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Thursday, April 19, 2018

“All Nations”

Acts 1:6-11

Jesus has spent forty days with the disciples after his resurrection.  At this point they  are wondering if this now will be the end of the age.   Will Christ now establish his rule not only for Israel but for all nations?  So they ask, “Lord, is this the time . . . ?”  Jesus’ answer is probably not what they were expecting.  He tells them it is not for them to know the “the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”  This hasn’t stopped people throughout the ages from trying to decipher exactly when the end time will occur.  Jesus however could not be clearer.  We are not to know.  This is the walk of faith without sight (II Cor. 5:7).  To speculate about “the day or the hour” (Matt. 24:36) is not only pointless.  It really questions the plan that God in his sovereignty has set up.  We are not to know.

This does not mean that we are to be passive.  Jesus has a definite plan and purpose for his disciples.  He tells them (and us) three crucial things.  First, we will receive power.  The word for this power is the same word we have for “dynamite.”  It is not a power in human terms.  If the church only had human power it would have disappeared from human history centuries ago.  Jesus is speaking about a spiritual power.  Second, the source of this power will be the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will guide and direct us.  Third, Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses from their home (Jerusalem and Judea) to where they are not welcome (Samaria) on out “to the ends of the earth.”

This is a broad mandate.  There are many ways to witness.  Not all of them are verbal (Matt. 25:31-46).  The gospel message is direct and straight forward: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).   Belief itself also takes many forms.  It may be as simple as washing Jesus’ feet without saying a word (Luke 7:36-50).

After giving this mandate Jesus ascends into heaven (something we might describe as another dimension).  Two angels appear to the disciples.  They restate what continues to be the great hope of the church.  Jesus is coming again.  Jesus himself had emphatically taught this (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 24).  This hope sustains us as we seek, in whatever we are able, to witness to the new life found uniquely in Jesus Christ.

Eternal and faithful God and Savior.  I thank you for the promise of the Holy Spirit.  May I draw on the Spirit’s power as I witness to you awaiting the return of your Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

 “All Nations”

Luke 24:44-49

This passage makes it clear that Jesus cannot be understood apart from scripture and scripture cannot be understood apart from him.  When Jesus refers to the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms he is taking in all of the Old Testament, the Torah.  The Old Testament consists of essentially three types of writings.  The first of course is the law, the first five books.  Then there are the books of prophecy which include the histories of the prophets (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles) and the prophetic books themselves.  The third category is the Wisdom literature, sometime referred to as the Writings.  The preeminent example is Psalms but this also includes books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon and Job.

What Jesus is saying here is that every one of these books deals with him in some sense.  They invariably are prophetic descriptions of him and his ministry.  This of course is one of the reasons that the New Testament quotes the Old Testament so frequently.  Interpreting scripture is always a major task.  We need language tools, history and comparative literature to start.  However what we need most is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

Apart from the centrality of Jesus Christ the Bible can often be abused.  The Bible has sadly been used to justify slavery, racism, imperialism, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of women and homosexuals.  If we have only the letter of the text that can easily become destructive, even deadly, according to the apostle Paul (II Cor. 3:1-6).

However focusing on Christ brings out the good news of the Word of God.  Through Jesus in the scriptures we experience freedom, freedom from guilt, sin and death.  As Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (II Cor. 3:17).

Merciful and gracious God I thank you for the gift of your Word.  Give me your Spirit and enable me to see Jesus everywhere he is revealed in scripture.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

“All Nations”

Isa. 66:18-24

These closing words of Isaiah’s prophecy give us a breathtaking look at the culmination of God’s final plan for all people and all nations.  Here we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the world will be blessed as we saw yesterday.  We need to look at the details of this picture.

First, God is saying that he will gather all nations and tongues.  Adding the term “tongues” indicates how extensive this is.  In many nations including our own there is more than one language.  These shall come and see God’s glory.  At this point God’s glory will be declared among the nations.  This extends even to the coastlands that have not heard of God.  Second, the nations of the world then will bring all the scattered chosen people of God, the Jews, to Jerusalem.  God will even take some of those Gentiles, and make them to be priests and Levites.

Earlier in the Book of Isaiah and then also in the Book of Revelation, we see that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1).  God is not only making an ultimate promise to Israel.  This promise now is extended to “all flesh,” that is to say, all humanity.  Everyone will come to the new Jerusalem to worship the one true God.

This image is intended to give us comfort and assurance, not complacency.  We are not simply to wait for this all to be fulfilled.  We need to be part of the command to declare God’s glory among the nations.  The great encouragement here is that this mission will inevitably be fulfilled.  We are to prepare for this great scene.  We can share the gospel in confidence knowing that “all nations” will come to the Lord.  Yet the final scene in this passage is a sober warning about the task of spreading the gospel.  The last picture here is of the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against God.  Within all nations there will be exceptions.  We are given no further description than that they have rebelled.  Their worm doesn’t die.  Their fire is not quenched.  God is gracious but God also will not be mocked.  We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).  The harvest is ripe even now (Matt. 9:37-38).  God is not willing that any should perish (I Tim. 2:3-4).  We need continually to witness to the new creation revealed in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17).

Gracious and loving God inspire me with this promise of all nations coming to worship you.  With that hope may I play a part in declaring your glory to the nations.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

“All Nations”

Gen. 12:1-3

The plan of salvation begins to be carried out when God first calls Abraham.  This starts with God making a command.  The command though is not to perform some special function.  God tells Abraham to go to a land that God will show him.  Not even a GPS would help here.  Abraham is not told where he is going.  Much less does he have an address.  God then makes a series of promises to Abraham.  God will bless (favor) him and make of him a great nation.  God will bless those who bless Abraham and in turn God will curse any who curse Abraham.  Finally in Abraham all the families or nations of the world will be blessed.

There are many unanswered questions here.  Why does God call Abraham?  We are not told that there is anything special about him.  Abraham’s world was full of myths of great heroes who performed miraculous acts.  Nothing here indicates that Abraham is any kind of hero.  We don’t hear of any special accomplishments he has achieved.  How will be the father of a great nation (he’s already seventy five)?  How will all the nations of the world be blessed in him?

We are given no details, really, no explanations.  All we have is the Word of God given to a person about whom we know practically nothing at this point.  God’s Word presents God’s promises.  Abraham is not told that he has to do anything to receive these promises (Rom. 4:2).  As we will see it is all a matter of faith, of Abraham believing God’s Word (Gen. 15:6).  Yet God’s promises precede Abraham’s response of faith.

This text is foundational to all of scripture.  We learn several key things here that will greatly help us interpret the rest of scripture.  First, God comes to us.  We read nothing of Abraham looking for God.  God calls Abraham on a mission that is not explained at this point.  God makes promises to Abraham.  Nothing is said of Abraham doing anything to merit those promises.

The same God who called Abraham calls us.  The same God who promised to bless Abraham will also bless us in Jesus Christ.

 Merciful and faithful God and Savior I thank you that you called Abraham to carry out your will.  May I also seek to follow your will.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday, April 15, 2018

“All Authority”

Matt. 28:16-18

The disciples come to Galilee as they had been instructed.  Here they encounter the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.  They worship him.  However some doubted.  How could they doubt with the evidence staring them in the face?  There are many reasons why people doubt even in the face of undeniable evidence.  They may doubt because what they see is too good to be true in their minds.  They doubt because they can’t make sense of what they are seeing.  Finally they may doubt because they’re afraid of the implications of what they see.

To admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is to say that the world is not what it appears to be.   Death does not, indeed cannot, have the last word.  History is not in the hands of human beings no matter how much power and influence they may claim to have.  The world is ruled neither by fate nor fortune.

Jesus makes the all- encompassing claim that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  There is no boundary or limit to this authority.  Jesus’ dominion includes everything.  He is the final authority in politics, economics, education, science art and all of culture.

Finally he is our authority.  Everything we have and are belong to him. There are no exceptions.  Jesus’ authority does not depend on us.  It depends solely on God.  We cannot evade his authority.  What we can do is bend our wills to serve him.  As we embrace his authority over us we have the promise of confident joy (John 15:11).  That joy surpasses anything the world can promise us.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you that all things in heaven and on earth are under the authority of Jesus Christ.  May that great truth continually be my hope and assurance in all things.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

“All Authority”

Matt. 28:11-15

We hear accusations today of “fake news.”  That term applies to this account.  The guards have told the high priest what happened on Easter morning.  The soldiers experienced an earthquake.  They at least saw a blinding light even if they didn’t realize they were seeing an angel.   Whoever they thought this figure was they were terrified.  We are told that they shook “and became like dead men” (Matt. 28:4).  The most significant part of their story is that the tomb was empty.  They didn’t know where Jesus was.

The truth was beginning to circulate that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  The women at least had told the disciples.  Before the story spread the religious leaders were prepared to claim that the message of the Resurrection was “fake news.”  They bribed the soldiers to claim that Jesus’ body had been stolen by his disciples while they slept.  The bride clearly included protection since falling asleep on your post as a Roman soldier was an offence punishable by death.

All of this planning and deception is doomed to failure.  There have been attempts to deny the Resurrection of Jesus Christ for the past two centuries.  All of them inevitably fail.  The religious leaders can make up whatever story they want.  The fact remains that “Christ has been raised from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20).  Christ’s resurrection also insures our resurrection from the dead.  Jesus is the “first fruits.”

The world has an agenda that denies Jesus.  It denies the Resurrection.  It loudly proclaims that this life is all we have.  However God unleashed incredible power in the Resurrection of Jesus.  It was impossible for death to hold him (Acts 2:24).  We live in a hope that can never be taken away.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Gracious and merciful God and Savior I praise you for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.  May I continue to live in the hope that provides and may I share that hope with a world which too often lives without hope.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

“All Authority”

Eph. 1:15-23

Paul repeatedly refers to the power of Jesus Christ in this passage.  He speaks of the “great power” that has been manifested in the risen Christ.  This power was fully demonstrated in “Christ’s resurrection.”  The result of this is that God has not only raised Jesus from the dead, he has seated him at God the Father’s right hand.  Paul adds in exalted terms that this is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

The Roman authorities of Paul’s time would have laughed at this description.  Christianity in this era was a tiny movement with no strong social, political or cultural leadership.  How could this Jesus be over “all rule and authority and power and dominion.”  This would place him even above Caesar himself.

Paul knows that the gospel will appear as “foolishness to Gentiles” (I Cor. 1:23), He calls believers to look with “the eyes of faith.”  Faith enables us to see things that reason cannot penetrate.  However Paul is not saying that faith is blind.  Seeing with faith enables us to see the triumph of the Resurrection which in truth no one witnessed directly (an Easter knock-knock joke I heard at a recent Montclair Clergy meeting: “Knock, knock,” “Who’s there?” “No one. The tomb is empty”).

The ruling authorities knew the tomb was empty but they did not see the risen Christ.  Yet Jesus’ death and resurrection unleashes incredible power.  Lives are transformed.  The sick are healed.  In some cases the dead are raised.  Christianity eventually conquers the Roman Empire.

We see struggle, injustice and indifference to the gospel all around us.  We however have to open our eyes with faith.  The power of Christ continues to expand.  We take for granted human rights that the Romans would not have imagined.  This is not to mention health care and public education.  All of these developments have their roots in Christianity.  There are more Christians in the world today than at any point in world history.

We need to be encouraged by these trends, not complacent.  Finally we must recognize that Jesus is in charge of all of history.  He is the “fullness” who fills all in all.  Everything is under him and him alone.

I praise you Lord for the power revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  May I commit myself to live in that power sharing the good news of his death and resurrection.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

“All Authority”

Col. 2:16-23

 

Paul now expands on the freedom we have in Christ.  The Pharisees with their overly zealous view of the law were quick to condemn anyone who did not follow their same rigid standard (Matt. 15:1-9).  Paul speaks of those who would condemn others in everything from food and drink (alcohol?) to religious observances.  There is a danger here of being “puffed up” by a human way of thinking.

There are two dangers here.  First, there is “self-abasement” which Paul concedes has the dubious advantage of “promoting self-imposed piety” which quickly leads to “self-indulgence.”  Paul accepts no rule for the Christian life except the rule of love (Rom. 13:9-10).    He further states that he is convinced that nothing is wrong (or in Jewish terms, “unclean”) in itself.  He further states that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving” (I Tim. 4:4).   Second, Paul adds that the primary reason for refraining from indulging in practices that are not the obvious “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21) is the concern for weaker believers who may not be ready or able to experience their full freedom in Christ (I Cor. 8).  A recovering alcoholic may be offended by seeing other Christians indulge in drinking.

Paul calls us to stand firm in the freedom we have in Christ (Gal. 5:1).  The rule of love is a very broad one.  Christianity throughout its history has suffered from a condemning legalism.  This turns many people away from the gospel.  Freedom is not to be used for self- indulgence.  Yet freedom is still truly free (John 8: 36).

Gracious and loving Lord, may I live in the freedom you have given me to enjoy with thanksgiving all that is part of your creation.  Give me the grace to act in love especially with others who may not yet be ready for the full freedom you provide.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

“All Authority”

Col.  2:6-15

Paul again in this section is making great affirmations about Jesus Christ.  He warns against “philosophy and empty deceit.”  He is not dismissing valid questions and reasonable concerns.  The Colossians were in danger of falling into speculative arguments and fantasies.  Paul insists that all things belong to Christ.  However there is a danger in wandering away from Christ and following “human tradition.”  Paul sees these tendencies as threats to the church.  He, of all people, is certainly not anti-intellectual.  Yet he realistically understands that there are false alternatives to the gospel which even Jesus had warned against (Matt. 24:5).  There are many forms of ‘spirituality” in our world that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Paul then gives us a summary of the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross.  Too often the view has been presented that Christ died to fulfill the demands of the law, that his death somehow satisfied a need in God’s justice.  Such a view is itself speculative and theoretical.  It is not what the New Testament essentially teaches.  Jesus did not die to fulfill the demands of the law (as was the case with the Old Testament sacrifices).  In his death he freed us from the law’s demands, “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside nailing it to the cross.”

Because of sin we were captive to death and the devil.  Christ on the cross took all these forces on to himself, these “rulers and authorities” and disarmed and conquered them (Heb. 2:14-15).  Paul conjures up what would have a familiar image to his readers.  A Roman centurion would return dragging his defeated adversaries behind him, chained to his chariot.  This is Paul’s image of the victory of Jesus Christ.  He has made a public example of sin, death, hell, the law and the devil “triumphing over them” in the cross.

This means we are free of guilt, fear and failure.  Christ has won the victory for us.  The power of the cross, which to human eyes appeared as shame and weakness, is fully revealed in the triumph of the Resurrection.  We can now live out the frequent command, “Do not be afraid” (Matt. 28:10).  Amen!

Gracious and faithful God I praise you for the victory Jesus won on the cross and revealed in the Resurrection.  May I continue to live in that victory.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“All Authority”

Col. 1:15-20

This is one of the most exalted pictures of Jesus Christ in the entire New Testament.  Note the many claims that the apostle Paul makes.  First, there is Christ’s equality with the Father.  Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”  In him “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Beyond that he is the “firstborn of all creation.” In him “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.”  For Paul the invisible world probably meant the world of the Spirit.  In our time when we are aware of the magnitude of creation and its incredible intricacy there is much more that we are aware of that is “invisible” from distant galaxies to sub-atomic particles.  The formerly atheistic philosopher Anthony Flew came to the conclusion that there had to be some kind of creator to account for the universe in which we live.  To see the world in all its diversity and to claim that it all can about by some random or chance event strains credulity.

Paul goes on to say that in Christ all things hold together.  In addition Jesus is the head of the church.  He is the firstborn from the dead as we celebrate this Easter season.  He has first place in everything.  As Martin Luther reminded us, we see God’s presence and activity everywhere from the smallest flower to the innumerable stars in the sky.  Christ is present in everything.  Everything belongs to him, from baseball games to the latest fashion to the complexity of the arts and all science.

Finally Paul brings us one of his most crucial themes which was grasped by several in the early church but was subsequently lost.  This is the doctrine of universal salvation.  Paul affirms here that God is reconciling all things whether on earth or in heaven to himself “making peace through the blood of the cross.”  This should give us immeasurable confidence.  The paradox is that individual persons can reject this reconciliation and thereby face an ultimate separation from God.   Such decisions cannot override God’s ultimate decision in Christ to reconcile all things to himself.

Given all this we should be the most confident and optimistic people on earth.  This is our testimony in word and deed.  Everything belongs to Jesus Christ.  He has come to reconcile us to God, to show us our true identity and true hope. This is a gift we need to share with the world.

Gracious and faithful God I praise you that in Christ you are reconciling all things to yourself.  May I continue to have faith in Christ and be drawn more and more closely to you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

“All Authority”

Phil. 2:5-11

This is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament.  In all probability it was an ancient hymn that Paul is quoting.  Paul is concerned about the presence of ‘”selfish ambition” in the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:17).  His purpose in referring to this hymn is to call the Philippians to an attitude of humility.  Jesus is the supreme example of humility.  This is why Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus was equal with God the Father.  Here we have an explicit statement about the deity of Christ.  The hymn however goes on to say that Jesus “emptied himself.”  He took upon himself the role of a slave.  His humility led to nothing less than his death on the cross.  It was for this reason that God exalted him.  This exaltation was his resurrection.  We are currently in the Easter season and we do well to meditate on what that means.

Jesus has been totally exalted to the point where he has been given a name “that is above every name.”  At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  The picture here admits of no exceptions.  Pilate will bow.  Herod will bow.  Nero will bow.  Hitler will bow.  The demons in hell will bow.  Satan himself may be forced to bow just as he tempted Jesus to bow before him (Matt. 4:9).

To be humble is to make ourselves vulnerable. In our aggressive world this is usually the last thing we want to do.  However we should have no fear in becoming vulnerable. Everything is under Jesus’ authority.  Whatever suffering we experience will not last.  Jesus now and always has the final say.

Gracious and faithful God may I truly have the mind of Christ and be free to be humble knowing that I, like everything else, is under Jesus’ sole authority.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Weekly Devotionals

Weekly Devotionals

For the week of April 2nd,  we are going to use the website d365.org as our devotional guide.

Click the Image Below:

the devotional steps

d365Logo_Circle_Pause

As you pause to begin your devotion, you will find a statement that will help you take time away from your busyness to center and listen to what God is saying. Stay on this screen as long as you like.  When you are ready, proceed to listen to God’s word, and then move through the rest of the devotion. Note that the Pause and Go statements will stay the same for a week.

d365Logo_Circle_Listen

Scripture has so much to say to our lives; our job is to make the space to listen. As you read the scripture for the day, read it through a few times or pray the scripture as you listen for God’s voice. Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from the Common English Bible.

d365Logo_Circle_Think

The devotions found on this site are reflections, voices that will cause you to think. As you read the reflections on the scripture, be open to new thoughts and ideas. Do you agree? Do you disagree? How do these words encourage you or challenge you as you study the scripture? Remember, you can go back and “listen” and read the text again to help you understand what the devotion is saying to you.

d365Logo_Circle_Pray

Let your thinking about the text lead you into response through prayer. As you enter the “prayer” step, we’ve given you a few words to get you started, but don’t end there. Remember, prayer is conversation, so take the time to talk to God but also to listen for God.

d365Logo_Circle_Go

While it would be nice to find a quiet space and stay there forever, life always calls us back. There are many things to do, and we are called to go, but never alone. Guided by the Spirit, go with God’s blessing sent in the name of Jesus.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 28:1-10

GOOD NIGHT, GOOD DAY

the pain inside his palms
less than the piercing of the betrayal
of poison dripping from disciples’ tongues
when fear compromises faith

look up and see
not a king
or a god
but a dying man
whose blood drowns out
a shame we do not see

we breathe
he bleeds
we sing
he screams

as tight lips deny prayers
and offerings are scorched in sin
as doubt and denial join hands
the darkness of a vacant tomb
becomes a comfort we can’t comprehend

as our palms begin to shake
and our prayers become pleas
the light we never knew
the grace of everlasting
the conquest of love

not a man
but a son
rolls away the stone of our sorrow
and shines into the promise of forever

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - April 1, 2018 EASTER

April 1, 2018 EASTER

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 28:1-10

We didn’t know what else to do.

We were overwhelmed with grief.

I’ve never been so sad.

I didn’t sleep.

The Sabbath came and went.

I felt numb.

If I felt at all.

So we got up early.

We wanted to do something.

We brought spices to anoint the body.

We didn’t know how to enter the tomb.

There was a great stone

and a guard.

I was worried.

I was afraid.

How would we go on without him?

Then it all changed.

An earthquake

An angel

The guards shaking

Then He was there.

Unbelievable.

We touched him.

Felt his feet.

He said, “Do not be afraid”

And I wasn’t.

And I’m not now.

Still,

Joy can be terrifying

Faithful and loving God give me the same compassion that Jesus had.  May I truly see him in those who are in need.  I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 31, 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 27:55-66

 

From a human standpoint this appears to be a moment of complete despair.  Jesus is dead.  There are many women (obviously very few men and none of the disciples if one doesn’t take the “Beloved Disciple” of John’s gospel as being one of the twelve).  They can only look on “from a distance.”  They can’t really do anything.  In fact, what could be done?  This scene is similar to depictions in classic literature of women looking on helplessly as their men are killed.  An example is the Trojan Women who have to endure the death of their husbands and sons as well as the destruction of their city.  These are pictures of finality.  All women in these situations can do is look on from a distance.

Joseph of Aramathea does what little can be humanly done.  He asks for the body of Jesus and places it in his own new tomb.  He rolls a great stone across the tomb presumably so no one will enter it and desecrate the body.  The following day, Saturday, the chief priests and the Pharisees ask Pilate for a guard to secure the tomb from any attempt to steal the body and claim that Jesus has risen.  Pilate grants their request.  The guard then seals the tomb and makes it secure.

All of this effort from placing the stone and then sealing it is pointless.  The calm of this Saturday is an illusion.  The spiritual world is in turmoil.  The gates of hell have been broken open (Matt. 16:18).  Sin, Death, Hell and Satan have been disarmed and dragged behind Christ’s triumphal procession (Col. 2:15), Christ has taken captivity captive (Eph. 4:8).  Death has been abolished (II Tim. 1:10).

The earth is quiet.  Jerusalem is quiet.  The disciples still are in hiding.  The women look on and mourn.  The soldiers stand guard.  What none of them know at this point is that fearful Hades, the place of the dead, lies in shambles, smashed and broken forever.  The Devil has lost his power because Death has been destroyed (Heb. 2:14-15).

This furious conflict and incredible victory is about to break through into the physical dimension of earth (I John 3:8).  All the soldiers in the world wouldn’t be able to prevent that from happening.

Gracious and triumphant Lord Jesus Christ, I praise you for the victory you won on the cross taking my place for all my sin and failure.  Prepare me for your greatest triumph.  May I obey your command, “Do not be afraid.” I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Good Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday, March 30, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 27:1-54

Good Friday

The Roman soldiers who witnessed Christ’s death were terrified.  The whole event is terrifying.  There is Judas who betrayed Jesus.  He repents but goes and commits suicide.  The crowds cry out for Jesus’ blood.  They want a criminal released instead of the Son of God.  This has all been designed by the religious leaders.  In their minds this is necessary to preserve their guilt inducing law.

The soldiers mock Jesus. They put a crown of thorns on his head.  They spit on him.  They beat him.  Then they lead him out to be crucified.  The mockery continues even as Jesus hangs dying on the cross.  He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Then he dies.  The chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees breathe a sigh of relief.  The trouble maker is gone.  He will disturb them no more.  Pilate no longer has to think about him despite his wife’s strange dream.   Satan has won his victory.  Darkness pervades the land.  The darkness appears to have taken over everything.

But then, the curtain of the temple is torn in two.  There is an earthquake.  The earth shakes and the rocks split open.  The Roman centurion and his soldiers are truly terrified.  The centurion can only say, “Truly, this man was God’s Son!”

But it doesn’t matter.  Jesus is dead.  He is truly dead.  The one who raised others from the dead is dead.  The one who calmed the wind and the waves is dead.  The one who fed thousands of people is dead.

The demons in Hades prepare to celebrate.

If they only knew.

Their party will have an unexpected guest. . . .

 

Merciful and sovereign God, how can this be?  How could Jesus die for an undeserving world?  How could he die for me? I cannot grasp love this great.  Build up my faith in You and your love, I pray this in Jesus’ name.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 29, 2019

Thursday, March 29, 2019

“Fear and Great Joy”

Maundy Thursday

Matthew 26:17-56

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus doesn’t want to be my savior.  He certainly doesn’t want to be the savior of the disciples whom he knows will desert him in his hour of greatest need.  Time and again he rebuked them for their faithlessness.  Why save them?  Why die for them?  Why be confronted with not only the fury of human enemies but, far worse, the full power of Sin, Death, Hell and Satan?  Why indeed?

When Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me . . . .” he is saying he does not want to die for the disciples.  He does not want to die for the world.    He doesn’t want to die for me.  I am certainly no better than they were.  In fact, I am far worse.  I have been faithless and perverse (Matt. 17:17).  I have taken Satan’s side against Jesus (Matt. 16:22-23).  Why would Jesus die for me?

If Jesus had ended his prayer with that single statement, “Let this cup pass from me,” what would God the Father had said?  He well could say, “You have done enough my Son.  They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them” (Luke 16:29).  Jesus then could have walked out of Gethsemane.  He could have returned to Nazareth and lived out his years in peace.

But he didn’t.  The words are scarcely out of his mouth when he adds, “yet not what I want but what you want.” When I begin to think of all Jesus did for me, all my excuses for not doing more for him seem incredibly pitiful.

Loving and gracious Lord I take so much for granted.  I can understand why you didn’t want to be my savior.  I will never understand why you then chose to die for me.  I cannot thank and praise you enough.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matt. 25:31-46

This is Jesus’ final parable in Matthew’s gospel.  As is the case with most parables there are parts that are reassuring and parts that are disturbing.  We have here a picture of the last judgment.  The judgment is on all the nations and indeed the people of those nations who will be separated by Jesus, the supreme judge.  Jesus begins by commending those who he says fed and clothed him, welcomed him, cared for him and visited him.  However this group, referred to as “the righteous,” ask him, “Lord, when did we see you and do all these things?”  Jesus responds that when they cared for “one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Who are “the least of these?”    They are the nameless brothers and sisters who suffer abuse (Matt. 5:21-24) as well as those who need forgiveness (Matt. 18:35).  They are the “little ones” who are lost sheep (Matt. 18:10-14), who are thirsty (Matt. 10:42), who, literally, are children (Matt. 19:14).  Essentially Jesus is talking about anyone in need (Matt. 5:1-12).

This parable shows that Jesus has more followers that we might know.  These “righteous” were serving Jesus without knowing it.  They are ushered into the joy of heaven.  They are not being saved by their works.  Rather they are saved because they were in their way reaching out to Jesus.  As Paul says we are saved “for good works” (Eph. 2:10).  The sober warning here is for those who have neglected the needy. In so doing they have rejected Jesus and face the terrifying prospect of “eternal punishment.”

We need to remember that when we encounter the hungry, the sick, the poor and the stranger in the land we are coming face to face with Jesus.

 

Faithful and loving God give me the same compassion that Jesus had.  May I truly see him in those who are in need.  I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 24:1-44

This is Jesus’ final extended teaching in the gospel of Matthew.  Jesus is responding to a question from the disciples regarding the future and his second coming.  Jesus’ answer is a sobering one.  The picture he paints is multi-faceted and even appears contradictory at times.  Before we look at the specific things Jesus reveals we need to remember a key point of Biblical prophecy.  Prophecies in scripture refer to more than single events.  Often they refer to a pattern of events usually beginning with something in the relatively near future and then extending that out to a more distant future fulfillment.  Isaiah prophesizes about the return of Israel to Jerusalem following their seventy year captivity in Babylon.  When Isaiah talks about this he is initially focusing on a soon to occur event, even mentioning the Persian king, Cyrus, who will bring this about.  However his prophecy then extends to the end of history when all nations will accompany Israel to Jerusalem.  This of course has not yet happened (though Israel’s rebirth in 1948 could well be a step toward this).

In the same way Jesus’ discourse here includes things that will happen in the disciples’ Biblical generation of forty years (“this generation will not pass away until all these things have been fulfilled”).  Yet Jesus is not describing a single event.  He is detailing a pattern.  Each unit of that pattern contains a summary of the whole.  In this sense the generation of the disciples could see it all but that doesn’t negate the pattern’s continuing fulfilment in future events.

So what does Jesus teach here?  First there will be opposition to the gospel including even spiritual counterfeits pretending to be a “messiah.”  There will be wars and rumors of wars.  There will be unprecedented suffering.  Yet this will culminate in the coming of Jesus “the Son of Man” “with power and great glory.”  In the immediate sense this is a picture of the upheaval in the Roman Empire in the years 68-70 AD.  Yet clearly this is a pattern that continues throughout history.  Each war seems to get worse (Contrast Jesus’ teaching with the view that World War I would be “the war to end all wars.”  In fact it led to a far worse World War II).

We have not seen Jesus’ full return yet but we see the power of his presence in the expansion of the gospel which goes to “all the nations.”  There is a dual reality.  Jesus says that we will not know the time of his coming, yet we can still see signs of that coming.  The Lord is near but we don’t know exactly when he will come.

The hope in this chapter is first of all, the fact that Jesus’ prophecy certainly is an accurate one as history tragically illustrates (as opposed to the Roman view that the emperor would bring about a restored “golden age” on earth).   We know Jesus is a reliable prophet.  The second hope is that Jesus will return and will bring in his kingdom completely.  Jesus determines the ending of history.  We are not lost in a maze of chaos and confusion.

Jesus first fulfilment of “power and glory” will be his resurrection.  He is not done however.  He is coming.  In his words we need to “keep awake.”

Eternal and gracious God keep me awake and alert as I await your coming.  May that promise spur me on to share your truth and your love every day.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday, March 26, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matt. 22:15-22

The religious leaders come to Jesus again with a test question.  When we read such passages (like the question about divorce in 19:3) we need to remember that these are not honest questions.  They are intentional traps designed to catch Jesus.  Therefore we must always remember to interpret them with this in mind.  In this case they are asking Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not.  If Jesus says it is lawful he can be accused of collaborating with the oppressive Roman authorities (which is exactly what these leaders were doing).  On the other hand if Jesus says it is not lawful he can be accused before those same authorities.

Jesus will not fall into their trap.  He asks for a denarius which was the equivalent of one day’s wage for a common laborer.  Jesus then asks whose image is on the coin.  They answer obviously, the emperor.  Jesus then gives the famous answer, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

It needs to be noted here that Jesus is not offering a great deal to the emperor.  He is stating in effect that the emperor is worth one day’s wage.  The emperor in fact demanded much more.  Beginning with the death of Caesar Augustus the emperor was officially viewed as a god.  Therefore he was to be worshipped (“Caesar is Lord!”).  The emperor demanded “fides,” loyalty from his subjects.  This included devotion to Rome and service in her army.

Jesus is willing to give the basic tax.  We should be willing to do the same (Rom. 13:6).  What belongs to God?  The answer is absolutely everything, all that we have and all that we are.  The authority of the emperor cannot override God’s authority (Acts 5:29).  Jesus makes this plain to Pilate when he says, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).  It is God alone who is all-powerful and to whom we owe everything.  “For God is the king of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).

Loving and merciful God I thank you that you are Lord of all.  May I fulfill my duty to the government but give my total allegiance to you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matthew 21:1-11

 

The whole of Jerusalem is in turmoil.  Why?  Jesus is coming.  He is not an ordinary visitor, a pilgrim taking part in the Passover festivities.  He comes as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah’s prediction of Israel’s king entering Jerusalem riding humbly on a donkey (Zech 9:9).  As king, Jesus comes to confront the oppression and injustice of Jerusalem where the religious leaders have made common cause with the Roman authorities to lay “heavy burdens” on the people (Matt. 23:4).  Jesus comes to challenge all this.  Yet he comes as a servant as well as a king.  His goal is to serve not to be served (Matt. 20:28).

What does it mean to serve?  For Jesus it means showing mercy to those who are in need (Matt. 12:7).  It means welcoming those who are rejected (Matt. 9:10).   Jesus’ humility cannot be mistaken for weakness.  He protects those who are the objects of mercy.  His being merciful gives him this authority.  It is an authority from God the Father himself (Matt. 11:27).  Jesus makes it clear that there is no mercy in hatred, anger, adultery or revenge (Matt. 5:21-30).  There is no mercy in judging others or making wealth into a god (Matt. 7:1; 6:24).  Jesus as the merciful servant-king calls us to care for the hungry, the naked, the sick, the prisoners and the stranger in the land (Matt. 25:35-36).

How are we to do all this?  It seems impossible.  Yet what is impossible for us is possible for God (Matt. 19:26).  Jesus alone gives us the power.  We receive that power through faith and prayer.  We need to step out determined to serve as Jesus served, to be compassionate as he was compassionate, to be merciful as he was merciful.  It is only when we are stepping out in faith, out of our comfort zone, that we receive his power.

 

Gracious and faithful God may I receive Jesus this Palm Sunday as the servant-king who comes to change the world.  Give me the grace to follow him and thereby experience his power.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

“Who is This?”

John 12:37-43

In spite of all that Jesus does there are still those who don’t believe in him.  John cites a passage from Isaiah 6:9-10 that is quoted repeatedly in the New Testament.  This verse is really a statement of judgment.  In its original context Isaiah is witnessing Israel’s turning away from God (Isaiah chapters 1-2).  God in his judgment locks them up in their unbelief.  This is the same as God giving people up as Paul says in Romans 1:24, 26, 28.

Does God give them up permanently?  We have to trust in God bringing about the salvation of the world.  God finally will show mercy to all (Rom. 11:32). After all the judgments recorded in the Book of Revelation there is still the open invitation, “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift” Rev. 22:17.   This however does not absolve us of our present responsibility.  This text gives evidence of the fact that people may finally reject God, reject Christ, reject life itself.

More tragic than outright rejection are those who believe in Christ but do not openly confess that belief for fear of what others might think.  John makes this sobering assessment, “for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

We should not judge these too harshly.  This judgment can well describe us.  We can be dazzled by the “the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matt. 4:8).  That splendor is very fleeting.  Jesus alone remains the light (John 8:12).  To all those who have wandered away Jesus gives this promising affirmation, “for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

We are about to begin Holy Week where we see the cost of Jesus’ saving the world.  We can never exhaust the depths of his love for the world (John 3:16-17).  This is the message we need to share.

Eternal and gracious God may I remain fixed on you.  Keep me from the fear of speaking about my faith in you.  Prepare me for Holy Week.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday, March 23, 2018

“Who is This?”

John 12:27-36

Jesus is troubled.  We don’t like to think about that.  We want Jesus to be super-human.  Our whole culture from Hercules to Superman focuses on heroes who are super-human.  In Paul’s day there were those he called mockingly “super-apostles” (II Cor. 11:5).  We are the ones who are troubled.  We want Jesus to take away our troubles, solve our problems.

Yet it is important to remember that Jesus is just like us except that he was sinless (a big “except”), Heb. 4:15.  He would experience disappointment, uncertainty and doubt.  That is all what is happening to him here.  As divine he would fill out a perfect bracket for March Madness.  However as human he would be just as confused as the rest of us.

Jesus however is something much greater than super-human.  He is divine, the Word made flesh (John 1:1-14).  Therefore he is driving out Satan, the ruler of this world.  In his crucifixion he will draw all people to himself.  We don’t know how that is being accomplished.  Jesus is saving the world (John 1:4, 9; 3:35; 4:42; 12:47; 13:3; I John 4:14).  Yet there are those who still choose the darkness (John 3:19).  This is the great paradox.

Jesus draws us to himself.  We need to come.  We need to follow.  He alone is the light.

Faithful and loving God I thank you that you in your humanity you experienced everything I experience.  Continue to draw me closet to yourself.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

“Who is This?”

John 12:20-26

A critical encounter takes place in this passage.  Jesus’ ministry has emphasized his role as the Messiah, the Son of God, even the somewhat mysterious Son of Man figure referred to in Daniel 7:13-14.  However if the gospel is going to fully penetrate its original world it must do so by reaching the Greek speaking (or Hellenistic) world.   Hebrew and Aramaic were the languages of Israel.  Latin was the language of Rome.  However Greek was the language of the Empire.  It is no accident that the New Testament is written in Greek.

In this passage there are some Greeks who come to Philip and ask to see Jesus.  Were they speaking Greek?  If so, how much Greek would Philip had known?  We don’t know the precise answer to these questions.  However one of the most important themes of the New Testament is the universality of the Gospel.  Jesus is not only the Messiah of Israel.  More than this, he is “the savior of the world” (John 4:42; I John 4:14).

When Jesus hears that these Greeks have been inquiring about him, he responds by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Why does he say this?  Obviously he is preparing for the climax of his life in going to the cross.  Yet the presence of these Greek seekers is a testimony to the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice will be for the whole world not only for his followers or Israel in general (I John 2:2).

As we prepare to celebrate Holy Week in a few days we need to remember that Jesus came for all of us and for each of us.

Gracious and faithful God and Savior may I seek you as these Greeks did.  In seeking you may I also serve you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matt. 20:29-34

This is a perfect description of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus is followed by a large crowd..  However he responds to two blind who cry out to him for mercy.  The crowd orders them to be quiet.  However the men cry out even louder.  Jesus asks them “What do you want me to do for you?”  This is a striking question.  Isn’t it obvious that, being blind, they want to have their sight restored? Jesus wouldn’t need divine knowledge to understand that.  So why does Jesus ask?

On one level Jesus may be asking for a demonstration of their faith.  The two men in fact do call him both “Lord” and “Son of David,” Both titles refer to the Messiah.  Jesus asks for the most minimal faith.  When he sees the paralyzed man being lowered through a roof he acknowledges their faith.  Yet neither the paralyzed man nor his friends carrying him say anything (Matt. 9:1-8).  The father of a demon possessed boy cries out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Yet this faith is sufficient.  Jesus heals the boy.

In this situation Jesus is moved with compassion.  He restores the sight of both men.  The Jesus presented in Matthew’s gospel presents major demands for discipleship.  Yet he can do this because he is primarily merciful.  Having received mercy we have no fear of the call to “take up our cross” (Matt. 10:38).  We have already experienced Christ’s mercy so we have no fear of anything else, even our own failings.  The threat of hell is a warning to those who are proud or indifferent (Matt. 5:21-30; 25:41-46).  It is no threat to those who, like these blind men, cry out for mercy.  Jesus’ basic response always is compassion (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32).  It is because of that compassion that he heals the brokenness of our lives.

Merciful and loving God I thank you for your compassion.  May I in turn show compassion to others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matt. 20:17-19

Jesus in this passage gives a straight forward description of his mission.  He will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes who will condemn him to death.  They in turn will give him over to the Gentiles (the Romans).  They will mock him, whip him and crucify him and on the third day he will be raised from the dead.  When Jesus had previously said this Peter tried to talk him out of it (Matt. 16:21-23).

The difficult issue for the disciples and anyone else in Israel is Jesus’ identification with the “Son of Man.”  The disciples would have known this figure from the Book of Daniel (7:13-14).  This is a glorified person who will judge the living and the dead at the end of history (John 5:25-29).  How then can it be that this “Son of Man” could become such a victim?

The key is that the Son of Man is giving his life as “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).  The conventional meaning of a ransom is a payment to secure the release of a captive.  Jesus however is no captive.  As he makes plain in this passage he freely gives himself up.  The religious leaders, much less the Romans, are not capturing him and dragging him forcibly to Jerusalem.  Jesus is going by his own choice.

We will witness a great reversal.  The captive will become the conqueror.  The victim will become the victor.  Out of his suffering Jesus will create new life.  We share in his suffering (II Cor 1:3-7).  We will also share in his victory (I Cor. 15:57).

Loving and merciful God, I praise and thank you for Jesus’ sacrifice which gives me new life now and forever.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+20%3A17-19&version=NRSV

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday, March 19, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matt. 20:1-16

This passage reminds me of trying to negotiate a disagreement between two children arguing over a toy or a piece of candy.  Invariably, the response you get to whatever final decision is made, is “It’s not fair, it’s not fair.”  Many of Jesus’ parables can be read that way.  It’s not fair that the prodigal son gets a big banquet (Luke 15:11-37).  It’s not fair that the dishonest manager is able to falsify his master’s records (Luke 16:1-9).  It’s not fair that the Pharisee who kept the Law is rejected and the sinful tax collector is justified (Luke 18:9-14).

In this parable Jesus tells of an employer who contracts with workers for a full day’s work with the appropriate wage.  The workers agree to the terms.  Over the course of the day the owner sends other workers into his vineyeard.  Finally he sends a group to work for only the last hour of the day. At the end of the day he pays everyone the same wage.  The earliest workers are outraged (“It’s not fair”).  They worked all day and yet they received the same wage as those who only worked one hour.  It’s hard not to sympathize with them.

The employer counters by noting that he paid them what they both had agreed to.  How he paid others really is not their concern.  His final question is, “are you envious because I am generous?”  Jesus adds that the first will be last and the last first.  The tax collectors and prostitutes will go into heaven ahead of the religious leaders (Matt. 21:28-31).  Is this fair?  Certainly not?

First and foremost the gospel is not fair.  God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21). “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Our whole salvation depends on the fact that God is not fair.  What would become of us if he were?

Eternal and loving God may I never forget that you have brought me salvation when I didn’t deserve it in any way. Teach me therefore to be truly humble. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Matt. 19:16-26

The story of the Rich Young Ruler illustrates all that Paul has said in his Letter to the Romans.  This young man is both moral and spiritual.  He wants to know what he can do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus however seems to suspect something about him.  He asks, “Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only one who is good.”  Obviously the only one who is good is God and of course Jesus as the Son of God.  The young ruler sees Jesus as a “teacher.”  Is that the limit of his understanding?

Jesus answers him in terms of the law, the Ten Commandments.  This should make clear how far this young person and indeed all of us are from fulfilling God’s perfect standard.  To the contrary the young man says that he has kept all the commandments.  Really?  Jesus then illustrates what is truly meant by loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).  He tells the young man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor and come and follow him.  Not surprising, the young man goes away grieving.

What alternative does he have?  Jesus’ requirement is impossible for any of us.  Yet that is precisely the point.  Keeping the commandments is any impossibility for each one of us.  This is why Paul insists that we cannot be saved by our works.  We all fall short (Rom. 3:23).  The disciples then ask the critical question, “Then who can be saved?”

Jesus’ answer is direct and to the point.  With mortals it is impossible (not just difficult) but for God all things are possible.  This is why it is so important for us to realize that our salvation comes from nothing in us.  It is all from God revealed in Jesus Christ.  If we take hold of this truth we will not judge others, we will condemn neither them nor ourselves.  We will be merciful to all.  That is the inevitable result of believing the gospel.

Merciful and loving God may I never lose sight of the fact that my salvation comes completely from you.  Give me the freedom to live in that mercy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 11:25-35

Paul now comes to the climax of what is his complete statement of God’s plan of salvation.  He began his discussion in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans.  Beginning with chapter 9 through this passage he has focused on the broadest questions regarding God’s plan of salvation.  These include how human choices relate to God’s choices.  What is the role of God’s promises and, especially, what is the role of Israel in God’s overall plan and purpose?

Paul’s final description of salvation is presented as the unfolding of a “mystery.”  The “hardening” of Israel will not be permanent.  It will only continue until “the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”  Paul then adds this climactic statement, “And so all Israel will be saved.”  Paul sees this as the fulfillment of the promise which he quotes from Isa. 59:20-21.  This is God reaffirming his covenant with Israel.  He will take away their sins.  Paul is calling us to a wider vision.  At the present it appears that the Jews are the enemies of the gospel.  However they are still beloved because of the promises God made to their ancestors going back to Abraham.  This is the real meaning of election.  It is God who chooses, not us.  It does not depend on us (Rom. 9:16).  How after all their rejection going back to the golden calf can Israel be saved?  Paul’s decisive answer is “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”  Both Jew and Gentile have been disobedient.  This disobedience however, rather than leading to God’s condemnation, actually is the prelude to his mercy.

Paul summarizes his position with the concluding statement that God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.  Who is this “all?”  They are “all the Gentiles,” (Rom. 1:5), “all who have sinned and fallen short” (Romans 3:23), all who receive justification through the abounding grace in Jesus (Romans 5:12-21), all of us for whom Christ gave himself up (Romans 8:32).  In Christ God has reconciled all things to himself making peace through the blood of the cross (Col. 1:19-20).  All things are all things, including all to whom God is merciful.

The warnings of judgment in scripture must be taken with total seriousness.  God judges sin.  That however is not the final word.  The hope of the entire human race lies in the hands of the God whose gifts and calling are irrevocable.  Paul then can only praise God to whom belongs “all things.”  Amen!

Eternal and faithful God, I am overwhelmed by the reality of your mercy.  May I never take that for granted.  May your mercy strengthen, guide and direct me in all that I do.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 11:13-24

Paul’s discussion in this section appears puzzling.  He seems to be working with two inter-related ideas.  On one side he seems to be saying that the remnant of Israel that has existed throughout history, remaining faithful from the time of Elijah to the present day, is a guarantee for the salvation of Israel as a whole.  He speaks of them being brought back like “life from the dead.”  He uses examples like first fruits of dough being holy then the “whole batch” is holy.  Also “if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.”  His “life from the dead” reference conjures up the famous image of the dry bones in Ezekiel chapter 37.  God asks Ezekiel, “mortal, can these live?” (v. 3).  Ezekiel answers “O Lord God, you know.”  We then have the miracle of the dry, dead bones being brought back to life.

Paul is insisting that Israel is not lost in spite of their disbelief.  God has not rejected his people (Rom. 11:1).  They have not stumbled to the point of falling away (Romans 11:11).  Some have asked, who does Paul mean by “Israel?”  He has pointed out that he true descendants of Abraham are those who have faith in Christ (Gal. 3:6).  However in this passage in Romans Paul is clearly talking about the physical, historical Israel.  We know this for two reasons.  First, Paul would not be saying that Christians have stumbled, that they are those that have eyes that cannot see.     Second, Paul is distinguishing Israel from the Gentiles.  This only makes sense if he is talking about the historical Israel.  These are those whom Paul calls his own people according to the flesh (Romans 9:3).  So Paul then seems to be saying that Israel’s rejection is only temporary.  Their rejection of Christ in the present will not lead to their being permanently rejected by God.

Paul then seems to take a digression.  He addresses Gentile Christians.  He cautions them (us) not to be proud.  We have not replaced Israel.  We are “wild branches” that have been grafted into the olive tree which is the symbol of Israel.  There is no place of privilege here for either Israel or the Gentile believers.  What Paul stresses is that both stand under God’s grace.  Whether it is the remnant of Israel (those who have believed in Christ) or the Gentile converts, all have been “chosen by grace” (Romans 11:6).  Yet Paul calls both to continue in their life in Christ “otherwise you also will be cut off.”  Paul sees no contradiction.  The reality of grace will express itself in faithful living and “good works” (Eph. 2:8-10).

Paul ends with the image of the “natural branches” being grafted back into the olive tree, which stands for Israel, God’s chosen people.  Both the “wild olive shoot” and the “natural branches” will then be part of the tree which symbolizes Israel in its fulfillment as God’s chosen people (Hosea 14:6).

As Christians we can never forget our dependence on the promises God made to Israel.

Faithful and gracious God and Savior may I never forget the debt I owe to Israel.  Give me the grace humbly to share my faith with my Jewish brothers and sisters.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 11:1-12

 

The logic of what Paul is saying in Romans would seem to be that the Gentiles who have believed in Jesus Christ have now replaced Israel as God’s people.  This is because Israel rejected the gospel.  That is a conclusion which many have drawn.  As we noted, it is certainly logical.

It is also wrong.

Paul comes back to a fundamental theme.  God’s promises finally are dependent on God alone (Hebrews 6:13-14).  They do not depend ultimately on us.  So Paul then says in this passage, “has God rejected his people” (the original people of Israel)?  Paul answers with a resounding, “By no means!”  God has not rejected his people.

Paul draws on the Old Testament example of Elijah.  Elijah thought he was the only faithful follower of God left.  God however responds that he has kept seven thousand from bowing before the idol, Baal.  Paul says that this remnant, these seven thousand, are the guarantee of the fact that God’s promises to all Israel remain in effect.

How can we know this?  It all comes down to grace, God’s unmerited favor and mercy.  Since it is all of grace it is not based on works, on anything that we do or don’t do.  Paul then makes the comment, “otherwise grace would not be grace.”  Nevertheless Israel has been in rebellion against God.  God’s judgment on them is that God seals them in their unbelief (Isa. 29:10; Ps. 69:22-23).

Again the logical question surfaces, has Israel fallen away from God?  Paul’s answer is the same, “By no means!” Through their temporary “stumbling,” the door has been opened for all the Gentiles.  Israel has been rejected while the Gentiles have received the riches of the gospel.  Paul then makes the startling statement, “how much more will their full inclusion mean!”

The meaning of grace then is that no one is beyond hope.  Paul is about to expand on this theme in a way that is nothing less than mind-blowing.

Eternal and loving God and Father, may I never cease to depend of your endless grace.  May I also never take that grace for granted. May your grace enable me to serve you better.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - March 14, 2018

March 14, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 10:5-21

 

Paul is continuing to struggle in this passage between God’s promises and Israel’s response to those promises.  He begins by referring to the “righteousness that comes from the law.”  He has already established that no one can be righteous, acceptable to God, by keeping the law since everyone, Jew and Gentile, breaks God’s law (Rom. 3:1-31).  Our only hope is the gift of righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26).

Faith in Jesus then is all that is necessary for salvation.  This faith is defined in more than one way.  One obvious example is confessing Christ and believing in him with our heart (Romans 10:9-10).   In very broad terms Paul quotes from Joel 2:32, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Paul then goes on to another question. “How can they call on one in whom they have not believed?”  This question applies to both Jew and Gentile.  Paul’s next quote is from Isa. 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”  Paul then has to acknowledge the tragic fact that Israel has heard.  The whole Old Testament has prepared them for Jesus.  The irony is that Gentiles who did not seek God have been found by God.  God has shown himself to people who were not looking for him, vv. 19-20 (Isa. 65:1).  Israel, on the other hand, have been a “disobedient and contrary people.”

In effect Paul is saying that the Gentiles who were not looking for God have come to him through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Israel, however, who knew God, who had experienced his promises, turned away from their own Messiah in Jesus Christ.

Paul then is describing a perplexing and contradictory reality.  He goes from those who have not heard to asking about those who’ve heard but still reject.  How then is God’s grace which is for “all the Gentiles” (Rom. 1:5) a fulfilment of God’s plan for Israel whom he insists God has not completely abandoned (Rom. 3:3-4)?  We face the same question, why do some people believe in Christ and others do not?  Wouldn’t Paul have to admit that salvation in some important sense does in fact depend on us (Rom. 9:16).

Paul will continue this discussion in his next chapter.

Eternal and loving God, I thank you that you have called me by your grace and have enabled me to find you.  May I rejoice and live in your goodness, love and mercy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 9:19-29

 

Paul now responds to the obvious question, “Is God unfair?”  His answer is multi-faceted.  His first point is that none of us is able to question God.  He uses an example from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 18:1-6).  We of course are in no position to question God.  God is holy.  We are sinful.  God is infinite.  We are finite.  God is all knowing.  Our knowledge is limited.

Yet while we certainly can grant all this we are still left with the question, can God ever be unjust even by our limited standards?  If people are condemned before they have been born (Rom. 9:11), how can that possibly be just?  How could a God of love do that?  Paul has more to say on the subject.

Paul then goes further with the image of the potter and the clay.  He speaks of God enduring with much patience “the objects of wrath.”  He literally then says, “What if God has done this “and in order to” make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy?’  In fact we are all “objects of wrath.”  We are all sinners.  Paul calls us “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).

We then need to look at the quote from Hosea.  This is a description of a sharp reversal.  Those who were not God’s people will be called his people.  This also fits with the reality that Jacob and Esau are not polar opposites.  They are finally reunited (Gen. 33:1-17).  Paul may well be saying here, in his forced grammar (“and in order that”) that finally the objects of wrath become the objects of mercy.  This hasn’t happened yet.  As Paul goes on to say, the present Israel is not the true or even complete Israel.  Yet a remnant remains as a guarantee of God’s faithfulness.  Paul in his lament over his people, the historical Israel, is reflecting on their past, present and indeed future.

God is not done with Israel.  He is not done with us either.

Eternal and faithful God I know I can trust in your promises which never fail.  Give me greater confidence, hope and faith in your service.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

“Who Can be Saved?”

Romans 9:1-8

Jesus said that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).  Paul in this passage is struggling with the fact that while God’s covenant of salvation comes from the Jews, many of them even in Paul’s time did not believe in Christ.  This causes Paul great sorrow to the point where he would be willing to be accursed if it could bring his people into a saving relationship with Christ.

Paul’s fundamental question then is once we have understood the nature of God’s saving activity in Christ, we have to ask the question, what about the Jews?  Paul has already touched on this issue earlier in his letter to the Romans.  He asks the rhetorical question, “What if some were unfaithful?  Will their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?  By no means! (Rom. 3:3-4a).  In these chapters in Romans Paul explores the whole idea of salvation and Israel’s role in it.

Paul struggles with two clear realities.  On one hand it is certain that the Jews are God’s chosen people.  God chose them for himself (Deut. 7:7-11).  On the other, Israel has never really been faithful to God (II Kings 21:14-15).  God made good promises to Israel (Joshua 21:45).  What has become of those promises?

Paul will have an extensive discussion of that question.  His first point is that it cannot be the case that the word of God has failed.  He goes on to say that Israel cannot only be defined as a physical, historical group.  Paul raises the question, “What does it mean truly to be an Israelite?”  Abraham had more than one child.  However it is only Isaac that was the child of promise. Those who are the children of promise are the true descendants of Isaac.  Those “true descendants” include all those who believe in Jesus Christ whether they are Jew or Gentile.  Israel then is not defined by a physical lineage, “the children of the flesh.”  Rather Israel refers to those who live by the promises of God.  Every one of those promises is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20).

For Paul everything depends on god’s promises.  In one of his most provocative statements he says that God chose Jacob over Esau “before they had anything good or bad.”  This seems very unfair to us.  Paul will address that complaint in a subsequent passage.  His key emphasis here is that everything depends on God’s mercy.  It is not up to us.  It is up to God and God alone is truly merciful.

Gracious and faithful God, I thank you for all your promises as set forth in your Word.  I thank you for your mercy revealed in Christ.  I praise you for this, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday, March 11, 2018

“Throw Out the Woman!”

Matt. 19:1-11

The Pharisees come to Jesus with a question about marriage.  However it is not an honest question.  They are trying to trap him which is something they do often (Luke 20:20).  The heart of their question is “Can a man divorce his wife “for any cause?”  Divorce in Jesus’ time was essentially a male prerogative.  The Pharisees’ question is an attempt to draw Jesus into what was an ongoing debate about the grounds for divorce.  The Pharisees’ very question is a trap.  The Bible does not say that a woman can be divorced for any reason.  The clear implication is that divorce is a response to unfaithfulness.  There were Rabbinic schools in Jesus’ day with the broad view that a woman could be divorced for not being a good cook or even because the husband had found someone more attractive!

Jesus will have none of this.  He unmasks the view that women are expendable.  They could be thrown away like a dirty cloth.  Jesus goes back to the story of creation.  Eve was created as a special gift for Adam, “a helper as his partner” (Gen. 2:18).  Jesus makes it clear that it is God who unites a husband and wife.  Therefore no one should dare to separate them including the couple themselves.

Jesus intention here is not to be legalistic.  To those who struggle with failed marriages Jesus’ word always is “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again “(John 8:11).  We live in a world where many forces work against marriage.  These include our present immigration policies that have broken up families and separated husbands and wives for no other reasons than the persons were undocumented.

The perennial question all Christians face is, “Do we live under the authority of the scriptures or the authority of the world?”  Last Sunday, March 4, Grace’s session voted to support the Sanctuary movement in Montclair.  We need to care for the stranger (Deut. 10:17-19; Matt. 25:35).   Any policy which separates husbands and wives unnecessarily violates God’s standard for marriage.  The session has pledged to act within existing laws.  In the words of the Stated Mission of the Montclair Sanctuary Alliance, “We stand publicly against the injustices affecting immigrants and support reforms to promote fairness.”

For more information see https://www.bnaikeshet.org/montclairsanctuaryalliance.

Gracious and loving God, whether I am a man or a woman may I be aware of the particular suffering that women have endured throughout history.  Give me the courage and grace to be the voice of those who have no voice.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018

“Throw the Woman Out!!”

Genesis 2:18-25

This is a beautiful passage which too often is neglected.  A number of key points are made here.  The first is God’s comment that “It is not good that the man should be alone.”  This is a general truth which goes beyond the subject of marriage.  Human beings are created for community.  It is not good for us to be alone.  Men and women are complementary.  They both are made in the image of God.  A social reality is affirmed here.  Men and women do not only interact in marriage.  They complement each other in every aspect of life.  They share equal roles.  This is God’s intention from creation.

God says that he will make “a helper as his partner” for the man.  God then brings all the animals to the man (Adam).  None of course is a suitable partner.  In the familiar story God then causes a deep sleep to come upon the man after which God takes a rib from the man’s side and literally, “builds” a woman.  When Adam sees Eve for the first time he essentially cries out in joy, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”   The marriage relationship is not only intimate.  It is joyful.  And a key point is that the man is no longer alone.  Nor for that matter is the woman.

The expression of this intimacy is even stronger given that the two become one flesh.  Jesus then makes the statement, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt. 19:6).  The image of marriage is so powerful that it is used as a symbol of God’s relationship with his people (Ezek. 16:1-14; Rev. 21:1-2).  Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed.  Sex, to say nothing of marriage itself, is neither dirty nor shameful in itself.

We live in a world where many forces work against marriage.  Whether we are married or single we need to support the covenant of marriage.  As we saw in the apostle Paul all Christians are symbolically the Bride of Christ.

Faithful and gracious God I thank you for the gift of marriage.  Whether I am married or single may I support all those in whose marriages I share either as family or friends.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, March 9, 2018

Friday, March 9, 2018

“Throw the Woman Out!”

Eph. 5:21-33

This has often been regarded as a controversial passage especially in the present.  The concern is that Paul seems to be presenting a male-dominated view of marriage.  Some ask, where is the partnership of male and female seen at creation?  For that matter, they ask what about Paul’s own statement that there is neither male nor female but all are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28)?

If we have look at his passage closely we can see that Paul is not in any way saying that women are inferior in marriage (or anywhere else).  He begins by calling both husband and wife to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  As followers of Christ we are called to follow his example of being a servant (Phil. 2:4-8).

We are then told that wives should be subject to their husbands as they are to Christ.  The husband is charged with being the “head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.”  Given this model we are not talking of subservience or domination.  Jesus calls us his friends (John 15:15).  Paul clearly is describing the husband as having a leadership role but one that is modeled on Christ himself.

Paul’s instructions to the husband include loving his wife as Christ loved the church.  The husband is to love the wife as he loves his own body.  Husband and wife in fact are “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  For a husband to love his wife is the same as loving himself.  Paul is presenting a picture here of mutuality in which husband and wife have complementary but different roles.  The husband has a leadership role as protector and provider for his wife and family.  The wife is called to respect this leadership role.  As we noted yesterday there is no basis here for any kind for ill treatment of the wife (Col. 3:19).

Finally Paul here is talking about Christ and the church.  His description of marriage is a metaphor of our relationship to Christ.  We are all the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2).  Paul then is presenting us with the picture of a successful and healthy marriage.  This picture in turn points to the supreme marriage of Christ and his church.

Most gracious and loving God and Savior, I thank you for the image of Christ and the church as the ultimate Bride and Groom.  Married or single, may I always remember that I am part of the Bride of Christ.  I joyfully subject myself to him because of his love for me.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thursday, March 8, 2018

“Throw the Woman Out!”

Col. 3:12-19

This passage gives us an ideal picture not only of the Christian community in general but of marriage in particular.  Indeed this text is often read in wedding services.  Consider the number of issues that Paul raises.  He addresses his audience, whether they are a couple being married or a church community in general, as “God’s chosen ones.”  We need always to remember that it is not we who have chosen Christ but he has chosen us (John 15:16).

Paul then emphasizes the importance of forgiveness which he mentions three times in this text, pointing out that we need to forgive others as God has forgiven us in Christ.  There is no perfect Christian community, no perfect marriage or family.  All of us need to be forgiven not once but many times.  In turn we need always to be ready and prepared to forgive others.

Paul calls us to clothe ourselves in love.  This is modeled on God’s steadfast love or mercy which is unconditional.  God’s love for Israel is not based on anything in Israel itself.  It is based only on God’s love (Deut. 7:7; 9:6).  The same applies to his love for us which goes back to before creation (Eph. 1:4).

Paul’s final theme here is thankfulness.  Our lives in Christ need to be marked by gratitude.  We have not earned or deserved God’s favor in any way.  The fact that God has been gracious to us, that God has shown limitless mercy to us, should both encourage and inspire us.

This has clear implications for married life as it does for any kind of life.  Wives are to be subject to their husbands.  Husbands are to love their wives and never treat them harshly.  There is a difference between a wife being “subject” (respectful) and being “subordinate.” As Paul says elsewhere husbands are to love their wives as they love themselves (Eph. 5:28).  This is the blueprint for a successful marriage.

Faithful and loving God may I live out the calling you have given me.  Whether I am married or single may I demonstrate both love and forgiveness.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

“Throw the Woman Out!”

Deut. 24:5-4

 

This passage unfortunately shows how vulnerable a woman was, even among the chosen people of God. The first point we have to note, as Jesus himself admits, is that the Bible does not categorically forbid divorce.  Yet having said this we can see how unjust this particular law was.

It is quite clear that we are not dealing here with equals among husband and wife.  This is a far cry from God’s original conception at creation (Gen. 2:18).  According to this text a man could divorce a woman because she does not please him.  The reason could be that he finds something objectionable about her.  In Jesus’ time some Rabbis taught that this could be something as simple as a husband not approving of his wife’s cooking!  As harsh as this sounds, this law did provide a measure of protection for the woman.  Having a bill of divorcement allowed her to marry someone else.  However if she were divorced a second time she could not return to her first husband.  This all seems quite convoluted.  Jesus’ interpretation of this passage is that Moses wrote this law as a concession to people’s (read men’s) hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8).

To this day women have not received their full due as equally made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).  It is sobering to remember that women have had the right to vote for less than a hundred years in the United States.  We have never had a woman president.  To this day some churches restrict the role of women.  We continue to be challenged to live out Paul’s statement that “there is neither male nor female . . . all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

Faithful and gracious God whether I am a male or female give me the grace to work for women’s equality not only in the church but in all of society.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

“Throw the Woman Out!”

Romans 16:3-5

Paul here is giving thanks to many who have worked with him in presenting the gospel.  These would have been people associated with the church in Rome.   First and foremost among them are a couple who are mentioned throughout the New Testament.  They are Prisca and Aquila (The fact the wife is mentioned first is notable.  She may have been a prominent person).  Paul first met them in Corinth.  They were both tent makers and, as this was also Paul’s vocation, they worked together apparently as business partners as well as missionaries of the gospel (Acts 18:1-4).  We also learn that they had a church meeting in their home (I Cor. 16:19).  We’re not reading here about Aquila, a pastor and missionary and his supportive wife.  In Paul’s mind the two are equal.  Prisca and Aquila work together as equals.

Unfortunately women have not generally shared in ministry.  However that is now changing in many churches.   At Grace Church we have been blessed by a number of women pastors including the Rev. Margo Walter at the present.  God clearly understood men and women to work as a team.  It was not good for the man to be alone.  It is not good for men to be alone in any activity especially in serving Christ.  Women are as essential as men.  That is why God describes Eve as a “partner” for Adam.  Prisca and Aquila were clearly partners in Christ’s service.

The early church was overly influenced by the biases of the world they live in.   The great Greek philosopher Plato believed that, while women could anything men could do, they could never do it as well.  More seriously, Greek mythology taught that the first woman, Pandora, was created for the sole purpose of tormenting and distressing men so that they would never be organized enough to challenge the gods!

This is all a far cry from the Biblical picture.  Unfortunately, under the influence of Greek philosophy and culture the early church later came to downgrade the status of women.  They based this on just two texts which they claimed unconditionally taught that “women should keep silence in the church” (I Cor. 14:24; I Tim. 2:8-15).  In so doing they ignored scores of texts that presented women in leadership from Miriam, Deborah and Huldah in the Old Testament on up to New Testament examples like Prisca, Phoebe, Eudoia and Syntyche.  Fortunately this basis has been overturned in many churches today.

The partnership of men and women goes beyond marriage and includes all the responsibilities we see in the church.

Eternal and faithful God I praise you that you have created men and women to be partners.  May you continue to raise up ministry teams like Prisca and Aquila.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, March 5, 2018

Monday, March 5, 2018

 “Throw the Woman Out!”

Song of Solomon 4:1-7

Most Christians do not have a Biblical view of sex and sexuality. This no doubt seems surprising.  Most Christians would say that sexual intimacy belongs uniquely in marriage between one man and one woman. Marriage should be a life-long commitment. These are all clear points in scripture. Yet the Christian Church has been plagued by multiple sex scandals. Divorce is basically as common among Christians as it is among non-Christians. Unfortunately, the church’s view basically comes across as being negative. Sexual misconduct seems to be the focus. This involves not only extra-marital sex but other issues such as abortion, divorce and same sex marriage. The church has basically lost credibility in the whole area of sex and marriage because its position has been perceived as a combination of condemnation and hypocrisy. This however is not the Biblical view.

The Bible certainly warns against sexual immorality. This is especially the case with the fertility cults that were such a part of the ancient world (Num.. 25:1-3; Rom. 1:18-27; Eph. 5:11-12). These sentiments are also found even in secular Roman writers like Tacitus and Suetonius. Yet the Bible in many cases is not judgmental. There are four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy (Matt. 1:1-6). Each of these were involved in some form of sexual scandal but that point is certainly not emphasized (Rahab the prostitute is mentioned specifically as an example of faith, Heb. 11:31).

In reality the Bible celebrates sexuality. It is hardly a forbidden topic. We see an example in this passage from Song of Solomon which quite frankly is an erotic love poem.  God himself is described symbolically as a lover gazing on the naked beauty of Israel (Ezek. 16:6-14).  Marriage is an essential theme in scripture.  However, in its descriptions of marriage sex is celebrated openly and joyfully (Prov. 5:14-19).  We need to make clear there is nothing dirty or shameful about sex.  It is to be celebrated as part of God’s creation.  The first marriage ever recorded between Adam and Eve is expressed in joy and scripture explicitly says there was nothing shameful about it (Gen. 2:18-25).

Loving and faithful God and Savior, I thank you for the gift of love, sex and marriage.  Whether I am married or single may I continue to rejoice in the wonder of your creation, remembering that every Christian is part of the Bride of Jesus Christ.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How Often Should I Forgive?

Matt. 18:21-23

Peter asks the question, “Lord. If another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?”  We should note that Peter apparently isn’t even thinking of offences done to him by non-church members.  The context of his question is on those within the church.  Peter’ offers the idea, “As many as seven times?”  Peter thinks he is being truly merciful.  Can you imagine someone offending you seven times, and having to forgive that person each of those times?  After the third time most of us would have lost our patience.  Peter seems himself as setting a very high standard.

Yet Peter’s question is fundamentally flawed.  He is asking, what is the limit to forgiveness?  At what point does it run out?  Jesus’ answer which in different sources is either “seventy seven times” or “seventy times seven” clearly means there is no limit to God’s forgiveness.

The central theme of Matthew’s gospel is mercy (Matt. 9:13).  This mercy can never be taken for granted.  Jesus in this gospel demands much because mercy is limitless and frees us from guilt, pride and despair.  Forgiveness is mercy in action.  This is the root of the gospel message.

Jesus tells a parable of a person who owed a vast amount of money, more than could be paid off in a lifetime.  The debtor cried out for mercy to his lender who, in turn, forgave him the total debt.   Incredibly this same debtor demanded payment of a much smaller sum from someone else.  When this person could not pay the amount the original debtor had him thrown into prison.  When the lender heard of this he was outraged.  The cause of his outrage was simply this, the debtor who had received mercy refused to show mercy.  This is what it means to reject he gospel.  This in fact is the unforgivable sin because it denies the work of the Holy Spirit which brings God’s mercy to sinners (Matt. 12:31-32).

It is only when we begin to grasp how merciful God has been to us that we can forgive others from our heart (Matt. 18:23-35).

Most merciful God and Savior, may I never forget the depth of mercy shown to me, mercy I neither deserved nor asked for, and may I then truly forgive all others from my heart.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 3, 2018

Saturday, March 3, 2018

“How Often Should I Forgive?”

Eph. 4:25-32

Does Paul have to say all this?  He’s writing to a church.   Don’t they (and we) all know that we need to speak the truth?  We all know we shouldn’t be excessively angry, we shouldn’t steal.   Nor should we be bitter or malicious.  Don’t we already know that?

We may know these things in principle but the sad record of the church from Paul’s time to our own is that we frequently don’t live these things out.  Too often the church has not spoken the truth.  Too often we as Christians engage in “evil talk” which includes “anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.”  The world looks at the church in such cases and dismisses us as hopeless hypocrites.  We may talk about the love of Christ but too often we ourselves are loveless.

Paul knew all too well what he was talking about.  Speaking of himself he said, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me” (Rom. 7:18).  Acknowledging that truth we shouldn’t be cynical about ourselves or other Christians.  The battle between flesh and the Spirit is ongoing (Gal. 5:17).  In addition we can fall into the trap of criticizing those whose expression of Christianity is different from our own.  We need to remember that we can’t “make room for the devil” who is still very active.

How can we overcome these failings?  Paul puts it bluntly.  We are to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us.  The more we reflect on our own need for forgiveness the more we will be prepared to forgive others.

Eternal and gracious God and Savior, keep me from the tendency to engage in evil talk, to be bitter or angry.  May I bring these things to you knowing of your forgiveness and may I extend that forgiveness to others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, March 2, 2018

Friday, March 2, 2018

“How Often Should I Forgive?”

Matthew 18:15-20

Mercy allows for justice.  Without mercy justice becomes a matter of inflicting guilt and condemnation on another.  Jesus here is talking about a situation in the church where one member believes another member has committed a sin against them.  This is not referring to a body of doctrine or church life and witness.  Those cases are to be dealt with in public not in private (Gal. 2:11-14).  The point here appears to be a personal matter.

The goal of going to the offending party in private is to regain a relationship with that persons.  It is interesting that the response sought is being listened to.  Obvious issues like repentance or making an apology are not mentioned though it can certainly be said they are implied.  Yet the focus is on listening.

Because the church is founded on Christ’s mercy which leads to forgiveness the church can be appealed to if the private meeting is not fruitful. If the church determines that an offense has been committed “by the evidence of two or three witnesses,” then the opportunity again is extended to the offender to receive mercy and be forgiven.  If the offender refuses to “listen,” then further discipline would be imposed.  However, the purpose of that would be to “regain” the guilty party (It’s interesting that the text says the person is to be treated like a Gentile or a tax collector.  Jesus ate with tax collectors and sends the disciples after the Resurrection to disciple the “Gentiles”).

What Jesus is presenting here is a guideline for the church community.  The church (built by Christ alone, Matt. 16:18) has great authority.  However, that is not an inherent authority.  It can only be the authority of Jesus Christ who is present if only two or three are gathered in his name.

Loving and gracious God, if I have offended anyone give me the grace to listen and to ask for forgiveness which is freely granted me in Christ.  I thank you that wherever two or three are gathered in your name you are present.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thursday, March 1, 2018

“How Often Should I Forgive?”

Matt. 18:8-14

Jesus’ words sound severe in this passage.  He talks about cutting off hands, and feet and tearing out our eyes.  How can this be?  Does Jesus expect his disciples to mutilate themselves?  How does this relate to his central emphasis in Matthew’s gospel of mercy (Matt. 9:13)?

Actually there is a very definite connection.  Being merciful involves more than showing kindness and caring.  It also involves protection.  Jesus has demonstrated his mercy by going to the cross for our many failures, our pride, our greed, our indifference, basically, our sins.  Jesus also demonstrates power in going to the cross.  He has destroyed the works of the devil (I John 3:8). Yet the devil and all the forces of evil have not be eliminated.  They are still present even though their power has been broken (I Peter 5:8). We have not received mercy in a neutral context.  Satan is still active and his goal very simply is to turn us away from the Lord.

We live in a world of constant temptation.  We are tempted to seek illicit pleasures.  We are tempted to be angry, to be jealous, to be uncaring and to be proud.  A sudden lapse can put us in the power of Satan who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14). It only took a momentary glance for David to fall into temptation with disastrous results.

Jesus in this passage is warning us.  The stakes are high.  We can stumble through our hands, our feet, our eyes or anything else.

Jesus has shown special mercy to “these little ones.”  These may be children or they may be those who are new in their faith.  They are special recipients of Jesus’ mercy and therefore of his protection.  When lost he will find them. Yesterday the students who survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida returned to school for the first time since the massacre.  These words of Jesus strike forcefully.  We must ban the public availability of weapons of war so that there will be no more lambs led to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7).

I thank you Lord most especially for your mercy which is new every morning.  Make me away of the dangers in the world around me.  Keep me from falling into temptation and equip me to defend your “little ones.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

“How Often Should I Forgive?”

Matt. 18:1-7

Jesus here is underscoring the importance of children in his ministry.  The disciples, once again missing the point, want to know about future glory.  They ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  The probability is that they see themselves as candidates for this exalted position.  Jesus gives them an unexpected answer.  He calls a child over and tells them that they need to become like children.

Children can be self-centered and disobedient (as any parent knows).  This is not the model Jesus is lifting up.  He is speaking of children as being an example of humility.  How is this?  Children are inherently dependent.  They want their parents.  Anyone who has ever dropped a child off at Day Care (or Sunday School) knows that this has to be done carefully.  Children do not have the illusion of independence.  They know how dependent they actually are.  This is the essence of their humility.

We see here a lesson each of us needs to learn.  We are not independent agents.   We recognize that from the moment we get up in the morning until we go to bed we are dependent on a whole host of factors beyond our control (usually starting with our commute to work).  The lesson for us is that we are always in God’s hands.  We neither could or should attempt to live in our own strength.

Jesus adds that children are also under his special protection.  A “stumbling block” can take many forms.  We as a nation are still struggling with the latest mass shooting at a school.  The fact that weapons of war, assault rifles, can be easily bought puts everyone at risk, especially children.

Eternal and faithful God may I be humble like a child.  May I depend on you for everything in my life and may I do all I can to protect your “little ones.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

“How Often Should I Forgive?”

Matt. 15:32-39

This text in all probability is a slightly different version of the earlier feeding of the five thousand (here the number is given as four thousand).  In both accounts Jesus has been carrying on a healing ministry.  The crowds have been following Jesus for some time (in this version, three days).  Jesus has compassion on them (Matt. 14:14).  Jesus calls together the disciples who simply throw up their hands at the thought of providing food for such a great crowd (Matt. 14:17).  In the earlier version they have five loaves and two fish (Matt. 14:17).  In this version they have seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.  In both accounts Jesus has the crowd sit down and after thanking God he breaks the loaves and fish and gives them to the disciples.  The disciples become the unknowing agents of the miracle.  The loaves and fish multiply and end up feeding the entire crowd with baskets of food left over (twelve baskets in the earlier version, Matt. 14:20, and seven baskets in this version).  John supplies the detail that all this came from a young boy’s lunch (John 6:9).

These two accounts are too similar not to be two versions of the same event.  So why do we have two versions of the same thing with slight variations?  We can ask the question, why do we have four versions of the Resurrection, each one with slightly different versions (one angel or two?) Mark 16:8, Luke 24:4)?  The important fact here that validates the authenticity of scripture is that all this is based on eyewitness accounts.  Eyewitnesses all remember things in slightly different ways.  A fabricated story would have a single version with no variation.  The early church in putting scripture together did not try and harmonize accounts that, in all respects, only had very minor variations.

This feeding story is worth being told multiple times.  It emphasizes the compassion of Jesus.   It also underscores the great truth that little is much in the Lord’s hands.

Eternal and faithful God I thank you that your Word is true.  I thank you that the eyewitness’ full and distinctive accounts have been given to us.  Most importantly, may I learn the lesson of this story that you are compassionate and I am called to share your compassion with others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - REVISED Monday, February 26, 2018

REVISED Monday, February 26, 2018

“How Often Should I Forgive?”

Matt. 15:21-28

Jesus is traveling through Tyre and Sidon.  This is the Gentile world, the world of the dominance of the Roman Empire.  As Jesus and the disciples are traveling, a Canaanite woman comes forward and literally shouts, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  This woman is identified as a Canaanite.  As far back as the Exodus the people of Israel were warned against the Canaanites.  There was a danger that they would sacrifice to other gods and prostitute themselves under the influence of the Canaanites (Ex. 34:11-16).  Jesus doesn’t answer her. The disciples, on the other hand, say “Send her away.”

The woman claims that her daughter was being tormented by a demon. The disciples may well be saying, what did she expect?  In their view the Canaanites worshiped demons so why would their children not be demon possessed?  Jesus answers apparently both the woman and the disciples by saying that at least at this point in his ministry he was sent only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Everything in Jesus’ earthly life, growing up in Israel, attending the synagogue, reading the scriptures (the Old Testament) would have warned him against contact with the Canaanites.  From a human perspective it would make more sense to stay close to home, to deal with the ‘lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman however will not be silenced. She cries out to the Lord for help.  Jesus compares the woman and her daughter to household dogs.  Yet for the Jews dogs were seen in a negative light (Ps. 22:16-20).  The woman keeps insisting.  She states that the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. She is not defending herself.  She is rather imploring Jesus to heal her daughter.

Jesus gets it.  We see him struggling with his humanity (as we will see in the Garden of Gethsemane).  God tells Peter not to call unclean what he has called clean (Acts 10:15).  The only thing that defines this woman is her faith. She cannot be rejected because of her race, customs or life style. Jesus recognizes that and heals the woman’s daughter.  It is no small matter to overcome prejudice.  Even Jesus had to struggle with the issue.

Faithful and loving Lord may I respond to people’s needs whatever they are.  May I acknowledge that others will express their faith in ways that are different from my own.  May I focus solely on faith in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, February 26, 2018

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Mark of a Servant”

Matt. 20:20-28

The mother of James and John comes to Jesus with an important request. Jesus has said that if we ask for things in faith then we will have them (Mark 11:23-24; John 16:23-24).  This woman clearly has a strong faith.  She believes in Jesus.  More than this, she believes he has a coming kingdom.  In other words, all the events of history and all the prophecies of the future point to him.  So what is her request?  It is nothing less than for Jesus to declare that her two sons will sit on his right and left hand when he comes in his glory. Is she serious?

By all indications she is completely serious. She is certainly a woman of strong faith. She is convinced that Jesus has the power to place her sons in this position of authority and dominance. Her request is made in faith believing that Jesus can grant her request. However clearly she and her sons have missed something.  Jesus bluntly tells her that she does not know what she is asking for.  He says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” James and John say that they are able. Jesus grants that they will be able to drink from that cup. However, he adds that sitting at his right and left sides is something only God the Father can grant.

There is however a double meaning of “cup” in this passage. At first the “cup” refers to the cup of wine at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:27).  The two disciples will certainly be able to drink from that.  However, the second meaning of “cup” refers to the suffering that Jesus is about to face as he goes to the cross (Matt. 26:39).  They will not be able to drink this cup.  In fact, they, like the other disciples, will simply run away (Matt. 26:56).  In a word, James and John and their mother are over confident.  This is similar to Peter walking on the water.  He thought he was able to follow Christ in this way but before he knew it he was falling beneath the waves (Matt. 14:28-32).

The Zebedee family has missed the point that faith truly emerges in the context of serving others. We may truly believe in Jesus but if our focus is on what benefits we can receive then in fact our faith is more theoretical than real.  Jesus himself came to serve rather than be served.  It is only in service that we experience the true power of Jesus.

Eternal and loving God keep me from focusing on myself, my wants and my desires.  Give me the grace to ask for those things that will make me a better servant of yours.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Mark of a Servant”

Matt. 20:20-28

The mother of James and John comes to Jesus with an important request.  Jesus has said that if we ask for things in faith then we will have them (Mark 11:23-24; John 16:23-24).  This woman clearly has a strong faith.  She believes in Jesus.  More than this, she believes he has a coming kingdom.  In other words, all the events of history and all the prophecies of the future point to him.    So what is her request?  It is nothing less than for Jesus to declare that her two sons will sit on his right and left hand when he comes in his glory.  Is she serious?

By all indications she is completely serious.  She is certainly a woman of strong faith.  She is convinced that Jesus has the power to place her sons in this position of authority and dominance.  Her request is made in faith believing that Jesus can grant her request.  However clearly she and her sons have missed something.  Jesus bluntly tells her that she does not know what she is asking for.  He says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”  James and John say that they are able.  Jesus grants that they will be able to drink from that cup.  However, he adds that sitting at his right and left sides is something only God the Father can grant.

There is however a double meaning of “cup” in this passage.  At first the “cup” refers to the cup of wine at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:27).  The two disciples will certainly be able to drink from that.  However, the second meaning of “cup” refers to the suffering that Jesus is about to face as he goes to the cross (Matt. 26:39).  They will not be able to drink this cup.  In fact, they, like the other disciples, will simply run away (Matt. 26:56).  In a word, James and John and their mother are over confident.  This is similar to Peter walking on the water.  He thought he was able to follow Christ in this way but before he knew it he was falling beneath the waves (Matt. 14:28-32).

The Zebedee family has missed the point that faith truly emerges in the context of serving others.  We may truly believe in Jesus but if our focus is on what benefits we can receive then in fact our faith is more theoretical than real.  Jesus himself came to serve rather than be served.  It is only in service that we experience the true power of Jesus.

Eternal and loving God keep me from focusing on myself, my wants and my desires.  Give me the grace to ask for those things that will make me a better servant of yours.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018

“The Mark of a Servant”

Matt. 15:10-20

Here Jesus is overturning once again the legalism of the Pharisees. A fundamental mark of identity that the Israelites had was their laws regarding food. The Law of Moses specifies a number of foods that are unclean (Lev. 7:19-27; Deut. 14:3-21). These were not to be eaten. We may ask, why? It is not simply a matter of health.  The point of these laws was to distinguish the people of Israel from the nations around them.  The key point of the Law is that it was not intended to be an eternal requirement.  The whole Law itself played a role in preparation for the coming of Jesus.  Once Jesus had appeared the role of the Law was complete.  Its function was no longer necessary (Gal. 3:23-25).

Jesus sums up the whole role of food restrictions with the simple statement that all foods were clean (Mark 7:19). Jesus goes on to say that it is not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them. Rather it is what comes out of the mouth that causes the problem. James speaks of the dangers of the tongue.  He says that it is “set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).  Jesus goes on to make the point that what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart.  And it is out of the heart that comes a whole host of negative factors. These include “evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”

Jesus indicts the Pharisees because they are only concerned with external actions that don’t affect the overall person. It is the issues of the heart that define a person’s character.  Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind guides of the blind.”  They are only looking at a certain set of actions and are really ignoring the most important things.  One can practice all kinds of religious observances but those have no meaning if our heart is not turned toward God.  It is in our hearts that faith is formed.  The mouth gives testimony to what is in the heart (Rom. 10:10).

The Pharisees have missed the point.  They are rigid and uncompromising in their faith.  That faith however is based on their performance of the law, not on what is in their hearts.  To avoid this trap, we need to say with the Psalmist that we seek the Lord with our whole heart (Ps. 119:2).

Most gracious and merciful God keep me from focusing on external issues.  Draw my heart closer to you.  May I praise and serve you in all that I do.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday, February 23, 2018

“The Mark of a Servant”
Matt. 12:38-42

This passage deals with the whole question of faith.  It is sometimes thought that doubt is the opposite of faith.  That however is not the case.  In the famous definition in Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).  Given the fact that faith is the opposite of seeing it must of necessity include a measure of doubt (II Cor. 5:7; Mark 9:24).  Those who are asking for a sign from Jesus are asking for proof, for certainty. Invariably questions such as these from the religious leaders are intended to trap Jesus.

Jesus dismisses the demand for a sign.  He calls this the request of “an evil and adulterous generation.”  This is nothing less than a demand for proof.  Yet Jesus in effect is saying you can’t prove matters of faith.  He talks about the sign of Jonah.  Jonah was in the belly of a sea monster (not a “whale”) for three days and three nights.  However, no one saw this.  There were no witnesses.  We only have Jonah’s word for what happened.  Yet the reality of Jonah is shown by the effects of his ministry.  To even Jonah’s surprise the people of Ninevah repented and turned to God.

The truth is that there are signs all around us of God’s presence.  Every morning is a sign of God’s creation.  The birth of a baby is a miracle.  Perhaps the greatest sign is the change in a person who comes to faith in Christ.  All things become new (II Cor. 5:17).  Jesus’ critics want proof on their own terms.  Yet every day is proof of the reality of God.

As I write this the news has announced the death of the Rev. Billy Graham.  Billy Graham is one of the greatest spokespersons of the gospel in history.  I had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions.  We as a church have been involved with all of his New York area crusades from 1957 on up to his last a little over a decade ago.  Billy Graham really was America’s pastor.  He leaves a great legacy.

Eternal and gracious God I thank you for all the signs of your love and presence all around me.  May I never take these for granted.  I thank you also for the life and ministry of Billy Graham.  I pray Lord that you continue to raise up witnesses for yourself.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.