Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pilgrims in a Fallen World: Basic Christianity I Peter 5:12-14

Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World: Basic Christianity
I Peter 5:12-14
Introduction:  I read this week a “side story” that was related to the sinking of the Titanic. The week after the tragedy, the people in Belfast, where the ship had been built, were devastated.  Men met on the city's streets, grasped each other's hands, burst into tears and parted without speaking a word. One church had lost 16 men on the Titanic, all served as part of the maintenance crew. The pastor of that church, the next Sunday, preached from Mark’s Gospel, from the story where Jesus slept in the boat as it was tossed in the stormy lake. The Lord was then awakened by the cries of the disciples and calmed the storm with the words “Peace! Be Still!” Jesus asked them, “Why are you so fearful? Why do you have so little faith?” The preacher concluded,
...only one vessel in all of history had been truly unsinkable: the little boat occupied by the sleeping Savior. And, the preacher added, "The only hearts that can weather the storms are hearts with Jesus inside."
       We all face storms in life. Is Jesus in your boat? Tucked in at the end of this epistle are a few closing statements made by the Apostle Peter. They are simple words of greeting, almost a “P.S.” at the end of the letter, but the language he uses evokes some of themes we have seen going through this epistle. Though we don’t see explicit imperatives here, the commendations he gives reflect principles that have been taught throughout the letter, keys to surviving storms, and to thriving as pilgrims in a fallen world. John Piper summarized the message of I Peter saying, “Life is hard. God is good. Glory is coming. Therefore, stand firm in His grace.” That brings us to...
The Maine* Idea: Because of Jesus we have a sure hope, and so we stand firm, constrained by His love, proclaiming the message of His grace.
I. Our Message: The Gospel of Grace (12).  We’ve been talking a lot about “keeping the main thing the main thing,” and without question, the good news of the grace of God is at the heart of the Christian life.
By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”
       “Through Silas, our faithful brother...” There is some question as to whether Paul is saying that Silvanus was his amanuensis (scribe), or whether he brought the letter to the scattered exiles of Asia Minor, or both. It seems probable that this is the same “Silas” who traveled with Paul on the second and third missionary journeys, and so who would be known by the believers throughout the region. Now, as he is commended by Peter, we see the apostolic emphasis on the unity of the church.
       There is so much teaching on the unity of the church in the New Testament exactly because we can so easily allow things to divide us. The psalmist stated the principle 1000 years before the time of Christ: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity...” (Ps 133:1). It pleases God, and it brings Him glory as we reflect that unity in our relationships and in our church. Jesus said it is one way that the world will know we are His disciples (John 13:33-35).
       Peter refers to Silvanus as a “faithful brother,” and to make it clear that is his heartfelt personal assessment he adds the phrase, “for so I regard Him.” Not just Paul or Luke or the believers of Asia Minor, but Peter himself acknowledged the trustworthy brother Silas.  It may be that Peter spoke to Silas in Aramaic as he dictated the letter, and relied on this faithful brother to translate his words into Greek (which might explain the unusually elegant Greek in this letter). You would only allow someone you trusted that kind of liberty! When we were in Brazil I was asked to write a chapter for a book on the apostle Paul. I could speak Portuguese well enough to teach my classes, but putting it in writing, for publication, would have required extensive editing. So I wrote in English, and a Brazilian professor from the seminary translated it into Portuguese. When I read over his work I commented “I didn’t know my Portuguese was so good!” He was a trustworthy brother.  
       The phrase “...exhorting and testifying...” seems to be Peter’s assessment of what he was doing in this letter. Remember, the believers to whom he wrote were experiencing storms in the form of persecution and hardship. Peter was encouraging them to persevere and to stay focused on their mission. “Exhorting” is the word parakaleo, which in it’s noun form is one of the titles given to the Spirit in Jesus’ upper room discourse (John 14-16). It is the word that described the ministry of Barnabas, who was so named by the apostles because of his constant encouragement. Peter is trying to offer encouragement to these believers. He does not minimize what they are going through, but he offers hope, he reminds them that others are experiencing the same hardships.  We are on assignment, ambassadors for Christ. The world hates Him so don’t take it personally if you encounter opposition. As Piper said, “Life is hard. God is good. Glory is coming. Therefore, stand firm in His grace.”
       The word “declaring” is rendered “testifying” in most English translations. It is a compound form of the word “testify” or “witness” that is commonly used in the New Testament. Peter is testifying to them as he urges them to stay faithful, to continue to speak the truth, to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus.  Peter is testifying to them in that He is speaking from experience. He walked with Jesus and learned from Him during His earthly ministry. He shared in the leadership of the church from the beginning, and was preaching the gospel on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on the assembled believers. He was arrested and he was beaten. He saw friends martyred. Out of his experience he urged the believers in Asia Minor to “stand firm,” literally, to “stand firm in it.” In what?  In “...the true grace of God...
        First note that He describes it as “the true grace of God.” That implies something: there will be those who promote a false message, a compromised message. Peter warns in the second chapter of his second letter, But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies...” (2 Pet 2:1). The rest of that chapter elaborates of that warning, it is that serious. Jude also warns in the 4th verse of his little epistle, For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Peter says stand firm in the true Gospel, in the true grace of God. He has talked about “grace” throughout this epistle. Look back at a couple of examples...
       He opened the letter as an apostle, speaking  to the scattered exiles, using language similar to these concluding verses, about  the grace and peace of God: “...according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you... (I Peter 1:2). He overtly connects grace and salvation...
1 Peter 1:10  “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully...”
1 Peter 1:13  “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ...” In the third chapter he again connects “grace” with “life”...
1 Peter 3:7   Likewise, husbands... showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life...”
1 Peter 4:10  “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace...” Here he refers to the gifts given to the saved.
1 Peter 5:5   “...Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble...’”
1 Peter 5:10   “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you...”
The unmerited favor of God. In some cases, since we are saved by grace through faith, Peter has almost used “grace” as a synonym for “salvation.” Jesus paid it all. We were bought at a price: His shed blood. In fact, as he is calling his readers to adopt the attitude of a servant, Peter points to Jesus, he says in 2:24-25,
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
That is grace demonstrated in history. That is unconditional love. That is a message worth sharing. And that’s the Maine* Idea: Because of Jesus we have a sure hope, and so we stand firm, constrained by His love, proclaiming the message of His grace.
II. Our Motivation: Constrained by the Love of God (13-14a; cf. 2 Cor 5:14).
She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.  14Greet one another with the kiss of love.
        There is some discussion about the identity of “the lady” referred to here: the “She who is in Babylon.” It seems highly likely that Peter is using a commonly recognized metaphor to speak of the church in Rome. The term ekklessia is a feminine noun in Greek, and Rome, spiritually speaking, is sometimes referred to as “Babylon.”  If Peter is writing from Rome as is supposed, how could he be sending greetings from a woman in Babylon, some 2000 miles away? It’s not like he got a call or an email that morning!  He is referring to the believers in Rome, the church in the capital city of the empire.  And he emphasizes the unity of the believers scattered among the pagans of Asia Minor with those living in Rome, with the phrase, “...chosen together with you...” Peter has made a point of reminding his readers that they were “chosen” by God. In the opening verse he began, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion...” (I Pet 1:1). In the second chapter he uses Old Testament [OT] language, that was used of Israel, to describe those dispersed, elect exiles...
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light... (I Pet 2:9).
That is the language of intimate relation, of purposeful election. Notice they are now a people for God’s own possession.   God’s choosing and His loving are closely related. We have an antique “marriage certificate” that says, “...having chosen one another out of all the species...” GOD chose to love us. Look back to the parallel passage in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy to which Peter is alluding. Here Peter talks of God’s choosing and loving the church, those who were not a people but who now are.  In Deuteronomy 7:6-8 Moses is speaking of Israel,
6 "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Note back in I Peter 2:9 also that the scattered exiles to whom Peter is writing are chosen for a purpose,  that is, “...that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you...” We’ve talked about this idea quite a bit over the last year. God saved us and left us in this fallen world on assignment. He has entrusted to us a message. Our motivation is love. And he has placed us exactly where we are, and in the process, He has placed a group of people in our intimate “sphere of influence.” The New Testament uses the term oikos, household, to describe the people that God has sovereignly and strategically placed on the “front burner” of our lives. They are our primary mission field. We can’t reach the whole world with the message of Christ, but we can seek to reach our relatives, friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, that small group that we interact with on a regular basis. Our oikos.
       We are constrained by the love of Christ. We love, because He first loved us. As we love him back, we are moved with compassion for those around us, people for whom Christ died.  We also see the idea here that the church is a family, that we are brothers and sisters, that our mentors are like spiritual fathers and mothers to us. Peter called Silas “...our” (12)  and he refers to John Mark, as “ son, Mark (13)...” He also goes on to speak of what was a culturally appropriate expression of love when he says, “...Greet one another with a kiss of love (14)...” That doesn’t mean our greeters should give everyone a kiss as they come in the door!
       I’ve told you about our experience in Brazil which was a much more physically expressive culture that that with which I grew up. “Abrassos” (hugs) were the greeting for all and beijinhos (kisses) were exchanged between women, and between men and women. This was the norm, even between people who had just met.  For an introverted gringo like me that was an adjustment!  Peter’s concern is not the form, but rather a warm, culturally appropriate, expression of welcome when we greet one another.  Jesus said to love one another, and “brotherly love” comes through in every chapter of this epistle. Before encouraging a “kiss of love” here we’ve seen...
1 Peter 1:22  “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart...”
1 Peter 2:17  “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God...”
1 Peter 3:8  “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
1 Peter 4:8  “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Why is this so important to Peter as He writes? It’s God’s design for the church. We’re a family, and we choose to love each other.  It is essential to our survival and success as pilgrims in a fallen world. It is vital to our mission as it demonstrates to those around us that we belong to Jesus. Because of Jesus we have a sure hope, and so we stand firm, constrained by His love, proclaiming the message of His grace.
III. Our Hope: The Presence and Promise of Peace (14b).
“...Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”
       I don’t want to spend too much time on this third point. It is obvious that “peace” was a common greeting among Jews generally, and in the church particularly. But this common term, even as we saw it in 1:2 and as we see it here, from the pen of the apostle, must reflect something deeper than a mere “hello” and “good-bye.”  For a believer we may think of at least three perspectives...
       First of all, a foundational truth, we have Peace with God. Because of Jesus, we have been reconciled to God through the blood of the cross (Rom 5:1).
      Secondly, we have the Peace of God: Even as pilgrims in a fallen world, sometimes hated and persecuted, we have peace even in the midst of chaos, peace that passes understanding. In the third Psalm, David says, “I lay down and sleep, I awake, for the LORD sustains me...” In Christ we can have peace that truly passes understanding. I read a story this week...
...about a man who lost his wife, leaving him to be both mother and father to a six-year-old son. After her funeral father and son came home, both feeling so alone and grieved by their loss. That night as they prepared for bed, the boy asked, "Daddy, may I sleep in your room tonight, too?"
But neither one could seem to go to sleep. They both tossed and turned until late in the night. Finally, the little boy asked, "Daddy, are you looking at me? Because if you are, I think I can go to sleep." And the father answered, "Yes son, I’m looking at you."
The little boy started at last to rest and finally fell asleep. After he was asleep the father got out of bed, walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain. He looked up into the starry sky and said, "Father, are you looking at me? Because if you are, I think I can rest and be at peace.”
       There is a third aspect of peace: One day we will have Peace on Earth, The future for which we were created – Shalom!  The day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! That is our hope! Until then, as His ambassadors, we urge men on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Because of Jesus we have a sure hope, and so we stand firm, constrained by His love, proclaiming the message of His grace.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Are you facing a stormy time in your life? If Jesus is in your boat, there is nothing to fear—because of Him you are unsinkable! Look up, trust Him, stand firm. Life is hard at times. But God is good, all the time. And glory is coming. So stand firm in His grace.

       If you have not yet received him into your boat, what are you waiting for? On another occasion Jesus came walking on the water, and said to his struggling, frightened friends, “Fear not, it is I!” He is God, and you can trust Him. And believer, be sensitive to those around you who don’t yet have hope. You are God’s ambassador right where you are living.  Be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you.  That is our mission. That is your mission and it is mine.  Let’s be faithful!   AMEN.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

[The following is the first "guest post" on Pastor's Corner: The Maine Idea! It is the text of the Sanctity of Life message preached last Sunday at Boothbay Baptist Church by Bob Conn.]

1.     The signers of the Declaration of Independence risked their lives and fortunes for defying British rule and declaring in 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 
2.     The founding documents and many early laws of the United States were grounded in principles of Biblical law including: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, 6  Constitutional Amendments, and laws on sodomy, divorce, religious education, anti-trust, the Sabbath, public service, and criminal sentencing.
3.     Despite the rich heritage from the founding fathers and the early church, the right to life has been taken from nearly 60 million boys and girls since 1973 - when state laws prohibiting abortion were struck down by the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe vs. Wade.   CDC statistics indicate that in 2013 there were 200 abortions for every 1000 live births.  If children and grandchildren had been born to those whose lives were taken, the loss to-date could potentially total 120 million! 
4.     A young woman faced with a crisis pregnancy consults a doctor, nurse or counselor looking for help.  Except for Christian pregnancy centers, like CareNet, she will likely hear “abortion is very common today, a good option.  All expenses are covered by insurance or government funding, a judge can excuse you from parental permission requirements, it will be over quickly, and you can get back to your life - as if nothing happened.” 
5.     She isn’t told about the precious child growing in the protection and nurture of her womb.  That she and her child belong to God.  That God knew her child before the womb and made him or her in His own image.   That God has plans for their well-being, to give them a future and a hope together! She hears nothing about the deep psychological harm that follows such a decision.  Nor is she informed of the potential risks to her own health and her ability to bear more children.
6.     In the 80s I picketed abortion clinics, marched streets in Houston and Austin, and lobbied Congress by sending members “The Silent Scream” - an ultrasound video of a dismemberment abortion.  Family relations can be set against one another over such issues, but Jesus said: ”Anyone who loves these more than Me is not worthy of Me.  …”Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”   (Matt 10:35)
7.     As I began to work on this sermon, my wife interrupted with news that one of our daughters was in labor with our grandson!  He was born later that day in perfect health – though a year earlier our daughter was told by her previous doctor that her heart couldn’t withstand the stress of pregnancy.  We were so thankful for our grandson’s delivery and our daughter’s good health!   
8.     My wife’s expression suddenly changed and she said there was also news from our daughter overseas.  Our grandson in her womb had passed the day before!  His deceased body had been delivered within 2 hours of his cousin! 
9.     The day after I was asked to deliver the sermon this Sunday, this grandson was found to have no brain tissue and other severe developmental issues.  The doctor pressed our daughter to abort him, but our daughter and her husband chose to love and protect their son. 
10.  God sets a limit on the number of our days, and He took this little boy into His presence on His terms.  Before the prophet Samuel was conceived in her womb, Hannah prayed: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up.”(1 Sam 2:6)   God told Jeremiah “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer 1:5)  God has a purpose for every life – which is not for man to judge.  This little boy touched us deeply in his brief lifetime and I’m consoled by David’s words about his dead son “I will go to him when I die.” (2 Samuel 12:23)   I believe the unborn and small children have grace to inherit eternal life – until they reach the age of accountability.
11.  Though no longer a crime under U.S. law, abortion violates God’s commandment against murder.  The Ten Commandments were given to Israel over 3200 years ago and are recorded in Exodus 20.  They are a timeless and priceless revelation concerning sin and holiness – a schoolmaster for all peoples - to lead us to Christ. (Gal 3:24)  The law of Moses was the equivalent of “case law” to be used by ancient Israel to apply the Ten Commandments.  In Ex 21:22-25 the law of Moses addresses the accidental death of an unborn child or children.  It states that “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman so that her children come out if there is harm, you shall pay life for life…”  
12.  Only on God’s terms is it lawful for man to take the life of another human being.  “A time to kill” of Ecclesiastes 3:3 is legitimate warfare, capital punishment and self-defense.
13.  Jesus said “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt 5:21-22)  Jesus was providing updated case law to apply the commandment against murder. 
14.  I was 24.  The Lord had wooed me since I could remember.  He had proved His love for me over and over.  I was actively seeking to be led by the Spirit, often inquiring of others.  I just hadn’t yet found anyone equipped and willing to disciple me.  I hadn’t received salvation – and had no idea what it was!  
15.  Listening to a Christian radio broadcast by Scott Ross one night, I was broken and desperately crying out for God’s grace as I sat in my little apartment in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  I truly wanted to start over!   I was totally wretched!  My sins condemned me.  But God’s peaceful, loving presence surrounded me. 
16.  I heard with great hope and relief “Repent of your sins! Believe in Me! I went to the cross for you!  You are forgiven - now and forever.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.  Come, follow Me!”   The burden of my sin and shame lifted away and I had perfect peace!  For the first time in my life - I experienced what it was like to be free from the distresses of sin!   I was secure, knowing I belonged to God, and He loved me.  
17.  I had broken the commandment against murder – for my anger, contempt and insults toward others.  Under God’s law, I was surely a murderer, thief, liar and more!  Yet while an unrepentant sinner, I had been wooed by God’s enduring love.  Finally, I had come to the end of myself.  You might think Bob was more wicked than I.  He deserved judgment reserved for the wicked - and you would be right!  On the other hand, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  (Rom 3:23)
18.  Anger alone isn’t sin, but a powerful negative emotion that cannot accomplish the righteousness of God.  My anger warns me that my heart is not right and I need to STOP immediately!  Before speaking, acting or even thinking another thought – it prompts me to ask God, and wait, for peace and self-control I need to focus on bearing the fruit of the spirit in that moment - rather than letting my anger harm another person - in sin.  Though no longer in bondage to habitual sins, not so long ago I became angry with an unhelpful customer service representative.  The power button on my new, fully-charged tablet was only working sporadically and the manufacturer’s representative I spoke with hadn’t any idea what could be done about it.
19.  She asked for the serial number, then began to ask for a lot of information unrelated to my problem - that I had already given to another representative.  She correctly surmised that I was getting angry, and she warned me “if you get unprofessional with me I’ll hang up!”  She then said she would transfer me to someone who might be able to help me.  After being on hold 5 minutes – my call was dropped!  I was due in less than 30 minutes at a church function and my music was on the tablet!  
20.  I repented before the Lord, called the manufacturer back and apologized for the way I had treated their representative. I was tested and I failed.  While the work of salvation in me was  done 42 years ago, it seems some days that the work of sanctification, of becoming more like Christ, has just begun!   Jesus commissioned us to make disciples, teaching them to obey all He commanded - until He comes.  Each day should begin with putting on the new nature which is His righteousness (or in simple terms, right relationships - with God and others). Then I am ready to take up my cross, and follow Him.  
21.  So how, after nearly 200 years of God’s manifest grace on American shores, how could the church standby powerless as civil authorities took an axe to our nation’s roots in Biblical law?  How did the church lose its vision and its redemptive influence?
22.  The temptation to water down the gospel, to be a friend to the world, seems to have led “contemporary” Bible teachers to compromise the authority of God’s Word with the rationale that because a believer is “dead to the law”, grace has made God’s commandments irrelevant or out of date.   As churches embraced this teaching, dismissing the relevance of God’s law to the church and the world, the house of faith became divided against itself!  Morally progressive politicians seized the opportunity to free man to do what was right in his own eyes. 
23.  Today, most civil laws rooted in Biblical law have been repealed, and many outward appearances of Biblical Christianity are under attack.
24.  Rousas Rushdoony, was a theologian, historian and philosopher.  He fathered Christian Reconstructionism – which hailed back to a Christian doctrine and worldview that preceded our modern era.  A quick reference to Wikipedia (not the final authority!), credits Rushdoony with inspiring the homeschool movement, independent Christian schools and the independent involvement  of the Christian Right in politics. 
25.  I was discipled in the 70’s.  God gave me a pastor thoroughly equipped and willing, soon after I was born again!  With hearts on fire for the kingdom of God, we sought the increase of His government and peace in our lives - and in the world around us.  Works by Rushdoony, Watchman Nee and others were given to me as examples of how to apply God’s word in these times.
26.  Rushdoony’s magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, was published in 1973.  The same year Roe vs. Wade was decided, the Wisdom of God was calling aloud in the street!  The  introduction (pp 3-4) states “The expression “dead to the law,” is indeed in Scripture (Gal. 2:9, Rom. 7:4), but it has reference to the believer in relationship to the atoning work of Christ as the believer’s representative and substitute; the believer is dead to the law as an indictment, a legal sentence of death against him -  Christ having died for him, but the believer is alive to the law as the righteousness of God.”…. “Man’s justification is by the grace of God; man’s sanctification is by the law  of God.”… The purpose of grace is not to set aside the law but to fulfill the law and enable man to keep the law.”
27.  Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:17-20) 
28.  The Pharisees’ oral law and traditions were intended as a hedge against violating God’s law – instead they were a ritualistic counterfeit that had replaced God’s law in nearly all of Israel at that time.  When the promised Messiah came violating the Pharisee’s law and traditions, not only did they not recognize Him or see their need for a Savior, they angrily judged Him, and sought to kill Him! 
29.  Neither failing to be convicted nor ritualistic compliance could ever begin to satisfy God’s law.  There are two aspects to each commandment – violation and fulfillment.  Illumined by the rest of God’s word, each is a revelation of righteousness, that can pierce the old heart or transform the kingdom heart with holiness.      
30.  When asked “which is the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus said "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  (Mk 12:28-31)
31.  The greatest commandments shine light on fulfillment of the other commandments.   Taking murder, briefly, for example – fulfillment of the commandment would include promoting human life and valuing it as precious - to rescue, deliver, protect and nurture - the poor, the weak and the oppressed. (Is 58)
32.  No wonder David said “Blessed is the man ….(whose) delight is in the law of the Lord, … on His law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:1-2)   Jeremiah prophesied “… this is the covenant (which means binding relationship) I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”  (Jer 31:33, Heb 8:10)
33.  Jesus said “If you really love Me you will keep My commands.   And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.“  (John 14:15-16)  All other helpers fail!  But this Helper has a capital H.  The Spirit guides and empowers us to keep the commands, and though we fail at times, He helps us overcome and will never forsake us!
34.  Despite modern day church teachings and the decay of U.S. civil law, God’s law hasn’t ever been more fully intact than it is at this very moment.  It stands forever as the basis for man’s death sentence; the divine justice by which the blood of Christ is able to redeem sinful flesh; and it is the righteousness of the kingdom of God! 
35.  Nicodemus, also a Pharisee, ruler, and teacher of Israel, came to Jesus alone at night, to avoid being exposed as a disciple.  He saw Jesus as a rabbi come from God. 
36.  He didn’t recognize it was God right in front of him!  Evidently, he was confused by Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom that “You won’t be able to say, “Look, here it is” or “there it is” for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
37.  Jesus told Nicodemus “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God, and unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)  Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, was mystified by the words of God!  Perhaps because he too was so rooted in the Pharisees’ law and not God’s law.  He struggled to understand that the kingdom of God within you is a condition of the heart!
38.  Paul said “God will render to each one according to his deeds eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil….” )Rom 2:6-11)    James, speaking of God as the Sovereign Judge of every man, said “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:12)
39.  Speaking of believers, Paul said “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor 5:10)   This is the first resurrection, at the dawn of Christ’s millennial reign, when believers are promised to receive imperishable, glorified bodies and when we see Him we shall be like Him!    
40.  Those who do not believe in the One God sent, will also be raised from the dead (but in the second resurrection, at the end of the millennial reign).  They will face a Great White Throne of Judgment to be judged according to their works.   “…the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars…” (Rev 21:8)   “…anyone whose  name is not found written in the Lamb’s book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, the second death.” (Rev 20:11-15)
41.  As recorded in Revelation, believers who overcome will “eat of the tree of life”, have “authority over the nations…” in the coming kingdom, and partake of many other thrilling promises!  (Rev 2:7)
42.  Down through the ages prophets have cried out to the wicked “repent and live”!  No matter how wicked, God promises if we repent and do what is just and right, we will live and none of our sins will be remembered against us! “  (EZ 33:15-20)
43.  Consider the story of the rich young ruler seeking Jesus’ counsel – which Pam read and is printed in your bulletin.  (Mark 10: 17-22)  Notice, the young man didn’t realize he was in God’s presence – He was spiritually dead!  We can’t see the kingdom until we are born again, until we believe in the One God sent.  Jesus answered his question “what must I do to inherit eternal life” by essentially telling him “keep the law” – but his pride blinded him and he was not convicted of his sins.  Despite outward appearances, he was clothed in filthy rags, condemned by his sins and without hope!  Yet Jesus looking at him, loved him - just as He loves each of us!  He looked into the man’s heart, seeing that he treasured his possessions more than God, then Jesus told him what he must do to change the direction of his life – this was not to be required for all men - as you can tell from the reaction of the disciples!  But just as it is impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, a man cannot be forgiven His sins and granted eternal life - apart from God’s gracious intervention and the believer’s total surrender.  And this man was very stuck!   Jesus promised His disciples that all they had left behind to follow Him would be restored a hundredfold in this life, with persecutions, and in the age to come they would have eternal life
44.  He came to give us abundant life - now and in the age to come!  He said there would be persecutions  - but believers can testify how He causes those to work to our benefit in our witness and sanctification.  Many who in man’s eyes appear first in this life will be last, and many who appear last will then be first.  He will reward those who take up their cross and follow Him.
45.  Jesus said "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". (Matt 16:25)  The poor in spirit are ready to entreat their Savior with crying and open arms because the poor don’t find cause to try to save what they cannot keep. The rich are those who trust in themselves, their possessions, or their human relations – not seeing them as gifts of God, entrusted for use in God’s work. 
46.  To be rich in the Biblical sense doesn’t require any wealth at all, just enough resistance to putting our trust in God alone.  God gave each of us imperfections, weaknesses and vulnerabilities - that are truly precious gifts.  God hates pride, arrogance and lawlessness.  Thorns in the flesh have a way of bringing us to the end of ourselves, confronting us with our desperate need for God’s grace.    When dangers, infirmities or rejection by others are a daily reality, man is more ready to cry out for God’s grace – and God hears us, and loves us and promises to supply all our needs!  Most of us feel closer to God in failure than we do in success.  This is the blessing of weakness. 
47.  The weak are not deceived by strength, beauty or possessions – which will pass away but can also be restored a hundred times over.  Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!”  (Matt 5:3)
48.  So what, after all, is the Maine idea of this sermon?  All men, our lives, possessions, and relations belong to God.  We can’t keep them no matter how hard we try!  Only through deep conviction of our moral failures and spiritual poverty can our eyes be opened to see our desperate need for God’s grace.    God knew each of us before He placed us in the womb, and we were made in His image!  He has plans for our well-being, to give us a future and a hope!  (Ps 24:1; Matt 5:3; Jer 1:5; Ps 139:16; Eph 2:10; Jer 29:11)
49.  “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”   (1Cor 13:4-8)
50.  God determined the period of your life and the exact place you should live – so you might seek Him and find Him.  Yet He is actually not far from anyone of us. 
51.  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
52.  Do you love something or someone more than God?  Jesus said if you do you are not worthy of Me.  But don’t be disheartened and turn away!   He gave you your life, your possessions and the people in your life – for the purpose of His kingdom not yours.  Humble yourself as the poor in spirit!  If you haven’t received salvation - ask Him to forgive you and grant you repentance and faith to put your trust in Him and follow Him.  He hears the cry of the broken and contrite heart! 
53.  If you have trusted Him, but you are still entangled in sin, discouraged by loss or failure, or no longer take up your cross, ask Him to grant you repentance and renew a right spirit within you – that your obedient service would evoke His “well done my good and faithful servant” when you come before the judgment seat of Christ.  

54.  He is the only one who can satisfy our deepest needs and empower us to the righteousness, peace and joy of loving one another as He has loved us!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pilgrim Living: Spiritual Warfare 101 I Peter 5:8-11

Spiritual Warfare 101: The Battle is the Lord’s! 
I Peter 5:8-11 
Introduction:  I was shocked to read that as recently as the Gulf War, 20% of American casualties were not the result of enemy fire – one in five deaths resulted from accidents, suicides, and the largest non-enemy related cause, friendly fire.  Accidents can happen anywhere, suicides too are a sad but too frequent happening in almost every setting and age group in this fallen world. But friendly fire, as high as one in five casualties, is to me surprising. And it is nothing new. Lives have been taken in virtually every war in recorded history through “friendly fire” incidents. Clearly a critical aspect of warfare is to correctly identify the enemyDuring our “walk through the psalms” over more than three years in our Wednesday night studies we frequently heard the psalmist lament the attacks of enemies, or pleading with God for deliverance from them. As Christians we were reminded that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, i.e., our ultimate enemy is not human. Obviously, as we consider the spiritual conflict of which we are a part, we need to remember who the enemy is. One of his tactics would seem to be to confuse us about that very fact. Someone said that if believers don’t determine to wrestle with their spiritual adversary, before long they will be wrestling with each other! I’m sure that delights the enemy, and grieves the Lord. 

ContextThe theme we saw in the preceding context: Don’t worry – Be Humble!  Perhaps the trials and persecutions believers face are like the lion's roar... intended by the enemy to paralyze us with fear!

The Maine* Idea: We are at war so be alert and stand firm. Know the enemy, resist him, and be encouraged, Jesus wins! 

I. Our Enemy: the devil – Our enemies are not flesh and blood (8b)! 

8…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.   

       The fact that our “adversary” is identified reminds us that we are in a war. That is very clear when you read through the book of Revelation as we did on New Year’s Eve.  There is a cosmic spiritual battle that is described, and the stakes could not be higher. The powers of darkness are engaged in open rebellion, attacking God by attacking those who are His. We read in Revelation 12:3-5
3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.  4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.  5 She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. 

The picture we see in these verses refers to the incarnation of the Son, and the desire of Satan to destroy Him even as He came into the world. That antipathy continued from the cradle to the cross. We saw it pointedly in Herod sending his soldiers into Bethlehem to kill every male child two years and under. It continued in the temptation of Christ and in his rejection and crucifixion. And it continues in the spiritual attacks on God’s people as we carry out His mission in the world. 

He prowls about – that made me think of the language in Job. Satan appears before the Lord, and when he is asked where he had been he reports that he had returned from going “to and fro” in the earth (Job 1:7; 2:2).  Lions are good at finding their prey and they are skilled at the take down and the kill. It’s a powerful illustration. We don’t want to push the illustration too far, but how do lions pick out their prey from a herd of animalsThey look for the weak ones who fall apart from the herd, right? They’re the ones who don’t have the strength to keep up, or they’re simply not alert. And the lion just watches, waiting for the opportunity to pounce.  

         Could it be that our enemy the devil acts in the same way? Looking for the weak and unaware, waiting for his opportunity to pounce and kill. When we are not eating regularly, when we don’t avail ourselves of the spiritual disciplines God has provided, when we don’t participate in the body of believers of which we are called to be a part – we’re easy pickings for the enemy. 

       Let me say it one more time: we are not designed to go it alone. God created us to be part of a community. The whole idea of spiritual gifts is that we minister to others and they minister to us. One of the branches of the service uses a recruit-ment motto, “Be all that you can be!” Well, in order to be what we are designed and called to be we need to take seriously our calling to be part of the body.  You need a band of brothers and sisters to watch your back, and they need you! Friends, we are at war, so know the enemy, be alert, and stand firm. And be encouraged, Jesus wins! 

II. Our Activity: We are at war, and we belong to the resistance! (8a,9) 

8aBe sober-minded; be watchful… 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world   

        Stay awake and stay alert (8a) 1:13, 4:7. The word “sober” is often used in a literal sense to contrast drunkenness. Obviously on the field of battle we wouldn’t want a drunken pilot flying overhead preparing to drop his bombs on a nearby enemy! Warfare is serious work. John MacArthur suggests that on a spiritual level,

It includes ordering and balancing life’s important issues which requires the disciplines of mind and body that avoids the intoxicating allurements of the world…”

Was it Thomas Jefferson who said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom"? familiar saying that is sometimes evoked in looking back on the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched us into World War 2There was presumption, and perhaps a false sense of security, thinking that the Japanese would never launch a first attack against Hawaii. The enemy can be deceptive: Japan's peace envoys were seated at the negotiating table at the very moment the attack was launched. Our country’s security depends on a strong defense – on being watchful so we are not surprised by a sneak attack and on being powerful so that we are prepared to fight when we have to. The same holds true in the spiritual realm. Don’t underestimate the enemy. He has been around a long time, and he is an expert on human vulnerabilities.  He can be deceptive, even disguising himself as an angel of light.  The enemy will do all he can to cut short our effectiveness as a witness and ambassador for Christ. I read this week another illustration of that principle from the latter stages of World War 2. 
 On April 28, 1944, during World War II, Allied soldiers were engaged in Operation Tiger, a training exercise in amphibious beach landings in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Suddenly, enemy gunboats appeared and killed over 700 American servicemen in a surprise attack. Today, a monument stands on Slapton Sands to commemorate the sacrifice of those young men who died while training for battle but were never able to enter the conflict. Ready to fight, but cut short. That tragedy is a picture that warns the believer in Christ. We too are involved in combat with an enemy who is powerful and deceptive. That is why the apostle Peter warned: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour"  

       We need to be watchful, vigilant, and we need to “resist Him, firm in your faith.” Mount your own “resistance movement”! How do we do that? How can humans, already weakened by sin, possibly resist the onslaughts of an enemy that succeeded in tempting Adam and Eve before the Fall, and who has been perfecting his tactics for all of human history?  First of all, God will not call us to something that we cannot do, rather He will give us the resources we need for the battle. One of the laments of the Vietnam era conflict was that the military felt their hands were constantly tied to carry out the mission. God has given us what we need! So… 
       Stand firm in the faith! Paul addresses the nature of our warfare and the provision God has given us in Ephesians 6:10-18, 
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints… 

Now that is a sermon, or a series of sermons in itself! But let’s look at a couple of aspects of the provision we have for spiritual warfare at the very end. First, “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication… making supplication for all the saints.” Prayer is not simply an exercise for the “holy,” nor is it where we turn as a last resort. Our desire, our goal, should be to pray at all times in the SpiritTalking with God, allowing the Spirit, who is GOD, to fill and control us, and to empower us as we resist the enemy. I wrote in one of my first Bibles a phrase, I am not sure where I heard it: “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees!” I think that is true, do you know why? He has been around long enough to have observed that incredibly, God works through the prayers of His people. It is amazing to think about. God know what we need long before we ask! And He has a plan that He is going to carry out in the world. Yet He moves us to look up, to cry out to Him, expressing our faith, our trust, our dependence on Him.  And notice that we pray not only for ourselves, but for “all the saints.” That is one of the most powerful “one another” commands in the New Testament. We intercede on behalf of each other.  

       He also refers to the “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.” Do you remember how Jesus responded to each of the temptations of the devil in the wilderness? He quoted Scripture. “It is written…” God’s word is truth, it shuts the mouth of the lion and sets us free. He said it, that settles it! 

       Notice, by the way, that Peter refers to “…your brothers throughout the world…” No temptation has overtaken us but what is common to man (cf. I Cor 10:12,13). Whatever we face, others have been there before. They made it, you can too! And remember, we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, who was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.  He is our strength. We are at war so be alert and stand firm. Know the enemy, resist him, and be encouraged, Jesus wins! 

III. Our Hope: God will ultimately deliver us: He is in charge (10,11)! Alastair Begg preached a message on these two verses speaking of the Pattern, Power and Praise of God, and since I like alliteration I’ll use those points to walk through this text! 
10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

          The Pattern which God designed (10a). The contrast here is quite emphatic. “After you have suffered for a little while…” As Peter has stated before the suffering of this present age is transient, and at least from God’s perspective, from the perspective of eternity it is “a little while.” Near the start of the letter he said in 1 Peter 1:6-7, 
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Trials and suffering are “for a little while,” even though, when we are in the midst of it, we may not feel that way. War by nature is a time of intense conflict and it is seldom easy or quick. But for perspective, think about eternity. Think about that line in “Amazing Grace,” “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the Sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun…” Here Peter reminds us that though we suffer for “a little while” we are called to eternal glory in Christ. We are His forever, and God will glorify himself in us and through us. 
      The Power He displays (10b).  Notice the subject of the actions in v.10, “The God of all grace…”, the One who calls us in Christ, He Himself” will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  Thinking back to the story of Job, he went through unimaginable pain and heartbreak. He came to the end of himself, he had nothing left. Yet we read at the end of the story that the LORD restored Job, and blessed him with twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10). Job didn’t do that work of restoration, God Himself did itJesus told his disciples that they would weep, but that their sorrow would be turned to joy (John 16:20).  The word “restore” is the word that was used to describe the sons of Zebedee “mending” their nets, repairing the tears and making it whole. The word appears a half dozen times in Ezra 4,5, and 6, describing the “rebuilding” or “restoration” of the Temple and City which was in ruins. Here, as Peter writes to the scattered and persecuted believers in Asia Minor, he is encouraging them that their suffering will pass, and that ultimately God will lift them up. It is God’s work, God alone, who does it. As I looked at this word I could help but notice that the root appears twice in the conclusion to 2 Corinthians, as Paul exhorts the church there… 
Your restoration is what we pray for.  10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.  11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Cor 13:9-11).

Paul had started his first letter to that same church exhorting restoration and unity. We read in I Corinthians 1:10,
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united [“restored, made whole”] in the same mind and the same judgment.”

 These letters were written just a short time apart, and Paul makes it clear where his heart was, he longed for unity and restoration in the body. He wanted the nets to be mended, unity to be restored. That is my heart desire, and that is what we should pray for and seek. One day the body will live in the reality of our “oneness” in Christ, forever. Let’s be people who reject bitterness and divisiveness and strive for peace. Let’s do it for the sake of the Gospel, for the glory of God. 

                The Praise which God deserves (11) The beautiful doxology in verse 11 is our fitting response: “To Him be the dominion [some manuscripts say, “glory and dominion”] forever and ever, AMEN.” He is Lord, and His kingdom is eternal. The battle is described throughout Scripture, Psalm 2 gives a poetic synopsis. This world system, under the deception of the Evil One, is in rebellion against God. The good news: JESUS WINS! 

What is God saying to me in this passage? We are at war so be alert and stand firm. Know the enemy, resist him, and be encouraged, and rest assured, Jesus wins! 

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you have any doubts that we are at war? Don’t forget who the enemy is.  Remember two things, 1) the battle is spiritual, we wrestle not against flesh and blood; and 2) the battle is the Lord’s, He will lift us up if our trust is in Him. Our desire for any brother, even if He would hurt us, should be that God would do what is necessary to restore Him, that we might be one with our brothers and sisters.  Remember that God has us in the world, in all of its fallen-ness, as His ambassadors, as agents of reconciliation, to proclaim the gospel of peace. Part of our witness is our relationship with each other: “By this men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  What do the people in your oikos, your friends and family, co-workers and neighbors, what do they see and hear when you talk about the church? We don’t want be deceptive and give the impression that we are perfect (they’ll only be disillusioned when they find out the truth!). But they ought to know, above all, that we love one another. That will attract them to the Lord of the Church.  AMEN!