus went with them …

Jesus reacts to recognition of His authority (:6b-9). As Jesus draws near the house, the centurion sends a group of friends with a message. Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof … But say the word and my servant will be healed (:6 … 7b).

Ironic, isn’t it? The man who built the synagogue won’t show off his own house. Contrary to the claim of the Jewish elders, the centurion doesn’t believe himself to be worthy of Jesus.

This centurion understands something about authority. We catch it in his reasoning, also recorded in the message: For I am too a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (:8). The centurion understood that all legitimate authority is granted from God. And, he recognizes what he controls: soldiers here, and there; the occupying force of Israel, in fact. But, there are things he has no authority over: DEATH, in fact! And, in Jesus, the centurion recognizes one with authority over life and death! Just as his soldiers obey him, so sickness and death will obey the Son of God!

Jesus turns to the crowd and “marveled”: I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith (:9).

This is beautiful, because the centurion has just made a picture of the Gospel. When we come to Jesus we bring nothing but our sin. We can’t leverage God, or give Him an assignment. All we can do is “ask”. That’s humility, like the centurion’s. And, when we come to Jesus rightly we throw ourselves on His authority. And God will receive us based on Jesus’ work, not our own.

Jesus restores the sick man (:10). And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. In the anti-climactic ending to the account we have no record of Jesus “saying the word”. Jesus doesn’t meet the sick man. It’s a remote healing! And Jesus doesn’t meet the centurion, either. The emphasis here is not on how you get things from Jesus but on what commendable faith looks like. And this faith makes Jesus marvel!

Jesus commends the faith of those who are humble and recognize His authority.

Here’s a few questions to guide your thinking on this passage:

  1. What observations or insights have you made about this account that are helpful for you?
  2. What are you trusting God for?
  3. How does the Gospel inform how we go about trusting God? (Think about the place of  HUMILITY in the Gospel. We bring nothing to God but our sin. Also, consider Jesus’ AUTHORITY that is His based on God’s acceptance of His work on the cross.)
  4. What things can we pray for that God has already promised to grant those who come to Him?
  5. When we pray according to God’s will (think: John 15.7), we recognize that God can say “yes,” and He can say “not yet”. How is this distinction helpful?
  6. How do passages like Luke 11.9-13 and Galatians 4.6-7 further inform the way we “ask” God for what is dear to our hearts?
  7. Now, how would you describe the kind of faith that makes Jesus marvel?

Have a blessed week, in the Lord!