The Tenants, 11 April 2021

The Tenants
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 12:1-12

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Jesus—the rejected cornerstone—challenges religion once again while predicting his own death.

I love stories! Do you? There’s nothing like a great story…especially one with surprises. There are few things more exciting than suspense…and few thing more boring than a predictable plot. I think that’s one reason I rarely watch a movie more than once. If I know the ending, there’s no mystery to solve.

The Bible is packed with stories. After all, it’s not a book, but a library…of 66 books! Some parts of the Bible are filled with poetry, others with instructions, and still others with history. Today we’re returning to Mark’s story, gospel, good news, biography of Jesus. Chapter twelve is between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The religious leaders are becoming so envious and agitated with Jesus that they are literally finding a way to kill him. In the previous chapter, Mark tells us

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:18)

The Jews were God’s chosen people, but they were frequently led astray by corrupt kings and self-righteous religious leaders who were more concerned about their own glory than God’s. Jesus repeatedly confronted them, leading to their hostility. Spoiler alert: they succeed in killing the Messiah. But…

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law knew the scriptures we call the Old Testament. You could call it the Jewish Bible. Many memorized long sections and even entire books. They were so passionate about the rules they often missed the purpose behind the rules…a deeper relationship with God.

Jesus repeatedly spoke of the law and the prophets in reference to the Hebrew Bible. The five books of Moses—known as the Pentateuch—are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The prophets covered the other books, though some put the psalms or other writings in a third category.
Before we look at Jesus’ words in Mark, I want to examine a passage from the prophet Isaiah. This is a poem…a love song.

Isaiah 5:1 (NLT)    Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.

Isaiah 5:3    Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

Isaiah 5:5    Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
6 I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.

Isaiah 5:7    The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.

In case you missed it, the vineyard owner is God and the vineyard is Israel. The vineyard failed to produce good fruit in the same way the people of Israel abandoned justice and righteousness for oppression and violence. It sounds a bit like our world today, doesn’t it?

It’s likely that this passage had been memorized by some of Jesus’ audience when

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (Mark 12:1)   

I’m sure they were saying to themselves, “We know this story. We know how it ends. We can reenact it right now.”

This was actually a common arrangement. Vineyard owners would rent their land to farmers in return for a share of the harvest.

There’s a lot of talk these days about tenants, people who rent land or property from a landlord. The COVID-19 pandemic led the government to make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants who lost their jobs and were unable to pay their rent.

The relationship between tenant and landlord can often be a little tricky. As I mentioned last month, expectations are crucial in any relationship. This is why we have contracts that spell out the arrangement.

At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. (Mark 12:2)   

There is no surprise here. This was exactly what was supposed to happen.

But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. (Mark 12:3)   

This was not supposed to happen! What kind of tenants would do such a thing?

Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. (Mark 12:4)   

The original Greek word for “struck on the head” is similar to the word for beheaded, which could be a subtle reference to John the Baptist.

He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. (Mark 12:5)   

These tenants are ruthless! They not only pay the crops to the vineyard owner, they violently attack every member of the collection agency!

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ (Mark 12:6)   

Does this seem a little naïve? The owner is going to send his son? His only son? His son whom he loved? In the culture, a family member of a wealthy household would be respected far more than a servant.

If the son shows up, the tenants might assume the owner is dead.

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:7-8)   

These are evil tenants! How dare they reject the son! They surely thought they would lay claim to the property if the owner and His son are dead. In the Jewish culture, squatters could claim the property of a deceased person who had no inheritor.

In this case they not only killed the owner’s only son, they threw him unburied, a terrible offense to Jews.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. (Mark 12:9)   

Is that harsh? Is that fair? In Isaiah, God punished the vineyard or Israel for not producing good fruit. Here, the tenants are clearly to blame. The religious leaders caused Israel’s corruption…and now they will be removed.

10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-11)   

This is another Old Testament quote, this time from Psalm 118:22. Many believe this was sung at the dedication of the second Temple or Jerusalem’s rebuilt walls. It was sung on Palm Sunday in the previous chapter!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Jesus is the son. The stone was a symbol for the Messiah. God sent his son to earth, knowing he would be killed. Jesus is the rejected one. He is the cornerstone. Up until this point, the religious leaders thought the tenants were the evil Romans, but now they realize Jesus is saying they are the tenants, the violent ones in charge of the vineyard (Israel). The tenants in the story are the leaders of Israel.

The surprise in the story is the good guys—or at least the righteous-looking religious leaders—are actually the bad guys. The servants in the story, by the way, are the prophets sent by God. If you know anything about biblical prophets, they were hated and persecuted.

There are three special offices or positions in the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is all three…the greatest prophet, our great high priest, and the King of kings.

Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away. (Mark 12:12)   

The religious leaders would kill Jesus soon. He would die. But he is risen! He is risen indeed!

So What?

I wrestled for a while this past week trying to discern what relevance this story has for us today. Here are a few reflections:

  1. 1. The Old and New Testaments are two parts of the same story. This might not be news to some of you, but Jesus updating Isaiah’s story shows both his knowledge of the ancient account and his masterful use of retelling.

  1. 2. Biblical prophecy gives credibility to the Bible. This is one of many account in which Jesus predicted his own death. This parable became reality on Good Friday. We don’t worship the Bible. We worship Jesus, but the Bible is a reliable tool we have to know and understand God and His plan for humanity. It’s not just a bunch of fairy tales or the result of a dream (or indigestion). It’s a historically accurate, archaeologically-verifiable library of books assembled in multiple languages from multiple continents over hundreds of years…with one overarching metanarrative of God’s love for us and His desire for us to respond in obedience.

  1. 3. God wants a relationship with us. He wants a relationship with you. Does He have one? This is where the religious leaders missed the boat. They tried to be good, moral people but failed to do the only two things God requires: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

  1. 4. In the story, the Jews were God’s chosen people. They were the fruitless vineyard. Today, the Church is understood to be God’s people. God—the vineyard owner—gave the vineyard to the Church. If we are God’s vineyard today, what kind of fruit are we bearing? What kind of fruit are you bearing? If you look at the passages that surround today’s text, you’ll get an idea of what God requires of us.

  1. a. Our place of worship is to be a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17)
  2. b. We are to be a forgiving family (11:25)
  3. c. We are to give to God what belongs to God (12:17)
  4. d. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (12:30)
  5. e. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (12:31)

The fruit we owe the owner—God—is our obedience. We are to be an accepting, prayerful, devoted, forgiving, and loving fellowship built around Jesus, the cornerstone that binds everything together. Otherwise, we may face God’s judgment. Good fruit comes from being connected to vine…Jesus (John 15).

The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22-23)

Jesus was hated and rejected. He was pierced, crushed, and crucified. But he conquered sin and death. He is risen! He is risen indeed! The LORD has done this! It is marvelous! This is the greatest story ever told!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Temple of Doom, 8 March 2020

Temple of Doom
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 7:1-15

Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

Big Idea: God wants our heart, soul, mind, and strength…24/7/365.

Are you superstitious? This Friday is Friday the…13th! That number is superstitious to some. On a recent trip overseas, I was surprised to see a thirteenth-floor button in the elevator!

People are superstitious about many things…black cats, rabbit’s feet, …even religious practices. Have you ever heard of people superstitious about a building, one which would offer absolute protection? It’s in the Bible, and you might be surprised at how you can relate.

My name is Kirk and last Sunday we began a look at the book of Jeremiah…not your friend, the bullfrog, but the prophet from long ago. God told Jeremiah to confront the Jews after they wandered away from God, pursuing things of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I often say context is critical in understand the Bible…or any writing, for that matter. Here’s some additional background leading up to Jeremiah chapter 7:

God made a covenant with the Jews, promising to guide and protect them so long as they followed Him and not the gods of their neighbors. He wanted to be their king, but they insisted on a human king, so Saul became the first king of Israel, followed by David, Solomon, and a host of no-so-good kings who led the people away from God and into idolatry and other evil practices.

Josiah was a good king, concerned about his people. He was a godly king—one of the few—who had a wonderful relationship with God. By the time he had become king, the temple had become a shambles.

King Josiah initiated the cleansing and restoration of the temple and removed the idols. While doing so, the book of the law of God was found and the people began to return to God. Unfortunately, King Josiah was wounded in a battle with Egypt God warned him about and taken to Jerusalem where he died (2 Chron. 35:20-27).

Josiah’s son Jehoahaz was on the throne for three months before being replaced by his brother Eliakim who the Egyptian king named “Jehoiakim.” He reigned for eleven years, leading the people of Judah back into idolatry.

Josiah removed the idols and his son welcomes them back, bringing idolatry into the temple courts, making the LORD one of the many gods the people worshipped.

Although the people realized the error of their ways, they felt unstoppable because they thought nothing bad could happen so long as they were in the city of God’s holy temple. They were, after all, God’s chosen people, so they were invincible…or so they thought! They superstitiously believed the temple would protect them, even if they disobeyed God.

The first chapter of Jeremiah tells of God’s call to the prophet. He is to alert the people of their sin and God’s displeasure.

Chapters 2-6 record prophecies Jeremiah gave during the first 5 years of his ministry, beginning when he was around 20 years old. Chapter seven begins with a series of prophecies given after finding the law in the temple after it was cleansed under King Josiah’s rule.

I want to warn you, this is a challenging passage. Let’s begin:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Stand at the gate of the LORD’S house and there proclaim this message:

“ ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:1-2)

The focus of this prophecy is on the people, of course, and the temple. After restoring the temple, it became a center of activity, but not all of it was good.

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. (Jeremiah 7:3)

The people of Judah were returning to the temple, but it had no impact on their lives the rest of the week. It was nothing more than a religious activity, going through the motions.

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

The people of Judah were excited about the temple, but not the LORD! It was like a giant good-luck charm or talisman to them. Buildings are great—I like ours—but they are merely one place where we worship, they are not what we worship.

If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

That’s good, right? God is saying, “Change and everything will be okay. Return to me. Stop oppressing the foreigner, the orphan, the widow. Stop your violence and bloodshed. Most of all, get rid of your idols and worship of other gods.

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. (Jeremiah 7:8)

The people thought they could do whatever they desired so long as they had—and visited—the temple. This seems crazy to us, but like so many things, it’s easy to get caught up in the culture, political-correctness, the leadership, in this case the evil king.

Jeremiah’s audience had a false security in

  • - The temple
  • - Religious activities and rituals
  • - Emotional experiences
  • - Godly heritage
  • - Knowledge of the scripture
  • - Faith in God without true repentance (deceptive words)

Does that sound at all familiar? Here we are gathered together wearing our “Sunday best,” doing our religious duty, giving God His hour or so, perhaps making mom or grandma happy,…so we don’t feel so guilty about what we do the rest of the week.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about you…or am I?

This whole church thing, this whole God thing, this whole Bible thing is not about religion and ritual. It’s not about superstition or super-spirituality.

It’s about a relationship with your Creator. It’s about Jesus! Our faith is all about knowing, loving, and obeying Jesus.

That last one’s tough. Sure, we all want to know and love Jesus. He’s the most famous person to ever walk the earth. He loved people, healed people, and taught with great wisdom. He died and rose from the dead to forgive us of our sins. Who doesn’t like that? It’s easy to say, “Jesus, save me.”

But talk is cheap. See, Jesus wants to be your Savior, but also your LORD. That means he wants to change you…to become like him. He wants you to obey.

Our culture hates this. We want it our way, whatever makes us happy, whatever we feel or “identify” or led to do. Just when I think our society can’t get any more bizarre, I read of some radical new self-expression exalted on a pedestal that all of us are supposed to bow down to, have a parade for, celebrate, or honor with an award.

Family, that’s fine for the world. It makes sense for the world to act like the world, but we’re the people of God, which mean we are to obey God. We are to repent—turn away from our sin—and live not for ourselves and our pleasures, but for Christ. Jesus said,

The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

Repent means to turn. Believe here means to do, to entrust, to take action. It’s not a nice thought in your head, but living proof that you are a follower of Jesus, no longer a slave to sin and selfishness.

The Jews thought if they went to the temple, they’d be saved.
Some people today mistakenly think if they go to
church, they’ll be saved.

What God desired for them and what He desires for us today is one thing: relationship. That’s why we were created! If you have a child who constantly disobeys, it’s hard to have a right relationship with them. The same is true for our Heavenly Father. It’s not that He wants to spoil our fun with a bunch of rules, but rather that Daddy knows best. He knows how this life thing works. He wants us to experience the ultimate joy, peace, and satisfaction in life, which can only come from knowing Him, loving Him, and obeying Him.

The prophet Isaiah wrote of true worshippers:

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7b)

Jesus referred to this text when he went postal on the money changers in the temple centuries later.

“It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:13)

The people of Jerusalem had done this, too. Jeremiah continues,

“ ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,
burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:9-11)

The people didn’t change their ways. They continued to sin, even following other gods!

They thought the temple would protect them, using it for their gain. Only God could protect them, for His glory.

They had broken at least five of the Ten Commandments, yet they were told the temple would bring them blessing and protection from God. This isn’t salvation, it’s superstition! The people were making the temple unholy rather than being made holy in the temple. God’s holy temple had become a den of thieves. It had become a temple of doom.

Warren Wiersbe notes, “Any theology that minimizes God’s holiness and tolerates people’s deliberate sinfulness is a false theology.”

God wanted the people to repent, to turn, to change, to flee their sin both to escape His judgment and the avoid the consequences of their sins. He didn’t want fake, empty worship. He didn’t want religion for an hour or two a week. He wanted 24/7 obedience, and that’s what He wants from us today.

We can all see how you behave here on Sunday morning. That’s easy.

How do you live at home?
How do you live at the office or school?
How do you live on social media?

Where were you last night?
How will you live out your faith this week?

Jeremiahs words don’t get any easier. God tells him,

“ ‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. (Jeremiah 7:12-13)

I wonder how many times I miss God’s calling. We live in a noisy world filled with distractions. There are so many messages bombarding us, whether it’s on a billboard, the radio, social media, television, or even our friends and family. Sometimes we get busy because we’re afraid of what we might discover if we are still and quiet.

Silence and solitude are two ancient spiritual practices or disciplines which quickly reveal the condition of our souls before God.

He is speaking. Are you listening? Remember, the primary way God speaks today is through the Bible. Are you reading? Are you studying? He’s got great news for you! His Word will set you free from fear and anxiety. The scriptures are packed with promises of His patient love for you. Those who seek Him will find Him, but those who ignore Him will find themselves distant (Matthew 7:7; 25:31-46).

God says,

Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’ (Jeremiah 7:14-15)

Archeologists believe the village of Shiloh was destroyed about 1050 BC, likely by the Philistines. God is saying what happened to Shiloh He would do to the temple.

In chapter 7, the LORD tells Jeremiah four things:

  1. 1. “Their worship does no good” (1-15)
  2. 2. “Your prayers will do them no good” (16-20)
  3. 3. “Their sacrifices will do them no good” (21-26)
  4. 4. “My discipline and correction do them no good” (7:27-8:3)

The people of Judah had abandoned God—even though they looked religious—and God was going to respect their choice and thrust them from His presence. What a tragedy!

So What?

It’s hard not to think about the Pharisees and religious leaders from Mark chapter 7 when reading about these people. They looked good on the outside, but their hearts were detached from their worship. The LORD became one of many gods.

What would God say to us? To you? To me? What is He saying?

I hope the application is obvious. Are you going through the motions, devoting an hour or two a week to God, or do you live for God…24/7?

I’m glad you’re here. I think God’s glad you’re here, too. But Sunday morning’s not enough. He wants all of you.

Some of you have given your whole heart to God, but you’ve lost your way. Maybe you’ve been attending here for fifty years but you’ve lost your first love. My guess is some of you have wandered off the path. You might be the only one who knows it. You might just now be aware of it. It’s time to recommit your life to Jesus. It’s time to return to your first love, Jesus.

Maybe you feel inadequate and unworthy to have a relationship with God. You are, which is why Jesus came and died…to reconcile you to the Father. His arms are wide-open to welcome you home.

As we said last week, God is looking for men and women who will say yes to God and His calling. It doesn’t begin by being a missionary in Africa or going to seminary. It starts with simply giving God your heart, …and your soul, mind, and strength. The greatest command? Jesus said,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

I Give You My Heart

Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Clean & Unclean, 16 February 2020

    Clean and Unclean
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 7:14-23

    Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

    Big Idea: Looks can be deceiving, especially when it involves matters of the heart.

    Are you are rule-keeper or a rule-breaker?

    Whether you like them or not, laws are a part of life. There are scientific laws like the law of gravity which says if you drop a bowling ball on your foot, it’s going to hurt. There are human laws, those rules designed to help us flourish such as stop at a red light, pay your taxes, and don’t hurt animals.

    Some laws have a shelf-life and become outdated over time. For example,

    In Missouri, you can't drive down the highway with an uncaged bear in your car.
    When parking your elephant at a meter in Orlando Florida, you must deposit the same amount of change as you would for a regular motor vehicle.
    It's against the law in North Dakota to serve beer and pretzels at the same time.
    In Winona Lake, Wisconsin, it is illegal to eat ice cream at a counter on Sunday. 

    In Arizona, it is illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs.

    In Michigan, it’s illegal for women to cut their own hair without their husband’s permission.

    In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk.

    Last Sunday we returned to our study on Mark’s biography of Jesus and looked at the Pharisees and religious leaders who were so devoted to tradition and laws that they missed God in the process…especially when he was standing in their midst! They were determined to stop Jesus…at all costs.

    Our text for today in Mark 7 is discussion of clean and unclean. Those words in our culture might describe one’s clothes or car, but here it’s a reference to the Jewish laws which governed everything from diet to fabrics to a woman’s menstrual cycle. Are you clean or unclean? Looks can be deceiving, especially when it involves matters of the heart.

    We live in a binary world of us versus them. Black or white. Republican or Democrat. Love or hate. In or out. Our divisions usually pale compared to the Jew and Gentile separation. The laws created by God to enhance the welfare of the Jewish people became—over time—nothing more than a checklist of external rules to obey with little regard to the internal heart or love for God. Last week we saw Jesus address the issue of hand-washing. There were religious customs for hand-washing that had nothing to do with hygiene and everything to do with determining who’s in and who’s out, who is a Jew and who is a Gentile.

    One of the most common ways Jews distinguish themselves is through their diet. Today we call it…kosher. It’s based upon Old Testament restrictions on certain animals including pork and shellfish. Halal among Muslims is somewhat similar. Keep in mind, the issue behind the dietary laws is not necessarily physical health, but rather distinguishing one’s self from others. We said last Sunday the word “Pharisee” meant “separated ones.”

    Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:14-15)

    This was a radical statement, one of many that would rile up the Pharisees and religious leaders. Though it is not explained to the crowd here, Jesus is declaring the entire kosher system null and void. As we’ll see, it’s not that the laws were bad, but they were for a season…and Jesus’ arrival signaled a new season. It goes without saying that Jesus changed the world. He changed how we relate to God…and one another.

    I must admit Old Testament laws can be confusing, especially to modern Christians. Much of the New Testament controversies and debates in the early church dealt with the role of Jewish laws for Christians. These matters are still discussed today. Recently, Pastor Andy Stanley wrote a somewhat controversial book, Irresistible, which examined the role of the Old Testament and its laws on modern Christians.

    Verse 16

    If you’re paying close attention, some of you may notice verse sixteen is missing from some of your Bibles. What happened? We don’t have the original writings or autographs of the Bible books. We do, however, have very reliable copies. Before the invention of the printing press, people would hand-copy the Bible for their occupation, often on scrolls. Every letter was crucial, and if a mistake was made, they would often destroy their work and start over.

    Over the years, the Bible has come under tremendous scrutiny…more than any other text in history. There is tremendous evidence to conclude it is about 99% reliable with perhaps thirty or forty errors. Pastor Soper discussed this on Friday’s devotional. Thirty or forty errors might sound like a lot, but when you consider that’s less than one per book and most of the errors involved a piece of punctuation, spelling, or a slight numerical variation, you quickly realize there is no historical book even remotely close to the reliability of the Bible. In fact, there are more errors and discrepancies in Shakespeare’s works than in the Bible.

    Some—but not all—manuscripts of the book of Mark include verse sixteen which adds Jesus saying,

    If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 7:16, NKJV)

    This was a common expression which Jesus said on more than one occasion, including Mark 4:23. Did he say it again here or was it added by the copyists? We’re not sure. Does it change the meaning of the text? Not one bit…nor do the other minor errors scholars have found after comparing about 5000 different manuscripts of the books of the Bible.

    (Back to our story!)

    Jesus spoke in parables, simple stories used by Jesus to teach a moral or spiritual lesson. It was not uncommon for him to tell a story his disciples failed to understand. It may seem obvious to us, but the Jewish traditions were so ingrained in the disciples, they were clueless about any alternative.

    After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. (Mark 7:17)

    I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were clarifying the meaning of Jesus’ teachings or they wanted to hear more, but Jesus’ response makes it obvious they missed the point.

    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

    In case you didn’t know, Jesus is fully human. He’s fully God, too, but he’s fully human. We often picture him as some flakey, angelic white guy with blonde hair and blue eyes whose feet never really touch the ground, but that’s just artistic fantasy. He’s a real person with real emotions. He has never sinned, but he was not always “nice.” Sometimes tough love is necessary in relationships. Often we do things to get the attention of others. In this instance, he spoke the truth plainly, calling out their ignorance.

    “Are you so dull?” I love that!

    For those of you who like the Shakespearean King James, it says,

    Are ye so without understanding also? (Mark 7:18a, KJV)

    The New King James reads,

    “Are you thus without understanding also? (Mark 7:18a, NKJV)

    The New Living Translation says,

    “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. (Mark 7:18a, NLT)

    I like the New International Version, though!

    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

    You’ve probably heard the expression, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you fill your body with junk food, you’ll probably regret it…eventually. If you fill your mind with trash, most likely trash will come out of your mouth and life.

    The Jewish culture—especially the religious people like the Pharisees—were less concerned about physical health, though, and more concerned about how other people viewed them. One writer put it this way: the old legalism was, “What’s in your refrigerator?” If you had pork or shellfish or anything non-kosher, you were considered unclean, tainted, a bad Jew. Kosher became a test, not about one’s relationship with God, but rather one’s relationship with the religion.

    Similarly, many legalistic Christians have forbidden any use of alcohol…and condemned anyone who has even a sip of wine at a special occasion.

    I’m not encouraging the consumption of alcohol. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol, but the Bible never explicitly prohibits alcohol. In fact, Jesus made some great wine (John 2)! Under-age drinking is a sin. It’s against the law. Drunkenness is a sin…and if you can’t stop with one glass, don’t start! But some judgmental Christians will put you in one of two categories: drinker or non-drinker, sinner or saint. It’s not about the health benefits of alcohol, but what they personally think about you and your character as a result of your beverage preference. This attitude was similar to that of the Pharisees and their dietary laws.

    By the way, the writer who called old legalism “what’s in your refrigerator?” describes the new legalism as “what’s in your driveway?” Think about that for a moment.

    Back to our text,

    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

    For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:19)

    This was a radical statement Mark makes to his readers. Kosher is no longer necessary. The traditions related to diet were no longer relevant because the rules were no longer the pathway to God. Jesus was! Matthew records him saying,

    “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. (Matthew 5:17)

    Jesus brought the Old Testament to a new completion, a new fulfillment. The laws were signposts. When you arrive at your destination, you don’t need signposts, not because they have no value, but because they were correct. The laws led to Jesus the Messiah.

    We don’t need to offer animal sacrifices in the temple, thank goodness. We don’t need to avoid eating pig (though I do since I’m allergic to pork!). We are no longer under the Old Testament laws, not that they are bad or wrong, but they’re obsolete.

    I encourage you to follow the Ten Commandments, but if you break the Sabbath, you need not fear the death penalty given to Old Testament Jews who did so. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), hallelujah! We’re not saved by our good works, our mastery of the law, our outward perfection. We’re saved by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    Does this mean we should eat, drink and be merry, doing whatever we want? Hardly! It does mean we start from the inside, not the outside. We begin with our hearts. What matters most is the inside, not the outside.

    It’s Black History Month in the USA and I’m reminded of Dr. King’s brilliant statement,

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

    I think Jesus would say,

    I have a dream that my friends will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the food in their refrigerator, but by the content of their character.

    He went on:
    “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:20-22)

    This is not a comprehensive list of sins, of course, but what we might call a dirty dozen.

    Sexual immorality is all kinds of inappropriate sexual activity outside of marriage. Theft and murder are obvious. Adultery is sexual immorality by a married person with someone other than their spouse. Greed or coveting involves inappropriate cravings for what belongs to another. Malice is another term for wickedness or simply evil.

    Deceit is trickery, cheating, or dishonesty. Lewdness is lustful, rude or profane desires. Envy is similar to greed and jealousy. Slander is hurting someone or God with your words. Arrogance is pride, exalting yourself above others. Folly is moral and spiritual insensitivity or foolishness.

    None of these just happen. They begin in our heart.

    All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:23)

    Elsewhere, Jesus said,

    A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)

    Sin begins inside, not outside. It begins with temptation, a thought, an idea. You don’t accidentally walk up to someone and murder them. You don’t randomly commit adultery. You don’t rob a bank without a plan (unless you want to get caught!).

    Jesus’ half-brother, James, described the four-step process of sin:

    When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

    Desire – deception – disobedience – death

    It’s not a pretty picture…and it describes all of us. So many people today talk about getting in touch with your feelings, listening to your heart, being true to yourself, finding yourself. That’s a certain path to destruction, family, because our hearts are dark and depraved. The problem in our world is not them, it’s me. The solution is not trying harder because the solution is not within me. It’s Jesus. True holiness is internal, not external, and it begins with surrender, making Jesus LORD.

    What Jesus is addressing with all of these statements is religion. Religion is human attempts to earn God’s favor. It involves personal expressions of perfection and a holier-than-thou attitude which elevates one’s self while putting down those around you. It usually involves pride, judgment of others, and an attitude which isolates. The New Testament if filled with accounts of the self-righteous, and I’m not aware of a single instance where Jesus praises their behavior.

    On the contrary, Jesus highlighted the humility of the broken. He applauded the meek and weak. He encouraged the sinner to pursue righteousness, but never promoted religion. He simply invited people to follow him, to make him both Savior and LORD. He’s still doing that today. He said all of the laws of the Old Testament and the 613 laws of Moses could be summarized in two: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

    Perhaps you’ve made a mess out of your life. I’ve got great news for you! Nothing you can do can make God love you any more than He already does, and nothing you can do can make God love you less than He already does. He made you, He knows you, He loves you, and His arms are open wide to welcome you into His family, to forgive you, to heal you, to make you new. What do you say? I know, it sounds too good to be true, but that’s grace. That’s why Jesus came. He knew we couldn’t perfectly follow all of the rules, no matter how hard we might try. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to obey God and become like Jesus. He came to die for us…lost sinners…all of us!

    Perhaps you’ve tried to follow all of the rules, and done pretty well. Nobody’s perfect, but most people think you are. It feels good to be around sinners because you are so superior. Unfortunately, in the eyes of God your pride undermines all of your good works. As I said again last week, I’m a recovering Pharisee. I’ve struggled with pride, a sin which can be hidden from others.

    We all need repentance. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, His standard of perfection. Big sins or little sins all lead to death. They separate us from God and others. They may be visible or invisible sins. They made be sins of commission which we commit or sins of omission, failing to not do the right thing.

    This isn’t just about individuals. As a church, we’ve sinned, too. I’ve heard so many stories about the great things First Alliance Church has done. We’ve held onto the truths of the Bible while other churches have “watered down the gospel.” If that’s true, it’s a good thing, but how easy it is to take pride in our good deeds, our good theology, our righteousness (see Isaiah 64:6). As we saw in last week’s text, it’s easy to make our human-made traditions more important than God’s timeless Word. We can easily slip into legalism and drive away the very people who are seeking God.

    God’s desire for First Alliance Church is a broken and contrite family, a religion-free church, a group of humble, desperate, God-fearing, masterpiece-restoring, Jesus-following men, women and children who are more concerned about their own hearts than the behavior of others. They begin inside, with themselves. King David wrote,

    Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)

    He also wrote these famous words when he acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba,

    Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

    You can wash your hands with water, but the only way you can have a clean, pure heart is through repentance and Jesus.

    The world says you are what you do. Jesus says you do what you are. It begins with your heart.

    How is your heart. Clean or unclean?

    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Sabbath: Good & Evil, 16 July 2017

    Sabbath: Good & Evil
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:23-3:6

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused.

    Our text for today focuses on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused. If we go way back—to the second book of the Bible, Exodus—we’ll find the Sabbath in God’s Top Ten list, the Ten Commandments.

    Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

    Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

    The Sabbath is a day of rest. God rested on the seventh day of the week after creation. When we rest, we imitate God.

    One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:23-24)

    The religious police have caught Jesus! The Pharisees developed a list of 39 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Sure, God set apart the Sabbath, but these religious leaders took God’s law and expanded it with their traditions and interpretations. Instead of resting and reflecting upon God, they turned Saturday into a day to tiptoe around activities, adhere to checklists, and avoiding technical definitions of work.

    Actually, no laws were broken anyhow. They were not harvesting grain, only picking some to eat. The law made provision for eating, just not harvesting on the Sabbath. Farmers were supposed to rest, but these fishermen were not working, only grabbing a snack.

    If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)

    God gave the law to serve the people. Note Jesus and the disciples did not harvest with a sickle. The Pharisees were just trying to trap Jesus, but the tables are turned.

    He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” (Mark 2:25-26)

    Jesus did not argue about the Sabbath. He challenges the Pharisees, implying they have never even read the Bible! The letter of the law was not to be imposed when it brought hardship to one of God’s servants. By referring to David, Jesus is implying he is doing God’s business in some way these religious leaders are not.

    Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

    Boom! The law was made for man, not the other way around.

    Allow me to add this thought: all of God’s laws are for our benefit. That’s because our heavenly Father loves us. He wants what’s best for us. He didn’t just sit around one day and think, “How can I make life miserable for humans? How can I take away all of their fun?” No, like any good parent, He has more wisdom and understanding than His kids and He provides boundaries for our protection and ultimate satisfaction.

    As if Jesus has not already offended these religious leaders, he throws in one more declaration.

    So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

    Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath. Jesus is the LORD of all! The Pharisees were clueless. Standing in front of them was the Messiah, God! Yet all they could think about is their own outrage at this man who is gaining popularity and has a comeback for everything they throw at him.

    A.W. Tozer said,

    “The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion. 
    Much Christianity since the days of Christ’s flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same – an unworthy or an inadequate view of God.” 

    Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” (Mark 3:1-3)

    The critics were outside in the grainfields. Now they’re in the synagogue.

    Was this man planted? Probably. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

    Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  (Mark 3:4)

    I love it when Jesus silences his critics with a question! The answer is obvious, but the Pharisees aren’t looking for truth, but rather a reason to accuse Jesus. Since they didn’t answer his question, he decided to heal the man.

    He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mark 3:5)

    Jesus got angry! Anger is not sin, though we can sin in our anger. Jesus did not carry a grudge, he just recognized the injustice of the moment and their hard hearts.

    The Sabbath was given to Israel as a gift. The religious leaders hijacked it.

    Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6)

    Don’t miss this: the religious leaders want to kill Jesus. They go out of their way to follow commandment number four about the Sabbath but seem to have no problem with number six…that one about murder! Did they forget? Maybe it was unclear, hard to understand. Here it is:

    “You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

    The original Hebrew word,
    rasah, means “to murder, kill.”

    Oh, and let’s not forget this murder would be premeditated! They even plotted with another group, the Herodians!

    Have things changed since then? Not really.

    So What?

    I want to close with two thoughts.

    First, religion is ugly in all of its forms. Legalism. Judgment. Self-righteousness. We might not often think of religion leading to murder, but Mark 3:6 clearly shows us that’s where it can go. And we know their plans were eventually carried out. How can God be linked to such violence? Obviously we see in our own day—and throughout history—blood shed in the name of God and religion. What a tragedy! This has led some to declare organized religion is responsible for the wars of the world, as if communism and other atheistic philosophies have been entirely peaceful! But the point remains, religion can be an adventure in missing the point. The Pharisees were clueless about the Sabbath. They were unable to see God…standing right in front of them!

    One need not go far to see religion today…in our culture. It seems every week another pastor or author is poked, prodded, critiqued, and banned because of something said in an interview or online. Yes, we need to be discerning and avoid heresy, but good luck finding someone with whom you agree one hundred percent. And a disagreement does not mean all of their contributions are trash.

    I get frustrated with intolerant, close-minded, arrogant people in the world who boycott Claro because it was started by a church. Uh, how’s the coffee?! There are Republicans that refuse to associate with Democrats and vice versa. Seriously? We have far more in common than we have differences. If we would stop and listen to one another rather than constantly pointing fingers of condemnation, we would live in a far better world. We need to build bridges, not walls.

    But the same can be said in the church. I want to see diversity…not only ethnically but theologically. There are many things over which we could probably start an argument, but rather than debate, let’s dialog. Let’s seek to understand one another. Let’s truly love one another, explore points of difference, and ask questions. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily occurring here at First Alliance Church, but the Internet is loaded with total strangers heaving verbal bombs at one another, figuratively and sometimes even literally calling for boycotts of individuals and their work. There’s a fine line between criticism and discernment, I admit, but so much of what I see and read is pure Pharisaical religion, people on a witch hunt to attack their so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder the world is walking away from the church. Who wants to join a dysfunctional family?

    As one of my professors, David Fitch, wrote, “
    We need Christians that can unravel the antagonisms that drive Christianity in America, not make them worse.”

    David Garland writes regarding Mark chapter four:

    (1) The question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (2: 16) is answered with a truism: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2: 17).

    (2) The question, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).

    (3) The question about why the disciples do what is unlawful on the Sabbath (2: 24) is answered with the proclamation, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2: 27– 28).

    (4) In the last controversy, Jesus turns the tables on his inquisitors and provokes an engagement.

    • - Mark: NIV Application Commentary
    Second, let’s get back to our subject: the Sabbath. We need rest. It has been proven in countless studies. We are human beings, not human doings. You need a day off. You need vacation days. Sure, you can survive a week without a Sabbath, but you cannot thrive for long without one. It would be hypocritical for me to get legalistic about the Sabbath, but here’s the bottom line:

    Do you trust God can do more with six days than you can with seven?

    I know, your life is busy. The boss is demanding. The kids are a handful. Deadlines loom. You have to fit in soccer practice, dance lessons, volunteering at Cherry Street Mission, get the car oil changed, grab dinner in a drive-thru…

    I know, it must’ve been easier in Old Testament times. They didn’t have Facebook to check or phone calls to return. No, they had to grow and harvest crops…or die of starvation!

    I was challenging pastors in East Africa to honor the Sabbath. It’s only the fourth commandment…ahead of murder and adultery! The penalty for breaking it was only death! It’s hard for them. Most of them are volunteers. They have a vocation Monday through Friday…or Saturday and then preach on Sunday. Who has time to rest?

    It’s like Stephen Covey says in his classic
    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sharpen the saw. A man is cutting down a tree with a dull saw. His friend says, “Stop cutting and sharpen your saw.” He replies, “I don’t have time. I have to get this tree cut down.” His friend counters, “If you take time to sharpen your saw, you will cut the tree down much faster.”

    I know you can’t afford to take a day off…but really you can’t afford NOT to rest. God made the Sabbath for us…to enjoy. Relax. Do only things that fill you. Be unproductive! If you enjoy gardening, garden. If you hate pulling weeds, read a book instead. Often those who do physical labor during the week need to engage in mental activities, and those who exercise their minds for a living may find physical recreation replenishing.

    Sabbath doesn’t just happen. Like a vacation, it requires planning and preparation. Experiment. Don’t overthink it, but find ways to intentionally unplug from busyness and work, from things that deplete you. Psalm 46:10 says

    “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)

    I challenge you to set aside one day a week for rest, to fill your tank, to be with God, a Sabbath. Will God be exalted in your life? It begins with trust, trusting that God is sovereign and in control. Trusting that God will honor your Sabbath. What the Pharisees used for evil we are invited to use for good. And God’s glory.

    Resource: I found this article by Mark Galli helpful, A Theology of Play.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Timing: Old & New, 18 June 2017

    Timing: Old & New
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:18-22

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: God is always doing new things, even though He never changes.

    My fellow graduates, I want to encourage you to lead. I know you might not consider yourself to be a leader, but my favorite definition of leadership is simply “influence.” Each of us has countless opportunities every day to influence others, whether it be friends, a family member, co-worker, Facebook acquaintance, or even total strangers in public. Follow Jesus and lead/influence others to do the same.

    But for all of the talk of leadership in our day, remember one thing: every leader has followers and opponents. Whether you’re a politician, CEO, store manager, or little league coach, there will be people who support you and people who can’t stand you!

    Just ask Jesus!

    We’re in the middle of a series exploring The Real Jesus from the gospel—or good news—of Mark, a biography of King Jesus.

    Last week we saw Jesus questioned for inviting Levi into a meaningful relationship. “How dare he associate with sinners?” the religious leaders asked. But the criticism is still just beginning.

    Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (Mark 2:18)

    Fasting is an ancient practice which seems to have periodic surges in popularity. I’ve noticed several authors recently writing about the benefits of fasting, especially for weight control. This is not the context of our passage today.

    Fasting was a popular practice in first-century Judaism. Some thought they could ward off demons by fasting. Others thought they could earn God’s favor by fasting, perhaps making their prayers more likely to be answered in a way that pleases them. Still others fasted in hopes of prompting mercy or attaining the forgiveness of sins. The most self-righteous would use fasting as a way to show their piety and gaining the applause and admiration of others.

    This is not to say fasting is a bad thing. Hardly. Jesus fasted for forty days. It was sometimes connected to sorrow for the loss of a loved one. Jesus’ own death likely led to the fasting of the disciples as they grieved.

    But there is an appropriate time and a place for everything.

    There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build, 
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

    There is a time to fast…and a time to feast!

    Jesus answered,
    “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)

    I love weddings! There’s no celebration like a wedding. Last week Heather and I traveled about 3000 miles to California just to participate in a wedding.

    The day was filled with joy, smiles, laughter, food, and feasting. And why not? Is there any greater party than one focused on love? If there is ever a time to eat, drink, and be merry, it is a wedding.

    Jesus tells the religious leaders now is not the time for his disciples to fast. He is the groom. It’s time to party! There will be a day when he will be taken from them. He’s previewing his death on the cross. There will be no celebration on Good Friday, though Resurrection Sunday will be another story!

    Jesus came to proclaim and practice the kingdom of God. The kingdom is God is not a funeral but a wedding party! You don’t fast at a wedding. You can’t fast at a wedding! It would be offensive to the host. It’s time to feast! Religion and the kingdom of God are completely different.

    Jesus continues

    “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. (Mark 2:21)

    This is a universal truth. I’m no seamstress, but I know garments will tear when they are washed and the patch of new, stronger fabric shrinks. The old and new are incompatible.

    Perhaps you’ve experienced this reality. Replacement parts for old products often fail to fit. When my wife gets new glasses, she gets new lenses and frames because the new lenses won’t fit in new frames. I recently had to explain to someone a DVD will not work in their VCR!

    Jesus is saying the old and new are incompatible. He didn’t come to abolish the law or add to it. He came to do something new.

    Weddings are filled with fancy food, fancy garments, and fancy drinks, too.

    And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

    This is not a verse about alcohol, per se, but rather about another truth concerning the incompatibility of old and new. Animal skins, often goatskins, were used as containers for fluids. Old, stretched wineskins will burst when new wine is poured in and expands.

    David Garland notes, “The question, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’ (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).”

    Jesus came to do a new thing. He will die for the sins of the world, the new garment, the new wineskins. Jesus will not merely reform the old, he will transform it. He announces the end of the old and the birth of the new.

    Religion is like a ball and chain, weighing people down with guilt and shame.

    Jesus showed us how to party, how to experience abundant life, how to soar with joy.

    Why do you do what you do?

    This is an important question for us all. What is behind our behavior? Why are you here this morning? Is it to impress others? To try to score points with God? Or to worship our LORD with others, knowing Jesus and making him known to our city and world?

    It’s hard for us in our day to understand the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but suffice it to say they were bold, loud, and arrogant. They judged, condemned, scorned, and criticized. They were stuffy, proud, fuddy-duddies!!! And they were no fun at all!

    What about you? Do you live like you’re at a funeral or a wedding? Again, there’s a time and place for everything, but I wonder if more people would follow Jesus if we looked more like him. I wonder if the world sees Christians as boring, gloomy people depressed by Fox News rather than hope dealers filled with joy, peace, and love.

    Jesus rocked their world…and the world of everyone he encountered. He replaced gloom with joy, death with life, despair with hope, and hate with love. This is why I love Jesus! Even if you skipped his death and resurrection—the climax of his ministry—his very attitude was refreshing. He hated organized religion!

    Jesus announced the kingdom of God, saying God was becoming king in an entirely new way. Something powerful and explosive was about to take place…and history has never been the same since! We are invited to participate in the kingdom, the reign and rule of King Jesus.

    Because of Jesus’ teachings, life, death, and resurrection we must think differently, think bigger, live more passionately. God never changes, but he’s always doing new things. Our church history is a great example of this. In 1930, we began a live radio broadcast. In 1966, we started a Christian radio station, WPOS, Proclaim FM. In 1996, church members launched a TV station, WLMB. Today you can download our sermon podcasts online. The message of King Jesus remains the same, but medium changes.

    I can’t imagine what lies ahead for us as a church, but God knows, and it will be exciting. It won’t always look like the old, but it shouldn’t. There are great things in the rear view mirror, but if you look ahead you’ll see even more exciting things. And most exciting of all will be the ultimate party, the ultimate feast, the day when the groom returns for his bride, when Jesus returns for the Church. What a celebration that will be! Are you ready?

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Vision, John 9, 17 February 2013

    Big Idea: God wants us to see.


    There are several themes in this lengthy account. Religious leaders show their lack of vision while a blind man is able to see. The Sabbath, suffering, religion, and the influence of Jesus are all presented.


    As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (1-2)

    Some Hindus believe disabilities are punishment for sins committed in a previous life.

    The book of Job is clear about this. Though God does discipline those that He loves, often our pain and trials are not the result of sin.

    When our child was first hospitalized six years ago, there were those that subtly and not-so-subtly implied that her pain was the result of our sin. We were being punished for secret sins. My wife and I searched our hearts and came to the conclusion that if there was secret sin in our lives, it was so secret that we were unaware of it. We acknowledged that we were far from perfect, but there was nothing unusual in our actions that caused our child to be in excruciating pain.

    So why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t have time to fully unpack that question, but let me briefly suggest two things. First, none of us are truly good. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Second, sin is the reason. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation has been a mess.

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    Don’t misunderstand this text.

    God is not cruel, inflicting pain on people to glorify Himself.

    At the same time, God is not fair. Bad things do happen to good people. But God is good and He can be trusted.

    Daddy knows best…really!

    “So that the work of God” likely refers not to what precedes it but rather to what follows. See how different it looks...

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus. “But so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, as long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    God did not make the man blind to show His glory.

    Rather, God sent Jesus to do works of healing to show His glory.

    I want to pause here for a moment because many of you are experiencing pain and suffering. You might not be blind, but you or a loved one are in the midst of a disability, a shattered dream, or an overwhelming trial.

    I’m with you!

    I’ve tried to take the letter “Y” out of the alphabet because I find myself asking it all the time. Why God? Sometimes we discover why, sometimes we don’t, but God can be trusted.

    Today I prayed for vision to see what God is doing. I don’t understand, but I know He is at work in and through me, my family, and the storm we are experiencing. I want Him to just change the situation. Sometimes He does. Sometimes He doesn’t. Daddy knows best.

    Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (6-7)

    This would not be my preferred method of healing! Spit was thought to be a curse. Jesus was essentially cursing the blindness. The man is healed. This is great news, right? The man was blind, now he sees. Praise God! End of story.

    Not so fast!

    His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

    Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

    But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

    “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. (8-10)
    The people are demanding to know what happened.

    He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

    “Where is this man?” they asked him.

    “I don’t know,” he said.

    The man didn’t know, but the entire Gospel of John is written so that we can find Jesus.

    They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” (13-15)

    Whenever the Pharisees are involved, you know it’s going to get ugly!

    Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

    But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

    Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

    The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

    This poor guy has been miraculously healed and all they can do is subject him to an interrogation.

    The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” (18-19)

    Talk about a lack of faith! They don’t believe that the man was ever blind.

    “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

    A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” (20-24)

    This is a huge deal! Getting kicked out of the synagogue was not like being asked to leave a local church. It was like getting kicked out of the city. Even today, the synagogue is not merely the place of worship, but the social center of the Jewish community.

    The Pharisees hated Jesus—as we have seen in previous weeks. They are jealous of Him and the crowds He is attracting from His miracles and teaching. The healed man’s parents are afraid.

    He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

    He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

    Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

    The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

    To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

    Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (25-35)

    We were all steeped in sin at birth, but the self-righteous Pharisees continued to believe that this man and his parents were responsible for his blindness.

    “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

    Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

    Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

    Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

    Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

    Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (36-41)

    The story ends the opposite of its beginning. The blind man can see and the accusers claim to see clearly when, in fact, they cannot.

    The religious leaders that are supposedly righteous are filled with pride and envy while the supposed sinner is seen worshiping Jesus.

    Which bring us to my favorite question about any what?

    Jesus healed a blind man and they both attracted self-righteous critics. So what?

    Here are a few things to consider:

    1. Suffering is part of our world. It is to be expected, yet it seems to surprise us.

    It all goes back to the Garden. Sin entered the world—not just Adam and Eve—when they ate of the fruit.

    2. We are addicted to comfort and safety.

    2/3 of the world suffers daily...constantly.

    This season of Lent and the very nature of fasting can help us empathize with others that have no food or those that are blind.

    3. Following Jesus often makes life more difficult, not less. Jesus said clearly to His followers

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

    Jesus never promised us safety and comfort, but He did promise His presence. He said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

    1. We need one another.

    It is a lie to think that it’s just about you and Jesus. We were created for community. I need you and you need me. That’s a message for another time, but suffice it to say that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those how mourn.

    5. God may be seem distant or even absent in the midst of suffering, but He is always at work healing our inner lives (see Ephesians 3).

    It is through suffering that I have felt the closest to God. Nobody knows pain like Jesus. Nobody. The apex of human history was Jesus hanging on the cross. He recognized how we had messed up this beautiful world and He came to reverse the curse. He conquered sin and death. It’s hard to experience peace when you are comfortable.

    6. The more we can let go of the idols in our lives and cling to Jesus, the more joy we will experience.

    Some of us look to our health, our bank account, our careers, or even our family members to bring us joy, but Jesus said to follow Him means we need to hate our family and even our own lives in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

    We need to live with our hands open—to give and receive.

    Song: Blessed Be Your Name

    7. The best is yet to come. Really.

    We live in the space between the first and second comings of Jesus. We have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is powerful and active. God still heals the blind. There are documented cases all over the world. God still causes the lame to walk. I’m praying that for a special girl right now. Sometimes God says yes to our prayer requests, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have easy answers. I can recommend a pile of books. I can tell you to study the book of Job. I can quote you verse after verse of Paul telling us to rejoice, endure, and embrace suffering. I have plenty of questions myself, but I know God is in control, God is good, and God is faithful. This world is not the end. The best is yet to come.

    In the Lord of the Rings film
    The Two Towers, there is a famous quote from Sam in which he says,

    “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

    They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. What are you holding on to? Who are you holding on to?

    Open our eyes, LORD, to see You at work in and through our lives...for Your glory.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Who's Your Daddy? John 8:31-59, 10 February 2013

    Big Idea: We are all slaves to sin and need freedom through Jesus.


    This passage is loaded with background that is essential in order to fully grasp and apply. The Jews were descendants of Abraham, the one with whom God made a covenant. If you’ve been around at all this year we’ve mentioned it every week—Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. The people of Israel had a relationship with God, a relationship that tragically turned into yet another religion filled with rules and regulations, stripped of intimacy, authenticity, and love.

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (8:31-32)

    Who is Jesus’ audience? Jews who believed Him. What did they believe? Keep in mind that throughout His life, Jesus had followers that deserted Him. Many walked away, His best friends fell asleep when He needed their support, His closest friend denied Him three times, one betrayed Him. Believing in Jesus is just the start.

    There is a huge difference between professing faith and saving faith. Anyone can pray a prayer, but that doesn’t mean we are true believers and possess faith. R.C. Sproul says, “We must possess what we profess.” Notice what Jesus says about discipleship: it’s not about knowledge, but obedience. This is huge! Real disciples follow Jesus’ teaching and then they are set


    We love freedom, don’t we? Our nation was largely founded upon the idea of freedom, though ironically and tragically slavery has been a prominent feature in our history. Many of our founding fathers who valued freedom owned slaves!

    We take our freedoms for granted—until they are threatened or removed. There’s a lot of talk these days about the freedom to bear arms and other freedoms that may be in jeopardy, but that pales in comparison to what many face.

    Tragically, slavery is alive and well in our nation. Watching the film Lincoln a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but appreciate the incredible courage and dedication of Abraham Lincoln and others who abolished slavery in the USA, but tragically it is very real today.

    In fact, there are more slaves today in our world than at any time in human history, between 10 and 30 million people! I urge you to visit Sign the petition. Tell others about it. Most people are shocked to learn that slavery exists...right here in Washtenaw County!

    They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (8:33)

    I’ve heard many say, “I’m a Christian. I went to church as a kid. I was born in the USA. Of course I’m a Christian.” Nobody enters the Kingdom of God because of their ancestors. We must all be born again (John 3:3).

    The Jews understood slavery—in their history. Their ancestors were slaves, working in Egypt under Pharaoh until God called Moses to lead them to the Promised Land. Understandably, Jesus’ hearers couldn’t fathom being slaves.

    Isn’t it interesting how many people are in bondage but don’t realize it? Millions are enslaved to alcohol, food, or work. Countless lives have been destroyed by debt, fear, or the approval of other people.

    Next Jesus acknowledges the obvious—or not so obvious: we are all messed up!

    Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (8:34-38)

    Sin sounds like such an old-fashioned word, doesn’t it? Sin destroys, yet it is an addiction for all of us.

    Jesus makes it clear that being a child of Abraham is not the same as being a child of God. Tragically, the Jewish people that were to be a blessing and shine the light to the rest of the world were in the dark.

    If the light is dark, we’ve got a problem!

    Do you remember that song, “This Little Light of Mine”? What if we don’t shine?

    “Abraham is our father,” they answered.

    “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”

    “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

    Sonship is not about biology, but obedience. The conversation is getting a little heated now. Perhaps you’ve heard of father Abraham. He was the patriarch, you might say the original Jew. It was understood that tradition and heritage would bring freedom, but Jesus says it is truth that sets us free, but we can’t be freed from something until we are in bondage to something. You can’t set a bird that is in the wild free. It must first be taken captive.

    Jesus is telling them that circumcision and diet and family heritage are not what brings freedom and a right relationship with God. True Jewishness is inward.

    Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (8:42-47)

    We are naturally born without a desire for God. Our human nature is sinful and wicked, which is why it’s such a miracle when the Holy Spirit brings conviction and repentance. The greatest miracle, in fact, is a transformed man, woman or child that follows Jesus rather than making an idol of themselves and their desires.

    Jesus tells some important truths here about satan—he is a liar and the father of lies.

    This is not an excerpt from Andrew Carnegie’s book
    How To Win Friends and Influence People!

    We need to back up for a moment and remember that Jesus is a wanted Man—wanted by His followers, yes, but also His enemies. His ultimate enemy, of course, is...satan.

    Ironically, Paul said in his first book to the people of Corinth (11:14) that “satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Do you remember a moment ago, “this little light of mine”? What if satan’s plan was to have the most pious, respected leaders in the community destroy Jesus? Who would ever suspect such a thing? Murderers committing murder is so passé, but the religious people? Who would ever see that coming?

    Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy. He wants to steal, kill and destroy. He not only acts like an angel of light, he is full of lies. He is sneaky. He knows the Scriptures better than anyone in this room (remember the temptation of Jesus?). He is real.

    Satan is a murderer and the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus!

    Notice, too, the politically incorrect teaching of Jesus. He doesn’t say all roads lead to God, but rather that we cannot have the Father and not have the Son, and we cannot have the Son and not the Father because the Father sent the Son. As we will see in a few weeks, Jesus said, “I am
    the way, the truth, and the life.”

    Do you hear what God says? Do you belong to God?

    Jesus claims the devil as their father. They return the favor.

    The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

    “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (8:48-51)

    You have to admit that’s a bold statement, especially on the surface. As usual, Jesus speaks the truth. He is the truth, but He is not always clearly understood.

    He’s not so much talking about himself, but the ‘father who sent’ Him.

    At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (8:52-53)

    Notice here they claim Abraham as their father, though Jesus is speaking of God the Father.

    Who do you think you are?
    This is one of the greatest questions in the entire Bible. Repeatedly I have said that the two most important questions in life are who are you and who is Jesus.

    Jesus asked His follower, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:13-15; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20)

    You can understand the Jews getting riled up about this. Jesus is shattering their paradigm of what it means to be righteous.

    Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (8:54-56)

    These are audacious claims, right? He’s saying that Abraham—who was blessed to be a blessing—was looking ahead to Jesus Himself and the life and resurrection that He would offer us. Jesus Himself is embodying what Abraham’s God promised centuries earlier.

    It gets better!

    “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” (8:57)

    Good point, right?

    “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (8:58)

    That may seem like bad grammar, but here’s what Jesus was really saying—I am God. He speaks in the Name of the Father, the secret and holy Name of God, YHWH. He refers to Himself clearly as God. I created everything. John’s first words in this book say...

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (1:1-2)

    John is reminding us again in chapter 8 that Jesus was in the beginning. Through Him all things were made (1:3).

    Needless to say, claiming to be God made the religious leaders go crazy! This was blasphemy, a capital offense—as was breaking the Sabbath earlier.

    Jesus was no weak, gentle guy prancing in the woods. He was a radical revolutionary, unafraid of conflict, confronting His enemies, and turning upside down not only tables in the temple (another story) but everything the Jews understood about God Himself and the Way to HIm.


    At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (8:59)

    Our story ends with an angry mob of Jews that believed in Jesus at the beginning of the narrative, but are now ready to kill HIm. Jesus, meanwhile, slips away because it wasn’t yet time for Him to die.

    Our Story

    Here’s my concern: I have a feeling if we were characters in this story, we’d be the Jews, grabbing stones at this controversial figure who is turning conventional wisdom upside down. He offends them. He literally introduces a completely different worldview to them, one that is not centered around being a privileged descendent, but rather one who radically obeys.

    Does this sound familiar? It could be said that I’m a religious person devoted to Sunday worship gatherings, tithing 10% to the local church, driving the speed limit, and a daily Bible reader.

    What would Jesus say to me? What we He say to you?

    I think He would say, “Do you know me? Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Take care of the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Be a blessing to the nations. Listen to My voice like all good sheep listen to their Shepherd and know his voice. Practice hospitality and eat with those far from Me. Study Me. Share Me. Sound familiar?

    I want to go back to where we began.

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (8:31-32)

    If you obey Jesus—and He said a lot of hard things—You are really His disciple. Then you will know the truth and it will set you free...from the bondage of sin and death.

    Author Gary Burge said, “
    The deepest paradox of John 8 is that Jesus suffers religious persecution.” He goes on to say, “The paradigm of the passage is then set: Jesus steps into a religiously devout environment and immediately splits his audience. Those who follow him become passionate believers. Those who stand opposed, who defend their traditions with zeal, suddenly become zealous opponents, enemies of God’s work in the world. This passage warns the custodians of tradition that their defense of these spiritual habits and rituals may well be their undoing.” Later he writes, “If Jesus stepped into our century, if he walked into our evangelical churches, if he picked up a religious symbol (as he did at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles) and challenged the symbol’s original meaning, would we cheer or would we fight? Suddenly we might find ourselves defending Christendom instead of the Christian faith. We might explain that the old meaning, the old songs, the old forms had worked just fine for generations. We might challenge this newcomer and demand that he verify that he was indeed a messenger from God. And when he pressed his claims powerfully, suddenly we would be forced either to let go of our former position and become a believer or argue and rebel.”

    Disciples of Jesus study Jesus, spend time in the Word, know the truth, and are set free. Tragically, the rest of the world is in slavery to sin, lies, and death that originate with satan.

    What about you? Do you know Jesus? I didn’t ask if you were religious. I didn’t ask if you go to church and smile on Sundays. Do you know Jesus? If you do, there is freedom...from sin, death, and despair.

    If you don’t know Jesus, I want to introduce you to Him. He’s Your Creator. He loves You so much that He gave His very life to give you life, freedom, purpose, joy, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation to a God that finds sin completely unacceptable. Period. That’s why Jesus, His death, and resurrection are so important. Without Jesus, we’re hopeless. We’re slaves to sin. But because of Jesus, we can express life, joy, meaning, and freedom from sin...and religion.

    You can listen to the podcast