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For March 7, 2021

EXODUS 20:1-17

THE BACKGROUND

God began his relationship with his chosen people when he chose Abraham and Sarah to parent a great nation.  Many decades later, they find themselves in Egypt, serving Pharaoh as slaves.  God, with Moses’ help on the ground, delivers his people from slavery.  They wander in the desert wilderness for 40 years.  During this wandering, they find themselves at the foot of a holy mountain—Mount Sinai.  It is here that God gives his people some basic rules for living.  We call these rules the Ten Commandments.

THE DETAIL

The Ten Commandments may be broken into two sections or tables.  Table One concerns our relationship with God (vv. 1-8).  Table Two concerns our relationship with others. (vv. 9-17) God begins by reminding them of what He has done for them.  He reminds them that they have been in relationship for a very long time, and that he has cared for them on their life’s journey.

THE TAKEAWAY

Many sermons have been preached on this passage.  I would like to focus on verse 5b  “…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” and verse 6 “…[I am your God] showing steadfast love... to those who love me and keep my commandments”.  God loves us to the point of being jealous.  He wants our love in return.  Keeping his commandments are just one way of showing Him this love.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we regularly break most of these commandments. Which commandments, if any, have you not broken?  What can you do about that?
 

 

1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-25

THE BACKGROUND

We Christians do cherish the cross.  We wear it as a necklace or earrings.  Many of us have a cross on a wall in our homes.  It has come to symbolize our faith in Jesus, and that is a good thing. But we need to remind ourselves of what the cross really was two thousand years ago.  It was the method that they used to execute the worst of society’s criminals.  A modern day equivalent would be the electric chair or a hangman’s noose.

THE DETAIL

  • Paul begins today’s passage by splitting people into two groups:
  • Those who are perishing (non-believers)
  • Those who are being saved (believers)
  • Paul states that reverence to the cross is foolish to those who don’t believe.  If you’re a non-believer, it’s downright ridiculous to cherish an implement of execution.  But If you are a believer, “it is the power of God”. (v. 18)
  • Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14b in verse 19.  Keep in mind that Paul is quoting from memory, so the words don’t exactly match.
  • In verses 20-22, Paul challenges the reader to consider God’s wisdom, which is far different than human wisdom. 
  • Paul drives a stake in the ground, when he says “… but we proclaim Christ crucified…”  (v. 23a)  He is saying that, foolish or wise, this is what I believe.
  • He wraps it up nicely in verse 25.

THE TAKEAWAY

There is some graffiti that was unearthed in Rome.  It makes fun of a Roman named Alexemenos for worshiping Jesus on the cross.  It must have seemed odd to non-believers back then for people to worship someone who was executed in this manner.  We wouldn’t think of wearing a necklace which had a little gold hangman’s noose on it, would we?  That would be foolish. But we understand the power of the cross.  We proudly proclaim Jesus’ dying on the cross as our key to salvation.
 

JOHN 2:13-22

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus goes on a rampage in the temple.  I must admit that this story has always been a puzzle to me.  Why did Jesus do this?  Let’s investigate it together.   

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus was near Jerusalem for the Passover, so he and his disciples went “up to Jerusalem”. Jerusalem was built on a hill, so “up” is appropriate. 
  • When he sees all the commercial activity going on in the temple, he becomes angry, and makes a mess of things.  He says “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  (v.16)
  • His disciples recalled Psalm 69:9.  (v. 17
  • Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities.  Jesus, of course, turns this confrontation into a teaching moment.  It appears to be a riddle of some sort.  To the Jews, it seemed absurd to rebuild this magnificent stone temple in three days.  Jesus, of course, was referring to himself and not a stone building.

THE TAKEAWAY

As I stated earlier, this story was puzzling to me.  Part of the temple practice required the people to bring an animal to the Lord’s temple to be sacrificed for various reasons.  Many would show up, and buy their sacrificial animal on the spot. Since many came to the temple from distant lands, they would need to exchange their currency for local tender, in order to make their purchase.  It all seemed very practical.  So why would Jesus be upset?  The answer lies in his word in verse 16, and his disciples observation in verse 17. Jesus had a zeal or passion about keeping the Lord’s house pure.  The Lord’s house should be a place of worship and nothing else.  But over time, practical matters crept in, creating a distraction from what was important—worship.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Lent is a good time for us to reflect on many aspects of our spiritual lives.  This can include questioning why we go to church, and what we do there. 

 

I was taught that quality worship can be summarized in the word ACTS.  That stands for:

  • Adoration—Praising God.
  • Confession—Admitting our failure to live up to His expectations.
  • Thanksgiving—Thanking God for his many blessings.
  • Supplication—Asking God to provide for our needs.

Anything more than these four are not worship, but extra fluff that we’ve added.  In what ways might we have added clutter to our otherwise pure worship?  Are we there to:

  • Worship God or be entertained?
  • Offer praise and thanksgiving, or get a religious “warm and fuzzy”?
  • Discuss our relationship with God, or discuss politics and current events?
  • Gather to glorify God for what he has done for us, or gather to socialize or conduct “church business”.

To be sure, becoming politically involved in politics from a Christian perspective, fellowship, religious entertainment, and even getting a religious “warm and fuzzy” are good things. But they have their time and place. It is only human for us to lose our focus and clutter up our worship.  Maybe we should adopt a little of Jesus’ zeal for God’s house and purity of worship. 

 

For February 28, 2021

GENESIS17:1-7, 15-16

THE BACKGROUND

At the conclusion of the story of Noah and the flood, we learn the details of the dispersion of his descendants across the (then-known) world.  Immediately following this, begins the story of Abram and Sarai (chapter 12).  God promises Abram that of him he will make a great nation.  But Sarai is barren, and no heir is forthcoming.  In accord with local customs & practices, she offers her servant-girl Hagar to bear a surrogate child for them.  Ishmael is born of this union.  They think they have their ducks in a row, and God’s promise will be fulfilled through Ishmael.  But they have a big surprise in store for them.

THE DETAIL

  • This passage begins by telling us that Abram is 99 years old at the time of this God-event.  God appears, and states that he is going to make a covenant with Abram. (vv. 1-2)
  • God repeats the promise he made earlier (12:1-3), that He will make of Abram “exceedingly numerous”; He will make Abram “the ancestor of a multitude of nations”.  (vv. 3-5)
  • Next, God renames Abram, saying that his name will now be Abraham.  (v. 5)  He does the same with Sarai in verse 15.  We will discuss the significance of renaming in the takeaway below.
  • Our text eliminates verses 8-14.  These verses give the details of the cutting aspect of the covenant (see second bullet below).  But instead of cutting animals, this time it is circumcision.
  • Verses 15 and 16 turn God’s attention to Sarai.  He begins by renaming her, and then states that He “will give you a son by her”.
  • What we do not see in this selection is verse 17.  When Abraham hears what God said (in verse 16), he “fell on his face and laughed…”  In my paraphrase of this verse, Abraham says “How’s THAT going to happen—I’m 99, and Sarah is 90.  Seriously, God???”

THE TAKEAWAY

  • “In the ancient world, having the authority to give names implied mastery.”* You may recall that Adam named the animals in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus renames Simon Peter.  In our text, as part of the covenant, God renames Abram (“Exalted Father” in Hebrew) Abraham (“Father of a multitude of nations”).  Both Sarai and Sarah mean “princess” in Hebrew.  But the point of renaming them is that they now belong to God; it is a binding relationship, such as a marriage.
  • In modern times, when we make a binding promise, it is usually written on paper, sealed by a notary, and sometimes registered with a county clerk. In Old Testament times, the promise was bound by cutting animals in two. Details of one such covenant is found in Genesis 15:9-11.  But in the case of God’s covenant with Abraham, the cutting is more personal; it is circumcision.  Circumcision was practiced in some other ancient cultures.  The illustration below is taken from an Egyptian hieroglyph. But for Abraham’s clan, this procedure would take on a new religious meaning.  It seals the promise between God and the people of Abraham in a very personal way.
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  • Just as we read last week with Noah, God is the initiator of the promise-making. It is God who draws near to Abraham and Sarah, and wants to engage in a close relationship.  In both cases, the humans involved are obedient, but God is the one desiring the relationship.  He wants this same relationship with all of us.  If you are in doubt, pick up a bible and flip through it. It is full of God’s reaching out to us, our failure, and His forgiveness.
  • As a result of Abraham’s faithfulness, God does the impossible.  Abraham and Sarah do miraculously bring Isaac into the world.  Isaac is the fulfillment of God’s promise.

* “Reading the Old Testament”, Barry L. Bandstra
 

ROMANS 4:13-25

THE BACKGROUND

In most of the early churches, the congregation consisted of a mix of Jews and Gentiles.  If you have ever belonged to an organization consisting of two very different types of people, you know that it can sometimes be a delicate environment. To make matters worse, Emperor Claudius expelled a segment of the Jewish population, including the Christian Jews in 49 AD.  This left the Gentile Christians behind, to keep the churches going.  The Christian Jews returned after Claudius’ death, five years later.  Finding Gentiles in church positions they had vacated must have made for some tense moments. Christian Jews placed high importance on the keeping of Old Testament Law.  In these early chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that keeping these laws is not the road to salvation.  Faith, and only faith, can do that

THE DETAIL

  • The opening line says it all.  Abraham did not keep his promise with God through obedience to the law, but through faith.  The law was given through Moses, who lived 600 years after Abraham.  Abraham, therefore, had no Old Testament or Ten Commandments; Abraham’s righteousness was based purely on his faith in God. (v. 13)
  • Verses 14 & 15 further support the statement made in verse 13.
  • These verses are expanded upon in verses 16-22.  The bottom line is the same as the opening line—getting right with God (“reckoned as righteousness”), is not based upon our actions, but upon our faith.
  • Paul then sums it up by saying that it is no different for us Christians than it was for Abraham.  Abraham was “reckoned to him as righteousness” purely on the basis of faith. What “reckons us to be righteous” with God is not our actions; it’s all about faith.  (vv. 22-25)

THE TAKEAWAY

Paul is not throwing out rules and laws.  Elsewhere, he points out their value.  He tells us that it is the laws of Moses that provide us with a good conscience.  They provide the framework for living together in harmony.  But the law not the road to salvation, any more than it was for Father Abraham.  It is our faith in Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and his resurrection that saves us. 
 

MARK 8:31-38

THE BACKGROUND

We are about halfway through Mark’s gospel at this point. Jesus has been preaching and teaching, healing and performing miracles.  Jesus and his disciples are on their way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, on foot, of course.  As they walk, they talk.  It is on this road where he asks them who they think he is.  This is where Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah. Today’s passage comes on the heels of that event.

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus must have felt comfortable with his disciples.  After all, Peter has just declared Jesus to be the Messiah.  So he tells them what lies ahead; he will suffer, die, and rise again in three days. (v. 31)
  • Peter takes him aside, and “rebukes” him.  (v. 32)  I wondered what he might have said.  Then, I discovered that Matthew tells us.  Peter said “God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you!” (Mt. 16:22)
  • Jesus’ response seems a little harsh.  In fact, it is the same response that he gave Satan at his temptation (Mt. 4:10).  Why would he react like this?

As is typical for Jesus, he turns this into a teaching moment.  We might want to entitle the second paragraph “The Cost of Discipleship”.  Let’s look at what he says.

  • He tells his disciples and the crowd that followed that if they want to be his followers, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.  (v. 34, italics emphasis is mine) The cross in that time was the equivalent of our electric chair—a device for executing the worst criminals. This must have been a shocking statement.  Jesus was challenging their thinking; to reconsider their priorities.  He must have known that they would suffer for believing in him.
  • Verse 35 is an interesting paradox.  It must have been puzzling at the time, because Jesus offers a small explanation in verse 36.
  • He hits the nail on the head in verse 37.  What is your life actually worth?  How much would it cost to buy eternal life?  (Answer: You can’t earn it.)
  • Knowing what’s in store for his followers, he encourages them to not be ashamed of what is about to happen.  It is part of the divine plan.  If they are ashamed of the divine plan, they’re going to find themselves in an “awkward position”, when Jesus returns in glory. (v. 38)

THE TAKEAWAY

  • Jesus was sent to earth with a mission.  He had a long “list of things to do”.  The last but not the least of these tasks was to suffer and die for our sins. It was probably not something that Jesus was looking forward to, at least the suffering.  Maybe Peter’s rebuke was yet another temptation for him. A temptation to avoid the pain. The temptations he endured in the wilderness were similar in nature to the rebuke he received from Peter.  No wonder he called Peter Satan.
  • We are all Jesus’ disciples here on earth today.  We must be prepared to pay the price for our beliefs.  Jesus makes it clear that this is a life or death decision.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When we shy away from an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus to those around us, aren’t we in some way ashamed of sharing the gospel?   (Please note that I’m saying “we” and not “you”.)  But it’s true, isn’t it?

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