Sunday, April 26, 2020

Be Encouraged…. through the Church! I Thessalonians 5:12-15

Be Encouraged…. through the Church!
I Thessalonians 5:12-15
Introduction: As this pandemic lingers we’ve seen some glimmers of hope in that the vice-president this week made a statement that perhaps by Memorial Day this COVID-19 crisis will be largely behind us. Be encouraged, each week that passes brings us one week closer to meeting together again! We’ll be monitoring the situation with the leadership team, and doing our best to discern what the “new normal” is for the future. Whatever happens, right now we as the church can offer hope to a hurting world. Could it be that God will use this time to turn the hearts of struggling people to Himself? Let’s not waste this experience, let’s learn from it and grow through it. Let’s not be content, in our church and in our individual Christian lives to return to the status quo, but let’s seek God, and try to learn what He would teach us. Let’s listen for what He is saying even now as we turn for a few minutes to His word…
Context (5:10-11): The previous passage ended with an admonition given in the light of the promise of the Parousia…
God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him. Therefore encourage one another, and build each other up, just as you are doing.
God has a plan for humanity, and ultimately those who trust Him, and entrust themselves to Him, have the promise of forgiveness and peace and restoration – the way life should be! That is not just wishful thinking, it is God’s promise to us, stamped by the historical truth that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again on the third day. The question for us to consider in this final part of I Thessalonians is, how then shall we live? Paul says in 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another, and build each other up, just as you are doing.” We serve others with the abilities and gifts God has given us. Paul underscores that in these verses.
       The series of imperatives at the end of this chapter, I think there may be around 15 or so, are practical admonitions that show us how this “encouraging and building each other up” can look in the church.  Today we’ll look at only four verses, 5:12-15. Let’s read the passage:
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,  13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
We see here relationships in the church between the people and their leaders, our relationships with one another, and finally our relationship with the world, the unsaved people in our sphere of influence. So…
The Maine* Idea: Let God’s grace toward us motivate us to love and encourage one another. Three “r’s” outline the passage: 1) Respect our leaders, 2) Reach out to others, and 3) Remember to do good.
I. Respect our teachers and leaders (12-13).
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,  13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
       The ESV translation is interpreting the first verb a bit in v.12, the word usually has the idea “to know.” Perhaps “recognize” or “acknowledge” would be better. Who has God placed in your life to encourage you and to admonish you, to hold you accountable in your spiritual journey? There are leaders in the church, the pastor and elders, there are Sunday School teachers, there are fellow believers who have taken an interest in us to encourage and admonish. Paul’s primary emphasis here may have been on pastors and elders, since he refers to those “who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” “Labor” is a word that is used to express hard work, “toil.” That leaves out the pastor right? After all, he only works one day a week! I think you know better! That might be true in some cases, but not most! Ministry at every level is hard work. Not physically, usually, but mentally and spiritually. As we bear each others burdens we make some else’s lighter but at the same time we share the weight, we take part of those burdens to heart.
       We are to acknowledge, recognize, those who are described in v.12. Paul uses three phrases, not to describe three different people or groups of people, but one specific group to whom all of these phrases apply: 1) who labor among you; and 2) are over you in the Lord; and 3) admonish you… This last word, “admonish,” has the sense of gentle correction or warning. When Paul was describing his previous work among the Ephesians, he said in his farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:32, Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” The idea seems to be heartfelt, persistent, consistent, teaching of the truth, even when it wasn’t easy. The “tears” here seem to be Paul’s, as he struggled to confront the people who he loved so deeply.  By the way, if you remember that scene in Acts 20, at the end of the chapter, we read in Acts 20:36-38,  
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.  And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
Their love for one another is evident in that emotional scene! Similarly, he uses the same word, “admonish,” in 1 Corinthians 4:14, I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” What a beautiful expression of the Apostle’s heart: as a parent correcting a child out of love Paul describes his motive in writing to them.
       These words seem to be describing our spiritual leaders, pastors and elders certainly, but perhaps someone else as well who is specifically discipling us. I think it could apply to those who are teaching us in the Lord, that is, our spiritual mentors. “Know” them, recognize them, acknowledge in your own heart the impact they are having on you. And Paul says, “…and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” The idea seems to be appreciation and respect because of the work they are doing, in the church and in your life. Someone shared the following legend about a king who decided to set aside a special day to honor his greatest subject…
       When the big day arrived, there was a large gathering in the palace courtyard. Four finalists were brought forward, and from these four, the king would select the winner.
        The first person presented was a wealthy philanthropist. The king was told that this man was highly deserving of the honor because of his humanitarian efforts. He had given much of his wealth to the poor.
       The second person was a celebrated physician. The king was told that this doctor was highly deserving of the honor because he had rendered faithful and dedicated service to the sick for many years.
        The third person was a distinguished judge. The king was told that the judge was worthy because he was noted for his wisdom, his fairness, and his brilliant decisions.
        The fourth person presented was an elderly woman. Everyone was quite surprised to see her there because her manner was quite humble, as was her dress. She hardly looked the part of someone who would be honored as the greatest subject in the kingdom. What chance could she possibly have, when compared to the other three, who had accomplished so much? Even so, there was something about her the look of love in her face, the understanding in her eyes, her quiet confidence.
        The king was intrigued, to say the least, and somewhat puzzled by her presence. He asked who she was. The answer came: "You see the philanthropist, the doctor, and the judge? Well, she was their teacher!"
        That woman had no wealth, no fortune, and no title, but she had unselfishly given her life to produce great people. There is nothing more powerful or more Christ-like than sacrificial love. The king could not see the value in the humble lady. He missed the significance of the teacher. Often, we miss the value of those around us.
Appreciate those who teach you in the Lord. Finally, in v.13, “Be at peace among yourselves…” This seems to transition into v.14 where we go from our attitude toward our leaders, to our responsibility for each other… Remember the Maine* Idea: Let God’s grace toward us motivate us to love and encourage one another. So we respect those who lead and teach us, and we also…
II. Reach out to our brothers and sisters (14).
14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
            we urge you brothers… The verb used here is once again, parakaleo – “to encourage, to comfort, to come alongside to help…” The ESV translation, “we urge you,” is legitimate, it seems to be the sense of the word as it is used in this context, but we don’t want to miss the connection to it’s repetition through this letter, as the same word is translated with four different English words in this short letter! We’ve called this series in First Thessalonians, “Be Encouraged!” I believe that conveys the overarching theme. Look at the use of the word so far…
*1 Thess 2:12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged* you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
  1 Thess 3:2and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith
*1 Thess 3:7for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.
*1 Thess 4:1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
  1 Thess 4:9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more
*1 Thess 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
  1 Thess 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
So, we see four different English words used in the ESV, depending on the context: exhort, comfort, urge, and in the two uses we saw in the last two messages (4:18; 5:11) are translated “encourage.” The ideas overlap, and certainly Paul means for the theme to carry through the letter. This is part of God’s design for the church, we need the encouragement and exhortation and admonition of our brothers and sisters. In this way we provoke one another to love and good works. The final use appears in v.14 and it is then followed by a series of short exhortations. We urge you brothers… To do what? The three following imperatives in 5:14 verse seem gentle, and seem increasingly so, “admonish… encourage… help…
       “…Admonish the idle…” (or lazy, or possibly “unruly”). This may be a reference back to what Paul had said in 4:11-12,
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life might win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anyone.
Considering the context, “the idle” may be those who, in the light of the promise of the imminent return of Christ, had neglected their livelihood and had become a burden (or even a nuisance!) to others around them. I had one brother call this week and tell me that one lesson that he has learned from the temporary lay-off is that he is not ready for retirement! One thing is certain, we never retire from the Christian life until God calls us home. He has us in this world for a purpose.
       The Bible has many warnings about indolence, drifting through life without purpose. We need to stay engaged and redeem the time! Whatever we do, we should do it as unto the Lord. I have a little cross-stitched sampler in my office that Mary Ann made me maybe thirty years ago, three questions I need to regularly ask myself: “Is the work well done, was the Word well used, is the Lord well pleased? Important questions! Here is an excerpt from a devotional I received this week…
As productivity leads to provision, so laziness leads to impoverishment. This is true in the spiritual realm no less than it is in the physical realm. Whether we are diligent or negligent in our work, study, management of our homes, devotional lives, physical care, and care for others, we will inevitably reap what we sow. God calls us to diligent labors. This present circumstance is an opportunity for us to diligently carry out the many responsibilities the Lord has given us.
       So, we admonish the idle, and “…encourage [or “comfort”] the fainthearted…” The word translated “encourage is another word, used in parallel to parakaleo in 2:12. It only appears two other times in the NT, in John 11:19,31, where it is used to describe the Jewish mourners “consoling” Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus. It may in our context have a similar force, as Paul had just encouraged the Thessalonians to mourn, but not as those who have no hope. The greatest consolation in the face of death, the most effective and true comfort, is the promise and assurance of the resurrection. Paul may have been alluding to Isaiah 35:4,  Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’
       Since the previous verses spoke of coming judgment, and salvation for those who trust in the Lord, the admonition for the faint-hearted, here in the ESV, “those who have an anxious heart,” seems contextually close. We can stand firm in the Lord, we needn’t be anxious or fearful, because God is real, and He is present, and He is bigger than anything we are facing or will face. “Nothing can touch us that hasn’t first passed through the hands of our loving heavenly Father, nothing.” And even what does touch us will somehow be used for our good, and for His glory. So we can encourage the faint-hearted, and we…
       “…Help the weak…” I like the NLT here, “…take tender care of those who are weak… It is not clear here if the “weakness” in view is physical, emotional, or spiritual. Maybe the ambiguity is intentional, because we need to be sensitive and concerned about all those areas: spiritual, physical and emotional needs. We see all of these in this crisis do we not? The older or infirm, who might need some food delivered to them, some with financial needs, others who are feeling isolated and alone, those who miss the corporate worship and the interaction in small groups, even just fellowshipping together after church. We want to help the weak…
An American who was walking down the streets of a [third world] city was greatly interested in the children, many of whom were carrying smaller children upon their backs, and managing at the same time to play their games... "It is too bad," the American sympathetically said to one little fellow, "that you have to carry such a heavy burden!" "He's no burden," came the quick reply; "he's my brother."
Help the weak! Because in some way, at some time, that is all of us! Bear each other’s burdens! There is a TV series that features the director of a hospital who always is asking, “How can I help?” Don’t wait to be asked. As you call (or from an appropriate social distance, visit!) ask the questions: Are you ok? How can I help?
       “…Be patient with them all” Patience is necessary because discipleship is a process. It seems to me there is a period before we believe when God is working on a person’s heart, laying a foundation so to speak, before they are born-again by grace through faith. Once we are saved, there a process of practical sanctification that begins, and will continue, until our sin-nature is finally eradicated, when this corruptible puts on incorruption, this mortal immortality! So, we admonish, we help, we encourage, realizing that we are all a work in progress. We can all ascribe to the same motto: “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet!” Remember the Maine* Idea: Let God’s grace toward us motivate us to love and encourage one another. So we respect our leaders, we reach out to our brothers and sisters, and…
III. Remember to do Good - We have an assignment (15)! 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
       God will judge the just and the unjust, as the previous context reminded us, the day is coming when He will judge the world in righteousness. Therefore, as far as it rests with us, we seek to be at peace with all, and we keep seeking the good of others, both believers and unbelievers. There are two sides to this admonition I want to emphasize, 1) do good to one another, and 2) do good… to everyone. Paul has in mind here loving each other in the church, and also loving our neighbor.
       “…BUT always…” It is not just now, during this time of social distancing, but always, do good! Doing what is best for others, choosing to love, should be what guides our actions and our interactions with people.   We are to “…[keep] seek[ing] to do good…” We should want what is best for others. “Good” in the Bible has moral, ethical, and spiritual implications. Remember when the rich, young ruler called Jesus “Good Teacher,” Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God alone.” Recall in the account of Creation, God saw what he had made, and said it was “good.” When we truly want “good” for others, and seek their good, we don’t necessarily approve of their lifestyle or actions, but we want God’s best for them. I believe that begins by praying for them.
       We know we shouldn’t harbor grudges or anger toward a brother or sister, right? Because we are still sinners, albeit sinners saved by grace, we will still hurt or offend each other. But when we remember how much God has forgiven us, it becomes easier to overlook an offense and forgive! And so, we pray for “good,” for God’s best, for “…one another…” If we accept the idea that the church is a family, that we are brothers and sisters, that God is our Father, loving one another and seeking to do good for one another ought not be a chore, it’s a privilege! But Paul doesn’t stop there, he adds…
       “…and to all…” Loving one another is a good thing, Jesus commanded it and said that it is a testimony to the world. But loving our neighbor will get their attention! I know some in our church are involved in activities like the community food bank and Set for Success… these are ways that we can show our love for our neighbors. In this crisis, what about making a food delivery to an elderly neighbor, or, if you have a pickup truck, making a dump run for someone who shouldn’t be out? Are there other needs that you see that we can address as a church? Let us know! Many people are struggling with loneliness and isolation, depression is a real issue. A phone call could change a life, or even save a life. Reach out (virtually, for the time being!) to people around you, people that the Lord brings to your mind, and let’s see what God will do!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* Idea: Let God’s grace toward us motivate us to love and encourage one another, within the church, and as we seek to be light in our sphere of influence.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? During this time of isolation we can still encourage one another. Thank God that at this moment in history we have technology that makes it possible for us to reach out! Someone who is still busy with work, at our Wednesday night prayer meeting testified that he had had a tough day and then got a phone call from a sister in the church, a widow, that really lifted his spirits. I know I have been encouraged by joining together with some men via Zoom on Tuesday morning at 7am, and then again with others on Wednesday evening at 6:30 for a prayer and testimony time. I know some are calling elderly folks and picking up groceries for them. As a church we’ve been able to extend some help to some folks through the first stages of this crisis. And I know that we have people who are prayer warriors in the church – who take our prayer list and pray diligently for the needs listed. Why not call at least one person a day and pray with them on the phone about a specific need they have?  I believe that God has given us this moment to refocus on Him, and to remember what really matters as we live as followers of Jesus in this fallen world. He saved us for a purpose, let’s use the time wisely, for His glory.  AMEN.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Be Encouraged... by the Blessed Hope of Christ's Return - I Thessalonians 5:1-10

Be Encouraged… by the Blessed Hope of Christ’s Return
I Thessalonians 5:1-10
Introduction: I think it was Mark Twain who said, “Some people are bothered by the things they can’t understand in the Bible. As for me, the things that trouble me most are those I do understand!” Our series in I Thessalonians has brought us to a section teaching doctrine, specifically eschatology, or Last Things. There is a lot of disagreement between Bible-believing Christians about the details and the timeline surrounding the return of Christ. We agree that He IS coming, and that is Good News!
       It is good to remind ourselves that I Thessalonians is a letter Paul was writing to encourage a young church that was experiencing some hard times. That certainly resonates with many of us in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic – living under a virtual lockdown, some facing financial uncertainty and layoffs, some working on the front lines and putting themselves at risk… I want to focus on the message of encouragement that was at the heart of this passage.
       Of course, since this was a letter, we know that it did not go to its original readers with chapter divisions and verse markings! The “catching up” described in the previous section (4:13-17) talks about what we call “the rapture” of the church, which is closely connected with the resurrection of the faithful who had died. I take it that the rapture is imminent, when together we are “caught up, to meet the Lord in the air, and so will they always be with the Lord.” That teaching should bring comfort to all who know Him, because whether we live or die, we belong to Him, forever (4:18). Paul doesn’t give his readers a timeline, but rather calls on them to live in hope, guided by faith and empowered by love.
The Maine* Idea: We live in the light of our sure hope: Jesus will return! That means certain judgment of the lost, and joyous rescue for believers.
I. Stay ready: The Day is coming, and will come suddenly, when God will judge sin and unbelief (1-3). That is not a threat for believers, it’s a promise!
5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
       Notice, first of all, that Paul addresses the Thessalonians as “brothers.” These are his spiritual family, his brothers and sisters, fellow believers in Jesus and co-heirs of the kingdom. He was separated from them for a time by necessity, but his love for them, his compassion and concern, comes through on every page. It’s unnatural for us to be meeting like this, with a computer screen or a smartphone between us. This too will pass! We can still, we must, uphold each other in prayer, and through telephone or facetime or Zoom we can fellowship and encourage one another. By the way, if this lockdown continues into May, as it appears it will, I’d like for us to be able to share in the Lord’s Table together, having a virtual meeting over Zoom… I’ll be working on that with the elders and we’ll try to schedule it for Sunday, May 3rd. In the meantime please call or text any prayer needs you have, and consider joining us for our virtual prayer meetings through Zoom on Wednesday nights at 6:30. We’re a family, and in this letter Paul is addressing the Thessalonians as family, as his brothers and sisters in Christ. He wants to encourage them and strengthen their faith.
       Remember the context of the letter, Paul had received word of their authentic faith and perseverance; and had already commended them for the same. At the end of chapter 4 Paul had just reminded them of our sure hope in the second coming of Christ, to resurrect the bodies of the faithful who had died, and to rapture and transform believers, taking them up together to be with the Lord forever. That hope is good news, and it is a promise to encourage and strengthen the faithful as they live in this fallen world. How long O Lord? Can we know when He will come?
       “…concerning the times and the seasons, you have no need to have anything written to you…” Paul made a similar statement a few verses earlier about brotherly love (4:9). The idea seems to be that this was a topic that Paul had taught them, in which they were well established. Even so, by way of encouragement, he brings out a few details and reminds them that their hope is not just about the future, it has practical implications for how they can live today. It is easy to get excited about prophecy and the study of last things. Paul is not intent on answering some the questions we would ask: “Paul, are you pre-mil, post-mil, or amil? Pre-trib rapture or mid-trib?” Those are modern discussions that we should study and pursue, but Paul is a pastor-theologian, wanting to apply the sure hope of the return of Christ to rescue believers and to judge unbelief. Did it matter to the situations the church was facing? Does it apply to our situation? This pandemic did not catch God by surprise. He is not worried about how He will supply for His people or how He will fund the continuation of His church and His mission in the world. But He does want to grow our faith, and draw us closer to Him, and deepen both our love for one another and our burden for the lost! Let’s be open and teachable, making sure our ultimate trust is in Him.
       The Thessalonians may have wondered in the midst of their trials, “Paul, may we ask when? How long will evil prosper and the people of God suffer?” Remember the disciples, in Acts I, asked Jesus a similar question. After 40 days of teaching about the Kingdom, they ask “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They expected an earthly kingdom, with the king present. They had a pre-millennial expectation it seems to me. And Jesus doesn’t rebuke the question as completely wrong-headed, as though he had just wasted 40 days of post-resurrection teaching on the subject! No, but he says, “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons that the Father has set by His own authority, but…” When Jesus comes is not for you to know. Be encouraged by the promise of His coming, but your focus should be on what you should do, how you should live, until that day!
       “…For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…” This same language had been used by Jesus himself to refer to the suddenness of the Parousia (Matt 24:42-44; cf. Rev 3:3; 16:15; 2 Pet 3:10). A thief does not set up an appointment before coming right? It’s usually when you would least expect it. During this lockdown, I’ve heard a couple of reports in the media that in different areas of the country there have been break-ins. I even saw one caught on home security video, of two men in broad daylight coming up to the front door of a house, wearing N95 masks, and then forcing themselves in! That one didn’t go well for them, the next thing you see is the homeowner chasing one of them out of the house! It was worse still for the other guy… But you get the imagery here, thieves will come suddenly, unexpectedly, usually at night. For those who are not watching, the coming of the Lord will be sudden and unexpected. Paul uses another metaphor to highlight this idea, but also the inevitability of that day…
     While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” The sense of peace, security, continuity, these are ideas that the world looks for. Believers however can also be lulled into a sense of spiritual complacency… When things are going well especially, we can get comfortable in this life, forgetting that we were created for eternity, and that God will not allow the world to continue indefinitely in its rebellion. He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness. Our hope is in a new heaven and a new earth… the best is yet to come!
       The Thessalonians were not living a life of prosperity and ease. Their faith came at a cost. That has been the case for most believers throughout history. We know the truth, the Lord will return at the time appointed by the Father, and we should live expectantly, looking for “…the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ… (Titus 2:13, NKJV). In our passage Paul uses the picture of a pregnant woman suddenly going into labor. It isn’t exactly a surprise, other than perhaps the moment it began, but the idea of suddenness, and inevitability comes through.  This makes me think of the words of Peter, in 2 Peter 3:3-4…  
scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  4 They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."
But then He says in 3:10-13…
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
The day of the Lord will be one of wrath, and judgment for unbelief. The good news is that today is the day of salvation, and whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved! Let us be faithful witnesses, urging those in our sphere of influence to be reconciled to God!  We live in the light of our sure hope: Jesus will return! That means certain judgment of the lost, and joyous rescue for all who believe. So, we must, 1) Stay ready, and…
II. Stay faithful: In Hope we guard our hearts and minds: Our certain rescue means our hope is sure, and so we live by faith, strengthened by love (4-8).
4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 
       But you brothersPaul begins with an emphatic contrast. The world continues in unbelief, “BUT YOU BROTHERS are not in darkness…” The unrepentant are living in willful ignorance, denying the light of revelation in creation and conscience, and for many, rejecting the Word that they have heard plainly and repeatedly. As we read in John 3:19-21,
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.
Jesus is the Light of Life, the Light of the world! Light is life giving, it leads us through the darkness – His Word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. But for those who reject the truth, who continue in unbelief, light has a different function, it exposes what is hidden in darkness, even in the dark recesses of the human heart. It reveals unbelief.
       You are children of light, children of the day… (5). This is again the structure that Paul often uses, the indicative followed by an imperative. You are children of light, this is your new nature, your reality, your position, now live like it! As he writes to the Colossians 1:11-14,
11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins
First he assures them of their position in Christ, then later, in 3:2-6,
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
You have a new life, you are kingdom citizens. Now live like it! Walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called! Here in our passage in I Thessalonians Paul says “you are children light.” That is your position, your new nature. And then he says “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (6).
       How can we live as children of light in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us? Look at verse 8, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” This imagery of armor that we put on, specifically here, armor that guards our heart and our head: the breast plate of faith and love, for a helmet the hope of salvation. Remember back in 1:3, as Paul thanked God and prayed for the Thessalonians, he remembered their “…work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our heart and our head can be protected from the enticement and delusion of this fallen world. Our hope is bigger, it is eternal. That is the Maine* Idea: We live in the light of our sure hope – Jesus will return! That means certain judgment of the lost, and joyous rescue for believers. So we 1) Stay ready; 2) Stay faithful, and…
III. Stay engaged: Knowing our future is secure, we are freed to serve others, encouraging them and building them up (9-11).
 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
       The language here is interesting, “…God has not destined us for wrath…” Some English translations say, “appointed.” What is our destiny? Most relevant to you today, what is your destiny? Can we really know? Well, if you believe, if you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can!  Paul uses the plural, including himself with the Thessalonian believers. We have believed, we’ve been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  We have heard His voice, and followed Him. Our trust in Christ assures us that we are His, eternally secure in Him. We have been destined not for the wrath that will be poured out on unbelief on the Day of the Lord, but for “salvation” through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses this language of “wrath” back in 1:10 where he says Jesus “rescues us from the coming wrath.” Paul uses the same word in Ephesians 2:1-3 where he describes the former state of the Ephesians,
…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Notice what Paul said there, before they believed, by nature they were “children of wrath,” destined for judgement, like the rest of mankind. But God, by grace, through faith, saved them, made them alive, loved them. Before they believed was their “destiny” clear? No, not to any human. We can describe their apparent state, but not their eternal destiny.  The Thessalonians had believed, and their lives demonstrated the authenticity of their faith. It was clear by their faith, hope, and love that they belonged to Christ. And so Paul could include them with himself as he said, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation.”
       salvation” can refer to our rescue from sin and judgment, past, present, and future. We were saved when we believed, we are saved in the present, and we will ultimately be saved when it is consummated in the resurrection. That seems to be Paul’s emphasis here, our final rescue.
     Verses 9b-10 are essentially a summary of the passage at the end of chapter 4. Here he says, “through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” And that promise is not just to satisfy our curiosity or end our debates. It is intended to edify, and to encourage. And so, we should “…encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (11). Two “one another” statements that are part of fulfilling our calling as the church: We encourage each other, come alongside to help, bearing each other’s burdens; And we use our gifts to edify, to build each other up, so that we are strengthened and equipped to carry out God’s mission in the world.
What is God saying to in this passage? The Maine* Idea: We live in the light of our sure hope: Jesus will return! That means certain judgment of the lost, and joyous rescue for believers.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Does the idea of the return of Christ bring peace and hope to your heart, or does it stir up feelings of uneasiness, or even dread? Don’t miss this: none of us is good enough to stand before a holy God. As Paul writes, “There is none righteous, no not one…” and “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:10,23). None of us deserves salvation, we can do nothing the earn it. But “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (I Tim 1:15). The two destinies of humans are set forth in John,
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.  18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (Jn 3:17-18).
Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, to lay down His life, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. The greatest and first pandemic is sin (Rom 5:12). Admit your need (Rom 3:10,23), believe that He died for you sins, as your substitute (Isa 53:6), satisfying divine justice, and that He rose again the third day. And believe, trust Him, entrust yourself to Him (John 3:16). If you do that, you can know that you are appointed not to wrath, but to salvation!
       Believer, we don’t know how much time we have before either the Lord calls us home, or He returns to take us home. So, let’s stay ready, awake and alert, remembering that we are pilgrims in this fallen world, created for eternity. Stay faithful, guarding your heart and your mind, and walking in the light of the Gospel. And stay engaged, we have a mission, He saved us on purpose, for a purpose. So then, while it is still day, while it is the day of salvation, let’s be light in the world. Encourage the faint hearted, admonish the weak, build each other up, so that we’ll be better equipped for the mission He has entrusted to us.  AMEN.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Be Encouraged... because He Lives! - I Thessalonians 4:13-17

[Once again, this is not a typical message. We are still under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Easter Sunday, I've decided to return to our series in 1 Thessalonians, as the passage speaks about the Resurrection of Jesus as the foundation of our hope in the midst of crises in this fallen world... SN]
Be Encouraged… Because He Lives!
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Introduction: Week by week it seems the situation is changing… We are even getting conflicting information about whether or not we have peaked in terms of the current pandemic. The uncertainty created by the COVID-19 crisis has raised the stress levels for many of us… One result of this “social distancing” has been loneliness, depression, even despair for many people. Resurrection Sunday is a good time to pause, and to find hope and encouragement in Jesus, and that is what I would like to do this morning. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow! His victory over death makes our future a certainty. Remember the words of Erich Sauer…
 “The present age is Easter time. It begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer and ends with the resurrection of the redeemed. Between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into life [through faith in Christ] …So we live between two Easters and in the power of the first Easter, we go to the last Easter...” (Triumph of the Crucified, p. 101).
       Hope for today! At Boothbay Baptist Church, before this crisis led to us suspending our public meetings for a time, we had been working our way through a letter that the Apostle Paul had written to a young church, a group of new believers in Jesus, First Thessalonians. Paul, along with Timothy and Silas, had planted the church, but they were only there for a few short weeks. Not only were the Thessalonians new to the faith, but they were experiencing opposition and persecution. Paul had received word of their evident faith in Christ, their love for one another, and their hope in the future return of Jesus. Though they were doing well, since they were a young church, they lacked depth in some areas of their understanding of truth. And so, Paul is writing to encourage them, to guide them away from despair caused by their circumstances, and to lead them deeper in their sure hope for the future. I think Paul’s word to the Thessalonians can encourage us as well. Easter means hope for those whose trust is in the Lord! Our series is entitled “Be Encouraged!” I’ve called today’s message, “Be Encouraged… Because He lives!” The Thessalonians needed to hear that, and so do we!
       I don’t know the details of your situation, as of yesterday, a number of you were without power here in Boothbay. I know that this health crisis has added stress to all of our lives at some level. I don’t know if your faith is being challenged or your hope is wavering. Could it be that God has led you to this passage, at this moment, that His Spirit might lead you, comfort you, steady your faith in a time of storm, and secure you in the sure hope we have in Jesus? Listen to these words from the Apostle…
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  18 Therefore encourage one another with these words… (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). 
       For the Thessalonians, their new faith was being tested daily as they faced persecution from the authorities, and religious opposition from their idolatrous neighbors. They had been taught the fundamentals of the faith by Paul, they knew who Jesus was, the eternal Son of God who took a human nature. They knew that He had willingly died for their sins, as the Scriptures had predicted would happen (see Isa 53; Ps; 22). They knew that he had conquered death in the resurrection, and that He had ascended into heaven, and that he had promised to return in like manner.  They still had some questions about how that future return would unfold, and also about the intermediate state of those who died in the faith. Paul is trying in this letter to fill in a few of the gaps in their understanding, and to encourage them to stand firm. This section ties in with the opening part of chapter 5, both concluding with the admonition, “Therefore encourage one anothertherefore encourage one another, and build each other up” (4:18; 5:11). Like the Thessalonians, we are living in uncertain times. We don’t fear the sword of Rome or being stoned by our countrymen, but the specter of COVID-19 has at least temporarily cast a shadow over our lives… This crisis is one we did not anticipate, but it did not catch God by surprise…

The Maine* Idea: This too will pass. Jesus is Lord of history. His victory over death gives us hope as we face trials today.

 I. A Fundamental Truth: We have a sure hope that transcends the current crisis (4:13). For the Thessalonians, they were facing persecution. Some had died since they believed, had they missed the coming rescue? Their understanding about the future was incomplete, they didn’t seem to grasp the connection between the resurrection of Jesus, which they believed, and the promise of His return and the resurrection of all believers. We too are unsure about tomorrow… We have contradictory news reports, a growing infection rate, uncertainty about the future…
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.   
       There is much that we can’t know about the future. April 15th is approaching. As the saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes. Though I guess even the tax-day has changed this year! Since the Fall of Adam, we are all born in sin, and death has spread to all humans, for all have sinned (Rom 5:12). Death is a certainty (4:13). Something like this pandemic will remind us of our mortality. Live is fragile, it can be fleeting. The question to consider is, what then?
       Remember back to the passion week. The original disciples had seen the hope and excitement of Palm Sunday, transformed by the horror of the arrest, torture, and execution of Jesus. Remember the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus? We had hoped that He was the One… But their hopes were dashed, or so it seemed. They didn’t understand how God was working in that situation, for His glory, and for their good. The Thessalonians had heard about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They knew that He had promised to return. But in the midst of their current crisis they needed teaching, they needed assurance, they needed truth and encouragement about believers who die before Jesus comes.
       First of all, notice that ignorance creates confusion (4:13). The NKJV translates the word “uninformed” as “ignorant.” I think that carries a more negative connotation in modern English. Paul’s point, stated positively, was “We want you to know the truth about those who have died…”  And the reason for that desire by Paul was so that they “may not grieve as those who have no hope.Right doctrine has a way of calming our fears and giving us hope. How many times did God speak to Israel through Moses and the Prophets, or Jesus speak to His disciples, and say “Fear not… Do not be afraid”? At the Red Sea in Exodus 14, through an angel speaking to Mary in Luke 1, and to the Shepherds as they received the word of the Savior’s birth in Luke 2… Jesus, speaking to his disciples on the stormy lake… or preparing them for his departure in the upper room, “Do not be afraid…” No matter how difficult circumstances might seem, no matter what we might be facing, nothing is too difficult for God! We know that Jesus died and rose again, He conquered death. That gives us hope, not wishful thinking, not denial about what is happening, but a confident expectation about the future.  Our future hope is tied to the historical truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
       We don’t grieve as those who have no hope, we don’t despair like those who don’t know God, we don’t live in denial, but in the midst of this crisis we have peace, peace that passes understanding, because our hope is in God, we trust Him, and we entrust ourselves to Him.
       That is what Paul is telling the Thessalonians. Don’t despair over this present darkness. If you believe in Jesus, your hope is sure! That doesn’t mean life will be easy, but we can know that we are never alone. The Creator knows us by name, He is with us, He will never leave us or forsake us… We are in a time of crisis, but this too will pass. Jesus is Lord of history. His victory over death gives us hope as we face trials today.
II. Easter means hope based on the Truth: God has spoken, and He has acted in history for our good and for His glory (4:14-15).
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
      The ESV gets the sense of the first phrase in v.14, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again… Some translations say “IF” we believe, but contextually he is writing as a believer to believers. It is not just believing that Jesus died, but understanding why he died (4:14a). When Paul is summarizing to the Corinthians the Gospel he had preached, which they believed, by which they were saved, he begins by saying, “Christ died for our sins, according the Scriptures, and He was buried…” I won’t waste time today addressing the humanistic attempts to explain away the resurrection of Jesus by some who through the ages have tried to argue that Christ didn’t actually die on the Cross… One such theory, the so-called “Swoon Theory,” suggested that he fainted, and then revived in the cool of the cave. Come on now! The facts are obvious, the Romans were experts in crucifixion, they knew when a condemned person had expired. The spear thrust in Jesus’ side leaves no question, no room for doubt. Jesus died on the cross.
       Remember why he died: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. As Isaiah had prophesied centuries before, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…” (Isa 53:6). That wasn’t just the way things worked out because Jesus was rejected by His people. That is why He came: to satisfy divine justice, to make a way for Holy God to justify sinners. Jesus willingly became our substitute. He took our sin, He died in our place, and His righteousness was reckoned to our account.
       One of the devotions I read last week made reference to the “Crown of Thorns” that was pushed down on the head of Jesus as the soldiers mocked Him as the King of the Jews. Remember, it was the Fall of Adam that brought the curse on the earth, and with it, God said the ground would produce “thorns and thistles,” making life difficult in this fallen world. Jesus allowed himself to be mocked, tortured, and killed, a crown of thorns, pushed down on His head, so that by grace through faith, we could receive the crown of life. He took the curse for us, as the Scripture says, “Cursed is the one who hangs on a tree.” Do you know what the word “Corona” means? It is the Latin word for “crown.” And we’ve all seen the photos of the magnified virus, it looks like a thorny crown, doesn’t it? Jesus came, He endured the Cross, He died and He rose again, so that we could have new life, “…By His stripes, we are healed…” (Isa 53).
        “…Christ died and rose again…We have a faith based on history, as certain as the empty tomb (4:14b). The resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin of the Christian faith, everything stands or falls on the foundation of the historical truth of the empty tomb. Erich Sauer called the resurrection is “the guarantee of the new heaven and the new earth…” – the restoration of life, the way life should be. Because He lives we can face tomorrow! In Him our hope is sure!
       We’ve looked in the past at irrefutable evidences of the resurrection of Jesus. Others have sought to investigate the claim that Jesus arose, and had become convinced that it had to be true! Frank Morrison’s famous book, “Who moved the stone?” is an example, as is Lee Strobel’s, “The Case for Christ.”  These men began by investigating the evidence of the resurrection, intending to disprove Christianity. But as they looked at the evidence their hearts were opened, and they believed the truth! The evidence is compelling, but God is not on trial, we are. Will we believe Him, will we take Him at His word? Will we entrust ourselves to him?
       God has spoken. Faith comes down to believing God, taking Him at His Word. My GPS has led me astray a time or two, but we have a trust-worthy guide: the Scriptures (4:15)… Paul said, “…this we declare to you by a word from the Lord…” He was convinced that He was bringing God’s Word to the people, he understood his authority as an apostle of the Lord, one sent with authority as a spokesman for Jesus, an ambassador for Christ. Earlier he commended them for receiving his teaching “…not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God…” (I Thess 2:13). God has spoken, and He has revealed himself in the Son. This pandemic, this crisis that has put our lives on hold, need not cause us to despair, because… this too will pass. Jesus is Lord of history. His resurrection gives us hope as we face trials today.
III. Easter means Hope: Our future is sure in Christ (4:16-18).
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
       This is similar to the argument of I Corinthians 15… Jesus arose, the first fruits of the future resurrection harvest, and so we can be assured that those who are His will arise after Him. The Day will come when death is swallowed up in victory! Here, Paul makes it clear that the return of Jesus will result in the transformation of the believers who are still living on the earth, and the resurrection of those who have already died. Now I don’t want to get into a detailed teaching about the second coming of Christ, which I view as a two-stage event, the rapture of believers, and then later His descent to the earth to reign for a thousand years. I think that isn’t the main point of Paul’s reference the return of Christ in these verses. Mark Howell, in his commentary said that Paul’s “…concern is to give pastoral exhortation to a grieving church, and not to provide detailed theological explanation about future events.” Stott likewise writes, “His purpose in this passage is to fortify them in their bereavement, not answer academic questions about the last things.” Paul seeks to bring encouragement in the present, based on our future hope in Jesus.
       Paul is saying that, 1) as surely as Jesus died and rose again, He will return; and 2) When He does the dead in Christ will be raised bodily and transformed, and then the believers still living will be immediately changed; and 3) together they will be taken up into the Lord’s presence. He is telling the Thessalonians that even if they are seeing some of their number martyred in the current persecution, that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus conquered death, and so our future is secure in Him.
     That certainly sounds like a noisy day: “…the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God…Someone said that will be the loudest day in the history of the universe! The three phrases in parallel are emphasizing the idea of a battle cry!  In 2 Thessalonians it seems that some false teachers were suggesting the return of Christ had past, and the believers in Thessalonica were confused, had they somehow missed out?  Here Paul is saying that when Jesus returns, you will know it!
…and so we will always be with the Lord.  18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 
       We have assurance about tomorrow, as certain as the resurrection, Jesus will return, and we will be changed, transformed, given a new body (4:17b). This is essentially what Paul is saying in that great resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15: the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our future resurrection. That is a great chapter, 58 verses, I’ll just read four or five near the end of the chapter to you today…
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
     As Paul is writing to the Thessalonians, he is holding forth the same hope. The Author of Life, the Creator, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, knows us and has a plan for us. Our bodies are fragile. Accidents or violence, diseases or sickness, such things can impact us, and believers are not exempt from suffering. But, Christ arose, and so will we if we know Him! The best is yet to come! And we have hope for today (4:18)!

What is God saying to me in this passage? COVID-19 has shaken up our lives. In too many families in NY and NJ and PA, and even right here in Maine, people are sick, some are grieving. But believers needn’t despair as those who have no hope. Let’s hold forth the Word of Life, and point our family and friends to Jesus. He is Lord of history. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow! His victory over death gives us hope as we face trials today.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” We needn’t be overwhelmed by the headlines, nor should we let fear and anxiety paralyze us. God is real, and He is all-powerful, and He is good. He showed us His love, 2000 years ago when the Son took a human nature, and lived among us. It was not just to pay us a visit, it was to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Another verse says, “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. Jesus was without sin, yet He drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin and died for us, so that we could drink the cup of blessing, and experience life, abundant life, the way life should be!  His victory over death assures us: We have victory in Jesus!  
       Easter is an important day in the church calendar, but in truth it is at the heart of our new life in Christ every day: Again, quoting Erich Sauer,
The present age is Easter time. It began with the resurrection of the Redeemer and will end with the resurrection of the redeemed. Between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into life… So we live between two Easters… and in the power of the first Easter, we go to the last Easter.”
We serve a living Savior! Let’s share Him with those around us, those who need hope so desperately.  The most famous verse in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. That is Good News!   AMEN.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

THE PASSOVER KING: Palm Sunday 2020 - John 12:12-16

[For the third Sunday, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we are not meeting together physically at Boothbay Baptist Church. This study will be given this morning in video format via facebook and later made available on the church website. These days are unprecedented in the modern age, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Let's celebrate Him today!  SN]

THE PASSOVER KING:  Palm Sunday 2020
John 12:12-16
Introduction: This is Pastor Steve, coming to you once again, for now the third Sunday, from the office of Boothbay Baptist Church. Our government authorities have urged us to extend our “social distancing” for another month during this Corona-virus crisis outbreak. And so, we meet again “virtually.” We want to do our part as good citizens to end this pandemic.
       During this important season on the church calendar, today we remember, Palm Sunday, which leads into the Passion week, and next week, Resurrection Sunday. It is so strange not to be together as we celebrate! I hope and trust that before too long God will make that possible. Thank God we have the technology today to have these “online” meetings. Please send me any prayer needs by PM, email, text, or telephone. The elders and other leaders are committed to be there to help, as we are able, with the situation we are facing together. If you are staying home, this is a great time to develop and deepen good habits of prayer and Bible reading.  I would also invite you to send me your e-mail address if you are interested in participating in our Wednesday night prayer and praise meeting this week. On Wednesday past, at 6:30 PM, we had our first “Zoom” prayer meeting, and I think it went pretty well!
       We were reminded the last two Sundays, as we looked at a couple of psalms, about the importance of sound theology. The God who is, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, has spoken. He has revealed himself to us in the Bible. At the same time, we live in a fallen world… and believers are not exempt from suffering. This pandemic has left us isolated, some of us alone. We feel uncertain about the coming days, and maybe even fearful about how things will develop, concerned for our loved ones. Know this: God is bigger than this crisis. He created the universe, and it was “good.” Human sin brought death and suffering. Pandemics are a part of that. Don’t let the news scare you, let it remind you, that is why Jesus came. God gave hope from the beginning that a Rescuer would come. And in the fullness of time, He sent forth His Son. He did not come to simply visit us; He came to redeem us. He came to satisfy the righteous wrath of God against sin. He came to lay down His life for His sheep. He is Lord, He is the Son and King described in Psalm 2. He is also the rejected and suffering King of Psalm 22 and Psalm 69, the righteous sufferer of Isaiah 53, the Passover Lamb whose blood would be shed so that we could live. Today is Palm Sunday, but we have to read this account in the light of what will unfold in the coming week
       I decided to go to John’s account of the Triumphal Entry today, and focus on his telling of the story of that first Palm Sunday.  The Gospel writers had different emphases, but they all want us to know Jesus, to understand who He is and why He came. So today (before returning to our series in I Thessalonians) I want to look at the story of the Triumphal Entry of Christ in it’s context in John 12:12-16. Let’s read the text…
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"  14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,  15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!"  16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
       On the one hand, we want to join with the revelers celebrating Jesus, the coming King. But we celebrate Him from a different perspective than the Jerusalem crowd that day, almost 2000 years ago. We have the whole story... we know what had to happen that week, what they did not yet understand: the King was also the Lamb, He was both Sovereign and Sacrifice. It is Palm Sunday, and Jesus is hailed as King. But Good Friday is just days away, when he’ll be rejected, handed over to the Romans, and crucified. But he would be delivered by the plan and foreknowledge of God. Through His suffering and death, He would open the way for us to enter the Kingdom as citizens and sons! He is the sovereign Lord, no one could take His life. It was His plan to lay down His life for His sheep.
       John especially, among the gospels, wants us to celebrate the deity of Christ, and to worship Him. He wants us to marvel at the love shown in the Cross, and to love Him in return. He invites us to believe in Him, to entrust ourselves to Him, and to submit to His Lordship.  In the Bible we see hundreds of prophecies that were made about the Messiah fulfilled in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  God had a plan, that plan was revealed, in part, in advance, in the Scriptures, yet most people, including the disciples, did not yet understand. Palm Sunday leads us into the last week of Jesus’ life before the Cross. The story unfolds as God had planned —confirming Jesus’ identity, inviting us to respond in faith.   
Context:  Let me remind you how this passage fits into John’s Gospel. After the raising of Lazarus in John 11, the Jewish leadership conspired to put Jesus to death. Unwittingly, at the end of that chapter, the High Priest even prophesied the substitutionary death of Jesus (11:49-51).  Chapter twelve begins with a reminder that Passover was only days away.  Since the very first chapter the reader of the Gospel has had to struggle with the idea that Jesus is both God’s Messiah (1:41) and “the Lamb of God” (1:29,36).  How could this be?  What did the approach of Passover portend?  Both the anointing of Jesus by Mary “for his burial” (12:1-8) and the plot by the leaders to also kill Lazarus (12:9-11) sound an ominous note as the story unfolds.   The contrast with what is about to happen here, at the triumphal entry, is an example of Johannine irony.  The crowds, even the disciples, did not understand the fully the meaning of what was happening, what it really would involve for Jesus to fulfill His role as the “King of the Jews” (see 12:16).  So, we’ll see…
The Maine* Idea: In the context of the Passion Week, the triumphal entry invites us to worship the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him, trust Him, and obey Him.
I. Jesus is the King, and most people still don't understand! (12:12-13). 
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"
       As John tells us the story of Jesus, there is a lot of irony in how it unfolds. The Jews were expecting a Messiah, a King, a greater Son of David who would restore the kingdom to Israel.  They had somehow lost sight of the truth that the coming King was also to be the Suffering Servant.  The title “King” doesn’t show up frequently in John’s Gospel, until chapters 18, 19 when in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion it is the charge for which He is executed. But the few times it does appear are clues that John gives his reader early on about the nature of His kingship…
       The first time Jesus is called “King” in this Gospel occurs in the first chapter, the confession of Nathaniel: John 1:49,   “Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’" Before this confession however, the reader has heard John the Baptist, twice, calling Jesus God’s Lamb: in John 1:29 we read  "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”; then again in John 1:36 …And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’" We read that and take it for granted, we’ve heard this language applied to Jesus in church.  But imagine the disciples when they first heard it. Imagine John’s readers when they first read this Gospel: for a Jew in the first century, “Lamb” whatever else it might mean, implied sacrifice. Lamb and King? Both Sovereign, and Sacrifice? How could it be?
       The second time in John’s Gospel that the word “King” appears, is in Chapter 6, and comes in response to Jesus miraculously feeding the 5,000 with 5 small loaves of bread and a couple of fish. John 6:14-15 says,  
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” 
In response to this miraculous provision, they wanted to make him king by force. Jesus knew their thoughts, what they intended to do, and went away. It wasn’t time for the king to be revealed.  John had just reminded the reader of the Gospel, a few verses earlier: “Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near” (John 6:4).  After hearing John call Jesus “the Lamb,” the reader of the Gospel has a clue as to what is coming – the disciples still don’t understand. He is the King – but also the Lamb.
       The third use of “king” in John’s Gospel comes that first Palm Sunday, in the triumphal entry. The crowd quotes from Ps 118:25-26, which says,  
 Save now [Heb. hosanna], I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.  26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” 
Notice that they add something to the text, they “…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!" (Jn 12:13). They understand the coming One to be the King. What they said was correct, and this time Jesus allows it, even though there is little doubt the crowd was still clueless as to what it meant, what was about to happen, what had to happen.  The reader of the Gospel, has had several clues…
     1. Passover was coming in a few days; the Lamb would soon be sacrificed, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany…” (12:1).
     2. Mary had just anointed Jesus, and he said it was “for his burial” that she had done so (cf. John 12:2-8).
     3. The chief priests were plotting to kill Lazarus, because his being raised from the dead was irrefutable proof that Jesus was from God, and they wouldn’t hear it (12:9-11). Even raising a man from the dead could not convince them! Their minds were made up, they would not consider the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah (see Peter’s word in Acts 2:22).
       Part of the irony here is that the crowd, in quoting from Psalm 118 had forgotten part of the context: “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone...” (Ps 118:22). That rejection would reach its climax in just a few days when the leaders insist: “We’ll not have this man to be our king! …We have no king but Caesar!”   They, like their fathers before them, were looking for a king like the nations around them.  Jesus is King, much more so than any merely human king.  He is the Lord of all creation, our Sovereign Creator and Redeemer.  A merely human king can demand our obedience, but not our heart.  Jesus is the Passover King who would lay down His life for his sheep.  God showed us his love, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Palm Sunday invites us to celebrate Jesus, the Passover King, the Lamb on the throne, and calls us to worship, love, and obey Him.
II. He is the King, and He came in fulfillment of the Scriptures (12:14-15). John takes us from the shouts of the crowd, which were ironically true, even though they didn’t understand correctly who Jesus was, to the actions of Jesus, taken in deliberate fulfillment of Scripture:
 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:  15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey's colt." 
      John is saying that Jesus’ actions were a fulfillment of the words of Zechariah 9:9, written 500 years earlier… The main point is that God had a plan, and the plan was revealed in the Scriptures. Every action of Jesus was taken in submission to and in fulfillment of the Father’s will. This week would lead to Calvary, to the cross. Yet the cross was not a failure, it was not an accident, it wasn’t “plan B.”  Peter would say on Pentecost that Jesus was delivered up by the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). That Is how much God loves us.  He planned the Cross, He gave the Son to die for us (cf. I Jn 4:9; Rom 5:8)!
       This prophetic fulfillment also speaks to the reliability of His Word. The Scripture, written centuries before Jesus’ birth, was fulfilled precisely: He is the Lord of History!  All four of the Gospel writers point out the fulfillment of prophecies in Jesus’ life and death, Scriptures written centuries before His birth. These fulfilled prophecies are one more testimony, another witness to the messianic identity of Jesus. Ironically, even as He was rejected by the leaders of the Jews, their very rejection of Him vindicated His messianic claim, it fulfilled their own Scriptures! Remember, after the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? As they recounted to this “stranger” what had happened in Jerusalem, and revealed their confusion and shattered hopes, Jesus said,
"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
They needed to understand God’s plan: the Messiah is King, He is also our Passover who was sacrificed for us.  John doesn’t emphasize Jesus’ humility in the same way as the other gospels. He was emphasizing Jesus’ power and control, His sovereignty and glory. He is the King of Kings!  Jesus is in control. Later, when they come to arrest Him in the Garden, remember that they couldn’t even touch Him unless He allowed it (Jn 18:5-8). This King, the Sovereign who created and rules the universe, chose to give himself as the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Palm Sunday invites us to worship Jesus, the Passover King, the Lamb on the throne, and calls us to obey Him. And so…
III. He is the King, the Passover King, both Sovereign and Sacrifice (12:16).
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
       John steps back for a moment and explains from his position years later what he and the other disciples were thinking at this point in the story, it was only when ...Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things...”  The disciples didn’t understand at first what all of this meant.  Even though he had repeatedly, explicitly told them about the necessity of his death and resurrection, they couldn’t grasp it. It was only “…when Jesus was glorified then they remembered…”  When was He glorified? In John, it is especially on the cross that Jesus is glorified (see John 3:14,15).  The cross was his lifting up, his exaltation, his glorification, because it proved who he is, fulfilling the Scriptures, and it accomplishing what he came to do, giving his life for our sins (Lk 24:44).
       Notice a little further down in the near context, John 12:27-28, 
"…Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name…"
       Later in the Gospel, speaking to Pilate, Jesus referred to the nature of His kingship in John 18:36,37:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth…” 
You see, He is the King, but not like the kings of this world. He is the Passover-King. That is truth. How will we respond?
What is God saying to me in this passage? Palm Sunday invites us to worship Jesus, the Passover King, the Lamb upon the throne, and calls us to love Him and obey Him.   What the crowds said on Palm Sunday was true, but they didn’t grasp the full import of their own words. Jesus was not a victim. He was in control. And as Sovereign, he fulfilled the Scriptures, and He gave His life as a ransom for many.   
       In Revelation 1:5 He is “…the ruler over the kings of the earth… [He] who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood…” In chapter five, John in his vision sees One “…in the middle of the throne as a lamb that had been slain…” (Rev 5:6). The Passover King, exalted, on the throne of heaven, worthy to open the scroll and loosen its seals (Rev 5:7, 22:1-3.  Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.  The One who was, who is, and who is to come.
What would he have me to do in response to these truths?  Our response can only be to stand in awe of the matchless grace of God, to love the One who so loved us. Maybe you’ve been housebound lately, and “just by chance” came across this message. Or perhaps you went looking for “church” in some form today simply because it’s what you always do on Palm Sunday. Could it be that God has directed your steps, and he desired you to come across this study today? Does the Word ring true? Do you feel hope welling up in your heart? It may be that God, who so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son, is, by His kindness, drawing you to repentance and faith. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give to them eternal life and they shall never perish.” Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! He is the Passover King, who gave His life, so that we could have life. Praise him for his indescribable gift. Trust Him, receive Him. All hail King Jesus! 
       And if we believe who He is, we must also recognize His authority. Later in this Gospel He will tell his disciples: “As the Father sent me, so send I you…” At the outset of His ministry He warned them, “If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…”  That means loving God, and entrusting yourself to Him. And then it means loving your neighbor so much, that it becomes your life mission to show them Jesus, to point them to the truth. Will you love the King who so loves you? Will you obey Him?  Is there someone in your sphere of influence you can encourage this week?  Don’t despair as you hear of the contagion spreading around our world.  God is still on the throne. Jesus came so that we could have life, and have it more abundantly! Trust Him, consider His word, worship Him this week.   AMEN.