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05-17 - Tychicus

        During the last few weeks, we have been spending time exploring the lives of early Christians.  It is our hope that in doing so we might better understand how their journey can enlighten us in our walk with Christ.  We have spoken about Barnabas, the son of encouragement and Mark, the comeback kid who was given a second chance at life in ministry.  Last week, we spoke about Lois and Eunice, women of sincere faith who led their grandson and son, Timothy, to faith and into the mission field. Today, I would like us to look at Tychicus.  Now, a quick show of hands, how many of you have heard about Tychicus?  I suspect few, if anyone, listening today has heard of Tychicus.  This is precisely why we should explore his life.  Tychicus’ lack of Christian celebrity means that of the characters of the New Testament, we are probably most like him.  The reality of our situation is that most of us while we engaged in our church, have no Christian celebrity.  That is, no one knows us or our story outside of church and yet we remain essential to the continuing story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In this regard, we and Tychicus have much in common.

            We learn about Tychicus only through the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches Paul had a hand in establishing.  In the letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him [Tychicus] to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts” (Colossians 4:6-8).

            The first thing we come to realize from Paul’s letter to the Colossian church is that ministry is not a one-person activity.  The Apostle Paul, for as influential as he was to the early church, did not work alone.  Paul had help and those fellow ministers circulated among the early churches. Paul’s letters and traveling ministers held the churches together as a network.  There were no denominations or dioceses or adjudicatory structures. There were just churches, small gatherings of people who believed in God, and who were mutually supportive of one another.  In this passage from Colossians, we see that Paul is working to strengthen that network by sending Tychicus to carry this letter to the church.  This network system kept the early Christian Church focused on cooperation, not self-reliance.  The churches focused on evangelism not competition.  The early churches focused not on praying that God would save the lost souls of the world but they, the church, would have new opportunities to witness for Jesus. 

This little passage from Colossians should cause us to ask ourselves some questions about our focus. Think about the church you currently attend.  Is that church the only church you ever attended or were you once part of another Christian fellowship?  Most people have been part of other churches.  We change churches because we move away or we leave because of a personal conflict, theological differences, music preferences, preaching styles, color of carpet in the sanctuary, and the list goes on.  Now, comes the hard question.  How many of us continue to pray for the churches we left?  How many of us continue to maintain the fellowship connections with the members of our former church as a means of keeping the network of churches alive and as an expression of the broad concern for the church of Jesus Christ?  Most Christians probably do not pray for their former church fellowships.  Paul’s letter, and the presence of Tychicus, is an example for us that we too ought to be engaged in supporting the network of churches.  We, therefore, see in Tychicus an example for us to follow in being part of the fiber that keeps the network of churches alive and vibrant.  Why is that important?  Paul identified that in our togetherness our “conversation[s] [would] be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  The Christian witness to the world is made powerful when churches are united in their display of grace first toward one another and then toward those who do not know Christ.  We all have much work to do in this regard.

The second thing we notice from this short passage is that the letter is carried by Tychicus.  Paul does not speak of Tychicus background, so it is reasonable to assume that some people in the Colossian church knew Tychicus or at least knew his name.  What do we know about Tychicus?  We encounter Tychicus in the Book of Acts.  In Chapter 20, Luke wrote, “Because some Jews had plotted against him [Paul] just as he [Paul] was about to sail for Syria, he [Paul] decided to go back through Macedonia. He [Paul] was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas” (Acts 20:3-5). Tychicus was from Asia and was part of the Paul’s missionary team going into Macedonia, modern day Greece. Tychicus had become a student of missionary work learning as a team member how to share the Gospel message across cultural lines.  Tychicus was a student of the Gospel and was engaged in the mission of the church. Tychicus reveals to us an important lesson for our faith journey.  First, we must be a continuous student of God Word.  We must be always seeking to improve our relationship with God and understanding of His Word.  And while we must be a continuous student it must be with a purpose of applying our knowledge and not as a perpetual student who simply learns for the sake of learning.  As Christians, we are not just become a greater container of the good news and comfort of Christ for ourselves, but we must also become a conduit of that grace to others.  American musician Johnny Cash put this thought to a song entitled, “No Earthly Good.” A portion of the lyrics go this way:

Come heed me, my brothers, come heed, one and all
Don't brag about standing or you'll surely fall
You're shining your light and shine it you should
But you're so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good

If you're holding heaven, then spread it around
There's hungry hands reaching up here from the ground
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded, you're no earthly good

The gospel ain't gospel until it is spread
But how can you share it where you've got your head
There's hands that reach out for a hand if you would
So heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good!


This is the sentiment that Paul was sharing again that we must be “always full of grace and seasoned with salt.”  We must be both heavenly minded [full of grace] and earthly good [seasoned with salt].

            Paul saw our friend Tychicus just that way. Look at how Paul described Tychicus. Paul said, “He [Tychicus] is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”  First, to Paul, Tychicus is a dear brother.  The Greek word for dear means that Paul and Tychicus had a mutually affectionate relationship.  They genuinely cared about each other’s wellbeing.  Paul then added the reason for this affection by calling Tychicus a brother, signifying that Paul and Tychicus each had been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ making them brothers.  They were not biologically brothers.  They were brothers because through the blood of Christ they had been adopted into the family of God.  The brotherhood in Christ gave rise to the depth and nature of their affection for one another.  Jesus set the standard for discipleship.  He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).  We cannot expect the world to love Jesus, if Christians cannot love one another.  Our friend Tychicus, showed his love to Paul and was recognized as a “dear brother” in Christ.  So, we need to ask ourselves, am I acting as a dear brother or dear sister to other Christians?  If not, why not?  If not, do I recognize that my behavior is outside the teaching of Christ and quenches the work of my church?

            There is an often-told story that speaks to the point of loving one another.  It seems there was a church seeking a new pastor.  The church invited a pastoral candidate to preach.  The candidate preached on the command to love one another. The congregation was stunned. Everyone thought the sermon was the most beautiful and compelling message they had ever heard.  The leadership of the church immediately offered the candidate the position as pastor.  The first Sunday the new pastor was to preach, the sanctuary was filled with congregants eager to hear this pastor deliver another wonderful message.  The pastor preached on the command to love one another giving word for word the message given as a candidate.  People thought, it was an excellent message the first time, and was still good the second time.  The next Sunday the pastor gave the message to an expectant congregation. It was word for word the same message to love one another.  The leadership of the church was in a panic believing that they had called a pastor who only had one sermon.  The leadership team met with the pastor during the week and said the message on loving one another was an excellent message the first time, good still the second, but it was concerning to hear it the third time in a row.  One member of the leadership team said, “You know pastor, there are other commands in the Bible you could preach on.”  The pastor said, “I know that there are other commands. And we will move onto to those commands, just as soon as we get this one right.”  Tychicus got it right.  He was a dear brother because he genuinely loved.  There is little point for a church to move forward if the command to love one another is not done rightly.

            The second thing we learn about Tychicus is that he was “a faithful minister.”  Tychicus was faithful toward completing his duties for the church.  He was someone people could depend upon.  If Tychicus said he would be there, he was there.  We Baptists have church covenants.  In one church I used to attend, the covenant said that we would be “just and punctual in all our dealing.”  This was an expression of being faithful toward one another in the activities of the church.  Tychicus was a faithful minister.  The Greek word Paul used for minister suggests that this person promoted the welfare and the interests of the church over any of his own personal ambitions.  Tychicus was an example for all members of a church. We each must lay aside personal ambitions for the greater cause of Christ.  James, in the New Testament book bearing his name, wrote, “For where you have envy and self-ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).  We probably all have been in churches where the interest of one or two people seems to govern the congregational activities.  The telltale sign of this sort of situation is when you hear people in the church say things like, “Well, what will ‘so and so’ think? Or ‘so and so’ is going to be upset if we do that.  Or what do we need to do to keep ‘so and so’ happy?”  In that church setting, the mission is not the gospel, the mission is keeping “so and so” from causing further disruption.  Tychicus was not a “so and so”.  He was a faithful minister who diligently worked to advance the good of the church without self-ambition.  We should do likewise.

            The third thing we learn about Tychicus is that he was “fellow servant in the Lord.”  The Greek word, σύνδουλος, sü'n-dü-los, Paul used here for fellow servant meant Tychicus was Paul’s colleague both having the reputation and posture of a servant of Jesus in sharing the gospel. It is largely in that posture that Paul said he sent Tychicus to the Colossian church to share news of Paul and to encourage the hearts of the people of the church.  Tychicus was there to be a fellow servant of the church. We would do well to learn from Tychicus and be available to support our sister churches, not by conforming them to our image, but by being fellow servants in Christ.

            The faith journey of our new friend Tychicus gives us insight into our own walk with Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Tychicus lived as a dear brother, willing and available to others as an expression of the love of Christ that was within him. Tychicus lived as a faithful minister, willing and available to do the work of the church.  He was humble to recognize the need to continually enrich his life with God’s Word and discerning enough to realize that he must also minister to others offering wisdom and comfort.  Tychicus lived as a fellow servant to the Lord accepting that he had a responsibility to share the gospel with those God placed in his path. Tychicus lived full of grace, seasoned with salt, knowing how to answer everyone.  We would be wise to see if we are living likewise.  Amen and Amen.

Lois & Eunice

As we are aware, today is Mother’s Day.  The observance of this day in the United States has its roots in the life of Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker.   In 1868, Jarvis organized mothers to begin the work of reconciliation in post-Civil War America.  Jarvis labored under the banner of Mother’s Friendship Day.  Jarvis' daughter, Anna Jarvis, continued the work of her mother.  Anna Jarvis dedicated her life to establishing Mother's Day to "honor mothers, living and dead."  Because of Anna Jarvis’ efforts, the first Mother's Day was observed on May 10, 1908, in a worship service at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.  In 1914, a joint resolution in the United States Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.  By 1919, commercialization of Mother’s Day became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become.  Though the original spirit of honoring the mothers remained the same, what began as a religious service, changed quickly into just one more commercial enterprise.

Too often, events and even beliefs of the church are molded into something else by the world.  This is in part why many of the Christian separatist groups such as the original Baptists and Pilgrims of the early 1600’s did not observe Easter or Christmas. Those groups feared such observances would become too commercialized.  I wonder if they were right?  We must exercise care to ensure worldly beliefs do not become the beliefs of the Christian Church. 

  The Apostle Paul understood the beliefs of the world could harm the beliefs of the church. Paul wrote that when we reach for the knowledge of the Son of God and become in nature like Jesus, “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” (Ephesians 4:14).  Therefore, we must use care in our churches on how we spend our time and on what becomes the focus of our energies.  In short, what we teach from the pulpit and in our Bible studies are critical because the word of God builds us up in knowledge and maturity; nothing else can do so. The understanding we acquire through the word then fashions our beliefs which should be evident in how we talk to each other and how we relate to people outside the church.  So days like Mother’s Day may be overly commercialized outside the church but it can serve as good opportunity for us to expand our awareness of God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit’s work through faithful mothers.  So today, I would like to look at motherhood from God’s perspective, and through some examples we have of mothers in the early church, in the hope that we would know better what God intends for us and the peace we can have as together we mature in Christ.

To begin with, we should reflect a moment on the maternal characteristics of God.  Though God is most often spoken of in the masculine sense, Scripture does speak to the maternal traits of God.  In Deuteronomy 32 verse 18, the Jews were reminded that they have left the presence of God.  The writer used language suggestive of God’s motherhood.  Scripture says, “You [The Jews] deserted the Rock, who bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”  In our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah said the Lord had not forgotten the Jewish people in their time of turmoil.  Isaiah wrote of God’s maternal presence when said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”  God is revealing himself through the language of a mother. From the New Testament, we have words from Jesus as he approached Jerusalem on his triumphal entry that, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”  Jesus was describing his maternal desires for Jerusalem using the imagery of a mother hen’s self-sacrificing posture to protect her off-spring.  This is a character of a mother acting with unconditional love.  From Scripture we see that God reveals himself through the language of maternal love. God honors women when He does so and in doing so, God tells us that women who nurture and love unconditionally honor God.  This is in part why God commands that we honor our mothers.

With God’s maternal nature in mind, we now can turn our attention to the nature of faithful mothers in our New Testament reading.  We read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to his disciple Timothy. In that letter, Paul spoke of two enormously influential mothers, Lois and Eunice.  There were other mothers who play significant roles in the New Testament. There was Mary, mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as well as the Phoenician mother who begged Jesus to heal her daughter.  Other women were mentioned in the New Testament who may have been mothers such as Anna, the woman of the Temple, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia.  The inclusion in the New Testament stories of women, in general, and mothers in particular, makes Christianity unique among religious beliefs because most other faith traditions largely ignore women in the propagation of the faith.  Moreover, Christianity strongly admonishes men who believe that they are new creations in Christ and must show a different behavior towards woman.  For example, Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  We may not realize today but Paul’s words would have sounded revolutionary to ancient ears.  Many society structures that Paul addressed treated women as property.  Women were domestic servants who oversaw the home, bore children, and lived as directed by their husband’s, their property owners. Women in some pagan religions were made to prostitute themselves in the religious temples.  Men were free to use property as they wished.  Paul walked into that scene and said, “If you follow Christ, love your wives with the same self-sacrificing love Jesus gave the church. Keep her pure, which you cannot do if you are impure in your behavior.  Love them like you love yourself.”  How revolutionary were Paul’s words then, and how transforming they still are when practiced today.

Yet among these women of the New Testament were two we want to look at: Lois and Eunice; grandmother and mother of Timothy.  Why do they matter?  What do we learn about the role of mothers through these women?  Our New Testament reading today records these words from Paul to Timothy, a young man, a believer, dedicated to sharing the gospel message; “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Paul speaks of faith as alive first in Lois, then in Eunice, and now in Timothy.  This faith was not passive and secretive.  This faith was alive, moving, breathing, and growing.

Lois, the grandmother, in this passage must have heard Paul the good news of the gospel.  She learned the good news that God sent Jesus with a new message of hope and salvation. That in carrying out that message, Jesus gave his life to atone for the sin we did, are doing, and will do.  Lois learned that through the work of Jesus, she could be reconciled with God and enter His kingdom.  To show that Jesus’ words were true, God raised Jesus from the dead and God placed Jesus at his right hand.  It is next to God that Jesus continues to intercede for those who love and follow Him.  Lois came to faith and was fully alive in her belief in Jesus. 

Paul’s words tell us that Lois made three important decisions. First, Lois in coming to the knowledge of the Son of God believed in Jesus as her Savior.  This was a life changing event for this grandmother.  She had accepted the Holy Spirit’s movement in her life to receive Jesus.  Lois was rare.  Studies consistently show that people over the age of 30 rarely submit themselves to a faith journey; perhaps as few as 4% of the population will make a faith decision once over 30 years of age.  Lois was a grandmother, meaning she was well over 30 years old and yet she was open enough to hear God speak to her and become alive in faith.

After accepting Jesus, Lois had a second decision to make.  Lois needed to decide if accepting Jesus as Savior would change her life in noticeable and meaningful ways.  Paul said he saw that Lois exhibited sincere and living faith.  The Book of James helps illuminate the idea of sincere faith.  James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).  Faith for it to be evident must be expressed by deeds, actions. Consider again a question often asked in a sermon.  “If Christianity became a crime, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you of that crime?”  Lois, a grandmother, expressed her faith in Jesus in ways that made her different from her past and different from her neighbors who had not accepted Jesus. Lois would be convicted of being a Christian.

Third, Lois decided to display God’s maternal character.  We know Lois was a mother of at least one child, a daughter named Eunice.  Lois decided to share the gospel with her daughter. Lois was present and part of her daughter rebirth by the Spirit.  We do not know how old Eunice was but she may have been around 30 years old.  Studies show that people between the age of 15 and 30 occasionally make a faith decision.  Those studies suggest that only 10% of the people in this age group will make a faith decision.  Paul told us that Eunice learned from her mother Lois.  Eunice heard the gospel and witnessed her mother living in accordance with God’s will.  We learn so much by watching.  If you are a person of sincere faith, I can assure you that someone is watching you. People want to know if our faith is genuine.  They look at our behavior and compare it to our words.  That might sound intimidating, but it is a good thing. Jesus said, “Be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  We are at our best as Jesus’ witness when people can see Jesus in us.  Lois’ was a witness to her daughter Eunice and that helped Eunice come to faith in Jesus.  If you follow Lois’ example, who is it that you are witnessing to?

In our reading today, Paul credited both Lois, the grandmother and Eunice, the mother of having a great influence on Timothy, a grandson and son.  Church tradition holds that Timothy was likely a teenager when he made a faith decision.  Studies show that 85% of all faith decisions are made between the age of 5 and 15.  You need to let that sink in for a moment.  About 85% of those people who will make a lifelong faith commitment will do so before their 16th birthday.  If they have not done so by then, it becomes less likely they ever will as each year passes.  By the time someone reaches age 30, it will be rare for someone to make a faith commitment.

Timothy, a boy of perhaps 15, saw in his grandmother and mother the progression and transformation in their lives brought about by the Holy Spirit.  Lois and Eunice nurtured faith within Timothy guiding him and protecting him much in the same way Jesus desired to do by collecting those of Jerusalem under his wing.  The impact of parent and grandparent behavior on the future beliefs of their children cannot be overstated.  Lois and Eunice understood that they had given physical life to Timothy and saw that they could help him receive spiritual life with God through Jesus. Lois and Eunice knew Timothy’s physical life would last but a short time while his spiritual life with God would be forever.  These mothers wanted their son to have the joy of life and encouraged Timothy in the faith.

Through Lois and Eunice, we have seen that motherhood is a powerful ministry.  Mothers bear the pain of childbirth so that life may be given.  Jesus bore the pain of the cross so that life may be abundant and eternal.  All women who accept Jesus are empowered by their faith to mother others into a second birth.  That type of motherhood expresses unconditional love.  That type of motherhood gives protection, believes in the truth, lives in faith, shares the Gospel, and leads those under its wings to eternal life.  That type of motherhood shows the maternal nature of God.  This Mother’s Day, may God bless all the mothers today for the living and sincere faith they show and have shared with us.  We would do well in honoring them by sharing the joy of a living faith with others.  Amen.

2020-05-03 - Mark

Jonah 1:1-3; 3:1-5, 10; 4:1-2

Acts 13:1-13; Acts 15:36-41

            The last two weeks we explored the life of Barnabas, one of the early Christian church leaders.  We found that Barnabas was a person of faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision.  His story in the New Testament challenges us to examine our degree of commitment to Christ, our actions to live out our commitment, our focus on being righteousness, and our submission to the teachings of Jesus and to the support of his church.  Barnabas had a powerful story that intersected with many early Christians from whom we might learn.  One of those individuals was known by three different names.  His name was John Mark, also known as John, and other times known as Mark.  I would like us to look at this man and see how his life story can impact our faith journey.

            John Mark, John, or Mark was known widely in the early church.  In the Book of Acts and in Paul’s letters to the churches, Mark is never introduced.  He is only spoken about suggesting everyone knew Mark.  As we will see, this young man was the nephew of Barnabas, he was a confidant of the Apostle Peter, and a fellow missionary with the Apostle Paul. John Mark, John, or Mark as a young boy may have met Jesus.  And this man is best known for being credited with leaving us his written legacy in the Gospel of Mark.  But I think Mark leaves us an even more important legacy.  If we look a little bit harder, I think we will find through Mark’s life a truth about God that we need to here.  Namely, God is the God of second chances.  We will see the expression of God as a God of second chances through Mark is not a new element of God’s character.  We saw second chances given in our Old Testament reading from the life of Jonah and the Ninevites.  Let us start by taking a quick look at our reading from the Book of Jonah.

            Jonah is a marvelous little book for the Bible and a favorite for storytellers because we have this account of Jonah being swallowed whole by a fish and living within for 3 days and nights.  While that is what the story tells us about Jonah, our interest today is to see what the story tells us about God. 

We start with Chapter 1, verse 1.  “1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’  [Nineveh was in modern day Iraq.]  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  [Tarshish was in the southern coast of Spain.  It was in the exact opposite direction to Nineveh.] He [Jonah] went down to Joppa, where he [Jonah] found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he [Jonah] went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3).  We learn something about God right away.  God is a God of purpose.  God, aware of the great wickedness of the people of Nineveh, sought to warn the people that he would not tolerate their sinfulness.  He called on Jonah, a Hebrew, to speak this warning to Jonah.  Upon hearing God’s command to preach against the people of Nineveh, Jonah was gripped with powerful emotions.  Jonah was fine preaching to the Hebrew people but not Nineveh, they were pagans.  Other Hebrews would see Jonah preaching to the Ninevites as a betrayal of them.  To preach to the Ninevites was dangerous.  Jonah feared the Ninevites because they were wicked people who could put Jonah to death. Jonah also feared the Ninevites might repent and God would save them.  Fear gripped Jonah and thinking impulsively, Jonah decided to run away from home and from God.  So, Jonah ran in the opposite direction from God’s purpose for his life, perhaps hoping that in a distant land he would no longer be troubled by his fears.  Jonah fled with a profound sense that he had failed God.

            Think about hearing those words, “You are a failure.”  Those words are a punch in the gut that can knock the wind out of you.  There is no love or compassion in those words; there is only judgment.  “You are a failure,” are words that depress us and immobilize us.  Those words are hurtful when said to us and even worse when we say those words to ourselves.  Have you ever failed at something?  I am sure you have.  It is painful.  To a believer in God, what could be worse than failing God?  To whom can you reach out to help you if it is God whom you have failed?

            In Chapter 1 of Jonah, we find that as Jonah was making his escape from God, a storm raged on the sea. Jonah told the crew that God caused the storm because God was angry at Jonah and to save themselves, they must through Jonah into the sea.  The crew threw Jonah overboard and Jonah was swallowed by a large fish.  In Chapter 2, Jonah, now inside the fish and stripped of everything in life, did the only thing he could do.  Jonah prayed to God.  Isn’t that so true of us as well?  For the most part, we do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how we want to do it.  Then when circumstances fall upon us and we can no longer exercise our freedom of choice, we pray to God to save us.  Jonah prayed for God’s salvation.  We read at the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3, “10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it [the fish] vomited Jonah onto dry land. 1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you’” (Jonah 2:10; 3:1-2).  God had given Jonah a second chance at life and renewed purpose.  This is a good physical representation of salvation.  Salvation is a second chance at life and a renewed sense of purpose.  Past failures no longer have hold over us.

            As we read further, we would find that Jonah obeyed God and preached to the Ninevites about their wickedness.  The Ninevites repented.  Chapter 3, verse 10 records God’s reaction, “10 When God saw what they [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he [God] relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10).  God granted the Ninevites a second chance.  But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:1-2).  Jonah knew God was a God of second chances and Jonah feared God would give one to the undeserving Ninevites.  I think Jonah’s reaction points out that personally we want second chances, for ourselves, but we are not always so desirous to see others, you know those undeserving people, receive a second chance.  We need to keep in mind that we are all someone else’s example of an undeserving person.  Thankfully, God believes in second chances not because we deserve a second chance but because in granting the grace of a second chance God can display his love for us.

            How does the idea of second chances come into play with our friend John Mark, John, or Mark?  Let us see. Church history tells us that as a young man, Mark, was present when Jesus was arrested.  After Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, the apostles ran away. Then soldiers and Temple officials led Jesus back to the city of Jerusalem.  The Gospel of Mark included a curious remark. “51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they [the soldiers] seized him [the young man], 52 he [the young man] fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mark 14:51-52).  Church history tells us that young man was Mark. He was following Jesus in the sense that he was there to assist Jesus or accompany him and receive instruction. Apparently, Mark’s presence was a distraction to the Temple officials and soldiers, and they sought to take him into custody.  Mark slipped through their grasp and fled naked into the night.  So, Mark likely had been in the company of Jesus.

            We next encounter Mark in the Book of Acts.  By this time, Jesus has been resurrected and ascended into heaven. In Jerusalem, the Apostle Peter had been preaching about the resurrected Christ.  Peter’s preaching did not sit well with the city officials and so they put Peter in jail.  Then one night an angel freed Peter from prison.  Peter, at first unsure where to go now that he was out of prison, remembered some dear friends.  So, Peter “went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying” (Acts 12:12). So, Mark was in the company of Peter.

            Soon after Peter’s release prison, we find that Barnabas and Saul (later known as Paul) were in Jerusalem making ready to return to their work at the church in Antioch.  The Book of Acts, Chapter 12, verse 25, tells us Barnabas and Saul took with them [to Antioch] John, also called Mark.  So, Mark was in the company of Barnabas and Saul.

            From our New Testament reading today in Chapter 13 of the Book of Acts, verse 2, we learn that in Antioch, “While they [the church] were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they [the church members] placed their hands on them [Barnabas and Saul] and sent them off.  The two of them [Barnabas and Saul], sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.   When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John [also known as Mark] was with them as their helper” (Acts 13:2-5). Mark was part of the missionary journey to the island of Cyprus specifically to bring the good news to the Jewish people on that island.  The NIV says Mark was a helper or assistant to Barnabas and Saul.  The context of the Greek word for helper here is that Mark was likely responsible for preserving and carrying documents used to support the ministry.  Some historians speculate, Mark was carrying with him an early account or compilation of sayings and stories of Jesus.  Mark was a key member of this missionary team and was becoming familiar with ways of expressing Jesus’ story in writing.

            Then something curious happened.  While on Cyprus, the Roman governor, a man named Serguis Paulus, wanted to hear from Barnabas and Saul.  A Jewish man, Elymas, a magician of sorts, tried to stop Paulus from believing in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit, working through Saul, blinded Elymas.  “When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (Acts 13:12). The Roman governor, a Gentile, received a second chance from God. 

After this event with the Roman governor, we read an important verse about Mark.  “13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John [also known as Mark] left them [Paul and Barnabas] to return to Jerusalem” (Acts 14:13).  First thing we notice is Saul’s name, a Jewish name, is changed to Paul, a Greek name.  Second, the writer of Acts changes the description of who was present from Barnabas and Saul to “Paul and his companions.”  Third, after the conversion of the Roman governor, Paul began a significant outreach to the Gentiles.  Following these changes, John [also known as Mark], left the group to return to Jerusalem. We are not told why.  Perhaps, Mark did not like Paul becoming the leader replacing Barnabas.  Afterall, we learn that Barnabas was Mark’s uncle.  Perhaps, Mark did not like the idea of a mission to the Gentiles.  Why should the Gentile’s receive a second chance? We do not know what caused Mark to return home.  We only know that he did, and we discover later that Mark’s leaving was deeply wounding to Paul.

The mission trip of Paul and Barnabas continued and time passed.  Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to continue the work of that church.  We then read in Chapter 15 of the Book of Acts, “36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he [Mark] had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They [Paul and Barnabas] had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He [Paul] went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:36-41).  Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance.  Paul refused to give Mark a second chance believing Mark was a deserter.  The sense of desertion is not that Mark ran out of energy for the journey.  The sense is Mark actively, consciously, and purposely withdrew from the mission.  Paul seems to believe once you fail, you are done.

I find Paul’s reaction ironic. The entire message of the Gospel is God is a God of second chances.  The Gospel is the good news that we can be a new creation in Christ regardless of our past. And Paul who so strongly preached this message said no second chance for Mark.  It is also interesting that the answer “No,” would come from Paul who persecuted the church and was given a second chance by God.  But Barnabas stood beside Mark and did not waiver in giving Mark a second chance. 

Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus. Mark received his second chance.  Church history suggests that in Cyprus, Barnabas once again encountered a Jewish magician or sorcerer.  Only this time, the sorcerer stirred up a crowd against Barnabas.  The mob threw a rope around Barnabas, dragged him from the city, and burned him.  Mark escaped this scene of his uncle’s death. Mark continued in ministry and mission with Peter.  Mark became Peter’s assistant writing the account of Jesus ministry we now have in the Gospel of Mark.  In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter describes Mark as his spiritual son.  Mark would rejoin Paul in his ministry.  It appears that Mark gave Paul a second chance for their relationship. With Paul, we find that while Paul was imprisoned, Mark ministered to Paul.  In the short letter of Philemon, we read Paul closed his letter by writing, “23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers” (Philemon 23-24).  Further, we would read in Paul’s letter to the Colossians these words, “10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Colossians 4:10).  And finally, Paul wrote to Timothy, Paul’s spiritual son, these words, “11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Weaving throughout the Bible stories we explored today is the reality that God is the God of second chances. Jonah experienced a second chance as did the Ninevites.  Mark experienced second chances, as did Barnabas, Paul, and a Roman governor. Barnabas extended a second chance to Mark and even though Paul refused to give Mark a second chance, Mark gave Paul a second chance.

I think the personal and enduring message of Mark’s life may well be that we would understand that God is the God of second chances.  We understand that no mistake is too big to disqualify us from God.  No failure is beyond the forgiveness of God.

God wants to give you a second chance to become a new creation in Christ.  This second chance is called salvation.  God offers us that second chance not because we deserve it.  He offers it as a gift and as an expression of who He is.  You can refuse God’s gift but why would you?  What is to be gained in refusing a gift from God?  Those who accept God’s gift in Christ are people of second chances.  We who have received are expected to take on the character of the gift we received.  As such, we must ask ourselves who in my life needs a second chance from me?  Think about it for a moment.  Who needs a second chance from you, not because they deserve it, but because you have Christ in you and the power to offer someone the gift of a second chance?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Then do something about it.  Amen and Amen.

2020-04-26 - Barnabas - Part 2

Acts 9:26-31

Acts 11:19-26

            We have begun exploring the Christian experience through the lives of some of the early Christians.  Last week, we started looking at a person named Joseph, whom the apostles later called Barnabas, the son of encouragement.  We found that Barnabas was a person of faith.  In and through faith, Barnabas expressed four-character traits that are important for us to see in ourselves.  Barnabas, in faith, was committed to Jesus and living his life following Jesus’ teachings.  Barnabas, in faith, was a person of action.  He expressed his commitment to Christ not just in his mind and by his words but in his actions.  Barnabas, in faith, was righteous.  He expressed his commitment and actions to do the right thing for the kingdom of God and not for himself.  Barnabas, in faith, was a person who submitted himself to Jesus and his church. He was anxious to strengthen the church in numbers, knowledge, and holiness. Commitment, action, righteousness, and submission were Barnabas’ faith characteristics. 

            On top of his faith, Barnabas was also a person of purpose.  He understood Jesus’ mission for the church, for the people who followed Jesus, was to be his witnesses and share the good news.

            Being a person of faith and purpose were two of Barnabas’ key character traits that are relatable to our own story.  Yet, there is a bit more to Barnabas that bears our examination and appropriation.  Today, I would like us to explore two more important parts of Barnabas’ story: namely, his capacity for advocacy and for his vision.

            To be an advocate generally means to give public support for a recommendation of a policy or cause.  Today, with online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, advocacy can be done in an instant.  We can now sign petitions online, protest by reposting materials, or write nasty comments about politicians with whom we disagree.  Online advocacy is new and can be impactful, but it does not meet the standard of Biblical advocacy.  Why is that? Because online advocacy can be done anonymously by a person or by a created machine that is not even a real person per se.  Biblical advocacy requires that we have real skin in the game.  Think for a moment about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his movement for civil rights for African Americans.  There was nothing anonymous about Dr. King’s efforts.  He wrote and signed letters and newspaper articles.  Dr. King march and demonstrated against injustices.  He spoke publicly.  He placed himself at risk for what he deeply believed.  There was nothing anonymous about the Dr. King’s desire to advocate on behalf of others.  Think for a moment about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.  The final words of that document states, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  Then 56 men signed the document and distributed it placing at risk everything they had.  There was nothing anonymous about their desire to advocate on behalf of others. Now, let’s think about our friend Barnabas and the legacy of Biblical advocacy that he showed.  To do so, let’s turn to our reading from the Book of Acts, Chapter 9.

            We begin at Chapter 9, verse 26.  This passage talks about the post-conversion experience of Saul from Tarsus, a man who generated considerable fear among the early church because to Saul was deadly to the members of the early church.  Verse 26, “When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he [Saul] tried to join the disciples, but they [the disciples] were all afraid of him [Saul], not believing that he [Saul] really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him [Saul] and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.  So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”  As we discussed last week, and see here again in this passage, when Saul came to Jerusalem, he generated a great deal of fear among the disciples, but Barnabas took charge of Saul.  Barnabas’ decision to involve himself with Saul was dangerous if Saul had not genuinely become a Christian.  Barnabas could be imprisoned or kill.  But Barnabas was an advocate for others who were excluded from the church and mission of Jesus.  Barnabas spent time with Saul.  He learned Saul’s story and then shared Saul’s story with the apostles.  In short, Barnabas advocated for Saul.  As a result, Saul who was outside the church was now inside the church.

            Let’s look at another example of Barnabas the advocate.  Please turn to Acts, Chapter 15.  We will begin at verse 5.  This passage deals with conflict in the church.  I know it is hard to believe that there could be conflict in a church, but there was.  The issue centered on whether a Gentile, that is a non-Jew, must first become a Jew before becoming a Christian.  It was an issue that was tearing the church apart.

            Verse 5 says, “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.’  The apostles and elders met to consider this question” (Acts 15:5-6).   And there was much discussion.  Look now at verse 12, “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12)  The group that was in an uproar went silent when Barnabas and Paul spoke.  Note, in ancient writings, whoever is the most important person to the story is listed first.  In this passage, Barnabas is listed first, meaning the leadership of the early church thought Barnabas was more important to the conversation than Paul. In the silence created by Barnabas’ remarks, Barnabas advocated for inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. Barnabas was again putting his reputation on the line and advocating for someone who was being excluded.  What was the result?  Look at verse 19.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, leader of the church of Jerusalem spoke, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”  Barnabas won the day.  The Gentiles would be accepted into the church without first becoming observant Jews.

            Just quickly, I want to look at one more example.  Please turn look down the page a bit to Acts 15, verse 36.  “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he [Mark] had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They [Barnabas and Paul] had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas” (Acts 15:36-40a).  Mark, sometimes called John, and other times called John Mark, accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first mission trip, but Mark returned home to Jerusalem before the trip was completed.  Paul thought Mark was a failure.  Barnabas believed in the second chance, I think because Barnabas saw God as the God of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh chances. Barnabas advocated for Mark because he saw something in Mark and believed Mark should not be excluded.  At that time, Paul could only see Mark’s failure. Barnabas and Mark went one way and Paul and Silas went the other way.  In a few weeks, we will talk about Mark, but for today I want to just cap this event with words Paul would later write to Timothy.  Paul wrote, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).  Paul came full circle and saw Mark as a significant minister and missionary of the early church.  I guess Barnabas was right about Mark.

            Barnabas was a man who advocated for others who were being excluded from the joy of being part of the church.  Barnabas did so for Saul, for the Gentiles, and for Mark.  Barnabas was willing to put himself into the situation, put his life and reputation at risk for the advancement of the kingdom of God.  There was nothing anonymous about Barnabas. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are not signing up to join the Secret Service or the CIA.  We are not to be silent and unsee yet somehow present.  We are to be the visible body of Jesus Christ who was the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  Barnabas encouraged the church to accept those who were being excluded from the kingdom. Where do we stand on advocating for others?  What is our willingness to speak on behalf of those who are different than we may be? Do we have any skin in the game?

            As with keep those questions in mind, let’s turn to the final thought about Barnabas.  Barnabas was an encourager who advocated for those excluded from the kingdom because Barnabas had a vision of what the church could be.  Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV).  Barnabas had vision for the church.  Look at today’s second reading from the Book of Acts, Chapter 11, beginning at verse 22. As we explore this passage, we find that some of the early Christians who fled Jerusalem as Saul (now Paul) was imprisoning people for being Christians resettled in Antioch.  In Antioch, these early Christians formed a church and had many people coming to faith.  Verse 22, “22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they [the Apostles] sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he [Barnabas] was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He [Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-24).  The Apostles trusted Barnabas to check things out in Antioch.  Barnabas did and stayed to encourage and build up this church. But Barnabas could see, he had the vision of God for a greater church than he, Barnabas, could encourage on his own. He could see what God wanted.

            Look at what Barnabas did in verse 25.  “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he [Barnabas] found him [Saul], he [Barnabas] brought him [Saul] to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” (Acts 11:25, 26). Barnabas had the vision of the church of Jesus Christ that would extend to Jew and Gentile alike and sought out Saul to get in the game.  Barnabas knew that Saul, later known as Paul, was part of God’s plan and so Barnabas acted. Barnabas had vision of the mission given by Jesus that Jesus’ disciples would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  With that vision in mind, Barnabas once again acted.

            As we wrap up our understanding of Barnabas, we have seen that Barnabas was a person of faith.  He was committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted.  Barnabas was a person of purpose.  He gave himself to the mission of Jesus to be a witness of all that Jesus said his followers should do.  Barnabas was an advocate for those being excluded from the kingdom of God.  Barnabas was a person of vision who joined himself to God and could see the next steps needed to bring the church to flower. The Apostles changed this man’s name from Joseph to Barnabas, the son of encouragement because he was a man of faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision.  This is who each one of us can be in service to the Church.  Just like Barnabas, every person hearing this message has been gifted with one or more gifts from the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church of Jesus Christ.  What is your gift?  Are you using it?  Are you called to be an encourager, or counselor, or food maker, or organizer, or musician, and the list goes on?  Are you acting in faith, sharing in the purpose of the church, and advocating for those who are being excluded from the kingdom message because they are too poor, too lame, too black, too white, too whatever!  Do you have skin in the game?  How we answer these questions will determine the enduring legacy we have from our dear friend Barnabas, the son of encouragement.  Let’s be in conversation with God as we explore our faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision.

2020-04-19 - Barnabas - Part 1

Proverbs 19:20-21

Acts 4:33-37

            We celebrated Easter last Sunday.  For me, and I am sure for you as well, Easter Sunday this year had quite different feel to it.  Missing was opportunity to go to church decorated with brightly colored flowers with their sweet fragrance.  Missing was the larger than normal number of attendees at church.  Everyone seems to make an extra effort to get to church on Easter morning.  Missing was the dinner at our home with as many as 20 folks at the house.  This year there was just the two of us for dinner which we shared with our extended family on a Zoom video conference in five different locations.  Of course, none of the things we missed this year were at all familiar with the early Christians.  The early Christians had no church buildings, no brightly colored flowers, no family dinners, no live streaming video, no Facebook, and no websites.  And yet, the early Christian church exploded across the difficult surroundings of Jerusalem, Samaria, and outward from there to the known world.  What made the growth and strength of the early Church possible?  The answer to this question is simple.  The early church had a handful of people of faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision.  I think there is much we can learn from these people for our walk with God, our understanding of our purpose in being here on earth, and the opportunity we have to serve the church of Jesus Christ today with the same passion they served the church in its earliest days.

            I want us to explore some notable and some obscure people of the early church. I would invite you to open your Bibles to the Book of Acts, Chapter 1.  The Book of Acts is the second volume of the two-volume set comprising the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.  This book begins with the final moments of the resurrected Jesus on earth among his Apostles.  As Jesus was speaking to the Apostles, he gave them a commissioning in verse 8.  He said, “You [Jesus’ followers] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Verse 9 tells us, “9 After he [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”  That is a very simple purpose statement, “Be my witnesses.”

            Verse 12 tells us that, “12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. [For a short while, they were called the Eleven.]  14 They [the Eleven] all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women [probably Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Joanna] and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his [Jesus’] brothers [James, Joses, Judas, and Simon].”  All totaled there was about 20 people who gathered.  Twenty men and women formed the core of the Christian church that today numbers 2.2 Billion people.  This core group had all spent time with Jesus.  They knew him personally and experienced him through their senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch.  These things they had in common as well as the commission to be Jesus’ witness.  The Greek word for witness is μάρτυς, martus from which we get the English word martyr.  While we could learn much from these 20 martyrs, I would like us to learn from people who received the testimony of these people. Seeing the Christian life through the experience of someone who did not see Jesus, or hear him, or smell him, or touch him would be instructive since they are closest to us who have not had a physical sensing experience with Jesus.

            The first person I would like us to explore is introduced to us in the Book of Acts, Chapter 4, beginning at verse 32.  I invite you to turn to that passage.  “32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

            This is our introduction to a man named Joseph.  We are told Joseph was a Levite, meaning he was expected from birth to devote himself to God and serve as an assistant to the priests of the Temple. Joseph was from the island of Cyprus, located in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea but now found himself in Jerusalem.  Joseph owned a piece of property, a field of land.  He sold that property and gave all the money to the apostles for use in the ministry and care of the early Christian church.  There is no evidence or suggestion that Joseph ever saw, heard, or touched Jesus.  Instead, Joseph believed based upon the testimony of Jesus’ witnesses.  That means we have much in common with Joseph because we are called to believe based upon the testimony of others.  In that belief, Joseph committed himself to Jesus as an act of faith.  In showing his faith, Joseph sold his piece of the earthly kingdom as an express of his desire to pursue his piece of God’s kingdom.  In showing faith, Joseph exhibited four characteristics that we should seek in our walk of faith into God’s kingdom.

            First, Joseph in faith was committed.  His faith was not a Sunday thing, his faith was everything.  Joseph, in faith, was committed to following the Way, Jesus.  Colossians 1:29 – “To this end I contend strenuously all my energy Christ so powerfully works within me.”

            Second, Joseph, in faith, was a person of action. He sold property.  Joseph brought the money to the apostles.  He laid it at their feet.  Joseph was demonstrating in action his words of commitment.  James 2:17 ‐ “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Third, Joseph, in faith, was righteous.  He sought the Truth and as we will see he taught the Truth about God. Joseph sought to be righteous in his behaviors towards others because Jesus made Joseph right before God.   Romans 1:17 ‐ “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

            Fourth, Joseph, in faith, was submitted.  He was submitted to Jesus and to the teachings and authority of the Apostles. – Romans 12:1, 2 ‐ “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your

spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Joseph was a person of faith who was committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted.  Joseph had become a person of the Way and was showing his commitment to Jesus by placing himself under the authority of the apostles, not the priests, and by extending grace, mercy, and peace to fellow members of the church.  It appears Joseph was this way without ever having personally met Jesus, just like you and me.  We would do well to explore with God whether we are committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted in our walk following Jesus.

            There was one more detail about Joseph, that we did not talk about. Verse 36 says, “The apostles called [Joseph], Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”).  From this point forward, the name Joseph is never used again to refer to this man.  The only name used is Barnabas, son of encouragement.  Given that, we need to take a moment and understand what the apostles were talking about by calling Barnabas a source of encouragement.  To our modern ears, encouragement is the act of giving someone support, confidence, and hope.  We might think of an encourager as a coach or cheerleader saying to us, “You got this!  Never give up!  Believe in you!  Yes, you can!”  That is not the context of encouragement used here.  Encouragement, in the Greek word, used here meant that Joseph was gifted. He was gifted in teaching, in being persuasive, admonishing, consoling, and being a powerful speaker.  Joseph, now Barnabas, was able to influence others and he used that gift to move people toward faith that they too would be committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted.  Rather than a modern-day coach or cheerleader, we might think of Barnabas more along the lines of a young and vibrant Billy Graham, a powerful and persuasive speaker able to move people toward to goal of living fully in Christ.  Now the important thing for us here is not to compare ourselves to Barnabas’ particular gift of encouragement and say, “I am not like him at all.  I am not a powerful speaker, so there is nothing I can really learn from him.”  The important thing is Barnabas used his gift to further his own faith and help others to faith.  Everyone is gifted.  The questions we face are, “What are we using our gifts to do?  How are we using our gifts in our own faith journey and for the betterment of others and the Church?”  This is the immediate lesson we learn in our introduction to Barnabas.

            This brings us to our second point about Barnabas.  He was a person of faith who used his gift wisely because Barnabas was a person of purpose.  Purpose is defined as the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.  Barnabas understood the purpose of the Church.  Do you remember hearing me speaking the purpose of the church earlier in this message?  It bears repeating.  Jesus said the purpose of the church is to be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  That is the purpose, the mission statement of the Church.  In over 2,000 years, Jesus has never changed it or altered it in anyway. Barnabas got that message and his purpose was to share Christ.  Knowing the purpose of the Church and of his life, gave Barnabas extraordinary clarity and understanding in his life and gave him exceptional emotional stability about all circumstances he encountered.  Isn’t that true for us as well?  When we know our purpose, in the circumstances we find ourselves, and we pursue that purpose with determination, we are not easily distracted, and we can accomplish much.  The Apostle Paul said it this way, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  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.  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” (Ephesians 4: 11-15).  Barnabas, under the authority and teaching of the apostles, was not toss around on the waves of self-doubt because Barnabas knew the truth in love and he knew his purpose to share that as a witness to others.

            I used this quote from Paul because if it was not for Barnabas, we might never have heard of Paul.  We may recall from Sunday School, Bible studies, or other sermons that Paul’s name had been Saul of Tarsus.  Saul was a Pharisee who had a mission to destroy the people of the Way.  Paul used his talents to incite a crowd to stone a man named Stephen to death for believing in Jesus.  Saul dragged others from their homes and put them in prison for believing in Jesus.  Then Saul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and Saul believed.  But that was not the end of the story; it was the beginning. I invite you to turn with me in the Book of Acts, Chapter 9 to see the second part of Saul’s conversion.

            Verse 26, “When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he [Saul] tried to join the disciples, but they [the disciples] were all afraid of him, not believing that he [Saul] really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him [Saul].”  Just a quick pause here.  The context is Barnabas took charge of Saul.  Barnabas listened to Saul’s testimony; learned of Jesus’ post‐ascension appearance, and affirmation of the church’s broad purpose in verse 15, “To proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  Having understood Saul’s experience we continue to read in verse 27, and find that Barnabas “Brought him [Saul] to the apostles. He [Barnabas] told them [Apostles] how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them [the Church] and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”  If not for Barnabas, there might not be a Paul.  Barnabas understood the purpose of the Church and his role within it. Because Barnabas understood the purpose, he was calm enough to listen to Saul’s testimony.  Barnabas risked his life to listen to Saul.  And then Barnabas used his gift of encouragement to present Saul and give Saul’s dramatic conversion testimony to the Apostles. In doing so, Barnabas set in motion the broadening of the Church’s understanding of Jesus’ commission to share the good news not with the Jews alone but with all the people of the world.

            We are benefactors of Barnabas because he was a person of faith willing to commit himself to following Jesus.  Barnabas was a person of faith who acted, he was did so with right motives, and he was willing to submit himself to the teachings of God’s Word as revealed through the apostles.  Barnabas was a purposeful person.  He understood that his purpose in life was tied to Jesus’ commission to share the gospel message and in that understanding he was self-confident and willing to use his gift to the benefit of the church and others who would come to faith.  This week let’s think about our friend Barnabas.  Let’s each examine our own faith journey and talk to God about our level of commitment, whether our faith is action oriented, if our faith shows itself in righteous, and whether we too would be found to be submitted to Christ. Then next week, we will explore the rest of Barnabas’ story and what more he has to share with us.  Amen and Amen.

2020-04-12 - Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18

2 John 1:1-6

            The strangest news was beginning to be shared.  It made no sense to those telling of the news and as well as to those who receiving the news.  People were stunned and left with minds that were whirling and wondering.  Could it be true?  Mary Magdalene and the other women started the news.  They had gone to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning.  The stone that had sealed the tomb shut was open allowing them to enter the tomb.  They found the was empty.  Jesus’ body was gone.  So too were the guards who had been there to prevent anyone going into the tomb.  They were gone.  Two men in white, angels perhaps, said Jesus had risen from the dead. What does that mean?  Risen from the dead?  When the women returned to the city to share the news with others, two men, Peter and John ran to the tomb and only found the grave clothes that had once wrapped Jesus body.  Mary had followed Peter and John back to the tomb.  After the men returned home, Mary said she saw him.  Him who?  Mary said she saw Jesus.  Mary said when she realized Jesus was standing in front of her, she fell to the ground and grabbed him around his feet.  It was such a good feeling to hold onto him because Jesus was not dead; he was alive!  Did you hear that news, Jesus is alive!  Could it be the true?

            What is truth?  What you believe about the news coming from Jerusalem 2,000 years ago determines the entire nature, direction, purpose, and meaning of your life now and for all eternity. Let that sink in for a moment. What you believe about the news is the most important thing you will ever consider in your life.  If you believe the news that Jesus arose from the dead to be the truth, then you will live your life one way.  If you do not believe the news about Jesus to be the truth, then you will live your life an entirely different way.  The belief or non-belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a fork in the road that everyone must confront.  There is a funny thing about forks in the road, you cannot choose both.  You must choose one.

            As this news that Jesus had risen from the dead first spread throughout Jerusalem and then onto to Samaria, and then modern-day Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy people began deciding whether they believed the news or not.  Those who believed this news to be true began living in a new way.  They who believed this news called themselves followers of the Way or those who belonged to the Way.  Those who did not believe tried to insult those of the Way by calling them “Christians.”

            The lives of the followers of the Way were completely changed.  “42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).  These people believed Jesus had been raised from the dead.

            The basis for our faith in the resurrection in Jesus today comes in part from the drastic and dramatic change the people of the Way went through in their lives.  These people believed that their fellowship with Jesus in the here and now as well as for eternity had been restored.  They believed that fellowship with Jesus meant they had found forgiveness, grace, and salvation that could never be taken from them.  Everything about these people was open to change because they believed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was the truth. 

            “What is truth?”, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus shortly before ordering Jesus to be executed.  Jesus had shared with Pilate that Jesus was born and came into this world to testify to the truth.  And everyone on the side of truth listens to Jesus (John 18:37).  But what did Jesus mean?  What is the enduring truth?

            In a Roman sense of truth, which is largely the way our society sees truth, truth is about the factual representation of events summarized by accounting for who did what, when, where, how, and why.  The factual representation of the events 2,000 years ago matter.  What are the facts?

  • Fact. Jesus was crucified on a cross, was stabbed with a spear, and died.
  • Fact. Jesus dead body was removed from the cross and buried in a tomb carved out of rock.  In ancient days, tombs were left unsealed for three days to allow the family to make daily visits to check on the body of their loved one to make sure the person was dead.  They feared mistakenly burying someone who was alive.  In Jesus’ case, the authorities wanted no one to check on Jesus so they moved a rock in front of the opening to the tomb, placed a seal on the rock threatening anyone who might seek to disturb it, and then posted guards to make sure no one entered.  As far as the authorities were concerned, Jesus would never be seen again.
  • Fact.  On the third day following Jesus’ death, women came to the tomb hoping to give a final treatment to Jesus’ body, but his body was not in the tomb.
  • Fact.  As abruptly as the disciples began grieving Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples abruptly stopped grieving the death of Jesus.  Instead of grief, the apostles exhibited joy and began speaking about Jesus being alive.  Some 500 people believed Jesus arose from the dead and that for forty days Jesus talked with them, ate with them, and taught them before Jesus was lifted bodily into heaven.

These the facts concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus as seen through the events.  We read these truths in our first Scripture reading from the Gospel of John who described women coming to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.  How they found it empty and that Peter and John ran to the tomb.  While Jesus said these things, these truths about events, would be said about him, this was not the central truth that he came to share.

            The truth Jesus was talking about dealt with the understanding about God. The truth Jesus was talking about dealt with the kingdom of God.  The truth Jesus was talking about was ridiculed at first, then violently opposed, and then accepted as self-evident by those seeking the truth.  The truth was spoken about by the apostle John in our second reading today from the letter we call, 2 John.  He wrote, “The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— because of the truthwhich lives in us and will be with us foreverGrace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.  It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.”  John’s central point is that Jesus came to guide people into the Truth, that is into alignment with the living God.  Jesus came to show us God by living out life here on earth in the human form of Jesus.  Jesus was and is the visible imagine of the invisible God.  John wrote in 1 John “That which was from the beginning, [Jesus] 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.”  John’s point was that Jesus who was with the Father in the beginning is someone John and others experienced through their senses of touch, hearing, and seeing.  Jesus is real and he appeared to them.  In Jesus, was the truth about the very nature of God which John described in our reading today as grace, mercy, and peace.

            “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).  Grace is a kindness given to one who does not deserve kindness.  Grace is an attitude of forgiveness and restoration.  Grace is a quality through which someone can extend joy to another. Jesus offered grace, a kindness to all the people, because Jesus wanted people to know the truth that God has grace, an unending kindness.  Paul wrote, “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15).

            “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).  Mercy is a pardon and release from an end that is predictably tragic, clearly disheartening, and obviously inevitable. We cannot save ourselves from our own sin and so Jesus offered mercy in the form of a pardon for sin because he wanted people to know that truth that God is merciful.  How are we to view such mercy?  Far too many people then and now think of God as a captain of a ship standing at the gangplank as people enter.  God asks your name and then looks through the ship’s manifest he holds in a clipboard before you board.  If your name is there, you can enter.  If not, then he points you to move toward the gangplank leaving the ship and move toward hell.  In reality, because of God’s mercy, God is more like a captain of a rescue ship.  He is reaching over the rails of the ship grabbing hold of people to get on the ship before they drown.  He is tireless in his rescues.  God is always calling out, “Grab my hand.  Swim closer, draw nearer!”  God desires to lose none because God is merciful.  Hell is not for the weak.  Hell is for the strong, for those with a spirit so arrogant that it cannot be crushed or broken, and so is unable to surrender to God.  Jesus offered mercy because, the truth is, God is merciful.

            “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).  When we think of peace we think of peace as freedom from disturbance or a period of no war. Peace used here is peculiar. Peace is a permanent tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.  The peace God desires for us is permanent. It is a feeling of tranquility. We do not fear facing God because Christ intercedes for us.  Because we do not fear God, we do not fear people, circumstances, or even viruses. Because we are at peace within ourselves, we can be peaceful with people.  Jesus said, “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Jesus gave us peace because God is a God of peace and does not want us to be fearful people.

            The truth Jesus came to share is God, a God of grace, mercy, and peace and a God who is most visible, most real, most experienced in love.  God raised Jesus from the dead because of love.  In the kingdom of God, power is always, always, shown by giving life.  Therefore, faith in the resurrection of Jesus gives rise to the promise of the fullness of life experienced by living together now and forever in God’s love.  This is the fork in the road.  The resurrection calls us to choose to live life in God’s love.  We know that in God’s love, nothing good is ever lost. In Jesus, we are made good and therefore are never lost.  We read this truth about love over and again in Scripture:

  • God is love (1 John 4:8).
  • 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 (John 3:16).
  • But God demonstrate his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

The truth is the resurrection of Jesus is about love.  The resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate this day radically reveals the mystery of love.  For us to be radically changed by belief in the resurrection of Jesus, we must live our life in and through love.  The Apostle John highlighted this point in the final two verses from our reading today, “5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”  To believe in the news of the resurrection of Jesus is to be empowered to walk a life in love.  Love is the Way.  Love is the Means.  Love is the Result. 

      What is Truth?  The Truth is God.  A God of love who gives life lived in the richness of grace, mercy, and peace. Jesus came to testify to this Truth and to call us to follow him in a life of love.  Those on the side of truth listen to Jesus.  On this Easter Sunday, I want to encourage you to listen to the resurrected Jesus and walk this day forward in love.  Amen and Amen.

2020-04-05 - Palm Sunday

Isaiah 55

John 12:12-19

            We are continuing with our worship of God and our exploration of what it means to be a Christian through our understanding the answer to the question, “What Is Truth?”  Today, I am going to ask you to get three things for you and anyone with whom you are sharing this moment.  I am going to ask that you get your Bible, a small piece of bread for you and each person with you, and a cup of juice or water for you and each person with you. Although we are separated from each other, I want us to share the Lord’s Supper together because doing so reminds us that we are intimately connected with Jesus, with those who died in Christ, with one another, and with those who will come to Jesus through our witness. I invite you to hit the “Pause” button and gather up your Bible, bread, and cup.

            Welcome back.  Let’s begin.

            Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday.  It is the first day of what some Christian communities call “Passion Week.” It is a time in which Christians reflect on the rapidly evolving events in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago that began with Jesus’ entry into the city on a donkey accompanied by crowds of people waving palm branches, laying their coats on the road ahead of Jesus, and singing “Hosanna, Baruch Haba B’shemi Adoni.”  “Savior, Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.”  During the days that followed Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city.  He overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple.  He had compassion on the people with His teachings all the while scolding the religious leaders with power words. Jesus rested with his disciples while one of them named Judas sought out an opportunity to betray.  Jesus dined with his disciples tenderly washing their feet and he established a new way to experience the Passover with pieces of bread and a cup of wine.  Under ancient olive trees, silent witnesses to years of conquest and rebellion in Jerusalem, Jesus prayed that God’s will be done, even if it meant his own death on the cross.  Armed men arrested Jesus and brought him at night for a trial before religious leaders who hated him.  Jesus stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, whom Jesus told, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  Pilate scoffed, “What is truth?”  (John 18:37, 38).  Pilate proving Jesus words to be true, immediate left Jesus’ presence without an answer to his question.  Pilate was not on the side of truth.  Soon thereafter, in response to the angry shouting crowds of religious leaders, Pilate ordered Jesus to be executed.  Jesus nailed to a cross, an instrument of torturous death, spoke seven times.  He said:

  1. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).  As Jesus spoke, the Roman soldiers divided up his clothing.


  1. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).  This was Jesus’ promise one man hanging on a cross next to Jesus.  The others present mocked Jesus.


  1. Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother! (John 19:26, 27).  This was Jesus’ expression that family was born in faith and not blood.  The religious leaders stood by howling insults at Jesus. 


  1. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).  Jesus tormentors made the experience a spectator sport shouting, “Leave him alone and see if God sends him savior!”


  1. I thirst (John 19:28).  Those present gave Jesus vinegar.


  1. It is finished (John 19:30).  There was silence. 


  1. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).  Remarkably, a Roman centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”


Jesus died and the Passion Week, the Passion of Christ came quietly to a close.  All that remained to do was for Jesus’ body to be placed into a tomb and for the religious leaders and inhabitants of the city to quietly observe the Sabbath, a day of rest and reflection upon God.

            The truth is all throughout Passion Week two kingdoms were colliding.  The kingdom of earth ruled by religion and government was clashing with the kingdom of heaven ruled by God’s grace and truth.  The kingdom of earth always shows power by taking life. The kingdom of God always shows power by giving life.  The kingdom of earth seeks significance by creating institutions, loving things, and being proud of its accomplishments.  The kingdom of God seeks us to find significance in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

            How did that passion week start and how does the truth about God and the clash of two kingdoms all those years ago matter to us today?  To answer that question, I would invite you to open your Bible to our Old Testament passage today from Isaiah, Chapter 55.  This entire passage is conversation from God through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel and thus to you and me.  I want to focus on the tenor of the words and hear how different God intends life in his kingdom to be than from life in an earthly kingdom.

            From verse 1: “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”  God is offering a sustenance unlike what is available on earth and it is available to all.  You need no money to receive what God has to offer.

            From verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” God’s purpose and His word is always life giving.

            From verse 8 & 9 we see why the kingdoms are different: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  God was making it clear that the emphasis for life in God is different from earthly existence.  Our thinking and ways are not his at all.  Therefore, we should not expect our traditions and practices to accomplish for us what only God alone can do.

            From verse 10, God described His way in terms we can understand, rain and snow.  “10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God would and did share the truth through his word in the form of messages through the prophets like Isaiah, but most profoundly through the person of Jesus Christ.  The apostle John described Jesus as the Word, instructing us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I so love the way the Old Testament and New Testament blend together.  It gives me greater confidence that although there are 66 books of the Bible with about 40 authors writing at different times over a 1400-year period, we have a coherence in thought.  This says to me that the Holy Spirit was engaged in working through these authors to make sure the written word of God was accurately conveyed.  And the Word of God usually clashes with human thought.  Moreover, we will see that the Word of God in the flesh, Jesus, was in the earthly kingdom proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.  Jesus too clashed with earthly thinking.  Let’s turn our attention to Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem that began the Passion Week.

            From the Gospel of John, Chapter 12, we read, “12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Baruch Haba B’shemi Adoni) ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’  14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’  16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified (died and resurrected) did they (Jesus’ disciples) realize that these things had been written about him (Jesus) and that these things had been done to him.  17 Now the crowd that was with him (Jesus) when he (Jesus) called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him (Lazarus) from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.’”

            The drama in this scene cannot be underestimated.  The city of Jerusalem swelled with people coming to celebrate the Passover festival.  The influx of people could mean trouble so Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, came to the city with his contingent of Roman soldiers to keep the peace for the Emperor Augustus and Herod Antipas, a man Augustus appointed king of Israel. Jesus entered the city, not quietly and unassumingly as he had in the past, but with a crowd shouting their desire to see Jesus become the king of their earthly kingdom.  And yet, he did not come as a conquering hero upon a steed, a king’s horse, but upon a donkey that symbolized both an entrance of peace and an act of God’s Messiah. 

            Just days earlier than Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, the chief priests and Pharisees met to discuss the problem that people were beginning to follow Jesus.  “‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked (each other). ‘Here is this man [Jesus] performing many signs.  If we let him [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation…’  So from that day on they [the Pharisees] plotted to take his [Jesus] life’ (John 11:47-48; 53).

            Now, Jesus dared to enter the very heart of Judaic tradition and practices, the center of the religious institution and the core of the earthly meaning for the Pharisees.  We saw the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ entry in verse 19, “19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him [Jesus]!’”  The Pharisees’ “Jesus Problem” was growing.  If Jesus was not stopped then, the keepers of the Temple, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Chief Priests could have the Temple taken from them.  Their place of significance could fall.

            The Temple was everything.  During the Passion Week, Jesus and his disciples were leaving the Temple for the day. “One of his (Jesus’) disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  2 ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:1, 2).  The disciples loved the Temple and all the glory the Temple meant for them and the people of Israel.  Even those closest to Jesus did not understand Jesus’ words that something greater than the Temple, Jesus, was among them and that Jesus came to reveal the truth that God desired mercy not sacrifice (Matthew 12:6). 

Jesus’ words harkened back to the Old Testament prophet Micah who wrote: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7 Will the Lord be pleased with [the sacrifice of] thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn [child] for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8). 

Jesus was and is inviting all who listen to him into a different kingdom, with a life built upon love; a love for God and a love for one another and not Temples.  A love that finds fulfillment in service, justice, humility, and mercy not in rituals and traditions.  The magnificent Temple of Jerusalem, the place observant Jews felt compelled to uphold as the earthly place of worship and sacrifice to God, would fall to the Romans. The Temple was destroyed.  The Romans, masters of earthly kingdoms, left no stone upon another.  But that which is greater than the Temple, Jesus, was not destroyed.  And Jesus wanted his disciples, the apostles as well as you and me, to see that Him most present within life on earth.  Jesus entered Jerusalem to signal life lived in the kingdom of God was not for the dead but for the living.  Jesus invites us to live in the kingdom now and to let our membership in the kingdom be known by the way we love one another and by our reverence toward God.

Jesus knew people need to be strengthened to live in the kingdom of God.  So, Jesus wanted the apostles as well as you and me to be reminded that we are part of the kingdom of God as often as we ate of bread and drank of fruit of the vine.  I want you to now get ready your piece of bread and cup of juice.

During the Passion Week, Jesus shared the kingdom of God this way.  During a meal, Jesus took bread and he blessed it.  “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  Jesus then gave that bread to his disciples and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).  This was Jesus’ way of sharing with his disciples the presence of the kingdom of God here on within the kingdom of the earth.  This was Jesus’ way of reminding us that we are part of the kingdom of God a place where its members seek to act justly and be righteous before God and one another.

I invite you now to take the piece of bread that you have and pray with me, ““Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Let’s now eat this bread and savory an experience in God’s kingdom in which hunger is satisfied by justice and righteousness.  Take and eat.

In a similar manner, when supper had ended, Jesus took a cup.  That cup had wine, the fruit of the vine.  Jesus blessed the contents of the cup. “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.”  Jesus then gave the cup to his disciples and said, ““Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27, 28).  This was another way Jesus shared with his disciples to remind them of the presence of the kingdom of God here on within the kingdom of the earth. It was Jesus’ way of granting us mercy by forgiving our sins and a call upon each of us to be merciful and forgiving toward one another.

I invite you now to take the piece the cup you have and pray with me, “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Let’s now drink this cup and savory an experience in God’s kingdom in which thirst is quenched by mercy.  Take and drink.

The truth is the kingdom of God is a place of justice, righteousness, mercy, and humility before God.  The truth is that Jesus’ urgent desire as he entered Jerusalem was that his disciples would live in this manner.  The truth is that our significance in life is not found in a Temple of rock and clay but in life with God.  Let us choose now truth of God’s kingdom.  Amen and Amen.