Worth More Than Sparrows

Luke 12:6-7 (NIV)

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

At first glance, our Verse of the Day provides us encouragement as Jesus shares how the Father values each one of us.  The idiom or metaphor of numbering the hairs on our heads indicates that the Father knows us intimately.  He is aware of our every problem, every need, every situation … and is concerned about every aspect of our lives. As David noted, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. (Cf. Psalm 55:22) And Peter recounted this truth when he wrote: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (Cf. 1 Peter 5:7)

But what I found challenging is the surrounding context in which our passage is found.  I’ll reprint it here for us:

Luke 12:1-12 (NIV)

1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to His disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.  11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

This larger context creates some theological tension for us. First, we are warned about the deception of hypocrisy in our lives. Jesus indicates it will be exposed. Then He shifts to “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more; rather, fear the One who has authority over your eternal destiny.  Yes, fear Him!”  Then we are assured that God knows us intimately and we are valued, and He encouraged, “Do not be afraid.”  Then we are admonished regarding our profession of faith and its determination of our forgiveness. I mean, there is a lot to consider here. The question is whether each one of these “teachings” are connected to the other, or if they are simply being presented by Luke as a “list” of teachings that Jesus was communicating to those who gathered to hear Him … similar to how we see various Proverbs being presented.

When I read some other commentaries on Luke 12, I could not find a consensus on the issue I posed.  Some commentators broke out each “discourse” within Luke 12:1-12 as I have outlined them here into separate “small sermons.” The idea is that each topic has its own application as we allow these teachings of Jesus to impact us. Notice how Jesus begins each “topic” with the words: “I tell you.” To me this indicates a separation of thoughts or messages; however, I find here an overall theme of how our relationship with God is to be viewed, understood, and expressed. And, perhaps, that is what our application should be … understanding that our fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus must be based on truth and sincere faith. We do not have to be afraid of our future if we reverence God and place our complete trust in Christ Jesus His Son … whom He sent to reconcile us to Himself.  To me, this is the core message being taught by Jesus.  Jesus is affirming that we can trust Him, but we must be humble and honest in our willingness to confess Him as Lord! When tested, and we will be tested, the evidence of sincere faith will be manifested to all.  Our true faith will be exposed and will be seen by those around us … as it is already known to God.

So this is an important lesson for us to embrace.  The truth will always be exposed in the light.  There is no place for hypocrisy with God.  We deceive ourselves if we think our hidden sins are not known.  We might fool people, but we will never fool God.  He knows and sees all things done.  And so, perhaps, that is the warning for us to fear God … the One who has authority over our eternity after our physical death here on earth.  Our faith is being tested each day … each situation … each choice or decision we make for ourselves.  So we must view our relationship with God in this context of truth and light.  God knows each of us intimately; and He desires us to know Him intimately as well.  So honesty is the place to start.  If repentance is indicated, then follow through.  As John advised: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” (Cf. 1 John 1:8-10)

Lord Jesus, your words challenge us today.  As we consider what you are teaching, I pray that each of us will self-examine our hearts and see the truth you have brought to light.  I pray we will follow the prayer of David when he confessed the sin that he tried to hide. David was exposed, but he determined to repent and restore His fellowship with you.  I pray each of us will find the same honesty and courage to return to you and be reconciled when your Spirit convicts us of hypocrisy and dishonesty.  Against you and you alone we sin, and nothing is hidden from your sight.  Teach us to fear you, O Lord.  Let obedience be our reverence.   

Psalm 51:1-12 (NIV)

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

May our hearts embrace the teachings of Jesus. May our hearts repeat these words of David. Yes, may our hearts be sincere so that we will walk in the truth.  In Jesus Name I pray, Amen….

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. ~ Psalm 119:14

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Foolish Message?

1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Our verse today is a wonderful message of hope and assurance.  Let’s look at the context and explore “the message of the cross”:

1 Corinthians 1:17-31 (NIV)

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (Paul is quoting Isaiah 29:14) 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (Paul is quoting Jeremiah 9:24)

I think it is important to note that in the preceding Verses 10-17, Paul is addressing what he describes as “divisions” within the church … specifically a matter over which church leader(s) people should follow.  Paul asks, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” His point was that there is only ONE leader or head of the church … and that is Christ Jesus.  For He is the one who was crucified on the cross for our sins.  Even more … Jesus was resurrected from the dead to demonstrate the power and authority He received from God the Father. To Paul, and for us, this is the only message worthy of preaching.  The Gospel is inseparable from the cross! In fact, the Gospel IS the message of the cross! So, what exactly is the message of the cross?

The message of the cross is light!

Think about it for a moment. What took place on the cross? Yes, suffering, agony, and excruciating pain. But what else did the torment of crucifixion entail? Absolute Humiliation! I think that aspect is one we tend to forget.  Indeed, one of the reasons that crucifixion was used by the Romans was to use its horrific humiliation to discourage others from engaging in criminal acts – especially those of treason or insurrection. Those who were crucified were stripped naked to increase their shame since these spectacles were conducted in full view of the public.  Yet, perhaps, the full exposure (the humiliation) is an aspect that we need to consider more when it comes to the message of the cross….

John 3:19-21 (NIV)

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

The cross exposes the hideous nature of sin in full detail. It reveals the justice of God against all sin, transgression, iniquity, rebellion, and evil. And I believe the full humiliation that Christ Jesus suffered for our sin should not be taken for granted at all. Yes, stop for a moment, and take an honest look at the disgrace and humiliation our own words and behaviors have inflicted upon the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, look at the cross and you will see what sin has done to us and our world…. God, in His wisdom, leads us to the cross in order to expose the condition of the human heart … the inclination of the thoughts of our hearts … to reveal the depravity of sin … and to convict us of our offense against the holiness of God.

The message of the cross is love!

While the light of the cross shows the entire world what the darkness of sin has done, the cross is where God revealed His mercy and grace … and demonstrated His love for us:

John 3:16-17 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

Romans 5:7-9 (NIV)

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!

Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV)

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

1 John 3:16 (NIV)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.

1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)

This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The message of the cross is forgiveness!

The death of Jesus on the cross was far more than just an event in history … it was ordained for the forgiveness of sins …  to purchase our redemption from the slavery or control of sin. Both the Apostles Peter and Paul preached this Gospel message to the early Church:

Acts 10:39-43 (NIV)

39 We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, 40 but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.

Acts 13:32-39 (NIV)

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ (Psalm 2:7) 34 God raised Jesus from the dead so that He will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ (Isaiah 55:3) 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ (Psalm 16:10) 36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through Him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.

Paul later affirmed, “ In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.” (Cf. Ephesians 7-8) And again, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Cf. Colossians 1:13-14) And the Apostle John wrote: “He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (Cf. 1 John 2:2) No, we cannot escape the truth that the message of the cross is redemption … the forgiveness of our sins.

The message of the cross is reconciliation!

The forgiveness of our sins accomplished through the blood atonement, effectuated on the cross, cleansed us from all unrighteousness!  Through faith in Christ Jesus, God declares us reconciled and restored. Through the cross, Jesus brought us the assurance of peace with God. As Isaiah prophesied: “Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Cf. Isaiah 53:4-5)

Colossians 1:19-23 (NIV)

19 For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the Gospel. This is the Gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Romans 5:10-11 (NIV)

10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NIV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made Him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

The message of reconciliation is probably one in need of great emphasis at this moment in history.  Every prodigal needs to be reminded that reconciliation with God was obtained through the cross.  Yes, the prodigal needs to know that peace with God is still afforded through the cross.  The offense of rebellion has been redeemed!  The attitude of indifference has been covered.  The time for restoration is Today!  The cross is where liberty from darkness awaits and where the power to live in righteousness is found! 

The message of the cross is liberty!

The cross ultimately brings us freedom from sin. The cross is where the sinful nature of our flesh is put to death before we are resurrected in our spirit to newness of life. Yes, the Old Rugged Cross is the emblem of suffering and shame; but I see its beams as the intersection of our bodies and our spirits – the crossroads from which the process of sanctification emerges. Indeed, God in His wisdom, requires us to confront our sinful nature at the cross! Why? Because the cross is HOW we are freed not only from the penalty of sin (death) also how we are freed from the power of sin (sanctification). The cross is where we are led by the wisdom of God to die to self … and to no longer be held captive by the sin that was crucified there….

Romans 6:1-14 (NIV)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. 10 The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19-25 (NIV)

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The message of the cross is power!

Indeed, as Paul implied, the cross represents the power of God. The cross displays the sovereignty of God to determine how His salvation and sanctification will be accomplished. Although God allowed His Son to be humiliated and executed on the cross; His resurrection as the third day disarmed the powers and authorities (and the spiritual forces of darkness behind them)! Jesus overruled their plans because ALL authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Him. (Cf. Matthew 28:18, John 17:2) Through the cross, God has displayed to all creation that He alone has the power to forgive sin … and His Word declares that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness! (Cf. Hebrews 9:22) And we can see this message of power in the preaching of the Apostles:

Acts 26:15-18 (NIV)

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.

Romans 1:15-17 (NIV)

15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,  just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2:4)

1 Corinthians 2:3-5 (NIV)

I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

1 Timothy 1:6-8 (NKJV)

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the Gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

The message of the cross is triumph!

Through His death, Jesus has paid the penalty of sin – in full and once for all! And through His resurrection, Jesus imparts His Spirit to afford us continual power to triumph over sin … to give us victory in our trials and tribulations:

Colossians 2:13-15 (NIV)

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in Him by the cross.

1 Corinthians 15:54-56 (NIV)

54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Note here that Paul quotes from the Prophets Isaiah and Hosea; and I want to share these particular passages for the richness they bring to Paul’s conclusion:

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”

Hosea 13:14 (NIV)

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;  I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?

Revelation 12:10-11 (NIV)

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

The message of the cross is hope!

Going back to the discourse Paul had before King Agrippa, we see that he proclaims the hope of the resurrection as it relates to the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is because the resurrection is true that we now have hope in all the promises of God….

Acts 26:4-8 (NIV)

“The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

Romans 8:19-25 (NIV)

19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

We have, I think, fully examined the message of the cross. And so I wonder, “Why is the message of the cross considered foolishness to anyone?” If a person is unable to “hear” the message about Christ Jesus, they will not come to faith. (Cf. Romans 10:17) Although we can see and understand the power of God demonstrated through the cross to bring us salvation, the fool has said in his/her heart, “There is no God.” (Cf. Psalm 14:1) And so I pray. I ask all of us to pray … that God would open the spiritual eyes and ears and hearts of prodigals and all those whom God is calling to respond to the message of the cross! Oh, how I pray, the veil of darkness will be removed from the eyes of their hearts … that the light of the cross will go forth and illuminate minds to receive and understand the Word of Truth … so that the kindness of God will lead them to repentance! (Cf. Romans 2:4) I pray that we as believers will understand that our prayers are mission critical in this hour as never before! The message of the cross is the power of God to save! I pray we will live out its message as a testimony to those who consider it foolishness.  Oh may our lives bring conviction and desire to embrace the message of the cross…. Amen.

So Now You Know ….

Have a Blessed Day!

No Condemnation – Now!

Romans 8:1-2

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

This has always been a verse of comfort to me.  To realize the impact of the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation we have in Christ Jesus is just incredible!  There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1 NKJV)  I hope that truth will sink in for everyone.  The Apostle John affirmed:

John 3:16-19 (NKJV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

The essential message is that Christ Jesus saved us from the certain condemnation of sin when we placed our complete faith in Him and His finished work on the cross to atone for our sin and redeem us from the penalty of sin … that is … eternal separation from God and spiritual death.  Condemnation does not happen because we have sinned.  Condemnation of sin continues because a person has not believed in Jesus Christ for their salvation from sin.  John even goes on to say that condemnation is the outcome of a hardened heart that desires the darkness of evil rather than the light of righteousness.  We were condemned already … the death sentence of sin … until Jesus redeemed us from the empty way of life handed down to us from our ancestors. (Cf. 1 Peter 1:18) The Apostle Paul explains this issue in further detail for us:

Romans 5:17-19 (NIV)

17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Look at what that Scripture states.  ONE sin resulted in condemnation!  ONE sin required the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.  Oh I pray none of us will ever take ONE sin in our lives for granted.  It cost the very life of Jesus Christ to redeem you and I from just ONE sin.  THAT is how God in His holiness views the offense of just ONE sin in our lives! So we need to stop overlooking, rationalizing, and dismissing the thoughtless irreverence of the slightest sin we commit.  Sin is that serious in separating us from God, and it requires the most extreme expression of atonement … an atonement none of us is capable to perform or offer for ourselves.  But the good news for us is that there is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  Though all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, God has demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Cf. Romans 3:23; Romans 5:8) This is the glorious news of grace that we should be sharing with those who have not yet come to a knowledge of the truth.  And, to me, this gives us all the more reason to rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances: for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) as we studied earlier this week….

When I think about the person I was before Christ Jesus rescued me … I can proclaim with overwhelming thanksgiving:  Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you have set me free from the law of sin and death.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, that I am no longer condemned through unbelief.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, that your light has come into the world that we might no longer remain in darkness!  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for taking my condemnation upon yourself! I am forever indebted.  I am forever grateful.  Because of your mercy, I am forever redeemed!  Hallelujah!  Thank you, Lord Jesus!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Verse of the Day – 02/08/19

Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

The passage presents another lesson on the command of Christ Jesus to love another as He has loved us.  In this passage, I observe that Jesus raises the bar.  The expression of love to others is not limited only to those we love or those that love us.  No, the expectation is higher – that we would love even our enemies and those who hate us or persecute us. Why? Because that is how God treated us! God loves the whole world … even those who express hatred toward Him or Jesus, His Son.  He is not willing that anyone should perish but that everyone would come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 8-10) To be sure, judgment and condemnation will come to those who do not believe in Christ Jesus. But in His patience and long-suffering, God is benevolent to all … displaying the riches of His grace and kindness in order to lead people to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So in this passage, Jesus shares a couple of simple examples of this kindness: He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Think about what Jesus is saying here.  God is good and gracious to all people regardless of the intent of their hearts or their manner of life.  Everyone on the earth experiences the sun rise each day.  Everyone receives the rain when it falls. The goodness of God is evident in His creation regardless of whether a person recognizes it. So Jesus implies that we are to be like-minded in our attitudes and conduct toward others.  While it may be hard to fathom … much less perform … we are called to be indiscriminately gracious and kind to all.  We are not to love others based on whether they deserve it; rather, we are to be merciful to the ungrateful and the evil like our Father in Heaven.  When we reflect the nature of God … when we imitate His benevolence to others …  we show that we are His children.  As Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Cf. John 13:35) I want us to look at this same passage in the Gospel of Luke because (true to form) it has a little more detail in the narrative:

Luke 6:27-38 (NIV)

27 “But I say to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your shirt (tunic) either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

In reading this passage in its comparative context, I think there is a lesson that we might miss with just a casual reading.  Yes, we know that we are to be nice people as Christians.  We are to be merciful, kind, forgiving, and generous toward others; but just as I said earlier, Jesus raised the bar!  He said to lend, expecting nothing in return.  He said to judge not and condemn not because you and I will be held to the same standard of judgment or condemnation we “assess” on others.  Yet, notice that Jesus indicated there would be reward for those who follow His instruction.  As we find recorded in Verse 35, when we love our enemies and do good and lend without expectation for reciprocation, we will receive “great reward” as children of the Most-High God.  If we do not judge others, we will not be judged.  If we do not condemn others, we will not be condemned. If we give, it will be returned by God in ways that will overflow in abundance to us!  And please observe that Jesus does not qualify whether the person we encounter is worthy of such mercy or kindness … on any level.  These are imperatives with high expectation for fulfillment … and with promise of great reward in doing so. (Cross reference with Psalm 19).

I cannot emphasize this point enough. If we intend to be followers of Christ, our actions … our words … our conduct with others should not be based on their worthiness.  It is based on mercy … the same mercy that we have received from God through Christ Jesus our Lord! Paul addressed this point for us:

Romans 5:8-11 (NIV)

8 But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Sinners are justified by the blood of Christ!  There is no other justification acceptable to our Holy Father.  So no amount of focus and hostility toward others with a self-righteous attitude is going to lead them to the reconciliation they want and need.  It is by grace we have been saved, through faith – and this is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) None of us is worthy … I repeat … none of us is worthy of the price that was paid for our sin. It was the kindness of God our Savior who gave Himself for all who would come to faith.  And those who are ungodly (like we were) need our Savior …  not our judgment or condemnation! In fact, neither of these indictments were the intent of our Lord Jesus when He was sent by the Father into world:

John 3:16-17 (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

John 5:21-23 (ESV)

21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

John 8:15-16 (ESV)

15 You judge according to human standards; I judge no one16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.

John 12:46-48 (ESV)

46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

So we need to understand the heart of this message.  When God took the judgment for our sin and removed the condemnation for our own darkness and unbelief (Cf. John 3:18; Romans 8:1), He did so out of mercy and love.  His pardon of our sin was unmerited and undeserved!  So who are we to pass judgment or condemnation on anyone? Jesus called us to be merciful, even as our Father is merciful.  We need to have this attitude (mindset) in our relationships with others. As Paul wrote in Romans 14:1, we are to accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. The verse implies there are matters of faith which are indisputable, but that is not a focus of this particular lesson.  Still, it is in this context that Paul continued:

Romans 14:10-13 (NIV)

10 You, then, why do you judge another believer? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” (Cf. Isaiah 45:23) 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (See Also 2 Corinthians 5:9-11)

Jesus Himself modeled an excellent example for us on how we are to express His mercy to others who are living a sin-filled life:

John 8:2-11 (NIV)

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.

My thought is that we need to focus less on the sin of others and more on leading them to Jesus – the One who was sent by the Father not to judge or condemn the world but to save the world.  The woman in this passage had transgressed the law and committed adultery, and yet, Jesus did not condemn her; rather, He showed mercy and in doing so led her to repentance and faith in Him.  That is all God has asked of any of us: Repentance and Faith! Yet, please do not misunderstand what is being said here.  Jesus has made it clear that there WILL be a Day of Judgment.  And we will all give an account of our lives. The distinction between those who receive eternal life and those who receive the second death (Cf. Revelation 20:14-15) is based on how a person responds to the truth and love of God.  A person who dismisses the love of God … who rejects His Son … who does not believe the testimony of His Word … will be thrown into the lake of fire (His words not mine).  Those who believe God and receive the gift of His Son as Lord and Savior through repentance and faith will receive eternal life.  It is God who will judge and condemn … or rather … the Word of God that will judge and condemn a person. (Cf. John 3:18; John 12:48)

1 John 5:6-13 (NIV)

This is the One who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

This is the Gospel!  This is the good news we have through Jesus Christ!  This is the truth!  Therefore, let us speak the truth in love to everyone we encounter. (Cf. Ephesians 4:15) And let us be wise in the way we act toward outsiders; making the most of every opportunity. Let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone. (Cf. Colossians 4:6) Like you … like me … like the woman caught in adultery … every person is intuitively aware of and will be convicted of the sin and ungodliness within their heart through the role of the Holy Spirit. (Cf. John 16:8) Yet, there is another truth to proclaim: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Cf. Romans 8:1) So instead of engaging people specifically about their particular sin(s) … I believe we should be engaging them to encounter the only One who can save them from their sin. What they have done or continue to do is far less important than who Jesus is! The works of the flesh (Cf. Galatians 5:19-21) are just symptomatic of the greater problem in a person’s heart … rejection of the Truth!  Faith comes by hearing the message (testimony), and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Cf. Romans 10:17)

Think about it, did you or I come to faith in Jesus because someone kept badgering us, judging us, or condemning us for our sinful and unrighteous living?  I doubt that was the reason. Your conscience … my conscience … already instinctively knew right from wrong.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (Cf. John 3:19-21) No, you and I and every believer surrendered to Christ Jesus because we heard the truth and received the testimony God had given about Him. We understood that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Cf. Romans 3:23) And the truth convinced us that we needed Jesus … a Savior who is willing and able to forgive us of all our sins. (Cf. Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16)

So like our former experience, those who still live in darkness are probably aware of their sin but are slaves to its deception and darkness. What they need to see is the Light of the world!  They need to see Jesus first and foremost! Like the woman at the well … like the one caught in adultery … like Zacchaeus the dishonest tax collector … those who encountered Jesus were changed forever. The grace and truth of Jesus … His passionate, persistent love … will inspire unbelievers and draw them toward the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen (Cf. Hebrews 11:1).  Like other believers, they too will respond in repentance and come to faith in Jesus.  And the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth and sanctify them by the truth.  As the writer of Hebrews asserts: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Cf. Hebrews 4:12) Yes, the Word of God … the Gospel … conveys the love of God in its purest and deepest form. For God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (Cf. 1 Timothy 2:4-6) Yes, I believe this is the message all people need to hear … much more so than our judgment and condemnation. Amen!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Verse of the Day – 02/07/19

Psalm 97:10

Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. (NIV)

You who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked. (NKJV)

I thought our Verse of the Day had some great key points for us to consider … and embrace.  As disciples of Christ Jesus, we have been called to love Him and to keep His commands.  We have been chosen by God to receive salvation through His Son.  He has promised us the inheritance of eternal life.  He has empowered us to walk in step with His indwelling Holy Spirit.  And God has enjoined us to love one another just as He in Christ demonstrated His loved toward us.  Wow! And yet, here we have another response to the love of God to consider: HATE EVIL. Look at the text.  If you love the Lord … you will HATE evil!  This is very strong language….

Now, perhaps we think that the “ability” to hate evil should be inherent in the hearts and lives of those who have received Jesus as Lord and been born again of the Spirit.  Yet, how many of us as Christians continue to struggle with temptation and fall short … fail … sin?  The Apostles James and John both addressed this spiritual challenge:

James 1:12-16 (ESV)

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my dear friends. 

John 1:5-10 (ESV)

This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

So my thought is that our “struggle” becomes complicated because we simply do not HATE evil.  We still allow evil thoughts within our hearts (Cf.  Genesis 6:5) to drive the desires and behaviors that lead us into sin….  The Psalmist indicates that if you love God … you should HATE evil.  But he states that the Lord “guards” the lives (souls) of His faithful ones (saints) and delivers them from evil.  Likewise, James assures us that God will bless those who remain steadfast (faithful) under temptation with the “crown of life” which He has promised to give those who love Him.   And John advises us that if we walk in darkness … we cannot have fellowship with God.  But praise God, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness if we CONFESS our sins to Him….

Yes, we need to recognize and realize that evil is ever present around us.  It is hostile to our souls whether inflicted from within or experienced from without.  Oh, we readily hate the sins of others and the evil their sin inflicts upon us and others.  But do we truly hate our own sin … in all of its variant forms, subtleties, and deception?  Jesus warned us to examine ourselves – to see if we sincerely hate all evil:

Matthew 23:25-28 (ESV)

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

I gather from the tone of this passage, Jesus was quite passionate in His delivery of this message to the religious hypocrites.  The deception of hypocrisy is that it is truly darkness. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  So it is with hidden sin(s) … which is not ever hidden from God.  We are all exposed before Him … and He knows the truth.  He knows whether we truly hate evil … or if we are merely pretending … especially in front of others.

But I would like to revisit the assurance found in our Verse of the Day that I believe we need to embrace: “He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”  This message reminded me of another verse we have studied that offers a similar message of hope:

1 Corinthians 10:12-14 (ESV)

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability (what you can bear), but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

Well, I hope this Verse will challenge each of us to sincerely examine ourselves … our inner thoughts and convictions … to determine if we truly HATE evil in every form of darkness it manifests itself.  You who love the Lord – hate evil!  It is something that you must expressly and intently do in your thought life before it will ever manifest in your personal conduct or manner of life. Remember, God sees and knows the truth.  But know this: God is for us on this one!  He will guard our souls and delivers us from the evil one…. What a wonderful promise for those who love Him! Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!