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2020-03-29 - Spirit of Truth - God First


Exodus 20:1-7

Jeremiah 26:12-15

Mark 12:13-17

            We are now only two short weeks away from celebrating what was once called Resurrection Day but we now know it under the more common name of Easter Sunday. On our way to Easter Sunday these past weeks, we have been looking at the question, “What is truth?”  We have seen that truth is often ridiculed and violently opposed before it is accepted. We have seen that truth depends upon which world or kingdom who choose to live.  In the mortal kingdom of humanity, truth often is simply whatever you want it to be.  In philosophy, the approach of individualized truth follows the coherence theory of truth. In this manner, what is truth is defined by you so long as your beliefs are consistent with one another.  No one belief needs to be based upon objective evidence so long as all your truth statements cohere, agree, with each other.  Let’s say you believe all the presidents of the United States are corrupt, that all presidents are evil, and that any attempt to convince you otherwise would be based on lies.  These beliefs reinforce one another and therefore there is coherence in your statements. This would be your truth and there is nothing outside of yourself that could counter your truth.  Often, when people are operating on individualized truth, they will say something like, “It does not matter what you say, you cannot change my mind.  This is what I believe to be true.”  To say this is in a humorous manner, we might say, “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.”  Such truth, whether held by one individual, a group of people, or a nation can be an incredibly powerful force, most often to the detriment of others.  The Jewish people suffered under the coherence of Nazi “truth” that the source of all the ills of Germany rested upon the behavior of the Jews.  This type of “truth” started with one individual, then to a small group, then on to a political party, and ultimately became a widespread belief in the entire country.

            Humans lean toward the coherence theory of truth by creating their own beliefs and their own gods.  I believe this one reason why so many people today reject the Bible.  They reject the Bible because the Bible claims to be inspired by God, a being who is outside of all individuals, groups, and nations.  As such, the words and teaching of the Bible necessarily challenge the construction of individualized truth.  In many cases, the Bible calls humanity’s self-made beliefs false or lies.  Such words do not set well with many people. 

            If we accept the Bible, then we quickly come to realize that God created us, we did not create God.  And if God created us, then He is the source of truth, not us.  For many people, and here I mean genuinely good people with kind hearts and pleasant smiles, cannot accept that God contradicts their sincerely held beliefs.  They prefer to hold onto their sincerely held beliefs even if they believe in things that are not are true.  They feel that if they do not hurt anyone, as they define hurt, then there is no harm in holding onto a sincerely held false belief.

            The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is they contradict God. Think of this way.  False beliefs create a multitude of false gods for us to follow.  The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is that we do not keep them to ourselves. Like the contagion we are faced with today, those false beliefs are taught to children who then perpetuate them. The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is they cause us to miss the mark.  Think of it this way.  Let’s say you were walking a great distance and you were only 10 off on your trek. If you traveled 60 miles, starting just one degree off, you will miss the mark by 1 mile.  The world is full of people missing the mark because they do not believe in the truth of God.

            As we return to our question, “What is truth?” we find these words of comfort in the opening words of the Bible from Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 1, אֱלֹהִיםבְּרֵאשִׁית, (re'shiyth bara’ ‘elohiym). “In the beginning God created.”  The truth is God existed and then he created all there is.  God created humanity, we did not create God.  To help humanity to seek truth from God and not from other sources, God spoke to humanity directly, through prophets, and through His own son, Jesus.  Directly, we heard God say in our reading from Exodus 20:3-7, “3You shall have no other gods before me.  4 You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…7 You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  God knew our desire to have other gods, make images of those gods so that we could worship them, and then to diminish God by misusing His name.  God is jealous because He knows how dangerous it is if we put other things ahead of him. So God spoke directly these words and inscribed them on tablets of stone.

            The people of God obeyed God’s command found in Exodus, at least for a while, and then slowly, without hurting anyone else, slipped into their own ways.  God then raised up a prophet to speak to the people.  The prophet’s name was Jeremiah.  We read earlier from the book bearing the prophet’s name these words, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. 13 Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12, 13).  God spoke directly in Exodus and now spoke through his prophet Jeremiah to the people that they reform their ways and actions and obey God.  God is the source of truth.  Truth will not be found in religious practices, temples, or sacrifices. The truth, God, will only be found in Him.

            The people listened to Jeremiah, for a while, and then slowly, believing they were hurting no one, the people slipped into finding truth in institutions, practices, and beliefs of their own creation.  What was God to do?  We have read God’s response from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.  14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1).  The Word was Jesus.  Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).  God spoke the need to come to him for the truth, he did so through his prophets, and now through his son who was living among the people with the expressed purpose of revealing the truth.

            Despite all of God’s efforts, people, powerful people, the best and brightest of Israel, hung onto their sincere beliefs and sought to destroy the truth, Jesus, who was God, the truth, in human form.  We read in our New Testament reading today that, “13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees [respected religious leaders] and Herodians [powerful men from the king’s court] to Jesus to catch him in his words.”  The powerful people wanted to find something in Jesus’ words that were inconsistent with his teachings so that they could accuse him of false teachings.  They wanted to show that Jesus lacked coherence.  They wanted to destroy Jesus.  By destroying Jesus, the powerful could continue to determine their own truth and because they were powerful, they could determine the truth for others.

            This band of powerful men came to Jesus and began speaking words of flattery to Jesus.  “‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’” (Mark 12:14, 15).  The men applied their buttery words to mask their true intentions of trapping Jesus with a question on whether to pay taxes owed to Caesar, an earthly ruler.  This was a trap since to say simply “Yes, pay tax to Caesar,” would be an act of betrayal of the Jewish people to financially support their own oppression by the Romans.  To say, “No, don’t pay your taxes,” would be an act of revolution calling the Romans down on Jesus’ head.  This is the problem with yes or no questions.

            Verse 15 continued, “But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked.  Jesus saw the flattery of the Pharisees and Herodians for what it was, hypocrisy; that pretense of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.  Jesus saw the question as a trap and therefore chose to bring everyone back to the earliest of commandments concerning the truth.  Verse 15 concludes, “‘Bring me a denarius [a Roman coin] and let me look at it.’ 16 They brought the coin.”  I just want to pause there for a moment because we might miss something important. Jesus had no money.  Did you notice that?  Jesus had to ask his questioners to hand him one of the coins in their possession because Jesus had none.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, Jesus used money as a way of revealing people’s priorities, the self-serving truths that governed their lives.  When Jesus sent his disciples to preach the good news he said, “Carry no purse or bag.”  Jesus said, “What is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 14:15).  “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 6:24).  Jesus had no coin in his possession.  His body, mind, and spirit were focused only on God.  The little seemingly insignificant fact that Jesus did not have a coin of his own expresses the distinction that there are two kingdoms in play.  There is the earthly kingdom centered on money and the eternal kingdom centered on God. Jesus was of the kingdom of God living in the earthly kingdom.

            Verse 16, “16 They brought the coin and he [Jesus] asked them [the Pharisees and Herodians], ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.  17 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’  And they were amazed at him.”

            The smug Pharisees and Herodians stood there with their mouths open, speechless. They came to Jesus to trap him with words of flattery, that they did not believe, only to be shown that their words were true testimony about Jesus.  Jesus was indeed a man of integrity, unswayed by others, and able to teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Jesus showed these men that the engraved image on their coin was that of Caesar, a man who was the symbol of earthly kingdoms.  The coin was therefore an idol of Caesar’s creation. The idol belonged to Caesar and therefore was rightfully his to ask it to be returned.

            But God declared that there should be no idol of Him to be worshiped but only that He be worshipped.  Jesus said to these Pharisees and Herodians, and to you and me, “Give to God what He has asked be returned to him.”  What is that God wants returned?  Why you and me, of course.  God is a redeemer; He seeks to reclaim the lost.  God is a savior; He seeks to save those drowning in the earthly kingdom with all its beliefs.  God is a healer; He seeks to heal those who are sick with sin.  God has a kingdom and he wants each person to be part of it.

            Jesus opened his ministry to all those who would listen with these words, “Repent [Turn to God], for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Jesus came to speak the truth of this kingdom and shake us out of the truths we create for ourselves.  Here are some of the things Jesus said to redeem us, save us, and heal us from our own tidy beliefs.

  • Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
  • The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.
  • Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
  • Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
  • Seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

            We seek to create our own truths in the kingdoms of politics, business, the arts, philosophy, and even religion.  We do so because we are seeking to create significance for ourselves. Jesus said if you want significance in your life, then seek first the kingdom of God and all other things will be given to you as well.  If you want significance, turn to God for his kingdom is near and in God you will become his child.  This is significance beyond anything that can be imagined in the kingdom of the world. Let’s evaluate everything else in life through that truth and see that “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).  Amen and Amen.

2020-03-22 The Spirit of Truth

John 14:15-21

We are continuing a deliberate journey to Easter Sunday.  We have been gathering insight and understanding about Jesus and his desire for humanity to know the truth.  What is truth?  The truth to Jesus was not a collection of facts or mathematical proofs.  Truth to Jesus was an intimate knowledge of God expressed through God’s love and grace.  Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth of God.  But Jesus was only going to be here on earth for a short time.  By some estimates, he would be here only 33 years. Of those years Jesus testified in person for no more than three of those 33 years.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, historians estimate that there were 300 Million people in the world.  Jesus spent most of his time testifying to 12 of those people.  He called those twelve people, apostles.  One of the twelve apostles, Judas, died before Jesus did.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead, Jesus told the remaining eleven apostles, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  What was Jesus thinking?  How in the world could Jesus expect those eleven apostles to share the truth, the revelations of God through Jesus Christ, to 300,000,000 people?  How would those eleven apostles keep things straight as they shared the truth with people from different cultures and in different languages?  How could it all happen?

Jesus had a plan, but it depended upon the apostles and God.  We read his plan earlier today.  Jesus said, 15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15, 16).

Jesus’ plan had just two parts to it.  First, Jesus asked his apostles to love him and to express that love by keeping his commands. Love must be at the heart of the plan to share the good news of Jesus.  “If you love me, keep my commands.”  Jesus’ words strongly suggest that there is a powerful connection between expressing love and obedience.  Now obedience comes in distinctly different forms.  First, we can be obedient to someone or something because we seek to avoid punishment.  We obey the laws of New York State because we do not want to be arrested.  We pay our taxes because we do not want problems with the government.  We are obedient in order to avoid punishment.  Obedience to avoid punishment is my earliest memories of church. I was instructed to believe that God was some policeman type figure who looked down from heaven keeping track of all the wrong things we did.  If your list grew too long, then God would punish you.  Obedience to avoid punishment is not love.

The second form of obedience comes about through a voluntary desire.  Sometimes voluntary obedience feels like compliance.  There have been many times each of us have done some task in the way another person asked that it be done, even if we had a different way of doing it. We comply with the wishes of another to bring that person peace.  Other times, voluntary compliance, obedience, is done in order to bring us joy, peace, happiness, and contentment.  I see young children express this type voluntary obedience well.  Young children show their emotions and thoughts right on their face.  They have not yet mastered the “art” of thinking and feeling one thing and doing the other.  And so, when a young child does something you asked them to do, they almost always follow up by finding you and excitedly telling you they did it.  The child has been voluntarily obedient because they love you, because they love to share what they have done with you, and to know that they have excited you in doing what you asked.  This type of voluntary obedience is the closest to what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  “One time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  2 He [Jesus] called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he [Jesus] said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”  In that same way, Jesus was saying in our text today, “If you love me, be like a young child that has an inner desire to do what they have been asked, to be excited about sharing what you have done with me, and to know the joy that it brings to me.”  Voluntary obedience is the way of expressing love to Jesus.

Going back to our text again for the second part of Jesus’ plan.  Jesus said to his apostles, 15“If you love me, keep my commands.”  For another day, we will talk about the commands of Jesus.  But for today, we will continue with what Jesus said.  “16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.”  Jesus had revealed something important to this small band of apostles.  When the apostles came to give their life to voluntary obedience to Jesus’ commands as the way of expressing love to Jesus.  Jesus then excitedly shared that good news with God, the Father.  God, the Father, then in his joy then released to apostles who love Jesus the Spirit of truth.  This Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, would then be able guide the apostles and be with them forever.  We see this thought in verse 23 of our text today, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).

Now, before we think Jesus was only speaking about a relationship only possible with the apostles, we need to consider Jesus prayer found in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John.  Jesus said, “20My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [the apostle’s] message [that would be you and me], 21 that all of them [the apostles, you and me] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they [the apostles, you and me] also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them [the apostles, you and me] even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).  So the words, 15“If you love me, keep my commands.  16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth,” apply to you and me as well.

Jesus words then tell us that the Spirit of truth will be given to the apostles, you, and me who love Jesus through obedience.  It was and is through the Spirit of truth, that this small band of apostles would come to bring the good news to the people of the world. The evangelizing of the world by the apostles was not done through the power of the government to make people obedient to God to avoid punishment, but through love guided by Spirit of truth working through the apostles to cause people to believe and become voluntarily obedient to God.  By the end of the mortal life of the remaining eleven apostles, the number of those believing and alive in the Holy Spirit had grown from 11 to 500,000.

What then can we say about this Spirit of truth?  There are many sermons and teachings that can be brought forward on the Holy Spirit, but for today, we will keep focused on just one element, the Spirit of truth. In our text today, Jesus said of this Spirit of truth, this helper, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  The Spirit of truth is for believers and gives believers the capacity to know the truth. The truth here is not in the Roman mindset of truth, meaning the facts concerning events.  So, believers are still no better equipped at crime solving then anyone else.  Here, truth is in the Hebrew mindset of knowing God and his faithfulness.  So, believers, people showing love to Jesus by voluntary obedience to Jesus’ commands, receive the Spirit of truth and therefore, have an intimate knowledge of God and his trustworthiness.  From our text today, verse 21, Jesus brought this point together saying, “21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  I have a couple of cousins who are very prolific in posting things on Facebook. Neither of them is a believer.  Yet, they often cite Scripture in their postings with smug words added primarily as an effort to offend Christians.  There is a spirit within them, but it is not the Sprit of truth.  For while they rage online against social injustices citing Biblical commands to help the hungry, naked, and poor, they do not ever help anyone. 

This means that if we allow the Spirit of truth to work within us, we can understand what the Bible says and coupled with the humility can listen to God’s word before we act.  With the Spirit of truth working within us, we can recognize when we neither took the time to understand what the Bible said nor listened to God’s word before we acted.  The Spirit of truth will guide us in worship of God.  We can know what behaviors honor God and which ones do not. If we allow the Spirit of truth to work within us, then we can recognize how we as a single body made of up of many members can move together in new missions and bring to closure those that are no longer needed.  Jesus said to the learned Jewish man, Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  We are to move not in accordance with the desires of observers but in the direction that God moves us touching everything and everyone in our path.

Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).  Everyone with Jesus has the Spirit of truth.  This is the power Jesus promised and delivered to the apostles as they came to share the truth with the world.  The apostles did not cajole the unwilling with promises and rewards.  Afterall, who offers rewards for doing what people want to do? Do we pay hungry people to eat? Do we pay thirsty people to drink?  A wise Christian scholar once observed, if we demand a reward to obey God, we will love the reward rather than God. In his words, “The soul that loves God seeks no other reward than that God whom it loves. Were the soul to demand anything else, then it would certainly love that other thing and not God.”  Believers have the Spirit of truth to know Jesus and therefore constantly seek to follow his life and his words and his actions just like a person who is hungry seeks food and one who is thirsty seeks water.  It is a natural reaction to a great desire.  Believers have the Spirit of truth and want to constantly tell Jesus what they have done and to be in his presence.

What is truth?  Jesus provided an answer this way from our text today, “18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  Let us be blest in the Spirit of truth that guides our thoughts, words, and actions. Amen.