Pastor's Blog

November 2017

O Kingly Love!

“They call him their king,” one of the soldiers sneered.

Him? You’ve got to be kidding?” But he wasn’t. They handed this "king" over to the other soldiers. As they moved Jesus around, his feet shuffled weakly on the stone pavement. Jesus’ body stiffened in pain. He had just endured a flogging at the hands of a Roman soldier and his back was covered in fresh wounds.

We would maybe like to ask these Roman soldiers why they thought it necessary to flog Jesus within an inch of his life. But they haven’t finished with him yet.

We’re glad the writers of the gospels didn’t spend too much time on the details of this group beating. What they do share is enough: Jesus stripped to his undergarments and a scarlet or faded purple robe draped over him. They thought it was pretty funny that this so-called king was standing before them. He was nothing to them. He was a toy. And now they would show him what it meant to oppose Rome. No king would ever defy them, especially a king who wasn’t even supported by his own people. Remember, the people—the Jews themselves—had brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate. The people were the ones who demanded that Jesus be executed. And he claimed to be their king? The irony was too irresistible for these cruel soldiers. And they added mocking to their assault upon Jesus.

A king needs his crown, they thought. So they quickly found a thorn bush nearby and fashioned a circle of pointed thorns. They placed it on his head and gave him a staff to complete the picture. There was the king: feeble, bloodied, hardly able to stand, a faded robe and a stick for a scepter. Each soldier took his turn kneeling in front of him, “Hail! King of the Jews!” Then getting up each one would spit in Jesus’ face, take the stick from his weak hand and hit him over the head driving the thorns deeper.

Why? Why was this necessary? Why did these soldiers have to treat Jesus this way? It doesn’t seem right. It isn’t right. The governor of Rome had just declared Jesus innocent of all charges. He could find no basis to have Jesus executed. So why hand him over to these cruel soldiers? Why let him suffer needlessly? We look at how the soldiers beat him and we stand open-mouthed, and perhaps even shaking with anger. And we are greatly saddened by what we see.

If only those soldiers would have realized the irony when they knelt down in front of Jesus. If only they would have seen the truth of what they were saying. This was the king. But not just the king of the Jews, he is the king of human kind. Christ is the king who demonstrated his commitment to you by doing what was necessary to save you. Christ is not the kind of king this world expects. His power is made perfect in weakness. I mean, look at him standing here. Is this the kind of power the world expects? Is this even the kind of king you and I hope for? Not by our human standards. We see Christ here and we do not think of a victorious king. We often see what the world sees: a beaten king, a king who tried, but failed. But that is the great mystery! For in apparent weakness, there is strength. God shows us that our ways are not his ways. He will destroy sin by destroying its power. What is it that gives sin power? It is death. That was the curse God pronounced to Adam and Eve. “If you eat of this fruit, if you sin, you will surely die.” But what has our king done? He has faced death head on. He did what a true king would do: he took the fight to the enemy. He endured death. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. Your king endured that punishment and won! Not by the standards of this world. But according to his love. His kingly love.

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Awake to Triumph

We shake our heads at the news of another shooting. Innocent people killed because one of God’s creatures decided it was his responsibility to end the lives of others. I remember when it was still unusual to hear of these shootings, especially at schools, and my mother coming home from work and the first words out of her mouth, “There’s been another school shooting.” We know how close to home the horrors of war have come to us and we look across the world and see how one nation is rising up against another. Even in our own country, there is unrest: violence, political maneuverings, government corruption, government control, needless suffering.

And here we are, in the midst of all this. The cry goes up from the saints of God, “Lord, how long will it be? You can come back any moment and it would be just fine with us.” That prayer will be answered. And it’s a good prayer to have on our lips. Not because it means we can crawl inside of our little Christian bomb shelter of faith and escape the realities of this world. Actually, it’s just the opposite. That prayer screams with the urgency for Christians to live their faith, for Christians to be and look like the triumphant ones Christ has made them to be. So we do not sleep through all this hoping it will go away, but we awake to our triumph. We open our eyes to see ourselves not as victims of this crazy sin-filled world, but as the advocates of triumph, advocates of the victory Christ has won for us all. Awake to triumph because your name is written in God’s book of life. Awake to triumph because your faith receives its reward. Luke 10:20, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

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Faith Knows Better

Matthew 25:31-46 is Jesus' description of what will happen on Judgment Day. If you read it, you might recognize it as the familiar story of "The Sheep and The Goats."

Many people read that and conclude that Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is a very cruel God. He tells one group of people they served him and he rewards their service and he condemns another group of people whom he claims didn’t serve him. But both groups never even realized they were or weren’t serving him. "This is lunacy!" is the objection. "What so-called loving God would be so cavalier about people’s eternal destination? 'You go to heaven, you go to hell!'" They hear him thundering from the pages of Scripture: Keep in line! Do this! Now do that! Live this way! Now live that way! And they conclude that God must be a hateful, angry being, who only motivates by fear. That’s what a sinful unbelieving person must conclude because to that person God doesn’t make sense.

You know better, though. You know that God is a loving God. Or do you? Isn’t there a part of you that agrees with what we just said? Isn’t there a part in all of us that is afraid of God, that dreads to stand before the Son of Man on Judgment Day with hair as white as wool, sitting on a throne blazing with fire, a river of fire flowing beneath him and the Books of Life opened to our page? Isn’t there a part of us that says, “I had better shape up or else I’m done for”?

Yes, there is that part in all of us. But faith knows better. Faith knows the true nature of God. Faith knows you have nothing to fear about Judgment Day. Faith knows that your Judge is also your Savior - Jesus Christ.

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The Lions' Den Survival Guide

"So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den." Daniel 6:16

It’s dark in the lions' den. It’s dark and lonely. Except for the lions whose low growling and heavy breaths echo throughout the cave, you are all by yourself. At least, it certainly feels that way! I imagine Daniel sitting in that lion’s den all by himself. He’s a man probably of about 80 years old. He’s done his bit. He’s fought the good fight. And this is it. God is going to call him home. He’s there in the darkness, praying to his God, waiting for the end. Is his God listening to him?  Would the enemies of God be victorious?

These days it seems we sit in our own lions’ dens too. Around us we hear the growls of false teaching, social pressure, cultural changes that are happening faster and faster. They threaten to devour us. How do we stand with faithful believers like Daniel, the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther and so many others? How do we hold on to our faith?

Perhaps unexpectedly, the faith that we are striving to protect is, itself, the answer to this. Faith is our lions' den survival guide.

Christ endured the lions' den, too. His whole life was a kind of lion’s den. He was rejected and abused. …Because he was committed to you. He was committed to giving his life for your life. He was committed to earning perfect faithfulness for every unfaithful person like you and me, and even good men like Daniel and Martin Luther. Christ’s perfect life is our perfect life. And that means that Christ’s whole life of being perfectly faithful is yours, too. Through faith, Christ gives you his perfect faithfulness.

Daniel gives us a good example of what to do when we find ourselves in our own lions' den. He helps us see that the only way to survive is to practice our faith in Christ. If we are mocked for our beliefs, we accept that without grumbling. If we are attacked for our faith, we commit ourselves to God who cares for us. If we are appalled with what we see around us, we pray for our world that it would be enlightened by grace. If we struggle, we find strength in God’s promises. Faith is your lions' den survival guide, because it leads you back to Christ, who was faithful for you. So when your faith is challenged, respond with more faith.

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Do You Wear a Funeral Shroud?

A young man finds escape from a bad childhood in alcohol. And what began as an extreme escape for an extreme childhood quickly becomes his cure-all. And the darkness of sin covers him like a shroud. 

And this problem with the darkness you and I carry around is that it is natural. It is natural for you and me to sin and then run away from guilt. It is natural for you to deny your sinfulness, shift blame and hide from God. The darkness of sin is something that comes easy because we are covered in it: our souls and our lives are covered with it.

And then God speaks. He says to you, “On this mountain [the LORD] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:7-8) Look closer at the mountain and you’ll see what the LORD is talking about. You’ll see Jesus, hanging there on a cross. You'll see your Savior, the one Isaiah was talking about, the one that Israel was hoping for, and the one we worship. That Savior, Jesus Christ, died to destroy the veil of sin’s darkness that covered us.

Climb the mountain of the LORD and you will see this light in your life. God will break through your darkness and you will ascend into the light of his perfect love.

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. ~ HEBREWS 12:2 (NIV)