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Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Names of God - Advocate

So far, we’ve covered quite a few names for God in the Bible.  I hope this series has helped you know God better—not just know about Him, but actually know Him.  It is never enough to know about Him.  God wants you to know Him, personally.  It is one thing for you to know about a person; we know about many people.  But when you know a person, it’s like you have dinner with them and sit around the living room talking about their life until late in the night.  You tell them all about your life and they tell you about there’s.  Even more than that, you really get to know a person when they come rescue you when your car breaks down, or when you are sick in the hospital and they take your children to school for you while you’re having surgery.  When you live life with someone—when they are at your wedding and the birth of your child and in the good times and the bad times and everything in between, then you really know them.  And this is the kind of relationship God wants with us all.  He knows us and He wants us to know Him.  And the names for God, which He reveals in Scripture, show us different ways He is there with us and who He is to us.  And I hope this series has helped you see some of the ways God is there.

Our name for God today is Advocate.

John 14:15-17a
“If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.

1 John 2:1
1 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.  2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

Who would you call to help you if you were in really big trouble?  Imagine something terrible happens.  I mean, suppose you are driving through the Kroger parking lot and a 4-year-old kid dashes out in front of your car before you even have a chance to react.  And you hear that awful sound—kadunk…  You immediately stop and get out of the car and see the horrible sight of a mangled child.  It wasn’t your fault.  You had no chance to stop.  There was nothing you could do, but none of that matters to the crowd gathering around.  You mind is swirling and the mother is screaming.  The crowd is angy.  All they see is broken child, a devastated mother, and you and your car.  Someone yells “He was probably texting and driving!”  You weren’t. Your phone was in your pocket, but it doesn’t matter.  The mob wants someone to blame for this senseless tragedy.  They blame you.  The police arrive.  They take you to jail…  Who would you call?  Who would be on your side and fight for you no matter what?

I hope you never get in a situation like that.  But if you do, you will need friends who love you unconditionally.  You will need a good lawyer who will fight for you.

I say all this because it steers our thinking towards one of God’s most beautiful names—Advocate.  In John 14:16, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  The Greek word for Advocate is Paraclete.  It literally means, “Called to one’s side.” 

In the ancient world, a paraclete (advocate) was the person you would call to defend you before a judge. They would plead your case and fight for you with every means possible.  In our day, you would hire the best lawyer you can afford.  We have seen in our time the difference between having a high paid lawyer as opposed to a public defender (that the court appoints for those who can’t afford a lawyer). 

Public defenders are notorious for providing bad defense.  It’s not necessarily that they are bad lawyers.  It’s just they are overworked, underpaid, and understaffed.  You are just another name on a long list of clients they have to defend.  On the other hand, we have seen how a really rich person might hire a brilliant lawyer who’s only job is to defend their one high-paying client, and they do it so well their client might even get away with murder.  Having the right advocate can make all the difference.

And Jesus says, “I will ask my Father (God) and He will give you an Advocate.”  The God of the Universe gives us an Advocate.  The Advocate is the Third Person of the Trinity—God the Holy Spirit.
When we decide to follow Jesus as our Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts.  He is there fighting for you, encouraging you, defending you, advising you, guiding you every step of the way.  Isn't it good to know that even if the whole world is against you, God the Holy Spirit is on your side?

Prevenient Grace
The Holy Spirit was there fighting for you before you even know He was there.  We celebrate the prevenient grace of God whenever we baptize and infant.  Sometimes people think the practice of infant baptism is peculiar.  They wonder why we would baptize a person before they can consciously understand what Jesus has done for them.  One reason we do infant baptism is specifically because represents how the Holy Spirit is working on our behalf before we even know or understand.  Parents present their child to God for baptism and ask the Holy Spirit to pour grace into the child and the parents and the church to help raise the child until they are old enough to accept Christ for themself and complete the baptism at confirmation.  Then they will recognize all that God has done for them through so many people and in so many ways.

All of my children were baptized as infants.  They will never know all the people who prayed for them, helped them, babysat them, and blessed them through the years.  All these people were instruments of the Holy Spirit to help them and give them every possible chance to grow up know CHrist and His love so that they were able to accept Jesus for themselves when they were old enough to understand what it means to be a Christian.

But suppose you were an orphan and didn't have a family or a church showing you the Holy Spirit's grace all through your childhood.  I want you to know that when no one else is there for you, God is the for you personally.  Deuteronomy 10:18 says, "[God] ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing."  Psalm 10:14 says, "The helpless put their trust in [God]. You defend the orphans."

When you are helpless and you have no one fighting for you, God is fighting for you personally as the Holy Spirit--opening doors, providing for needs, bringing people into your life to help.  God makes this happen, because God has a deep compassionate heart for the least, the last, the forgotten, and the lost. Read the stories of the Scripture and you will see Him there time and time again for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, the leper, the lame, and the social outcast.

The Holy Spirit is there fighting for us to bring us to know God—even before we are thinking of God.

Justifying Grace
And then one day, we realize all that God has done for us, even though we haven’t been living for Him.  We see how Jesus died on the cross to save us from our own selfishness and when we cry out, “Lord, forgive me!  I want to start following You know. Come, take control of my life!”  

In the moment, the Devil is there prosecuting you before God.  The Devil lays out all the charges against you about all the ways you’ve sinned and hurt people and turned your back on God.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit steps in on your behalf and defends/justifies you.  This is called the justifying grace of God.  The Holy Spirit says, “All these sins have been paid for by the blood of Christ shed on the cross.”

However, the Devil is relentless.  He doesn't give up.  The Devil says, “Yes! But she’s not going to be true.  She’s a sinful human!  She will say she’s gonna follow you today, but tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, she will sin again!”

So, the Holy Spirit says, “ALL of her sins are paid in full—her sins from the past; her sins today; and every sin she might do in the future.  ALL her sins are swallowed up by Christ’s death on the cross.  They are atoned.  They are forgiven.  They are washed away by the blood fo Christ, forever!”

Then God will look at you and pronounce: “You is innocent.  I see no sin in you.  I see only Christ in you.  You are completely justified, forever!"

Sanctifying Grace
It doesn't stop there.  Now, the new Christian has to rebuild their life as a new creation patterned after Jesus their Lord.  God has proclaimed them innocent, but now they have to live a new way—for the old has passed and the new has begin.  How will a person know how to live as a Christian?  Howe will they actually do it if they know how?  Jesus was there showing his 12 disciples and helping them every day.  Who is walking with us today showing us how to live?

Jesus told His disciples how this would work.  In John 14:26, He said, “When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” 

So this is another function of the Holy Spirit, our Advocate.  The Holy Spirit shows us how to live for God and the Holy Spirit empowers us to live holy lives.  If we listen with sensitive spiritual ears, the Holy Spirit is there to guide us and show us what to do, how to live, which way to go.  Our Advocate not only helps us understand what the Bible says, He also empowers us to live it out in every day life, in every situation.  The Advocate is Wisdom that knows the right thing to do, in the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons.  If you will respond to the Holy Spirit's guidance, you will live the way God wants you to and you will be more like Christ and you will bring glory to God thorugh the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s Time to Follow Jesus
And so today, I offer you a chance to make a choice to become a follower of Christ—a true Christian.  I want you to realize the God was there with you—in the Holy Spirit—the whole time. Even if you couldn’t see Him.  Even if there was no one to tell you about Him or show Him to you, He was there opening doors, guiding your steps, using your decisions and the people in your life and every  circumstance (both good and bad) to lead you to know Him and His love.  Now, it is time to trust Him, to proclaim Jesus the Lord of your life.  It is time to choose to follow Christ.

If you would like to become a Christian today, I invite you to pray this prayer:

"Lord, come in and take control of my life.  I surrender to You.  I recognize that You are the true Lord of all and You deserve my full allegiance.  I want to give my allegiance to you from this day forward.  Lord, please forgive me for my sins.  Wash me clean and give me a fresh start so that I can live for You from this day forward, with the help of Your Holy Spirit.  I know that Jesus is Your precious Son who died on the cross for my sins.  I trust Him to forgive me.  Thank you for giving me eternal Christ, for His names sake.  Now, let me live all my days as Your precious child. Amen."

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Names of God - Adonai

John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement and is credited as one of England’s greatest spiritual leaders.  John was a godly man who spent his life serving and making the world a much better place.  Many churches are named after this great spiritual leader.  Kelly and I were married in a church called Wesley United Methodist.  We are sitting here today in Pleasant Grove Methodist Church because of John Wesley's influence on the world.

Many people have named their children after John Wesley.  One family that followed this custom was
James and Mary Hardin.  James was a Methodist minister in Texas who named his son after the founder of the Methodist movement.  Unfortunately, their son, John Wesley Hardin, didn’t live up to his name sakes reputation for Christian love and charity.  John Wesley Hardin became a notorious murderer who killed his first victim when he was only 15 years old.  John Wesley Hardin murdered 21 men during his treacherous life.  Yet despite this, people still name their children “John” or “Wesley”, and even “John Wesley”.

We have been studying the names of God to learn about His character.  Today we come to a name that may seem natural for some but may trigger very negative feelings in others.  One might be tempted to discard the name altogether, base merely on the negative connotation associated with it.  However, we must not blame God for the sinful actions of people--anymore than we should blame John Wesley for John Wesley Hardin's evil actions..

The name of God we study today is Adonai.  The Hebrew word Adonai may not seem controversial until we learn the English translation.  Adonai means Master.

Master was a common word used in the ancient world.  Both paid servants and unpaid slaves referred to their lord as master.  In fact, calling someone master was a polite way for anyone to show humility and respect to someone of higher rank.  A student called their teacher master—a tradition carried on today in some schools where the principle is called the headmaster.

Unfortunately, what comes to mind for many Americans when we hear the term “Master” is the terrible era of slavery in our country where people bought and sold other human beings as if they were only animals.  The term master may bring to mind the terrible way slave master's treated their slaves in this country.  however, this is not at all what we mean when we call God Adonai/Master. 

God is not like sinful people any more than John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) is like the murderer John Wesley Hardin.  In fact, it is precisely because God is our True Master that the world finally concluded slavery is evil.  Christian abolitionists diligently argued and convinced the world that it is not right that one human being should own another human being.  Their Christian belief that slavery is evil was based largely on their Christian belief that God is already our true master and a man cannot serve two masters (as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24).  Many scholars and historians (including non-Christians) argue that slavery could not and would not have been abolished without Christianity. 

Isaiah 61:1a
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
    for the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.

There are two things about this passage so far.  First, you may recognize this as the words Jesus used in Luke chapter 4.  You are absolutely right. Jesus once visited a worship service in his own hometown of Nazareth.  He was invited to read the Scripture and preach.  Jesus read this very passage from Isaiah 61.  Then he preached a sermon saying, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”  His sermon made his hometown so furious they tried to throw him off a cliff!  (I hope my message today doesn’t have the same effect!)

Second, notice where is says Sovereign Lord (I’ve highlighted it for you in the passage above).  This is the English translation of the Hebrew Yahweh Adonai.  Yahweh is God’s holy name.  It means something like "I am who I am and you can’t control me." Adonai means master.

What has this uncontrollable sovereign master done?  He has anointed or chosen Jesus for a special purpose: to bring good news to the poor.  Going on there’s more…

Isaiah 61:1b
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.

Are you brokenhearted?  Are you trapped by someone or something?  Are you imprisoned—literally or figuratively?  The Master has Good News for you.

These words of Isaiah were written over 500 years before Christ was born. Originally, they were intended to comfort and console the Israelites who, because of their sin, had been dragged away as captives to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians.  Those captives longed for a Messiah who would save them.  Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, came preaching these words and giving them new meaning.  We are all in need of a Savior chosen to comfort our broken hearts and set us free from captivity.  And Jesus goes on sharing His beautiful purpose for being born on earth as God’s Messiah:

Isaiah 61:2-3
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Do You Want A Master?
Jesus came preaching this Good News, but not everyone wanted to hear it.  Some thought He did not have the right to speak these words.  He was just the son of a carpenter.  Others wanted to cling to their power and position.  They didn’t want the world to change—even if it was changing for the better—because it might threaten the life they’d eked out at the expense of others.

Do you want God to be your master?  That’s a question we all need to honestly think about.  It goes to the very heart of the human condition of sin and rebellion.  Most of us do not want anyone to be our master—not even God.  We prefer names for God like Savior, Redeemer, and Father.  But Master?  Not so much.

It is interesting that in the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as Master over 700 times.[i]  Jesus is only referred to as Savior 26 times[ii] (the specific original Greek word for “Savior” is actually only used once, by the Samaritans in John 4:42[iii]).  Master takes precedence over savior in the New Testament.

We want someone to save us.  We don’t want someone to master us.

We are far too much like the younger son in Jesus’ famous parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-31).  Like that rebellious younger son in His story, we chaff against the restraints of God on our life.   Who is God that He should tell us how we should live—what we can and can’t do with our own life?  Are we not free people?  Can we not live however we please (so long as we aren’t hurting anyone else)?  It is precisely this attitude that leads so many people to a place where they need someone to save them.  The prodigal son in Jesus' story took all his money and went away to a foregn land to live however he pleased.  He spent all his money on wild living.  When it was all gone, he was destitute and forced to work for a pig farmer.  He was starving to death and it was so bad he wished he could eat the slop he was feeding the pigs.  That's what "living however we please" often leads to.  Look at some of the results of people living however they please in America today.  It often leads to financial debt. The average credit card debt in America is $6,000[iv]; the average household debt is $90,000[v].  The total national debt is $28 trillion and is projected to rise to $89 Trillion by the end of the decade[vi].  Living however we please can often lead to poverty, substance abuse, depression, heartache, and even suicide.  Ultimately, it leads us to hell. When you won’t let God be your master, by default you invite someone or something else to be your master--and these other things are never kind masters who have your best interest at heart.  They will use you up and discard you.

Even good people who work hard, live wisely, and do the right thing are in trouble if they refuse to let God be their master.  This is an even more dangerous road to take.  For the “good” people of our planet often become self-righteous and say, “I have earned the right to be my own master.  I have my life together.  I deserve the rewards of my good living.  I’m not like those lazy, undisciplined, self-indulgent people. I work hard for everything I’ve got.  I don’t owe anyone anything.”  People who think like this are the blindest people of all because they think the God who created them owes them.  They cannot see God has already given them more than they deserve, and they owe Him everything.

I pray that everyone would come to have the attitude where they can come to God and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”

An interesting thing happens when we ask God to be our Master.  Instead of treating us as slaves, or even servants, the Master--Adonai--treats us as beloved sons and daughters.  Some of the ways the Bible portrays this is that God heals all our hurts and fills us with His Holy Spirit.  God gives us royal robe and honors us with a heavenly feast.  God makes us co-heirs with His son Jesus.  God blesses us with eternal life where their will be no more sin or sickness or suffering.

Jesus showed us the Master’s attitude most vividly in one of his final acts of love for his disciples before he was arrested and crucified.  Jesus, the Master, who was with God in the beginning when the world was created and who is God, knelt down like a slave and washed His disciples feet.  And he said, whoever among you wants to be the greatest must become the least.  And he told them (and us) go and do likewise.







Monday, May 24, 2021


If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, I invite you to go to our church website——and scroll down toward the bottom of the page where you will see links to all our past sermons.  You can listen to them on our podcast or read them on our blog.

Throughout this series, I’ve been telling you that our words matter.  We were made in the image of the God who created the entire universe with words.  God said, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be land and water and plants and animals.”  And there was land and water and plants and animals.”  And God made us in His image—to be like Him.  That means our words are powerful too.


But a terrible thing happened.  Humanity turned their backs on God.  We walked away from the One who is the source of life and love and goodness.  We chose our own path—and it has become a path of darkness and death and selfishness and hate.  And so everything in our life has become rotten and corrupt.  Even the good things in our life—like love and joy and pleasure—have soured until they taste like a grape that looks and smells good in your hand but is rotten and sour when your put it in your mouth to chew.


And so, the words we speak—which should bring blessings and life—often brings curses and death instead.

James 3:6-12
And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

The Powerful But Uncontrollably Tongue

As a kid, I loved to read my older brothers collection of X-Men comic books.  One of the X-Men was a character named Cyclops.  Cyclops shoots a concussive force that looks like lasers from his eyes.  The force is about two Gigawatts of power (or the energy of a large nuclear powerplant). The drawback is, Cyclops can’t control his optic blast.  He must wear special glasses to contain his power vision.  (In the picture, you can see Cyclops touching his visor to release his optic blast against a villain.)  

I saw an X-Men movie once where all the heroes were fighting the villains and one of the bad guys knocked Cyclops' visor off.  His optic blast began spraying out, indiscriminately destroying everything in its path.  Cyclops had to close his eyes to turn it off, but then of course he couldn't see, which was a terrible handicap in the fight.

What do comic book heroes have to do with Christianity?  Well, Cyclops’ uncontrollable optic blast is an image of the uncontrollable human tongue.  Our words are incredibly powerful, but also so hard to control.  Sometimes I feel like the only way I can keep my tongue from destroying is to keep my mouth shut!


The Apostle James says people can tame all kinds of animals, but who can tame the tongue?  And it’s true.  People are amazing.  We’ve figured out ways to tame and train horses, lions, tigers, and elephants.  You can even go to Sea World and watch trainers directing Killer Whales. (Now think about that.  They’re not just whales; they’re killer whales! And people have them jumping through hoops and riding on their backs through the water!)


But when it comes to the human tongue, people can’t keep their own words under control. 

I was never one to use a lot of foul language while I was growing up.  My mother taught me better. However, when I was in college, I worked the graveyard shift stocking shelves at a grocery store for a time.  There were few customers  in the store during those hours and guys on the stock crew had a habit of using terrible language.  Though I wasn't given to cussin', I found their language was rubbing off on me.  Soon, I was cussin' too.  Even after I left the store, I had developed a habit that took effort to curtail that bad habit.


Cussin' is quite common in America in 2021.  Think for a minute what we are doing.  In the south, we call it cussin’ when people use foul language.  Cussin’ is slang for cursing.  What is a curse?  According to the dictionary, a curse is “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.”  Cursing is what witches do, using black magic to invoke evil power to hurt people.

People often think about all the evil and darkness in our world and wonder, "Why is there so much suffering and death? Why do little kids get cancer and die before they've even have a chance to live? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is our world so screwed up?" When I stop and listen to the careless curses flying freely people’s mouths all day long, I can’t help but think it must have a very negative effect on our world.

Words are powerful.  God created the world with words and we are created in God’s image—patterned after Him.  Our words matter too.  They can create or they can destroy.  So many times we are uttering curses, without even paying attention to the words we say.  I know these negative words have a tangible effect on people’s attitudes.  Offensive words and profanities are strong language designed to pack a verbal punch.  They get people’s attention and put them on edge.  I also wonder how all these curses invite dark spiritual forces into our world and into our lives—even if unintentionally.

We know air pollution and water pollution can have ill effects on our spiritual health.  What about spiritual pollution?  We can't study it with science like we can study other physical forms of pollution, but could polluting the spiritual realm with so many curses have ill effects our our spiritual health?  I can't help think it must.

Meanwhile, prayer and blessings are on the decline.  How many people still pray every day? How many say a blessing before their meal?  And we are so quick to criticize and slow to offer encouragment.  Our words tear down and curse when they ought build up and bless.


Jesus Saves
Christians have a saying, “Jesus saves.”  He saves us from sin and death.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  But Jesus saves us for more than just heaven.  Jesus saves us for this life too.  Jesus can change the way you act and even how you speak.  He can make you a blessing instead of a curse.


The Xman, Cyclops, wears a visor to control and contain his incredibly powerful optic blast.  Christians welcome Jesus in their heart to tame their uncontrollable behavior and their tongue.


Jesus said in Mark 7:20-22, “20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”


The human heart is full of disgusting wickedness and from the human heart flows all kinds of filthy behavior and language.  When Jesus comes to live in our heart, he begins cleaning us up from the inside out.  If we will allow him, Jesus will throw out all the evil desires and thoughts.  He will disinfect all the filth that coats the walls of our heart.  It’s a process that takes time—maybe even a whole lifetime.  Eventually, what flows out from our hearts becomes more and more godly—like Jesus.  Since he is living in us, our actions become more Christlike.


But we have to cooperate.  Jesus won’t force us to change.  We have to be willing.  We have to take our spiritual medicine and do the spiritual exercise that nurtures the change Jesus brings.


Tips to Quite Cussin’
Many of our spiritual habits that need to change are centered around our language. We cannot control our tongues, but Jesus can.

1. Ask Jesus to help you.  We can't fix our own problem, but Jesus can and he wants to .  If you ask Him, Jesus will help you control your tonge.

2. Ask a friend to hold you accountable. There few things more effective in helping change yhour behavior than having a good friend hold you to your commitments.  If you are tryien to clean up your language, tell a friend and ask them to hold you accountable.  Of course, sometimes our friends also use bad language.  Be honest with your friends and tel them you are trying to change the way you speak.  Ask them to honor your choice by refraining from bad language as well.  In doing so , you may bring new life to them as well.  If they refuse to honor your decision, it may be time to change your friends.  Do you really need friends who don't respect your choices or wish to help you grow as a person?  Are they really good friends?

3. Find some replacement words. I know this sounds silly, but say "shoot", "dagnabit", of "frick" instead of those curse words you shouldn't say.  Yes, you’ll sound ridiculous. But better to sound ridiculous than to spray out curses.  And the fact you sound ridiculous may help you with the next tip, because our ultimate goal is to change the whole way we think and speak.

4. Think differently. The goal is for curses to not even come to mind.  There will always be times when you pinch a finger in  a door or stub your toe.  But those don't have to be times when you spew curses.  Wouldn't it be great if a curse didn't even come to mind in those moments.  Ask Jesus to help you change the whole way you think so you're more and more like Him.


The ungodly bring curses and death.  But 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”


Christians have the incredible power to bring goodness and light.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  All the families of the earth will be blessed through us.  And God’s Kingdom will come upon the earth.  Therefore, let us surrender control of our hearts and our tongues to the Lord Jesus Christ that He may use them to speak life into our world.


Prayer of Confession and Pardon (adapted from the Prayer of Confession UMH 890)

I invite you to use this prayer (or your own) to confess your sins to the Lord and make a commitment to let Him lead you to be more and more like Christ.

Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your name. Amen

And now, I would like to offer God's pardon with my own prayer for you.

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fight Fire with Fire?

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.


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?