The Gospel: Jesus Messiah Yahweh!

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.  –Romans 1:1-4

Jesus Messiah Yahweh

And so Paul begins his great letter to the Roman church. Paul identifies himself as a servant, a slave, of Jesus Christ who has been uniquely called to deliver a message from God—a message of Gospel, literally Good News. The Epiphany is the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ.

The Gospel was foretold

In these first four verses we learn several very important truths about the Gospel which illumine the true meaning of Epiphany and its implications for us. First, the Gospel is something which was foretold in ancient prophecy. Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us”.

Through his prophetic spokesmen, God foretold that he would visit us as a man. Could you fathom hearing such a thing for the first time? The creator of the Universe is going to be born as a baby? Unbelievable really, and yet that is what the prophets promised beforehand in the Holy Scriptures.

Jesus is Israel’s long awaited Messiah King

Paul then goes on to say that Jesus was “a descendent of David” with regard to his “earthly life”. Being a descendant of David meant that Jesus was qualified to be the human king of the nation of Israel. David’s heirs would not only be the line of kings but everyone was expecting that the Messiah, THE KING, would be revealed as a descendant of David. In Luke 2 where we read the birth story of Jesus, Luke is careful to explain that the reason Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, had to return to Bethlehem for the Roman census was because they are descendants of David. The Angel of the Lord announced the “good news of great joy” that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The message announcing Jesus’ birth was good news not only because the promise of a human heir to the royal line of David was born, but more! Paul says, “through the Spirit of holiness [he] was appointed the Son of God…” Before Mary was with child, she was told by the angels of God, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” —Luke 1:35

Any one who bears the title “Son of God” by declaration of God is to be acknowledged by Israel as the rightful heir to David’s throne and there for the Messiah King of Israel.

Jesus is Salvation for all who believe!

Jesus is not only fully human and an earthly King, he is Yahweh God the Lord. Yes, Jesus is an earthly human king, but he is also the divine King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the creator and sustainer of the entire heavens and the earth. When Paul inscribed the letter to the church in Rome, he had the advantage of connecting the prophets of old with the full life events of Jesus. Paul saw that not only would Jesus’ nature as Yahweh God be revealed in his miraculous birth, but that his divinity was climactically on display for all the world to see and believe in Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead!

And so, Paul summarizes the heart of the Gospel message in three words: Jesus Christ Lord. Or if we were to connect them with their Old Testament equivalents: Jesus Messiah Yahweh. Those three words contain the message of the Gospel in its simplest expression as they frame the announcement: Jesus is the long awaited earthly Messiah, Jesus is Yahweh God in the flesh!

The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to what Paul calls the “obedience of faith”. Once the Gospel message is heard, one cannot remain neutral about Jesus; it is to be believed in faithful action. The revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of the World, means salvation for all who believe in that message.

Paul would go on to write in Romans chapter 1:16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

The Gospel announcement is powerful. Those who believe in Jesus as Lord and God will find a glorious eternal salvation in Him. Indeed, salvation is found in no other name!

What is your response?

“Do you believe that Jesus Messiah is God? Does he reign over every aspect of your life? Do you obey him as your King and God? The invitation of the Gospel is for everyone, and everyone who calls upon Jesus Christ the Lord will be saved. That is the good news promised from the messengers of God to you, both old and new! Listen to the wonderful promise given in the Gospel of God:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (NIV, Romans 10:9-13)

Today is the day, give your life to Him! Do not doubt, believe! Follow Jesus as your Lord and receive salvation in His Name!

The Dinner Table

Some of the simplest things in life are those we most take for granted.

The last speaker in the clip mentions three powerful sources of growth and unity for our community as a people:

  • The Townhall
  • The Church
  • The Family Table

He says that we no longer have the first two, and that the family dinner table is the “last bastion of the great power to be united as a people”. Do you agree with him? Why or why not? From your experience and perspective what is the great power of unity in the table and how does this translate to the Communion Table?

Are you Spiritually Codependent? The Wisdom of Godly Boundries

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

In our Gospel reading this Sunday from Matthew (25:1-13), we are challenged to compare and contrast the behavior of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.  As with the parable of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus is encouraging us to emulate the behavior of the wise while eschewing the behavior of the foolish.  The key question to ask ourselves is:  which bridesmaid is representative of my life?

Key Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13

At a basic level, the parable is a lesson in the importance of being prepared for the Day of the Lord. The foolish bridesmaids did not bring extra oil. They failed to plan for the possibility of a delay of the coming Bridegroom.  The wise bridesmaids, however, provided themselves with an extra flask of oil, anticipating a worst-case situation.  As a tool for self-examination, we might reflect on the threat to holiness of procrastination; or the human tendency to live for this life only rather than eternity; or the importance of short term costly sacrifice for long term security.

However, I would like to focus on another major theme in this parable:  the issue of spiritual codependency. Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s faithlessness, sin, bad habits, immaturity, or irresponsibility. The wise (and spiritually healthy) person does not allow another person’s immaturity to drag him down into folly.

Here are the key verses (Matthew 25:7-8):

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

The foolish bridesmaids expected that the wise bridesmaids would give them some of their reserved oil. The foolish bridesmaids did not ask. They demanded. They did not take into account the grave damage which their demands would cause to their wise counterparts.  Their only focus was on their own crisis caused by their own personal short-sightedness, laxness, and foolishness.

Many of us have people in our lives who make demands on us which might cause grave damage to our own relationship with God.  No person has the right or authority to demand or prevent us from truly living under the Lordship of Jesus.  He is the King.

Sadly, there are marriages, where one spouse demands of the other spouse that he or she give up the very things that lead to a vital and thriving Christian life such as, church participation, a ministry using the spouse’s spiritual gifts, or spiritual growth in study groups.  Indeed, any relationship can become an occasion where one person sacrifices that which is precious to them in order to appease the self-centered demand of a foolish person.

A wise bridesmaid knows not to give away her precious oil reserves.   In the parable, the wise bridesmaids refused to help the other bridesmaids by sharing their oil because to do so would jeopardize their own secure places at the wedding banquet.  The wise refused to jeopardize their attainment of the prize of the Bridegroom and the banquet.

The key behavior in this parable is personal responsibility.  Wise bridesmaids will not compromise their own place at the groom’s wedding banquet to help anyone who refuses to take personal responsibility for her own relationship with the Bridegroom.  The wise bridesmaids establish boundaries. They say, “No”.  They encourage the foolish to take responsibility for their own lives: “Go buy some for yourself!”

Learning to say “no” at the right time is healthy.  So, when I allow a foolish bridesmaid to have some of my oil, not only does my apparent generosity not help them to become wise, it makes me as foolish as they are.

Ultimately, each person must be responsible for his or her own relationship with the Lord.  Faith cannot be outsourced or delegated.  No one can be or will be saved by riding on “coat tails” of another’s faith.  One person’s faith cannot make up for another person’s lack of faith.

The idea of saying “no” to a fellow bridesmaid may seem a little harsh.  Aren’t Christians supposed to share, give and sacrifice for others?  After all, Jesus taught us to give to those who ask, to go the extra mile.  Yes, that is true with respect to the material things of this world.  But Jesus never asks his people to give away either their salvation or their personal relationship with God.  Indeed, we Christians are actually forbidden to compromise or capitulate in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

So when another person asks us to give up the things of our faith in order to enable his or her lack of faith, the answer has to be “No”.  The wise bridesmaids recognize that foolish bridesmaids do not take either the Bridegroom or the wedding banquet seriously.  That is to their detriment– do not make it yours as well.  The wise bridesmaids will not let anything or anyone prevent them from being a part of that heavenly banquet and their secure relationship with the Lord.  Say “no” to the foolish person when a “yes” would cost you your soul.

Related Sermon: “The Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids” (sermón en español)

Not Dressed for the Party?

Related Sermon: Matthew 22:1-14 “The Wedding Feast” (sermón en español)

In this week’s gospel (see below), we learned about a man who came to the party at the King’s invitation but ultimately was thrown out for not being properly dressed. What does this man signify for the kingdom of God, and how do we avoid facing the same embarrassment?

All Come
Earlier in the story there was a group of people who were invited first to the King’s son’s wedding banquet, and yet they rejected the invitation. In the original context of Jesus’ story, these were the unbelieving Jewish people who were unresponsive to the announcement of the Messiah. The day of the Lord’s visitation was upon them, only they were too focused on their own lives and businesses to give any heed to the invitation of the Gospel.

In our day many people are so focused on the things of this world, such as building their careers or retirement lifestyle, that they miss the incredible invitation offered in the Kingdom of God. To them the question is rightly raised, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

As the story continued, the party’s heralds went out to the streets to invite others. Again, in Jesus day this could include people from other nations other than Israel, Gentiles. Interestingly, Jesus’ story mentions that the new invitees were both “good and bad”. Truly the offer of the Gospel is an invitation of forgiveness and grace. No one is truly worthy or deserving of an invitation to the King’s party. As Paul says in Ephesians, “it is by grace we have been saved”. (Ephesians 2:5)

Evangelists call this the free offer of the Gospel. The kingdom of God is offered to everyone on the planet regardless of ethnicity, race, creed, gender, age, or social status. Someone might say, “I am not worthy to go to the party, you do not know how bad I am or what I have done.” The invitation is even to those who have sinned greatly. The offer of the Gospel is to everyone.

The man with the wrong clothes was a person who responded affirmatively to the invitation of the Gospel. He had come to the party and was included among its participants, but something was amiss.

Come as you are? 

There is an old evangelical hymn entitled “Just as I am…” It is often played at altar calls as a way of encouraging people to come to faith in Jesus. It is a bit of a miss-invitation. The invitation to the king’s party included a line about “proper attire”. Today at church, I did an inspection of the attire. Some were dressed in suits and ties; others were wearing flip-flops and tee-shirts. But that’s not the type of attire mentioned here. We are not called to a dress code of externalities; it is an internal dress code. Consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians. He was addressing the problem of the new Gentile converts who were continuing “to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” He writes: “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-23)

Paul reveals for us the wardrobe change required before coming to the party. God calls us to “put off” the “old self”. There is a false Gospel making its rounds in the church again that trumpets inclusivity without conversion. The invitation of the Gospel is a call to obedience of life. Jesus would see us transformed into his likeness and holiness. The unconverted heart may make it through the doors of the church building and into the fellowship of the people of God, but it has no place in the Kingdom of God.

For Paul, the transformation of our minds overcomes the natural carnal desires of our hearts. A new mindset leads to a heart reset. Yes, this man came to the party, unlike those who refused the invitation. Unfortunately for him, he still had the same heart condition as those who had outright rejected the invitation. His heart was enamored with the things of the world rather than with the King and his Son. Even though he was at the party, his heart wasn’t there. This fact was made obvious by his lack of appropriate attire, and the King was not impressed.

The man without the party clothes represents a person in the fellowship of the church who is continuing “to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” Yes the King says, “come all” but not “come as you are”.

Proper attire required!

As we consider our own response to the King’s invite, make sure you notice the wording about “proper attire”. The King is not merely expecting our presence at the banquet; he wants us to come as fully dressed participants. Parties are much more fun anyway when we dress up and get with the program. So put off the old self, put on your new party clothes through the renewing of your minds. Let’s celebrate and have a great time at the King’s Son’s wedding party!

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

How to Deal with Sin in the Church

Whenever two or more sinners are gathered together, conflict is in the midst of them. Jesus called people from all manner of life into the Kingdom of God. He was criticized for welcoming tax collectors, prostitutes, the demon possessed, lepers, gentiles, gluttons and drunkards into the kingdom of God! With such a motley band of brothers and sisters, it does not take much imagination to envision that the full range of bad behaviors and habits would manifest within the community of the early church in short order. One of the critical challenges for Jesus’ “little flock” was to sort out how to maintain a holy, growing, united community made up of broken hurting sinners. Jesus provided direction to his church.

Related Sermons:

Matthew 18:15-20 If your brother or sister sins against you 9/4/2011 (sermón en español)

Matthew 18:21-35 Debts Forgiven 9/14/2014 (sermón en español)

A hospital for sinners, not a refuge for saints

Are the relationship dynamics in the church any different in our day than they were in Jesus’ day? The church is not a refuge for saints but a hospital for sinners. As sinners, we inevitably will hurt one another. When (not if) that happens, what are we to do? How are we to respond? Often I see that when a person is hurt by a brother or sister in Christ, they quietly withdraw from the relationship. Jesus would not have us separate because of sin, rather to pursue restoration and be sanctified.

In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches us that conflict and the occasion of transgression is an opportunity to grow in relationships and in holiness of life. We are accountable to one another. The occasion of sin within the body of Christ becomes a moment where we manifest to one another the grace that God has abundantly given us.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” –Matthew 18:15

Jesus gives us several values in Matthew 18:15-35:

Value 1: Respect the dignity of the sinner

Do not tell church first; that would be gossip and slander. Rather, Jesus would have us first deal with sin as a private matter. This allows the unity of the body to be protected. A private conversation allows the sinner to recover quickly without having a “big deal” made of their transgression. The vast majority of sins within the body can be dealt with privately in a one-on-one communication.

Notice Jesus says, “go to your brother”… Email and text messages are not the appropriate medium to have these types of discussions. They are best held face to face, person to person—just between the two of you.

Value 2: The aim is always to regain your brother or sister

Often people avoid tough conversations because they are afraid of what will happen to the relationship. Sometimes we may have to be willing to lose a relationship to a loved one, in order to regain our brother or sister in a healthier relationship. While it is to a person’s credit to overlook and offence (Proverbs 19:11), at other times to not confront is to not care. Sin is destructive of people, relationships and the church. Our goal in any confrontation is to “win our brother or sister.” Notice he does not say, “you have won the argument!” The highest value is winning the person.

Value 3: begin with gentleness and gradually work toward a more severe mercy

Doctor’s don’t choose the most invasive surgery first when treating a patient. And we should be gentle in our approach to dealing with sin in another’s life. Jesus teaches the steps; first confronting one-on-one. Then, if that doesn’t work, take along one or two witnesses. If that doesn’t work, involve the authorities of the church.

Some people attempt the one-on-one and find the confrontation ineffective. That doesn’t mean it is time to give up. Jesus gives us a range of assisted approaches to help restore the sinner and the broken relationship. When individual attempts at reconciliation fail, enlist the help of others in the church or your pastor. Some sins are as deep as a person’s childhood, some are due to severely hardened hearts, and a more severe mercy is needed to see heart change.

Value 4: Don’t write off a brother or sister in Christ as a “lost cause”

Again, the goal is always to win our brother or sister back to a reconciled relationship. Our heart toward the sinner should be like that of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the one.

Even in the extreme, when we read about an excommunication of a brother in 1 Corinthians 5, the goal is salvation. While Paul encourages the congregation that the man should be “put out of their fellowship” for his immorality, the church discipline was done to hand the man over to Satan to experience the consequences of sin, “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5)

No one is a lost cause. We never know how God will work in a person’s life and heart. Do not be surprised if God calls us to forgive another as a testimony to the power of the gospel.

Value 5: The sweetest moments of Christian fellowship come after sin and reconciliation

Jesus promises that he is present in the midst of “two or more” who gather in accountability. While these conversations are difficult, they are also holy, sacred ground. Jesus desires to see the people who he has called together become healed and restored by his grace. We have been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation as the church.

Value 6: We are to demonstrate God’s grace with one another

As the disciples contemplate Jesus teaching about speaking the truth in love to the sinner, they wonder how many times must they be willing to go through this process of restoration? Is there a statute of limitations or a seven strikes and you’re out rule? That would seem reasonable! But Jesus does not accept such a small display of grace. Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Jesus goes on to tell the story of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a debt he could never repay. Incongruantly, the servant was then unmerciful to a fellow servant who owed him a not insignificant amount of money, though nothing in comparison to the debt he had been forgiven. God expects us to be ambassadors of his grace to one another, in light of his abundant forgiveness to us.

The Dangerous Prayer

As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is a dangerous prayer! That line in the Lord’s Prayer is a contingency prayer. We are asking God to treat us the same way we are treating others. If we are in a posture of grace, we are asking for grace. However, if we have a judgmental heart toward another, we are petitioning God to judge us! Yikes! The continuous pattern of weekly (even daily) reciting of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us to breath grace in and out of our lives on everyone. We are to be the most forgiving people in the world, because we are the most forgiven people in the world.

How sweet it is!

Is there someone in your life with whom you have a problematic relationship? How would Jesus encourage you to respond to the challenge? Sadly, in this sinful and fallen world not every relationship is salvaged and restored after sin. But one of the sweetest promises in the Bible is the promise of Jesus’ presence when two or more come together in unity and restoration. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) In the most difficult relational moments of life, Jesus will do his greatest redemptive work. Invite him into the mess! Ask his help with the challenge you are facing right now!

Prayer: Search me, Lord. See if there is any ounce of malice or deception in my heart toward another person. Show me where I am holding another person’s sin against them. Reveal to me where I have a need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Give me the grace to leave my hurt and need for retribution at the foot of the cross. Help me to have the difficult conversation-help me to forgive. Guide me in the path of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Use me to be an instrument of redemption and salvation in others lives. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen!