Maundy Thursday – "The New Covenant" – Hebrews 9:15 – 4/17/14

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15)

The “new covenant” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks here is the same “new covenant” of which the prophet Jeremiah announced some 600 years before its time. “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will be their God, and they will be my people… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer.31:31-34).

 It is not that this “new covenant” gives anything different or more than the “old covenant” gave. The “Old Covenant” gave ‘forgiveness of sins’ and the ‘promised eternal inheritance’ to all who believed in the promise JUST LIKE THE NEW COVENANT DOES.
 It is not that God changed His mind about the “Old Covenant” because by their actions, He could tell that those stiff-necked, Old Testament people never really believed it. New Testament believers are no different than Old Testament believers when it comes to putting their faith into action.
 It is not what is being introduced here a “new and improved” version of the old and outdated version of the Covenant. It’s impossible to IMPROVE on God’s promises no matter how long ago He made them and no matter how much this world has changed.
 And it’s not that what God had promised all along was finally going to happen as if to say, “Now, this time, I really, really mean it.”

No, when it says that Jesus is the “mediator of a NEW COVENANT,” it means that unlike the OLD COVENANT that was sealed and ratified by the blood and death of a lambs and goats, the “NEW COVENANT” is to be sealed and ratified by the death of the Lamb of God. “This is the cup of the new covenant in MY blood,” He says. Continue reading

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Palm Sunday – "The Account of Palm Sunday" – The Four Gospels – 3/20/14

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The darkness at mid-day, the earthquake, the missing body. Nothing made sense. It was like they had just run over a roadside bomb. They were dazed. Everything was spinning. And a man whom they don’t recognize is speaking to them. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…” “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:27,44).

In other words, it didn’t just happen the way that it happened BY CHANCE. It happened the way that it happened BY PROPHESY. The entire Old Testament points to the Christ and Him crucified for the sin of the world and the salvation of those who believe. And the entire New Testament points to the Christ and Him crucified for the sin of the world and the salvation of those who believe.

And the DEVIL is not in the details. The GLORY OF GOD is in the details. And the closer Jesus comes to the cross, the more and more the details all start to come together in Jesus like iron filings to a magnet.

Let us consider Palm Sunday from all four gospels. Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent – "By Faith Enoch…" – Hebrews 11:5-6 – 3/26/14

'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen' Would you repeat that back to me please….

The writer to the Hebrews invites us into THE GALLERY OF THE FAITHFUL, where portraits of those who lived BY FAITH are on display.

The first portrait is of the HOLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH. It's a group portrait, a great cloud of witnesses, all those who “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” That's the place to begin.

We believe what we are told. God created the universe out of nothing BY HIS WORD, “by the Word of God.” It was a ‘spoken word.’ “Let there be… and there was.” Now, there’s a Word with power. What it says HAPPENS.

A Word that has that kind of power to command the “NOTHING” that is UNSEEN to become SOMETHING and VISIBLE, well you better believe that that kind of Word also has the power to keep whatever promises it makes. “The universe was created by the Word of God…” is like the ‘gold standard’ for God’s Word. If it can to that, it can do anything and everything it says. Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent – "By Faith, Abraham…" – Hebrews 11:8-10 – 4/9/14

Repeat with me please, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

This is the theme that describes all of the ‘heroes of the faith’ that we have been considering together. And it is the theme that describes our life of faith as well. When it comes to the life of faith in Jesus Christ, ASSURANCE and CONVICTION are based on HOPE and THINGS NOT SEEN.

HOPE, by its very nature is a FUTURE thing. HOPE is an UNSEEN thing, simply because it lies in the FUTURE.

Paul writes to the Romans saying, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24).

To live this way goes against the grain. It’s contrary to the way we are programmed. How often have we been skeptical about someone who would base their ASSURANCE and CONVICTION on HOPE and THINGS NOT SEEN.

We are much more comfortable basing the decisions and actions of our life on the things that are NOW and that we can SEE. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Continue reading

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Lent 5 – "He Whom You Love Is Ill" – John 11:1-45 – 4/6/14

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“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha… So the sisters sent to him saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’”

The village of Bethany was just outside of Jerusalem. John tells us, “about two miles off.” When Jesus was in Jerusalem, he would often go there to visit. Seems there was a family there that had opened their home to him – the two sisters Mary and Martha.

You’ll remember that on one of those visits, Martha complained that although she didn’t mind having company, she didn’t like having to do all the work of preparing meals while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. And then those wonderful words that turn the storm into calm, “Martha, Martha…”

They had a brother named Lazarus. Whether he actually lived in the same house with his sisters or not is unclear. But what is clear is this, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

“So the sisters sent to him saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Of all times for him NOT to be in Bethany. Where was he? Earlier in his gospel, John reported that when Jesus was in Jerusalem, He made the preposterous statement, Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” “So they picked up stones to throw at him…” (John 8:52) And then during another visit, He said, “I and the Father are one.” “The Jews picked up stone AGAIN to stone him.” (10:31).

Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religion and the Temple, proves to be a dangerous place for the One who is what the entire religion and the Temple pointed to. So “he went away across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing and there he remained.” (John 10:40).

“So the sisters SENT TO HIM saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent – "By Faith…Noah" – Hebrews 11:7 – 4/2/14

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Repeat together).

Today we consider the faith of Noah. “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Heb.11:7)

Last week we read the genealogy of the first 7 generations of fathers who come from Eve and lead directly to the OFFSPRING OF THE WOMAN who is Jesus Christ. The 7th name in that list was Enoch. And we read, “when Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah.”

After Enoch, the genealogy continues as follows, “When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he father Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.”

And then we read, “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah…” And then Lamech adds this, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bringus relief from our work and from the painful toll of our hands.” (Gen.5:25-29). The word Noah, is taken from the Hebrew word that means “relief,” or “rest.” Continue reading

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Lent 4 – "I Was Blind But Now I See" – John 9:1-41 – 3/30/14

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“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

I. Blind man given sight to glorify God.
A. Cause and Effect
There are those who make their living out of making logical connections between EFFECT and CAUSE. Doctors do it all the time. They see the EFFECT and they deduce a probable CAUSE to treat. Electricians, plumbers and auto mechanics all do the same thing. They see the PROBLEM and then determine the CAUSE and fix it.

We all do the same thing. It’s just that what they do as an OCCUPATION, we do as a PREOCCUPATION.
 His car ran off the road at 3:00am. He must have been drinking again.
 He didn’t come home until 6:00am. He must be having an affair.
 She got called down to the principal’s office. She must be in trouble.

Knowing the EFFECT and guessing at the CAUSE makes for interesting conversation and not a little gossip. In a court of law, juries hear the evidence, weigh it and make a judgment. You and I make the judgment without ever hearing any evidence at all.

Even the people of God do it.
 Joseph was told that his fiancée was pregnant. He concluded that Mary had been unfaithful to him and must be ‘put away.’ Bad conclusion.
 The Jews found Jesus’ tomb empty. They concluded that the disciples must have stolen the body. Bad conclusion.
 The disciples of Jesus saw the man born blind. They concluded that he must be a sinner, or at least his parents were. The sins of the father are punished to the 3rd and 4th generations. Maybe this one started at the 2nd. Another bad conclusion.

“It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” That word that is translated here as DISPLAY is the same word that is usually translated as GLORIFY. As in, “Father, GLORIFY Your name.” “Father, let you name be DISPLAYED.” Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent – "By Faith…Abel" – Hebrews 11:4 – 3/19/14

Mid-Week Lent
Hebrews 11:4
“By Faith, Abel…”

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb.11:1) Would you repeat that together with me please? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I think that it is safe to say that all of us would like to have a stronger faith in God than we have. We all struggle with our faith. We all wish we were more “assured” of what God’s Word and promise tell us than we are. We all wish that we had more “conviction in the things that are unseen,” but that God’s Word tells us we will one day see, than we have.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gives us a list of people who are good examples of those who had a ‘strong faith.’ How do we know that? Other than the fact that the Bible tells us so? Isn’t “faith” a matter of the heart, hidden inside us that only God can see?

And the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ it is a matter of the heart and only God can see what is in a person’s heart. But ‘faith’ is also ‘visible.’ It is ‘visible’ in the way we live our life. Far more than we are willing to admit, we all live our lives according by faith. The decisions that we make and the actions that we either take or don’t take are based on what we believe.

So, we are able to see the faith of those who are put before us by the decisions they made, they actions that they took or didn’t take. These are the outward indicators of their inward faith.

And by their example, we see what a ‘strong’ faith looks like. And the idea is, we should be encouraged by their example to imitate them in our own life.

The goal then, is to hear their story, which is embedded in the Bible and therefore is God’s Word, trusting that in doing so, our faith will be strengthened.

Our first example is Abel.
“By faith, Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” (Heb.11:4).

As we heard in our first reading from Genesis 4, Abel is the second son of Adam and Eve. His older brother was Cain.

We all have memories of our family and growing up and what growing up in our particular family was like. What do you think growing up was like for Cain and Abel? His parents were Adam and Eve, the only two people in the whole world never to have had a belly-button; the only two people who could ever say, ‘we used to live in Paradise.’

If we were fortunate, we knew our grandparents and maybe even our great grandparents. If not, certainly our parents told us about them. But Adam and Eve didn’t have parents and so Cain and Abel didn’t have grandparents. They had very little 'family history.' In fact, their 'family tree' went back no further than their own parents.

What were the stories that our parents told us about their life and what it was like – 'back in the good old days'? What stories would Adam and Eve have told their children? Certainly, Cain and Abel would have heard their parents tell them about how they used to walk with God in the Garden of Eden and how God had told them how He created the world and how He made them. How many times do you think Adam might have showed his two sons that scar on his side and Eve would have said, ‘that’s where I came from’?

As children do, they would have asked questions, questions like, ‘why don’t we live in the Garden any more’ and ‘can we go and see it?’ And their parents would have recited the story of the serpent and the temptation, and their terrible sin.

And they would have also certainly told them about what happened after their fall into sin. That day that they called, ‘JUDGEMENT DAY.’ God had told them, “the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And that’s exactly what they had expected would happen.

But instead, a remarkable thing happened. Not only didn’t God kill them, but He promised them forgiveness and life through a Savior who would undo the damage that they had done.

As they would have told it to their sons, it was really that serpent that was on trial before God. And the sentence that God spoke against the serpent went like this, 'I will put enmity between your offspring and her offspring, he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.'

In stunned silence, as the words sunk in, they looked at each other and said, ‘did He say OFFSPRING? Are we going to have a baby? Dead people don’t have babies. And our baby will be our Savior and restore things to their original righteousness and open the gates to paradise resettle us in Garden of Eden again and we will resume the close communion with God that we had once had.’

How often do you think Adam and Eve must have told that story to their children? It must have been one of those stories that Cain and Abel must heard over and over again. And they would have told it with “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen.”

Which makes us want to examine ourselves. How often have we told this story to our children, which is really our story just as much as it was theirs? And with what “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen' have we told it to them?

How do we know that Adam and Eve believed the promise that God made to them? By the decisions that they made and the actions that they took. With “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen” they did what husbands and wives do to have a baby.

“Now Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man, the Lord. And again, she bore his brother Abel.”

As soon as the birth announcements are made, we skip forward to time when the boys are both grown, or at least old enough to be working. Their doing just as their parents were charged with doing in the Garden when God gave them dominion over the animals and plants and told them to tend and keep them. “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a worker of the ground.”

“And in the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”

As soon as we hear the evidence presented, the investigator in all of us jumps into action. Why did the Lord have regard for Abel's offering and not for Cain's? And we search for clues. Was it because the Lord prefers meat to vegetables? Or was it that Abel offered the 'firstborn' whereas it doesn't say that Cain offered the 'first fruits' but only 'the fruit of the ground'? Continue reading

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Lent 3 – "If She Had Only Known" – John 4:1-26 – 3/23/14

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“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“If she had only known.” Now there’s an epitaph you don’t want written on your tombstone. “If I had only known.” “If I had only known then what I know now?”

“If I only known who he was.” “If I had only known how close I was.” “If I had only known the gift of God and who it was that said to me, ‘give me a drink…’” finish the sentence. “I wouldn’t have questioned him about social customs…” “I wouldn’t have argued with him about religion…” “I would’ve have given Him a drink…” “I would have asked for the gift of God…” “If she had only known.”

Early that morning, the sun rose, the rooster crowed, the man sleeping next to her snored. Just another day about to begin. “If she only knew.”

She got up, stretched, felt the aches and pains that would wear off as the day went on. There were chores to do, preparing meals, washing clothes, gathering water from the well on the outskirts of town. Just another day. “If she only knew.”

This woman, whose name we are never given, walked the same path to the same well that she had walked countless times. But on this same day, a man was also making his way to this same well. He was making his way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north and he “had to pass through Samaria.” “Had to,” not as in, there was no other way to get from point A to point B. But “had to” as in, there was this woman that He wanted to meet. We could just as easily say that He came all the way from heaven to earth just to meet her. “If she had only known.”

John writes, “wearied as He was from his journey, He was sitting by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” The “6th Hour” in Roman time is Noon in our time. Remember that.

When she arrived at the well, He was already there, sitting right beside it. It was one of those awkward situations. Like when one of those street people holding a sign at the intersection that says “Homeless. Even a dollar will help. God bless you.” And the light turns red and darned if you’re not stopped right beside him. You act like you don’t see him.

But he speaks directly to you. “Give me a drink.” It’s not a lot to ask. And yet, when we finally come to the end of this story, the one thing that don’t ever read is that he ever got his drink. But that’s okay. He has not come to this place for Himself but for her. “He has not come to be served but to serve.” Not to take, but to “give His life as a ransom” for hers. (Matthew 20:28). “If she had only known.” Continue reading

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Lent 1 – "He Does Not Disappoint" – Matthew 4:1-11

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“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Right from His baptism in the Jordan River, where the Holy Spirit descended and rested on Him as a dove, and the voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” THEN, still dripping wet and the beautiful words of His Father still ringing in His ears, the dove flew and Jesus followed.

Sound familiar? Still dripping wet from their baptism in the Red Sea, and the voice of God still ringing in their ears, “I am the Lord your God,” the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, led Israel into the wilderness and Israel followed.

Along the way, Israel encountered various opportunities to demonstrate their trust in God’s Word and Promise to them. After 40 of traveling through the wilderness, the food supplies that the left Egypt with were starting to run a little low. Occasionally stomachs were heard to grumble. What a wonderful opportunity for Israel to affirm their faith and trust that the “I AM,” “the Lord your God” will supply our every need.

If the “Lord God” who opened the sea and brought them through it safely and drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his soldiers in the same, then surely He will supply us our daily bread. And all the people of Israel said, “We will not be anxious about our life, what you will eat or what you will drink… Is not life more than food…? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are we not of more value than they?” For God has said, “I am the Lord YOUR God.”

If only they had said that. What they really said was, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex.16:3).

What a miserable disappointment Israel was. But God heard their bellies grumble and their mouths curse Him, and He fed them Manna for bread and quail for meat. God rolled out an all you can eat bread and meat bar everyday for them. And they ate and were satisfied… for awhile. Continue reading

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