Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

              ‘Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’ 

 © August 18, 2013, by Steve Mickelson

                             BLCF Bulletin August 18, 2013     

Call to Worship Responsive Reading #650:

‘Trials and Temptations’  (James 1 and 1Peter 1)

   BLCF Church: Trust God                                                        

Let us pray…

For his birthday a week or so ago, our younger son, Jeffrey was asked where would he like to dine out. Jeffrey chose to go for a Chinese Buffet for the family celebration. Along with the bill, we were given the traditional fortune cookies. Now I don’t take much stock in fortunes or horoscopes, but my cookie opened to reveal a message that was more profound than just a fortune, as it read: “In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”  Such was the story of Job, where Satan challenged God that the faith of Job was a result of his prosperity and it would soon evaporate once Job faced adversity.

The book of Job is considered by most Biblical scholars to be the oldest of the scriptures and Job was believed to be the wealthiest man of his time. It documents the story of this faithful servant of God, who was tested to the point of death by Satan, Job 1:1-12 (ESV):

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

  Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

You may recall that Job lost wealth, family and suffered personal afflictions. His friends told Job that the Lord was punishing him for some sin or transgression committed either by Job or a member of his family. Even Job’s wife told her husband that she suffered almost as much as Job. Except for her health, she too lost everything: home, family, and possessions. Her attitude and response exactly matched the one Satan had set out to evoke from Job – that of cursing God. How ironic that Satan seemed to have achieved his goal with Job’s companion, though not with Job.

Did Job’s wife realize that she had surrendered to Satan’s manipulative scheme? Did she feel her loss so great that she didn’t care that she was wrong? Or did she respond to her calamity merely in a fit of emotion, which later passed, taking her bitterness with it? We don’t know the answer to any of those questions. All we know is that she responded just as most people would likely have under similar circumstances: she got angry at God and insisted that Job do the same.

We know that Job’s story ended in Job being restored to health, wealth, and family. But the question arises: “for what reason did God have to allow Satan to test his obedient and faithful servant?” Were the Lord and Satan involved in some idle chess game, with Job as a pawn?  I believe that the Lord had several reasons for allowing Job to be tested by Satan.

Satan challenged God, indicating that Job’s faith was the result of the hedge the lord has built around Job. The Lord allowed Satan to take away Job’s wealth and family, in short, to remove the so-called hedge that Satan had claimed were the reason for Job’s faith. The toughest part for Job was the fact that Job had sensed to some degree that the Lord had distanced himself from a person who had demonstrated steadfast trust and faith in God, (Job 23:3):

Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! 

David, too, had undergone a period of similar testing, (Psalm 22:1):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?                                                           

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

And even though Satan, may have his way at times, the key to making it through the snares and traps that the devil sets is to maintain our trust in the Lord, having the faith that He will rescue us from our predicament, (1 John 5:19):

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

And in Psalm 31:14-15, David maintains his faith:

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies 
and from my persecutors!

 

trust-in-the-lord

 

Not only, did Job and David go through similar tests, at some point, each had experienced a separation from God, but Jesus too was left alone in his suffering on the cross at Calvary, Matthew 27:46:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

In order to suffer the full weight of the judgment and punishment for our sins, Jesus had to be abandoned by God. Was this really necessary? We see in Isaiah 53:4-6:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The lesson taught by Job’s test by Satan was meant not only for our benefit but also as a lesson to the heavenly hosts (angels).  It taught both the angels and us, that faith does not come from having worldly wealth, but the wealth of the Spirit. Remember Satan was once an Angel, who had fallen from grace by rebelling against God’s authority.

You may recall in John’s gospel, that as soon as Jesus had received the Holy Spirit, he was tested by Satan in the desert. The reason why Jesus suffered, unlike Job, was to atone for our sins and to show us an example of obedience and faith to the Father in Heaven, 1Peter 2:21-24:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

While we demonstrate our faith and trust in the Lord, he offers in return, his promise of salvation and sanctification by way of the suffering of Jesus on our behalf.

We see that Job was allowed to suffer, to teach us and the heavenly host where faith should be based, and how much faith we might need, by bringing us salvation and sanctification from the Lord. We are also given through Jesus, the promise of eternal life and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But what about suffering today, particularly amongst the innocent? Does God have a plan in that suffering?

Paul Paraskevopoulos

Paul Paraskevopoulos

I have shared with some of you about my brother-in-law, Sophie’s brother, Paul Paraskevopoulos, who passed away almost two years ago after a short, unexpected illness. Paul was brain injured in childhood, having been run over by a truck. His injuries left Paul with the intellectual capacity of an 8-year-old. Even though mentally and physically challenged and being confined to a wheelchair in the last decade of his life, Paul was generally a happy soul, enjoying many of the simpler things in life.

I recall a few years before his passing, a time when Sophie and I were called into the hospital, as Paul had suffered from a kidney and blood infection which had a very poor prognosis. Paul was not expected to survive the night. I recall having a concern about Paul’s faith walk, whether he had made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as personal Saviour? I knew, as a youth, Paul had attended church with his siblings and later with some of the staff from West Park Hospital. My fears about Paul were dispelled when upon our arrival at Paul’s hospital room, before either Sophie or I had said hello, Paul opened his eyes and spoke: “You know that Jesus is in my heart. I love Jesus.” I knew that Paul was right with the Lord.

Paul eventually recovered from that illness in 2008 but passed away a few years later. Although he was not able to speak the last time I had arrived to see Paul in the hospital, I had the assurance that he was still right with the Lord.

It was not until Paul’s funeral, that I had the opportunity to fully understand why Paul was allowed to suffer so much.  Our family was moved to see that some forty or so support staff, as well as doctors and nurses,  attended Paul’s funeral. The impact Paul had upon this extended family was quite apparent. Paul was loved and appreciated by his caregivers as much as by his family.

At the memorial, I shared some of the happier times with Paul, as well as the story of Paul’s faith and testimony. At the cemetery, a staff member who had returned from her vacation to attend Paul’s funeral approached the family and shared a story about how Paul was at a get together that was recorded on video. And in the middle of the video, Paul broke into a chorus of “He Is Able” for the camera. It was then I realized that the staff was aware of Paul’s faith. That is faith had shown through his personality, and that many staff members had listened and learned from Paul’s testimony, where they may not have otherwise listened.

God had a plan and a purpose with Paul, as we see that both family and staff had learned through the simple childlike faith of a child in a man’s body can, the Holy Spirit had enabled Paul, as a believer in the Resurrected Christ, to maintain a happy, positive outlook in spite of a life of injury, suffering and pain. Though God did not cause of Paul’s predicament, still the Holy Spirit was able to teach others that through faith the believer is able to rise above his or her circumstances, and thus provide living testimony to others.

Paul Paraskevopoulos between Steve and Sophie Mickelson

It is interesting that Satan plans to destroy the believer’s faith when ‘bad things happen to good people’ fails, when the Holy Spirit allows the faithful to endure   adversity and distress, and empower them to become a living testimony which if far more powerful than words alone as we read in Isaiah 54:10:

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Though a man of strong faith and love for his God, Job was subjected to pain and suffering. Still, Job’s faith was steadfast and unwavering. Job demonstrated that faith will bring us through adversity. And if we keep our faith and trust in God, we may rest assured that we will be restored, sanctified and blessed. Let our faith rest in Jesus, who was tested and suffered greatly, yet maintained faith, trust, and love for his Father in heaven. As our Saviour, the Lord is our example that we may overcome suffering, pain, death and the testing of Satan.  For Jesus demonstrates the rewards of faith are the gift of sanctification, the promise of resurrection from death, and the comfort by way of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray…

Hymn #317: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine

Benediction (James 1:12):  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – Amen

Trusting God

 

 

Volunteers needed to feed homeless and marginalized people in the heart of Toronto at BLCF Cafe

BLCF Cafe Community Dinner

BLCF Cafe needs volunteers

 

Bloor Lansdowne Community Dinner – BLCF Cafe – Needs Volunteers to Help Feed Homeless and Marginalized People in the Heart of Toronto

Volunteers, (individuals or groups), are needed to help at the BLCF Cafe Community Dinner, a weekly dinner that feeds over 150 homeless and marginalized people, every Wednesday Evening. Relying on fundraisers and private donations, BLCF Cafe receives neither government grants nor corporate sponsorship. BLCF Cafe does rely on the dedication of volunteers to serve over 7,500 dinners, annually. Volunteers serve each guest a wholesome dinner, with dignity and respect. If you are able, why not contribute a couple of hours of your time for a great cause? You will be glad you did, when you see the smiles on the faces of the people we serve. For more information: Contact Sophie Mickelson at blcfcafe@yahoo.ca 416-535-9578 see us on facebook under BLCF Cafe: BLCF Cafe Facebook Link or our BLOG: BLCF Cafe BLOG. BLCF Cafe Community Dinner was established in January 2008 by, and is operated under, the auspices of, Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church: BLCF Church Web Page

BLCF Cafe

BLCF Cafe in the heart of Toronto

 

Feeding the Multitude with the Bread of Life

Jesus give his 'Sermon on the Mount'

Jesus gives his ‘Sermon on the Mount’

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

Feeding the Multitude with the Bread of Life’

   © August 4, 2013 by Steve Mickelson

Bulletin August 4, 2013

 

Let us pray…

Last Sunday’s lesson outlined how many people, believers and non-believers alike, tend to confuse the definition of Jesus, the Word made flesh, with that of the Scriptures, being the inspired word of God.

On this Communion Sunday at BLCF, our lesson we focus on how some followers of Jesus, including the Disciples’, misunderstood what Jesus meant by the “Bread of Life”. This confusion may have arisen because prior to his sermon, the Lord has performed a miracle of feeding the multitude gathered on the Mount of Olives. But before we look at this miracle, let us briefly review the importance and impact of the Lord’s message, which is summarized by Wiki bits as:

The Sermon on the Mount (anglicized from the Matthean Vulgate Latin section title: Sermo in monte) is a collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus, which emphasizes his moral teaching found in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5, 6 and 7).[1] It is the first of the Five Discourses of Matthew and takes place relatively early in the Ministry of Jesus after he has been baptized by John the Baptist and preached in Galilee.

 

The Sermon is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament, and has been one of the most widely quoted elements of the Canonical Gospels.[2] It includes some of the best known teachings of Jesus, such as the Beatitudes, and the widely recited Lord’s Prayer. To most believers in Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship.[2]

 

The last verse of chapter 5 is considered to be a focal point that summarizes the teaching of the sermon: “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, advising his disciples and followers to seek the path towards perfection and the Kingdom of God.

Footnotes:

  1. ^ a b c “Sermon on the Mount.” Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of The Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  2. ^ a b c d The Sermon on the mount: a theological investigation by Carl G. Vaught 2001 ISBN 978-0-918954-76-3 pages xi-xiv

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sermon_on_the_Mount

This morning, we will not be reexamining the Lord’s message given on the Mount of Olives, also known as the Olivet Discourse, which is the name given to the orderly and extended teaching given by Jesus Christ on the Mount of Olives. The subject of the Olivet Discourse was the end times and is recorded in Matthew 24:1 – 25:46 , with parallel passages found in Mark 13:1-37 and Luke 21:5-36.

Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/Olivet-discourse.html#ixzz2ayKAhYkR

Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

Today’s lesson will focus on the account of the Miracle of Feeding the Multitude as recorded in the 6th Chapter of John’s gospel. This miracle was perhaps the most significant performed by Jesus prior to his resurrection from the grave. The significance of the miracle is misunderstood by many.

So let us begin by reading from John 6, found on the last page of today’s bulletin, John 6:1-15 (ESV), entitled:

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

6 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii[a] worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.                                                                                                                                                                      Footnotes: a. John 6:7 A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer

We find that because of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, the people were prepared to make Jesus king. This was not the reason Jesus came on the earth, to provide for our bodies’ physical needs, such as hunger and thirst. And Jesus did not come to feed us one meal at a time. But the Lord sensed that the people were ready to crown him because he had filled their bellies with food. And so Jesus withdrew to the mountain by himself.

We read in the beginning of the passage that the crowd had gathered because of the miracles of healing that Jesus had performed and no doubt had come to see more of the same.

I wonder how many who were feed on that Mount really listened to the sermon, instead choosing to focus on the miracle feast. The answer seems quite clear. For after delivering the sermon, Jesus went up the mount to pray and sent the disciples to sail the stormy sea, where he later joined them by walking upon the sea and calming the stormy waters. And many of the crowd followed, John 6:22-40 (ESV), where Jesus said:

 I Am the Bread of Life

 22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

 

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Loaves And Fishes

This part of John’s gospel,  Jesus explains his ‘Miracle of Loaves and Fishes’ as being a parable not of the manna provided to people of Israel who followed Moses across the wilderness to the promised land, but a parable for the spiritual manna which is the salvation and resurrection provided by faith in Jesus Christ.

Many Christians view the miracle where Jesus multiplied 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to literally feed a multitude of thousands who had gathered to hear the Lord deliver his “Sermon on the Mount”, as an example of how the Lord provides for our needs. And we have seen that many of the crowd of followers had the same mistaken idea. We could excuse the peoples misunderstanding at Capernaum, because the Lord had yet to be crucified, resurrected or undergo ascension to heaven. And day of Pentecost was to follow as well.

We may see that miracles of both the Olivet meal and the manna provided for the people of Israel following Moses, served as parables to the eternal spiritual sustenance provided through faith in the son of God.

It should seem clear that understanding what Jesus meant by him being the ‘Bread of Life’, after his death, resurrection and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. However, many who focus on Christ’s physical miracles, failed to understand the greater importance of the spiritual gifts that Jesus brought to those who believe. In the epistle of 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 (ESV), the Apostle Paul echoes the same explanation:

 Warning Against Idolatry              

10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown[b] in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.                                                                                                                           .     Footnotes: a. 1 Corinthians 10:1 Or brothers and sisters  b. 1 Corinthians 10:5 Or were laid low

And even today, we see at our Wednesday outreach community dinner that some guests are impatient to be served dinner to fill their stomachs. And others hunger for the second course, which is the testimony or spiritual meal served at the BLCF Cafe.

To a degree, there is a similar disparity between the reasons why people attend church. Some come because of the desire to satisfy a physical need and others a need that is spiritual.

That does not mean that God does not provide, through the Holy Spirit, healing of afflictions of body and helps us to avoid sin. We still must be aware that such miracles are not as important as the spiritual salvation provided to all believers.

This brings us to the lessons provided by Jesus’ Miracle of Feeding the Multitude, as a parable to the gift of salvation Christ gave us.

Of all the miracles that Jesus performed, this miracle was the most public, with literally thousands of witnesses present. This was a miracle that fed both believers and non-believers alike, just like Jesus miracle of Salvation is available to everyone. Jesus provides the multitude of humanity his Bread of Life, to forever feed our souls. However, only those who truly believe in the resurrected Christ may receive and be filled by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus said in John 6:40,For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Let us pray…

Hymn #317: Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine

John 6:35

Communion:

To begin the Communion portion of today’s service, I would like to share the final portion of scripture from John’s gospel, from which we may gain insight to what the Elements of Communion, the bread and the grape juice represent. You may find below the Order of Service on the inside of today’s bulletin, John 6:49-58 (ESV):  

49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[a] the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”                                                                         

          .              Footnotes: a. John 6:58 Greek lacks the bread

I would like to invite all those present, who hold Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, to join us with the partaking of the elements of Communion. Please take a moment to prepare, by prayer and reflection what these elements signify as we observe the sacrifice and gift of Jesus, as an expression of God’s love, until he returns. Please follow as I read   Responsive Reading #626: ‘The Last Supper’ which is taken from Mark 14.

Benediction:  2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Baptized with the Holy Spirit and the Refiner’s Fire

God revealed as a Burning Bush

God revealed as a Burning Bush

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Baptized with the Holy Spirit and the Refiner’s Fire’                        

   © July 28, 2013 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin July 28, 2013

 

1 Kings 18:20-40 (ESV) The Prophets of Baal Defeated

20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 

28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs[a] of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lordfell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.

Footnotes: a. 1 Kings 18:32 A seah was about 7 quarts or 7.3 liters

Let us pray…

The invention of fire had a profound effect upon our world. Fire brings us heat to counter the cold, cook our food and to illuminate our surroundings. Fire enabled members of society to work through the night and led to the advancement of the civilization of mankind.

The first use of fire is lost in prehistory and the subject of much conjecture and speculation. According ancient mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. Fire was likely first discovered by accident event, as a result of natural causes, such as volcanic eruption, ignition of marsh gas or more likely from a lightning strike.

There are numerous references in the Bible to the use and significance of fire. In most scriptures that associate fire, we observe a manifestation of the power and presence of God. We find a clear example of His power and presence in this morning’s Scripture from 1Kings 18.

A severe drought and famine in region of Samaria led to God’s Prophet Elijah facing off against some 450 prophets of the god Baal. Elijah was critical of the people wavering between this god and the true Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.

Elijah proposes to the people the building of two altars, each with its own sacrificial bull. To one, the prophets of Baal will call upon the god Baal to ignite the wood of the altar. And with the other, Elijah will call upon God, Jehovah, to ignite to wood. The people and the 450 Baal prophets accept the challenge.

For hours, the prophets of Baal called in vain, upon their god, Baal to ignite their altar.  The prophets even resorted to cutting themselves to illicit a response from Baal. And no fire came; Baal did not reply.

Now it was Elijah’s turn. But to make things interesting, Elijah instructed the people to douse the offering and wood with four jars of water, not once, not twice; but three times!

I recall camping this summer and trying to ignite some wet wood. It was not easy. Just when you have some flames, the fire dies out.

The wood on the altar constructed by Elijah wasn’t just damp, being soaked by a dozen jars of water to the point that excess water collected in a trench surrounding the altar. But this did not deter Elijah’s faith, not deter him from calling upon God. Elijah had proceeded as the Lord instructed. He acknowledged the soveirnty of the Lord saying “I am your servant”. He asked that God would start the fire not as a response to a request to do the bidding of Elijah. Instead Elijah implored the Lord to start the fire to change the hearts of those who had turned away from God and to restore their faith.

God’s response was to send a fire of such intensity, that it not only consumed the offering, wood and stones, so all that was left was dust. And all the water, including that in the trench, had evaporated. God’s response was clear and definitive, leaving no doubt in the minds of the people of Israel. The people fell on their knees, acknowledging that “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

And the 450 prophets of Baal were executed. Such was the judgement of God. And afterword, the Lord kept His promise by bringing rain to end the drought.

If you look at the back of today’s bulletin, you will see a list of several instances in the Bible, where the power and glory of God is expressed in some form of flame or fire.

Most of us are acquainted with the Prophet Moses’ encounter with the Lord, who revealed Himself as a Burning Bush.

 

Moses and the Burning Bush

Moses and the Burning Bush

 

Exodus 3:1-6 (ESV): The Burning Bush       

3 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

At the time of this account, Moses was 80 years of age. Having been expelled to die in the dessert by Pharaoh, Moses had lived the next 40 years as a shepherd, and had seen most that the dessert had to offer. But something had caught his eye. The English translations translate what Moses saw as a bush, but a more accurate translation of the Hebrew word seneh is brambles. While we could spend the rest of today’s sermon debating the inaccuracy of the translation and the merits of the original Hebrew over inaccuracies of English translations, such discussions have no real bearing on the lesson our Lord is trying to convey and only act as a distraction from the main theme of the passage. Now back to Moses.

Moses noted that while the bush or brambles burned, it was not consumed by fire. And when he drew close to the bush, Moses saw an angel in a flame of fire in the midst of the bush. And when the Lord had seen that Moses turned aside to see, God admonished Moses to not come closer and to remove his sandals, as the ground that Moses stood upon was Holy ground. And the Lord identified himself as the God of Moses father, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God reveals Himself to Moses as a burning bush, the flames burning supernaturally without ceasing.

After God used Moses to deliver the Hebrew people from enslavement in Egypt, He did not forsake them, Exodus 13:21-22 (ESV):

21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

We must remember that that light is not just a tool of mankind, but an expression of the presence of the Lord, Exodus 24:17 (ESV):

17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

But the fire and flame of the Lord is not only a source of comfort to the faithful, but will be an expression of God’s judgment upon those who are not of value to His Kingdom, considered to be like thorns and brambles, Isaiah 10:17 (ESV):

17 The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day.

This same fire is as an expression of God’s ability to refine and cleanse us of impurity and filth, Malachi 3:2 (ESV):

2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

Refiners use fire to melt and separate precious metals such as silver and gold from non-precious metals found in the ore. Each stage extracts purer metal. And fuller’s soap is used in a process to wash and clean raw wool of impurities and odors.

We find a more direct description of the Lord’s fire, by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11 (ESV):   

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   

You will note that the Prophet’s indicates that water baptism is an act we do for repentance, but only the Lord can baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. So when the believer receives the Holy Spirit, the same fire which is an expression of God, also is received, Acts 2:1-4 (ESV) The Coming of the Holy Spirit:

2 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.   

Pentecost

 

So the followers of Jesus Christ are given the Holy Spirit as a Comforter and the gifts of fire which is the glory of God, Hebrews 1:7 (ESV):                

7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

To better understand Hebrews 1:7 let us back up to the first four verses of Hebrew 1, Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESV):

The Supremacy of God’s Son

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

In the above passage, we see that Jesus is described as the radiance of glory of God, and like a refiner purifying precious gold, He purifies us from sin, through His son, Jesus Christ.

In Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, we see that Christ is talking with two prophets, Moses and Elijah, who had experienced the power and presence of God by fire and flame. And we have an idea of this radiance in the description of Jesus in the account, in Matthew 17:1-8 (ESV):

The Transfiguration

17 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

 Footnotes:  a. Matthew 17:5 Or my Son, my (or the) Beloved

 

The Transfiguration of Jesus

The Transfiguration of Jesus

 

I believe Matthew’s of Transfiguration of Jesus gives us some idea as to how it will be with Jesus after our own resurrection. Just like Moses and Elijah, we will be able to see our Lord, present in all His glory; radiant and full of light, bright like the fire of the sun. May this vision ignite a fire of passion and faith to share with all those around us the love of God as is expressed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, for this is the Savior’s final commandment our Lord gave to us. For it only takes a spark of faith, to ignite the fire that is found in the presence and power God’s love.

Let us pray…

 Hymn #484: Pass It On (It Only Takes a Spark)

Benediction (Numbers 6:24-26): The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

The Word by Name is Jesus Christ

Word made flesh

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘The Word by Name is Jesus Christ’                                                                                                                                                                © July 14, 2013, by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin July 14, 2013

 

Let us pray…

To begin this morning’s lesson, I would like to repeat the verses 1 and 14 from Chapter 1 of John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We read in this short passage, consisting of only two relatively short verses, John using the proper pronoun ‘Word’ no less than four times. Or should I say more precisely ‘the Word’.  The Word was there in the beginning, that is to say, existing at the time of Creation. And the Word was there with God, the Creator of everything.  That is because the Word was God. Then the Word became flesh and dwelt among us as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Sounds a little like the Game of Jeopardy, where the players are given an answer and must phrase a question to match the corresponding question. In this case, our question might be phrased as: “Who was Jesus Christ?”

Yet, there are many people, including many Christians, who would incorrectly attempt to match with the definition of the Word, the question: “What is the Bible?”

When you stop and think about it, it seems quite silly to imagine that a Book, inspired by God, created for man just happened to be there, existing before Creation. That the Word is God was really the Scriptures or Bible, we must then view Godhead Trinity  as a quartet of sorts: Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Bible. And finally,  if “the Word became flesh” meant the Bible, then we have a description of a sort of ‘Illustrated Man of Scriptures’, to dwell amongst us, which is really twisting God’s message.

 

Word made flesh?

I believe that it is safe to conclude that the Word in John Chapter 1 does not refer to the Holy Scriptures. Besides, we need the presence of the Holy Spirit, to admonish and to convict us of the truth of the Scriptures, not vice versa. And this conviction will only happen after we  have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

What we can say about the John 1 passage is that Jesus, not the Bible, existed in another form at the time of the creation,  and before the creation. And that the Word is part of the Holy Trinity, who was with and is   God. It was later, that the Word took the form of human flesh, as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who ministered to us, fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, ultimately becoming a living sacrifice for all of humanity on the Cross and after ascending to Heaven sent a comforter to all who believe in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Bible did not send us the Holy Spirit.

By contrast, we have the Scriptures, or the Bible, as the inspired word (spelt with a lower case w) of God. So let us see what our Wiki bits, from the Wikipedia, say about the Greek word Logos, which we translate in English as the Word:

The Old Testament has given an essential contribution to the New Testament christological message for Christ as Logos, translated as the Word. The Word is with God from the beginning (Gen 1:1 John 1:1), powerfully creative (Gen 1:1-2:4 Isa 55:10-11 Ps 33:6,9;107:20 Judith 16:14) and God’s personified self-expression. Like wisdom,[28] the word expresses God’s active power and self-revelation in the created world. Solomon‘s prayer for wisdom takes word and wisdom as synonymous Even so, John’s prologue does not open by saying: “In the beginning was Wisdom, and Wisdom was with God, and Wisdom was God” (cf. John 1:1).[29]

Despite the fact that, in the literature of pre-Christian Judaism, wisdom, word, and, for that matter, spirit were “near alternatives as ways of describing the active, immanent power of God”,[30] there are several considerations to understand why John chose word and not wisdom. First, given that sophia (Greek for wisdom) was personified as Lady Wisdom (e.g., Prov 1:20-33;8:1-9:6 Wis 8:2), it could have seemed awkward to speak of this female figure “being made flesh” when Jesus was male. Second, in Hellenistic Judaism the law of Moses had been identified with wisdom (Sir 24:23 Bar 4:1-4) and credited with many of her characteristics.[31] To announce then that “Wisdom was God and was made flesh” could have been felt to suggest that “the Torah was God and was made flesh”. Within a few years Christians were to identify the Son of God and Logos with law or the law,[32] but, neither John nor any other New Testament authors identified Christ with the Torah.[33] Third, Paul, Luke (especially in Acts of the Apostles), and other New Testament witnesses prepared the way for John’s prologue by their use of logos for God’s revelation through Christ.[34]

Both in New Testament times and later, the Johannine “Word” offered rich christological possibilities. First the possibility of identification and distinction. On the one hand, words proceed from a speaker; being a kind of an extension of the speaker, they are, in a certain sense, identical with the speaker (“the Word was God”). On the other hand, a word is distinct from one who utters it (“the Word was with God”). Therefore, Christ was/is identified with, yet distinct from, YHWH. Second, God has been uttering the divine Word always (“in/from the beginning”); the Word “was” (not “came to be”) God. In this context “Word” opens up reflection on the personal, eternal pre-existence of the Logos-Son. God has never been without the Word.[35]

 

Footnotes:

  1. 1.       ^ The N.T. uses various strands from O.T. accounts of “wisdom” and uses them for Jesus: first, like wisdom, Christ pre-existed all things and dwelt with God John 1:1-2); second, the lyric language about wisdom being the breath of the divine power, reflecting divine glory, mirroring light, and being an image of God, appears to be echoed by 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 24-5 (verses which associate divine wisdom with power), by Hebrew 1:3 (“he is the radiance of God’s glory”), John 1:9 (“the true light that gives light to everyone”), and Colossians 1:15 (“the image of the invisible God”). Third, the N.T. applies to Christ the language about wisdom’s cosmic significance as God’s agent in the creation of the world: “all things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3; see Col 1:16 Heb 1:2). Fourth, faced with Christ’s crucifixion, Paul vividly transforms the notion of divine wisdom’s inaccessibility (1 Cor. 1:17-2:13). “The wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:21) is not only “secret and hidden” (1 Cor. 2:7) but also, defined by the cross and its proclamation, downright folly to the wise of this world (1 Cor. 1:18-25; see also Matt 11:25-7). Fifth, through his parables and other ways, Christ teaches wisdom (Matt 25:1-12 Luke 16:1-18, cf. also Matt 11:25-30). He is ‘greater’ than Solomon, the O.T. wise person and teacher par excellence (Matt 12:42). Sixth, the N.T. does not, however, seem to have applied to Christ the themes of Lady Wisdom and her radiant beauty. Pope Leo the Great (d. 461), however, recalled Proverbs 9:1 by picturing the unborn Jesus in Mary’s womb as “Wisdom building a house for herself” (Epistolae, 31. 2-3). There is, at any rate, a marked preference in N.T. for Logos as spoken word or rational utterance, despite the availability of this wisdom language and conceptuality, and John prefers to speak of “the Word” (John 1:1,14; cf. 1 John 1:1, Rev 19:13), a term that offers a rich complexity of meanings.
  2. 2.       ^ It is important to differentiate between the meaning and translation of Logos, as rendered by the various traditions and texts. This will be emphasized further in this section, following the studies of G. O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, OUP (1995), pp. 24-41; J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, SCM Press (1989), pp. 196-207, 230-9.
  3. 3.       ^ J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, cit., p. 196.
  4. 4.       ^ At least in one place (Isa 2:3) ‘word’ is associated with Torah.
  5. 5.       ^ Cf. Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudines, 8. 3. 2; St Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 43. 1 and see 11. 2.
  6. 6.       ^ The closest approach to such an identification is found in Gal 6:2 (‘the law of Christ’) and Rom 10:4 (if one adopts the more ‘positive’ translation, ‘Christ is the goal of the law’). For N.T. authors, Jesus replaces Torah and its attributes. Torah had been described in terms of light (Ps 119:105 Prov 6:23) and life (Ps 119:93 Prov 4:4,13). Now Jesus, especially in Johannine language, is the light of the world and the life of the world.
  7. 7.       ^ As Dunn, op. cit. pp. 230-9, rightly argues, the background for John’s choice of ‘word’ is also to be found in the earlier books of the N.T. and not just in the O.T., or other sources such as Philo, et al.; cf. also A. T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to St John, Continuum (2005), pp.94-8.
  8. 8.       ^ a b c Cf. G. O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, cit., pp. 24-41

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Christ_the_Logos

 By definition, then the Word, like wisdom, expresses God’s active power and self-revelation in the created world. And to obtain wisdom and understanding in the Scriptures, we need the help of the Holy Spirit.

Still many people have the misguided impression that the Scriptures are the Word and therefore must be revered or worship. It is almost as if the Bible is worshiped by itself, which could be viewed as idolatry. Without faith and the Holy Spirit, the message in the Bible which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ is meaningless to non-believers in the resurrected Christ. The verses which support this statement (and some people, again, mistakenly believe refer to the word of Scriptures instead of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh are:

1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) Christ the Wisdom and Power of God     

 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)           

 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The world is filled with many who, through memorization, can recite Scriptures, but who as non-believers lack the understanding or discernment, provided by the Holy Spirit, to appreciate the Gospel message of Salvation or anything else that is of the Spirit of God.

While you recall from recent sermons, it was discussed how Satan distorts and twists the words of God, as he did to Adam and Eve in the garden promoting a desire to be on the same level of God. Sin was passed on to their descendants, which manifested in their son, a jealousy so strong that it led to Cain killing his brother, Abel.

But, Satan is not satisfied with destroying the faith and trust of non-believers. The devil seeks to destroy churches by creating dissention amongst the body of believers, as demonstrated by the zealots who follow the King James Only, treating one English translation of the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures as the only true Word of God. Anything after King James is considered by this group to be heresy or the work of the devil. Sound familiar? You may recall that how the Pharisees used the Scriptures to promote their agenda and challenge Jesus, who after all being the Word made flesh is God.

There are many intelligent reasons why we need to have the Bible translated into other languages, including modern English, it goes back to that Tower of Babel that we discussed a few Sunday’s ago. Regardless of the language, the translation is foolishness to those who do not have the Holy Spirit to understand them. And considering Jesus’ Commandments to love God and love our neighbor, any theology that renders discord and division among the members of the body of Christ’s Church cannot be of the Spirit. By its very nature: to promote one group of people superior over others sounds very much like the temptation of the Garden of Eden all over again. The negative emotions it generates is like what Cain felt as described in Genesis 4, where God warned Cain that sin is crouching at the door:

Genesis 4:6-7 (ESV)

6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

The devil loves to see Christians preoccupied with precious time in debate and dissention instead of building the church body. But like the lesson of the Goats and Sheep in Matthew 25:31-46, we will be judged by how we behave to others. That is why we use Matthew 25 as the Mission Statement for our BLCF Cafe Community Dinner.

Those of you who have attended Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship for the last few years may recall such a zealot proponent of the King James Only disrupting sermons of Pastor Andrew, Pastor Don and me over the last couple of years by interrupting the message in an attempt to launch a debate with the speaker regarding his KJO campaign. Fortunately, by the Grace of the Spirit, the speakers were not drawn into transforming a service intended to worship and praise God into something that does neither. Our KJO friend attempted again to initiate a debate at the end of my message at last Wednesday’s Community Dinner. Realizing that a debate draws me from serving the Lord at the BLCF Cafe, I disengaged from Mr. KJO who wanted to disrupt Terry’s ministry in music.  But what does the Bible say about those who focus on debating theology over actions that help demonstrate the love and compassion of the Lord?

James 1:22-27 (ESV)

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It is not surprising to find Satan attacking the body of believers in Christ’s own Church. The Apostle Luke gives warning in Acts 20:28-31 (ESV):

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

But the danger is not only from such fringe groups, who seem happier with destroying God’s Church, rather than doing something constructive. The danger lies in the fact that members of these groups and those whom they draw into their debates are both body of the Church, which has Christ at its head. This brings us to the lesson taught by the Parable of the Two Sons, Matthew 21:23-32 (ESV):

The Authority of Jesus Challenged

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

   The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

The lesson of this parable is that tax collectors and prostitutes who are judged by the chief priests and elders as sinners will go to the kingdom of God because they have believed. And the self righteous chief priest and elders will not because they lack the conviction of faith to back their words.

The final bit of advice, comes from the epistle which scholars generally believe to have been authored by the Apostle Paul, who changed from a persecutor of Christians to convert to be as Christ’s Apostle, one of the greatest proponents of Christianity, found in Colossians 2:16-22 (ESV):

 Let No One Disqualify You

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?

As born-again believers in the resurrected Christ we must turn away from old beliefs and habits that do not glorify God or edify the body of believers. If we do find some aspects of our Christian walk that is not in line with Christ’s Commandments, like the Son who said that he would not work for his father and then changed his mind, we too can change by the grace of our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Word was God

Let us pray…

Hymn #240: Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14):

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Trinity