RSS Feed

04-23 - Our Testimony - Obey and Love

This is the second week we are looking at the Apostle John’s first letter to the early Christian Church that we call 1 John.  We are looking at 1 John as a way to help us better understand our Christian testimony, that is what Jesus Christ means to us.  Last week, we looked at how our testimony should be bold and bright even if we sound a little strange to others.  We should sound strange because our testimony is that we believe we have had a spiritual encounter with Jesus the Christ and that we are in fellowship with God who stands outside of creation.  Last week, I summed up our what our testimony might sound like after reading Chapter 1 of 1 John, and it might sound something like this: “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I can imitate Christ Jesus because he has removed all my sins from me when he died on the cross.  This is grace.  Because of this grace, my mind has been transformed, it has been changed.  I now try to see my life through Jesus’ eyes and do the things He would have me do.  This is living in the light.  But I am not perfect.  So when I do veer again into sinful behavior, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, to clean me up, and restore me to fellowship with God.  Without Jesus, I am lost.” 

Today, we are going to continue with Chapter 2 of John’s letter to see what else we may want to add to or alter about our testimony.  And if I could sum up in a single word what John main charge in his testimony in Chapter 2 it would be the word “known” or “know.” Fourteen times John used one of two Greek words for the English word know or known.  John was putting an emphasis on knowing Jesus and knowing that obedience to Jesus and love are inseparably joined together.

We saw the emphasis on certainty and knowing from our Old Testament reading in Psalm 100.  The psalmist said, “3 Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture…5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:3, 5).  There is emphatic confidence coming from the psalmist declaring what he knows to the core of his being.  There is nothing wishy-washy in what the psalmist is saying in his testimony.  And what the psalmist was certain of was that God’s love was unchanging.

Our testimony is compelling when we express it with certainty.  Studies of court testimony by eyewitness has shown that persuasion occurs when there is certainty expressed by the witness.  This persuasion occurs because the jury wants to bring its beliefs into line with reality and believes that a witness having confidence is communicating valid information about reality.  This is true because in general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the confident actions of others as correct. 

There was an infamous case of uncertainty that contributed to the death of a young woman named Kitty Genovese.  One summer evening in New York City, Kitty was returning home to her apartment when she was attacked and stabbed by a former boyfriend.  Many people heard her cries for help and went to their windows to see what was going on.  Each person observed the attack and Kitty’s the screams for help.  When the witnesses could see other witnesses not reacting to the situation, none of the witnesses reacted.  No one called the police or rendered assistance to Kitty. Uncertainty proved fatal.

John’s testimony in Chapter 2 began with what John knew for sure.  “We have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1b-2).  At the time John wrote these words, there were people from the Christian Church who were suggesting a different path of salvation, one that did not depend upon the work of Jesus upon the cross.  These folks were called Gnostics.  The Gnostics believed knowledge itself brought human enlightenment, a sense of salvation.  The Gnostics believed that Jesus was merely a human who attained the pinnacle of enlightenment through gnosis, knowledge of spiritual mysteries, and taught his disciples to do the same.  John was confident and adamant the Gnostics were wrong.  John said, Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for sin (1 John 2:2a) and that Jesus came from God and had returned to God to be our advocate (1 John 2:1b).  There was no other pathway to salvation.

Now we might think that 2,000 years later, the Christian Church has settled itself on who Jesus is, why he came, and why he died.  Unfortunately, within those who say they are Christians, there are some interesting beliefs.  For example, it is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus never sinned. However, 25% of Christians recently surveyed believe that Jesus committed sin like all of us.  It is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to God.  However, about half of the Christians surveyed all religious beliefs are of equal value.  It is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus died for your sins and my sins and because of the completed work of Christ we can have eternal life with God. However, more than half the Christians surveyed believe that just living a good life is enough to get into heaven.

There are more statistics, but I think you get the point.  Basic Christian beliefs within the church suggest significant uncertainty about core Christian beliefs.  Uncertain witnesses give poor and unconvincing testimony.  Think of it this way.  Suppose you were on trial for a serious crime of which you were innocent. How would you feel if during your trial your character witnesses were asked whether they thought you committed the crime and their response was, “I place the odds at about 50/50.”  That kind of uncertain response would be a serious situation for your defense.  John, in his letter, was indicating the early church was facing a serious situation about core beliefs and that there were people from the church actively preaching and teaching untrue doctrine that was leading to uncertainty among Christian. The Church today is facing a serious situation about core beliefs with people teaching untrue doctrine leading to uncertainty among Christians and weakening the gospel message to non-believers.

John expressed the crisis this way, “18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18).  John is the first in all of Scripture to use the word antichrist.  What is the antichrist?  John wrote simply, “Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ, such a person is the antichrist” (1 John 2:22).  There were antichrists in John’s day and there are antichrists aplenty in our day, because they deny Jesus as the Christ.  John said though, “21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth” (1 John 2:21).  John was saying here that his reader knew the difference between the truth and a lie, and that truth will not fail you.  The truth was Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the only pathway to salvation.

What then was the significance of confidently knowing Jesus for who he was?  John said it was this, “We know that we have come to know him (Jesus) if we keep his (Jesus’) commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” (Jesus) but does not do what he (Jesus) commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his (Jesus’) word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him (Jesus): Whoever claims to live in him (Jesus) must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).  To confidently say we know Jesus, John said was not based upon head knowledge of some secret mysteries of life and the universe.  To confidently say we know Jesus, is however, based upon obedience, it is based upon behaviors, that show that we believe Jesus is the Christ, that we have listened to what Jesus said, and we are doing what Jesus said.

That was quite a lot that John put forth there about knowing Christ.  John was saying here that we can be confident in our testimony and in our destiny by knowing Jesus, abiding in Him, and being like Him.  And the simplicity of John’s charge to his church of knowing, abiding, and being in Jesus has huge and eternal implications.

Think of those implications this way.  Jesus once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  Those words from Jesus immediately sounds quite disturbing because Jesus was saying that there will be people who recognize Jesus on earth and say Jesus is their “Lord” who will not later be found in heaven.  That means people who are in the church itself will not be in heaven. 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).  These “churchgoers,” if you will, said and did some marvelous things but they did not know Jesus because they were not obedient to the words of Jesus which express the will of God.  And because they were not obedient to Jesus, Jesus did not know them.  These “churchgoers” did not abide in Jesus, and Jesus did not abide in them.  These “churchgoers” were not being like Jesus, and Jesus being evident in them.

What was the problem with these “churchgoers?” The problem with their testimony was that these “churchgoers” did not genuinely obey Jesus because they would not love like Jesus.  Obedience and love.  As a society we dislike the word obedience, and we like the word love.  John was saying for us to confidently know Jesus and thus be assured of our destiny we must embrace equally embrace obedience and love.  We will recall, John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him (know, abide, and be) must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).  Claiming Jesus must be seen in living like him.

John helps us understand his point this way, “Anyone who claims to be in the light (claims to live in Jesus) but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9).  We heard this point from John last week as well, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6).  We “churchgoers” cannot genuinely claim Christ and hate people.  Let’s not get confused here.  We do not have to like and approve of things people do and we may even hate some of the things they did because of the pain that those behaviors brought about, but we cannot hate the person.  And John started off by making it emphatic that you cannot hate a brother or sister, meaning you cannot legitimately claim Christ and hate another Christian, that is the context of brother or sister.

John then restated his point that, “Anyone, any churchgoer, who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble” (1 John 2:10).  Our confident testimony about Christ should be evident because of our obedience to Christ is shown by our loving of all in the church.  Obedience and love are coupled, and we must equally embrace both.  John then concluded with, “If you know that he (Jesus) is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right (obeys Jesus) has been born of him (Jesus)” (1 John 2:29).

What then do we do with all that John has shared with us today?  First, we must get our minds straight and confident on basic Christian beliefs. Jesus is not just a good teacher or wonderful mentor.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who died to take your sins and to take my sins. Second, Jesus is not a pathway to God. He is emphatically the only way to God and eternal life.  Third, we must not only accept Jesus as the Christ and the pathway to eternal life but we take the power that comes in knowing Jesus and then confidently obey Jesus and demonstrate that obedience daily by loving one another.

How then might we state our testimony after reading the second Chapter of John’s letter.  We might say, ““I am a Christian and by that, I mean I know Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins.  This is grace and this is love.  I now seek to obey Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I know Jesus by living my life as Jesus would do by showing his love to others.  But I am not perfect.  So when I stumble in walking with Jesus in this life, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, and restore me to fellowship with God.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

Let’s be confident in our testimony and demonstrate that this week through our obedience to Jesus and our love for one another.  Amen and Amen.

04-16 - Our Testimony

As we know, it is the Sunday after Easter Sunday and a few things have changed.  The pageantry and the flowers of Easter Sunday are gone as well as some of the people who were here last Sunday.  These are predictable changes.  But certain things remain unchanged.  Most important among these things that remain unchanged is God. Theologians say God is immutable meaning God is consistent and unchanging in his use of wisdom, mercy, justice, and love.  God’s acts are never arbitrary.  God does not spin a wheel of misfortune and fortune to decide what pleases him on any given day.  God is the same, even though everything else in our physical world, in our human experience, is always changing.  I cannot imagine what life would be like if we had to keep guessing what God was going to be like today and how he might be different next Sunday.  God is always consistent in his regard for our wellbeing.

We see this sense of consistency, the immutability of God, expressed in our Old Testament reading from the prophet Micah.  Micah, whose name means “Who Is Like the Lord?” observed that: “18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago” (Micah 7:18-20).

Micah was happy to tell others about the God that loved him.  Micah said that God:

  •  Pardons sin,
  • Forgives transgressions,
  • Does not stay angry,
  • Delights to show mercy,
  • Has compassion, and 
  • Is faithful.

These are the attributes of God to which Micah gave his testimony.

          The word “testimony” for me in the context of church was at first a very strange word.  I came from a Roman Catholic background into the Baptist church in 1985. People at the Baptist church were excited and hoped for a time to share “their testimony.”  I had no real idea what they were talking about.  The phrase “sharing your testimony” was not a phrase I found in the Roman Catholic Church any more than making the sign of the cross was found in the Baptist church.

          It took me a while to come to understand that to give your testimony meant that you wanted to share with someone else how Jesus and his saving power came into your life and how your life is different as a result.  The act of giving testimony is the act of being a witness for Jesus.  In church terms, those who witness, those who give testimony, bear the name in Greek, martyrs.  Micah, from our Old Testament reading, was a prophet but also a martyr because he was giving his testimony as a witness to the unchangeable nature of God as one who pardons sin, forgives transgressions, does not stay angry, delights in showing mercy, has compassion, and is faithful.  There are hundreds of other passages in the Old Testament in which men and women from all walks of life gave testimony, acted as witnesses, to the unchanging nature of God.  The psalms, for example, contain numerous statements of testimony about the nature of God.  And the testimony about God has great consistency among the many people who gave testimony separated by hundreds of years.  For example, David’s testimony concerning his relationship with God was very similar to that offered by Micah’s testimony.  David’s testimony said in part: “8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-12).  David’s testimony, given from his experience with God, was very similar to the testimony of Micah and his experience with God.  So to give your testimony is to share from your experience with God. 

I thought it would be profitable for us to focus a few weeks on shared testimony so that we can be better prepared to share our own testimony, our own story of life with God.  I would like us to look at testimony through the lens of John’s first letter to his church, 1 John.

1 John is a short letter, on par with the length of a letter one friend might write to another.  And I recommend that you take some time this week and read 1 John like a letter.  By that, I mean read it from beginning to end in one sitting so that you get the full impact of what John has to say.  Over the next weeks we will dive deeper into the words John uses but our time together should supplement the time we each spend on our own with John’s letter.

Let’s look at John’s letter of testimony as a letter between dear friends.  John opened his letter without the customary greetings of ancient or modern letters.  There is no “Dear Friend” or even a “To Whom It May Concern.”  Instead, John got right into the heart and substance of what he wanted to say to us about his experience with God.  John wrote, “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1-4).  John was setting out that he intended to give testimony from a firsthand perspective of having personally met someone who existed before creation and yet John met this someone in not in a vision but in a form that was visible, touchable, and hearable with the physical senses.  Moreover, this someone of John’s testimony is the Word, the Source, of life itself. John said that because of this encounter John and others like John who had such an encounter have fellowship, have a personal relationship with God and that John wanted his friend reading this letter to have the same relationship he has with God.  That is why John is writing this letter.

The opening to John’s letter, the foundation of his testimony, is frankly shocking.  John is saying here that God, who is outside of the creation, that God decided to come into creation, into the world, as a human being, one that could be seen, heard, and touched, and that John met this person, fellowshipped with him, and because of that time and experience with this God in person, John now fellowships with God himself who is outside the created world. 

When we let John’s words sink in for a moment, we easily find John’s words fascinating but we can be just as easily conflicted because we must immediately conclude that either John has had an awe-inspiring supernatural experience or John has lost his mind.  There really is no middle ground here.  And the concern about being thought to be out of your mind is the first obstacle most people have in sharing their personal testimony of their experience with God.  We do not want to be thought of as lunatics so we either withhold our testimony or try to present our testimony in a less fascinating way than did John or in a way that leaves open the possibility that we have not lost our minds.  John’s opening here tells us that we should be in our own testimony brave and bold with our faith and begin with an unmistakable stance about our experience with God.

Let me illustrate this notion from my personal life. When I worked for the federal government, I frequently traveled throughout the country.  Most weeks, I flew somewhere for a meeting or to conduct an inspection or address a problem.  On those airplane rides, inevitably the person seated next to me would ask me questions like, “What is your name?  Where do you live?  Where do you work?  What do you do for a living?” etc.  And these questions are all intended in a roundabout way to elicit testimony from me about myself.  There is nothing fascinating about these questions or the answers these questions would elicit.

I now wonder what my experiences on those airplanes would have been like if someone said to me, “So what is your name?” and I answered, “My name is George.  I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and so that I can remain in fellowship with God.”  Now that is a fascinating response and the person next to me might well conclude that I have something important to say or that I have lost my mind.  And if my fellow passenger did not immediately seek to change seats, then I could add, “And I nothing would make me happier than for you to have the same fellowship I have with Jesus and the Father.  Can we talk?”  This is essentially what John did in the opening of his letter to his friends. The start of John’s testimony is either fascinating or disturbing.  But either way, John believed what he had to say was important enough to risk being thought a fool or insane.

With the starkness of his opening testimony, John began to explain what he learned from his experience in equally stark and contrasting terms.  John wrote, “5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  John’s testimony is that God is light, meaning God is pure, holy, righteous, and good.  There is nothing corrupt about God.  John emphasized this latter point by saying, “In him [God] there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b).  God is pure and not corrupt.  For John, in his experience with God, God stands in contrast to the worldliness. God is light; the world is darkness. 

Now for John’s friends to experience the joy John is having; John’s friends must have fellowship with God.  By this John means his friends must walk, live out their everyday life, in the light.  They must not live their life immersed in the darkness of the world.  John’s friends might then have asked as they were reading this letter, “How can someone born into the world and its darkness move into the light of God so that they can live in the light?  How is it possible to leave behind the corruption of the world, the darkness, and enter the light?”  Anticipating just such a question, John said the way to move from the darkness into the light is to accept Jesus, this person who existed before creation and lived for a brief time on earth as a human being.  John’s testimony then is that John was changed by Jesus because Jesus purified John from all sin allowing John to be full in the light (1 John 1:7b).  And John said the same purification can happen for John’s friends.

How do we relate to John’s testimony?  How might we explain our experience with God to the person seated next to us in the airplane.  We might say, “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I can imitate Christ Jesus because he has removed all my sins from me when he died on the cross.  This is grace.  Because of this grace, my mind has been transformed, it has been changed.  I now try to see my life through Jesus’ eyes and do the things He would have me do.  This is living in the light.”  This might be how we might give our testimony to the passenger seated next to us.

But whether you were a friend of John, or the passenger seated on that plane, one of the things you would quickly pick up on is that in all this testimony of fellowship, light, darkness, and sin, we are saying not so subtly that we have called the person receiving this testimony a sinner.  “You are a sinner.”  That is not a compliment and is not a label anyone exactly wants to be called.

Again, I think John anticipated hs readers would react negatively to being called a sinner.  So John wrote, “8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).  John was saying two things here, one much more important than the other.  First, let’s consider the thing of lesser importance.  “If we say we do not sin, then we deceive ourselves.”  I think most people, if they think about it, can get through the idea that they are not perfect and can agree they have sinned. We don’t like saying or having someone say we are a sinner, but we can eventually agree with that statement. Now, let’s consider the thing of greater importance from John’s testimony.  While God is immutable, unchangeable, us being a sinner is not an immutable, unchangeable, part of who we are.  We do not have to continue to be a sinner.  John said, “If we confess our sins, he (Jesus) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Jesus changed John and Jesus can change you. Our nature as a sinner is changeable.

How might we explain our testimony to the passenger next to us on the plane?  We might say, “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I can imitate Christ Jesus because he has removed all my sins from me when he died on the cross.  This is grace.  Because of this grace, my mind has been transformed, it has been changed.  I now try to see my life through Jesus’ eyes and do the things He would have me do.  This is living in the light.  But I am not perfect.  So when I do veer again into sinful behavior, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, to clean me up, and restore me to fellowship with God.  Without Jesus, I am lost.”  This is the beginning of our testimony.

The Bible is very much a book of testimonies from men and women across the ages seeking to share with others their experience with God. We have seen a sampling of this from the Old Testament and have looked in some detail at the testimony of John in the New Testament.  Those who gave testimony were called witnesses or martyrs.  The reason we want to give our testimony is first that is what Jesus asked his disciples to do.  And second, being witness, telling your story of your experience with God in your own words, is always fascinating and compelling.  You have a story to tell about walking with God, about being in the light, about being a sinner who was changed when Jesus came into your life.  This week I want to encourage you to read 1 John and begin thinking about your personal testimony.  Start writing down how you might explain your life with Christ and how it differs from your life without Christ.  Let’s all begin to see how we too can be a martyr, a witness, by sharing our testimony. Amen and Amen.


04-02 - Undefeated by Grave

          This is our fourth and final week in our journey through the story of Jesus as foretold in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, Chapter 53.  We like a good story.  And for most people, we like a story with a happy ending.  We inherited this desire for a happy ending to a story from our ancient ancestors.

          Our exploration today of Jesus’ story through the prophesies of Isaiah give us a pause as to whether the story will end happily.  We have seen over the past four weeks through Isaiah that God’s anointed Messiah was at first, “3 Despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3).  Then later people came to realize that they were wrong about Jesus.  The people came to see that Jesus bore their sorrows and sufferings.  They saw that Jesus was subjected to injustice and yet did not cry out against the injustice.  Jesus spoke only to affirm the truth.  None of this sounds much like a good story, particularly for Jesus.

          But mixed within the sadness of Jesus’ story, is the good news story for us.  For Isaiah said the people would come to see that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5b). There was the good news.  He brought us peace and he brought us healing. Somehow in the plan and power of God, the Messiah, Jesus, being subjected to injustice brought us mercy. In Jesus’ sufferings, we are brought peace.  In Jesus’ wounding prior to and upon the cross, we are healed.  As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, what Isaiah saw coming and what Jesus lived out was the paradox of God’s grace.  Human injustice, suffering for another, and wounds inflicted upon Jesus translated through God’s grace is transformed into mercy, peace, and healing from God to humanity.

As wonderful and surprising as the paradox of God’s grace is, Isaiah saw more coming. Isaiah saw that for humanity to have the ultimate assurance in life, the Messiah would have to also confront death. Death is a hard topic for us to talk about because grief from death can strike within us many strong negative emotions. Noted Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, said, ““No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.  At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.”

Isaiah foresaw the death of the Messiah and grieving. Isaiah wrote, “8a By oppression and judgment he was taken away…9a He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:8a, 9a). 

The idea of the Messiah dying was not acceptable to the Jews awaiting the Messiah.  In their minds, the Messiah was to be an invincible human being ushering in the glorious rule of God and the restoration of Israel.  To have the Messiah suffer on the cross, pierced by iron nails and spear, and die without putting up a fight was and is unacceptable.  But Isaiah had foreseen that the Messiah, the true Messiah, must die, the Messiah must go to the grave.  This was all necessary for the Messiah to fight humanity’s truly one unbeatable foe, death itself.

The thinking in the days of Isaiah was that death ended all relationships, human and divine. The people then did not have a conception of heaven and hell as has been revealed to us.  The people of Isaiah’s time, and even in Jesus’ time, and even some today, believed and still believe that God was and is only to be found among the living.  That upon death, the body was put in the ground and the spirit of the person went to Sheol, a place of nothingness.  They believed from the depth of Sheol one cannot praise God and one cannot hope for the truth of God.  (Isaiah 38).  Death into a shadowy underworld of nothingness was the destiny for all.  No one escaped death.  It was the unbeatable foe, the frightening idea of all people

Isaiah foresaw the Messiah would die and be assigned a grave among the wicked and the rich.  How did Isaiah’s vision play out in the life of Jesus?  Our Gospel writer Mark told the story this way.  “37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’  40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there” (Mark 15:37-41).  Jesus, the Messiah, was dead and grief came in place of his life and his spirit.  Upon Jesus’ death, the Apostles began to grieve. The woman standing nearby the cross began to grieve.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, began to grieve.  They believed from now on they would be forever separated from Jesus, their Lord, Teacher, and friend.  All was hopeless and dark.  They could not reach Jesus and he could not reach them.  Isaiah said, “8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away…For he was cut off from the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8a).

          Mark continued, “42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he [Jesus] was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he [Pilate] asked him [the Centurion] if Jesus had already died. 45 When he [Pilate] learned from the centurion that it was so, he [Pilate] gave the body [of Jesus] to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body [of Jesus], wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he [Joseph] rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he [Jesus] was laid” (Mark 15:42-47).

          Jesus was dead.  Joseph of Arimathea a member of the Council asked for the body of Jesus. Joseph, we are told was a member of the Council, the same Council that had met in secret, put Jesus on trial, and sentenced Jesus to death.  Isaiah had foreseen that, 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.  Yet who of his generation protested?” (Isaiah 53:8).  Apparently, Joseph did not protest.  Other Gospel accounts have another member of the Council, Nicodemus, helping Joseph collect Jesus’ body.  There is no indication Nicodemus protested at Jesus’ trial.  But something happened to Joseph and Nicodemus along the way. Somewhere between convicting Jesus and witnessing Jesus’ death just hours later, something changed within these men.  Something changed that drew them out of the shadows of belief in Jesus and into an open desire to care for his body.  Grief can do that to us.  Suddenly, in grief, we do not much care what people thinking about us.  There is a purity of thought, there is an unashamed truthfulness that comes over a grieving person.  Grieving people want the world to know who they loved and still love.  Mark said that Joseph who apparently had been silent at Jesus’ trial now went boldly to Pilate to seek Jesus body to bury it in Joseph’s own unused tomb.  Joseph would have many questions to answer later from the Council for showing compassion toward Jesus.  But that did not matter.  What mattered now for Joseph was to express his love for Jesus in the only way that he thought he could do. And so, Joseph placed Jesus’ body in the tomb and rolled a stone to seal the opening.

          There is much mystery to what happened after Jesus’ died and placed in that tomb.  We know only bits and pieces about the disciples’ actions and next to nothing about Jesus’ actions.  Even our dear friend Isaiah could not pierce the denseness of the death and describe for us the specific activities of the Messiah after death.  But Isaiah was able to share with us the purpose and the result of the Messiah’s death.  Isaiah said, “10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).  Isaiah had revealed something shocking here.  The Messiah was a sin offering for all the people.  Lambs used in sin offerings were put to death.  But Isaiah saw that through he was a sin offering, through death, the Messiah would give life to many, and the Messiah would become prosperous.  How could one give life to others and become prosperous after death?  There was only one way.  To give life and be prosperous on any terms was possible if and only if the Messiah had life himself.  Isaiah said, “11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life” (Isaiah 53:11a).

          Isaiah may not have been given insight to the spiritual battle the Messiah would undertake while dead, nevertheless, God gave Isaiah insight in knowing that the impossible had been accomplished in and through the Messiah.  The Messiah would overcome death and see life again.

          As I was thinking about Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah’s battle against death, doing so for the benefit of others, and returning to life, I was struck by the words of a modern era song that speaks of such a quest.  The words come from the musical, Man of La Mancha, in the epic song, The Impossible Dream. The song writer there described the quest this way and I find the emotions of this song express much about the work of Jesus:


To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go.

To right the unrightable wrong,
To love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star.

This is my quest,
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far.

To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause.

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will be peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage.
To fight the unbeatable foe.
To reach the unreachable star.


Isaiah’s vision, his dream-like revelation of the Messiah being scared, scorned, entering the grave, fighting against death, and returning was not just a happy ending to a story, it was quite frankly an impossible ending.  People do not overcome death.  Yet Jesus took on that fight with that unbeatable foe of death.  Jesus bore the unbearable sorrows of sin and ran in the direction of death, a place where even the brave do not even go.  Jesus did so to right the unrightable wrongs without question or pause.  He was willing to march into hell, into Sheol itself, to this heavenly cause.  And the world isl be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable, to die and overcome death.

 We do not know what happened on the Sabbath following Jesus’ death.  But we are certain what happened when the Sabbath had ended.  Jesus rose from the dead and was restored to life.  The resurrection of Jesus altered our understanding of God and life itself.  The resurrection of Jesus ended all questions about what happens when we die in the body. Jesus’ resurrection means we have life in him, and therefore, those who die in Christ, should have no fear of death. To have life in Jesus means they, and we, have continuous life in God.  We are not separated from others, we are not separated from God, and we are not confined to some place of nothingness or to a place of fiery torment.

The resurrection of Jesus transformed the lives of his disciples.  The disciples had been in grief, devastated by the loss of their friend Jesus.  Seeing and knowing Jesus lived changed the disciples by giving them unquenchable joy. While we will still grieve when our loved one’s die, it is our loved ones who celebrate the inexpressible joy of knowing that they have full and abundant life. 

This will be the same for us.  We will in this life experience devastating grief when those we love die.  There is no shame or loss of faith in grieving the death of a loved one.  We will feel aloneness and despair.  We cannot help but experience grief.  But that grief, as awful as it is, is also a terrible and wonderful preparation for unquenchable joy.  On the day we come to be joined with Jesus through our own death we will also be reunited with those who we love who died before us.  The joy we will experience in that moment that breaks the backs of our words and our lived experiences.  This joy we will experience will overwhelm us and I believe will never leave us.  This joy comes because one man, scorned and covered with scars who strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable, fought the unbeatable foe and won.  Jesus’ resurrection is the winning victory over death.  Jesus was undefeated by death.  Our loved ones in Christ who have died are undefeated by death.  And we who are in Christ will be undefeated in death.  This is the happy ending to the story.  This is the triumphal victory parade for which the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!” Amen and Amen.

03-05 Undefeated - Trials

          We know that the word “trial” most often refers to the formal examination of evidence presented before a judge and jury to determine the guilt or innocence on an accused person. When I was growing up, everyone loved to watch the television show, Perry Mason, a criminal defense attorney. Perry Mason starred Raymond Burr, with supporting characters Della Street, and Paul Drake squaring off against the district attorney Hamilton Burger.  It seems as though in every episode Perry Mason would come through with some surprise evidence right at the end of the hour that would not show his client’s innocence by leading to a confession by the real culprit.  Recently, the news was flooded with a trial in South Carolina of a prominent attorney who was accused of killing his wife and son.  That trial lasted six weeks with testimony from the accused occurring for many hours over four long days.  In the end, the accused was judged guilty after about one hour of deliberations began.  There was no surprise Perry Mason ending to in that case.

          Today, in our Old Testament reading from the Book of Isaiah and from our New Testament reading from the Gospel of John, we heard about trials and verdicts.  What was remarkable about these trials and verdict was not so much what was said as much as how little was said.  There can be a great deal to be learned in what is not being said.

          In the gospels there are two examples of people place on trial.  In both cases, the trials were a matter of life and death.  In one case, a woman under trial was set free.  In the other case, the man under trial was executed. Let’s look quickly at the trial of the woman.  We can find that trial in the Gospel of John, Chapter 8.

          “2 At dawn he [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he [Jesus] sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’” (John 8:2-5).

Suddenly, a place and a time for prayer, worship, quiet reflection, and study of God’s Word had been overtaken and changed into a rancorous criminal courtroom for a death penalty case.  A woman was on trial for her life, accused of adultery, meaning either this woman was married and found to be in a sexual relation with another man or she was single and found to be involved in a sexual relationship with a married man.

The woman stood accused in front of this gathering in the temple.  Though accused she said nothing nor was she invited to speak.  Instead, she was silent before her accusers.  The group bringing charges against her were not interested in what she had to say.  John said, her accusers “6a Were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him [Jesus] (John 8:6a).”

In the silence, “6bJesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. [Jesus said nothing.] 7 When they kept on questioning him, straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 Again he [Jesus] stooped down and wrote on the ground.  9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there” (John 8:6b-9).

The accusers were rancorous and peppered Jesus with questions.  Jesus said nothing.  Instead, with his hands free, Jesus wrote on the ground.  Then when Jesus was ready, he spoke only a few words.  The silence, the writing on the ground, and Jesus’ few words convicted not the accused but convicted the accusers.  Innocent silence in the face of injustice can be very convicting.  One writer put it this way, “Innocence accuses its accuser.”  We understand there is much power in innocence.

We heard about the power of innocence and silence earlier today when we read Isaiah’s prophetic words from Chapter 53 of the book bearing his name.  Isaiah was speaking about the coming anointed one of God who would set right the things of an unrighteous world.  Isaiah foresaw that God’s anointed, “7 Was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  Isaiah was revealing that under God there is a relationship between silence and innocence and that God’s anointed would show that relationship while under oppression and affliction, while being subjected to injustice.  The relationship of silence and innocence would help people to understand who the Messiah was and would help people understand the significance of that Messiah.

Isaiah foresaw the Messiah would be placed under trial or should we say trials.  We see these trials unfold in the life of Jesus.  First, the religious leaders who arrested Jesus secretly in the Garden of Gethsemane put Jesus on trial.  In the darkness of night, the religious leaders called witnesses to accuse Jesus of all manner of things, but the witnesses could not keep their stories straight.  As the judge, jury, and witnesses argued among themselves, Jesus remained silent amid the lies hurled at him.  Then the Chief Priest intervened and asked questioned Jesus, “70b ‘Are you the Messiah?’ Jesus replied most briefly, ‘You say that I am.’ 71 Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips’” (Luke 22:70b-71). At this trial, Jesus never spoke in defense of false charges against him, but only spoke to acknowledge truth said about him, namely, that Jesus is the Messiah. 

The first trial was brief with the prisoner being found guilty and subject to death.  This sentence of death was a foregone outcome before the trial began because the religious leaders focused on only one thing, trying to make guilty he who was innocent. Why did they want to do such a thing? They did so because, innocence shines. Innocence illuminates everything near it.  It is the illumination of innocence that has power, real power.  Jesus showed innocence beaming at sin like light into the darkness.  At the first trial, those assembled wanted to put out the light of Jesus Christ.  The light of Christ had been shining brightly upon the religious leaders, too brightly, just as innocence shines upon the guilty.  They dearly wanted to put out the light.

          But the religious leaders were crafty and cunning.  They wanted others to do the work to dispense with Jesus.  And so, a second trial of Jesus second trial was needed.  Luke wrote, “Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.’  3 So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’  ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.”  Jesus was silent against all the false accusations made against him and spoke only to affirm the truth.  “4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man’” (Luke 23:1-4).  Much to the surprise of the religious leaders, Jesus second trial had ended with an acquittal; Jesus was innocent according to Pilate.  That should have ended the matter and resulted in Jesus’ release.

          “5 But they [the religious leaders] insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.’  6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he [Pilate] sent him [Jesus] to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:5b-7).  Pilate, perhaps wanting to get out of the middle of a Jewish matter, sent Jesus on to Herod.  And so, Jesus underwent a third trial.

          “8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he [Herod] had been wanting to see him [Jesus]. From what he [Herod] had heard about him [Jesus], he [Herod] hoped to see him [Jesus] perform a sign of some sort. 9 He [Herod] plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.”  In this trial there were only false accusations.  There was no true to affirm.  “10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him [Jesus]” (Luke 23:8-11).  The third trial of Jesus had been completed.  The verdict – Jesus was innocent.  That should have ended the matter and resulted in Jesus’ release.

          Instead of being released, Herod “Dressing him [Jesus] in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. (Luke 23:11b).

          Jesus was experiencing the trials of life and the injustice of the world.  He was falsely accused and he said nothing in his defense.  Jesus only spoke to affirm the truth.  Despite being found not guilty twice by the authorities of law and order, Jesus was no closer to being free than when he first began.  The world is like that.  Even when the right people make the right decisions, injustices still exist, and circumstances may not change.

          Luke tells us that after the third trial, “13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, 14 and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him” (Luke 23:13-16). 

Pilate reminded the religious leaders that Jesus was not guilty and that Pilate intended to release Jesus.  This is the story Luke’s readers would expect.  When we are judged innocent, we expect to be released.  “18 But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us! ‘19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ 22 For the third time he [Pilate] spoke to them [the religious leaders]: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore, I will have him punished and then release him’ (Luke 23:18-22). Again, the verdict had been issued in Pilate’s second trial of Jesus.  Jesus was not guilty and would be released.  The conflict in the story seemed resolved with innocence.

          “23 But with loud shouts they [the religious leaders] insistently demanded that he [Jesus] be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:23-25).  The surprising end of Jesus’ fourth trial had been revealed.  Pilate decided that a man named Barabbas, guilty of murder, would be set free as though he were innocent.  And an innocent man, Jesus, would be executed as though he were guilty.  And through it all Jesus remained silent except to affirm the truth about himself.

          The scene Isaiah foresaw had been played out.  Innocence had been silent, silent as light that shines into the darkness.  Light makes no sound and yet speaks powerfully. The Apostle John saw this scene this way, ““19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21).

          The religious leaders hated the innocence of Jesus.  They hated that Jesus’ innocence shined like a light.  They screamed down the sweeter truth; they condemn Jesus to death in order to put out the light.  They wanted dearly to put out the light.  The guilty person was set free, and, in his place, the innocent man was condemned to death.

          Even though the Scriptures and Jesus foretold what would happen, the conviction and sentencing Jesus to death was a disturbing ending to the story.  Why would a man guilty of death be set free as though he was innocent, and a man innocent of all crimes be put to death as though he was guilty? The story does not make sense, unless we realize that God is the author of the story.

          The arrest, trials, and conviction of Jesus explains God’s plan of salvation.  “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).  God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it.  Jesus who is sinless would take on the penalty of those guilty of sin.  And those same sinners would be cleansed of their sins and set free as though they had never sinned.  This is God’s way of telling the story of what he wants for us. 

God wants us to accept Jesus and that our record of sin be exchanged for his record of being sinless.  The wages of our sin would be upon Jesus even though he is innocent. This exchange may not seem fair, and it is not, toward Jesus.  But God’s desire was not to be fair but to be willing to love us and offer us grace despite our weakness and despite our failings. 

“6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).  This is the surprise ending of the story and the true triumph of Christ. 

Jesus taught us that as his followers we should not care and try to defend ourselves against all manner of malice and false accusations made about us.  If we follow Jesus, then we have his innocence.  If we follow Jesus, then we reflect his light.  If we follow Jesus, then we need to only be concerned with telling the truth.  Instead, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Everyone here will have trials in life.  A few may face or have faced formal prison over those trials.  Some trials involve the trials of life circumstances with pain and suffering. Those trials can lead us to informal prisons that hold our spirit, our sense of purpose, and our sense wellbeing. We must resist the temptation to speak against false accusations that we receive during these trials.  False accusations may come from others or even from us.  False accusations that suggest God does not care about us, or that these trials are happening because somehow our faith is defective are just that, false.  Instead, we should responding to these false accusations we should affirm the truth.

  • “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. 
  • And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. 
  • God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. 
  • Jesus came to help, to put the world right again.
  • Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted.


In our trials, we need to affirm the truth and be able to say to ourselves and others, “Because I have given my life to Jesus, I am innocent.  Because I have given my life to Jesus, I am loved.  Because I have given my life to Jesus, the light of Christ shines in me. We are and will be undefeated in the trials of life.  Amen and Amen.

02-26 - Undefeated- Skepticism

          It may not seem like it just yet, but we are rapidly approaching Easter.  Easter is April 9 this year.  And as Christian celebrations go, Easter Sunday is perhaps the most important of all days because all of Christianity hinges on the Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul put it this way to the church in Corinth.  “14 If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

          Everything about the Christian faith and the promises we hold dear depend upon the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday morning.  It might surprise us to learn that the early church never celebrated Easter Sunday. Why not?  Because to the early church every Sunday was resurrection Sunday. Every gathering was about the resurrection of Jesus because the resurrection, Jesus coming back to life from the dead, was viewed as the singular event that proved who Jesus was and what had promised of him and by Him in the Hebrew Scriptures.

          The Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, were essential to the early church and remain essential to us in understanding the significance of Jesus and the events of Easter Sunday.  Through the Old Testament, the people had been prepared, or should have been prepared, to recognize Jesus when He came to earth.  Of the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, through the book bearing his name, written 700 years before the birth of Jesus is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other prophet.  Chapter 53 of Isaiah, in particular, foresaw the Jesus’ story and spoke poetically of it. Why does it matter that the Old Testament would contain the prophecy of what was to come?  It is this: One of the greatest proofs of the divine inspiration of the Bible is prophecy. How could anybody know the future? Nobody knows the future. The devil does not know the future. Angels do not know the future. You and I do not know the future. But God knows the future – perfectly.  One of the greatest proofs of Jesus is the Old Testament.  If the people did not know from the Old Testament who to expect as Messiah, how would they, how would we, know the New Testament is truth as well? We can be sure of our Christian beliefs in large measure because of what we learn through the Old Testament.

Isaiah 53 is a story in which the suffering servant comes and wins despite seemingly impossible odds.  Although ancient Jewish writers saw this chapter as being about the promised Messiah, modern Jewish writers are less inclined to see it that way.  Christians see Isaiah 53 as a story of Jesus.  It is a story in which Jesus wins against skepticism, spiritual blindness, dysfunctional relationships, temptation and sin, and ultimately the grave.  Jesus was undefeated against all opponents including death.  Jesus being undefeated, especially against death, is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday.  But we do not celebrate Jesus’ victories so much for Him, as we celebrate the victories for ourselves.  I would like to make use of the Isaiah 53 as a guide to lead us on toward Easter Sunday morning as we rediscover who Jesus was, is, and what had been promised of him and by Him, and that in all things we share in Jesus’ undefeated record.

          Let’s begin with the opening words to Isaiah’s story of the person of history we call by many names to include Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 21:11), the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), and the resurrection and the Life (John 11:25).  Isaiah wrote, “1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  Isaiah begins the story of the coming Messiah with a question that wonders aloud as to who has been paying attention?  Who has been paying attention to words offered in so many ancient sermons and so many ancient prayers that God would send someone to deliver the people of Israel from the bonds of sin, doubt, and of defeat at the hands of its enemies? One would expect that answer to this question would be that the nation of Israel had been paying attention and was attentive to the Messiah’s coming.  All of Israel had heard those messages and sermons that God would send to them their Messiah.

          To whom had the arm of the Lord been revealed?  Here the arm of the Lord means the paradox of the strength of God’s power and the gentleness of His touch.  One would expect that answer to this question would be the nation of Israel was looking for these signs of God working among them.  They had seen acts of God in the past and read about them from Genesis and Exodus.  They were looking for more.

          But Isaiah’s words were words of prophecy, meaning a foreseeing of the future.  In and of that future was Jesus.  And so, we must see Isaiah’s questions in light of Jesus. “1 Who has believed our message [of Jesus] and to whom has the arm of the Lord [Jesus’ mighty works] been revealed?”  We read earlier from the opening of the Apostle’ John’s Gospel, “11 He [Jesus] came to that which was his own [the nation of Israel], but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).  John witnessed Jesus give the message of hope and life among the Jewish people and their leaders.  John witnessed Jesus perform a great many miracles.  But the people did not believe Jesus was their Messiah.  And in many ways, Jesus was not their Messiah.  He was God’s Messiah.  John observed that, “37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37-38).  Isaiah foresaw and Jesus experienced that neither Jesus’ message nor his works were accepted by the Jews.  But Jesus was not defeated by the lack of response and skepticism. 

          Jesus pressed on and when it was evident to Jesus that his death was only hours away, Jesus told his own disciples “11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me [that is the message]; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves [the evidence of the arm of the Lord] (John 14:11).  Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be overcome by the skepticism of the world and the Jews, but to hang onto the message of hope and the signs of wonder from God’s own Messiah Jesus.

          Why did the Jews reject Jesus despite the evidence of God’s presence revealed in Christ? I have today referred to it as skepticism.  Now skepticism, having a questioning attitude and wanting to know why is not inherently bad unless we honor our own skepticism and allow ourselves not to learn. That type of skepticism that resists learning is outright disbelief, suspicion, distrust, and cynicism.  That is the type of skepticism the Jews expressed toward Jesus.  They did not learn the message of Christ, they did not learn from the miracles of Christ, because they did not allow themselves to feel.  One Christian author put it this way, “I learned because I felt it.” We need to let that thought sink in for a moment.  “I learned because I felt it.”

          It is not enough that we learn the facts or see an event, to believe a profound spiritual truth, we must foremost feel it.  We cannot learn Jesus as though he was a subject of study as in mathematics as much as we must open ourselves up to feel the wonder of God evident in the teaching and actions of Jesus.  Learning on that level comes from experience.  When I think of high points in my learning of Jesus, everyone of them was in context to a profoundly emotional moment in which I had allowed myself to feel.  But that the experience of feeling the presence of God can be blocked by unreasonable skepticism, cynicism, suspicion, envy, and prejudice.

Isaiah foresaw such self-defeating behaviors towards Jesus by the Jews.  Isaiah wrote, “2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).  Isaiah foresaw that the Messiah would come in an inconspicuous manner, much like a tender shoot out of a dry ground.  He would be someone easily missed.  In fact, the Israelites believed that God’s Messiah would be born in Bethlehem but that the appearance as the Messiah would be hidden by God and then brought out of concealment with a suddenness.  He would be at first easily overlooked and then suddenly appear.

After Jesus’ birth, a few shepherds took notice of him at the direction of angels and two people at the temple took notice of Jesus upon his dedication.  Otherwise, Jesus was virtually unknown to anyone but his family until Jesus reached the age 30, the age that men were considered old enough to have rabbinical status.  Suddenly, Jesus was on the scene.  He moved rapidly throughout Israel from along the River Jordan, to Cana, to Galilee, Jerusalem, Jericho, Samaria, and many other locales.  But of Jesus’ appearance, Isaiah said, “3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus did not fit the picture of the Messiah and so people hide their faces from him and shunned him. One time, Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth. There, in the synagogue, Jesus preached these words from Isaiah, Chapter 61: “’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:19-21).  The people asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  Then within a few minutes, 29 They [The townspeople] got up, drove him [Jesus] out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff” (Luke 4:29).  The skepticism of the people had blown up and now they despised Jesus wanting him dead. 

There would be at least seven other times in which the skepticism of the people or the religious leaders toward Jesus swelled so much that they sought to kill Jesus because he did not fit the image of who they wanted.  They despised Jesus.  They rejected him and his message.  People turned their backs on him and hid their faces from him.  They plotted against Jesus in secret.  They looked for the right opportunity to seize him and were overjoyed when one of Jesus’ own disciples offered to betray him.  Isaiah saw this coming and made clear to those who were attentive that the Messiah would be among those who are rejected, scorned, and ridiculed.

Despite the repeated rejections and scorn, Jesus never once waivered from being with those who suffered and those who were in pain. Jesus healed and gave comfort.  He forgave sin and set those in bondage to sin free.  Yes, Jesus would become well acquainted with his own suffering and pain but not before he first entered the suffering and pain of others.

Jesus healed the blind who all had thought were blind because of sin by them or the blind person’s parents.  Jesus healed them and removed the social rejection that they had endured.  Jesus healed the lepers and removed the rejection and the pain it caused upon the person so made ill.  Those who were healed and those who opened their hearts to Jesus learned that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, because they felt it.  They learned because they felt it. 

Let’s think of it this way.  A person can play musical notes as prescribed to them on a sheet of music.  People can be trained to play an instrument.  But a person trained to play an instrument is not a musician, and does not make music, unless that person also feels the music.  A musician feels the music and becomes united with the notes and the instrument they are playing.  Many people heard Jesus’ words and saw Jesus’ miracles and took them is as merely notes on a sheet of music.  Many were indifferent to Jesus and others esteemed him not because they never felt the power, the rhythm, meaning of Jesus.  It was only a few men and women who truly learned who Jesus was because they allowed themselves to feel who he was.

Jesus’ Apostle Peter felt the sensation of Jesus early in his time with Jesus.  One time, Jesus got into Peter’s boat and told Peter to move into deeper waters and cast out his net.  Peter was tired and reluctant to cast the net.  In a word, Peter was skeptical about doing what Jesus asked.  Peter had reason to feel this way.  Peter had been defeated because he and his partners had worked all night and had caught absolutely no fish.  Nevertheless, Peter did as Jesus asked.  Within moments, Peter’s net was full of fish, so many that the nets were at their breaking point.  Peter summoned his partners to come and help.  Together they brought the fish into their boats.  They had so many fish that the boats nearly sank.  Luke wrote, “When Simon Peter saw it [the boatload of fish], he [Peter] fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me for I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8).  Peter felt it.  Peter felt what it is was like to know Jesus and be in the presence of holiness.  And Peter felt what it was like to go from defeated to being undefeated.  Peter was not sure what to do with his sensations except to acknowledge Jesus as holy and that he himself as not.

Here is some good news.  Jesus did not depart from Peter as had been asked of him.  Instead, Jesus said to Peter come and be with me always. Come and instead of being a simple fisherman, come a be a fisher of men.  Peter did as Jesus asked and joined Jesus for the rest of his life on earth and for all eternity.  Peter learned more about this man, this Son of God, Jesus, as Peter continually allowed himself to feel the presence of Christ.  In the time Peter spent with Jesus, Peter came to see and experience that the prophesy of Isaiah.  And Peter came to see and experience that ultimately Jesus was undefeated by skepticism that became outright disbelief, suspicion, distrust, cynicism, being despised, and ultimately rejected.  Though many would hide their faces from Jesus and despise him, Jesus was never defeated.  Peter also bore witness to the ultimate act of being undefeated in that he saw Jesus risen from the dead.

Everyone here today has at some time in their life, to include perhaps at this moment, has received from others skepticism of your abilities, suspicion of your motives, distrust of your gifts, cynicism about your integrity, to include perhaps even being despised, and rejected. This is what Christ felt as well. We may also have felt at times in our life defeat like Peter.  “What is the point?  What is the purpose in casting the net one more time?  I know it will only come back to me empty.”  But.  Isaiah pointed out to us that God would send you and me an anointed Messiah, a savior, who himself would be despised and rejected, a man familiar with our suffering and pain.  But he would be a man who was undefeated.  And he would be a man who would invite you and me to join with him and God, into the presence of divine life and divine love.  This man of suffering and pain would invite each of us into a life and love with new brothers and sisters, the church, who would love and not despise, who would carry one another’s burdens and not reject. This man, Jesus, who would be undefeated is calling you and me to be undefeated with him, to learn from him by feeling the love he has for us.  This is the man and the invitation Isaiah saw.  This is the man and the invitation Peter received upon his knees in a boat full of fish.  This is the man and the invitation you and I have received this day.  Let’s not be overcome but let us be undefeated in Christ. Amen and Amen.

02-19 - Spiritual Parachute - Encourager

          This week I would like to finish our look at the question, “Who Is Packing Your Parachute?”  Last week we spoke about this question of parachute packing through the lens of God’s love shown to us and for us in the person of Jesus.  We saw that God’s love was the very atmosphere that gives rise to life now and for all times.  We also saw that our response to God’s love for us was that we should love one another. This week, I would like us to go the next step and understand how we can love one another in a practical sense. How do we pack each other’s parachute?

          I was thinking about this subject of parachute packing the other day and I began recalling some activities of my childhood.  I was a child of the 1960’s and early 1970’s when space exploration and sending a man to the moon was very much a national interest.  Because of that, all the kids in my neighborhood got into model rocketry. We would purchase these kits in which you had to assemble your rocket, install solid fuel rocket engines, ignite the engines, and  launch the rockets skyward.  I must also admit that some of those rockets went more horizontal than vertical when a wing or two fell off after launch.  Some of the simpler rockets had a single engine.  Other more complicated rockets had a couple of stages with engines for each stage.  The more complex rockets had a payload bay where you could launch an item skyward with your rocket.  We learned quickly that earthworms do not do well with the G-forces of the rocket engine. The more complex rockets also required parachutes to deploy and safely guide your rocket back to earth to be used again.  You needed to pack that parachute correctly with talcum powder so that the parachute would open, and you had to ensure that the strings connecting the chute to the rocket were not tangled.  I remember how the older kids willingly helped the younger to get the parachutes properly packed. 

In this context, the older kids were encouragers of the younger kids.  The older kids were encouragers in three important way.  First, the older kids were not indifferent to the struggles of the younger kids.  Second, the older kids wanted the younger kids to learn what they had learned themselves. Third, the older kids shared in the joy when the rockets, including the parachutes, of the younger kids worked well. 

I thought looking back on these days, that if kids playing with rockets could be encouragers of one another, how much more valuable would it be if we each became encouragers of one another in the great matters of faith. I think to be an encourager should be our focus today in packing the spiritual parachutes of another.

Let’s look at that thought about encouragement from our Scripture reading today.  We read earlier from Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica.  That letter we call 1 Thessalonians.  Scholars believe that in the entirety of the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of the Christian writings and was probably written around AD 50. 

Our passage today began with Paul expressing that believers are different from the world.  Paul described believers as being awake and living in the light and describe nonbelievers as being asleep and living in darkness.  Paul said, “5 You (Believers in Thessalonica) are all children of the light and children of the day. We (Believers) do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-7). Paul was dividing the world into just two types of people: believers and nonbelievers.  Believers are people who live in the light of day and are awake to the realities of this world and the next world.  Believers are sober.  Believers have a serious mind and convictions.  Believers are different from the rest of the world, the nonbelievers, who have not accepted the light offered by God.  Nonbelievers, Paul said act as though they are asleep, seemingly unaware of all that is going on around them.  That differentiation between believers and nonbelievers as light and darkness is an often repeated theme in Scripture. 

Paul continued, “8 But since we (believers) belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He (Jesus) died for us (believers) so that, whether we are [physically] awake or asleep, we may live together with him [Jesus]” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10).  Paul said to the believer, put on faith and love as a breastplate and salvation as though it was a helmet.  Paul was calling for believers to see faith, love, and salvation as spiritual armor, that they had received from God that would keep them safe and alive in Christ.  With such armor there was nothing to fear.  Everything vital had been covered and protected.

Because Jesus covers us, Paul said we should, “11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11a).  What does it mean to encourage and build up someone else?  If Jesus has covered the essentials, why do believers need encouragement?  Let’s dispense with the latter question first.  Why do believers need encouragement and being built up in the faith? It is simple.  The world is hostile toward believers and believers still experience all the trials of living in this world.  We still get ill.  We still have loved ones who die.  We still have disappointments.  We are still subject to abuse and neglect.  We still need encouragement.

In the New Testament, the call to encourage believers is made no fewer than 38 times.  In the first letter of the Christian Church, 1 Thessalonians Paul said, 

  • We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith (3:2)
  • Encourage one another with words of faith (4:18)
  • Encourage the disheartened (5:14)

Borrowing from my story of childhood rocketry, the older kids helped the younger because they were not indifferent to the struggles of the younger. The same is true when we encouragement is offered to another.  To offer encouragement is the truest sign that we are not indifferent to the struggles of another.  To offer encouragement means that you are willing to discharge today’s societal response of “whatever” and instead to step into another person’s life, not to take it over, but to help them lift themselves up.

          In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 4, we hear the wisdom, “9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (4:9).  Having people come into our life to encourage us with a hand up, an encouraging word, time together to complete a task, are all sources of encouragement and says to the receiver, “You matter.”

          The writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews, some believe it was Paul, said, “24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  I am not sure if we fully appreciate the significance of church attendance to the encouragement of one another.  To attend church is a way of us saying we are not indifferent.  We are not indifferent to our relationship with God, and we are not indifferent to our relationship with one another.  Without fail, someone after the Easter Sunday or Christmas Eve service will say to me, “Wasn’t wonderful to see so many people in church today?  Wouldn’t it be nice if it was like that every Sunday?”  What these folks have come to realize is that greater church attendance on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve leads to a feeling of greater encouragement.  Attendance at church matters because people are encouraged in their own relationship with God, and they know brothers and sisters are not indifferent to their struggles.

Paul said we should, “11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11a). 

Drawing again from my childhood rocketry example, the older kids helped the younger learn what they did not know on their own.  We see the same charge on us in Scripture.  Again, the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians said, “11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity i the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).  Paul’s point was the entirety of church has been equipped to continually bring people along in their faith so that each one of us learns and experiences what we had not known about God.  And by know, I don’t mean to say that we have more head knowledge alone but that what we discover what effects our heart and soul.  That in knowing God we can be a peace with God, ourselves, and with others.

          The Apostle Peter said that such peace and knowledge of God becomes evident to others who we meet and with whom we work.  People will ask about the spirit we present.  Peter said because this is so, “15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

          We are each called to encourage one another in the development of our faith so that we can be built up in the maturity of our faith.  Paul said that when we encourage one another in this manner, “14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:14-16). We should share what we know and what we have experienced in Bible studies.  We should share Christian music that has meaning to us.  We should share to encourage one another thoughts and reflections from devotionals, Christian movies, Christian plays, spiritual retreats, worship services, and the list goes on.  When we do such things, we are packing the spiritual parachute of another.

          This brings us to our final point.  When we become an encourager, we can rejoice together. While Paul encouraged us toward being of a sober mind, that is serious about matters of faith, Paul also encouraged us to rejoice together.  Paul understood that there was a relationship between encouragement and rejoicing.  The older kids understood that principle in helping the younger kids with rocketry.  We know the truth between encouragement and rejoicing.  Consider two simple examples.  In your job, your boss says, “We really like the work you are doing and so we are giving you a promotion.”  What do we do in response?  We might say to our friends, “Hey, let’s go celebrate, I got a promotion.” We get it.  Encouragement leads to joy.  Consider the alternative scenario.  In your job, your boss says, “We really do not like the work you are doing and so we are going to demote you.”  How many of us then say to our friends, “Hey, let’s go celebrate. I got a demotion!”  We do not say such things because we know that encouragement is directly linked to rejoicing.

Thirty-one (31) times in the New Testament, we are encouraged to rejoice.  Fifteen (15) of those times come from Paul.  Paul said, 

  • Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
  • Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

From the very first Christian letter, 1 Thessalonians, Paul also said, “14bEncourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As we saw that church attendance is directly related to a sense of encouragement, we also see that encouragement in our faith is directly related to our capacity and desire to rejoice.

          Encouragement from and to one another packs our respective spiritual parachutes. Let us be encouragers and not be indifferent to each other’s struggles.  When we meet a disagreeable person, what have we been taught?  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  This advice came from Thumper in the Bambi movie.  How about we do something more Biblical.  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, offer a word or two of encouragement.”  A word or two of encourage says, even to a grumpy person, “I am not indifferent to your struggles.”

Let us be encouragers and build each other up in the faith.  We all have something to offer one another.  Let us be encouragers and together rejoice in what the Lord is doing among us and through us.  It is a marvelous thing.  Let us pack each other’s spiritual parachutes.  Encourage and rejoice!  Amen and Amen.

02-12 - Spiritual Parachute

          Last week, I started the message with a question, “Who is packing your parachute?”  The question came about from the Charlie Plumb, a former prisoner of war, held nearly 6 years, in North Vietnam.  Charlie asked this question after he encountered the man who packed his parachute allowing Charlie to glide safely to the earth after his fighter jet was shot down in Vietnam.  We explored last week that while Charlie had a physical parachute, we all have a spiritual parachute.  In that spiritual parachute that we find our salvation from God, a gift given to us through the completed work of Jesus upon the cross.  We also find in that parachute joy experienced when we use the power of the Holy Spirit within us in the ministry of grace and sharing the good news of Jesus with others.  Today, I would like us to explore a bit more about the packing and the sustainment of our spiritual parachute.

          Now some of you may have parachuted in the past.  I was asked whether I had ever gone parachuting.  I said that I had not.  When asked, “Why haven’t you tried parachuting?  Are you afraid to parachuting?”  I replied, “I am not afraid.  It is just that I have a personal policy against jumping out of perfectly good airplanes!”  Now suppose none of had such a policy about jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and we all decided to jump out of that perfectly good airplane with our parachute. Once we jumped clear of that airplane, we would immediately experience the effects of gravity.  We would begin accelerating in speed downward toward the ground.  We would continue our rapid descent until we pulled the ripcord on the parachute.  Once we pulled that ripcord, the material of the parachute would begin to unfold and very quickly fill with air causing an immediate change in our rapid descent. The resistance of the air underneath our now opened parachute would work against the force of gravity that had been pulling us ever downward.  The lift offered by the resisting force of the air would allow us to have a controlled and safe landing.  The scenario of a graceful and peaceful landing against the forces of gravity exists if we have a properly packed parachute and a supporting atmosphere. Parachutes work on earth where there is an atmosphere.  Parachutes do not work where there is no atmosphere.  Parachutists are lift up if and only if they are surround in an atmosphere capable of resisting the forces of gravity.  NASA does not use parachutes on the moon where there is no atmosphere. On the moon, you would only crash.

          The science of parachuting tells us something about our spiritual life.  The first thing we understand from our discussion of physical science about our spiritual life is that we live in a world forces.  In our spiritual life there are spiritual forces working on us that work much like gravity upon a parachutist.  Those worldly spiritual forces like their physical counterparts are always pulling us in a downward direction.  There are spiritual forces that bring us down with discouragement and some that bring us down with lies and deceptions.  We are pulled downward by guilt, regret, and shame.  We accelerate downward even faster by belief systems that make us feel like a failure.  The experience of loneliness and a sense of indifference as to whether we are alive or not causes us to feel as though we have just impacted upon the earth itself.  The forces pulling us downward are as relentless and unconcerned as gravity is upon any object.  None of these forces can be resisted in our own strength.  When these forces grab hold of us, it is as though we parachuted in a vacuum.  We tend for simplicity to sum up all these worldly spiritual forces as the work of Satan. Our understanding of the science of parachuting tells us that left unchecked the result of these worldly spiritual forces is nothing but a downward spiral and an inevitable painful, life ending impact.

          But!  There is always a but!  But our understanding of the science of parachuting also tells us that the downward and inevitable spiral of the forces pulling downward can be overcome if there is an atmosphere.  What then is the spiritual atmosphere that overcomes the relentless and uncaring forces of the world?  In a word, the spiritual atmosphere we must possess is love.  Love is the overcoming spiritual force, the very atmosphere. that gives life to us all.  Love is a force that lifts us up.  It packs our parachute and keeps us aloft.  Love is a force that resist the forces those forces that would otherwise cause us to fall downward to a certain impact.  Love is the very atmosphere we require and it is something we cannot provide for ourselves.

          As we think more deeply about the atmosphere of love, we come also to see that love is not a thing at all.  Love is a living being.  John, the writer of our New Testament letter today said it succinctly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b; 1 John 4:16a).  God, a living being, expressed by John as the very virtue of love is the atmosphere we require and is capable of resisting for us all worldly forces.  Like our earthly atmosphere that we had no part in creating, we did not create God.  God was and is and He provides the atmosphere in which we can live.

          John explained it this way, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).  We have heard these words often, “God is love.”  What we need to keep in mind though is that John was speaking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit not to the world at large.  John was speaking to people he called his friends, meaning people who had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  John was preaching to the choir, as well as the organist if you will, and the congregation.  John was not on the street corner talking to any just anyone passing by.

          John said, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7a).  The capacity, willingness, and stamina to love, in the way John was speaking about, is not something anyone possesses through mortal birth, through study, or through practice.  Love, the type of love John is talking about, comes from only one source, God.  John said, “Everyone who loves [in this manner] has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7b).  To love in the manner John means here requires a second birth. John was speaking here that those who love in the manner of God are “13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).

          John was making the point that those born into this world may express a kind of love, a love of this world, its ways, and the things of this world.  Worldly love is not a force able to resist the downward and dark forces of the world.  Worldly love is not capable of creating an atmosphere necessary for life.  It is only when we are reborn of God that we come to understand and appropriate a fit portion of the love that transforms, love that resists evil, and love that gives lift to self and others.

          John said of this love that overcomes the forces of the world that it is available from God and that love was shown to us.  “9 This is how God showed his love among us: He [God] sent his one and only Son [Jesus] into the world that we [you and I] might live through him [Jesus]. 10 This is love: not that we [you and I] loved God, but that he [God] loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).  God showed us what love is by sending his Son, Jesus, to take away, yes to pay dearly for our sins, so that we would be forever freed from the downward worldly spiritual forces work relentlessly to consume us.  God showed us Jesus and Jesus upon the cross as an expression of the depth, breadth, width, and height of love, God’s very nature.  In these verses, John was not encouraging Christians towards love, John was defining love for them.  John said, “This is love,” Christ and Christ upon the cross, “This is love,” and not anything else we might have before thought was love. God did not express himself as love this way in response to some sort of expression of our love towards him first. Jesus was not a reward or love expressed in exchange for something we did or did not do.  God is love and He choose to display that love through Jesus without a motive of benefit to God, himself.  God did not love us because he needed our love in return.  Instead, God knew without his love we are all destined to spiral downward for an inevitable painful, life ending impact.  And God does not want that for any of us.  The only salvation, the only way for us to overcome that downward spiral, is if God fights the fight against those forces for us. We see that God accomplished this fight through Jesus Christ who is the very atmosphere of love.

          We need a moment to take all that John said in just a couple of verses.  No Jesus, no atmosphere, no love, no help.  There are just the downward pulling forces of the world.  It would be as though we jumped into a vacuum and are heading downward with no hope.  It is a bleak existence with a predictable end.  But!  There is always the but!  But we are saved and sustained through the love God showed us in Jesus Christ.  God is overcoming the downward forces of the world and has given us hope because God loved us.

          Now, what are we to do in response to receiving God’s love?  What is the appropriate way to reciprocate and show God and God’s love has become part of our life, that we now live in the very atmosphere of love?  Well, we might think, we should love God.  That is true and we can and should do just that. But John said there was a way we must respond.  It is a way that shows we treasure the atmosphere in which we live and shows to others who do not know God, that there is one powerful force able to overcome the worldly spiritual forces pulling them downward.

          John said, “11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us [if we love one another]: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete” (1 John 4:11-17a).  John was pointing out to us that if we want to know and we want show that God loves us, then we must love one another.

          Before Jesus was arrested and murdered.  Jesus told his disciple, “34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34).  The command of Jesus, explained further by Jesus’ disciple, John, makes it clear that those who are reborn of God must evidence that rebirth by living the very atmosphere of God, who is love.  This sort of love is not like worldly love.  This sort of love propels us to love another believer because within us is the image of God and we see in the other the very image of God.  The atmosphere between and among believers is to be one of love that overwhelms the forces of worldly darkness.

          What keeps us from loving like Jesus?  What is it that keeps us from being part of the atmosphere that lifts one another up?  It is how we see people.  Too often we see others through a lens of suspicion, doubt, fear, and anxiousness, all things that reflect the worldly forces of darkness instead of the heavenly forces of light.  Jesus said, “22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  (Matthew 6:22-23).  How do you see others?

          John said, “18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18a). Let us then not fear to love.  Let the image of God within us burn brightly bringing light to our life and allowing us to see correctly the image of God in another.  It is time we jumped into the atmosphere of God’s love and be lifted up by Him.  Amen and Amen.