Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Cross

Here is a message I gave at Alexandra Gardens Aged Care in Donvale, on 18th of June 2011.

Romans 3:19-26

The passage we are looking at today is about the cross, which is the heart of Christianity. Jesus is the central person of Christianity, and it is his death and resurrection together which form the central event. But what is the cross about in essence – why is it necessary? That’s what we’ll consider today.
So how can something like a cross be good news? If the cross is central to Christianity, how is Christianity good news? Well, it is good news, that’s what the word gospel basically means. But to know it is good news, to appreciate the cross, to be able to really praise God for it, we need to understand the bad news and understand how the cross, how Jesus death, is good news, the great good news. And show us how God really is a God of love.
So today we want to look as the cross.
So first I’ll set the scene: what is the bad news we face without the cross
Then we will look at how the cross turns the situation around.
We will look at three pictures – and three words for these pictures respectively – three pictures which help explain the cross and what it achieves
And finally our response
what we should do
why we should be glad.

So firstly, we will look at the bad news.
Why should we think about bad news, isn’t it just depressing?
Well, we cannot appreciate a severe medical operation, unless we know the issue it is addressing, the seriousness of it. I don’t know if any of you have had one, or know a person who has, but a heart transplant is significant event, but sometimes it is needed. But if we know how bad an existing heart is then we realise the need for drastic measures.
So what is this bad news?
Paul says the following in Romans 3:20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” -  Paul shows us that we cannot be righteous before God by obeying the law. Part of what the Bible shows us how we mess up. It doesn’t say, well if you try a little harder you can be good enough, and God will be please, no it says we are not good.
We see this also in vs. 23 “we fall short of the glory of God”. That is, we miss God’s target, we miss it. The word for sin is originally an archery term, so to sin was to miss the target.  Miss what we were made to be, we fall short of the target, the bulls eye.  We were made in the image of God, to reflect his glory, to be God’s vice regents, on Earth, but we fall short – miserably.
Do we ever lie? Or do we sin by omission, not love when we should. Do we see people who need help, but ignore, or say it is too difficult for us? Even small things show us how we fall short of God.
So where does this leave us. Well, God is loving, right? He’ll forgive us won’t he? He won’t punish us will he? Surely it’s his job to love and forgive isn’t it?
On the other hand, what sort of God would we have if he didn’t care about sin, if he thought it was okay? “Ah yes you murdered some people, but I’m kind, I won’t punish you”.
If we thought God would just forgive Hitler like this, we wouldn’t take God seriously – like a judge who never convicts murders, we would think he wasn’t doing his job, or worse – he was corrupt. What would we think of him if he didn’t care that many Christians are being put to death for Jesus sake in many countries around the world.
Well God does forgive – there is good news for us – but there is something which needs to happen first – something “crucial”. He doesn’t “simply” forgive. There is a cost. There is something he does to forgive us.

So if God is just and we are sinners then there is a problem. But this passage offers a solution. There is a “but”. We are in trouble, “but” here comes the good news.
That is where the But comes in. At the start of the passage it is announced ... “But now a righteousness from God ...”   Before it said “no one will be declared righteous.” No one. But in v21 there is a big “but”, “But now a righteousness comes.” And “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ”
So how does this solution, this “but” come to pass – this big change in our status. How does it happen?
Well it’s the cross of course.
Here in the passage, there are three words which each give a picture to help us understand the cross. Three things which really tell us how God’s love and justice, his holiness and mercy fit together.  His kindness and his righteousness fit. How he can be a just judge and also a forgiving father.
So the three pictures:
First one is the market place.
Second is at the temple.
And the third one the law courts.
The market place, the temple, and the law courts.

The first picture is that of the market place: and the word which goes with this is “Redemption”. We see the word redemption in the passage:
 vs 24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
Now what is the picture of the market place? I’m sure you will be familiar with pawn shops and getting cash for your valuables. The idea of redemption is going back and paying the money to get the valuable back. You redeem it for an amount of money. Redemption is the event of redeeming an item for payment.
Similar is the idea of Ransom. The idea of paying for someone to be released who is held captive. Like a person captured in war, and ending up in slavery, and then someone can then redeem them from the slavery. This is redemption. As a picture, you could also think of it as a slave market – as in times gone by.
So there was a price to be paid to free us from sin. There is a cost and it is Jesus’ death, his blood, his life, which is the price paid. Jesus died for our redemption. As the passage says “we are justified by the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
The idea of a price being paid leads us to a question – why is this the price, why does it need to be paid. This leads two our second picture.

The second picture is that of the temple. More specifically the temple sacrifices – since that’s one of the main roles of the temple. Now the Jews had a sacrificial system, offering lambs and bulls, as sin offerings and in atonement, as especially on the special Day of Atonement.  A death is made as atonement for the sin of the people. People set apart the required animals – maybe lambs. The animals had to be perfect – without defect – and they were offered as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people.
The second picture is captured by the word “sacrifice of atonement”.  The passage says: “God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith, in this blood”. Atonement or as the older translations like the King James Version, it is “propitiation” – I think propitiation is the technically the most accurate word, but not many people use it or know what it means.
The idea of atonement, or propitiation, is that since God is justly angry at our wickedness and our rejection of him, something needs to be done. God is just and he can’t turn a blind eye. God doesn’t let the murder off the hook, he demands justice – it is part of his character - he is righteous and holy so he can’t abide sin – and sin – our rebellion against him, for going our own way must be punished. This is not the wrongful anger of a human which is laden with sin, but of one who is righteous and his anger is the correct response to our rejection of him, our going our own way. For we don’t treat him like God as he should be.
So this is what happens on the cross – Jesus bares the wrath of God – the punishment due to our rebellion. He takes it on the cross.
As the Old Testament prophet Isaiah looked forward to this day.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.”
So that is the picture of the temple, the temple sacrifice – Jesus death is our atonement for sin. Bearing the punishment we deserve.

We have looked at the pictures of redemption and propitiation which describe the rescuing and dealing with sin justly. So where does this leave us.
Finally the third picture is of the law courts.
Imagine we stand before a judge and jury. About to receive the verdict and then the sentence.
The scene is set, the crimes have been read, the evidence has been laid bare. The verdict is in. It is read ... And what is it? “Not guilty... Not guilty” “you are free to go” – cleared of all charges.
The word with this picture is “justified”. The passage says we are justified by faith.
This means we are declared righteous – we are reckoned to have a right standing, our record is clean – there is no crimes recorded. That’s what is says when we are “justified by faith”.  As in the two pictures before – the price has been paid, redemption, God’s justice, and righteous anger has been satisfied – so where does this leave us – we are declared righteous.
But how can this be – well as we have seen – the price has been paid already – there is no punishment due – the slates are wiped clean – Jesus has taken the wrap for us, he has taken our place.
But who does this apply to – who gets the not guilty verdict – who has there slate wiped clean.
Well, it’s those who have faith – that is – it is those who trust in Jesus to rescue them, those who rely and depend on Jesus Christ to take the punishment for their rebellion. They depend on Jesus because it’s their only hope.
It’s the only way we can be saved – and here we can find eternal life – heavens doors are opened to us.
So to summarise, the three pictures fit together. Jesus redeemed us, by offering himself as a sacrifice of atonement, so we could be justified.

Well as those who know and love the lord. Why do we need to talk about this?
There is joy in have our consciences cleansed. We know how much God loves us, knowing that despite our failings God loves us and has saved us. This should give us praise to our saviour Jesus, just as we sing in these songs.
We have a temptation to start thinking our deeds our goodness is what gets us to heaven. We need to remember Jesus has done it for us, he has made the way open. Our acts of service are our response to our loving God.
Are we tempted to think we deserve being rescued – no - it’s out of grace, God’s kindness; it’s not something we earn, since we can never earn it. No one is good enough that’s why we gladly cling to the cross as the way to God, the way to know heaven’s joys.
How well do you know the cross
do you value it, love it,
do you love the one who died for you?
Do you need to come, to come and rely on Jesus? [ forsake your own sense of goodness, your own pride ]
Come to the cross
come and see salvation at the cross
have your guilt taken away, have your consciences cleansed
Know life and love in Jesus
Know joy eternal
See the goodness of the cross.

Be devoted to Jesus

Here is a message I gave at Alexandra Gardens Aged Care in Donvale, on 15th of October 2011.

On Luke 10:38-42 (and also read Luke 12:22-34)

Lets ask a question. What is important to us? What consumes our thinking? What do you pray for? What things run through your mind on a daily basis? If I were to speak to someone who saw you on a daily basis, what would they say is important to you? Would they say the same as you would?
To answer these questions let’s look at the passage. The passage we are looking at involves two of Jesus friends, Mary and Martha, and Jesus has things to say to or about them. So I’ll look at what he says about each of them. First Martha and then Mary.
So let’s look at what the passage says. So, what do we notice when we read this passage? “... Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Martha wasn’t sitting at Jesus feet – she was distracted by other things. Other things had taken up her concentration.
Now Jesus was a special guest today at Martha’s house, so she probably wanted to do something special – something special for him. We can guess the preparations were going on for some time.
Now Martha can’t stand it any longer – she is now the only one doing anything while Mary sits at Jesus feet. So she comes to Jesus and complains, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
What does Jesus say? Does he say, “Well Mary - Martha has a big important job, you shouldn’t sit here idly – get up and go help her?” No - he responds to Martha, he finds that Martha is in the wrong. And he addresses her – tenderly mind you.
The first things he says is “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
So what does Jesus see as the problem?
The first part of the problem is she is worried and upset about many things – but only one thing is needed. It seems lesser, unnecessary things – and many of them - were taking up concentration. She was anxious and troubled about these.
I think the point is to not be consumed by secondary things, as Martha was.
Don’t get consumed by secondary things, things which aren’t necessary in themselves. Don’t think these are the most important things.
The passage says, “Martha was distracted,” and Jesus said to her, “... you are worried and upset about many things, but only on things is needed”
To come closer to Martha – she was actually serving. Surely service, serving people is a good thing. Well I think the problem is that she was consumed by the service, but didn’t have the right priorities.
For us there are many things which can distract us and consume us.
There could be bad things – but we are usually fooled by good things – they can distract us and consume or energies and worrying.
Maybe it’s the daily things of life – like what we are going to eat – Jesus addressed this on another occasion when he said “do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear”.
Also think of the many good things God gives us: money, jobs, houses, a great country, music, good books. I could go on.  And it’s good we thank God for all these good things. But they shouldn’t be the number one thing in our lives, they shouldn’t consume us.
It’s not the size of our church, house, bank balance that is important. Jesus wants us and our devotion; he wants us to love him first. If that is right, then the other stuff will follow.
Yes, other things are important. Our Christian service is important. The hospitality we show others. The money we give to those in need. Yes, those are important. But if we haven’t got the main things right, then there is no point worrying about the other things.
It’s when these things take over, sit in first place, when our efforts and longings and sweat are consumed for these things, when these things distract us and determine our behaviour, and our emotions  – that’s when it becomes a problem – they can become idols.
But there are even better things, like our families, our children, grand children, our friends, church – these are very good gifts of God, and are important for us. But when these take first place, when we do everything for these, when are emotions are taken by these – God is no longer our all in all. He has become an important second in our life – but no longer in the rightful place. That’s when good things become idols.
We can even think of Christian service. Surely serving is good, serving is what we are meant to do, isn’t it? That’s what we find Martha doing – serving, providing hospitality. The problem is our own service and ministry to others can become on idol – we love serving more than we love the one we are serving. We concentrate on doing rather than the one we serve. God does want us to serve him – but he wants us to want him first - to trust him and love him, to have him as the centre and be the motivation for our service.
This leads to our second person and our second point: so what should we doing instead of being consumed by these things like Martha?
Well I think we need to look now at Mary. The passage says Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said”. Jesus then says, “... but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better (or the good part)”.
I think this “one thing” is what Mary was doing. It seems she had her priorities straight. She had this opportunity with Jesus and she took it. Martha was distracted from what was important. We need to put first things first. Jesus says “Mary has chosen what is better”.
Now let’s look closely at what Mary was doing. It seems she had been helping Martha, but when Jesus arrived she left Martha to attend to Jesus. As Martha said “she has left me to do the work by myself”. Of course this is proper for a host to do – to wait on their guests.
But something more happens. The guest being Jesus – I mean - how can you actually serve him? What can you give him that he doesn’t have already? Mary ends up sitting there listening to Jesus. I mean wouldn’t you? Such an opportunity to devote yourself to Jesus, and listen to his words, his words of life. It might be easy for some, to leave duties and sit there, but not for Martha, and maybe not for many of us. Other things can distract us – we might not have the “luxury” to do it – so we think.
And then again Jesus addresses the issue “One thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better – or the good part”. Mary has got the right priorities. She has Jesus and his words first. The passage doesn’t explicitly say what the one thing is, but the context shows us it is Mary’s devotion to Jesus which is the example to us.
The Bible speaks to this issue in a number of ways.
Think also about what Jesus said at another time: “Do not worry about what you will eat or wear”, but on the contrary, “Seek first his Kingdom.” Do not worry like Martha did, we need to put Jesus at the centre – not the details of our daily lives, like food.
Also, there is Jesus teaching on the wise and foolish builders. The wise builder builds upon the rock, and the foolish builder builds upon the sand. The wise builder gets the foundations right. If the foundations aren’t right the house is doomed. It the foundations are not sound it doesn’t matter what are the walls. Our concern for the walls, for other things, follows on from getting the foundations in place.
If Jesus and his words are our foundation, then the house we build, our lives will be firm.  We need to build our lives upon Jesus, with Jesus as our foundation.
So, just as Jesus said, “Mary had chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her”.
What does it look like to put Jesus first – to be fully devoted to him and his words? What does it look like?
Well, everything in our lives should be thought through. Why am I doing this - how does it glorify God? What does it achieve? We also need to think through how we do things to? Is the manner we do something glorify to God, or does it bring shame.
Sometimes how we do things is more important than what we do. Do we grumble, and complain, or are we joyful witnesses to Jesus, as we do things? The way we live can show who our Lord is. When Martha prepared the food, was she doing it gladly, in service of her Lord, knowing who she was serving was what was important, not the details of the meal,   or was she fussing and frustrated, afraid that things wouldn’t turn out.  How we do things matters!
How else can our devotion to Jesus be seen? Well it might tell in our prayer life. How much do we pray – and how big a part of our life is it, or is it just a last resort, or a mere thing done out of habit? How much we pray can be a sign of how important Jesus is to us, of what our real priorities are.
But we shouldn’t just think about quantity as if that is really what Jesus is after. We can think about what we pray for. Are our prayers tied to Jesus glory, and his kingdom, or is it just about our needs. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to bring our needs to Jesus, but is that all we pray about? Or do we seek to praise Jesus and pray for the growth of the gospel - his kingdom. Also what is the manner we approach prayer? Is coming to Jesus in prayer a real joy for us, a real delight?
I should say that I am as much speaking to myself as you here. I need reminding, I need rebuking of where my first love should be, and also how my prayer life should reflect it.
How else can we see devotion to Jesus? Well how we treat the Bible is a good sign. Do we treasure God’s words? Are they our source of comfort, guidance, joy? How important are they to us? Do we meditate on them? Have we committed them to memory? There are lots of questions I could ask – but I think you get the idea. If Jesus is important then his words to us are important.
One other we can think about area – how do we love and serve other people. What do we want for our family and friends? Do we want them to know God? Do we want them to know the joy of serving Jesus? Is their progress in the Christian life important to us? This is another area I need to work on to.
So, to recap, we have talked about not putting secondary things first, and making sure we are devoted to Jesus – that he is first.
But how do we make this actually happen in practice? How do we get this right in our lives?
Do we need to just try harder? Does it require just more effort? I think trying is probably the wrong way and leads in the wrong direction. Trying harder doesn’t solve this issue.
I think we need to ask God to help us, for him to help us to see where we are going wrong, where our priorities need changing. We need to ask him to change our hearts, to make sure he is in first place. He needs to do the work in us, to create in us a love which conquers all, which consumes us. So we are taken up with him and his glory, with Jesus and his Kingdom. Well this is something we need to pray about, to ask his strength – for him to work by his spirit to change us. Change us from the centre. In prayer we need to give our lives to God. As Christians we need to redo this and not forget our first love.
To ask the main question: Is there anything we couldn’t give up for Jesus? Is there something more important that we couldn’t do without? Is Jesus first, or is something else there. We need to take Jesus now – make him first. He needs to be our first love.
For one day everything else will fade away. But will we have Jesus? Jesus will be supreme – Jesus and his new creation and his new people. If, on that day we have Jesus – then we will have all we need, we will have everything. And Jesus will fill us with happiness and everlasting joy, and give us all good things as well – an eternal family, eternal worship of him, a new Heaven and Earth where we will live, with Jesus at the centre.
Put Jesus first!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Expository Preaching

While preparing my own "Expository Sermon", was recently much encouraged by the words of JI Packer from his collected writings: "Honouring the written Word of God".

While some see "expository preaching" as more of a method or about the length of the text, I agree with Packer when he sees it about the approach to the passage:

Expository preaching is the preaching of the man who knows Holy Scripture to be the living word of the living God, and who desires only that it should be free to speak its own message to sinful men and women; who therefore preaches from a text, and in preaching labours, as the Puritans would say, to “open” it, or, in Simeon’s phrase, to “bring out of the text what is there”; whose whole aim in preaching is to show his hearers what the text is saying to them about God and about themselves, and to lead them into what Barth called “the strange new world within the Bible” in order that there they may be met by Him Who is Lord of that world.
 See here for online link.

The article, namely "Expository Preaching: Charles Simeon and Ourselves" is great encouragement from this hero of yesteryear on our attitudes and practise of preaching.