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Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts

Monday, May 9, 2022

The prodigal

Introduction
It’s been very touching seeing so many post about mothers over the weekend.  There are all kinds of mothers for all different walks of life.  I've seen sweet mothers who are still actively involved in their young children's lives.  There are mother's who have grown kids in the full swing of life.  There are mothers who have grown old and passed away and also, sadly, mothers who have passed away too soon before they grew old.

I also think of some mothers who have failed.  I listen to the testimony of a prodigal mother this weekend who shared how she failed as a mother because of some of her own shortcomings.  Thankfully, she repented and Jesus turned her life around.  

There are also the many spiritual mothers that bless people who aren't even related to them, but they love and people who need it.  I have had many spiritual mother's in my life who have been so helpful, especially while I have lived so far away from my own mother.

I knew six months ago that God wanted me to read the story of the prodigal son for Mother's Day 2022. God led me to plan for this as I prayed during a planning session.  However, God didn’t tell me what say until the morning of Mother's Day. So I pray His words come through clearly.  So, let’s read through the story and I will make some comments as we go.

Luke 15:11
11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 

It starts, "A man had 2 sons."  But I can't help wonder: where’s the mother in the story?

I should start with this disclaimer:  We don’t know anything about the mother in the story from the Bible.  Jesus doesn't give any information about the mother in the Bible.  So all we can do is speculate about her.  Still, I think Jesus would be fine with us using our imagination and asking some thoughtful questions.

It could be the mother had died.  We know in our day mothers often die and leave a family motherless.  It was even more possible in Jesus' day, as people didn't live as long and something as simple as appendicitis (which we can easily fix with modern medical technology) could kill you in New Testament times.  Could the Prodigal's mother have died sometime prior to this episode?

It is also possible the father had remarried and the mother was a step mother.  And step mother's can have a complicated relationship with their step children.

It is also possible the mother was not mentioned because Jesus lives in a patriarchal societ where women were often overlooked.  However, I don't think that is as likely, because women played a prominently role in Jesus ministry and he never shied away from including women, even if his society didn't.  Jesus was not a male chauvinist. He greatly valued women and treated them with respect.

Luke 15:12
12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

This was an incredibly mean thing for the son to say.  He was basically telling his dad, "Look, I have things I want to do in life that I can't do because I'm waiting for you to die so I can get my inheritance.  So why don't you just go ahead and die or give me my inheritance now so I can get on with my life?"  Can you imagine saying something like that to you mom or dad?  Yikes!

I wonder how the mother would have responded (assuming she was alive).  Some mothers might comfort their husbands, put their arms around them, and cry with them.  However, there might have been some mothers fussing and saying, "Why in the world did you go along with this?!”  How would your mother have handled this? How would you handle it if your child said this to you?

Luke 15:13

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 

Now, in this story, it was the son who moved away to a distant land.  But I can’t help but think of some mothers who have left.  You might think a mother could never leave her child, but it happens more than you think.  My wife works in a neonatal intensive care unit taking care of critical babies and newborns.  You would not believe how many babies are born already addicted to drugs because their mothers have taken drugs like heroine and meth throughout their pregnancy.  And then the baby is born already addicted with severe health problems and the mother is back out on the street chasing her next high.  Addiction is a terrible problem that enslaves many people--including mothers-- and leads to horrific behavior.

The sinful longings of the human heart that draw us away from God affect all people—even mothers.  They turn our eyes away from the truth and make us think the grass is greener.  What we have to realize is the dark seed of sin is in all our hearts.  That dark seed can grow in anyone and, given the right conditions, can take over your whole life.

Luke 15:14-16
14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

Sin, which seems so attractive at first glance, leads to hardship, poverty, pain, and famine.  It is significant that the Jewish son in this story finds himself feeding pigs.  Jews considered pigs to be unclean.  They didn't eat any kind of pork and they didn't keep pigs on their farms.  So for a Jewish boy to be taking care of pigs means he had sunk pretty low.  

People enslaved by sin will sink lower and lower until they are doing things they never thought in a million years they would do. Maybe that was you once. Maybe that is you today. Is it time for you to come to your senses?

And I can't help but thin of the mother’s anguish at the son’s degradation.  She may not have even known what her son was doing, but that's even worse.  A mother mind can go to a very dark place as when she doesn't know if her children are safe.  She can even torment herself, thinking the worst and worrying herself to death.  Is your mother worrying herself to death today because you are wandering from the right path?

Slide – Luke 15:17-21
17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 

18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

The prodigal son shows us what true repentance looks like.  He says, "I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son."  It is unconditional surrender, recognizing one's sins, and throwing yourself upon the Father's mercy.

Repentance is crucial.  People remember many things about Jesus--that He was a miracle worker, that he died on a cross and rose from the grave, and people love to remember Jesus was a man who stood for love.  But we must never forget that Jesus consistent message throughout His ministry was, "“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)  

The son shows us what true repentance looks like.  In the father’s response, we see what grace looks like.

Luke 15:22-24
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Again, the story focuses on the father, but I wonder how the mother responded?  Was she right there with the father, welcoming her wayward son home?

Anyone who knows the way most marriage works realizes while the father was hugging his son and making grand statements about having a party, the mother was probably thinking, “Oh great! There he goes making all these great plans, but the house is a mess and now I’ve got to go grocery shopping to get food for all these people!”  (That's the way t usually works at my house.  My wife does most of the work behind the scenes.  I make the plans and she has to pick up the pieces.  She's a saint!)

The wife was probably thrilled to have her son home, but it’s also possible the mother like the older brother in the story.  

Luke 15:25-30
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 

30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

The older son was angry. He felt unappreciated.  He felt superior to his younger brother who had abandoned the family while the older brother had done his duty.  (How many mother's feel unappreciated sometimes?  That's why we need to have a Mother's Day, to remind them we really do appreciate them.)

Maybe the mother was feeling angry and unappreciated.  Or maybe it broke her heart to see the older, more responsible, son refusing to be be happy at the redemption of his brother. It can break a mother’s heart when her family is full of strife.

Luke 15:31-32
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

We must not forget; this story is an illustration. We don't know if it was based on a true story or not.  However, we know the father represents God.  The Father, God, reasons with the responsible son in the story and God reasons with us.  Do not be angry with the sinner who returns to God.  Do not feel superior.  Maybe you didn’t abandon your family and commit the hideous sins as others have, but you are not perfect either.  We all sin and fall short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  And God looks into the heart.  He sees the sin seed in each of us and knows that, given the right conditions, it can sprout and grow out of control so that we are just as guilty as the person whose sins are incredibly hideous.

Have you, as a mother, felt yourself superior to others who abandoned their family? Is not that feeling of superiority a sin in and of itself?  Are you like the older brother in the story, standing outside, fuming and refusing to come to the party to celebrate the redemption of a sinner who was lost, but now is found? How long will you wait?

Conclusion
Jesus doesn’t tell us about the mother in the story.  A really gifted great storyteller leaves a few things to the imagination so we can ponder them.  Maybe that’s why we are still retelling and listening to Jesus’ stories 2,000 years later.

Jesus also doesn’t tell us how the story ends.  Did the younger brother remain faithful to the father?  Or did he get bored back at home and run off again?  Some of you are the young, rebellious brother in the story.  Your actions decide how the story ends.

Did the older brother ever get over his anger, forgive his brother, and go in to the party?  Or did he stay outside forever, fuming about how he was right and better than his brother?  Jesus doesn’t say what happened, because some of you are the older brother in the story.  And you are the only one who can determine how your story ends.

As for the fathers and mothers out there whose hearts are breaking because your children, in one way or another, have wandered away from the Truth:
God—the Mother and Father of us all—knows your pain.  He is the Father in the story, whose heart breaks when any of His children goes astray.  Yet He is longing for His children to return and He is quick to forgive and embrace every wayward sinner who comes Home.  

Why don’t you bless God's heart and come Home today?

Monday, October 11, 2021

Love Rejoices With the the Truth

Introduction
We’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 13.  Last week, Rev. Donna Lucas was gracious to continue the theme of our series while I was away celebrating my son’s marriage, preaching “Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs”.  It was a wonderful weekend celebrating their love.

1 Corinthians 13 is popularly known as the “love chapter”.  It is the number one scripture read at weddings and it certainly does give invaluable advice to a husband and wife about how they should love each other.  However, this chapter was not originally written for weddings or newlyweds.  It isn't specifically about romantic love at all.  1 Corinthians was written to correct a dysfunctional church.

The Corinthian church had a lot of serious problems.  There were power struggles and jealousy among the members. Some were claiming spiritual superiority and expecting special treatment.  Some were abusing the sacrament of Holy Communion and getting drunk on the communion wine while others were being left out of the meal altogether.  In Corinthians 5, we read that one Corinthian man was sleeping with his father’s wife (his stepmother) and the church ignored his sexual immorality.  Paul writes, “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.”

Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians to reprimand the church and try and bring them back to authentic Christianity.  The letter comes to a climax in the 13th chapter as Paul explains that the most important thing is love.  It all comes down to love.  But the kind of love we’re talking about is not some wishy washy, warm and fuzzy kind of love.  It’s a deep, sacrificial love—the way God loves us, a love demonstrated best by Christ when He died for sinners on the cross.  Let's review 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.


1 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.


Love Does Not Rejoice About Injustice
The NLT says, love “does not rejoice about injustice”.  The NIV translates it “Love does not delight in evil…”  The world today has a warped idea about “Love”.  People today value tolerance, so naturally they like the idea of love being patient and kind.  But, most people would prefer to chop off that part that says love does not delight in evil. Biblical love holds people accountable to God’s Holy Truth. 

A big part of the problem is how people define what is evil.  The world has one standard, and that standard changes from generation to generation.  Things that were considered evil when I was a child are accepted and even praised as  good and wholesome today.  However, God’s standards of good and evil never change and they are preserved in God’s Holy Bible. 

Christian love holds people accountable to God’s standards of good and evil.  That is why the Apostle Paul can write to the Corinthian church about love and also say in the same letter: “It isn’t right for a man to sleep with his stepmother.  You need to remove this man from your church if he won’t repent of his sin.”

Real love doesn’t put up with evil and injustice; it holds people accountable.   

We see a lot of evil and injustice in our world today.  And Christians who are loved by God in Christ and who also profess to love God and love our neighbors ought to call out evil and injustice whenever we see it.   

We should start with ourselves--as individuals and then as the Church.  Jesus once said, “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)  So where do we see evil injustice in our own lives?  Don’t let pointing the finger at someone else’s sin be an excuse to ignore your own.  Examine yourself.  Ask the Lord to reveal where you have fallen short.  Repent of your sin and ask the Holy Spirit to reform you. 

On the other hand, don’t let your own imperfection be an excuse to rejoice about evil and injustice in the world either. Some will shy away from calling sin “sin” because they are too ashamed of their own sin to say anything to someone else.  So they keep silent and their silence condones what is evil. 

Love Rejoices Whenever The Truth Wins Out
But love doesn’t only go around telling people how wrong they are.  Love “rejoices” when the truth wins out.  Love is happy when people finally get it.  Love is overjoyed when it sees someone earnestly repent and turn to God.  Love celebrates with a feast when a prodigal son comes home and reconciles with his estranged father.  Love looks for the good and celebrates it every chance it gets!

Jesus is the very best example of true love.  I guess this is because God is love and Jesus is God so Jesus is Love in Love’s purest form.  Jesus never condoned evil.  Yet, in love, Jesus knew how to call out evil and call people to repentance and also to rejoice whenever the Truth won.  

I want to close with a story from Jesus’ life that I think illustrates how love "does not delight in evil but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.”  It comes from Luke 7:36-50. 

Luke 7:36-38

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

I learned in Sunday school a couple months ago that this jar of perfume was probably used by the woman as part of her “trade”.  Her trade was probably the oldest profession (prostitution).  If so, she would want to use perfume to make herself more attractive to her clients.  When Matthew and Mark tell this story in their Gospels, they say the woman smashed the jar of perfume—symbolic showing she was never going back to her sinful life.

Luke 7:39-48
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

When we have the privilege of celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion, we rejoice that the Truth has won.  Jesus, gave His life so that we can repent of our sins and return to God as Lord.  When we accept God as rightful Lord of our life and surrender to His will, we are saved by the sacrificial love of Christ.

Examine yourself now, and ask, “Lord, show me the sin for which I need to repent today so that I may come to Your table and celebrate how Your Truth has won the victory in my life today.”  

May the Lord show you and may you repent and follow Christ. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Love is NOT Irritable

Introduction
Kelly and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Puerto Rico last weekend as we celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary.  Thank you for allowing me the freedom to be away.  It was a much-needed vacation.  Puerto Rico was a beautiful, interesting place.  I learned so much about it.  Puerto Rico is an American territory and Puerto Ricans are proud America citizens.  The island has a distinctive Latin/Caribbean vibe, but it is also very much American.  90% of the people we met spoke perfect English.  And they live very much like Americans on the mainland.

There was one exception.  As we drove to the airport to fly home early last Monday, we were driving on a major highway at about 4:30 in the morning.  As we came to the red traffic lights, cars would slow down a bit and then run the red light when they determined the intersection was clear.  Everyone was doing it.  I guess that’s just the way they do it in Puerto Rico!  I said, “Well, that’s not the way we do it in Georgia!  So I’m not doing it!”  But then I started to get really concerned, because we would be driving along at 65 MPH and I’m thinking if I stop, these cars behind me are gonna rear end me because they’re not expecting me to stop!  So, I started gingerly running the red lights too (because I didn’t want to cause an accident!).

That got me thinking about road rage. Road rage is a modern phenomenon where drivers get angry and lose control and lash out at other drivers because of stress and frustration while driving.  Most of the time, road rage only lead to verbal attacks (or the use of obscene hand signals).  But sometimes it even spills over into physical violence. 

Road rage is a modern problem.  I don’t think people were arguing, flipping each other off, and rudely tailgating each other’s camels in Bible times.  There’s something about being inside a car that makes otherwise polite, mild-tempered people feel empowered to lash out at other people in ways they would never act if they were face to face with another human being. 

We see something similar on social media.  People will sometimes lash out and call people names and speak rudely on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in ways they would never act if they were with someone in person.  In past centuries, we might have been more polite and kept mean words to ourselves, because we were speaking with people face-to-face.  It wasn't necessarily that irritation wasn't deep down in people's hearts, but they didn't express it.  Then came the telephone where you could speak to someone miles away—maybe an operator or customer service rep you would never meet face-to-face, and suddenly people felt safer to berate someone over the phone.  Now, people are mean to others over the internet.

Anger, irritability, and unloving attitudes often hide down deep in the human heart.   But what the world needs is love.  And the kind of love our world needs is revealed in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.


Love Is NOT
Last week, David did a wonderful job teaching that love is NOT jealous or boastful or proud.  Today I tell you, Love is NOT rude.  It does not demand its on way.  And, It is NOT irritable. 

Someone who is irritable is grumpy, easily annoyed or made angry.  They are like the road raging driver who is so quick to lash out with angry words at the annoying driver who’s driving too slow in front of them (or stopping at a red light in the middle of the night in Puerto Rico while everyone else is running those red lights). 

People can get irritated when they don’t get their own way.  Irritated people are impatient and can be down right rude.  One person’s rudeness irritates someone else who then lashes out at someone else.  Before long, everyone is irritated.  And irritation and anger are slippery slopes where people sometimes slip down to rage and violence.

Real love puts a stop to it all.  When we love—really love the way God loves us—we find that love “does not demand it’s own way.”  And love is not irritable, but rather is easygoing, patient, and gentle.  Jesus once used love to quench a spark of irritation among His disciples.

Luke 10:38-42
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Most people have experienced a situation like this.  Are you typically Mary or Martha in the story?  Are you the one doing all the work or the one sitting their having a good time? 

Martha was annoyed that she was doing all the work while her sister, Mary, was sitting at Jesus’ feet.  She got irritated and went to Jesus to complain.  I want you to notice verse 40.  She goes to Jesus and calls him “Lord”.  That’s a good way to start—recognizing that Jesus is the sovereign Lord of all.  But then, in frustration, she accuses the Lord.  She asks a question, but it’s not really a question.  She asks, “Doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work?”  Martha uses the question to point out what she thinks should be obvious to Jesus.  Really she was accusing Jesus saying, “My sister is making me do all the work and you aren’t doing anything about it!” And then she proceeds to try and tell the Lord what to do.  (That's pretty brash!)

I don’t want to be too hard on Martha.  She was a good woman.  She welcomed Jesus into her home.  She was being a good hostess, making sure everyone was fed—and it had to be a big meal.  There were a lot of mouths to feed—Jesus and all his disciples (that’s 13 people), plus there may have been other’s accompanying them.  It could have been a gathering of quite a few people. And Martha is trying to take care of everyone while her sister is sitting at Jesus feet.  (Sisters really know how to annoy each other, don’t they?)

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t get irritated with Martha.  He loved Martha (and her sister, Mary).  Rather than escalating the situation, Jesus said the truth in a gentle way.  He speaks tenderly, “My dear Martha…”  It’s a very tender way to rebuke her.  He knows her name and she’s dear to him.  Jesus appreciates what she’s doing—or at least he appreciates she is trying to help in the best way she knows how, by taking care of the meal.  But Jesus also conveys that what He really wants, the food that truly feeds him, is to teach and to have students soaking up the Good News about God’s Kingdom he came to give the world.  Mary is sitting at Jesus feet listening.  She has chosen the most important thing.  While Martha is “worried and upset over all these details”, Mary is sitting in the listening at the feet of God’s only begotten Son. 

My Way, Highway
Love does not demand its own way.  When we try to demand our own way, we are easily frustrated. When we are frustrated, we become irritable. When we’re irritable, we are rude. We might even say something for which we’ll be sorry later.  We might even go to the Lord, like Martha, and try to rebuke him saying something like:  “Now listen here Lord!  You should’ve told so-and-so to do what I wanted them to do.”  In that moment, we’re not loving God.  We’re not loving our neighbor. 

When we act like that, we’re being selfish and demanding our own way.  Our “own way” might not be the most important way.  It may not even be the right way.  We’re so distracted by all our plans and concerns that we don't care.  We’re not thinking of anyone else.  That's not love.

Martha was so distracted and concerned by all the details of fixing a big dinner for her guests that she missed the main point of the gathering, which was to spend time with Jesus.  The best hosts I’ve ever known—people who truly have a gift for hospitality—know how to make people feel welcome.  They don’t get so wrapped up in the details of serving that they lose sight of the people they are serving.  Exceptional hosts always keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is the people they are hosting.  The food, the setting, and everything else supports the people and if they they don't, they are simply discarded. 

When we get so wrapped up in accomplishing all our own big plans, we may not even notice our big plans have nothing to do with what Jesus really wants.  And who’s plans do you think are more important—ours or Jesus’?

So if you find yourself “demanding your own way”, it might be a good time to check yourself and ask: “Have I drifted off course here?  Does it really matter?  Why am I so upset and frustrated?  What’s the main point of all this anyway?  Have I abandoned love in this circumstance for the sake of something I really want?  Am I demanding my own way?” 

Conclusion
The kind of love our world desperately needs is "patient and kind.  It is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable."  That’s only half the definition of real love from 1 Corinthians 13, but can you imagine how much better our world would be if everyone just lived out this first half of 1 Corinthians 13's definition of love? 

Well, if you are a Christian—if you call Jesus Lord—you are called to live this way.  The early Christians changed their world with this kind of love.  They started out as just a handful of people living in a hostile, unloving, unchristian world, but they didn’t let that stop them. 

You see, Jesus didn’t say, “Go out there and only love the people who are loving to you.”  No, Jesus said, “Love everyone.” He even said, “Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.”  And that’s what those early Christians did and it changed their world.

And that’s what Christians are called to do today—to love everyone, even our enemies.  When we do, it changes our world and makes it better.  So we need to get out there and do it. 

Maybe you aren’t a Christian, yet.  Maybe you haven’t decided to follow Jesus.  I would like to invite you to start today.  Jesus loved you so much he gave His own life for you.  And there is no greater love than this.  His love is so deep and powerful it can set you free from sin and shame.  It frees you from the wounds of the past and gives you a whole new future.  You can make a fresh start through Jesus' love.  Jesus’ love will change your live and empower you to change others too.  

You see, Jesus has already won.  And if you decide to follow him, you are included in His victory too.  There won’t be anything this world can do to you, because you’ve already won.  You have nothing to lose, because you've already been crucified with Christ and risen to new life and you have the greatest reward anyone can ever receive--eternal life.  So you have nothing to lose!  Even if the evil forces of the world kill you, they still can’t defeat you because you have eternal life.  Living is serving Jesus and sharing His love with the world.  Dying is going Home to live forever celebrating Jesus love in the holy presence of God, where there will be no more sickness or sorrow or suffering or death.  For as the Bible says in Philippians 1:21, “Living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”

Why don’t you make a choice to be a Christian and follow Jesus today? I invite you to pray to Jesus right now and ask Him to forgive you and accept you as His follower.  He will save you and give you Eternal life and also fill you with His Holy Spirit who will guide you to live for Him and His Kingdom.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fight Fire with Fire?

Introduction
Today is Palm Sunday—the day we commemorate Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he was hailed by crowds of people from the city as the King of the Jews.  As we remember this remarkable occasion, I want to continue with our series that compares conventional wisdom with what Jesus actually said. 

Today, we consider the popular expression: “You’ve got to fight fire with fire.”  When someone says you have to fight fire with fire, it means to fight against an opponent by using the same methods or weapons that they use.  Fighting fire with fire is an actual fire fighting technique that started in the 19th century to combat forest fires.  A controlled burn of a strip of forest will create a barrier to an oncoming forest fire because it uses up all the available fuel. There is, however, always the risk that the "controlled burn" goes out of control and starts a new inferno. The technique works for forest fires and is still used to this day.  It has its place. 

Usually when people say, “You’ve got to fight fire with fire,” they’re not talking about forest fires.  What they mean is if someone is rude to you, you be rude right back to them.  If someone starts a nasty rumor about you, you start a nasty rumor about them.  In a larger communal context it means if another nation sinks one of your ships, you sink one of theirs (better yet, sink 3!).  If they drop a bomb on your territory, you drop a bomb on them? 

Fighting fire with fire in these contexts seems natural.  “Do unto others what they have done to you.”  But what did Jesus say?  Quoting Leviticus 19:18 (and what has become known as the “Golden Rule”), Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a subtle difference that makes a world of difference.  The world says treat others the way they have treated you, but Jesus says treat people the way your want them to treat you.  That’s the way he lived. 

Jesus had the opportunity to fight fire with fire.  As He entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, crowds of people were shouting his praises.  They’d heard of his wonderful miracles and powerful teaching.  They were looking for a king who would free them from Roman oppression and restore the power and dignity of Israel’s glory days.  Could this Jesus who did so many wonderful things—driving out demons, healing the blind, feeding the multitudes, and even raising Lazarus from the dead—could Jesus be the long-awaited Messiah who would fight fire with fire for Israel against her enemies?  

Jesus had the popular support of the people.  He could have used it to start an uprising, but he didn't.  Let’s look at the story. 

Luke 19:36-44

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Palm Sunday – A Patriotic Scene
This is a patriotic scene.  The people of Jerusalem loved their country—just like many people love America.  They were waving their palm branches like many Americans wave the American flag at a Fourth of July parade.  Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel and were carved on Jerusalem’s Temple walls and doors. Kings and conquerors were welcomed home with palm branches strewn before them and waved in the air.  So as people waved their palm branches for Jesus, they were waving their national symbol of victory.    They were saying, “He’s the one!  He’s the one who will save us from the Romans!”  And they even shouted Hosanna, which originally translated something like: “Please!  Save us now!”

 

How does one save a nation like Israel?  Well, one way would be to fight fire with fire.  You could raise an army to fight the Romans in open battle.  This was nearly impossible.  Rome was the most powerful empire in the world.  They always won their wars.  They were too powerful, too well organized, and too learned in the strategies of war.  No one could defeat them.  Even if they lost a battle, they would eventually win the war.  Israel was a small territory with no organized army and no allies to help fight against Rome.  And outright war would be suicide.

There was always the possibility of guerrilla warfare, where individuals or small cells of freedom fighters ambushed Roman soldiers or assassinated pro-Roman leaders.  There were many who were already doing this in Jesus' day.  One person mentioned in the Bible--Barabbas--many scholars believe was a freedom fighter.  You may recall that when Jesus was on trial, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Guerrilla warfare is brutal and takes a long, long time to wear down the enemy.

Many of the political leaders in Jerusalem--like the Pharisees and Sadducees--begrudgingly worked with the Romans and bided their time until the day they felt it was possible to break free.  These were the people who felt especially threatened by Jesus' popularity and wanted him killed.  They were afraid he would upset the delicate balance of power in their world.

Jesus had a different plan.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  Even though Jesus had the unlimited power and resources of God at his disposal, he chose not to fight the Romans. He could have defeated them, but what would that accomplish? It would just set up another earthly kingdom by earthly means with all the same problems that plague all the earth.  There would still be corruption, abuse of power, injustice and oppression, and we would still have the core problem of sin that separates us from God.  

Jesus wanted something better and He offered Jerusalem a better choice.  He said, "Repent of your sin and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  He said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me!" because chasing after our own selfish ambitions is what leads to all the world's problems.  He preached, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you!" because His Kingdom is not just for the Israelites, it's for the Romans too (and for Americans and Russians and Egyptians and Koreans and everybody everywhere).  Jesus said, "If a Roman soldier demands you carry his pack one mile, carry it a second mile without even being asked.  And if someone demands you coat from you, give them your shirt too."  And then Jesus commissioned all His followers to "Go into all the world and encourage everyone to live this way."  For when the whole world finally lives by Jesus' principles, their peaceful Kingdom of Heaven will finally come upon the earth.


Jerusalem’s Brief Independence
Even as Jesus gave Jerusalem the option, He knew the tragic choice they would make.  They would choose to fight fire with fire instead of love and they would reap the consequences.

I want to share with you the story of how Jerusalem won independence from the Roman empire.  You probably don’t know this story, but it’s true.  In 66 AD (about 30 years after Christ came to Jerusalem and was crucified), religious tensions worsened in Jerusalem and lead to open rebellion.  After Jewish worshippers witnessed Greek civilians sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue, they were incensed and complain to the Roman authorities.  Their complaints were ignored, which led to am uprising.  Roman soldiers tried to put down the riot, but there were too many people.  Civillians joined with the rioters and attacked and killed the soldiers.  Surviving soldiers fled the city along with the pro-Roman King Agrippa II.

 

Jerusalem was free!  But for how long?  A Roman legion soon arrived from Syria to restore order, but was somehow defeated and Jerusalem remained free!  Jerusalem’s success inspired many other towns in Judea to throw their lot in with the rebels.  There was growing sense that finally the Jewish people would restore their nation to its former glory.

 

In 66 AD, the Judean Provisional Government was formed and  Ananus ben Ananus, the former High Priest of Israel, was appointed one of the heads of the government.  They even minted their own coins, an important symbol of freedom because the money no longer bore the image of a Roman emperor. On the coins were inscribed in Hebrew “the Shekel of Israel” and “the Freedom of Zion”.

 

Jerusalem was ruled by the Judean Provisional Government from 66 – 68 AD.  Unfortunately, infighting led to the killing of most of its members as all the different factions fought against each other and vied for power.  From 68-70 AD, various despots rose to power, but there was no attempt to restore civil government.

 

On April 14 in 70 AD, three days before the beginning of Passover, the Roman army arrived and laid siege to Jerusalem.  The city was bloated with Jews from all over who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Three Roman legions surrounded the city—allowing no one in or out.

 

The Jerusalem defenders, made up of vicious gangs and factions who had been at war with each other for years, now found themselves surrounded by an overwhelming and organized Roman force.  They had no idea how to work together to defend Jerusalem.  Among one of their ludicrous plans was to destroy all the food stored in the city, "a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God's intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews, or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army.”[i]

 

The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem for 5 months, hoping to starve the inhabitants of Jerusalem into submission.  Inevitably, the Romans built siege works and breached the city walls.  Soldiers swarmed the city and destroyed everything—included the sacred Temple--fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, in Luke 19:44, "They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”  


Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that 1.1 million people died in the siege—either by famine, disease, or sword.  After the Romans killed all the armed men, they also murdered the elderly becuase they had no use for them.  Jerusalem’s remaining citizens--91,000 people--became Roman slaves.  Thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena.  The Romans celebrated by parading the sacred Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets of Rome. Up until then, these items had only ever been seen by Jerusalem's High Priest in the Holy Temple.

 

Conclusion
Abigail Van Buren (who started the “Dear Abby” column in 1956) once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” 

 

Jesus has a better way.  He offered Jerusalem his better way.  They refused it.  Instead, they chose Barabbas and crucified Jesus.  History shows what came of their decision to try and fight fire with fire.

 

How about you?  What will you choose?  Will you choose what seems most natural to sinful human nature—to fight fire with fire?  Or would you instead choose the narrow path—the one few take, but the only one that leads to life, to healing, to peace, and to eternal salvation?

 

Jesus pleads for you today as he pleaded for Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago.  Luke 19:41 – “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.

 

You can.  You can turn away from the fire to Jesus today.  You can choose His way over the ways of the world. 

 

Will you?