“Tainted Blood”

Consider one area of your life about which you are most confident. Perhaps it is something you are able to do, some person with whom you relate, some aspect of your health, etc. The reality of confidence is that sometimes we can become overly confident. In one moment, life is going great, and then it changes in an instant. In fact, I am about to express something that I am confident is true for every one of us – we do not schedule emergencies. Indeed, that truth is what makes an emergency an emergency. Work issues, maybe. Family issues, probably. Health issues, definitely.

One such health issue is sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. The disease kills about 200,000 in the US each year which is more than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined. (1) The body normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection. Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems. If sepsis progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically – often leading to death.

In such times, we may not be confident about life – or the life of a loved one. Many questions will fill our minds and many concerns will fill our hearts. Although it is true that our confidence in most every aspect of life is fleeting, the Bible is clear that we can be confident in the promises of God. And those promises include what Jesus has done for us.

Today, we remember the resurrection of our Lord. But we should do more than simply remember it, we should celebrate it. How it is celebrated may be different among various people, churches, and denominations. But celebrating it should be because Jesus not only died, but the fact that He rose again. And that truth is why we gather week after week and year after year. Not just to remember and celebrate something we know, but to be encouraged and challenged to live according to how He has called us to live because of His sacrifice for us.

So, as we review the text from Hebrews 10 today, a text that may not seem to be about the resurrection at first glance, let us remind ourselves that without the resurrection, this text would not make sense. Indeed, the text would not be present. But because it was written which is, in part, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can and must pay attention to what God desires from us. And, as this text begins, we can do so, with confidence.

We Are to Have Confidence (Hebrews 10.19-21)

The text begins with the word “therefore.” As I have often said, we must ask what the therefore is there for? Well, the entire letter to the Hebrews is about something and someone being better. And Chapter 10 begins with the fact that the sacrifice Christ made was a better sacrifice because it was a once and for all sacrifice. That is, because of His sacrifice, we no longer have to take our bulls, or sheep, or other assorted animals and crops to be given as a sacrifice. Jesus paid it all. As He said, on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19.30). So, that is the context of the “therefore.” But we are not here to celebrate His death, we are here to celebrate the resurrection, so we must go past this first word. There we find we can have confidence through His death to do what otherwise was not possible. Let’s take a look at what the writer says.

First, our confidence is BY the blood of Jesus (v. 19). So, the sacrificial theme continues from what the author had written in the preceding verses. But notice now, that our confidence is not in His death, but by the new and living way that He opened for us. Again, it was opened though His flesh (v. 20), but the way is alive. In the Old Testament, it was the responsibility of the priests to make the sacrifices on behalf of the people. And verse 21 says Jesus is that priest, but the sacrifice He made was giving of Himself, and thus, it is a lasting sacrifice. That is, the death gave us the opportunity to be freed from our sin, but the resurrection gives us an opportunity to live. And we are called to live in the very next set of verses.

Now, some may not have that confidence for any number of reasons. But one reason is because you do not have the hope of Jesus within you. I will say more about this in the next couple of parts, but I urge you to give God a chance in these next few minutes.

We Are to Draw Near (Hebrews 10.22)

To what or whom are we to draw near? Well, ultimately, we are to draw near to God, through the hope that we have in Jesus. James conveys this same idea in his letter. But here the writer expounds on this idea in three ways.

First, we are to draw near with a sure heart. That is, we are to have confidence. As Jesus told His disciples on the last night He was with them, “Let your hearts not be troubled…” A time of agony was approaching, but in the end, everything would be worth whatever price had to be paid. The same is true for us. Life may not be easy, but because of Jesus, we can approach God confidently – not arrogantly, but confidently.

Second, we are to draw near with full assurance of faith. The key here is the idea of faith. It does take faith, but we all have faith in something. Some may not believe in God, so their faith is in something or someone else, even if that someone is themselves or that something is a thought that they are right about God not existing. But this idea of faith is more than what we think; it speaks to what we do. Having full assurance of faith means that we can be confident that our actions toward God, done because of our faith in Christ will be noticed. We do not seek honor; we seek to glorify God, but as we saw last week, faith must lead to obedience. So, our obedience to God will lead to us being confident to draw near to Him much like a child who has done well and knows s/he is loved wants to be near their parent.

Third, we are to draw near with a clean heart. Having a clean heart is the equivalent of having a pure heart, and Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that those who have a pure heart are blessed and will see God. That is the essence of drawing near. It is the hope we have of one day drawing near. But we do not have a pure heart, and our blood is tainted. And that is why Jesus had to die – and again, that is what the author here says can bring us the confidence we seek!

We Are to Hold Fast (Hebrews 10.23)

We are to hold fast without wavering – that is, in full assurance. In other words, we are to hold fast with confidence. Why? Because God is faithful. He was. He is. And He will be faithful.

Now, here is the part I want any potential skeptics to understand. Again, I acknowledge that the resurrection is a matter of faith. I was not there. I did not see Jesus die and I did not see Him alive. But you were not there to see Him not die. And you were not there to prove that He did not come back from the dead. What I do know is that many people’s lives have been changed including those who lived with Him. For instance, one of those closest to Him, Peter, was fearful for his life and denied knowing Jesus before Jesus died, but outwardly spoke about Jesus, was beaten for doing so, and would eventually die for his faith after Jesus died. What changed? The only sensible solution for me is that Peter saw Jesus alive after he knew Jesus had died.

This is what the writer means by holding fast to the confession of our hope. And hope from a biblical perspective is not a verb as in “I hope (or wish) something is true.” Biblically, the idea of hope is a noun; it is a certainty of what has and/or will happen, but that we have yet to experience. Our hope is in the fact that Jesus is alive. Our hope is in the fact that we will be with Him. Yes, I believe He suffered. Yes, I believe He died. Yes, I believe He was buried. But I also believe He came out of the tomb, and unlike some who are resuscitated but die again, Jesus is still alive – though not physically on this earth.

If you do not believe that, let me ask you something. Are you skeptical about life? As Carey Nieuwhof says, you cannot have hope and be a skeptic at the same time. Having hope means one remains curious; being a skeptic is to close the door on possibilities. Perhaps you used to have big dreams. Perhaps you use to have some sort of faith in God, but life happened or is happening, and you have shut the door to your heart and mind and the dreams have stopped. The questions have stopped. You are no longer curious. And now you go through life as a skeptic. (2)

A closed mind leads to closed a heart. And a closed heart will turn away from God. I urge you to ask God openly and honestly what He wants to reveal to you. I say this to anyone – one is born again or one who thinks Christianity is a hoax. But realize if you ask God a question, He might just give you an answer. As I often say, God is not scared of our questions, but we must be prepared to accept His answer!

So, for those who truly believe, we are to have confidence. We are to draw near to God. And we are to hold fast. But the writer gives us two more thoughts that must apply to anyone is truly born again.

We Are to Be Together (Hebrews 10.24-25a)

The writer says we should stir up one another to love and to serve. Of course, true love requires serving. But this service (the good works) is to lead others to praise God. That idea is the essence of our church’s vision statement with our focal verse being Matthew 5.16. The idea is that we are to be the light of the world and do good works that others might see what we have done and give praise to our Father in heaven. Very practically, in order to stir up one another, we must meet together. Sure, phone calls, texts, emails, etc., are valid ways of communicating for us, but they did not exist in that day. So that could be one reason the author says not to forsake meeting together. But I believe two other reasons exist as well.

First, Christianity was not designed to be an individual faith. Christianity is meant for community. Even God is a community consisting of three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit.  Community is important to help others remain close. We all know people with whom we used to be close but have lost touch with over the years. The same thing happens in church. So, the writer urges us to keep meeting together so that does not happen to us.

Second, the writer is talking about what must be done in confidence. To meet together in the first century was a risk. But for those who had confidence and were willing to draw near to God, they must also draw near to one another to maintain that confidence. Notice the next phrase in verse 25 – encouraging one another. Why did they need encouragement? Because everyone else was against them. Parts of the world have experienced this for centuries, and the Church in America is close to experiencing this in the 21st Century. How can we overcome the challenges? By encouraging one another to hold fast to our hope. In other words, to remain confident. And to do that, we will need to continue to meet together.

And that leads us to the last point which is found at the end of verse 25.

We Are to Be Ready! (Hebrews 10.25b)

As the Day approaches, the author says that our need to meet together will be of major importance. Again, as more people become hostile towards Christians, the best way to stay strong, to stay true, will be to regularly meet with others who believe the same. That belief is in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – who is Lord.

CONCLUSION

In that last verse, the word Day is capitalized in many bibles. The reason is because it is not just any day, it is the Day of His appearing and/or judgment. God will be victorious and all wrongs will be made right. The truth of the matter is that those who are born again can be confident because their wrongs were made right on the cross by the sacrifice of Jesus. We are not to just  believe this truth mentally, we are to embrace it with their lives. For those who do, the payment demanded on that Day has already been made. For those who do not believe and embrace that truth, all wrongs will be counted on that Day and payment will be required – of you!

Why? Because we have all wronged God. It is called sin and the Bible is clear that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). It is like the sepsis I mentioned earlier. A small infection can lead to sepsis and contaminate the whole body. While intravenous antibiotics are a common treatment for sepsis, a transfusion of red blood cells is being tested as an option. But when it came to sin, the only remedy was exchanging the blood of Jesus for our blood. God knew that our lives were tainted. So, He gave His Son to cleanse us. But Jesus did not come to make sick people well; he came to make dead people live.

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Jesus did not come to give us a transfusion of blood, but He came to give us a transfusion of life!

QUESTION:   How will you respond?

OPPORTUNITY:  Be confident in the hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE:  Confidently in the hope of the resurrection – drawing near to God, holding fast to hope, meeting with other believers consistently, and being ready for Christ’s return.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618595/ For real life stories of people with sepsis you can visit the following website: https://www.sepsis.org/faces

(2) See the first section of Carey Nieuwhof’s book, Didn’t See it Coming. Nieuwhof, Carey. Didn’t See it Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. New York: Penguin Random House, 2018.

“Flesh and Blood”

Cannibalism is considered a horrid practice by most everyone in the 21st Century. In previous centuries, many stories are told of missionaries who have been eaten by tribes, particularly in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. Some of these tribes practiced infanticide and widow sacrifice as well. However, even though many missionaries faced this terrible fate, others soon followed to the same places. And in some cases, God moved in mighty ways to save a people for Himself, in addition to preventing them from destroying themselves.

Cannibalism is nothing new, however. Indeed, it has long been a concern. Evidence of this concern is expressed in the Bible and is actually one reason many people chose not to follow Jesus, as we will see later. For now, turn to John 6 as I set the context for this week’s post.

Setting the Scene
As we pick up the story, Jesus has just fed 5000 men (and an unknown number of women and children). It is important to note that the people were there because of the signs (that is, miracles) Jesus was doing. John 6.2 says this was the specific reason they were following. So, Jesus fed them on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee. Then the disciples crossed to Capernaum, and the crowd started looking for him. They found him in Capernaum (vv. 22-24), asking Jesus when He had travelled there. Really their question was more like, “How did You get here?”

Jesus responded that they were not there because of signs, but because of the food. This statement needs further explanation and, thus, this is where I begin the core of the message.

People Want What God Can Do (John 6.25-34)

In verse 2, John wrote the people followed because of the signs Jesus was doing. In John 6.26, Jesus says they were not seeking Him because of signs, but because of having a full stomach. Thus, we have a potential discrepancy. Therefore, people will use a statement like this to show that the Bible cannot be trusted because it has an error. Their claim is that either John is wrong or Jesus is wrong. The word used is the same, and it is actually the same word in the Greek (semeia). The difference is in how the words are used.

In John 6.2, John uses the word in the form of miracles. That is what the people did see. That is what the people wanted to see. And it is how their stomachs were filled. And thus, the KJV translates the word in 6.26 as miracles. But that misses the point. See, people can see miracles without acknowledging the source of the miracle. So John wrote in 6.2 that people were miracle mongers – that is, they were chasing miracles. But Jesus was stating that they were not truly seeing the signs that God was sending them (6.26). They followed Jesus across the Sea to see what else He might do. They real issue is that although they had seen a miracle, they did not see it as a “sign” of God. And that is what Jesus means in this statement.

Their response: What must we do to be able to do these signs? Jesus answered – “Believe.” Again, nothing we can DO will bring us salvation. It is what we believe. Dissatisfied with Jesus answer, they ask Him to do something to make them believe – maybe something like what Moses did for the Israelites in the wilderness.

Again, Jesus has to correct them in the same manner He had just explained. They remembered the “sign” (the miracle) of the manna, but they missed that the miracle was not something Moses did, it was a sign of God (v. 32). And then Jesus expands on this point by showing that He is the true sign from heaven, the true bread from heaven, the bread that truly gives and sustains life.

The people of that day wanted the blessings from God and thus missed the presence of God. The same is true of us. I think of the letter to the Philippians where Paul writes something I have never heard prayed in my life. Paul wrote that he desired to share in the fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus. We do not pray such words. We pray for health, for healing, for safety, for relief. Paul prayed that if suffering would bring him closer to Jesus, that is what he wanted. The apostles in Acts 4 prayed in thanksgiving for having been counted worthy to suffer, not because they had been released from suffering.

I am not saying that we do not believe. I am saying that most of us have a faith that is weak in comparison. Perhaps that is because we see faith as a noun, whereas John almost always uses faith as a verb (see John 3.36). When Jesus says believe (v. 29), he did not mean think something to be true, he meant be obedient. Most people today are willing to follow God when life is good, but we struggle when life is more challenging. And then, we cry life is unfair instead of seeing the glory of God shaping us in those moments. I know this describes me and I am certain it describes most who read this. But, if we want to be faithful to God, we must believe (that is, have faith). We must obey!

As a part of our obedience, we turn to the first part of the ceremony we call the Lord’s Supper. The rest of John 6 does not mention what we call the Lord’s Supper, but it certainly alludes to it. Thus, we cannot say with any certainty that John was writing this part of the story with the Lord’s Supper as his focus, but I believe it would be fair to say it was on his mind. We are told that whenever we do this, we are to do it in remembrance of Jesus. That is, our faith (noun) in what He did is to be honored and obeyed (faith as a verb). We will take time now to remember the sacrifice of Jesus body as we partake of the bread.

(At this point in our worship service we began the observance of the Lord’s Supper by remembering the body which was broken for us.)

People Want What They Understand (John 6.35-59)

The next words John wrote are from Jesus, “I am the bread of life.” Again, John very likely had the Lord’s Supper in mind when he wrote these words decades later, but John does not make any explicit reference to that meal in his recounting of this story. But, if we are diligent we cannot miss the connection. John’s gospel is not meant to be a chronological account of Jesus’ life, but this event obviously occurred before Jesus ate His last meal, and that may be why John omits the explicit reference. (We should also note that John does not focus much on the meal portion of Jesus’ last night; rather John’s focus was Jesus’ teaching directly following the meal.)

If we skip to verse 41, we will see that the people grumbled. Jesus has just identified Himself as the true bread of heaven, indeed, the bread of life. And how do the people respond? They grumble. John trusts that his reader will make another connection here. In Exodus 16 (v. 2), the people grumbled against Moses which was the reason God sent manna in the first place. Later the people grumbled about only have this manna, and no meat (Numbers 11). So, God eventually gave them meat – so much the people would be sickened by it. And, shortly thereafter, the people began grumbling again (Numbers 14, for instance).

Jesus challenges them to stop grumbling, and instead to listen to the teachings of God. Why? Because it is the Father who gives life. It was the Father who gave the manna. It was the Father who has given them a new bread – the life of Jesus. And those who have heard and learned from the Father will follow Jesus. Those who have not, will either never follow or will soon turn away (as we will see later in this story).

Jesus emphasizes this point with a double Amen. Many translations use the phrase, “Truly, truly I say to you…” The phrase begins with “Amen, amen.” In verse 47, Jesus uses this phrase for the third time in this story to show the seriousness of His claim (see also 26, 32). He would use the phrase again in verse 53). His point here is that the bread that was meant to sustain the people in Moses’ day helped them for a while, but was not sufficient to sustain them eternally. They ate and they died. This should be easily understood. We all eat and we all die. As one commentator has mentioned, that would make a quite an epitaph on a tombstone – “He ate and he died.”

So, Jesus has challenged them by alluding that He is the one who is the bread of heaven (v. 33). Then Jesus explicitly says He is the bread of life (v. 35) and that those who believe will have eternal life (v. 50). But then He makes the boldest claim yet by tying these statements together.

As you might expect, this last statement caused a stir. The issue, which caused true concern, was whether or not Jesus was going to offer His body in a literal sense for them to eat (v. 52). Now, lest you think they are reading too much into this idea, take a moment to read John 6.53-58. The issue was whether Jesus followers were to be cannibals.

Jesus again began His answer with “Amen, Amen…” Thus, what He is saying is true. And verse 59 says He said this in the synagogue – which is the designated place for teaching. And notice verse 55. As we will see shortly, this caused many to turn from Jesus. The reality is that we all struggle to understand certain teachings of the Bible. More specifically, we struggle to follow certain teachings of the Bible. What we do know is that Jesus said we are to partake the elements and remember His sacrifice as we do. Do we literally eat the body and drink the blood? I do not believe so. Please see the NOTE which follows which was included in our bulletin.

NOTE: Baptists believe the words of Jesus in John 6.53-58 to be symbolic. We focus on the literal bread and drink that was used at Passover as representing the body and blood of Christ. Catholics believe in transubstantiation which is a belief that when the bread and wine (or juice) enter the mouth, they literally become the body and blood of Christ. Lutherans believe in consubstantiation which is a belief that the essence of Christ’s body and blood are in the elements, but the elements do not literally change.

(At this point in our worship service we concluded the observance of the Lord’s Supper by remembering the blood of the new covenant which was shed for us.)

People Want Their Way More Than They Want The Way (John 6.60-71)

We close our message today with a final thought about how people respond to Jesus. The reality is that most people will choose to NOT follow Jesus. Even those who follow will often turn away. And this last part of the passage gives a strong word from Jesus about these people.

First, I must note that the people grumbling with Jesus earlier were miracle mongers (vv. 24-25) and the Jews (vv. 41, 52), which is very likely a euphemism for the religious leaders of the day. But in this last section, the people are those that are disciples of Jesus. Now, as I have shared before the word disciples means learner or follower. And we must understand that Jesus had twelve who are THE DISCIPLES, but another 60 followed Him (per Luke 10.1 when He sent out the 72) and Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to 500 at one time after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.6). And the passage we are reviewing today makes the distinction as well. John 6.60 mentions the disciples and then verse 67 mentions the Twelve. So, with that, let us turn to this first set of disciples.

They had a hard time processing what Jesus said. They were grumbling (that word again) among themselves and Jesus confronted them by asking would they truly believe if they saw Jesus in all of His glory. In other words, some of those who had been with Him constantly were seeking miracles as well. But Jesus knew their hearts and said that some of them did not believe. This is critical for us to understand. These individuals had given up their lives to follow Jesus, but when the demands became tough, Jesus didn’t say, “Well that’s ok, at least you believe.” Instead, he said, “You do not believe” (v. 64, paraphrased). What happened? Well, in verse 66, they confirmed His thought and turned away. And then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked if they wanted to turn away as well! Peter responds for the group as he was wont to do, and said they were sticking with Him.

What’s my point? Well, first off, please understand that I do not have the insights into the hearts of men and women like Jesus did, and Jesus does. So, what I am about to say, I am saying by drawing from Jesus’ words, but I am not the authority, Jesus is. The truth is that many people choose to follow Jesus for a while and then turn away. But the point is: We cannot know if anyone who turns away is truly saved. Again, I cannot know for certain either way, but Jesus said that many of those who were following Him (His disciples) did not believe. They traveled with Him. They did ministry with Him. But they did not believe.

In the parlance of today, people may go to church for a while. They have said a prayer. They have been baptized. They served with us. But they did not believe. The implication: they will go to hell. This is what Jesus is saying if we compare verse 47 and 64. Again, I cannot know if the people who come regularly do so because they believe. Nor can I know if those who do not come remain apart from the church because they do not believe. Jesus knows. And His words in John 6.64 should give us pause. Furthermore, Jesus command was to, “Follow Me” (Matthew 4.17), and John 6.66 says they turned back and did not walk with Him. Thus, they stopped following. I doubt any of them would deny Jesus existed. I doubt any of them would deny the miracles they saw. But again, belief in the book of John especially is nearly ALWAYS linked to obedience. These people did not obey which was proof they did not believe which means they would not have eternal life; rather they would face eternity separated from God in a place we call hell.

Why do I mention this?

Like the disciples in Jesus’ day, we are called to follow. We are called to obey. We are called to put aside our wants and desires and instead yield our will to Jesus just as He yielded to the Father. We can say a prayer. We can get baptized. We can take the Lord’s Supper. We can do a lot of good things – things Christians are supposed to do. But if we do not believe, it does not matter. If we do not obey, our efforts are meaningless. If we do not follow, we will not know the way to where He is leading, and that means being separated from Him.

So, what is your concern? Do you want what God has and/or offers? Or do you want God? I know I ask that question often, but it is stories like the one we have reviewed today which keeps the question relevant. The group following Jesus loved the miracles but missed the sign. They loved what God could do, but when they could not understand or the demands got hard, they walked away.

What about you? Would you rather have a full stomach or a relationship with God? Would you rather understand everything perfectly or live within the mystery of a God who is beyond comprehension? Would you rather have your life as you want it or would you rather die to self and gain the life Jesus wants for you? For as Jesus said, to gain life, we must first lose it (Matthew 16.25; Luke 14.27; John 12.25). Thus,

Our JOURNEY letter for today is: RREVERE.

As we have gathered on the Sunday known as Palm Sunday, let us not be like the people who cheered for Jesus one day and were against Him, calling for His death, just a few days later. Let us revere Him, truly lifting Him up, not just above others, but above ourselves. And not just today, but every day for the rest of this month, the rest of this year, and the rest of our lives – proving our love by our obedience (John 14.15) – no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice because of the cost and sacrifice He made for us.

Application: This week take time to LEARN obedience, to LIVE obediently, to show your LOVE for Jesus by LEADing others to do the same. We did that today as a church through the Lord’s Supper. Continue to do that individually or collectively throughout the rest of this holy week.

“Lifeblood”

Some of you may have heard about a remarkable story that occurred last weekend. A 61-year-old woman from Greta, Nebraska gave birth (in Omaha) to a baby girl named Uma. One part of the story which makes it remarkable is that the 61-year-old is not the mother, she is the grandmother. Let me provide a few details now and complete the story later.

The woman has a son who wanted to have a child. The son and his spouse were not able to have a child of their own. So, the spouse asked his sister to donate eggs and through invitro fertilization, the son’s sperm and the eggs of the sister’s spouse allowed for conception. However, gestation took place in the woman who is ultimately the grandmother of baby Uma.

I will return to this story near the end of the message because another aspect of it makes it even more remarkable. But the system this month is not the reproductive system (that was January), it is the circulatory system. So, what could a birth in Nebraska have to do with the idea of how blood circulates through the human body? Now, before you jump to any conclusions about the health of the baby or mother, as far as I know, both are doing fine.

The connection to the human body is the fact that blood must circulate through the body to allow us to have life. Thus, the circulatory system is critical to the body. And a key component of that system is a muscle known as the heart. If the heart is good and the arteries are not clogged, then blood flows as it is supposed to flow. However, if the heart is bad and/or if arteries get clogged, then the same blood that gives life, will actually be a part of our death.

For our purposes this month, I have paired this system with the respiratory system because our breathing and our blood are required for living. As these systems relate to the church, I believe the connection is teaching. The teaching ministry of the church is vital, for as Jesus said in His commissioning us to make disciples – we are to be “teaching others to observe all that I have commanded you.” In February, we looked at the respiratory system and, in doing so, centered on 2 Timothy 3.16 which reveals that Scripture is God-breathed. But again, blood is also necessary and important. It is necessary because without it we die. It is important because God says that it is what gives us life. In fact, in Genesis 9, God tells Noah that he can eat anything but not with its blood – that is, it shall not be living.

Again, blood is the source of our life, but a problem with that blood, such as clotting, can lead to death. In our passage today, we will see that a false understanding (that is, a problem with understanding correctly, which has some relation to teaching) can lead to death. That passage comes from Exodus 7 which contains the first of the ten plagues – when God turned the water in Egypt into blood.

SETTING THE SCENE

Before we look at the text, let me reset the stage for you. Moses was born in Egypt around the time that the Israelites were growing in number and the king (Pharaoh) felt threatened. So, Pharaoh ordered all of the young males to be killed, but Moses’ mother was able to hide him and eventually was able to care for him safely because Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses’ in the river, and Moses’ sister asked if she needed a Hebrew woman to nurse the boy (Exodus 2).

So, Moses grew up as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but he knew he was a Hebrew and later killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave. Pharaoh wanted to kill Moses so he fled and ended up in Midian where he met his wife and tended sheep. Many years later, God called him back to lead the people out of Egypt towards the Promised Land (Exodus 3). The earlier king had died and now a new Pharaoh (presumably, Moses’ uncle, remember Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, and the new Pharaoh was likely the son) is in place. That brings us to Exodus 7 where, Moses, who is 80 years old (see Exodus 7.7) is told to confront Pharaoh with the threat of major miracles against the people of Egypt unless Pharaoh allows the Hebrews to go to the wilderness to worship.

So, that catches us up to the text for today. But we need to remind ourselves of one more fact that was read in the reading earlier. And that fact is our first point for today.

A Hard Heart Is Not Willing to Listen

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen (Exodus 7.13). Now this sentence is after a significant event takes place in front of Pharaoh. We must first understand that Moses had been doing miracles by the hand of God earlier. Exodus 4.30 says that Moses did signs in the sight of the Israelites, and they believed. But when he did signs in front of the Egyptians, they did not. Why? In part, because they were pre-disposed not to believe, which is because, in part, they thought they were in control, not God.

When Aaron cast down his staff, it became a serpent. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same thing “by their secret arts” (Exodus 7.11). Impressively, the text tells us that each of the magicians was able to throw down their staff and it became a serpent (v. 12). But Aaron’s swallowed up all of the others.

Let’s face it, if we saw something like this, it would probably get our attention. If it was me, I would probably look directly at one of the wise men or sorcerers with an inquisitive face and ask the question, “What happened?” If I was one of the sorcerers or wise men, I think I would have weighed my words very carefully because I doubt they knew what had happened (or, at least, why), and the wrong answer could have had them killed.

But regardless, Pharaoh was there. It could have impacted him, but it didn’t. The text says, “Still, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” The truth is that Pharaoh did not want to believe what he saw and so he didn’t. And thus, his heart remained hard. He did not listen. And it was time for God to show Him the fullness of His power. For our purposes today we are only looking at the first plague, but it is hard to imagine a heart remaining hard after all God did, but Pharaoh would not change, and so by the end, God would not allow it to change.

A Hard Heart Is Not Willing to Receive

Let me read the rest of this part of the story. (Read Exodus 7.14-24.)

Let me begin with the ending. Verse 23 says that Pharaoh did not take what had happened into his heart. That is, Pharaoh was not willing to receive the evidence of God’s power. Why? Because, like the serpents in the previous portion, he had people providing false information. He was unwilling to listen to Moses and Aaron (v. 22), because he was paying too close of attention to those who could deceive others with their magic.

Now, we can we can almost understand this because how could Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron were not doing the same type of magic acts? But the principle goes much deeper and that is where I want to spend the next few minutes.

Both miracles involved turning water to blood. Moses took his instructions from God (v. 20). But Pharaoh did not need to take instructions from anyone, especially someone he likely considered inferior to him. Sure, they were family at some level, but Moses had skipped town for four decades and he was still, after all, a Hebrew.

Both miracles involved turning water to blood. The result: the fish died, the water stank, and the people could not drink it (v. 21). In other words, the blood caused death. As I mentioned earlier, God said that life is in the blood (Genesis 9), but here the blood specifically causes death.

But the reason for the death is because Pharaoh would not listen to God. He would not listen to the teaching God was offering. Pharaoh thought he knew best, and as long as his magicians could replicate the miracle, well, why change? If you look further into the story, the magicians are able to do the next miracle as well, but they could not get rid of the problem. But by the third miracle – the gnats – even the magicians recognized the power of God. However, Pharaoh was still unwilling to listen, his heart was still hard, and he was not willing to receive what God might have been willing to offer.

As we move to the last point, I want to focus on the contrast regarding these last two points about Pharaoh with what I mentioned earlier about Moses.

A Soft Heart Is Willing to Change

Moses grew up under the tutelage of a Pharaoh. Without any doubt, a part of his education was similar to that of the current Pharaoh. But for Moses, a part of his education also included an understanding of God – and that understanding stayed with Him until He had a personal encounter with God which changed him.

Moses was a murderer, but he had a heart that was willing to change. Like Pharaoh, Moses did not want to listen to God, or at least he did not want to follow God. In Exodus 3 and 4, Moses gave three specific excuses (I am a nobody – 3.11; they will not listen to me – 4.1; I am slow in speech and tongue – 4.10) and then outright refused God’s request – 4.13). But in the end Moses followed, a people were saved, and a world was changed. Why, because Moses listened to the words of God. Moses literally had a one-on-one teaching session with God. And, in the end, that teaching made all the difference.

The ultimate contrast between Moses and Pharaoh is this:

Moses was called to lead a large nation, but he realized that God was ultimately in charge.

Pharaoh was a mighty king over a great empire, but he always thought that he was the one in charge.

Ultimately, the difference is an understanding of who God is. And understanding can only come through some form of teaching and our response to it. And that leads me back to Baby Uma.

CONCLUSION

Because Baby Uma’s story is even more remarkable than a 61-year-old woman giving birth to her granddaughter. What I told you earlier was that the son of the woman who gave birth was not able to have a child with his spouse. But a very good reason exists for this. It wasn’t that the spouse was infertile. It was because the spouse was a male. See, a man and his “husband” wanted to have a child, but biologically that is impossible. So, the “husband” asked his sister for her eggs and the fertilized egg was then placed into the son’s mom. This is the power of modern medicine.

Now, we might be able to debate the virtues of invitro fertilization, and perhaps that is a worthwhile debate. But that is not the issue I want to bring to light today. The issue for today is that two men fully realize that the miracle of birth must (MUST!) include both a male and a female. But, perhaps it is possible, they thought, to manipulate the design to do what we want to do. And, with some planning and thought, they were able to become parents in a way that God never intended.

Now, before I move to back to Pharaoh, let me plainly state, that Baby Uma has done nothing wrong. She deserves all of the love and affection that any baby deserves. And, let us also be clear, that what was done, is because of the medical industry allowing people to become parents that otherwise might not be. Many of you may know a male father and female mother who have children through invitro fertilization. But, as with most any human thought, if an idea can be manipulated for further gain, it will be.

That was Pharaoh’s guilt. He abused the Hebrews as slaves. He asked him wise men and sorcerers to replicate what God had done. And, because it happened, he thought he was in control. Likewise, these four individuals in Nebraska, have replicated what was presumed for centuries that only God could do (that is, to bring life), and they think they are in control.

Why? Because somewhere, somehow, the lifeblood of humanity has failed. That is, the teaching about an omniscient and omnipotent God has been replaced by the thoughts and pleasures of man. But this is nothing new. It goes back to the days of Jesus, and, as we have seen today, back to the days of Moses. And, if we dig further, we see that God was so upset with these ideas in the past that a flood did not just cover parts of the Midwestern portion of the US, but of the entire earth in the days of Noah.

Why, because we are all sinners. Pharaoh was. The sorcerers were. Moses was. The family in Nebraska is. And you and I are too. And it is that sin, and the tainted nature of our blood, that leads us to death. Therefore, we need the blood of a Savior – and that Savior is Jesus.

And that is why our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

This truth about Pharaoh is a chilling reality to so many in our world. It is why the teaching ministry of the church is so important. In fact, the church is centered around teaching. Yes, we must worship, but it is difficult to worship what (Who!) we do not know and teaching helps to make that connection. Yes, we must fellowship, but we often gather with those who are similar to us and the church is to be unified in mind and heart because of the teaching. Yes, we must serve, but how can we serve if we do not know what to do or why it is important – and thus, the need for teaching. And yes, we must proclaim the gospel, but how can we do it if we do not know it? So, teaching is critical. I am not suggesting it is more important than fellowship, or worship, or serving in ministry, or evangelism, but it is no less important than all of those ideas. So, teaching is a critical component of the church. And that is why I link it to the respiratory and circulatory systems of the body because without healthy teaching, the church will die.

PRINCIPLE:  Because we are sinners, we must continually be taught the truths of God.

QUESTION:  Is your heart hard or soft towards the full teaching of the Word of God?

OPPORTUNITY:  Attend the study this Wednesday evening to know more about studying the Bible (to teach yourself better) and, perhaps, to teach others better as well.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:  Learn the Word of God so you can teach others to observe all that He has commanded. (Matthew 28.20)

LIVE:  Live the Word of God because that is what it means to observe what He has commanded.

LOVE:  Love the Word of God because it will soften your heart and allow you to be molded by Him.

LEAD:  Lead others by your example showing them that a heart softened towards God is truly special.

“Is Bigger Better?”

America, and truly much of the world, is obsessed with newer and bigger. Now, please understand that not everything new or everything bigger is bad, but just because something is bigger does not mean it is better. Let me give an example.

75 years ago, most houses were small. And the family was more united than it is today. Now, houses are large, some and families do not see one another. For instance, the parsonage is modest-sized, but our kitchen and dining room area are probably about one-half the size of the home where my mother lived as a child and she was one of seven children! A few other items. Cars were big, then got small (as the price of oil increased in the 1970s). Now some are huge. Office buildings extend hundreds of feet in the air (a phenomenon that is very new in human history), and yes, some churches, have built large buildings (and complexes) as well.

But the reality is that the size is less important than engagement. For instance, a church can be large, but if the people are not engaged, then the effect is limited. On the other hand, a church that is fully engaged can have a dramatic impact regardless of size. And that is why our Hub Sundays are important!

For something to extend with strength the hub must be strong. And what stems from the hub must be strong, because the further something is from the base, the more likely it is to be weakened. Consider the human body. The center point of the body is the hip region. The hip region is made of several bones that together are very strong and important. These bones support the entire upper body and transfer that weight to the lower half of the body. Thus, the bones that stem downward from the pelvis region must also be strong. That bone, the femur (or thigh bone) is the longest in the body (i.e. the biggest), but it is also arguably the strongest bone in the body. Why is this important? Again, as we move from the middle of the body outward, the bones are often more fragile, more easily broken, and thus need support in different ways. But without the thick, strong, and sturdy bones working together in protection and support, the rest of the body would be dysfunctional. For instance, if we break a toe, it is a challenge. If we break our thigh bone, movement becomes very difficult.

And so, as we have discussed the skeletal system this month, we have seen how the design of the bones matter (that is where they are placed), how they are connected matters, and last week, that the foundation of our bodies (the feet) are uniquely crafted to provide the necessary support (with a focus on the qualifications of leadership). So, if design, connection, and support are important to the body, I contend they are important to the church as well. Add to that the importance not only of strong bones, but that multiple bones work together to create a strong middle to the body, and we can then add the idea that one leader is not sufficient for keeping a church strong – it takes a team of leaders.*

*Before we continue, please note that I am using leader in a generic sense. For those who have been, or may be, a part of our study on the last Wednesday of the month, that discussion is about what the Bible says about multiple leaders in a formal sense for the church. But for today, I am using the idea of leadership generally.

To examine a plural model of leadership, we can review many different areas of the Bible. We could review Daniel and his three friends who were made governors in Babylon. We can certainly discuss Jesus and the disciples who had three who were elevated above the rest in function, if not form. We can review Paul and all the proteges he taught which not only served with him, but also helped him lead the churches he planted. But I want to center on a passage where the benefits of shared leadership are first truly explained and, honestly, made leadership possible. That passage comes from Exodus 18.

People Will Grumble Against Their Leaders

At the end of Exodus 15, the Israelites have just crossed the Red Sea, but after three days they do not have water, and the first water they find is bitter. So, they grumbled against Moses (v. 24). Notice it doesn’t say to Moses…it says against. Of course, Jesus taught in Matthew and Matthew 18 that if we have a problem we should go to that person, but it is often easier to grumble about someone that to them. Moses pleads to the Lord and the Lord provides a solution.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites do not have food and would rather return to be slaves (vv. 2-3). This time the grumbling is against both Moses and Aaron. For it is their fault that the people are FREE. But the Lord hears and provides a solution (manna), and then provides instructions for what the people are to do related to the gathering of this food.

In Exodus 17, the Israelites do not have water quarrel with Moses (v. 2). After Moses responds that the Lord has led them this far, they continue against Moses (v. 3). God gives Moses instructions and, again, a solution is provided as water comes from the rock.

Before moving to chapter 18, we cannot overlook that Moses commands Joshua to go to battle against the Amalekites. This fact shows that Moses trusted others to lead in certain areas, because Moses could not lead everyone in all areas.

People Will Grumble Against Each Other

As we get to chapter 18, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro comes and brings Moses’ wife and children with him. Verse 2 says that Moses had sent them back at some point, perhaps because he was unsure what would happen when he confronted Pharaoh. Moses told Jethro all that had happened since he left him and Jethro reacts saying, “Now I know that [YAHWEH] is greater than the other gods.” He then makes sacrifices and notice that others come to join them (v. 12). This verse is important in this story because it shows Jethro knows other leaders are in the camp.

The next day, Jethro watches Moses work. His work consists of resolving disputes (vv. 15-16). Jethro asks why he does this, and Moses essentially answer that the people come to me to know how God would settle the dispute. Essentially, he is saying “the people need me to help them because they need God.”

Jethro admonishes Moses. In verses 17-23, Jethro says that Moses will wear himself out. The burden is too much for one person. Jethro advises him to find others who can help and says these leaders should fear God, be trustworthy, and not be subject to bribery. Of course, this list is far short of the number of items we saw last week in 1 Timothy 3, but these three concepts certainly fit within the general scope of that New Testament list.

Again, we must consider that Jethro saw Joshua and “all the elders” the night before at the sacrifice (v. 12). If we look back to Exodus 3 where Moses has his encounter with God on the mountain, Moses is told to go to these same leaders of Israel and tell them it was Yahweh who sent Moses to lead the people out of Egypt by the hand of the Lord (see Exodus 3.16-18).

Now, the issue is that Moses was busy for the full day managing problems, not leading people. Certainly, leadership is about solving problems. But management is more about systems and processes; leadership is about people. And Moses’ time was being occupied by some matters that others could resolve, which would allow him to focus on more important items.

Thus, Jethro says Moses should choose others to help him with these matters. If the matter is too great to be resolved by someone else, then Moses should handle it. As we hear this system, we should think of our court system, where the Supreme Court only hears cases after they have been heard at lower levels. And this leads us to our final point.

Many Leaders Are Needed to Properly Serve the People

Again, the people will grumble against one another and against the leaders. Thus, to ensure proper care, many leaders are needed. I want to point out what Jethro advises. Notice Exodus 18.21. Place a chief over each 1000, over each 100, over each 50, and over each 10. So, Moses is the primary leader. Then, for every 10 people, add 1 leader. For every 50 people, add 1 leader. For every 100 people, add 1 leader. And for every 1000 people, add 1 leader.

The results of the math would look like this. For every thousand people, you would have 1 leader over the thousand people, plus 10 leaders who are over each one hundred people, plus 20 leaders who are over each fifty people, and 100 leaders who are over each ten people. Thus, 100+20+10+1 = 131 leaders for every 1000 people. And Moses is above that. 131 divided by 1000 is approximately 1/8, so for every 8 people, one person was some kind of leader.

Now, beyond the math is the true importance. Jethro says in verse 23, “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people will go to their place in peace.” In other words, God will lead you, you will last, and the people will be better served.

And verses 24-27 says that Moses followed the advice of Jethro. And it worked! And it must have been quite successful because in Deuteronomy 1.9-18, we have Moses reminding the people of when this idea was put in place.

Why does this message matter?
The statistics say that 40% of pastors have major conflict within their church each year. 35% of pastors experience depression. 70% of pastors do not have someone whom they consider a close friend, while 84% desire to have someone like this in their life. And thus, 10% of pastors will retire as a pastor. (1)

Like Moses, pastors cannot endure without having other leaders around them. The problems and challenges are real – not just physical and emotional challenges, but spiritual ones as well. Expectations are high, as well they should be, but they are often unrealistic. Years ago, a prominent ministry leader today did a survey of his deacons (12 of them) about how much time should be allotted to eleven different responsibilities such as sermon preparation, evangelism, counseling, etc. When compiled, the minimum work-week for this pastor was to be a 114-hour week. (2) Is it any wonder that pastors burn out?

So, how does this relate to Fairfax Baptist Church being a hub?

No organization can truly outgrow the leader of that organization. Of course, our true leader is Jesus. But, as His body, we are the functioning part of what He wants to do, and if our structure is not sound, that is, if our bones are not solid, then we will fail. The biggest and strongest of the bones are in the center of our body to provide support to the top half (pelvis) and extend the power to the bottom half (femur). And, we know people who break their hip and lose all mobility. In fact, the CDC estimates that 1:5 people who break their hip die within one year. (3) If the body is only as strong as its strongest bones, it is important to ensure those bones remain strong. Transporting the idea back to the text, that means, sharing responsibilities across the spectrum of opportunities.

In some ways, our church does this well. In other ways, we need to improve. For instance, I can go to Kenya without any reservation of how the church will respond while gone. In fact, Roger can go to. Two key leaders of the church are gone and the church survives. Furthermore, in the last six months, we have lost two long-time leaders in this church. Ferd has passed from this life to the next, and Doyne’s health has forced him to move so his attendance will be sporadic, at best. But the church will go on just as it has when other long-time leaders have left for any number of reasons. The key is to raise up new leaders all the time. That is not my responsibility alone – it is the responsibility of everyone who claims to follow Jesus. Again, the commission is for all disciples to make disciples. Of course, as the one you have chosen to lead you, a significant part of my responsibility is to ensure that you are equipped to make disciples – and that begins with teaching the Bible. Because one day you will be gone, and one day I will be gone, and what is left then will be based upon what we do now. And that is why the concept of having a strong hub, a strong core if you will, matters.

The title of this message is: Is Bigger Better? I have come a long way without answering that. Many believe that a bigger church is better because it means more opportunities for ministry, more and different types of events, etc. And that may be true. But the Pareto Principle is true in most any area of our lives, and that means it is true in most every church as well. The principle: 20% of the people do 80% of the work. 20% of the people give 80% of the money. Etc. That principle holds true if the church has 50, 500, or 5000 people. Yes, more opportunities may exist in some ways because instead of 10 people (of 50) working, you have 1000 (of 5000) involved. But the reality is that the bigger problem is that 4000 people can hide (and many think going to a larger church is an opportunity to hide!).

So, is bigger better? Not necessarily. But it is different. Some bones may be bigger, but that doesn’t make them better. They are just designed to support more – by God’s design. But whether you might think bigger is better or not, bigger is not possible without a stronger core – a stronger hub. And the stronger the hub (or base) the more that can be supported. This is the essence of Exodus 18. And the same holds true today.

And that is why our…

JOURNEY letter for today is: EENGAGE.

Bigger is not better. Engaged is better. The more that are engaged, the more that can be done. But to have more engaged, means to have a stronger center and a strong foundation. That is why we are looking at what it means to be a healthy church on Sunday nights this year. That is why we are doing teacher training and exploring what the Bible says about leadership on Wednesday nights. And that is why we are doing this series on the body on Sunday mornings this year – because all of us have a role as designed, and defined, by God. And just as the body cannot be healthy without all parts working properly, the church will never be at its best if we have people who limit their engagement.

So, the question for each of us today as we consider being a part of the hub is: How can I be better engaged in following Jesus, serving His church, and leading others to do the same? Because that is what being part of a hub is all about!

(1) Source: https://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/
(2) https://thomrainer.com/2013/07/how-many-hours-must-a-pastor-work-to-satisfy-the-congregation/
(3) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/1-12-15-breaking-hip-death-risk/ (The original source has changed its site, so I am posting this link.)