Your New Identity: Saved by the Lamb

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Who are you? This question goes beyond what you would fill out on your tax form – Name: Jonathan Edward Stairs; Gender: Male; Family: Head of Household. Occupation: Pastor. No, I want to know who are you. This is a very important question that many of us are still trying to figure out. And it is not just a young person’s question who is trying to “find themselves” in their twenties. In your teens, you wonder if you are accepted. In your 20s, you wonder what you are called to – What career? What person to marry? And in your 30s, you wonder who you really are as your life gets absorbed in others being an employee or a mother and father. In your 40s, many start to question whether what has always defined you and what they have pursued is worth it, but you have to keep going because you have too many commitments with your family, mortgage and job to quit. In your 50s, you wrestle with who you are as you swing back and forth between being a mentor and wondering whether you are even considered relevant anymore. Then in your 60s, your identity is too often defined by retirement. In your 70s, abandonment may be the definition that marks you as you say good-bye to many of your friends and your kids are too busy with career and raising their own children. In your 80s and 90s, you would probably define yourself by how healthy you are. Who are you is an important question throughout our lives!

But if a stranger were going to ask you what is the thing that defines you the most – what is your true identity? What would you say? That is exactly the question that the most famous cousin in history was asked. We can read how John the Baptist answered the question “who are you” in John 1:19-34! John was actually out in the desert and people kept flocking to him. Isn’t it interesting that the desert – a place of dryness, deprivation and desolation – became a place where people found refreshment for their souls through John’s baptism? A place of absence can become a place of abundance through repentance. To find your true identity, you need to know who you are not in order to find out who you are and most often it is the harsh reality of the desert that strips you of everything except the true you. Let’s see this in what John the Baptist says of himself in John 1:19-34! Read John 1:19-34!

Sometimes the best way of finding out who you are is by finding out who you are not. I’m sure John the Baptist went through that time of self-discovery. The desert does that to you and more importantly, can help you discover who God is. John the Baptist didn’t have it easy. He ate locusts and honey and wore scratchy clothes made of camel’s hair (Matthew 3:4). He couldn’t even escape his critics as they chased after him in the desert. In verse 19 we find the Jewish religious leaders sent a contingency to interrogate John, “And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” John didn’t hide what he knew to be true about himself. That question “who are you” can cause us to become protective. We can immediately not be truthful about who we are. I confess that at times I am hesitant to identify myself as a pastor because people immediately make a value judgment about me and often view pastors negatively. Contrast this with John the Baptist in verse 20. The NASB quotes verbatim how the Gospel writer wrote it, “And he confessed, and did not deny, but confessed.” The double emphasis is on confession. D.A. Carson explains, “Even John the Baptist’s denials that he was not the Christ constituted his positive witness.”[1] This is a good reminder that we must confess who we are.

But first we must confess who we are not. We often want people to think more highly of us than we are. We think of ourselves smarter, braver, stronger, and more capable than others. This pathway will eventually lead to disillusionment when we find out we are not as great as we think we are. And when we realize that we are not as great as we think we are, we start to find ourselves. We find our true identity by first describing who we are not. John the Baptist’s confession was first through denial. John actually denies four identities. We could call them false identities. I believe we are prone to adopting these false identities for ourselves. The false identities are Saviour, Visionary, Worthy and Knowledgeable. John the Baptist clearly says he was not the Christ, he was not the Prophet, he was not worthy and he was not even able to recognize the One they were all looking for. Let us unpack these denials because they reveal often who we think we are, but are not.

The first denial we need to make is that we are not the Saviour! You probably would be quick to admit that you are not the Saviour, but how often do you live as the Saviour to others and to yourself. Who here rushes in to fix your problem or fix another’s problem? I was reminded of how much more effective it is when we are patient and wait for God to fix the problem by studying the life of Sheldon Jackson. Sheldon Jackson desired to be a missionary since he was a young boy. When the American West opened up in the early to mid-1800s, there were “boom towns arising, cowboys, mining camps, rowdy saloons and gunfighters. Jackson went everywhere searching for souls with the fervor of a prairie fire. He stood just over 5’ tall, but his size allowed him to sleep anywhere – a stagecoach floor, a saloon loft, a hollow log, a teepee, or a canoe. Some described him as ‘short, bewhiskered, bespectacled, but a giant.’ He served as superintendent of Presbyterian missions from New Mexico to Minnesota. When the United States purchased Alaska, he headed there at once, and the North soon became his passion. He explored the dangerous, uncharted fog-hidden coasts of the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. He established schools for the young and placed missionaries in the hamlets. He evangelized and established churches. In fact, during 50 years of ministry he travelled a million miles through the American West and North establishing 886 churches. His secret? His friends simply explained, ‘He never hurried. He just persisted.’”[2]

But this is not who we are – we often rush in to fix a problem instead of allowing Jesus to do the work through us! Just because we belong to the Messianic community does not mean we should have a Messianic complex. We should be quick to point others to Jesus. John the Baptist does and denies being the Christ before he is even asked the question by saying at the end of verse 20, “I am not the Christ.” Maybe you have been in a situation and people are overly thankful or effusive of your help and they start to treat you like you are the Messiah. You will be the one to rescue them from all their problems. It is critical that you politely cut them off and deflect all glory to Christ. You are not the Saviour, Jesus is!

The second denial is that you are not an all-seeing visionary. There might be times when God downloads an insight to you, but none of us knows all that is going to happen in the future. And yet, we act like it! You might be arguing with me in your mind and pleading not guilty to the charge of thinking you know what is going to happen in the future. However, do you ever worry about things that are going to happen? Do you know for certain that they will? Tim Keller makes the point that the root of our worry is really pride. Because YOU think YOU know what is going to happen! Sometimes we worry about an issue when we have no idea what God is going to do. John the Baptist was able to deny having such vision. His inquisitors asked him in verse 21, “Are you Elijah?” In other words, are you the powerful prophet returning to earth after being taken up into heaven? And then John’s critics hedged their bets and asked whether he was the Prophet that was predicted in Deuteronomy 18:18! There are many who are looking for people to give them insight into the future. That is why people go to financial planners for advice, they check out the weather forecast, they use statistics from a player’s or team’s past performance and bet on a game or worse, they go to a medium or psychic to try to figure out the future. But none of these can perfectly predict the future. Only God can! This is why your identity can’t be in what you will be or hope to be. I realize some advocate for “realization” techniques where you visualize what you want in the future and then you go hard after making your dreams come true. But I have found that God has better plans. We need to deny we are amazing visionaries and trust Christ to guide us. We are not visionaries! Christ has the vision and He should be our vision.

Our attempt at fixing things by trying to be a savior and our attempt to shape the future by being a visionary will lead to us falling short. This leads us to a third denial. The third denial is that we are not worthy. John the Baptist was the most popular religious figure during the time (Luke 3:1-17). He even had religious leaders seek him out in the desert (John 1:19). He was the son of the priest Zacharias and his miracle birth was well known (Luke 1:57-66). This young man had high expectations placed on him even before he was born. And yet, John declares was not worthy in verse 26, “It is he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” Did you catch that? John the Baptist did not consider himself worthy to untie the sandal of the Prophet and the Messiah. That Prophet and Messiah was wrapped into one person – Jesus Christ. Our Muslims friends believe this Prophet was Muhammad as they quote Deuteronomy 18:15. However, that prophesy says explicitly that the Prophet would be raised up “from among your countrymen,” which means that the Prophet would have be an Israelite. Muhammad was definitely not an Israelite. Getting back to John 1, we need to remember that John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were cousins and John was older. I doubt none of you who have younger cousins, think that you are unworthy to tie their sandals, maybe you actually had to help them tie their shoes at one time.

Being unworthy is not how we usually see ourselves. I know in my mind, I so easily default to the thinking I am worthy. We think we deserve all the good we get. We have worked hard. We are smarter and more experienced. Even this weekend, we may think that we deserve a break. Whenever I start to think I deserve something or people tell me I deserve something good, I need to tell myself that I am not good without the righteousness of Christ and what I deserve is hell for my rebellion. This is why I like the phrase I have adopted from others when asked how I am doing, “Better than I deserve!” This is important in understanding our identity. There are some teachers that overemphasize that we are saints at the expense of being sinners. Whereas the Apostle Paul later on would call himself the “chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) How you see yourself totally affects your actions! If you see yourself as only a saint, pride and excuse can creep in. If you see yourself as only a sinner, you will often feel despair and hopeless and just continue to sin. However, if you see yourself as an unworthy sinner saved by God’s grace that has turned you into a saint, you will be able to truly serve Christ without expectation of reward or trying to pay off your debts. Deny you are worthy, but confess Christ is worthy!

The last denial of who we are is that we really don’t know Christ as we should. In verse 27, John the Baptist declared that the people of his day did not know Jesus, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you do not know.” “John’s baptism was designed to prepare the people for Christ.”[3] And yet, what is peculiar in this account is that when Jesus shows up, John is unsure of whether Jesus was the Christ. John 1:33 records John the Baptist’s thinking, “I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’” Later on after John the Baptist is put in prison, he summoned two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus asking, “Are You the Expected One or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:19) Even John the Baptist was confused and doubted Jesus’ identity when John was suffering. Skepticism during suffering is normal.

And yet, John still believed. He declares and reveals Jesus’ true identity. What is Jesus’ true identity? Jesus is identified as three things in this account: 1) The Lamb of God (v. 29); 2) The Eternal One (v. 30); and 3) The Son of God (v. 34). Jesus being the Lamb of God is so crucial to our understanding of who He is. For those new to the faith or exploring Christianity, it might be a weird title or one you only know through the groove metal band “Lamb of god.” You might even wonder how can a lamb save you? They can’t even save themselves as lambs don’t have any defence mechanisms – no claws or sharp teeth. But it is because they are so innocent and helpless that they can help us. As Warren Wiersbe points out though, the lamb has been means of getting right with God from the beginning of the Bible.[4] Abel brought lambs from his flock for the first recorded sacrifice. Then fast forward to Abraham. Recall in Genesis 22:7 when Isaac asked his father Abraham, “Where is the Lamb?” And Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And then Isaac was rescued at the last minute rescued before he was going to be sacrificed by his father. How did God rescue Isaac? A lamb? No, it was a ram, not a lamb! (Genesis 22:13) The Lamb that would ultimately take away Abraham’s sin was not his son Isaac, but his distant son Jesus. You see, it wasn’t just Abraham’s sin that was taken away by Jesus, but the whole world’s – Jesus’ death was sufficient for everyone; efficient for those who believe on Him. Do you believe in Him? And because Jesus is the Lamb, He is the Saviour! And because Jesus is the Saviour, we don’t need to be our own savior. And because Jesus is the Saviour our new identity is that we are saved. Who are you? You are saved!

But there is more! You are not just saved, but have been given a vision. You may not know all the future, but you can know the One who does. How does He know the future? Jesus is eternal! John the Baptist makes this peculiar saying literally in the original in verse 30, “After me comes a Man who has come before me.” How can somebody that comes after John also come before him? This only makes sense if that same person who comes both before and yet after John is eternal. And because Jesus is eternal and has perfect vision for the past, present and future, this changes our identity. We can know where to go and what to do! This is one of the pressing questions Thomas asked Jesus later on in John 14:5-6, “’Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’” Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus would be the way! Jesus has become the vision we need as the hymn writer wrote, “Be Thou My Vision.” Rather than visionary, your new identity is eternally saved!

And yet, there is even more. Jesus is not just the Lamb who saves the world, and He is not just eternal that saves us eternally, but He is also the Son of God. John the Baptist declares this explicitly in verse 34, “Jesus is the Son of God.” And because Jesus is the Son of God this changes our identity. Remember we are unworthy, but Jesus is worthy because He is the Son of God.

And now we can really know God through Him. Because He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit as John declares in verse 33, “This is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” We become spiritually washed and given new life through the Holy Spirit! We will talk more about that next week, for now the Lamb of God makes you saved! That is who you are! And all because of Jesus! You find yourself in Christ!

[1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 143.

[2] Robert J. Morgan, On this Day, May 18 “He Just Persisted” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers), 1997.

[3] Carson, 146.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 287.

An Unexpected Miracle

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Have you ever experienced a miracle that you weren’t looking for? Sure there are miracles that we long for – healing from cancer, a baby born after battling barrenness, or finally getting out of debt. But what if you experienced a miracle that you weren’t looking for and that you weren’t praying for. I’ve had many of those miracles, maybe some I didn’t even realize, but two of those miracles I can recall come to mind. The first was when I wasn’t looking for a girl to come in my life. In fact, I had kinda swore off girls after they kept breaking my heart and my life was becoming fodder for a country western song. Then God brought this beautiful girl with wavy black hair, warm eyes, a vivacious personality, and a ministry heart and mind from Kansas into my life. This girl eventually even agreed to marry me and has given me four amazing children. She is a great mom and I want to honour her today!

The other miracle that I wasn’t looking for, but surprised me was what happened to my own mom. In order to understand what happened to my mom, I need to give you a little background information. I was 18 years old, in my final year of high school, when my parents sat me down and told me that God was calling my father to serve in a new church in London, Ontario as their pastor. We were going to leave the town of Chatham where I had grown up for the past 13 years. This meant leaving my friends, the youth group and the church that I loved. I certainly didn’t think this was the right timing. Why couldn’t God just wait one more year and I would be able to make a clean break without having to start over in a new place before heading to Chicago for college? Have you ever had to live somewhere temporarily? You wonder whether to put down roots when you may be soon transplanted. If you do an emotional and relational energy audit, the output seems to outweigh the input. I have learned though that putting down roots even for a short season can produce fruit. I learned that lesson as we ended up moving to London. In so doing, we had to get all new dentists and doctors. It was during her first exam with her new doctor, my mom discovered that she had a mass in her abdomen. It turned out to be a precancerous cyst and she had surgery to remove it. That unexpected miracle has given my family and I twenty-four more years with my mom and she is sitting here today as I preach. I can’t even imagine what our life would be like with my children not knowing their Nana or our church not having my mom’s kindness to encourage us. God gave us a miracle that we were not looking for.

This reminds me of another mom who was not necessarily looking for a miracle. In fact, a whole group of people were celebrating a special day and not looking for a miracle when it happened. What happened? Let’s read John 2:1-12 to find out. This story will help us see our new identity through Christ – an unexpected miracle. Read John 2:1-12!

The story starts out with a description of Jesus and His disciples being invited to a wedding along with His mother. In fact, the Gospel writer John makes it clear that this was the third day. This miracle gives us a glimpse towards the future of Jesus’ ultimate third day miracle, when He would rise from the dead, but in this case the third day is referring to three days after Jesus recruited His new disciples. Warren Wiersbe explains, “The ‘third day’ means 3 days after the call of Nathanael.”[1] What does Wiersbe mean? The Gospel writer John loves to focus on certain weeks in the life of Jesus. In John 1:43, we find the calling of Nathanael as Jesus’ disciple. Three days later, Jesus shows up at a wedding, probably on His day of rest. That day of rest was to be a day of celebration, but like all mothers know, even a day of rest and celebration turns out to be work. If you have had to work today in any way, maybe even correcting your children and picking up their messes, you are in the same company of Jesus on His day of rest. Interestingly, John 1-2 seems to parallel Genesis 1-2. They both include a wedding – the first wedding with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and this unnamed couple in John 2. Jesus, as the eternal Son of God (John 1:49), was at both ceremonies. Which is a good reminder, “Wise is that couple who invites Jesus to their wedding.”[2] (Warren Wiersbe)       

So Jesus shows up and His mother tells Jesus about a major problem. What does she say in verse 3? “They have no more wine!” That is a major problem because it was the expected drink at weddings. It would go beyond a debate about whether to have alcohol served at your wedding. It meant committing the gravest of sins in the Middle East – not being hospitable. In fact, as Warren Wiersbe explains, “A family guilty of such ineptness could actually be fined. So to run out of wine could be costly both financially and socially.”[3] No wonder Mary feels bad for the couple. Actually Mary’s response may be surprising because Mary doesn’t seem to have had a wedding herself. She and Joseph probably eloped because of Jesus. The Virgin Mary was pregnant with Jesus and didn’t even get a shotgun wedding – just a bumpy ride on a donkey down to Bethlehem. But instead of being bitter, she felt for this young couple. And so she goes to Jesus! “Like any widow, Mary had leaned hard on her firstborn son.”[4]

In fact, leaning hard on Jesus is good for all mothers to do, and fathers and everybody else. It is good for you to do! But in Mary’s case, it almost sounds like Jesus is being snarky with her in verse 4, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” D.A. Carson clarifies that Jesus was not giving the snide response of a young teenager, but was saying, “Ma’am, how can we help you?”[5] This was actually a respectful response. Ma’am is the Southern U.S. way of saying Madam. However, as submissive as Jesus was, He also was more concerned about His Heavenly Father’s agenda. This is why Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come.”

And it is here that we find the true meaning of this story. This story is not about coming to Jesus so you don’t have to go to the LCBO store and purchase wine. It is not about Jesus’ validation of marriage, though that is a side point. This story is not even about having compassion for people in a difficult situation. This story is about redemption. It was about falling short of the glory of God and Jesus making up the difference for our lack of glory. We fall short of the glory of God and Jesus miraculously makes up the difference! Yet, we fall short; Jesus makes up the difference. We run out – out of energy, out of time, out of patience, out of grace, out of forgiveness, out of love for others. When we run out, Jesus runs in!

You might wonder where I am getting this idea of falling short of the glory of God! Check out John 2:11 as the summary statement: “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him.” Jesus was hesitant to do this miracle, even if Mary was possibly just asking her boy and his new friends to go get some more wine. Mary might have been saying, “Go get some more wine!” But she probably had learned by now that Jesus could do more. And Jesus wanted to do so much more. As D.A. Carson remarks, “Mary is apparently asking Jesus do something to remedy the shortage of wine; He replies that the hour of His death/exaltation has not yet come.”[6] In other words, like a time bomb, the clock starts ticking as soon as Jesus does this miracle. He particularly would be fighting deadly legalism. And the bomb would be the explosive power of the Cross, which would start destroying evil by a ripple effect. I call this the ripple effect of redemption. No wonder this phrase “My time has not yet come” is repeated 7 times throughout the Gospel of John but always in reference to the Cross. For example, Jesus prays in John 17:1, “Father, the hour has come!” Jesus shows throughout this Gospel how He would make up the difference for us falling short of God’s glory. That difference that Jesus made changes our identity through Him giving us a new identity! But we first need to recognize our own shortcomings.

In the story of John 2, we find two shortcomings: 1) The inability to provide enough for ourselves and others; and 2) The inability to keep the rules. The first shortcoming is obvious! The Bride and Groom and their family did not provide enough wine for their guests. And yet, this was supposed to be when they were to present the best possible for others. The wedding would have been planned for years, not unlike weddings in India, where the parents begin saving and planning for a lavish wedding for their child almost from the time the child is born. Middle Eastern weddings are one of the great events on the social calendar, especially in small towns like Cana. Nevertheless, the couple despite all the planning, didn’t even realize their shortcoming. They didn’t realize they were out of wine! Maybe you are in a situation where you are not even aware of your shortcomings? It is like little Billy that Paul Tripp talks about. “If Billy pushes Suzy, causing her to fall and hit her head, and you come into the room and ask Billy why he did it, he won’t talk about himself. He’ll talk about what Suzy did or how he tripped over the toys in the room, but he won’t say: ‘I’ve got sin in my heart that makes me selfish, so I push others when they get in my way. Please pray for me, Mom.”[7] We laugh, but it isn’t just Billy who doesn’t know what is really going on in his heart – it’s all of us unaware of our selfishness and shortcomings. The Bride and Groom in the story were also headed for a deep sense of embarrassment and shame because they simply hadn’t planned and organized well enough. Jesus rescued them from their shortcomings – lovingly and quietly! They actually get a lot of credit. In verse 10, the headwaiter gives credit to the groom for saving the best wine until last. This is akin to me saying today that without me, my mom would not be a mother and my wife would not be a mother so would shouldn’t I be honoured today? How ridiculous! And yet, this was Jesus redeeming the situation and their impending lack of glory. When we have a shortcoming to provide for ourselves and others, Jesus will provide for us if we turn to Him!

The second shortcoming in the story is more subtle. You have to read the story carefully to find it. However, if you read and used our Study Guide this week, you will have a leg up because we highlighted the significance of stone pots in verse 6 representing Jewish religion. These 30 gallon stone water pots were used “for the Jewish custom of purification.” The Jews were extra sensitive about cleansing. This was way more than your mom making sure that you washed your hands before coming to the dinner table. This was an effort to make yourself pure before God. But the first problem was that this ceremonial washing was not specifically mandated in Scripture for everyday life; only during sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Yes, cleanliness was a principle mentioned in Leviticus, but nothing specific about washing with this “holy water.” So this meant that the Jews were taking a principle and making it a pathway to God. It became a man-made rule and tool. Oh how many of us have tried to get closer to God by adding rules found beyond Scripture – don’t eat this, or drink that, or watch this or wear that. We think such actions prove we are godly and that God will accept us. It doesn’t! In fact, these water pots reveal a bigger problem, maybe our biggest problem. The jars were empty! You can’t get to God through the rules. Instead, you will find yourself empty – you will have fallen short of the glory of God! This is bad news. You and I try our best to keep the rules, often self-imposed, but we fall short. The Good News is that Jesus comes to redeem our short-comings with the rules and our lack of glory. We run out, Jesus runs in! How? Jesus came to fulfill the Law! (Matthew 5:14) The Law had always been condemning. Think back to Moses before Pharaoh in Egypt. Warren Wiersbe points out, “Moses’ first miracle was a plague – turning water into blood (Exodus 7:19), which speaks of judgment. Our Lord’s first miracle turned water into wine, which spoke of grace.”[8] Jesus was the only one ever to live a perfect life and keep all of God’s commandments without fail and because of that the judgment of water turning into blood pointed to when Jesus’ blood would be our judgment for sin and then Jesus exchanged that blood for our grace, which represents the wine at the Communion table. Without Christ and His blood we fail!

This is what we must admit – we do fail; we fall short! We run out! Nobody would dare claim to be perfect here. We need Christ to miraculously make up the difference, whether we are those who are living in ignorance like the Bride and Groom just enjoying the party, or if we are like the religious who are always trying to make themselves clean by keeping man-made rules. Both groups need Jesus to make up the difference to experience His glory! And here is how we practically see Jesus make up the difference. If you want Jesus to make up the difference for your shortcomings, then ask yourself these questions each day:

1) Do you go to Jesus first with your problem? (v. 3) Do you go to your friends, family, teachers or boss with your problem or to Jesus? Jesus is the only real solution to your problem!

2) Do you trust Christ for the impossible? (v. 3) Is there something impossible in your life right now? Something you can’t fix. Are you trusting Jesus with it?

3) Are you doing whatever Jesus tells you? (v. 5) What is Jesus telling you to do? Love that person? Forgive that person? Stick with somebody and work out the problem? Or do what Jesus did and serve a person who will take credit for your work?

4) Do you believe that Jesus will always give you His abundant best? (v. 7)

… Even if it breaks all the “rules” you have been taught? (v. 6) Maybe you have a preference or tradition in your family or church. Do you believe Jesus will give you His best?

… Even if it is delayed? (v. 10) What if Jesus doesn’t give it to you today or this week? Or in this lifetime? Will you still trust Him?

… Even though it means bearing a Cross? (v. 4; cf. 19:25-26)  What if it means suffering for a little while?

5) Do you desire Jesus’ glory to be revealed in your life? (v. 11)

UnknownMaybe today, you came and were not expecting a miracle! You came for your mom’s sake. But God has been impressing upon your heart that you have fallen short of God’s glory and you need Jesus to miraculously make up the difference. Today, you need to be like the servants who were told by Mary, “Whatever He says to you, do it!” For some of you, this means surrendering your life to Christ. You can do that by asking Jesus to take over for your shortcomings. I will pray for you and for us all in a moment. And yet, there may be others, those who have had some serious pew time that also need to come to Jesus for your shortcomings. One of the indicators that you might need to come to Jesus is if your heart is stuck on the rules and you are wondering why I didn’t take a stand against alcoholism today. Remember, that was the first question some of you asked me 5 years ago this weekend when I candidated here to become your Lead Pastor. Many of you were very concerned about the use of alcohol. I told you that the Bible does not teach abstinence, but for the sake of those struggling with alcohol I forego that liberty to create a safe haven for alcoholics. I am more like the people in this photo.  So let me answer those questions and I’ll conclude with a question of my own. Was it really wine? Yes, it was wine – the best wine, not just the higher alcohol content stuff many people drink today. D.A. Carson explains, “Wine in the ancient world was diluted with water to between 1/3 and 1/10 of its fermented strength – something less strong than American beer. Undiluted wine, about the strength of wine today, was viewed as ‘strong drink.’”[9] So did Jesus encourage drunkenness? (I mean now a days you are responsible for the alcohol you serve, especially if people are leaving your place to drive home.) No, Jesus was not aiding their drunkenness. Many were far from being drunk and probably some hadn’t had any wine to drink – remember, they ran out! Furthermore, I love Warren Wiersbe’s response to those who use this passage as license to drink, “If you use Jesus as your example for drinking, why don’t you follow His example in everything else?”[10] Right now, in heaven Jesus is a teetotaler according to Luke 22:18, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” Jesus is waiting to drink with us (including Baptists) in the new heaven and new earth when our glorified bodies will not be given to drunkenness.

For now, it would be better to be like the drunken coal miner who experienced Jesus make up the shortcoming in his life. “One of his friends tried to trap him by asking, ‘Do you believe that Jesus turned water into wine?’ ‘I certainly do!’ the believer replied, ‘In my home, He has turned wine into furniture, decent clothes and food for my children!’” You see, Jesus wants to redeem us! He wants to make up the difference whether our shortcomings are through being bad or through being good (just not good enough). We fall short of the glory of God and Jesus miraculously makes up the difference! That is a message for all mothers and all children, of which all of us fall into one of those two categories. It is a message for the sinner and saint alike. Jesus has come to give you a miracle you weren’t looking for – a new identity as His Child and His Miracle! Will you do whatever He says for you to do right now?

[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 290.

[2] Wiersbe, 290.

[3] Wiersbe, 290.

[4] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 170.

[5] Carson, 170.

[6] Carson, 172.

[7] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, “May 14” (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014).

[8] Wiersbe, 291.

[9] Carson, 169.

[10] Wiersbe, 292.

Following Jesus and Relating to Technology

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Who is on a campaign to save the world? Jesus? Yes! And also, Bill Nye the Science Guy! Bill Nye at the most recent Earth Day rally is quoted as saying, “We can save the world!” He is even starting a new TV series on Netflix entitled Bill Nye Saves the World! Mr. Nye, if you are listening, Jesus already did save the world! If we all followed Jesus and the principles found in His Word of loving one another and being caregivers of the earth, there would not be so many ecological and more importantly, relational problems. But there is more to Bill Nye’s quote. One of the things that interests me about Bill Nye is his religious passion for science. He is not the only one. Listen to this quote from Brian Schmidt, professor at Australian University, writing on the World Economic Forum website, Science is humanity’s way of understanding the universe, which allows us to predict the consequences of actions, and ultimately allows us to enhance our lives. We live on a small planet that will soon be inhabited by 8 billion people. To do this successfully, we’re going to need science to solve the problems that will arise when so many people live on a planet that is not designed, naturally, to handle those numbers. In the short term, science helps make our lives better; but in the long term, it will be crucial to our continued affluent survival.”[1] There are many who put their hopes in science to fix our problems: we have a loved one dying of cancer so we turn to medicine, we need more time so we created a computer to help us save time (how is that extra time that the computer saved working for you?), or we cannot meet with people across the ocean so we invent the airplane. Science and technology has helped us a lot. Sometimes we Christians have overstated our concern with science and it seems we are against science and technology. To do so, would be hypocritical! We use technology all the time. Even this microphone right now is helping to proclaim God’s Word. You see, as Tim Challies says, “From the beginning, technology has played a vital role in God’s story in our lives. God has gifted human beings with remarkable ability to dream, create, and invent technologies that serve us as we serve him, technologies that enable us to better serve him.”[2] Challies goes on to say, “Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes.”[3] Technology can be very good, but like all good things, they can become bad if used for evil purposes. This is where the devil often takes a good thing like the Internet that allows us to connect with our missionaries across the globe while tempting us with bad things like pornography. Technology can become idolatrous.

Tonight I want to talk about some practical ways that we can follow Jesus in relating to technology. But first I want to ask a question borrowed from Haddon Robinson. Robinson, when preaching on Numbers 21:4-9 asked this question, “When does a good snake become a bad snake?” Let’s read Numbers 21:4-9 and 2 Kings 18:4 to find out how a good snake becomes a bad snake! And ladies, there are such things as good snakes! You might think that the only good snake is a dead snake, but there are good snakes and they get rid of another of your nemesis – mice! Read Numbers 21:4-9 and 2 Kings 18:4!

Here are three ways we can turn a good snake into a bad snake: 1) Reconfiguration – when we remake it from its original identity; 2) Identification – when we make it our own identity; and 3) Memorialization -when we ask others to take it to become their source of identity. Let’s break each of these down – reconfiguration, identification and memorialization; starting with reconfiguration. Everything has a purpose! You and I have a purpose in life! God has created things good with a purpose in mind. The problem is when we turn those good things into bad things – food for sustenance can become a source of comfort or gluttony; sexual pleasure and closeness in marriage can become a source of selfish consumption of another person; and drugs that help alleviate pain can become addictive and destructive. This is why Tim Challies reminds us to, “Trying to figure out the original purpose of the technology will help us discern how it should be used!’ If we can find the purpose for a technology, we will not be surprised when we learn how it will soon begin to change and shape us. For example, when we understand that cellular phones were introduced to keep businessmen in touch with the office while they were away from it, at home or on the road, we will not marvel that our mobile phones tend to do just that – to keep us in touch, even when we would rather escape. The phone is simply doing what it was created to do.”[4]

Back in Numbers 21:4-9 and 2 Kings 18:4. Originally, the bronze serpent that Moses made was only to be looked at as recorded in Numbers 21:8. That serpent was to be a reminder that God was not just their Healer, but their Redeemer. They were complainers! I hate complaining; it really bothers me! I have a complaint against complaining and so does God! Complaining goes right to the source of not believing God can be trusted to provide for us what we need! Reconfiguring technology’s original purpose is often rebellion against trusting God! It is not always the case as Isaiah 2:4 prophesies what will happen in the last days, probably in the millennium that Christ physically reigns on earth causing great peace, “And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears in pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation and never again will they learn war.” However, often we reconfigure what God has originally purposed as good and use it for evil. Maybe this is why God sent serpents to bite His people in Numbers 21:5-6, “The people spoke out against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so many people of Israel died.’” Why so harsh? It was just some complaining! But this was literally biting the hand that fed them. Remember, Moses would have already given them the Law. They would have heard the story of Genesis and how this world was created. They would need reminding that the original serpent in Genesis 3 complained against God, tempting Adam and Eve to be unsatisfied with God, and this ended in death. God will get heavier in disciplining us if we know what we are doing is wrong and we go ahead and outwardly disobey.

That is why I believe God used serpents to cause the death of these complainers. It was a reminder back to the Garden of Eden of not trusting God for His provision. And yet, in this story in Numbers, we find God’s redemption even more than His retribution. The Israelites once bitten were to look at the bronze serpent, reminding them that God was going to defeat the Serpent. In Genesis 3:15 God promised to the Serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” God was going to crush Satan and crush complaining! God was going to be their Redeemer. Have you ever noticed how the sign for medicine is the bronze serpent on a cross? Many medical facilities and personnel do not realize that by wearing and promoting that symbol. Some try to link the symbol to the Staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine. However, medical people using this symbol are actually recalling the gospel! Satan wants to rob the symbol of his demise and attribute to a mythological deity or he adds a second snake to the symbol. But remember how Jesus Christ promised in John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” The Cross would crush Satan! Jesus would become sin and Saviour, hell-bound and Healer at the same time. Jesus would show that He was the ultimate Redeemer!

BUT what did the Israelites do in time? They didn’t just look at the Bronze Serpent, they burned incense to it as we find in 2 Kings 18:4! They worshipped it! They made it an idol! The good snake became a bad snake! And here is how this practically relates to our life. We need to stick to a technological device’s original good purpose. For example, if our cell phone was designed to connect us to each other, then that is what we should use it for and that only. I am not saying we should all buy flip phones. In fact, you can’t buy a flip phone with data. Believe me I tried a few years ago. I wanted to simplify my life and trade in my smart phone for a flip phone that only handled calls and texts. But they simply do not sell them anymore.

What I am saying is that if you use your phone to keep up via email and social media, then do that for designated times that you would call people. You shouldn’t use that phone to connect with people all the time, especially during work when that is not in your job description. If your job is to connect with people like mine is in part, then okay. But there should also be times in your day where you are focused on the real, live person in the room next to you. Put the phone down and go talk. Get rid of the distractions. In our family, we adapted an idea from somebody else and have created a device depot. We found that we always had our phones with us and were being notified of another post by somebody or a score from the game. So we created a device depot, which is a box where all our phones and tablets go into when we walk in the door. They are now out of sight. You see, devices can actually divide your family. Actually, the root of the word device is to divide! Device is “a blend of a Middle Age English word meaning division.”[5]  Maybe your resolution is to have no phones at the family dinner table or turn off the TV when you eat! Make sure that good snake isn’t turned into a bad snake through reconfiguration!

So not only can we turn a good snake into a bad snake through reconfiguration, but also we can turn a good snake into a bad snake, especially technology, through identification. Identification is when we make something inanimate and personalize it to the point it becomes our new identity. An example may be our online avatars. Or it could be our social media presence that doesn’t reflect who we truly are. We take pictures of ourselves that are so touched up through Instagram that it is hard to recognize us when people meet us in person. Facebook is another means of doing this. My wife likes to use this quote by William Shakespeare when she talks about Facebook, “God hath give you one face and you make yourselves another.” Is that not a great description of Facebook? As Tim Challies says, “Cyberspace gives us a place to be ourselves apart from our bodies. And in many cases the draw is irresistible.”[6]

Back in 2 Kings 18:4, the people asked gave a name to the Bronze Serpent – Nehustan! The Nehustan went from a fiery serpent to a bronze serpent. If you know anything about bronze, it starts out shiny and then loses its lustre. The Nehustan, like much of technology, starts out as something we try to control and then it controls us. When we name something, we think we are in control. However, as any parent knows who names their child, you can only control them so long. So with technology, we are our data! Tim Challies goes even further and provides this profound insight, “We do well to simply be aware that we do leave trails behind – trails that tell about who we are. Many a husband or wife has been proven a liar by  his or her data trail. Where they insisted they were one thing, the data they left behind them showed them to be another. What is fascinating about all of this data is that in many ways we are our data. We cannot neatly separate ourselves from our data as if we are one thing but our data proves we are another. I may be a fine Christian gentleman, a family man and pastor, but if my data shows that I routinely visit pornographic websites, my data, not my presentation of myself, will show who I really am.”[7] Even our social media presence with our rants or questionable posts need to be realigned with honouring and representing Christ!

In 2 Kings 18, we find the Israelites had become like what they worshipped! They were Nehustan worshippers and instead of staying low and humble before the Lord, they had created other high places to worship. Looking up at the Bronze Serpent eventually led to going up. And like at the Tower of Babel, people have always thought they could ascend spiritually and get up to God. The truth is that we could not go up to God, He had to come down to us, which is why He sent His Son Jesus to come down to earth and to live and die for us. And this is why we must have our identity in Christ and not try to create an online identity that doesn’t reflect Him!

Why? Because everything we do is permanent, at least online it is! And this is the third way a good snake becomes a bad snake. We try memorialize things so that it is our identity is foisted on others. For example, on Facebook, after a Terrorist attack on a country, we may put the colours of the country’s flag where the attack occurred as the background for our profile picture to show our support for that country.

The Israelites supported and memorialized the Nehustan! It was to be wilderness rescue for snakebites in that region, but they carried it wherever they went, not unlike our phones today. When the Israelites settled in Israel, they kept the Nehustan. That is why verse 4 says, “for up to that time.” They needed it for the Sinai, but not for after they settled. It became permanent for the next generation like traditions today.

What I am concerned about with technology today is that all we do online is permanent. You can erase your history, but keen techies will find it. If you take a compromising picture of yourself, there will most likely be a copy somewhere. What a contrast to God and His grace. Psalm 103:12 promises, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” God will forgive us, but Satan and humans will continue to remind us of our online mistakes. As Tim Challies asks, “Can we leave a past transgression between ourselves and God, knowing that the evidence of us remains in a database and may someday be drawn out?”[8] It is here where we have to be extra careful to walk in purity. Here is what we are doing in our family to not “make provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). Our family doesn’t have cable or satellite, so we don’t have access to some of the worst channels on TV. However, there are still evil things on TV. We have Circle, which limits our online time for each device. For example, Wednesday night I tried to check a website out on my iPad. It was after 10 PM and when I tried to do a Google search, Circle blocked it and said, “It is past your bedtime,” so I went to bed.  We also have Ever Accountable on our phones that Pastor Aaron recommended. For example, if I were to visit a website that was questionable, two of our elders would be notified. Each device we own has the same accountability. It cost us $100/year.

Now are we trusting in these technological guardians to save us? No, if we want to sin, we will find a way! You can’t trust in chariots or horse, but in the name of the Lord our God! (Psalm 20:7) Bill Nye can’t save the world! But we know who can – Jesus! This is why we keep our eyes on Him!

[1] Brian Schmidt, “How Science Will Save the World” article, Accessed April 25, 2017.

[2] Tim Challies, The Next Story – Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 13.

[3] Challies, 23.

[4] Challies, 61-62.

[5] Source: Accessed April 25, 2017.

[6] Challies, 101.

[7] Challies, 183.

[8] Challies, 153.

Are You Full of Grace and Truth?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

Do you lean more to truth or more to grace? I bet most of us lean to one side or the other of the grace and truth continuum. I lean more to the truth side, which helps me to be a truth-telling leader and preacher, but I also need to emphasize grace. I’ll give you an example that my American born wife Lori reminded me of this week. We were crossing the U.S./Canada border a number of years ago. We were going to visit Lori’s sister in Traverse City, Michigan who had just had a baby and so Lori had prepared a bunch of meals ahead of time to put in her sister’s freezer so their family could enjoy easy meals during her sister’s recovery from birth. We arrived at the border and the border guard asked if we had any meat. Lori just looked at him and said, “Well, there’s a chicken casserole in the cooler.” So he said, “Open the trunk!” He went right for our cooler and proceeded to take out the casserole and the lasagna and the marinaded steaks. This was just after the U.S. changed their meat exportation laws to protect from mad cow disease. Every meal Lori had made was taken and presumably thrown in the trash unless all the border guards had a big feast that night! All this food and more importantly, her labor of love was thrown in the garbage so that it would not contaminate the U.S. food source. By the way, if the food goes in the garbage and ends up in a landfill in the U.S. doesn’t it still contaminate the food chain? Lori appealed to the guard’s grace but to no avail. We left and there were silent tears. My truth-telling came out a couple of miles down the road when I said, “Lori, you see this is why people around the world don’t like Americans!” I probably could have kept that part to myself. Needless to say it didn’t go so well for me. The good news is that we stopped at a grocery store and bought some more meat because Lori was determined to make all those meals for her sister once we got there. The crazy part was that when we looked at the package of chicken, it said, “Made in Canada!” I tell that story to show you how important it is to have both grace and truth!

However, there is only one person who ever lived that perfectly balanced grace and truth! His name is Jesus Christ! Let’s read about why He came in John 1:14-18 as we continue our new series Your New Identity! I hope that you had a chance to use the new study guide we have provided and have already been thinking about this passage this week, but if not, let’s read John 1:14-18! Read John 1:14-18!

Imagine you were alone and all of sudden God appeared to you. He was so full of light that it almost blinded you. What would you do? Would you try to run away? Would you want to get closer? Most likely, you would be on the ground prostrate before God. Why? Because you and I have tried to smuggle, unintentionally and sometimes intentionally, our own agenda into God’s Kingdom. We want to do what we want to do so when we encounter our Creator God and the King of Glory, there is only one place for us rebels – face down. If God showed up in His glory, we would be trying to get back to where we came from – you and I were made from dust and to dust we will return. Some of you are relieved and are thankful that God hasn’t shown up. The truth is that God actually does appear to people! Turn to Exodus 19:16-17! We find here that God revealed Himself at Sinai, the desert between Israel and Egypt. And how did God appear? He appeared in fire and thunder to Moses, the great leader of Israel, “So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” This is exactly what we are hoping happens today. That we are standing and waiting to meet with God. What happens next? Exodus 19:18-21 records, “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended like the smoke of a furnace and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered with thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called to Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, ‘Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze and many of them perish.”

How glorious and how tragic these scene is at the same time! If God were to show up, we would want to see Him. Wouldn’t you want to see the One who made you? And yet, as soon as you see Him, we wouldn’t want to see Him. We would realize how unworthy we are. In fact, we would at the mere sight of Him die. This was the common response of those who had a theophany – a God sighting where His glorious light overwhelmed a person’s darkness. A person encountering God in His glory usually said things like, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:4) Or what the author of this Gospel said when he encountered Jesus in His glory, “I fell at His feet like a a dead man!” (Revelation 1:17) Remember that this Gospel writer was John who on the very night Jesus betrayed, leaned against Jesus like a young son does to his father. Jesus and His disciple John loved each other very much, but when John saw Jesus in His true state, John was undone! Why? Because of his sinful flesh! As the hymn writer wrote in the hymn Holy! Holy! Holy!, “Though the eye of sinful man, thy glory may not see.”[1]

And yet, we so desperately need to meet with God and see His glory! As James MacDonald says, “The manifest presence of God is the only water that can replenish the parched land of the North American church.”[2] So we are in a conundrum! We need to see God and His glory, but if we did see God we would die! We are in trouble! We need to see God to live, but to see Him is to die! We need grace and truth. What do we do? This is the pressing issue John wants to communicate! It is the problem that John wants to give us the solution to! The answer in one word is Jesus! John has already told us in his prologue to his Gospel that Jesus is the Word of God. As Pastor Aaron told us last week in his wonderful sermon on John 1:1-13, “Jesus was the Word of God, which would have sounded to the Greeks reading it that Jesus was the intellectual nirvana they were desperately searching for, while at the same time to the Jews, that Jesus was the Torah, the Law of God.” Nabeel Quereshi, a Muslim who sought Allah, but found Jesus summarizes John’s view, “This was John’s first chapter, his prologue. Like an introduction in modern books, it gives us the lens through which to read the rest of the book. It was as if John were saying, ‘As you read this gospel, keep in mind that Jesus is coeternal with the Father, His partner in creating the world.’ Everything that comes into being comes from Him!”[3] So this truth emboldens us on so many levels! “[4]Jesus wasn’t just a carpenter, He creates carpenters!” That money, that person, that encouragement, that whatever you need all ultimately comes and is sourced from God. This is comforting, but it goes further! What you and I need is an encounter with a Holy, Powerful, yet Loving God who will not zap us like bugs because we get too close to Him. Yet our sinful state makes that impossible. We could not draw near to such a holy God, so God came near to us. God the Son came to earth in the flesh to become the Son of Man!

Verse 14 gives this “shocking”[5] statement, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” D.A. Carson summarizes the first phrase in the verse by saying, “God’s Word, His Self-expression, has become flesh.”[6] Amazing! But as Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “Even though John’s emphasis is the deity of Christ, he makes it clear that the Son of God came in the flesh and was subject to the sinless infirmities of human nature.”[7] In fact, the writer John uses the word “dwelt” or “tabernacled” among us. I love how Eugene Peterson puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”[8] However, let’s stick with the Word “tabernacle” because John is drawing upon the imagery of when the Israelites would follow the Pillar of Cloud by day and Pillar of Fire by night through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). Wherever God’s manifest presence was, they were to follow. And yet, that was the closest they could get to God. Clouds are really cool. If you have ever been up in an airplane and you go through a cloud it gets a little bumpy, but the cloud is elusive. Fire is really hot. You can’t get too close or you will get burned. So the elusive Pillar of Cloud by day and the repelling Pillar of Fire by night meant that you could never get close enough to God.

So God had to send His glorious Son! And He would camp out with us! If you have ever camped for any serious length of time, you know that there are hardships. Our family camped for 6 weeks driving all the way to California one summer. It was hard to give up certain luxuries to be near to God’s untamed creation! Jesus came and camped out with us to experience hardship, but also to be with us and to tame us! Not only to tame us, but to give us a new perspective on God so we would want to follow Him. Jesus came so we would no longer run away like a frightened animal, but instead, we would see and touch Him and follow His gentle whispers! And yet, it wasn’t good enough just to see and touch Him and follow His whispers! Here is why Jesus came from these five verses in John 1:14-18: God’s glory came down in Jesus so we could experience His presence, grace and truth! Say that altogether, God’s glory came down in Jesus so we could experience His presence, grace and truth!

In the short time I have left, let’s explore more of what this means. That through God’s glory coming down in Jesus, we can experience His presence, grace and truth! First, we can experience God’s presence. There are a few words that emphasize His presence including “became flesh” and “dwelt” that I have already dealt with. The most pregnant word though is “begotten” and it is used throughout the Gospel of John, most famously in the King James Version of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish have everlasting life.” Begotten can be a confusing word. First, it’s an old word so you might not know what it means! Second, it’s a word that often makes us think of creating a new generation. For example Lori and I have begotten our daughter Jessie, and our sons Josiah, Noah and Luke. And so you can see the problem , “begotten” makes us think that God’s Son was created. Cults like the Jehovah’s Witness and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) think these verses teach Jesus is not eternal. But John almost overemphasizes the exact opposite, especially in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word with God and the Word was God” (not “a god”). Even my 8 year old son Luke asked me this morning as he heard me practice this sermon, “Dad, I have a question that I have been wondering about for a long time. I don’t understand how Jesus existed without a woman (giving birth to Him through the Father).” After I explained to him that God the Son is eternal. It made more sense to him. What is helpful to understand is that ‘begotten’ means to ‘bring forth” according to theologian James Orr.[9] God brought forth His One and Only Son! He revealed the Son to us! And by bringing forth we now have God’s Son with us! This is how we experience His presence. The writer John himself got to experience God the Son’s flesh and blood presence. We get to experience God the Son’s presence by having His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, in us! And some day in heaven we will be with Jesus face to face.

But there is more! It gets better! We not only get God’s glory come down in Jesus and experience His presence, we also get to experience His grace and truth! His grace is what we desperately need! It is actually a theme in these 5 verses and throughout the New Testament. We find the word used 4 times in John 1:14-18 – verse 14, twice in verse 16 and then again in verse 17. Listen to what others say about this grace. D.A. Carson calls this “new grace.”[10] Greek scholar Cleon Rogers says, “Fresh grace replaces grace received and perpetually so; thus the grace is inexhaustible.”[11] Let me repeat that! “Fresh grace replaces grace received and perpetually so; thus the grace is exhaustible.” And Dr. Rick Reed quotes, “Jerry Bridges is right when he reminds us, that on our worst days we are not beyond the reach of God’s grace, and on our best days we are not beyond the need for God’s grace.”[12] God’s grace is inexhaustible, but never exploitable. When we understand what grace cost Jesus and how He is still living to give us grace, we should never try to exploit it – for we need in the future. Pastor John Piper teased out this theme in his book entitled Future Grace. You and I needed grace yesterday, we needed it a minute ago, we need it right now, and we will need it for the rest of our lives. I cannot just rely on yesterday’s grace; I need God’s present and future grace. As Piper states, “Past grace is the foundation of life-transforming faith in future grace.”[13]

Who here needs more grace? We all do! But does that mean that we can do whatever we want! No, this is where grace and truth comes in as embodied in Jesus! We will see this later on as we walk through John. For example, in John 8:11 Jesus says to a woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you either. From now on go and sin no more.” Grace and truth! There are no other religions that find this balance. All either side with grace at the expense of truth meaning everybody goes to heaven and you can essentially do whatever you want as long as you love everybody. But the trouble is we they don’t all love everybody perfectly! Or some religions side with all truth and make it almost impossible for anybody to get into heaven because you have to keep all the rules. Maybe the rules are even secret like in the Masons or Shriners? In the broader culture, I find that people are worse than the church about rules. And don’t let people fool you. Everyone talks about acceptance and tolerance but EVERYONE has their rules that they think everyone should follow. If you do not support their viewpoint, you are harassed and called unloving. Probably, the most pressing example is the LGBTQ agenda that is forcing children to wear rainbow colours to school to celebrate their own personal sexual choices or to read books and write essays in support of the LGBTQ lifestyle. However, we can love the LGBTQ community and care for them without supporting their lifestyle. If I was doing something that goes against what has been good and natural from when this world was created and goes against God’s Word and you didn’t stop me from hurting myself, then would you really be loving? Imagine if I started cutting myself and encouraged others to cut themselves, would you be in support of that? NO! You would say that I was creating a bloody mess and a lot of psychological trauma. This is why we need both grace and truth! Jesus is the only one who can help us navigate grace and truth!

Contrast this with Moses and the Law. When Moses first encountered God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-9), he had to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Exodus 3:6 goes on to say that Moses did more and “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” Even before Moses scribed all the rules God gave him at Mount Sinai, Moses had the law written on his heart. Unlike Moses, we no longer need to hide our faces, but can turn our faces directly toward God through Jesus and find grace in our time of need. In fact, one of the Greek words for “prayer” means “to turn your face towards.” We can turn our face towards God and we can find grace and truth! Even more so, with Jesus living through us, we can demonstrate grace and truth to others!

How? How do we demonstrate His grace and truth? Behold His glory – ask Jesus to show you His glory! This will change everything for you including your perspective! As Paul Tripp says, “Our first problem is a worship problem!” If we will behold His glory, we will be changed to show both grace and truth! You are going to get to practice this out this week. There will be an opportunity to show grace, “Pray, Lord, remind me of Jesus in His glory handling this hurt committed against me with perfect truth and justice. I hand this over to you and will show grace.” And there will be an opportunity to proclaim truth, “Pray, Lord, remind me of Jesus in His glory so they will repent and experience grace.” May we behold His glory!

[1] Reginald Heber, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” Hymn, 1826.

[2] James MacDonald, Vertical Church (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012), 70.

[3] Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).

[4] Qureshi.

[5] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 126.

[6] Carson, 127.

[7] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 284.

[8] Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 1916.

[9] James Orr (ed.), “Begotten” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960), 426.

[10] Carson, 134.

[11] Cleon L. Rogers Jr. & Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 177.

[12] Rick Reed, “Preacher to Preachers – The Preacher and Personal Soul Care – Part 3” Newsletter, via email April 27, 2017.

[13] John Piper, Future Grace (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1995), 18.

A Praying Mother

Anna-Marie “Annie” Dyet (October 17, 1939 – April 23, 2017)

When I went over to be with the family after hearing the news of Annie’s passing, I asked the family what immediately came to mind when they thought of her. Would you like to hear what they said, “She loved BINGO!” I have witnessed first hand how addictive bingo can be when I was at a bingo hall for a sports fundraiser. I watched people play for hours. Annie, I’m told by her family, also “loved singing her own version of Happy Birthday! Though she struggled with pronouncing the words.” I can relate. Maybe that is why we got along so well? Not only am I ¼ Dutch, but I stumble over my words once in awhile too and mispronounce them. The family also said, “She was caring, had a heart of gold, loved to watch funny movies and even wrestling!” She liked her routine and if you promised to do something, you better do it, because she would remember and she would hold you to it.
When I think of Annie, I think of every Sunday after I got done preaching she would meet me in the foyer and ask me to pray for her family, particularly for you Dave! Probably because you have such a dangerous job on foreign soil! And she never forgot your name when she asked for prayer, so it is good to meet you as a family after praying for you for years. To the whole family, you have not only lost your mother, your Oma, your mother-in-law, your friend, but you have lost the person most praying here on earth for your soul! That’s hard, but you are not without hope. This reminds me of Augustine![1] He was a young man who loved sports, playing pranks and he loved girls. Despite his mother’s warning to stay away from the girls, he found himself a father at age 18. This broke his mother’s heart whose name was Monica. Augustine’s shame and selfish pursuits caused him to flee his mother. He even took her to chapel to pray and deceived her by boarding a boat for Africa. Augustine would later describe this time as “running headlong into blindness.” But even when you run into the darkness, you can’t outrun your mom, especially her prayers. Monica actually intercepted her son in the Mediterranean by taking another, but faster boat. As Monica worried about her son, she went to the famous bishop Ambrose. Ambrose said, “It isn’t possible for the son of such prayers to be lost.” Augustine wasn’t lost! After sitting in a garden, he heard somebody say “Take up and read!” He opened the Bible near him from Romans 13:13-14, “Don’t go to wild parties or get drunk or be vulgar or indecent … Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear.” By the time he finished the sentence he had surrendered his life to Christ. Augustine was transformed by the gospel and used his passion, energy and intellect to become one of the greatest leaders in church history.
Now, Annie’s prayers, like Monica’s, were powerful and effective because she had been made righteous by the free gift of God. Her prayers were effective because Christ’s prayers were effective. I am reminded today that Jesus is praying for us. You are still being prayed for! We don’t need the dead saints to pray for us. We have one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who prays for us! (1 Timothy 2:5) And here is the Good News from Hebrews 7:25: “Therefore, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Let me break that verse down for us using four questions: What? When? How? And Why? 1) What is Jesus able to do for us? Jesus is able to save! Save us from what? Our sins, Satan, and ourselves! We have all gone astray. Some of us by being very good and trying to keep all the rules! Some of us by being very bad and breaking all the rules! Jesus is able to save us no matter if we have been very good or very bad! And those of you who wonder why people who are very good need saving. God’s standard is 100% perfection. Nobody is perfect here, so everybody needs saving. 2) When will Jesus save us? In other words, for how long? Forever! Jesus prayed just before He died on a Cross in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Jesus is able to save us forever. We can have eternal life! Death is not the final word here today. It is an enemy that wounds us, but we need to remember that we are only walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It is a valley! It is a low time! It is a dark time! But we do not need to fear evil! We can have eternal life! 3) How? How do we gain eternal life? By drawing near to God! By believing in Him! I am not just talking about having the right answers that you might get correct in church or Sunday School. Recall, eternal life is knowing the true God, and His Son Jesus Christ. You have to know Jesus in such a way that He is the most important person in your life. You recognize that He is the Lord or Director of your life. He is your Saviour who forgives you of all your sins. 4) How? How did He forgive you of all your sins? He died on a Cross and rose from the grave. That is why the writer of Hebrews says in the last part of our key verse today, “Since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus has risen from the grave! In fact, this verse in John 11:25-26, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in Me will live, even if He dies.” This is what my whole message centers around! This is what Annie was staking her life on – the same stakes pierced through Jesus’ hands and feet. Christ died and rose from the grave to give Annie a new life, even after 70 years of not following him, she gave her life to Christ and He gave her a new life. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our resurrection where we will get to live with Him in new bodies forever in the new heavens and new earth. Do you believe this? Don’t wait until you are 70 to follow Jesus! You might think you can wait. Today is the day of salvation. Jesus is praying for you right now to believe in Him and to know Him. Annie’s death was shocking! It confronts us with our own mortality. But it also gives us an opportunity to draw close to God through Christ and know Him. Like Annie, He expects us to keep our commitments. Why? Because He has kept His commitment to us! He is praying for you right now that you would know Him and have a personal, intimate relationship with Him! Let me join Him in praying for you once again so it can be well with your soul.

[1] Adapted from Robert J. Morgan, On This Day – April 24 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).

What Are You Going to Do with Jesus?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else? It could be by a little child that grabs your leg thinking that you are their parent, when you are not. The kid looks up at you afterward feeling completely awkward. It could be when somebody yells at you calling out somebody else’s name. Do you know who I have been told I look like? Ben Affleck! Is that a compliment? I don’t know!

TV plays up this phenomenon of mistaken identity in shows like The Flash where there are doppelgangers from different worlds. For those of you who don’t know what a doppelganger is, a doppelganger is a completely different person living a completely different life out there who happens to look just like you. This can be serious! Being mistaken for the wrong person was serious for Jeremy Lee Bass. Canadian writer Robin Warder tells Jeremy’s story: “In early 2007, Jeremy Lee Bass was arrested for failing to show up in traffic court. He hadn’t committed any traffic offence, but his brother had falsely used Jeremy’s name. Yet if this was the worst case of mistaken identity that Jeremy faced in 2007, he would have considered himself lucky. On August 18, his father received a confusing phone call from the police, who informed him that his son, Jeremy Lee Bass, was dead. Meanwhile, Bass’s wife was receiving condolences about her husband’s recent demise. All this confusion came about because the papers had just published an obituary for Jeremy Lee Bass, who’d supposedly died in a tragic four-wheeler accident. The real accident victim was a completely different man, Jeremy Charles Bass, who was pronounced dead at Gritman Medical Center. Months earlier, Jeremy Lee Bass had stayed at the same hospital while being treated for meningitis. The hospital mixed up their records and declared Jeremy Lee Bass dead. This bizarre case of mistaken identity became an even bigger headache when the Bass family received a letter from the hospital. In addition to offering condolences over their loved one’s death, the hospital sent the family a $5,000 bill for the late Jeremy Charles Bass’s medical expenses. As a result, Jeremy Lee Bass had to go through a lot of red tape to get himself declared alive again and prevent his family from being stuck with a stranger’s debts.”[1]

This story reminds of another doppelganger! This man looked so much like us and lived a similar life, but also a very different life than us. His identity was always being mistaken. Who am I am talking about? Jesus Christ of Nazareth! Let’s read part of His story in John 11:17-27! The context is that Jesus had some friends named Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The problem was that Lazarus was sick! Maybe you know somebody who you love that is very sick? It changes your life and becomes a constant thought on your mind. In fact, when you are about to lose somebody you love the most, your true identity and what you are living for is actually revealed. So let’s read John 11:17-27 to see how the mistaken identity of Jesus affects our own identity! Read John 11:17-27!

This story forces a question on us! It is the most important question you will ever need to answer: Who is Jesus and what are you going to do with Him? This story reveals a lot of different responses to Jesus. One of the first responses to Jesus we find in the story is that of His disciples. If you are like the disciples, you misunderstand Jesus! The misunderstanding is understandable! You see, Jesus loved Lazarus and the disciples knew this, but they also knew that if Jesus was to go to Judea, His enemies intended to kill Him. Verse 8 records the disciples’ warning to Jesus, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You and are You going there again?” Jesus then answers cryptically in verses 9-10, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Jesus had already taught His disciples that He was the Light of the World in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world, he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Remember those last three words: Jesus is the Light of life. Death brings darkness; light brings life. With the Light of the World present, you don’t need to be scared of the darkness nor death. This is why Jesus goes on to say that Lazarus has fallen asleep in John 11:11. The disciples misunderstand and think Jesus is saying that Lazarus was just resting, so Jesus makes it clear that Lazarus is dead.

Now this raises a question: how did Jesus know without anybody telling Him that Lazarus was dead? Jesus always knows when it is time for each person to die because He holds the keys of life and death! (Revelation 1:18) And this is probably where Jesus is the most misunderstood – at the point of death. Many people struggle with death! They wonder if Jesus really knows what He is doing when the young die early or when our loved ones are taken from us. And so they give up on Jesus! They stay in their confusion and misunderstanding of Jesus. Is that you today? Do you misunderstand Jesus? You don’t have to stay there! Pastor Rick Warren after losing his son to suicide said in an interview with People magazine, “I would rather walk with God and not have my questions answered, than have all my questions answered and not walk with God.”[2]

Though you may misunderstand Jesus and not have all your questions answered, may I encourage you to make another response to Jesus. This is the response of Thomas! Thomas gets a bad rap and people have labeled him Doubting Thomas because he wouldn’t believe Jesus rose from the grave until he saw the nail marks in Jesus’ feet and hands and touched the wound left by a spear in Jesus’ side! (John 20:24-29) However in John 11, in the midst of misunderstanding Jesus, Thomas is the one who courageously declares to Jesus in verse 16, “Let us also go (with Jesus), so that we may die with Him.” If you are like Thomas, you follow Jesus! You may have a zeal to take on all the problems of the world. You make commitments to Christ. You see injustices and so you go on mission to rescue those in human trafficking or those planning to have an abortion. You feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit those in jail. You go to church all the time, except for when you go on a mission’s trip. But having the passion to follow Jesus isn’t enough! Because when Jesus was crucified Thomas fled just like many of the other disciples. Thomas didn’t stick with Jesus all the way to the Cross. He wasn’t one of the guys crucified on Jesus’ right or left. When it came down to it, Thomas wasn’t really ready to die with Jesus at this point in his life. Now, I am not discouraging you from following Jesus, but it takes more than a passionate commitment. Following Jesus for a season isn’t enough! Jesus even warned His followers, “To consider the cost” of following Him before such a commitment. (Luke 14:28-33)

In other words, it is okay to question Jesus! That is another response to Jesus in this story. Check out what Martha does with Jesus. It is a form of complaint or lament, even criticism, while at the same time faith-filled questioning. Verse 21 records, “Martha then said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” If you are like Martha, you question Jesus! Though she is disappointed with the present action of Jesus and questions Him about it, she trusts Jesus with a future good outcome if He just asks God. Look at verse 22, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you.” If you find yourself questioning Jesus from a standpoint of wanting to believe in Him, you are making a very good response to Jesus. It isn’t enough, but it beats questioning Jesus with a cynicism or criticism. Maybe some of you here today came because you were given the free book The Case for Easter and then invited to attend this service. May I encourage you to investigate and question Jesus whether His claims are true. Is He really the Christ, the Son of God, who came into the world as Martha said in verse 27? And yet, to question Jesus is not good enough. After a while, you have to ask yourself how much is enough evidence that Jesus is who He really says He is.

Otherwise, you will spiral to the other two responses to Jesus that are less helpful. One of these responses is to pity Jesus! This response is to see Jesus weeping and suffering and then pitying Him. In verses 35-36 we find recorded, “Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” If you are like some of the Jews, you pity Jesus! This is the view that Jesus was loving but powerless. You may buy in to Jesus’ teaching and ethics that you are to treat others like you want to be treated or that you should love the poor, but you do not see Jesus as powerful enough to make a real change in this world, let alone your own life. He’s simply just a nice historical figure to emulate. But that’s not enough.

The other response by some in the crowd that day was to doubt Him. It is the flip-side of the coin. If you are like some of the Jews, you doubt Jesus! Notice verse 37, “But some of them said, ‘Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?’” Those who respond to Jesus with doubt often are never satisfied. Jesus has given them sign after sign, proof after proof of His power and love. And yet, it is never good enough for them. Do you doubt Jesus? Why is your burden of proof higher for Jesus than for anybody else? Have you ever lived under the constant pressure of having to perform to gain somebody’s approval? Eventually you stop performing! Jesus never was a performer – He has done enough. In the story, He put Himself in the hardest position, which was to raise a man who was dead for 4 days. We read what happens in verses 39-43, “Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” So Jesus has done the ultimate – resurrected the dead! He has nothing left to prove!

No wonder we find another response to Jesus. This time it is Mary’s! If you are like Mary, you adore Jesus! Her response is found back in verse 2 as a parenthetical commentary, “It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” If you are anointing somebody’s feet with ointment and wiping it with your hair out of your own volition, you adore that person. Why would Mary do that? John actually tells us in the next chapter in John 12:1-3, “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, so they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving, but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and wiped His feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John is not mixed up in his chronology, but “presupposes that his readers have already heard of this event.”[3] This evidences that these events did not happen in secret. The events were well-known and this makes them harder to refute.

Though some of you might be thinking that it still sounds crazy to anoint a person’s feet with perfume and wipe their feet with one’s hair. Let me ask you this question though, if a doctor resuscitated one of your family members, would you be thankful for the doctor. At the very least, would you not want to give them a hug? I mean, my dad, is facing a life and death struggle with a failing body. He is a massive part of my life. If a doctor knew of a treatment for my dad and it worked, I think I would even throw my arms around that doctor and give him a big hug! Now think about Mary whose brother was brought back to life, a brother who probably was the sole source of income and security for the family, and if he was not there, his sisters may have in time been left destitute. You would adore the person who rescued your family and gave you back your brother. This is why Mary adored Jesus! Millions still adore Jesus, which is why we have a worldwide holiday weekend celebrating His death and resurrection. But this is not enough because the crowd that adored Jesus on Palm Sunday outside Jerusalem, just a week later abandoned Him and some may have even been those yelling, “Crucify Him!” Things haven’t changed much today! Millions around the world find themselves in church today celebrating Jesus, but by Monday, Jesus is forgotten about with the Easter candy or worse maybe the only time they invoke Jesus’ name is through a curse word. Will that be you? Will you forget about Jesus?

You see, you can’t just adore Jesus! You can’t just follow Him, nor misunderstand, criticize, question, pity or doubt Him! You must believe and obey Him! This is the ultimate and best response to Jesus! If you are like Lazarus, you believe and obey Jesus! Our denomination’s president Steve Jones clarifies what our response should be, “Our task is not to get up, but to admit we’re dead. The only people who remain in the grave or remain spiritually dead are the ones who don’t realize or believe they’re dead. They never seem to smell the stink nor admit their need of God’s solution – another man’s death.”[4]

And how do you respond with belief and obedience to Jesus? You believe in your heart that Jesus is the Lord and declare with your mouth that Jesus raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9) and then you get baptized! (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16) That baptism identifies fully with His death, burial and resurrection. Paul, a guy who at one time hated and hunted Christians leaves us with some penetrating questions in Romans 6:3-4, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Notice how Jesus’ identity changes our identity! We get a new life! “The empty tomb not only means Jesus has conquered death, but it tells you He has life in His hands, the kind of life all human beings were designed to long for whether they know it or not.”[5] And so we publicly demonstrate our belief in Christ by obeying Him and declaring through immersion that our sins were crucified with Christ, buried with Christ and we have been raised to a new life. 38 years ago today that was my response. I surrendered my life to Christ! Will you today?

As I conclude today’s message, do you recall Jeremy Lee Bass and how he had to prove he was alive so he could get out of paying a stranger’s debt? Well, Jesus has proven He was dead, but is now alive and He did it to pay our debt. He started when He raised His friend Lazarus from the dead, which pointed to when Jesus Himself would die and rise from the grave. Jesus had made the most powerful and profound statement that could ever be made in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” Jesus was proclaiming, “There is neither resurrection nor eternal life outside of Him.”[6] Who is Jesus? The Resurrection and the Life! What are you going to do with Jesus? Believe and Obey Him!

You can do that right now! You come forward and declare that Jesus is who you believe in and obey. We will even baptize you to show your new identity in Him! Like Lazarus come forth! Come forward, believe and obey!

[1] Source: Accessed April 10, 2017.

[2] Interview with People Magazine: Accessed April 10, 2017.

[3] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 405.

[4] Steve Jones, “A Word from Steve: Corsages and the Stink of Death” email, April 10, 2017.

[5] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies – April 16 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2014).

[6] Carson, 412.

What Should We Fight For and Flee From?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

My philosophy is to WIN! I know it doesn’t sound politically correct in our culture where everybody gets participation medals, but the reality is that there are winners and losers in life. The young men on my baseball team that I coach understand we are there to WIN! Now, I have defined a win as more than just having the top score at the end of a contest because you can still win a game and not play very well. A WIN for me stands for Work hard, Improve your skills and Never give up! This philosophy has served me well as most of the teams I have coached have overachieved. However, I had to learn the hard way. One of my regrets in life was when I was playing college basketball and our team underachieved, I got frustrated with my team and their lack of effort, so I threatened to give up. This undermined team unity and when I realized what I had done as a senior member on the team, I immediately wrote a letter apologizing to the team and saying that I was all in with them. I learned a good lesson as a 21 year old that you never give up.

God’s philosophy is to not give up and to WIN as well! He wants you to win because He has WON! Today is Palm Sunday where we celebrate Jesus riding on a donkey as the coming champion over sin, death and the demonic world! He just had to suffer and lose His life first! Christ’s suffering was not self-inflicted like my critical and cowardly approach to my college basketball team. No, Christ suffered for His team, His Church, you and I! And yet, He still won because in the kingdom of God, winning looks like losing! As Jesus said in Luke 9:24, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

That sounds noble and inspiring until we get into the thick of the temptations and the trials! It is at that moment that we go either into fight or flight mode! The problem is we often fight and flee the wrong things! And this is why Paul emphasizes to his protégé and spiritual son Timothy that he must fight the good fight! “Fighting the good fight suggests voluntary athletic agony – the kind that takes place in a grueling race or boxing match.”[1] Champions voluntarily beat their bodies to make it their slave in order to win! (1 Corinthians 10:27) Timothy was such a champion! He was even circumcised as an adult to win people to Christ! (Acts 16:3) We may think of Timothy as timid, but he was not! He was actually honourable – that is what his name means “honour”! Throughout this book, Paul is charging Timothy to hand off the ministry to the church and thus honour those in his congregation who were discipling well – widows (1 Timothy 5:3), elders (1 Timothy 5:17), masters or what we would call employers (1 Timothy 6:1). Timothy would read the letter written by Paul to him and hear the words “To Honour, my true son in the faith … Honour widows! Honour elders! Honour masters!” All of these groups of people were to be honoured because of their hard work and not giving up. And yet, I am sure there were times when they wanted to give up – after their husbands died, after they fought battles against false teachers or after they had a hard time with their employees. This is why Paul tells Timothy and the church at Ephesus to “Fight the Good Fight!” Let’s read what that good fight was all about in 1 Timothy 6:11-21. Read 1 Timothy 6:11-21!

Fighting or Fleeing! Most of us, are doing one of those two things right now. If I were to ask you the question: “What are you fighting for right now?” Some of you might say time! Others of you might say you are fighting for more money. Or some of you might be fighting for a relationship and a name comes to mind. And if I were to ask you, “What are you fleeing from?” Some of you if you are being honest would say that you are fleeing a responsibility or fleeing debt or fleeing a relationship. We are usually fighting or fleeing and sometime doing both at the same time, which is why we feel like we are chasing our tails!

But what if we are not fighting for the right things and fleeing from the right things! We often fight and flee the wrong things! Here is what God says we should be fighting for and what we should be fleeing from:

What are to fight for?                                                           What are we to flee from?

  1. Faith in Christ (v. 11-13)                                             – Faith in the temporary (v. 9-10)
  2. Purity in belief and behaviour (v. 14-16)                  – Impurity (v. 14)
  3. Generosity in good works & good things (v. 18)     – Greed (v. 11, 17)
  4. Truth in God’s Word (v. 20-21)                                  – False words (v. 20)

Let’s unpack what we are to fight for and flee from. Think of it as playing offense and defense at the same time. You fight and you guard simultaneously! What are we to fight for first? Faith in Christ! This is foundational! But notice I didn’t say, fight for Christ! To its extreme, that mantra “Fight for Christ” has been used in wicked ways when we think of the Crusades and the slaughter of our enemies in the name of Christ. No, Jesus doesn’t need us to fight for Him! He is fighting for us! And this is why fighting for faith in Christ is very different. This is an attack on our doubts and our desires! Look what verse 12 says, “Fight the good fight of faith.” In order to reiterate the point, Paul had just used the word “faith” in the previous verse as describing one of the things Timothy was to pursue. It is surprisingly easy to forget Christ rather than have faith in Him. Paul reminds Timothy that he was “to take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Timothy was to remember his public confession of faith, which most likely points to his baptism,[2] but more importantly, emphasizes that our faith must be public. We must confess Jesus before people! Two verses come to mind (one a warning; the second an instruction)! The first verse is Matthew 10:32-33 and comes straight from the lips of Jesus, Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” The second verse is Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Do you believe Jesus is your Lord and God raised Him from the dead? Have you confessed this belief out loud, with your mouth before people? You need to do that today to be saved! This is the good and best confession you could ever make! And to encourage you Jesus made this same confession about Himself before Pilate! (v. 13) What a thought as we head into a week ending with Christ’s trial, crucifixion and resurrection!

But in order to make such a confession so, you have to flee from what you have been trusting in. You see, atheists and agnostics have faith! They just have faith in the wrong things – in temporary things! We humans often put our trust in what we can see, hear, feel, taste and touch! But all those things are temporary. What we see now, is gone tomorrow. I saw an orange yesterday in the fridge, it is now gone as somebody probably ate it or it became moldly and needed to be thrown out. This week my wife threw out here blow dryer in the garbage because it worked one morning and then suddenly it didn’t! You ate breakfast this morning and it is almost finished being digested, which is why you can’t wait for our snacks and coffee in the GO Café! On a more serious note, I can recall my friend’s voice as we played together as children but he drowned in a canoeing accident many years ago and I can’t hear that voice any more. Even his voice in my head is very faint. Life here on earth is temporary. Our senses help us with the science of life, but our senses don’t save us! Paul describes all these temporary pursuits as dangerous. Verses 9-10, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Notice again how these pursuits pull us away from faith in Christ. So is your faith in Christ or is your faith in the temporary?

Faith in Christ is the only way to eternal life, to righteousness, to godliness, to love, to perseverance (to never give up) and to gentleness. I was reminded of this by Pastor Aaron who is teaching on suffering from a curriculum entitled 9 Marks in our Next Chapter discipleship class. Aaron quoted Mark Dever as teaching that “A belief in hell encourages a behavior in mercy.” You see, if there is a hell where vengeance is the Lord’s, then you don’t have to take up vengeance yourself and instead you can pursue mercy and gentleness. Isn’t Christ compelling? Even the seeming paradox of fighting for gentleness can only be found in Christ![3] Jesus made that gentle and good confession before Pontius Pilate when He could have with one word wiped out that little twerp! Jesus was gentle, all the while fighting for our salvation! Do you see how faith in Christ then causes you to pursue righteousness, godliness, love, perseverance and gentleness? Fight for faith in Christ and flee faith in the temporary!

But we can’t just fight for faith in Christ and flee the temporary, we must also fight for purity in belief and behaviour and flee impurity. Where do we find the idea of fighting for purity? Look at the imperative in verse 14, “you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul seems to be drawing upon the image used elsewhere in the New Testament about the church, Christ’s bride, being spotless and pure. In fact, Paul uses that imagery in Ephesians 5:25-27 in his letter to the very church Timothy is pastoring. However, Paul is exhorting the Ephesian church’s pastor to be pure as well. Friends, I hope to teach you more about purity and technology the last Sunday night of this month. Here is what I want you to understand for now as I quote Tim Challies, “We now have an entire generation (100% of men and 20% of women) that is addicted to porn. If you were born after 1980, you have probably been exposed to porn because we have unlimited access to unlimited amounts of pornography. It is actually far more difficult to avoid pornography than it is to find it.”[4] The only way to fight for purity is to flee from it! In the next letter Paul writes to Timothy, Paul exhorts Timothy to “flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22) It is almost verbatim from the last letter, but this time the exhortation is more communal. The church should be a place where you don’t think you have it all together, but can be honest about your brokenness. God will use the church to make you whole! This is why you flee impurity and run to community. You run to the church to help you with your impurity!

It reminds me of how we can either fight against each other (impurity usually leads to anger) or we can fight with each other. This past Friday the kids were off school, so I took my 3 boys to play laser tag. We started out every man for himself. We shot each other. Then we teamed up. A squad of 4 Stairs acting like elite soldiers and we started fighting back the enemy with great success. We stopped fighting against each other and starting fighting with each other. We just had to stay close to each other. I think Paul had in mind that purity was a community project. Back in 1 Timothy 6:14 he urges Timothy to “keep the commandment.” Paul doesn’t even say what commandment, but Timothy knows what Paul is talking about. The command is to love one another – the top ethic of the kingdom – Love God and people. If you love, you will not lust! How could you love the touched up picture of the naked guy or girl on the screen if you thought about how they are created in God’s image and have been deeply loved by God that He would send His Son for them and because you love Jesus, you would love them too!

Furthermore, this is all grounded in our belief about God and His Son Jesus! Jesus is going to come back! Verse 15 declares, “which He will bring about at the proper time – he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen!” A high view of God and His majesty will cause us to fight for purity in belief and behaviour and flee impurity!

And it will also lead us to fight for generosity in good works and good things while fleeing from greed! With Christ as our Master, money can become our servant! Without Christ, money will become our master! Warren Wiersbe puts it this way, “Riches can lure a person into a make-believe world of shallow pleasure. But riches plus God’s will can introduce a person to a life that is real and ministry that is lasting.”[5] The danger is that money rises up to want to be our master again! Christianity leads to economic lift! When you come to faith in Christ and realize that you work for God, you become a better employee. Usually this leads to promotion and remuneration and since you are not spending your money on yourself as much or your vices (alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets), you have more money. Your family experiences more economic freedom, but then that affluence can lead you away from God and eventually become your downfall. Brian Chapell puts it this way, “The jaws of prosperity open wide and are ready to devour a fresh harvest of the rich.”[6] This is why Paul says in verses 17-18, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world (that is all of us here today) not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of which is life indeed.” Did you catch that last part? The Christian dream life is not more stuff here, but more stuff up there! That stuff is the relationships for all eternity with God and His people!

So we are fighting for faith, purity, and generosity while fleeing from the temporary, impurity and greed, but we still need to fight for truth in God’s Word and flee false words! God’s Word will help us guard against “worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” (v. 20-21)!

What a contrast to how Jesus fought for us while fleeing heaven! We fight and flee the wrong things. As I close and head into the Lord’s Supper, I want us to think about what happened after the Last Supper. Jesus was betrayed by one of His own disciples, and when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, another of His disciples, Peter, took out his sword and started fighting. Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11) Jesus would then go on trial and before Pontius Pilate make this good confession, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews, but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm…You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Do you see how Jesus defines fighting the good fight? Not fighting for the things of this world, but fighting for the people of this world! He fought for you and I! And everyone who believes truth hears His voice! If you believe truth and hear Jesus’ voice fleeing to him for salvation and fighting the good fight, you are welcome to participate in this supper remembering the cup Jesus drank for you!

[1] R. Kent Hughes & Bryan Chapell, 1-2 Timothy: To Guard the Deposit (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012), 165.

[2] George Knight, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Commentary, 1992), 264.

[3] Walter Liefield, The NIV Application Commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 209.

[4] Tim Challies, Sexual DetoxA Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn (Adelph: Cruciform Press, 2010), 10.

[5] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 238.

[6] Chapell, 171.