“The Significance of the Ascension” by Pastor Andy Braams

Very few people remember the beginnings of WW2. Some may remember the end, but to even be alive at the beginning, which happened when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, you would have to be nearly 81. So, to be able to remember that day would add a few years and limits the number of people considerably. And the war that started over there, would be brought to our shores just over two years later on December 7, 1941.

Many are stating that WW2 is the event that most closely identifies with our current pandemic known as COVID-19. While the circumstances of that war were far different, we can find similarities. First, like the beginning of that war, this virus started over there. Sure, we heard about some people in another nation being affected by a virus, but we have heard similar stories before, and yet we have barely been affected.

But the biggest parallel is the disruption that has come to the lives of people around the world. For Americans, we had two years before WW2 became a national concern. With COVID-19, we had two months, and really, to reach the level it has, we have had about 3 months.

But with WW2, most of the war was fought over there. Sure, people had concerns that led to the use of internment camps. But most of the worry was about those fighting over there. Not this time. This time, the concern is right before us. And it will be for some time.

What faces us is more than concern; it is fear. However, as I said last week, “Fear is real, but it need not rule.”

Last week, I took a break from our current series to discuss a Christian response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That response centered on acknowledging any fear and trusting God as David did in Psalm 56. Then, having acknowledged the fear, we are to love others, and help them through their fears. I believe more can be added, but at a minimum, those two ideas represent how a Christian can respond.

But the question is WHY can a Christian respond that way? Well, that is the message for this week. And to see the answer, we will look to Jesus. But we will look at an aspect of Jesus’ life that is often overlooked.

However, before I do that, I realize that many who may watch this message will not have the full context. So, I want to take a few moments to share about the series I am doing, and how it fits far better than I could have imagined.

The current series is entitled, Constant in a World of Change. The series is based upon the Bible but is designed around the phrases found in the Apostles’ Creed. Each of the phrases found in the creed is a truth found in the Bible. So, the point of the series was to show the constancy of God in the midst of all of the changes around us. And the reality is that our world is changing fast – and it still is, but most all of the attention now is on the changes brought by the novel (or new) coronavirus.

That is the purpose behind the series. Now, let’s move into this phrase:
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,

We can find the truth of this statement in one verse, which will be my focus today.

Ephesians 1.20 says, “that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places.”

That verse has a lot of He, Him, and His in it, so let me restate the verse by backing up and picking up the context:
“that God (the Father) worked in Christ when God (the Father) raised Him (Jesus) from the dead and seated Him (Jesus) and His (God, the Father) in the heavenly places.”

In other words, the Him(s) are Jesus, and the He and His are God, the Father.

So, why does this verse matter. Why would I choose to preach on this during the midst of the challenges of COVID-19? Stay with me for a few minutes and you will see. Let me give you four quick points.

The Ascension Proves Christ’s Work On Earth Is Finished

It is one thing to say, “It is finished.” (John 19.30)

It is another for that statement to be true.
God raised Jesus from the dead. Was it to do more work? Nope!
God raised Jesus from the earth. Because the work Jesus did on earth was done.

Jesus would not have ascended if the Father did not think Jesus’ job on earth was done.

The Ascension Places Jesus in the Position of Authority

Because Jesus work on earth was done, God had a new assignment for Him.
Read Ephesians 1.20-23. (This passage is similar to what is written in Philippians 2.9-11 and Colossians 1.18-20).

What we can know is that Jesus has supreme authority. He is the supreme authority. We will see more of that next week when we look at Jesus as the Judge.

The Ascension Provides the Spirit His Opportunity to Work

Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit when He left. It is the Spirit who guides us in this day. It is the Spirit who equips us.

Jesus said it is to our advantage that He leave (John 16.7)

As Al Mohler writes about this truth, “Without his ascension the Spirit could not come; and, in some mysterious, spectacular way, the indwelling of the Spirit eclipses the physical presence of Jesus Christ.” (1)

So, what is Jesus doing right now? He is preparing a place for us. Many have focused on the rooms, asking questions like what will they be like? Who cares? The purpose is not where we stay, but with Whom we will stay. (John 14.3)

And that leads us to the fourth point.

The Ascension Presents God’s People a Permanent Home

Mark 16.19 says that Jesus was taken up into heaven. Heaven is a real place. Ephesians 2.4-6 says that we will be seated with Him. Revelation 3.21 says the same thing for those who overcome this world. Again, as I mentioned above, Jesus is preparing a place for us now. And the world, with all of its beauty and creativity was created in six days. Imagine what Jesus is preparing having had nearly 2000 years to do it.

CONCLUSION

As I prepare to close, you may recall that I mentioned that this message fits perfectly within the scope of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Let me explain how.

If Jesus died, but did not rise from the dead, how could we know that His death meant what He said it did.

If Jesus rose from the dead, but had not ascend to heaven, how could we know He did not die again.

In other words, without the ascension, could we really have hope? But if Jesus did die (and He did), and rose from the dead (and He did), and ascended to heaven (and He did), then we can know that no matter what may happen to us on this earth, we can have hope for today, for tomorrow, and for every tomorrow’s tomorrow.

The word corona comes from a Latin word that means wreath or crown. A crown is worn by a ruler, and right now, the coronavirus seems to rule the world today, but Jesus will rule for eternity. Rest assured, God is in control. Jesus is seated which means His job is done, and when the time is right, He will return and prove His worth as the One worthy of all crowns, for as the Bible says, He will be crowned the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

That is a hope worth having. That is the hope we need.

(1) Albert Mohler, The Apostle’s Creed, Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019, 108.

“A Christian Response to COVID-19” by Pastor Andy Braams

You may have heard about this little thing called a coronavirus. Specifically, the current coronavirus is named COVID-19. COVID-19 is not the first coronavirus, and it likely will not be the last. A coronavirus will infect both animals and humans. Currently, seven different types exist, with four of those causing symptoms like the common cold. In fact, many of our colds are related to one of these viruses.

But more recent coronaviruses have caused more problems. In 2002, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus infected nearly 8100 people in 24 countries, killing nearly 800. No cases of SARS have been reported since 2004. However, the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) became known in 2012 and has since infected around 2500 individuals, with over 1/3 of those people dying. 27 countries have identified the MERS virus.

Other viruses, such as the so-called “bird flu” and “swine flu,” have impacted our world over the past couple of decades. And one of the worst epidemics was the Spanish Flu of 1918. It is estimated that 500 million people worldwide were infected and somewhere between 20 to 50 million people died. This pandemic came on the heals of some 20 million people dying during WW1.

But this new virus, has the attention of the world. It started in China (as did SARS), and has now spread to more than 100 countries. This week COVID-19 went from an epidemic (upon the people) to pandemic (all people). Some have estimated that as many as 45% of Americans will get the virus. In raw numbers terms, that is 150 million – Americans.

And this pandemic is causing fear and disruption in ways our world has never seen. Certainly, our world has seen major catastrophes before. Earthquakes, famines, plagues, wars (including two World Wars), terrorist attacks, etc., have all caused disruptions for days, weeks, and years. But nothing in the history of the world has caused this level of change so quickly. Decisions are changing by the hour as to how people and organizations are responding. And those decisions will continue to be made in the days and weeks (if not months) ahead.

So, what is our response? Not as a part of the people, but as the church? How should we respond?

Our response should be two-fold – a trust in God and a love for others.

Trust in God

Read Psalm 56.

A follower of Christ should focus first on trusting in God. Fear is real, but it should not rule.

Fear is probably the strongest emotion because once it grips us it does not let go. And, of course, fear is not something the Bible condones. In fact, famously, the Bible records the idea of not being afraid or not having fear 365 times – one for each day of the year. But this is Leap Year, so I guess we get to have fear for one day.

Fear may not be right, but it is natural. But we must also keep it in perspective. Some will call fear a sin, and I understand the rationale. Let me first explain a part of the rationale, but then let me show you from Scripture why I do not believe it is a sin.

First, ultimately fear is the result of a lack of trust in someone or something. Second, the Bible says “do not fear” which is very similar language to “do not lie” or “do not steal” or “do not commit adultery.” But lying, stealing, and adultery are choices we make to do. Fear is a natural response. Just like anger. Thus, as Paul says, in your anger, do not sin. Likewise, I think we can say, “in your fear, do not sin.” Yes, the sin would be different, but the principle is the same.

For instance, David had fear, but he knew where to turn in the midst of that fear. In Psalm 56.3, David say, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” This verse was the first verse I taught our children. By the time they were two or three, they had this verse memorized. Mommy and daddy could not always be there for them, but God would be.

What is great about this chapter is that David never confesses a sin or repents for his fear. At least not directly like he does in Psalm 51. In fact, if you look at Psalm 56, David begins with why he is afraid, then makes his declaration of trust, and then shares more details about why he is afraid. He may have stated his intention to trust in God, but that has not freed his mind from the perils around him. He realizes that simply stating he trusts in God does not remove him from danger. BUT – and this is key – He does not let that danger or fear cripple him.

Notice the structure of this Psalm.

Verses 1-2: He asks God to watch over him because of his enemies. That is, David acknowledges his fear and plainly states it to God.

Verses 3-4: David acknowledges God is greater than His fears.

Verses 5-7: Having acknowledged God, and his desire to trust God, David details why he is afraid.

Verses 8-13: David acknowledges why He can trust in God. David acknowledges that he will trust in God.

A Psalm with 13 verses has 5 verses about the reality of fear. But it has 8 verses about the reality of God triumphing over fear.

38% of the verses talk about fear. That is important. David does not share one verse about fear, then acknowledge a desire to trust God and the fear is instantly gone. A holier-than-thou Christian might think that our response should be 1% fear, and 99% trust. And frankly, maybe it should be. But the reality is that David, the mighty warrior, the man who slayed thousands of people, expressed his fear – openly and honestly.

But David had more trust in God than he did fear. Because 38% of this Psalm addressed fear, over 60% addressed the goodness of God. Again, I am sure some Christians in our world today will say David was weak by only mentioning God’s power over fear 60% of the time. I am glad those Christians have it all figured out and never have any fear. Because you know what, I don’t have the level of faith they have. Frankly, I am not overly concerned about the coronavirus personally, but I have my own challenges, including the fact that I serve a church that has many people who are much older than I and are in the higher risk category for contracting and being affected by the virus.

Now, I do not want the virus. And I will take precautions to avoid contracting the virus. But that fear is not my biggest fear. And yet, whatever fear you may have, the example David gives us in Psalm 56, is that we can have very legitimate fears. And even in the midst of fully trusting God, we may honestly and openly express those fears. And when we do so, we may help others to better process their fears as well.

Love of Neighbor

The second response during this time of crisis – and it is a crisis – is that we should love our neighbor.

Several months ago, when I was preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan, I made following statement: We cannot love the people we label, and we will not label the people we love.

On Friday, I saw a statistic that a much higher percentage of Democrats fear contracting the virus than Republicans. That is one of the most stupid studies and statements I have ever heard. Who cares? People are getting sick and dying and instead of focusing on this being an issue affecting people all over the world regardless of races, religions, and political leanings, and people are making this political. That isn’t love. That is manipulation.

Again, people are afraid. Certainly, some are more fearful than others, but we do not need to beat down on people for their fears. We need to love them through it. Let me give an example.

Suppose a child wakes up from a dream and is frightened. The child bravely gets out of bed to find a parent (or parents). (Don’t discount how much courage it takes for some children to get out of their bed in this situation.) A parent could respond in a few different ways, but let’s go to the edges.

A parent could respond: “You are an idiot. I told you there is nothing to be afraid of. Haven’t I told you that everything’s fine. I just don’t get why you can’t understand this.  Just go back to bed and let me get some sleep.”

Alternatively, a parent might respond: “I am sorry you are afraid. Let’s see what we can do to make you feel better. What if we check to make sure everything is ok and then I will lay down with you until you go back to sleep?”

Again, other possibilities exist. But the first scenario is rather harsh. The second would be considered compassionate. And yet, in the church we often treat others similar to the first example. We are selfish and we show a lack of care. The second example takes time and energy – and love.

And that is what we are to do. Romans 12.15 says to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”  We like rejoicing. It is often more difficult to weep. Frankly, in the examples above, I would like to think I will respond like the second example, but I know I am often guilty of the first. Why? Because I am selfish. Because I sin.

However, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor as I do myself. He tells us to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. Thus, I must properly love myself. We must properly love each other. And when we do, the real benefit is that others can know they are loved too.

That is our opportunity right now in the midst of the fear around us. We do have an opportunity to rejoice when it is appropriate, but to weep as well. We do have the opportunities to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6.2). We have the opportunity to stand together to oppose our enemy and whatever obstacles might come before us.

We can do this because Jesus loved His neighbor as He did Himself. And He asks His followers to do the same.

CONCLUSION

Fear is real. But God is bigger than our fears. And, if we truly love others, we will help them to know that truth as well. This week, fear has been front and center in the lives of millions, if not billions. But realize that fear is based upon a virus with a surface area that is measured to be 1/25,400,000 or .0000049213 inches.

How can something so tiny cause so much fear? But it has, and it will continue to do so. But COVID-19 is not the only fear in our world today. And it is not the only fear within our church right now. Other health issues are front and center. Issues like cancer or other chronic diseases create fear. Or maybe your fears stem from a relationship with a friend, a coworker, or a member of your family.

Maybe it is learning to live after the loss of a loved one.

Maybe your fear is financial.

Maybe the fear is changes in our country, in our town, or in this church.

I know the fears that some of you are experiencing. But I do not know the depth of those fears. I know the fears that I face too.

But I also know that I have a God who desires me to trust Him. A God who desires you (individually) to trust Him. A God who desires us (as a church) to trust Him. He is a God who does not change. So, even though we moved away from the Apostles’ Creed this week (which is itself a change), we are still focusing on our constant – on THE constant – in a world of change. And, in a world of fear.

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JOURNEY.

We are all on a JOURNEY of faith. And this JOURNEY will requires us to acknowledge and confront our fears. So, let me present a couple of verses for you to reflect upon for a couple of minutes.

The first was written to Timothy, and thus is meant to be internalized individually.  The verse is 2 Timothy 1.7: “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

Philippians 4.6-7 was written to a church, and thus is meant of us to consider corporately: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

NEXT STEP(S):

      • LEARN.  Learn to trust God through your times of fear.
      • LOVE.  Love others to help them do the same.

As followers of Christ, we must also see this disruption as an opportunity. Fear can drive people in many different directions, but one of those directions is to seek purpose and meaning in their lives, to consider death, and therefore to be open to God.

SPECIAL CALL TO PRAYER

From the SBC:

      1. Ask God, in His mercy, to stop this pandemic and save lives—not only in our communities but around the world, particularly in places that are unequipped medically to deal with the virus (Isaiah 59:1-2).
      2. Pray for President Donald Trump and other government leaders—international, federal, state, and local—to have the wisdom to direct us in the best courses of action for prevention and care (Romans 13:1–4).
      3. Scripture says—teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Pray that the Lord will give us wisdom in this moment of fear as the foundations of what we know are shaken, that others would realize how fragile life is and how real eternity is, and they would see their need to turn to God (Psalm 90:12).
      4. Ask God to protect our missionaries and their families around the globe, using this global crisis to advance His Good News to the whole world (Mark 16:15).

“Abandoned?” by Pastor Andy Braams

Last September, Dr. Ulrich Klopfer died. Now, Dr. Klopfer would not be known to most people and would have simply passed from this life without incident except for a shocking discovery. After the doctors death, relatives found 71 boxes in his garage. Those boxes contained 2,246 aborted fetuses. In the trunk of one of his cars, they found another 165 fetuses. All totaled, this man had saved the fetuses of 2,411 babies aborted between the years of 2000-2003. (1)

Frankly, many questions should be asked, but most can never be answered now that Dr. Klopfer is dead. Why did this many keep these aborted babies? Why did he keep them for 16-19 years? But the biggest question is how could all of these lives be simply abandoned?

Thankfully, an arrangement was made to restore the dignity of these humans by providing them a proper burial a couple of weeks ago – even if the burial was premature for most of them had they been allowed to be born, and much delayed given what happened to them.

Most people who hear of this situation are appalled – and rightfully so. But is the appalling nature of this situation the act of abortion, the act of keeping these children in boxes, or the number of babies involved?

The abortion debate is real. And it is intense. And a lot of people who have been impacted by abortion are deeply wounded. This message is not about opening that wound. This message is not about abortion. But it is about abandonment. And those babies were abandoned. But the issue is that you and I abandon people each and every day – perhaps not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense – perhaps even the individuals impacted by abortions. And although we may never know why Dr. Klopfer did what he did, one day you and I will have to give an account of our actions to our Lord.

See, all of humanity should be in a state of abandonment. That may be true of our lives, but it should certainly be true after we die. But God. God made a way through Jesus, who Himself “was not abandoned to Hades” (Acts 2.31), but loosed “the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him (Jesus) to be held by it” (Acts 2.24).

Read Acts 2.23-24. God had a plan. Jesus executed that plan. And because of that execution, we are not abandoned, if only we believe.

This truth about what God has done through Jesus, and what Jesus has done for us, and what the Spirit desires to do within us is why we are studying the Apostles’ Creed. Today, we come to the part of the Creed that says, “He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead.”

However, we should know that God raised Jesus so that He could raise us too. That is, God raised Jesus back to life, so that we could not only live with Him forever, but that we could truly live.

So, if Jesus rose in order for us to live, what are we doing with the life He has given?

Jesus Descended into Hades

Today, portion of the Creed begins with one of the most challenging truths mentioned in the Bible. But we must consider two aspects to this truth. First, we must examine the wording carefully to make sure the Creed matches the Bible. Second, we must be careful not to make our attempts at understanding the passage say more than what the Bible really says. (Many have suggested this phrase should be left out of the Creed, but it is there, and we must deal with it as best we can.)

First, the challenging passage is found in 1 Peter 3. Specifically, verse 19 says, then Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Now, we do not need to wonder what He preached. Like His time on earth, He preached of the Kingdom of God. He proclaimed Himself Messiah and the fulfillment of the prophecies. But the real question arises as to where He preached.

Most every reputable translation uses the term or concept of those in prison. And, indeed, that is the term in the Greek. It is the same term used of John being in prison in Mark 6, for instance. But the Creed says hell.

Now, hell is a real place that will be the eternal home for the devil, the demons, and all of those who reject Christ. But it is not the word used in 1 Peter 3, which is the source of this statement in the Apostles’ Creed. So, did Jesus go to hell to do this preaching? No.

He went to Hades. Hell and Hades are two places that are often used synonymously. But they are two different places. Hades is the place of the dead, much like the Jewish concept of Sheol in the OT. The concept of Hades actually has three levels. It has a level of punishment (like hell) for those who are evil. It has a middle place where most people will be (those who are not too good and not too evil). And it has a place of blessing for those who are good and heroic.

We see this idea of Hades in Luke 16, when the rich man was dead and looking up from the place of torment in Hades (v. 23) saw the poor man, a man named Lazarus (with no evidence that it was the Lazarus who was brought back from the dead in John 11) in Abraham’s bosom (the place of blessing in Hades). Lest we think this is just some human thought, realize this story is from the mouth of Jesus!

From the cross, Jesus said to one of the thieves, today you will be with me “in Paradise.” That man went to the place in Hades known as Elysium (or the Elysian Fields), and Jesus would be there to proclaim the message of God to all who would listen.

Again, this is as much as we can say. Did Jesus go to the other levels of Hades? Perhaps, but the Bible does not say so. Jesus did mention Paradise, and that is the “best” level or Hades, so He at least went there. And Jesus died for all sinners which would include any who were in the other levels (the Asphodel Meadows and Tartarus), so He may well have gone to proclaim the truth of God there as well. But we must be careful to go further than that in our interpretation, and thus, understanding of the Bible. Jesus went to Hades because those who were there – that is, all who died prior to Jesus death on our behalf – needed to know that Jesus paid the price for sin. His message was meant to deliver them from an otherworld place like Hades into the presence of God after His own resurrection.

For as Paul says, to depart from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5.8; cf. Phil 1.23).

But for you and me, Jesus has already come. He has already died. And He has already been raised from the dead. And thus, we turn to the message that Peter preached, as recorded by Luke in Acts 2, to see what Jesus resurrection can and should mean to us.

The Third Day He Rose Again

First, let me say that I am not dealing with the aspect of the third day in this post. The Bible does say three days and many possibilities exist, but I do not have time to unpack them all. I will say that I personally believe that it is likely that Jesus died on a Thursday.

So, what is less important in these two phrases is not where He proclaimed the message, nor how many days He was dead, but that He rose again.

First, let me speak to the idea of “again.” I was recently asked why the word again is used. It is a fair question because Jesus was not raised twice. As I researched this, the best explanation is found in a close synonym – anew, or even afresh. Others have made a similar argument. (2) Using this idea, Jesus rose anew. He was renewed, and indeed, He was in His resurrection body.

But let us turn to Acts 2 to see Peter’s words.

Beginning in verse 22, Peter appeals to the crowd to take stock of this man Jesus whom they had seen. It was this Jesus who, according to the plan of God, was crucified. But, death could not hold Him. The grave would not defeat Him. And Peter refers to David’s words nearly 1000 years prior when David proclaimed that God would not “let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 2.27). The word corruption here means “the pit” (as in decaying in the pit).

It is in this verse, by the way, that we see the use of Sheol and Hades as interchangable. Acts 2.27 begins with, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades…” Peter is quoting from Psalm 16, where in verse 10, David used Sheol. Thus, going back to the previous point, we see that Sheol and Hades were considered as similar in their usage depending upon whether one was speaking in Hebrew (Sheol) or Greek (Hades).

But if Peter had simply quoted David, the people could have believed that David was referring to Himself. So, Peter then revealed that David was more than a king, he was also a prophet.

Read Acts 2.29-31.

David died, but did see decay. He was buried and was still in the tomb. So, God meant someone else. That someone was Jesus. Jesus was buried, but the tomb where He was buried was empty. We have to believe this by faith, but the people who heard Peter’s voice that day could have checked for themselves. In fact, that is what Peter says in verse 32-33. God raised Jesus and Peter, along with the other apostles were simply proclaiming that truth.

What we must understand is that Jesus death was important. It is by the blood of Jesus that we are saved. But it was the resurrection of Jesus that sealed our salvation. Or, rather, I might say, the resurrection confirms our salvation. Paul uses David’s thoughts to say as much in Acts 13.37-38.

In effect, if God did not resurrect Jesus, then we could not consider God to have been satisfied by His death. But because God did raise Jesus from the dead, we can have full confidence that God’s wrath for our sin was satisfied on the cross, if we will only place our faith in that truth.

But before we leave Acts 2, I want to focus on a particular term that Peter used twice. That word is, “abandon.” Again, in Acts 2.27, David said that in the future, the Holy One will not be abandoned. And in Acts 2.31, Peter says that Jesus, the Holy One, was not abandoned to Hades. Hades could not hold Jesus. It was Jesus vs Hades in a death match. And Jesus overcame death.

And because Jesus was not abandoned, we will not be either. Because Jesus overcame death, we can overcome it too. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 (verses 54-55, quoting Isaiah and Hosea), “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

But here is the challenge. If God did not abandon Jesus, and Jesus did not abandon us, then we can not abandon others.

CONCLUSION

Sometimes we feel lonely. We feel isolated. We may feel abandoned. It happens to many people at various times in their lives. But God has a plan. Just like those 2411 aborted babies who were given dignity through a mass burial, as humans, we all have dignity. The death of Jesus for us reveals that truth. The resurrection of Jesus proves it because God did not abandon Him, so Jesus will not abandon us. We must simply choose to be saved by the only one who can truly save us.

Before we can rise again with Jesus, we must be born again by God. As 1 Peter 1.3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

Jesus rose again by the power of God. But the power of God can do more than resurrect a body, it can change a life. And a changed life can truly change the world. The truth of the resurrection changed the apostles from being of “little faith” to being world changers. The truth of the resurrection continues to change lives – live that otherwise might be abandoned – and those changed lives can change the world again!

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JOURNEY.

Many of our JOURNEY letters in this series have been the J for Jesus. But today, the focus needs to be on our JOURNEY. Each one of us needs to know that wherever we may be on that journey, God is not done with us yet. If you are doing zealous work for the Lord, He has more for you to do. If you are muddling along in life, God has something for you. If you are feeling hopeless and abandoned, God has something for you. If you are still breathing, God is not done with you…your journey is not complete, so you must consider what you will do for Him during the remainder of your journey.

God made a way for a dead man to have purpose. And that purpose includes you. If He could do that with a man who was dead, how much more can He do for you? How much more can He do through you? But the question is not how much more can He do, the question is what will we allow Him to do?

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE.  Jesus influenced many people while He lived. But it was after He died that He changed the world. Likewise, Jesus bids us to come and die. Once we do, our life is not our own, and so He can do through us what He wants and needs for us to do. It is when we die to ourselves that we truly learn to live. So learn to live for Jesus today by allowing Jesus to live through you.

Who’s Your One? Who’s Your One plus One?

 If we follow through on finding, praying for, and investing in both the one and the one plus one, we can help those individuals to know that God has not abandoned them, that God has a plan for them, and then lead them to help others to find their one plus one as well.

      1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/12/ulrich-klopfer-abortion-fetuses/, (accessed March 6, 2020).
      2. See, for instance, Got Questions. https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-rose-again.html, (accessed March 6, 2020).

“It Is Finished” by Pastor Andy Braams

1 Corinthians 1.17-18; John 19.16-42

Have you watched or listened to the news lately? If you watch it over a two- or three- day period you will see developments happening so quickly it is difficult to keep up. Make those days weeks or months and the pace is alarming. In a recent visit with one of our elder members, he said, and I quote, “I see the way the world is going at an accelerated pace.”

He then mentioned horses – the maximum speed humans traveled for centuries was by horse. And then even when the first cars were made (the Model T), they traveled at the same general speed as a horse. But then, the he mentioned that cars quickly moved to 60 mph, and that we had air travel, then space travel. It all developed so quickly.

But today, the developments are even faster. What about the Coronavirus? Or the locusts in Kenya? Politics are out of control. It is no wonder some people claim that the news is fake – because even news that is real changes so fast it is hard to know what is true anymore. What was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. (AB – this is not my best PC and FCF, but it will do this week)

But some news doesn’t change, and therefore many get bored with it. The most important news is that of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, that news is old, but it is still fresh. Many consider the news of Jesus as out of date and out of style, and would rather talk about the speculation of what we see on TV today rather than the truth of what happened centuries ago.

But the news of Jesus was not just news that day, it was news that was predicted to happen. Read John 19.28-30. “It is finished” requires knowing what “it” is and what needed to be accomplished for “it” to be done.

As we think about the Apostle’s Creed, we can hold tight to the truth of the creed not because of the words in the creed, but because those words are based upon the truth of the Bible. It is the Bible that is true and thus what is directly taken from the Bible must be true too. And today that truth is that Jesus was crucified, buried, and dead.

But it is more than the thought of some man being crucified, dead, and buried. That happened to many people. In fact, two others were crucified and dead on the same day as Jesus, although we cannot know if they were buried. (Likely, they were not, but we do not know, and it does not really matter for our purposes today.)

However, this story is not just about a man, it is about a man who claimed to be God, a man what was God, and thus, He was able to declare that “It is finished.”

So, what was finished? And why is that important?

Let us take a closer look by reviewing John 19.

Jesus Was Crucified

This really happened. Read John 19.18-20.

John writes it, but details are important. Granted John wrote this account decades after the fact (some suggest as many as 60 years later – which is very likely), but people would have still been alive to refute it. Verse 20 says many Jews saw it. They would have told this story to their children and grandchildren. The story they told was either about a lunatic who thought He was Messiah and got what He deserved, or truly was the Messiah and got what we deserved.

But John is not the only one to record this. That is, this story is not just biblical; it is historical. Pilate is mentioned by name. And both Jewish and Roman historians discuss the intersection between Pilate and Jesus (Josephus the Jew; Tacitus the Roman).

Why was Jesus crucified?

      • Because God is holy. And we are not.
      • Because God had to punish sin and deal with its curse and the curse of the Law. For as the Bible says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3.13, quoting from Deuteronomy 21.25). Jesus was crucified by men who hated him, for men who needed him. (Romans 6.23)

Now, many do not like the fact that Jesus was crucified. Some claim God was a child abuser. But the Bible say the word of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1.18). To understand is to receive the grace of God. The reality is that mankind hates Jesus. Men hated Him in Jesus day. They hated Him in Paul’s day (Phil 3.18). And they hate Jesus today. And you and I would be among those who hate Him but for the grace of God – a grace that comes from the sacrifice He made.

So, Jesus was crucified – a process perfected by Romans to make the pain and horror of death as agonizing as possible (as Mike has shared with us before). Jesus received that. We might even say He embraced it – for you and for me. And in the end, Jesus died.

Jesus Was Dead

The crucifixion was the form of death, but it was the death that mattered. Without the death, the wrath of God would not be satisfied. The death of Jesus was necessary because it was upon Jesus that the fullness of God’s wrath was delivered. In Revelation, the wrath of God is revealed as bowl judgments. These bowls are poured out on all who do not believe. These bowls contained sores, water turning to blood, scorching heat, oppressive darkness, water drying up, and a storm and earthquake that is unmatched in human history (Revelation 16).

The intensity of these “bowl” judgments is poured out because of the sin of the world. And yet the true punishment for sin will be much worse and last for eternity in the place called hell.

On the cross, Jesus died so that all who believe (who call on the name of Jesus) will not have to endure the wrath of God on this earth, and will escape the eternal miseries of hell. Jesus death took God’s wrath for us. That is why we call His death the substitutionary atonement. He atoned for our sins by substituting Himself in our place. He did it for you. He did it for me. He did it for everyone. I deserve God’s wrath on me for what I have done, but I do not deserve His wrath for your sins. However, Jesus bore the fullness of God’s wrath for everyone. Imagine the pain, imagine the suffering.

The One who created us, died for us. The one who created was executed at the hands of His creatures. As Peter declared to the audience in Acts 3.15, “…you killed the Author of life…” We may not have been physically present, but we are responsible for the death of Jesus.

But He did die. Read John 19.31-37.

The Romans made certain of it. It was the responsibility of one person to ensure that each criminal was dead. It is said that the penalty for the soldier who did not ensure those being crucified was the soldier would then be crucified. I cannot find evidence of that. However, a centurion, one who led 100 men was in charge and would have been disgraced and strictly punished (at the least) if the individuals were not dead. So, Jesus was dead. We see evidence of this from the centurion’s mouth in Mark 15.39, when the centurion stated, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Furthermore, when Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to ask for the body, the body would not have been granted for burial if Jesus was not dead (most people crucified were not buried, they were left to rot or be eaten by animals). Thus, Pilate would have asked if Jesus was truly dead before granting the request.

Jesus Was Buried

Again, we have details in John’s writing (and in other gospel writings) that help us to know Jesus was buried. Frankly, it could have been enough to say, “And then, Jesus was buried.” Many people might accept that statement, but with the details provided, His burial is assured.

Again, most people were not buried after a crucifixion. But Jesus was not most people, so Joseph and Nicodemus made sure He was buried. We may have to accept the burial for what is said in the Bible, but by John naming names, the people of that day could go to Joseph and Nicodemus and ask – “Did you really bury Jesus?” If it was not true, it would have been refuted. Granted John wrote his decades later, but people would still have been alive, and his statement would have been refuted otherwise.

So, Jesus was crucified. He was dead. And He was buried. Those are the facts. It may not be current news, but it is not fake news. It is real. It has happened. The facts have not change. And those facts from the Bible are preserved in the Apostles’ Creed.

It has been three weeks since we recited any of it together, but let’s take time now to recite the Creed up to this point.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.

Next week, we will get into one of the most challenging passages in the Bible. But we will not stay there long, because Jesus did not stay dead or buried – and His resurrection deserves the main attention.

CONCLUSION

In a couple of days, many people in this country will go to the polls to vote on what is known as Super Tuesday. In nine days, it will be our turn here in the state of Missouri. But there is one common factor in each person voting. In fact, one common factor exists between those voting and those receiving votes – the fact that Jesus died for each person’s sin. Jesus died for Bernie Sanders. He died for Pete Buttigieg. He died for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. He died for Donald Trump. He died for all Democrats. He died for all Republicans. He died for Independents. He died for those who do vote and He died for those who don’t. He died for you and He died for me.

In a year when candidates are pushing their agendas and hoping that we will tell our friends to vote for a certain person, only one name truly deserves to be known – not because of what He might do for us, but because of what He has already done for us. That name is Jesus. And it is our task to know Him and to make Him known.

For all of the campaigns and all of the slogans, the politician’s goal is to make oneself known. But politicians often make promises that are unable to be kept. The promise Jesus made was even more outlandish – that He would come back from the dead. But first, He had to die. Therefore, like Paul, we are to preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1.23). We are to make Christ known – and to do that we cannot separate the work of Christ from the cross.

What was finished? The work of God to fulfill all that had been commanded in the Law. The curse of the Law was broken (Galatians 3.13).

Why was it important? Because none of us could break the curse’s grip. Only Jesus could break the curse. Only Jesus could meet the requirements. And that is why…

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

Jesus had His own journey that day through the streets of Jerusalem and up to the hill called Golgotha. The journey Jesus made was full of pain and tears. But He made that journey because of the joy that was before Him (Hebrews 12.2) – a joy that was to fulfill the will of the Father…a joy that meant giving us the opportunity to be with Him for eternity.

We cannot overlook the fact that Jesus finished His journey, just as it was planned. The purpose of this passage is not to just to tell us what happened, it is to show that God was in control. The people may have tortured and killed Jesus. But Jesus was always in control. It was Jesus who said, “It is finished,” not the people who were trying to finish Him.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE.  The death of Jesus came from the love of Jesus. Because of His love, He has made Himself known to you. He commands us to make Him known to others because of our love for them.

Who Your One?

Who’s Your One + One?

“A Sermon for President’s Day” by Rick Sons

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Isaiah 61:1

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” John 8:34-36

As many of you know, I was a history major in college and even today, the study of the past still seems to occupy my interest. For hours and hours each week, I sit at the laptop and read how history has helped to mold the world today.

My wife will tell you that she has difficulty watching movies with me as I set with the laptop and check everything for accuracy. To this day I can’t watch “Gone with the Wind,” as it is full of incorrect information.

History is full of stories and each story has purpose. So, what’s the single greatest American History story?

This is a hard question to answer because, to each person or historian, stories hold different places in the heart and there are so many stories from which to choose.

Sometimes it is the same story told in different ways.

With the upcoming holiday tomorrow (President’s Day), this may not be the greatest, but it would have to be in the top five.

The day the sixteenth president of our country said, that as of January 1, 1863, no people could be sold in America anymore; no brown children sold in the market; no weeping mothers sold away from their children; no husbands and fathers torn from their wives and children; no more; done; the end.

It was the end of slavery in this country. The end of a way of life for many and the start of a new journey for others.

A tall skinny kid from Kentucky, who grew to become the President of the United States, got shot in the head for it (and I think he knew he would be murdered for it), but did it anyway because he knew it was right.

It was right to let all people be free, no longer to be bound or held captive.

This is a great story, but not a new one.

John 8:34-36 says, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’”

So, what is a slave?

A slave is not determined by color. In the history of the U.S., blacks were slaves, but only because Africans were selected and imported as slaves, mainly for economic and demographic reasons.

Slavery was created to supply much-needed labor for the colonists, but not because they were deemed inferior. It was only over time that slavery became associated with the dark skin of Africans, which led to the colonists’ feelings of superiority and racism.

A slave had no liberty or say in vital issues. To be a slave meant to work while being subject to every will of the owner.

Slaves were abused physically, emotionally and mentally. They were broken down in almost every way possible.

Some of the basic rights that slaves were denied were: the right to speak their opinion, to right to get married, the right to keep their kids, the right to work for themselves, and the right think the way they wanted or do what they wanted.

A slave was to be seen but not heard; he had no freedom.

A slave was in bondage under the guardians and custodians who were in charge of them.

Slaves had no identity; they could not use their African names, so slave owners gave English names to the slaves. There were only given first names, as they were considered property and not people deserving of surnames.

After Emancipation, former slaves adopted new names. They did so either to take on a surname for the first time, or to replace a name or surname given to them by a former master.

A number of African-Americans changed their names out of the belief that the names they were given at birth were slave names. (Slaves believed that the slave name would keep them a slave in the eyes of the civilized world.) Many slaves took the name of Lincoln after being freed, and some even though they could not read took names from Scripture that they had heard.

They were free, but this freedom came with limits.

For some, they still called themselves slaves (free slaves) as they still felt they were in bondage and the only life they knew was now gone.

So, let’s ask: who else is a slave?

Obviously, all of us who are sinners are slaves.

Some of us are slaves to our own thinking, slaves to pride, slaves to anger, slaves to worry, or slaves to money.

We were not sold into slavery; some of us walked into it by our own power and choosing.

We were slaves to sins in bondage, and slaves to the world but Jesus saved us by grace and through his love we can be free. Jesus redeemed us so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters to be children of God.

To be children of God, there was an urgent need that we must be born again, regenerated, sanctified, and washed in the Blood of the Lamb.

To those that believe in Christ and receive Him, He gives them power to become the children of God. We must open our hearts and allow Jesus to occupy us because in Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves, but sons – heirs of the kingdom.

In saving us from slavery, He had to die. Jesus knew the outcome and He knew, that to free us, it would cost Him His life.

Being saved and set free is to receive a new identity. In Jesus, we do not lose ourselves, but we become our true selves in Him. In Christ, we are fundamentally new and belong to the Kingdom of heaven.

The language, values, and customs of this world feel foreign to us. Like the slave, we do not want to appear as a slave in the eye of the world. We have been born again for another world; to a greater kind of existence.

That tall skinny guy from Kentucky did the right thing even when he knew he would get a bullet for it.

Thanks to a skinny kid from Kentucky, whom we know as Abraham Lincoln, all people are now free to live and no longer fear being in bondage.

Thanks to Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin because He defeated the power of sin’s hold in our lives.

We are no longer slaves to our self, our shame, our past, our rejection, our sins, or the sins of others. We are free. Truly free.

Through Jesus, His freedom is limitless; it removes every chain, every burden.

Our freedom was not freely purchased; it cost the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is His death that won our freedom.

Jesus, who was no slave, but the King of the universe, became slave to death to defeat it.

What is the greatest story in history? It is the story of freedom and you can choose which chapter in this part of history you like best.

No longer slaves – that has a nice sound.

All we need to do is walk in the freedom and victory of Christ. The idea of slavery may seem alien in this century, but it was very much a reality in centuries past – not just in our history but throughout the whole world.

Men, women, and even children, who could not fend for themselves, were sold to slavery in order to pay their debts. They did not have any rights of their own, but were shackled to a life of bondage without even a shred of hope.

Today, don’t allow yourself to become a slave to worry, fear, doubt, anxiety or your past. You are free, no matter what your current situation is; remind yourself that you are a rightful child of God.

Remember your identity in Christ and live free.

We are no longer dead in our sin, we are alive in Christ Jesus.

“Suffered Under Pilate, Suffering for Us” by Pastor Andy Braams

The political landscape in the U.S. is very divisive right now. I will add that it is not as divisive as it has ever been because if you look at the first fifteen years of the presidency, you have Jefferson harshly attacking Washington and Adams, you have scandals and misunderstandings that light the fuse of hostility time and time again, and you even have a sitting vice-president (Aaron Burr) shoot one of the most brilliant minds this country has ever seen (Alexander Hamilton).

But sometimes the level of divisiveness is very apparent. This week, we saw the end of an impeachment process against the current president. We witnessed an absurdly partisan State of the Union where nearly one-half of the participants were less than unengaged (if that is even possible), a partisan act by the president who gave the nation’s highest award to a man who alienates one-half of the country, and the leader of the chamber where the speech was made tear up the script that is constitutionally required to be given to Congress.

And because of these facts, most will say that they are suffering through another election cycle. That is, the actions of others create a tension that causes us to suffer. But tension in politics is nothing new. And neither is suffering. In fact, much of the suffering in the world is directly related to politics – and you are I are responsible.

The suffering of which I speak is not just emotional turmoil that can disappear if we turn off our televisions and radios. It does not disappear if we cut off communicating with others. The suffering is real because of sin. The suffering is real because we think that we are in control. The control we seek may not be an office like a councilman or councilwoman, it may not be that of a mayor, or of a representative in our democratic republic, but nonetheless we all seek control. And by we, I do not mean the collective. I mean you – individually. And I mean me.

The control you seek, and the control I seek, is because of sin. It is the control of our lives instead of yielding ourselves to God.

And thus, Jesus suffered. In the truest sense, Jesus suffered because of a political situation. But in the fullest of measures, Jesus suffered because of our sin. And He did not just suffer, He suffered greatly. Why? Because we do not want someone else over us – we want control. Thus, as Matthew wrote in Matthew 27.18, “For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him (Jesus) up.”

This series is about the constancy of God in the midst of the cultural changes around us. As such, we are focusing on the timeless truths of the Bible, with specific attention being given to certain doctrines of authentic faith as packaged in the Apostles’ Creed. But as much as the world has changed, and is changing, one other constant exists besides God – the nature of our sin.

And so, for the purpose of covering our sin, not His, Jesus suffered and died. As Matthew 27.26 says, “Then he (Pilate) release for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified.”

Why does the suffering of Jesus matter? Why did this phrase need to be included in the Creed? Let’s take a closer look.

When We Are Lord Over Others, Jesus Is Not Lord Over Us

I need to clarify this statement. Leadership is important. People need leaders, and many great leaders exist. And leaders will ask us to do things that may seem beyond us. Leaders may push us to do things that are uncomfortable. In fact, I would argue that a good leader must do this, at least occasionally. Certainly, Jesus did that. And Jesus still does that.

BUT, in Mark 10, Jesus says that some leaders “lord it over them” (v. 42). That is, some leaders simply want the power. They have selfish motives. And if a leader is only desiring power, then that leader is probably not willing to submit to Jesus.

On the other hand, a humble leader, or a servant leader, still leads. These leaders may still require a great deal of their followers, but they do so in a way that respects, and even lifts up, others.

In Matthew 27, we find that Jesus has been betrayed and has been handed over to the governor of the area. Verse 3 then tells us that one person who has misinterpreted the power of Jesus now ends his life. That is, Judas kills himself because he wanted power. He wanted authority. He wanted to end the Roman rule and wanted to have an important part of reigning with the new leader – the Supreme Leader, Jesus.

But that was not Jesus’ aim – at least, not during His first coming.

Then, the story turns to an encounter with Jesus standing before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27.11). Jesus does not give an explicit answer. Meanwhile, the religious leaders – who thought more highly of themselves than they should have thought, accused Jesus of various crimes (we see a similar process before the high priest in Matthew 26.57-68).

Again, Jesus gives no answer. The governor, Pilate, is amazed.

A few verses later, Matthew provides a unique detail. Pilate’s wife sends him a message as he is about to release a prisoner. The message is essentially to make sure Jesus goes free.  But Pilate does not really care. He goes through the motions of a tradition (the prisoner release), but if he really wanted to do so, he could have simply released Jesus. Yes, it would have caused him trouble with Rome, but doing things for Jesus is not always meant to be easy – in fact, it is rarely easy.

Pilate was more concerned about maintaining order. He was more concerned with staying in control. But Pilate also did not want the responsibility (“he took water and washed his hands”Matthew 27.24). The religious leaders wanted control. And let’s be honest, most of the time, we are the same way. The problem is that when we focus on ourselves, we may maintain a level of authority, but we must ask ourselves: Are we doing this for our benefit so we can be lord over others, or for the sake of others because He IS Lord?

Jesus Suffered Under Pilate, So His Blood Would Cover Us

Read Matthew 27.27-31: 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

The Roman army was known for their efficiency. They would march nearly 18.5 miles per day carrying all of their equipment which included supplies and tools for building their siege towers. The Romans were also brutal and particularly so when they retaliated against others.

But it was more than mere brutality – for many empires of the past have been horrific in their brutality. But Romans turned their brutality into sport (such as in the Coliseum) and games.

 

The point of their games was not only to torture the prisoner, but to humiliate them as well. Thus, the king should have a crown (of thorns in the case of Jesus). The king should have a beautiful robe, so Jesus was given a robe – which when pulled off would have pulled at the scabs from His wounds.

The game in this picture was similar to a board game we have today. Only, instead of moving a piece around the board and drawing a card, the place you landed told you what you got to do to the prisoner and perhaps what you were to use in doing it. In Matthew 27, we see a few things they did (crown with thorns, strike him with a reed, etc.). But it is the word scourged (v. 26) that is the most troubling. This word reveals the action of the beating with the whip with multiple strands that had the bone and metal embedded.

If you have seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, it is this scene that is the most difficult for people to watch. He truly suffered. But the truth is – the movie cannot fully represent what happened to Jesus. I know I have told this before, but the story is worth repeating. During the filming of this scene, Jim Caviezal, the actor who portrayed Jesus, was actually hit with the whip a couple of times. Most of the lashes hit a post which was behind him, but a couple of blows did land directly – and it hurt! And yet, we can assume the director yelled, “Cut,” and the action stopped. For Jesus it did not stop. The suffering would only intensify. And He went through it for us.

The people who cried out for Jesus to be crucified made a strange statement on that day. As Pilate sought to distance himself from the situation, the Jews cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27.25).

Ironically, Jesus’ suffering under Pilate was done in preparation of the greater punishment of the crucifixion, by which the blood of Jesus was poured out to cover us. But sadly, if we treat His suffering, His death, and His blood with disdain as the people in this chapter of the Bible do, our sin is not covered. His blood is meant to cover us, but it only does so if we believe.

Jesus Was Willing to Suffer For Our Sake. Are We Willing to Sacrifice Our Desires For His?

The story of Jesus’ suffering includes others. It includes the suffering of Pilate’s wife, as I mentioned above, but it also includes Barabbas. Barabbas was an insurrectionist and was in jail awaiting a likely execution, but Pilate honored a tradition to release one prisoner – leaving the choice to the people. Did they want Barabbas? Or did they want Jesus?

When Pilate sent for Barabbas, we can only guess what he was thinking. But my guess is that he was probably thinking it was time for his death. But that was not the case because Jesus was there to take the suffering of Barabbas too.

Jesus experienced suffering on many levels that day. He was tortured physically. He was bearing the burden of our sins spiritually. And Jesus suffered emotionally having been betrayed and abandoned in the Garden.

But Jesus came knowing He would suffer and die. And He invites us to do the same. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (1)

The following is a selection of verses that capture this idea well.

Romans 12.1: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Galatians 2.20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Philippians 3.8-11: 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

2 Timothy 3.12: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,…

Or in the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 9.23-24: 24 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

But notice that Jesus said that such suffering will bring God’s blessing.

Matthew 5.10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We are not to seek the suffering, but we are to be prepared for it. Again, Paul says, if we are living for Jesus, we will be persecuted! And Jesus said, we will be blessed because of it.

Jesus suffered. We must be ready to suffer as well. But if we do, we are to do so for standing for the truth – a truth that is represented by the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,…

CONCLUSION

We talk about suffering through another election season. And maybe it is a form of suffering. But Jesus suffered. He suffered because of a political system. But He suffered because of sin.

Many walk away from faith because God allows suffering. But God does not simply allow us to go through it…He willingly endured it Himself. That is love. And because of that love, He has made a way for us as well, but that way will include suffering. But remember, no politician, no friends, no coworker, or anyone else can truly hurt you. They may hurt the body, but Jesus said, we are not to fear those who can kill the body because they cannot kill the soul (see Matthew 10.28).

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is once again JJESUS.

We have heard what Jesus did. And we have heard that we are called to do the same. But one key is what makes it possible. The key to understanding suffering relates to the timeframe. We may suffer in the short term, but something better awaits (c.f. 2 Corinthians 4.16-18). Yes, Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, but we must remember what Jesus told Pilate first, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18.36).

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE.  Last week, I said our step was to LEARN. As we take time to LEARN that God truly has a plan, we can confidence in He is still working at the right time, in the right way, using the right person, for the right reason. And that is true, even when the result is suffering – as long as the suffering is for His sake.

(1) – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99.

“Born of Woman, Conceived of God” by Pastor Andy Braams

Memories are important to us as people. It is one of the main reasons that we travel. But as much as our personal memories mean to us, sometimes we remember things about others that are more meaningful.

I have mentioned my trips to Kenya many times. And I have great memories of things that I have seen, people I have met, and experiences I have had. One of my favorite sites is this mountain – named Sapache (in Samburu), which means, “the big something.” One memory I have of a trip to Kenya was something I was nowhere near, but it involved this mountain. The memory is of Roger sharing his Bible story and an elder thanking Roger for sharing about the truth of the God of the mountain. The elder of the village said, “We have worshipped the God of this mountain, but now we know who He is.”

We all do that in some ways. We all care deeply about something or perhaps even someone, whom we really do not know well. We celebrate without knowing why. For instance, tonight, people around the country will either be overjoyed or bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the game. But why? Most of the people have never met any of the players, and if they have met them, they do not know them personally – as in, they have never had them over for a meal.

The reason is that we must worship. We all worship someone or something. And tonight, that worship will be about a group of men playing a game on a field. And I will be one of the individuals who will be watching intently – not because I have to do it, but because I want to watch.

And God knows we will worship, and thus, He had a plan to allow us to focus our worship on Him – a plan that the Bible declares was revealed at just the right time, in just the right way, using just the right person, for just the right reason.

Thus, in a world that is changing faster than we can even consider possible, we can know that God is a constant. We can know that His Word stands true not just in a certain time, but for all time.

Galatians 4.4-5 captures the essence of this truth perfectly. “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

So, God had a plan for Creation. He had a plan for the birth of Jesus. And thus, we can rest assured that He is still carrying out His plan today.

The text for this week is “who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” At Christmas we focus on Mary’s role, and I will mention her, but the focus for this post is God’s role – not just in the birth of Jesus, but in the entire process which we first see in Genesis 3.15, but the plans were actually in place before that!

Of course, we call the beginning of a pregnancy the conception of the child. Thus, when we hear conceived of the Holy Spirit we think of the Spirit’s role in Mary getting pregnant. And that is absolutely true. And it must be true as we will see in just a few moments. But before the Holy Spirit helped to conceive a child, He was part of conceiving a plan. And that is where I want to begin as we break down this text in Galatians 4.

God Conceived Just the Right Time

You may remember the quote from AW Tozer I shared a few weeks ago – what we believe about God is the most important thing about us. If you believe that God had the timing of Jesus’ birth measured, then you should have no concerns about our world today. On the other hand, if you think that Jesus was born at a random time in a random place, well, then be very concerned because that means that God has no authority over anything.

Now, I am going to use a few verses to show the truth of this point, but I am going to introduce you to a little bit of deeper theology today. First, we see in Genesis 3.15 the first specific mention of one who will come to oppose Satan. God is talking to the serpent after the initial sin of Adam and Eve, and says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The word offspring can also be translated as seed. The point here is that someone one day would come from Eve and that person would ultimately defeat Satan. But for God to say this, He had to already know. This is where the theology comes into play.

Theology has a term called lapsarian. The term relates to the Fall of Man. The issue is when did God know that man would sin? A few theories abound as to the timing of the Fall and each of the theories has slightly different prefixes such as supra- and infra- (i.e. supralapsarian or infralapsarian). These theories help distinguish what God knew about the Fall of Man and how and when He developed a plan based upon that knowledge. If you want to dig deeper into this, by all means do, I just want you to know that a lot of people spend a lot of time researching and debating the finer points of this particular doctrine.

What we need to know is that God had a plan (however and whenever it was developed), and that He carried out that plan. But verses such as Ephesians 1.4 says that a decision was made before the foundation of the world (and verses like this are why the debate occurs). Nonetheless, God’s plan was carried out – at just the right time.

Why was Jesus born when He was? Let me briefly provide a few thoughts.

      • The language was right. The Greek language was known in much of the western world which made it easy for people to share the message of the good news of Jesus.
      • The Peace of Rome (Pax Romana). The Romans had conquered much of the western world which made travel easier and much safer than it had ever been. In fact, the Romans built five superhighways that led from Rome to the furthermost parts of their empire (“all roads lead to Rome”).
      • The religious timing was right. Judaism had been saved by the Pharisees in the 2nd Century B.C, but the people knew this religion could not save them. And while Rome had brought peace in their own way, that did not mean that people were not oppressed. Thus, the expectations for the messiah to come were high.

So, God had a plan. And He executed that plan at just the right time.

God Conceived Just the Right Way

God sent forth His Son. He did not choose a man to be the Messiah. He sent His Son as the Messiah. Granted, Jesus was fully man, but He was also fully God. Mathematically, this is difficult to understand, but conceptually it has to be that way. If Jesus was the offspring of Joseph and Mary, then Jesus would be fully man (like you and me), but He would not be fully God. He would only be made in His image (again, like you and me, Genesis 1.27).

But if God just sent His Son without being born like children are, then Jesus would not be man. He would only be God. But as it is, God’s plan was not only conceived in theory by Him, but the manifestation of the plan included the conception of a child completed by God in conjunction with the normal human reproductive process. That is simply a fascinating concept. It simply does not make sense that someone could be born of a virgin, but God not only foretold it (Isaiah 7.14), He did it! No other way could work as I will prove in just a moment. But first, we move to the next point.

God Conceived Just the Right Person

In this case, I mean Mary. Of course, Jesus, the Son of God was just the right Person in the truest sense of this expression. However, it took a special person to make the birth possible. First, the person had to be female because children are delivered from females. So, approximately 50% of the population is removed from consideration. Second, the person had to be a virgin. So, another large percentage would be removed. Third, the person had to be of a particular lineage (per God’s promise to David – 2 Samuel 7.14) which was fulfilled by Mary being the descendant of David’s son, Nathan (Luke 3.31). But this woman would also have to be married to someone whose ancestor included David (as Joseph’s was through Solomon, Matthew 1.6). Now, we have really narrowed down the possibilities. But this special person would also have to be humble (because of her responsibility, Luke 2.47), strong (because of the ridicule she would face (Matthew 1.19, Mark 6.3), and full of faith (Luke 2.46-47). The possibilities for this person has become very narrow now. Furthermore, this person would have to be alive at the just the right time according to the plans of God. So, do you think Mary’s birth was random? I don’t.

All of these factors had to be true. Perhaps, several people were possibilities. But likely only a few could have met all of those factors. But God knew just the right one and He found favor with her (Luke 2.28,30).

God Conceived Just the Right Reason

Some might argue that God did not conceive the reason; rather, He provided for the reason. That argument would fit with the theological argument (re: lapsarianism) I mentioned above. Regardless, God made a way. And that way was made by His mercy because He know we could not keep the law.

The end of verse 4 says that Jesus was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. That is, Jesus was not born immune from sin. Because He was the offspring of Mary, He is human. And as human, He was obliged to keep the law or be condemned like everyone else who has ever been born because we cannot keep the law. But again, God sent His Son. He did not choose someone to be His Son. The Son was known and was sent. The Son perfectly kept the law and, therefore, those who receive Him are redeemed and receive the greatest of all gifts – being adopted by God as His child.

What is amazing about this passage that is lost to us in this day is that it is within a larger passage about Jews and Gentiles. Jesus was born as a Jew, but He was not sent only for the Jews. He was sent for all mankind – because all of us are obligated to the law. Paul further captures this idea in verse 6 when He wrote that God’s children can cry out, “Abba, Father.” The translation would be so much better if it said, “Abba, Pater.” Paul’s point is that the Jews cry out Father, and the Gentiles say, “Pater” (Greek for father), but the word itself does not matter – what matters is that God is the Father of both because of what His Son has done.

With that truth, let us recite the first few parts of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…

CONCLUSION

So, God conceived a plan. And a part of that plan, according to Luke 1.35, was for the Holy Spirit to conceive a child who was born to a woman. And the birth of Jesus was at just the right time, in just the right way, to just the right person, for just the right reason. So, with the evidence established, let me make a very bold claim.

Bold Claim:  You cannot believe that Jesus is truly Savior if you do not believe He was born of both God and of a virgin. If Jesus is only man, then He does not have the power to save. But if He was only God, then He has not been tempted in every way, and could not have truly died for our sins.

You may argue the timing of Jesus birth, although the Bible would say you are wrong. You may argue that Mary could not have been a virgin, but if so, everything else must be a lie as well. You may even argue that you do not need a savior. But God knows differently and so He has offered one to you – it is simply up to you to receive the gift He has offered.

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

God did not just conceive a way. He conceived the way. And that way is Jesus because Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN.  The LEARN this week is about trust. Change is all around us, but Galatians 4 shows us that God is in control. Take your bulletin and read through these points again and again. Read the passage I gave you. Go back and read from Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, and John 1 and see how God orchestrated everything as He said. Take this week to learn to trust, so that in the coming weeks you are ready to do even more.

“Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord” by Pastor Andy

Just over one week ago, the Supreme Court in Brazil ruled favorably for a movie that portrays Jesus a gay character. (1)

A lower court had called for a suspension of the film while the legal process took place, but despite the heavy Christian, albeit largely Catholic population, the courts allowed the show to air. (As of the 2010 Census, approximately 88% of the country is considered Christian, with approximately 2/3 of the country being Catholic.) (2)

Frankly, I hope you are offended by the fact anyone would portray Jesus as homosexual. But the problem is that you and I are just as guilty – only in a different way. See, the challenge with the people who created the movie is that they do not have the belief that Jesus is Lord. Well, frankly, you and I have to ask ourselves, “How often do we not allow Jesus to be Lord?”

I am not questioning belief. I am questioning obedience. That was the issue in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve, who certainly believed in God, did not follow His command. And the same is true for us. We may call Jesus, “Lord” but do we always, and fully, treat Him as Lord?

The problem is truly one of humility. In the passage today, we see that Jesus was truly obedient because He was humble. Read Philippians 2.7-8.

As we talk about the need for a constant in the midst of change, we have to realize that Jesus Christ, of whom the Bible says, is the same yesterday, today, and, forever (Hebrews 13.8) actually underwent a change from being in the heavenly realms as the Son of God to the earthy realms as the Son of Man.

Why did Jesus undergo this change? Because He was humble. And thus, God exalted Him (Philippians 2.9), gave Jesus all authority (Matthew 28.18) and made Him Lord over all (Philippians 2.11).

So, the question for all of us is:  Do I make Jesus Lord? How can I know?

Philippians 2 is a great passage on unity, service, and humility. The most well-known portion of the chapter is verses 5-11 which was possibly a hymn of the early church. The chapter begins with Paul’s appeal for the church at Philippi to bring him joy (a major theme in the book) by being united in mind and caring for one another. Verse 4 says to consider others as we consider ourselves. Then, Paul shows an example of that by sharing what Jesus did. Read Philippians 2.5-11.

Later in the chapter, he shows similar characteristics in Timothy and Epaphroditus, and then in Chapter 3, he shares his own testimony of humility.

But what can we find to be true about our need for humility? Before I answer that question, let us see the humility of Christ from this passage. To do that, let me share five statements from Paul about Jesus and humility and then what that humility brought.

      • Jesus was in the form of God, but was humble. (v. 6)
      • Jesus was equal with God, but was humble. (v. 6)
      • Jesus became a servant to God because He was humble. (v. 7)
      • Jesus became a servant for man because He was humble. (v. 7-8)
      • Jesus was killed by mankind, for mankind, because He was humble. (v. 8)

Notice what these ideas say about Jesus.

    1. Jesus looked not only to His own interest, but also to the interest of others.

That statement is exactly what Paul wrote in the verse before this section (v. 4).

Jesus did not negate who He was. He did not forget His role and His importance. Indeed, in John 10.30, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” While Jesus was in human form, He did limit Himself in certain ways, but He was still fully God, and He knew that! So, humility is not to forgo who you are. Being humble is not about rolling over and letting others take advantage of you. But humility does require looking out for others even as you look out for yourself. Jesus was obviously perfect, but one thing Jesus did better than anyone else could do is give Himself to others. But that does not mean that He did not care for Himself. In fact, the reason He did give of Himself was because He did take of Himself.

    1. Jesus made Himself nothing for the purposes of God.

I do not believe I would use the word, “nothing,” on my own authority. But I am simply quoting Scripture. Verse 7 says that, “He made Himself nothing.” Now, we must understand that Jesus did not cease to exist, but the Son came to live as earth giving up being worshipped by angels to likely getting splinters in His hand as a carpenter. Perhaps the best reference we have for this in modern times is the show Undercover Boss. In that show, the CEO or executive would go work with the “grunts” to gain a different perspective on their company. That’s what Jesus did in a sense. He came to live with us, to teach us, to show us how to live, and ultimately to die for us. And compared to living outside of time and beyond our world, He became nothing to enter into the world and allow us to know Him, and ultimately to know the Father (John 14.6).

So, what happened? Well, let me add a few more points to Paul’s list from this passage.

      • Jesus was exalted because He was humble before God. (v. 9)
      • Jesus was given a name that is above all other names. (v. 9)
      • Jesus will be honored by everyone as they bow the knee one day. (v. 10)
      • Jesus will hear everyone honor Him as Lord one day. (v. 11)

Jesus was humbled, but He will be honored. He has already been honored by the Father. But one day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Even the people who cast Jesus as a homosexual in the show will one day bow and declare Him Lord.

Jesus was humble for a little while, but He will be exalted forever. But here is the shocking part. The same can be true for you. No, you will not have everyone call you Lord, but you get another benefit that you might think is only reserved for Jesus.

If you are humble for a little while, God will exalt you. GOD WILL exalt you. That is His promise in 1 Peter 5.6, which says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”

Paul wrote that Jesus was exalted because He was humble before God (Philippians 2.9). And Peter writes that the same can be true for us because of what Jesus has now accomplished. (1 Peter 5.6). But it begins with us being humble.

It takes humility to yield our desires and to follow someone else. It takes humility to call someone else Lord. But that is who Jesus is. Nonetheless, we must humble ourselves to call Him that – not just to say the word, but to truly call Him Lord.

But too often, we act like we do not need a lord, let alone the Lord. Peter wrote that we should cast all of our anxieties on Jesus. Why? Because He cares for you. Yes, you. But too often, we try to manage our own anxieties and problems. Now, please understand that God gave us a brain and some of us he made as people who schedule and try to maintain a great deal of organization. But sometimes those areas are what brings anxiety.

Regardless, God cares for us. He will remove our anxiety. Isaiah 26.3 says that God will keep you in perfect peace if we stay focused on God because it shows we trust Him (paraphrased).

Change and anxiety, then perfect peace. That was likely the case for Noah as well. <A video was shown here.>

CONCLUSION

So, do you need a Lord? Or do you just call Him Lord? Are you like Adam and Eve – knowing God, and what He has said, but you like to do things your way? Well, I know that far too often, I make the wrong choice. I choose pride over humility and think of myself as lord rather than remaining humble and yielding to my true Lord. Again, we may think of some of what we do as less grievous to God than, say, showing Jesus to be homosexual, but sin is sin.

Allowing Jesus to be Lord is not just a one-time decision. As Rick preached last month, it is a daily decision to die, to take up our cross, to follow Him, and to call Him Lord once again. John the Baptist captured the very essence of that daily responsibility to choose humility towards Jesus, when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3.30).

So, how do you know if you make Jesus Lord? Are you decreasing or increasing? Are you being drawn to Jesus and His desires or to fulfill your own mind and heart? Do you find yourself seeking Jesus in both good times and bad or do you turn to Jesus only when you are at, or near, the end of your rope?

Jesus came because God sent Him. Without God we do not have Jesus. Without Jesus, we cannot find God. So, let us quote the first two lines of the Apostle’s Creed.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

Acts 4.12 clearly states “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus is that name. And we must be humble enough to believe that name is not <insert your name here> or anyone else but Him. Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12.3). So, let us humble ourselves to not only say it, but to mean it.

NEXT STEPS

LIVE     Observance of the Lord’s Supper

(1) https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/10/americas/brazil-supreme-court-jesus-gay-comedy/index.html , accessed January 17, 2019.

(2) https://censo2010.ibge.gov.br/noticias-censo?id=3&idnoticia=2170&view=noticia; see Wikipedia for English details, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Brazil#cite_note-census2010-1) , accessed January 17, 2019.

“God – Father Almighty and Maker of Heaven and Earth” by Pastor Andy

We have experienced some weather over the past couple of days. I know some have changed their plans due to the weather. Winter weather can bring chaos. But chaos can come in all kinds of weather. <A video was shown here.>

Chaos. Our world can change in a minute.

We may not be able to relate to a tsunami, but we have seen the damage that water can do. Twice in eight years our region has been massively flooded. And whether we watch a video like the one I just shared, see the floodwaters around us, or we watch the ice and sleet make travel challenging, we are reminded that we are not in control.

The truth is that we never have been in control, but because of sin, we think we are more than we really are.

But four words provide a reminder that we are not the ones in control. These four words are the first four words of the Bible – “In the beginning, God…”

Thus, God is the only certainty. He is our constant. He is THE constant in a world that is constantly changing.

The problem is that, too often, we do not allow our faith in God to reflect our choices and our actions. We try to take ownership where it is not ours, because God is our maker. But more than that, God is our Father. He not only created the earth. He not only made us. He loves us.

But the question for us today is should we love God? And before we say, “Yes,” too quickly, we have to know who the real God is.

If I spent the rest of my life studying and teaching about God, I would just begin to scratch the surface of who God is. So, in the short span of time of a sermon, I cannot even begin to reveal the fullness of God.

Nonetheless, in today’s world, it is not enough to say that we believe in God. We must clarify which deity it is we say we believe. The Apostle’s Creed captures this idea – the apostles did not just believe in a god, they believe in the God whom Jesus called Father – the One who is truly Almighty. And the One who made the heavens and the earth.

The Bible tells us that it is the fool who says there is no God (Ps 14.1). Most people are not foolish in this sense, so they believe in a god. But do they believe in the God? Most believe in a god that may have created the world and wants us to feel good, but one that is not personal.

Some will describe their god as ordinary.

But the God of the apostles was anything but ordinary and thus we have the word Almighty.

“What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” – (1) (A.W. Tozer)

Do you believe in God? If yes, what do you believe about God? Do you believe in the God of the Bible or in a god you have created? The Apostles’ Creed provides the substance to what we believe. This creed was not written by the apostles’ but summarizes the faith Christ gave to them.

The truth is that we all believe in something. Each of us may believe in many things, but when it comes to matters of faith, when we come together to say “I believe,” in unison, we are proclaiming what we believe as a church.

But just because we say something in unison does not mean what we say is right. And that is where we look to the foundations of our belief. What we are stating in unison in this series is the Apostles’ Creed, but the foundation of this creed is not found in the apostles themselves; rather, the foundation is from the Word of God.

And because the foundation is the Word of God, we are able to continue to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Furthermore, lest we get tired of hearing something that should be well ingrained into our lives, let us remember that Peter wrote that he needed to stir up his readers by reminding them what had previously been taught (2 Peter 1.12-13).

So, it is right to focus on what should be believed about God. Of all the words that could be used to describe God, this creed chose three. It is those three words we will quickly review today. The words are Father, Almighty, and Maker.

God as Father

Of course, Jesus called God, “Father.” But this title did not come from Jesus alone. In Psalm 68.5, David wrote that God is the “Father of the fatherless and the protector of widows.” In Hosea 11.1-4, the imagery is one of a father caring for a child (in this case, Israel). Other references could be shared as well.

Many may argue that the term Father makes God a male. But the Bible never says that God is a male. In fact, John 4.24 says that God is spirit. God has no gender. Now, I understand that our limited minds equate the idea of father with being male and mothers with being female. That was God’s design, and that is what our human minds can comprehend. And despite what the culture around us may wish to change, God designed males and females the way He designed them for the purposes He gave. But calling God, “Father” is not promoting a gender. God is beyond gender. So, it is not sexist to believe in God as a Father, it is sexist to believe that He is not. This is what I mean by ensuring we are worshipping God for who He is, not who we think He should be.

Now, in a very real sense, God fulfilled the role of a human father through the Spirit in impregnating Mary. But calling God Father is meant to show that He is a personal God. Yes, in our fallen world, many fathers are not present or are abusive, and, therefore, many people have a hard time thinking of God as a father, let alone THE FATHER, because of that. However, the Bible provides evidence of what a true Father should be. And just because humans do not (and cannot fully) live up to the ideals in Scripture does not mean we should discount God as Father because of our personal experiences. Again, as Tozer said, what we think about God is the most important thing about us.

But, God is not just described as a Father, He is called Almighty.

God as Almighty

Of course, almighty is a combination of the words “all” and “mighty.” We can share some nice theological words to describe almighty. Three such words are:

      • Omniscient (all knowing)
      • Omnipresent (all present)
      • Omnipotent (all powerful).

We see God as Almighty in Genesis 1 where He simply speaks the cosmos into existence. And God reveals this truth to Moses when He says, “I Am that I Am” (Exodus 3.14). What God is saying is that I do not need anyone or anything for My own purposes. I AM. And, God always has been and always will be. God can exist with nothing else, but nothing else can exist without God.

And that brings us to the third point.

God as Maker

How did you get here? How did this world get here? Is everything just an accident or does life have meaning?

Many people will say this life does not have meaning. Others will say that this life is all that there is. If that is true and we have no ultimate purpose, then:

      • Why do we go to school when we are young and work when we are older?
      • Why do we eat? Why do we sleep? Why do we get up in the morning?
      • Why do we worry?
      • Why do we plan?
      • Why do we do anything? If we have no purpose, then nothing matters, so why do anything?

But, if life has a meaning…if life has a purpose, what is it? That purpose is to bring God glory. We are to glorify God (1 Cor 10.31) and help others do the same (Matthew 5.16).

We do that as part of His creation. Let me combine the last point of God as Almighty with this point, God as maker (and specifically as maker of heaven and earth).

How did God make? By saying. He simply spoke Creation into existence. He used words and specifically, as John 1.1-3 tells us, He used the Word. Notice in Genesis 1, the text says, God said (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). So, God is the Author, but Jesus, the Word, is the agent.

But then we can see God as Father. God made the heavens, the earth, the light, the dark, the sun, the moon, the plants, the animals, and everything but one thing by saying. But when it came time to create something in His own image, He did not say, He did. God formed man from the dust and breathed life into him (Genesis 2.7).

But then God did something else. First, He spoke everything into existence. Then he formed the man. But for man’s companion, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and then God did again (he made woman, see Gen 2.18, 21-22).

<A video was shown here about the changes that took place in the lives of Adam, then Adam and Eve.>

God is a maker. He made heaven and He made earth. And He made us too. The question is do we believe that? The apostles did. And we should. So, let us say together the first line from the Apostles’ Creed together – not because they are words, but because we choose to believe them as truth.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…

CONCLUSION

Is God real or make-believe?

You may get different answers depending upon whom you ask, but if we are to believe anything about the Bible, then we need to first believe that God is real.

But believing in God is not enough. We need to believe the right things about God. Again, no one (NO ONE) except Jesus can truly claim to know all the right things about God. But that does not excuse us from seeking to know Him.

Our new vision is to know Christ and to make Him known. But we cannot truly know Christ unless we know what that word means (next week) and why Jesus is the Christ. And that knowledge begins with the fact that our God is personal like a Father. He has purpose (to bring glory to Himself through Creation as the Maker), and He has the ability and authority to fulfill that purpose (He is Almighty).

JOURNEY:  Our JOURNEY letter this week is RREVERE. God has given us plenty of opportunity to know about Him as we read the Bible. But more than that, God has given us the opportunity to truly know Him because of Jesus (John 14.6) So, we must take time to learn about Him, but if we take time to truly live, we will truly begin to know Him. And once we know Him, we will love Him, and that will make us want to worship (Revere) Him, and then lead others to do the same.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE – Take time to share your love of God with Him this week. To love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength requires us to worship and serve Him. And to worship and serve correctly, we must do so in love.

(1) A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper One, 1961), 1.

“The Need for a Creed” by Pastor Andy Braams

Last Sunday, for the second time in 25 months, a shooting occurred during a church service in Texas. For many, this thought is unthinkable. One metaphor for the church is a hospital. It is a place to come to be healed from the week, to be healed from the effects of living life in the world, not a place for chaos and for killing.

The very room we are in – the sanctuary – may have different names in different churches. Some will the primary gathering place the worship center or something similar, but historically it is called sanctuary. Sanctuary is not necessarily a place of worship; it is a place of refuge. Historically, it is the last place that someone would shoot someone else. This idea is not just true of more modern times, it has root in the Bible where God designated certain cities a sanctuary cities (or cities of refuge, cf. Deuteronomy 4.41-43). If a person killed someone by accident, they could flee to a city of refuge, and if they reached the city, they were given asylum until the high priest died, at which point, a kind of atonement had been made and the person was free to leave without fear of retribution.

But, today is quite different. The world has changed. We can no longer find refuge. And the world has not only changed, it is still changing. It is changing fast. We just changed to a new year, some will say a new decade. But most of us can still vividly remember the change of the century just 20 years ago.

So much has changed in that 20 years. We have known of terrorism for decades, but now that terror is not only in other countries, it is in our churches, it is in our schools.

We live I a world where love is preached, but the practice is hostility because hatred and confusion are everywhere. We live in a world where values are changing, where principles are forgotten, where truth is ignored.

But the change is gradual and so we do not take notice as much as we could. Of course, media, and specifically television, has made change so much easier. As Rick has mentioned in the past, Ricky and Lucy could not sleep in the same bed together, and when Lucy got pregnant, she was said to be “with child.” Shortly afterward, Rob and Laura Petry were prominent and still slept in different beds, but Laura wore pants sometimes. Yes, she was married and a homemaker, but she did wear pants. On the other hand, Sally was single and working, and always wore a dress. Little changes. But big changes. Not all change is the same, however. Change can actually be divided into two major types – continuous and discontinuous.

Continuous change is what develops from what has already been. We call this a natural progression. The change can be anticipated. It is often managed and is under control. An example could be the modern telephone. The telegraph allowed communication to happen quickly, eventually leading to the ability to communicate by voice, then to do so without wires on a cordless phone, and now we carry our phones with us so we can communicate (often by text, i.e. telegraph) wherever we are.

On the other hand, discontinuous change is disruptive. It is hard to determine what will happen next. Thoughts and assumptions are challenged and the results are consequential, whether for the good or the bad. Again, let us consider the telephone. While much of the change was incremental, when the iPhone was released, things changed considerably. We now have not only a phone but a camera in our pocket. We not only have the ability to talk but to watch videos and play games and listen to music on what was once a device that required not only wires, but knowing that anything you said could be overheard at the switchboard.

So, change is constant. Change will happen. Therefore, we, as people, must change. The question is: How will we transition with the changes around us?

Well, as Christians, we must also change, but we do so with a constant in our lives. One constant exists. And that constant is not merely in the universe, He created the universe. That constant is God.

He is our constant in a world of change.

But we have a problem – we do not believe. At least, we do not believe as we say we believe. A quote that is attributed to DL Moody is, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” While he may not have said it, the words ring true. (1)

Why are the words true? Because we do not believe as we say we truly believe. If we truly believed, you would have no worries. If you truly believed, you would have no doubts. If we truly believed, we may not be sitting here right now, or more people might be sitting here.

But the problem is not that we don’t believe. The problem is that we don’t believe enough. Or more specifically, we believe much like the father in Mark 9.24. Read Mark 9.23-24.

The father knew he needed to believe. But he knew his belief was not strong enough. Perhaps he did not believe correctly. This series is to help us not only believe correctly, but also to put our belief into practice.

Mark 9.23 tells us that Jesus said belief makes all things possible.

If belief makes all things possible, then why do we face the challenges we do?

Well, faith requires action and our actions are based upon what we truly believe.

Why Do We Need A Creed?

So, what do we believe? Well, a true Christian will believe the ideas presented in the Apostles’ Creed.  As Albert Mohler says, “All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less.” (2)

A CREED ALLOWS US TO HOLD ONTO SOMETHING

As humans, we can be overly sentimental and hold onto items that are otherwise worthless. We have items from when our kids were in elementary school, and clothes from when they were young. Susan and I have our letter jackets. All of these items are worthless to most people, but they have a sentimental value to us.

But in the midst of all of the changes around us, most people look for some sort of stability – something unchanging, something in which to believe. A creed can provide that. Certainly, creeds can be abandoned (or even altered), but a creed that is built on the Bible, and a creed that has stood for centuries, can provide what many people desire.

A CREED ALLOWS US TO HOLD ONTO SOMETHING

It is one thing to have a belief; it is another to share it with others. When many people hold the same belief as you, a bond can form. This bond may not make sense at all. You may recall the championship parade in KC after the Royals won the World Series in 2015 (yes, that really did happen!), people (as many as 800k) who did not know one another were squeezed together for hours by one bond. The bond was simple. In the grand scheme of history, the bond meant nothing. And I doubt most of the people talked to one another again after that day. But for one day, a shared belief created a tight bond.

So, consider the impact of a belief that does have meaning, or, at least, should have meaning. We know people down the road, across the town, in another city, and around the world that share the same basic beliefs. And we have examples of people throughout history who have shared these same beliefs. That provides comfort. It should provide assurance – if, what we believe is true. The truth of the creed will wait for another message – for now, we must understand that a creed allows for common perspective.

Now, the fact is that a creed can be mis-guided. But that does not make creeds wrong. For instance, non-believers will say that the Apostles’ Creed is wrong. But having a creed can help prevent erroneous belief. For instance, Fairfax Baptist Church requires members to be baptized. That requirement may not be an official creed, but it is similar.

Traditionally, Baptists have not endorsed creeds. But we have always endorsed confessions. The Baptist Faith and Message is a confession of our beliefs. The first Baptist confession was developed by one of the first two Baptists, Thomas Helwys, in 1611, the same year the King James Bible was first published. (BTW, Helwys thought King James was the antichrist. After making that claim, he was jailed and never heard from again). Another important confession was the 2nd London Confession (1789). The Baptist Faith and Message was first adopted in 1925 (largely to refute evolution and an anti-supernatural movement), revised in 1963 (to uphold the divine inspiration and credibility of the Bible) and then in 1998/2000 to reflect changes related to the sexual revolution.

Biblical creeds, themselves, go back centuries. Beyond the Apostles’ Creed, which likely developed in the 2nd or 3rd century, the next oldest, and well-known, creed is Nicene Creed from the 4th Century. Early creeds, like confessional statements today, were to help prevent heresy from entering the church. The early church had to determine how to understand if Jesus was separate from the Father or the same as God, the Father. Later, a similar argument was made about the Holy Spirit. These councils and the subsequent confessions (creeds) helped to define orthodoxy in the church for the last 1700 years.

So, creeds have a place. And that is why, in the midst of all of the chaos and change around us, we are doing this series – to remember the constant in the midst of the changes around us. I know I have not spoken about Mark 9 yet, but I will do so quickly in just a moment. Before I do, I want to bring your attention the Apostles’ Creed itself. I want us to take time to memorize it over these coming months. Today, we will simply recite it, but in the coming weeks, as we examine each phrase, we will work to memorize it.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

Born of the virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,

Whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

The holy catholic Church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And life everlasting.

Amen.

Again, as Mohler said, a Christian should believe more than that, but not less. But beyond simply believing, we must understand that belief alone is not enough. Let us briefly consider the story in Mark 9.

First, we must understand the overall context of Mark 9. The story here falls directly in between the disciples starting to believe in Mark 8 and the faith exhibited by Bartimaeus at the end of Mark 10. Specifically, we can look at Mark 8.27-31 where Peter makes The Great Confession about Jesus as the Christ, and then the next verses where Peter rebukes Jesus for what He says.

This example shows Peter believed, but not really. Then, in Mark 9, we have Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus where they see something unbelievable. They believe what happened, but cannot fully process it. When they come down the mountain, the complaint is made by this father that the he brought his son to be healed but the disciples at the foot of the mountain could not do it. Thus, Jesus does it, eventually.

Then, Jesus makes another statement about his death AND resurrection and the disciples, who have faith, argue about which of them is greater. Hello! Jesus just said that He would rise from the dead and you are worrying about how great you are!

But finally, if we jump to the end of Chapter 10, we see someone who is blind who not only has faith, but exhibits that faith in what he says (crying out Son of David) and does (leaving his cloak, which likely had money in it) to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where with his new eyesight, he might have watched him die just a few days later. But then, three days after that, if he was still around, and I presume he probably was because he recognized Jesus as the Son of David, he got to SEE Jesus alive!

Given that overview of Mark 8-10, let me go back to the father in Mark 9. We cannot dismiss this man as a man of simple faith – oh, if I believe, everything will be fine. No, this man was a man of faith and action, but he knew he needed more.

This man cared for this son since these demonic attacks started in childhood. He would have had to care for the boy physically (the burns), emotionally (perhaps the boy developed a fear of drowning from being thrown into the water). It was the man’s responsibility to earn a living for the family, but this man was there for his son – day in and day out.

So, he heard about a man named Jesus who might be able to heal his son. He travelled to see Jesus. He was not there, but his faith (maybe just hope) said something like, “Well, these men have been around Jesus, so they can probably do it.” But they couldn’t. Yet the man stayed. He waited. He had to wonder how long he would have to wait. He had to be embarrassed by the situation. He had to be more than a little disappointed. Certainly, he was still concerned for his son. But he waited.

And then, when the opportunity presented itself, he seized it. He had a moment with Jesus. And it changed his life. And it changed his son’s life. Why? Because he believed, and yet he acknowledged that he needed more faith.

The same is true for probably every one of us today. We may believe, but is our faith complete? Paul would answer no. In 1 Corinthians 13.13, we are told that love will remain, but faith will one day disappear. Why will it disappear, because it will not longer be needed when we reach the other side of eternity. But until then, it needs to develop. We need to grow in our faith and allow our faith to move us into action.

CONCLUSION

And active is what we must be. It is said that a person does what they truly believe. Many people made resolutions to get healthy this year, but they will sit in front of the television instead of exercise. Their actions show they believe the television is more important than their need to be healthy. If we say, we are followers of Jesus, we need to be following – we need to be moving.

In last month’s business meeting we adopted a new vision: To Know Christ and to Make Him Known. A part of me believes that is more of a mission statement, but as I have thought about it, it can be a powerful vision statement. So, this year we begin this sermon series with a focus on knowing Christ better. But the goal isn’t just for our knowledge, it is so that we will be prepared (equipped) to make Him known.

We may believe, but if we truly believe in the God of the Bible, that belief will change how we do everything. That belief may not always change what we do, but it should change how and why we do what we do.

So, as we contemplate all of the changes around us, it is important know that God is real, that Christ’s life and death and resurrection matter. It is important for us to find assurance in our beliefs that are based upon the Bible. That is why we will be reviewing the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed does not replace the Bible, rather, it summarizes the essence of authentic belief, a belief that must be expressed and active by the church Jesus promised to believe.

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter this week is J – Jesus. As we start the year, let us make a point of knowing Him in order that we can make Him known.

NEXT STEP(S)

LEARN – Take time to read through the Apostles’ Creed this week. Begin to memorize it if you wish.

(1) https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-25/world-has-yet-to-see.html

(2)  Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity In An Age Of Counterfeits, Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019, xvi.