The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Gospel (page 1 of 7)

Gospel Preserves

O PreacherI wish I could begin this blog with a story of how my mother preserved some summer crops for winter eating.  But, alas, no basement shelves of fruit-stuff jars.  Just paper bags from Safeway.  However, here’s a gospel-preserves story from the apostle Paul that’s true.  And we might wonder where we’d be without it.

Spoiler Alert!

This text isn’t an edge-of-your-chair nail-biter, although one commentator introduces this section: “Things get really interesting with this passage. From it we can derive much about ecclesiastical politics in relation to the defense of the gospel” (Commentary on Galatians, Vincent Cheung).  Hmmm.  Nothing like “ecclesiastical politics” to get the juices flowing.

Story Summary.

Anyway, here’s the story summary.  Paul’s new converts in Galatia are being led astray by Jews who insist circumcision and Moses’ law must be added to faith in Christ.  Apparently they charged that Paul’s justification by faith came from the Jerusalem apostles.  In Galatians 1:18-24 Paul argued that he visited Peter and James in Jerusalem for only 15 days three years after his Damascus road Christ-revelation.

Now 14 years later he, with Barnabas and Titus, visit Jerusalem again “in response to a revelation.”  Opinions differ on what that revelation was and how this visit fits with the Acts narrative.  Neither matters much.  Here’s the text . . .

The Text.

Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.  I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.  Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who seemed to be important– whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance– those men added nothing to my message.  On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.  For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.  James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.  All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.  When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.  The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.  When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Galatians 2:1-14).

Summary Points.

  • Paul privately told the Jerusalem church leaders the gospel he preached “for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.”   It seems to me, though again opinions differ, that Paul wanted to be sure the Jerusalem apostles and he were preaching the same gospel and not working at cross-purposes with one another.
  • The Jerusalem apostles didn’t force gentile Titus, who had come with Paul, to be circumcised.  Thus they showed agreement on justification by faith, not faith plus Jewish circumcision, which the “false brothers” demanded.
  • The Jerusalem leaders added nothing to Paul’s gospel, instead extending “the right hand of fellowship” to Barnabas and Paul, having “recognized the grace given to [Paul].”

The Action.

Now, finally, comes a little drama.  The scene shifts to the Antioch, Syria church.  Peter is visiting.  At meals, he eats with Gentiles.  (Not allowed by Jewish law.  But, since Christ has “cleansed”these Gentiles by faith, Peter knows he’s free to eat with these new brothers.  Soon “certain men came from James” (the leader of the Jewish Christian Jerusalem church).  And Peter now eats only with Jewish Christians.  His actions move Barnabas to do the same.  Paul calls it hypocrisy and argues “they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.”  So in front of everybody, Paul confronts Peter:  “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. (by eating with Gentiles before).  How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs”  (by now staying away from Gentile believers)?

Before this Antioch affair, Paul explained that “his” gospel (justification by faith, no circumcision or Jewish law) and that of the Jerusalem apostles was one.  The “circumcision party” could have said, “Aha!  Paul is just mouthing Jerusalem’s ‘gospel’!  But when Paul publicly rebukes a Jerusalem apostle, they have to admit Paul is no Peter-puppet.

So What?

After all that excitement, time to ask what all this means to us.  Back to the highlighted clause above:  so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.”  That’s what this is all about.  Paul being sure that he and the Jerusalem apostles are on the same gospel-page.  Paul bringing the uncircumcised Gentile believer Titus with him.  Paul refusing to cave to the “circumcision party” at the meeting.  Paul publicly opposing Peter to his face over his hypocrisy.  It was all about saving the truth of the gospel of justification by faith alone from corruption.

No big deal?  Just imagine where we’d be without Paul’s gospel-preserving purpose.  We’d put our faith in Jesus.  Have to be circumcised.  And take on the yoke of Old Testament law.  All the sacrifices, all the commandments, all the laws.  All added to our faith in Christ.  We’d be weighted down with demands we couldn’t keep and would never be right with God.

So my mother never preserved peaches.  And this text would be rough to read for devotions early in the morning.  (Yawn!)  But without Paul’s faithfulness (stubbornness?) to the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, we’d be lost.

 

 

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One Man’s Revelation

P.AllanDonald Trump attacks his opponents personally.  He charged former Florida governor Jeb Bush with being “low energy”.  He calls Senator Cruz “lying Ted”.  The apostle Paul could identify.  Trying to win over the Galatian churches to their doctrine, Jewish Christian teachers attacked Paul They might have said something like this . . .

“His gospel is just man’s gospel.  He’s trying to please the Jerusalem apostles.  After all, what he preaches, he learned from them. And they got it wrong.  Yes, we’re justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  But we also have to be circumcised and devote ourselves to keeping Moses’ law.”

So what difference does that long-ago battle make in my life?

Suppose we discovered that a group of men fabricated the Bible?  That somehow they convinced people their book was true?  That generations passed with belief growing stronger with each?  But now we learn it’s religious fantasy.  Would we think any differently about those writers and the “Bible” they produced?  I don’t know about you, but if it was proven beyond doubt, I’d realize I’d been building my life on a lie and burn all my Bibles.  It makes a life-changing difference, then, whether Paul’s gospel came from men or Jesus himself.

In Galatians 1:10-24 Paul begins a defense with two important points . . .

I Had Limited Contact with Jerusalem Church Leaders.

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.  I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.  For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased  to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.  Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none of the other apostles– only James, the Lord’s brother.  I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.  Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.  I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

The bold face font highlights Paul’s limited contact with the Jerusalem church  Over the course of three years he spent only 15 days with Peter and James.  Hardly enough time to learn the depths of the gospel!

I had a Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The second point of Paul’s defense frankly makes me uneasy.  It has echoes of the Muslim claim that Allah revealed himself to Muhammad (http://www.allahsquran.com/quran_divine_book.phpand that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith alone in the woods to reveal the true teachings of Mormonism (http://josephsmith.net/article/the-first-vision?lang=eng).  Paul’s claim went like this . . .

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11,12).  I think Paul was referring to his Damascus road experience (Acts 9)If so, his authority as an apostle preaching Christ’s gospel was rooted in Jesus actually, historically appearing to him after his resurrection.

Furthermore, he claims, “God . . . set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me . . . ” (Galatians 1:15,16a).  Paul contends that from birth God had acted to set Paul apart for his purpose.  And that, in the Damascus road revelation, God called him by his grace (no merits on Paul’s part).

Already in his greeting, Paul had summed up his defense to the charge that his gospel had a man-source:  “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father—who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1).

* * * * *

See what this means?  I’m staking my life on Paul’s claim to a revelation from Jesus Christ.  Can I trust that what he writes he received from Jesus?  I don’t know Paul.  I only know what I read that he said and did.  Is that enough for me to regard his words as Christ’s?

Yes.  Because Paul saw the risen Lord.  To be an apostle one had to have been a witness to his resurrection (Acts 1:21,22).  Paul claims he did (on the Damascus road).   Paul was accepted by the Twelve on that basis (Galatians 2:7-9).  And was willing to die to be true to that gospel (2 Timothy 4:-8).

The gospel we believe isn’t a spiritual fairy tale conceived by men.  Nor was it given in a private spiritual vision.   Nor did its founder die (and stay dead).  Muhammad died in the evening of the twelfth of Rabi’ al-Awwal (June 8, 632 A.D.) at the age of sixty-three.  He was buried the next day (http://www.cyberistan.org/islamic/death.html).  Joseph Smith died June 27, 1844.  He was killed while in jail, charged with destroying the facilities of a newspaper which revealed Smith as a polygamist who intended to set himself up as a theocratic king (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/Death_of_Joseph_Smith).

Paul died too.  But the One whose gospel he preached lives . . .

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also . . . ” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8a).

 

 

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The House Is On Fire!

P.AllanSometimes the situation is so urgent, but . . . Well, listen to Bob Deffinbaugh’s story:

“Several years ago a friend of mine was working in his garage.
He was the kind of person who did not like to be interrupted
while engaged in a project.
Knowing this, his wife walked into the garage
and stood quietly at his side for several minutes,
waiting for the proper time to speak.
At last her husband looked up, the signal
that she was free to say what was on her mind.
Very calmly, and without a trace of panic, she said,
‘The house is on fire’”
(Galatians:  The Gospel and God’s Grace).

In the churches of Galatia (recently planted by Paul and Barnabas), “the house is on fire.”  Time to interrupt whatever’s going on and shout, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).   But let’s go back and begin at the beginning.  (For a general introduction read theoldpreacher.com/circumcision-confrontation/ ).

Throughout Paul’s ministry, starting here in the Galatian churches of Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, Paul was typically attacked on two fronts.  One, his authority as an apostle.  Two, the substance of his gospel.

With a succinct response to that two-front attack, Paul begins his letter . . .

Paul, an apostle– sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead– and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (1:1-5).

Apostolic Authority. 

Does Paul have it, or not?

“Paul, an apostle– sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead . . . ”

It’s an extravagant claim.  An apostle not sent by the first apostles or the Antioch church, but sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.  “God sent me” just a funny movie line today.

It’s also an extreme claim.  We no longer associate authority with God.  He’s a helper or moral guide, but certainly not the Sovereign.  Yet, when Paul refers to him as God who raised Jesus from the dead, he is pointing  us to the authority and power of God, even over death.

Consequently, the risen Christ declared . . .

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)

Paul later wrote about . . .

” . . . the immeasurable greatness of his power . . .
that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named, not only in this age,
but also in the one to come.”
(Ephesians 1:19-21) 

And when the Lord sent his hesitant disciple Ananias to blind Saul, he told him . . .

” . . . he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name
before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
(Acts 9:16).

This was Paul’s claim to authority.  Believe it or not.  Just remember this:  if Paul was right, all other claims are false.

Substantive Gospel.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (1:3-5).

Paul wastes no time getting to the heart of his Gospel.  Greeting the Galatians he identifies Jesus Christ as the one “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

That Christ “gave himself for our sins” implies we are sinners before the holy God.  We transgress his laws and disobey his commands.  It also implies a substitutionary sacrifice was possible and that the sacrifice was Jesus Christ.  No effort of ours–whether Jewish circumcision, Old Testament law-keeping, or any other credit-gaining work is needed.  The Gospel announces a most-costly, life-changing gift received by faith . . .

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.”
(Galatians 2:20).

The purpose of Christ’s self-sacrifice extends far beyond sins-forgiven:  ” . . . to rescue us from the present evil age.”  This present age is “evil” because it’s under the dominion of “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and so humans worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).  Because of this, God’s wrath is coming (Romans 2:5).  But, we who trust our lives to Christ, are rescued.

When I was about 15, some of my church buddies came to swim at the lake near my house.  Ernie and I swam out to a deep part of the lake.  Suddenly, he panicked.  Grabbed my neck and shoulders.  Smaller than him, I found myself trapped under his weight under water.  About then  the lifeguard showed up in a rowboat and dragged Ernie back to shore.  Apparently he though I could save myself; Ernie couldn’tSimilarly, we can’t do anything to rescue ourselves from sin and God’s wrath; we are rescued by Christ alone through faith alone.

Rescued from God’s wrath  to what?”  Eternal life in the new creation of the new age to come.  It’s an age that  began when Jesus was raised.  Already then, by the Holy Spirit,  we enjoy a  taste of it.  Already the new age has come by the Spirit, but not yet has it come fully.  Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 10:11 when he writes . . .

These things happened to them as example
and were written down as warnings for us,
on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
(1 Corinthians 10:11)

[God]made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions–

it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

 in order that in the coming ages
he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,

expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
(Ephesians 2:5-7).

House On Fire!

On this Good Friday, a cacophony of “other gospels” are babbled about—some secular, some religious, some even in Jesus’ name.  The biggest church in America preaches a false gospel.  The American Dream is the greatest—that’s a false gospel.  You can be anything you want to be is a false gospel.  Jesus forgives your sins but you have to do your part is a false gospel. Listen!  When ideas contrary to Christ subconsciously stick in our minds from mindless reruns, the “house is on fire.”  Get the fire out!

Good Friday.  Sin’s debt was paid.  Jesus endured God’s wrath due us.  “It is finished!” he said (John 19:30).  All that remained was resurrection, by which he would inaugurate the new age for new creatures.  That would come Sunday. 

 

it is finished jesus photo: It is FINISHED ItisFinished.jpg

 

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Circumcision Confrontation

O PreacherMight the Jewish rite of circumcision create conflict for us who are right with God by faith?

The Writing of Galatians.

When Paul and Barnabas finished their first missions trip
they sailed to Antioch, Syria.  “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had  done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they remained no little time with the disciples” (Acts 14:27,28).

It may have been during the “no little time” that Paul learned of trouble in the churches he and Barnabas had just planted in Galatia province—the churches of Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.  Jewish teachers had visited those churches arguing that these Gentile converts to Christ must be circumcised to be saved  (This was the issue prompting the soon-to-be-held Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35–-http://theoldpreacher.com/critical-council/).

In response, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote the Letter to the Galatians.  The year was probably 48 A.D.  That letter God has sovereignly preserved for us in the New Testament.  (By the way, if maps aren’t your thing, just ignore them.  But they help me get a better picture of events.)

An “Occasional” Document.

I find it noteworthy that God chose to reveal himself to us through what scholars called “occasional” documents like Galatians.  “Occasional” here means this letter, which is God’s Word to us, was occasioned by a real-life situation in the mid-first century A.D.  In fact, much of the Bible is like that.  A majority of the Old Testament is a God-inspired record of how God revealed himself among Israel.  (This includes the prophets who spoke to Israel in real-time history.)  This contrasts with Islam, for instance.  Muslims claim Allah revealed himself to Mohamed, who then wrote down those revealed words.  Notice, too, that God the Son revealed himself to us in real space-time (see Luke 1:1-4).   Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension comprised God’s supreme self-revelation.  We have that recorded in the Gospels.

I find this remarkable.  Rather than dictating words to a “holy man” in a cave somewhere, God revealed himself in real-life human situations and inspired men to write what he said and did.  Our God came and worked among us to make himself known to us.

All that to briefly step away from the Acts chronology (we’ll get back to it soon) to read through Galatians at the historical point Paul wrote it (that is, probably at the time described in Acts 14:27,28).  This will help us better understand  this short but profound letter.

The “Trouble” of Circumcision.

As I explained above, the “trouble” for the Galatian churches was the false teaching that Gentiles had to add circumcision to faith in Christ to be saved.  Ancient issue, right?  Not exactly.  How many of us, for example, subconsciously assume that our right standing with God is shaky this week because we’ve lied, lost our temper, looked at pornography, ignored our neighbor’s need, etc.?  If behavior like that is our normal way of life, of course we should question our standing with God.  But if we’re talking about occasional sins, let’s remember that our justification (right standing with God) is by faith not works.  And let’s remember nothing can separate us from his love to us in Christ Jesus.  At times I’m his very disobedient child, but still his child.  My behavior may call for discipline, but he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6).

The Opposite “Trouble”.

Oddly, the opposite can spell “trouble” for us, too.   We (rightly) believe we can’t add “works” to faith, but we may be so nonchalant about our faith that it’s dead and we don’t even know it.  A person with “nonchalant” faith like that (actually faith on life-support) usually has no righteous works.  Because “faith without works is dead”.  Works (obedience as the direction of life) spring from living faith.  The absence of works as a life-direction is actually a sign of dead faith.  We probably have as many professed Christians dealing with this trouble as those in the former category (those trying to add works to their faith so they see obedience as meritorious for salvation).

A Supernatural Faith.

Paul will make clear in this letter a Good News truth we must always keep on the front-burner of our mind.  It lies at the very heart of the Good News . . .

I have been crucified with Christ.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20).

Christianity, you see,  is a supernatural faith.  Christ loved us and gave himself for us and now lives in us who live by faith in him.  That’s a life-transforming miracle.

We need not and must not add anything to that miracle.
And, if we understand and ponder that miracle,
we may be so captivated by it
our heart will be kindled with warm devotion
for the One who loved us and gave himself for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Critical Council

O PreacherToday the majority of the world’s Christians live in South America, Africa, and Asia,   Nowhere is this global shift from the north and west more stunning than in Africa.  In 1900, less than 10% of Africans were Christians; today more than 50% are.  With this southward and eastward shift come changes.  For example, generally theology is more conservative and worship style more charismatic. The shift raises questions, too.  What is the role of ancestors in Christianity?  Can indigenous music be used in worship?  What about exorcising demons and ecstatic worship experiences?  (Source:
http://blogs.bu.edu/dscott/2011/04/27/the-southward-shift-in-christianity/),

And since communications have made the world “smaller”, what effect might this shift have on the shrinking church in Europe and the leveled-off church in America?

In 48 A.D. (15-18 years after Christ’s resurrection), the church faced a critical theological dispute due to the demographic shift of the church from entirely Jewish to mostly Gentile . . .

The Dispute.

From their missions trip, Paul and Barnabas had returned to the Antioch, Syria church.  There “they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Then ” . . . some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1).  At that, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them” (Acts 15:2).  Unable to resolve the matter, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and others to consult with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Danger.

For Paul, adding circumcision to faith in Christ was no small thing.  Circumcision signified one was taking on the obligation to keep the Mosaic (Old Testament) Law.  Here’s how Paul warned the Galatians (the people to whom he and Barnabas had just brought the gospel in Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe).   “Look:  I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

Earlier he had argued for justification by faith like this.   “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ (from Habakkuk 2:4) . . . Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ –so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:11-14).

The danger, then, was the loss of the very heart of the Gospel–the loss of Christ himself as the way to justification (not guilty before God for one’s sin; being declared right with God) which comes through faith.

The Debate.

At the Council in Jerusalem the Christian Pharisees stated their position:  “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).  Peter explained the apostles’ view, illustrated by his own experience with Cornelius (Acts 10). “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15: 7-11).

When God gave Cornelius’ Gentile household the Holy Spirit, that signified he “made no distinction between” Gentiles and Jews.  Peter’s conclusion:  if the church now yoked Gentiles with the Jewish law they would be testing God.  Salvation for Jew and Gentile comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus and is received by faith alone!

The Decision.

Finally James, Jesus’ half-brother, chief elder and chair of the meeting, gave his conclusion.  “Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.  The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:  ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,  that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages.’  It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:13-21).

James understood Peter’s experience with Cornelius was a major event in God’s saving work. He referred to it as God “taking from the Gentiles a people for himself”, as God had done with Israel (Exodus 19:5).  He asserted that this Gentile inclusion fulfilled Amos’ prophecy from the Lord . . .

“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things,
that have been known for ages.”
(Acts 15:16.17)

According to James, “David’s tent” refers to Israel restored through Jesus Christ, so that God might begin his mission to the Gentiles through them.  Jews and Gentiles, without surrendering their ethnicity, become God’s one people through faith in Jesus Christ.  This has been God’s plan all along.

“Gather together and come; assemble,
you fugitives from the nations.
Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood,
who pray to gods that cannot save.
Declare what is to be, present it–
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me.
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”
((Isaiah 45:20-23))

James also calls for four”abstentions” from the Gentile believers.  Three (“abstain from things polluted by idols . . . and from what has been strangled and from blood”) are intended to promote meal-fellowship between Gentile converts and Jewish Christians with their dietary laws.  The fourth (“abstain from sexual immorality”) addresses Jewish concerns about Gentile low ethical and moral standards.  But no surrender of their freedom in Christ is even implied.  Rather, these two ethnic groups as one people are to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

The Delivery.

James has the last word.  With that historical decision made, some men from the Jerusalem church are chosen to join Paul and Barnabas to communicate the council’s decision to Antioch.  When the people there received the letter they were “glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31).  The visitors from Jerusalem eventually returned home.  “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:36).

The Doctrine.

Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone!  The Jerusalem Council “wrote that in stone” and today we must stand resolutely on it.  That doctrine is to die for.  We’ve got to fight for it against every ideology and erroneous theology that would allow us to add even the feeblest of our own efforts to God’s saving work finished in Christ.  That is the Good News!

However, not all issues carry that weight.  In the years that lie ahead, we can expect positions and practices from the churches in the Global South to influence us.  How we respond will call for divine discernment, not because those influences will be inherently wrong, but because they will be ethnically different.  A few we may reject, deeming them contrary to God’s Word.  Most, hopefully, we’ll accept, even if they are different, because we count them as enriching the one Body of Christ—and because God in Christ is calling people for the glory of his name “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

But whatever changes may come,
this refrain we must never change:
“Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

 

 

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Look, You Scoffers!

O PreacherTwo hundred forty miles to the 5th sermon of “The Acts Eight”.  Paphos on Cyrpus by ship to Perga (where John
Mark turns back), then six  days through rugged and dangerous mountains over 3,600 feet elevation.  To Antiock of Pisidia    (in today’s Turkey).  Antioch was a main garrison city for Roman military in the midst of a Greek and Jewish population.                                    
Paul and Barnabas attend the local Jewish synagogue where the visitors are invited to speak an encouraging word to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the Sabbath congregation (Acts 13:13-15).

Paul recounts God’s revelation in Israel’s history from the patriarchs to King David.

Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!  The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country,  he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert,  he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance.  All this took about 450 years. After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet.  Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years.  After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do'”  (Acts 13:16-22).

Note Paul’s claim that God was the main actor.  “God chose our fathers” . . . “he made the people prosper” . . . “he led them out”, etc.  The history of Israel is God’s story.  To the Jews and Gentile God-fearers this was familiar ground.  In the bright light of this 21st century day, however, it’s a radical, if not provocative, claim.  How does one ethnic group get to claim God as the actor in their history?  And which God?  And what makes Israel’s God so special?  Many dismiss the whole business as religious fanaticism.

As Paul continues, the radical, provocative claims only increase  . . .

“From this man’s (David’s) descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.  Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.  As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie’.   Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.  The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.  Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed.  When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.  But God raised him from the dead,  and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.  We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers  he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:  ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’  The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words:  ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’  So it is stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your Holy One see decay.’  For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.  Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.  Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:23-39).

Paul preached this to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who knew the Prophet’s words.  They knew Moses’ law.  They understood animal sacrifices for sin.  The news of Jesus’ death wasn’t all that significant, since dozens of Jews were routinely crucified by the Romans.

But the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection was something else altogether.  It was, declared Paul, a fulfillment of Scripture.  And there are witnesses.  It means the forgiveness of sins through Jesus.  It means justification (a verdict of “not guilty”) because of him.

To 21st century minds this sounds like foolishness.  The Prophets were strange–ancient to us and old is always odd.  Moses’ law is for orthodox Jews; it’s an ethnic thing.  Sin went out with the clunky portable radio you carried around to sound cool with your music.  And the guilt of sin is something you get psychological counseling for now.

So Paul’s conclusion may be even more appropriate for us than for his Antioch audience . . .

“Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:   ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you'” (Acts 13: 40,41). 

That quote from the prophet Habakkuk calls to mind the fact that throughout biblical history, the Lord did some surprising, totally unexpected things.  (Take the opening of the Red Sea or the choice of shepherd-boy David as king, for instance.)  But this one, well, this takes the prize.  Jesus, sent by God, gets crucified.  Everybody who believed in him saw their dreams die.  Then, on the third day, his tomb stands empty and his followers see him alive again, complete with nail-scarred hands and a heavenly bodyl

Scoff?  Mock?  Jeer at such childish ideas?  “Look, you scoffers”, and C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia author) might add . . .

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

 

 

 

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The Gospel to Poles-Apart People

O PreacherA lesbian once phoned to ask if she and her partner would be welcomed at our church.  I was totally unprepared.  I wondered to myself how our people would respond.  I wasn’t sure.  So I ended up telling her they would be more comfortable elsewhere.  After I hung up, I had second thoughts.  Did I miss an opportunity to get in on something God may have been doing in those women’s lives?  Or did they firmly believe that Jesus accepted them as lesbians?

The Aftermath of Peter Visiting Cornelius.

Among the Jewish Christian church were men firmly convinced that any non-Jew who joined the church needed circumcision.  So when Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was confronted by critics . . .

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him  and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened:  “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.  I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air.  Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’  “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’  “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’  This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.  “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying.  The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.  He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.  He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’  “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.  Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:1-18).

Thankfully they resolved the conflict.  The coming of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his guests sealed the deal.  “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

I wonder.  I know that circumcision and lesbianism are vastly different issues.  I know that same-sex practice is sinful and that many believe it isn’t.  But must a lesbian turn away from her lesbianism before she can become a Christian?  Must she renounce her lesbian practice before the church welcomes her in love?  A practicing lesbian shouldn’t ultimately feel comfortable in our churches, just as an adulterer shouldn’t.  But is it possible to love them into hearing the truth of the gospel?  Could our churches do that? Suppose the lesbian couple spoke in tongues as they did at Pentecost?   Would we receive that as a sign of God’s acceptance of them (not their lesbian practice) or would we condemn their “charismatic” practice?

The Gospel Reaches Gentile Antioch                                                         

Antioch, the seat of the Roman provincial administration in Syria, was the world’s third largest city behind Rome and Alexandria (Egypt).  Known for its sexual immorality (largely because of its pagan cults),  it was about to become the center of Gentile Christianity.  Author Luke reports that the church was planted there as a result of earlier persecution in Jerusalem about 490 miles to the south.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)  The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:19-30).

The “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” took a momentous step by “preaching the Lord Jesus” to these Gentiles.  This time no controversy erupted (though the “Gentile issue” was far from settled).  Perhaps that had much to do with Barnabas (“the son of encouragement“) and Saul, who both were Grecian Jews, not “Jewish” Jews who insisted Gentiles become circumcised Jews to become Christian.

And perhaps they also understood that all of us are “unclean” before the holy God.  Paul knew that . . .

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–
of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason
I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,
Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience
as an example for those who would believe on him
and receive eternal life.
(1 Timothy 1:15,16)

Among some Jews, circumcision had become a badge of superiority.  They were God’s chosen people.  I’m guessing that “Jewish supremacy” at least partly motivated them.  And nothing turns people off to the gospel like pride.  When the gospel is preached by a “supremacist”, unbelievers can “smell” the odor. The Jewish church had some genuine theological issues to deal with.  But I suspect with some supremacy was a motivating factor.  This is especially true when it comes to sinners against God’s sexual laws today.  Any hint of supremacy must be humbly crucified.

Better in telling the gospel that we purge ourselves of pride
and speak with the attitude that  “The gospel is just one sinner
telling another where he can find bread.”

Image result for photos of beggars finding bread

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The Living Church

O PreacherIn 1973 we planted a church in New Jersey.  Named it “The Living Church.”  The local Episcopal priest (half?) joked, “I guess that means the rest of us are dead.”  Ours was alive, yet nowhere near the “alive-level” of the Jerusalem church in her exhilarating early days.  Makes me long for what they had.

In this series of posts, I’m focusing on “The Acts Eight”—eight sermons scattered throughout the book.  To see them in context we ‘re following the narrative.  It’s taking more time than I anticipated.  I hope the Lord uses it for good.

In Acts 5:12-16 author Luke writes a third summary  (see 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 for the first two) of church life, as she marched through her early months and years.  This summary intoxicates . . .

Alive with the Spirit’s Power

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.  No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.  As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

“Seeing” the scene helps—so an explanation.  Solomon’s Colonnade was a porch-like walkway running along much of the eastern side of the temple courtyard.  They met in homes, but this was the public place believers gathered.  Outsiders kept their distance.  (Memories of Ananias and Sapphira?) Yet more came to faith; numbers surged.  Miraculous healings were regular.  Crowds came from outside the city with their sick.  Like the days of Jesus.

A clarification.  The NIV says,  “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders”.   An unfortunate translation, because it makes the apostles the actors.  More faithful to the original Greek is the ESV translation: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done . . . by the hands of the apostles.”  This makes the apostles the means, not the source. 

That church, that was The Living Church.  Alive with the Spirit’s power.

But such dynamic success instigated opposition  . . .

Advance Despite the Court’s Clout

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.  “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”  At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin– the full assembly of the elders of Israel– and sent to the jail for the apostles.  But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported,  “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”  On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.  Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”  At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead– whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.   Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”  His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:17-42).

This text, too, beats with the Spirit’s life.  First, the miraculous “prison break”, noted almost matter-of-factly.  Second, the bold “defense” of the apostles, which Peter attributes to the power of the Spirit.  Third, the rejoicing by the bloodied apostles.  And finally their unstopping good-news-proclaiming.

Speaking of “the bloodied apostles”,  it’s significant to note that the flogging may well have been the traditional 39 lashes with bone-filled straps.  That they rejoiced having been “counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name”, and that they continued spreading the Gospel knowing the cost, points to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit in them.

In fact, it’s quite remarkable how unflinchingly they declared Jesus to be the One . . .

  • raised from the dead by the God of their fathers.  Thus they connected Jesus to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • the Court had killed by crucifixion.  Thus declaring their unquestioned guilt before God.
  • God exalted to the place of ultimate authority (“exalted to his own right hand”).
  • who is now “Prince (Greek arkaygos–leader, prince, pioneer) and Savior”.
  • whose exaltation is for the purpose of giving repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Thus giving the Court opportunity to repent and be forgiven.
  • whom the apostles saw alive again with their own eyes.

So again, as before (4:1-22), the “optics” for the Court aren’t good.  Despite their best efforts, they look powerless and inept,  as the bloodied apostles leave rejoicing and persistently spread the word.

Aberrant Today?

Question:  Is Acts only a history of the church or a model?  If model, then from my (admittedly limited) view, we’re not matching up well.  What is happening among us that can be attributed only to the Holy Spirit?   When was the last time people came because they heard how the Lord was miraculously changing lives among us?  Are we in danger of persecution because our words and works threaten powerful people?

Maybe we should pray desperately for what we’re missing from the model . . .

 

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Letter from Birmingham Jail

P.AllanI want to think  racism in America has vanished.  Surely the vast majority have quit counting one race superior to another!

Racism.

But today I read this from presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson . . .

In 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he said, “I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.”

After fifty years of liberals making promises and the last seven years of false hope from President Obama, not much has changed.  African-Americans are still fighting for space on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

The high poverty rate in the black community continues because the very tools that should be used to promote economic opportunity instead keep low-income and minority communities in chains.

We have an education system that continues to penalize low-income and minority students by keeping them trapped in failing schools rather than giving them the choice to attend schools that best suit their academic needs.  The status quo rewards national teachers’ unions at the expense of what is best for our students.

I doubt that’s just campaign rhetoric.  Many African-Americans still suffer the residual (some would say “systemic”) effects of past widespread racism.  That’s one reason why I’m writing about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this commemoration of his birthday.

The Man.

King was a Baptist minister and a civil rights advocate.  The latter started almost “accidentally” when Pastor King was elected to lead a bus boycott in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama responding to Rosa Park’s being found guilty of violating the Montgomery City Code when she refused to surrender her seat to a white man on a crowded bus.

Dr. King played a pivotal part in ending legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and in creating both the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Perhaps he is best known for his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech (see above).

On Good Friday, 1963, King and his team ignored a court injunction that prohibited a peaceful march in Birmingham, Alabama.  Barricades were erected.  Shouting police arrested the kneeling King and his friend Ralph Abernathy and threw them in the Birmingham City Jail.  King was put in solitary confinement without a mattress, pillow or blanket.  A few days later a guard brought him a published letter signed by eight white clergymen condemning King for his actions.

The Letter.

King responded with a letter of his own (Letter from Birmingham Jail) that has been called “the most eloquent and learned expression of the goals and philosophy of the nonviolent movement ever written.” (Let the Trumpet Sound, p. 222).  It’s long but worth the investment of time ( http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf).

Below is what may be the most soul-stirring part of that response to the white clergy . . .

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she’s told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “Nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

The Word.

Every human being, regardless of skin color or economic standing or gender or anything else, has value and dignity having been created in God’s image . . .

When God created man,
he made him in the likeness of God.
He created them male and female and blessed them.
And when they were created, he called them “man”
(Genesis 5:1,2).

This is especially true for those who are “in Christ”.  For Paul, the issue was Jew–Gentile.  What he writes here applies to black–white as well . . .

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth
and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”
(that done in the body by the hands of men)–
remember that at that time you were separate from Christ,
excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise,
without hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away
have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,
and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross,
by which he put to death their hostility. 
He came and preached peace to you who were far away
and peace to those who were near. 
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens,
but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 
In him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 
And in him you too are being built together t
o become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit
(Ephesians 2:11-22).

The Grace of Not Knowing.

In 1973 Lois and I moved to Montclair, N.J. to plant a church.  In contrast to where we had come from, Montclair had a significant African-American population.  So did, of course, the public schools.  We wondered how our children would respond.  After the first or second day we asked them, “How many black kids are in your class?”  They didn’t know.!

May God give us all grace not to know!

Image result for little kids holding hands black and white

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Not Drunk Like You Think (Sermon 1)

P.Allan” . . . do not get drunk on wine . . . but be [drunk] with the Spirit.”  With tongue in cheek (I think), John Piper says that’s what Paul meant in Ephesians 5:18.  Drunk instead of filled.  Peter faces the same mix-up.  When they hear the believers ” . . .  speak in other tongues” (2:4),  some in the crowd mock, “They are filled with new wine” (2:13). Here’s Peter’s “sermon” response . . . 

Too Early to Be Drunk.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (2:14,15a).

An odd answer.  What would he have said if it was 6 p.m?  Whatever, Peter quickly moves on to his . . .

Sermon Text.

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (2:15b-21).

This “telling the mighty works of God” (2:11) in different languages, Peter explains, is God’s fulfillment of that prophecy.  There are four primary points to see . . .

First, since Peter was preaching around  30 A.D., “the last days” began at least about that time—and we are living in them today.  Chronologically divide history however you wish; these are the end of days.  I know, mockers scoff:  “Life goes on as always” (2 Peter 3:3).  But we’re in the closing chapter of this world’s time.

Second, these last days are marked by the pouring-out of the Holy Spirit.  The Lord is empowering his people to bear witness of him “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).  This is no time to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19, NRS) with doctrine that disallows the gifts of the Spirit!  This is time to “pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen [us] with power through his Spirit in [our] inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

Third, these last days are marked by universal chaos.  Joel prophesied it (Joel 2:1-11).  And whatever else these signs may mean—“blood, fire, billows of smoke”, darkened sun, blood moon—they spell chaos on earth.  Sounds eerily like today’s news.

Fourth, these last days climax in “the day of the Lord”-a day of final judgment for unbelievers, but for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” a day of glorious, eternal salvation!

Jesus Lord and Christ.

The Spirit always points to Jesus. He does that through Peter here.  Note these highlights about Jesus as you read Peter’s sermon below.

  • God certified Jesus by miracles, wonders and signs
  • According to God’s purpose, they put Jesus to death
  • God raised Jesus from the dead according to David’s prophetic words
  • God exalted Jesus to his right hand in heaven
  • Jesus received the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him out
  • God has made Jesus both Lord (Yahweh) and Christ (Messiah, Anointed One).

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  David said about him:  ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,  because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’  Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact .  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.  For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand  until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’  Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:22-36).

What Every Preacher Would Love.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (2:37-41).

In four decades of preaching, never once did a congregation ask what this crowd did.  Yet even without the asking, this what we must do:  “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [our] sins.”  “Repent” means we change our mind about who we thought Jesus is to who he really is.  And we live that repentance out by being baptized in his name and by obeying his commands in this “corrupt generation.”

Peter promises that those who do “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  He will come to live in us.  There will be times when he sweeps us up and overwhelms us with his powerful and loving presence.  He will progressively transform us into Christ’s likeness. And he will make us his witnesses to this corrupt generation.

Exalted Lord Jesus Christ,
the believers that day weren’t drunk on wine as the crowd supposed.
They were drunk with the Holy Spirit.
You have received the Spirit from the Father.
Please pour him out again on us,
that we may be empowered to prophetically speak your Good News,
and that many may repent and be added to our number.
For the fame of your name I pray.  Amen.

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