The Power of An Indestructible Life

who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.
(Hebrews 7:16)

We are studying Hebrews in our congregation, and we are currently looking at how Jesus’ priesthood is compared to that of Melchizedek’s. Lots to study and discuss, but today I just want to focus on the fact that Jesus’ priesthood is eternal. He has the power of an indestructible life.

He came to save us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), that through him we might live eternally after we die. But He also came, died, and rose from the dead so that we can live with full hope and confidence in this life (Hebrews 6:11). Jesus is indestructible, and the cord of our soul is securely tied to Him. He is a sure and steadfast anchor to our soul, because He is indestructible (Hebrews 6:19). Jesus isn’t going anywhere.

With all the change and decay around us and within us, we can lift up our spirits and be assured each moment that Jesus has the power of an endless life, and He promised to be with us always. If we are walking with Him and abiding in His word, then that indestructible life dwells within us and works in us.

but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
(Hebrews 7:24)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13:8)

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
(Hebrews 1:10-12)

 

Committed Thomas

Doubting Thomas. We’ve probably all heard that term. Even people who aren’t Christians use that term to describe someone who is skeptical and needs evidence.

Thomas was not with the other 10 apostles when Jesus first appeared to them the day of His resurrection. It wasn’t till 8 days later that Jesus appeared to the 11 and turned Doubting Thomas into Believing Thomas (John 20:24-31). This is where we sometimes talk about “Absent Thomas” and what he missed out on because he wasn’t there.

But rather than talk about Doubting or Absent Thomas, I’d rather think about Committed Thomas today. Even when Thomas didn’t understand exactly what Jesus was doing, he was still willing to follow. Committed Thomas wanted to follow Jesus, but he just didn’t understand where Jesus was going.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Committed Thomas wanted to follow Jesus, even if it meant dying for Jesus. When Jesus wanted to leave the safety of beyond the Jordan and travel to Bethany (near Jerusalem) in order to raise dead Lazarus, the disciples knew how dangerous that would be. Thomas led the group in support of going with Jesus.

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)

Indeed, Thomas sought for affirmation and proof, and he wanted to understand, but Jesus gave him that evidence, didn’t He? Many other followers of God in Scripture come to mind that asked for confirmation and evidence, Gideon being the first one that comes to mind. Gideon was given reassurance and proof repeatedly by God. Gideon is highlighted in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of faith. We are no different from Gideon or Thomas, we all need that divine blessed reassurance once in awhile.

Jesus didn’t give this kind of evidence and affirmation to the Jewish leadership. They asked for a sign, and He told them they were a wicked and adulterous generation (Matthew 12). He may have rebuked His disciples for their unbelief (Mark 16), but He still gave them the evidence so they would believe. The hearts of the disciples, unlike the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees, were committed to following Jesus.

Thomas most likely died a violent death for Jesus and the gospel. Yes, he was at times “doubting” and “absent,” but we see his true heart as fully committed to following Jesus.

Jesus Our Brother

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,
(Hebrews 2:10-11)

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
(Hebrews 2:18)

It was “fitting” for Jesus to be made flesh, live like us, and to be made “perfect through suffering.” This makes Him our brother. More than that, it says Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. He being the Son of God and we being the children of God all have one Father (“source”).

When you are tempted, and when you are suffering, you have a brother who understands. I know that I have a physical brother, Mark, who is also a brother in Christ. When I am struggling or down, I know he will listen, understand, pray for me and give me wise counsel. That is such a comfort. But even more than that, Jesus is my brother. He understands, and He listens, and He brings comfort. Jesus went through all that we have gone through, and He knows our situation completely. When we come to the throne we find mercy and grace because He is our brother.

I often think of Jesus as Lord, God, Savior, and Christ, but not as much as my brother and my friend. Maybe you think the same way, I don’t know, but take time to meditate upon Jesus being your brother and what that means for you.

One Mediator

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:22-23)

Did Jesus give the apostles the authority to forgive sins? Is that the right way to interpret the above passage? I don’t believe so, because first of all, God is the only one who can forgive sins (Isaiah 43:25). We also know that there is only one Mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).

What I believe is meant here is similar to what Jesus told His apostles in other passages like Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 regarding what they bind and loose on earth. Their job as apostles was to reveal through divine inspiration (the breath of the Holy Spirit) the terms for forgiveness and to bind the will of Christ upon those to whom they preached. What they bound on earth was not of their own will and choosing, but instead were the things that were already bound in heaven. They simply declared the terms of the contract to men.

In their preaching and teaching you can see that the apostles did not forgive people’s sins, but what they did do is reveal the way to have forgiveness of sins. They taught that people had to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), and to repent and be converted (Acts 3:19-20) in order to receive forgiveness of sins. The apostles “bound” those terms upon others, because that is how those folks would be forgiven. When speaking to those who were already Christians, the apostles taught them to repent, confess to God in prayer and ask Him for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9-2:2). You don’t see the apostles going around doling out forgiveness certificates, rather, what they did was direct people to Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

All of that to say this: There is one mediator between God and us. There is one who forgives and decides who is clean before God. We must keep this in mind. We are not the arbiters of another’s forgiveness. As followers of God we can direct people’s attention to the Way to be forgiven, but to give or withhold forgiveness of their sins before God is not our task. That’s God’s end of the stick. And thankfully, that end of the stick is in good hands!

Mary!

Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus die. She witnessed Jesus’ body taken down from the cross, and she observed Jesus being buried (Matthew 27:55-66). When she same to the tomb Sunday morning, she was looking for the body of Jesus. Three times in John 20, it states that Mary was looking for what happened to Jesus’ body (John 20:2,13,15).

When Jesus came to her and began talking to her, she did not recognize him as Jesus, but “supposed” Him to be the gardener. Here is one of the most tender moments of the Bible. Jesus breaks through all her grief, her expectations and assumptions, her focus on her task, etc., and says, “Mary!”

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
(John 20:14-16)

What an incredible moment for Mary! She was so focused on finding the body of Jesus that she did not see Jesus right in front of her.

I wonder how this may happen for us in our lives today. Can our assumptions or expectations cloud our eyes to the truth before us? Is it possible to be so overcome by grief that we forget the promises God has repeatedly given us through His word? Do we get so focused on a task that we don’t see the bigger picture? Does Jesus have to at times reach through the cloud of all our doubts, grief and fear and renew our faith and focus on Him?  Yes to all the above!

Hopefully we can take a lesson today from Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Thank you Lord, for showing us this example of Mary, and thank you for patiently loving us through those times when our faith and focus needs some renewal!

Lord, Increase Our Faith

This year at our congregation we are focusing on the theme, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” which comes from Luke 17:5.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
(Luke 17:1-6)

Yesterday, I shared 3 simple points during the sermon about increasing our faith. There are several passages in Scripture about our faith growing. It’s not like God gave you a 10-pound bag of faith when you became a Christian and said, “This is your lifetime allotment.”

#1. Our faith is constantly challenged.

I’m not trying to be negative and pessimistic, but it just the reality we are going to face some really tough things in life. Whether we are pagans or believers we will go through dark valleys. Even more so for the Christian, though, because the devil is coming at us with great wrath (Revelation 12:12; 2 Timothy 3:12).

Our faith, in order to grow, will do so through adversity. Look at the above passage in Luke 17. Jesus was talking about relationships, pain, and forgiveness. The disciples realized how difficult His instructions were to follow, and they knew that their faith needed to grow to meet the challenge.

Another example is of the man whose son was demon-possessed in Mark 9. The disciples could not cast it out because of a lack of faith and a lack of prayer (Mark 9:19,29). When Jesus came to the father, he told the father that all things were possible if he believed. Here is the father’s response:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:24)

I think we can relate with that. In the midst of the trial our faith is revealed and tested, and we see our need for growth and our great desire to draw closer to Jesus.

#2. Our faith, with God’s help will rise to meet the challenge/trial.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
(2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)

The brethren at Thessalonica were bragged about by Paul everywhere he went, but why? Because of their faith! But notice the faith they had was in the midst of “persecutions and…afflictions” they were enduring. We also see in this passage that during those hardships their faith was “growing abundantly.” Their faith was growing to meet the trials at hand.

#3. Jesus, His word, and His people help to increase that faith.

The Word

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
(Romans 10:17)

Jesus

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...
(Hebrews 12:2)

Our brothers and sisters

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
(Hebrews 3:12-13)

Do you see that in order to grow our faith we need all the above? It’s the stuff preachers and grandmas have been telling us our whole lives, and when we find ourselves falling and stumbling it is because we are forgetting these three things. The Word creates and builds faith, the brethren encourage us and strengthen our faith, and Jesus perfects it.

“Lord, increase our faith.”

 

When Your Kids Fail

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
(Luke 22:28-34)

How do you and I respond as fathers when our children disappoint us or more importantly fall prey to temptation? Just think about it…honestly.

This is not about whether we should correct our kids, or that we should never show disappointment and disapproval of their actions. It’s not about whether we administer consequences for our children’s disobedience. This is about our attitude. It’s about how you and I see our kids. Do we see others, especially our wife and kids, with God’s eyes?

Look at the above text from Luke. What did Jesus think about when he thought of Peter, even when He knew what Peter was about to do? Peter was going to deny Jesus three times that night, cursing and swearing all the way through it! But again, how did Jesus see Peter and talk to him through it?

Past“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials.” Jesus recognized what Peter (and the others) were doing that was good. You can look over the past three plus years of Jesus’ ministry and see plenty of times that Jesus had to correct and even rebuke Peter (and the rest). But what did Jesus see? That Peter stayed with Jesus! Peter had plenty of mistakes and misunderstandings, and a thousand put-your-foot-in your mouth experiences, but remember that Peter left all to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:27). Jesus was not unjust to forget the good of Peter, and He does the same for us (Hebrews 6:10).

Present“I have prayed for you.” Do you see the acceptance, grace and love in this? This, “I’m praying for you” is not out of a condescending, self-righteous air of supremacy, it was out of genuine love for Peter’s spiritual condition. Jesus was able to see the real enemy, the devil, and that Peter was at war with the devil. This brought compassion, not condemnation. Jesus, knowing what Peter was going to do, pulled Peter closer instead of pushing him away and withholding affection.

Future“When you have returned.” Jesus looked ahead and realized that this was a moment of weakness in Peter’s life, and that he would learn from it. Peter would become stronger for it, and that strength and renewed thinking would be a blessing to many others who would go through the same struggles. Look also at the text and see that Jesus promised Peter a place at his side at the table in the kingdom. In Jesus’ mind, Peter was at the table in the kingdom. Yes, Peter had to go through the valleys and fall flat on his face, but when he looked up, Jesus was there to hold his hand. Jesus was there with love and acceptance when Peter returned (Mark 16:6-7).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(Ephesians 5:1-2)

Joseph, Being a Just Man

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
(Matthew 1:18-25)

Here are a few quick observations about Joseph:

  1. They were betrothed, but they had not “come together.” Joseph showed honor for Mary and for God by keeping their relationship pure (Hebrews 13:4).
  2. Being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame. When he found out about Mary’s pregnancy, he did not cast off his love and respect for her. He thought of what was best for her. He didn’t want to make a public spectacle of her. Joseph refused to put her to shame.
  3. But as he considered these things. He was not hasty in judgment. This young man took his time to really think about what to do. I’m sure all kinds of thoughts swirled around in his mind, but with God’s help and with patience, he deeply contemplated the next step.
  4. He listened to God and did as He was commanded by the angel. God was asking him to do some hard stuff, and Joseph was really walking by faith here. He had to trust God and Mary’s word, and he did it.
  5. Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son.” Even now that Joseph is officially married to Mary, and has every “right” to participate in the sexual relationship with Mary in marriage, he did not do so. He waited for months and months until after she had given birth. Joseph truly was a man of honor and conviction.

 

She Had Heard the Reports About Jesus

Mark 5:27-28 – She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

A very sick woman, desperate for healing realized that Jesus was the only hope she had in the world. She had spent all that she had on doctors and only grew worse. Then the news came of the great Physician, and her hope revived. This poor woman had to be very weak considering she was dealing with some kind of blood issue for 12 years. But her faith gave her strength to push through to Jesus in order to touch His clothes.

Consider her faith for a moment. Her conclusion in faith was that she didn’t have to call out to Jesus and beg for Him to personally come to her. All she needed to do was touch the hem of His garment. In faith she knew His power was there and if she could just touch the hem (fringe, Matthew 9:20) of His garment as He passed by in the crowd, that would be enough.

Where did she get this faith? By hearing the reports about Jesus. I’m not sure if it is implied, but it seems like she hadn’t seen Jesus or His miracles performed before this point. She had heard the reports. Do you remember Rahab the harlot? How did she come to faith in God? By hearing the reports of what God had done in Egypt 4 decades before (Joshua 2:10).

Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes through hearing and hearing by the word of God.

The news about Jesus and His mighty works and compassion produced faith in this very ill woman. She did not see, but she heard and believed. Jesus told Thomas after His resurrection that those who do not see but believe are blessed (John 20:29).

Mark 5:34 – And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

What made her well? Faith! Where did she get that faith? By listening to the good news about Jesus. Where did the women of faith in your life get that same faith? By listening to the same reports about Jesus and coming to those same conclusions.

Another final thought about this woman. Jesus didn’t have to stop in the crowd, did He? He could have passed by and let this woman have her private miracle of healing. She would have gone on her way rejoicing. But He stopped everyone in the crowd, including His confused disciples to take note of this woman and point out her faith. She was trembling as she told Jesus and all present there what happened. Jesus lifted her faith up on a pedestal for all to see and learn.

Swallowing Camels

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
(Matthew 23:23-28)

In Jesus’ condemnation and exposure of the Jewish leadership, He makes plain that there are weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith. He then goes on to give a hilarious (and very sad) word picture to illustrate His point. Can you picture someone working so hard to filter or screen his drink to make sure that no unclean insect enters it? Can you then picture the same person swallowing a thousand pound, 6 feet tall camel?

Jesus didn’t want them to neglect any part of the law, but He emphasized clearly that there were “weightier matters” to the law. This reminds me of Micah 6:6-8, when God asked, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?” We can give thousands of sacrifices, rivers of oil and even offer our own sons to God, but God first a foremost is looking for justice, mercy, humility, and faith.

When Jesus was arrested and on trial, the Jewish leadership once again displayed how they were straining out a gnats while swallowing camels. Read the following excerpt from John’s gospel.

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
(John 18:28-32)

The Jewish leadership did not want to enter a Gentile leader’s headquarters. Why? Because they would become “unclean” and then they could not partake of the Passover feast. The question I know is obvious, but were they not already unclean? They were unclean because they were aggressively and illegally seeking the death of an innocent man, the Son of God. Malice, hatred, envy, lust and greed filled their hearts. They were defiled indeed. While straining at a gnat (“We can’t enter Pilate’s hall”), they swallowed a camel by murdering Jesus.

Today, let’s focus on the camels first. Are we swallowing camels? Does justice, mercy, humility and faith rule our hearts or are we filled with pride, malice, bitterness, lust and rage? If we get the camels right, then we can start worrying about gnats.

Jesus also worded it this way.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Matthew 7:1-5)