Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Favorable And Fickle Following

I watched a television show recently where someone who was driving along the freeway at night looked into their rearview mirror and said to the person riding along with them, “I think I’m being followed.” To which the passenger responded, “Why would anyone be following you?” Right about then the dog barked and distracted me and I didn’t hear the answer. But I remembered the question. It was such a good question I’ve adapted it and restated it to stimulate our thinking: What motivates people to follow?
Going along with the crowd is one reason. Often people get caught up in some movement of a great multitude and get swept along in the energy of it all. They find themselves going along with the crowd to such an extent they can’t even tell you where they’re going but just know they are on the way to somewhere.
They want what someone else can offer them. Have you ever seen someone following some political candidate because of promises that have been made? People who are discontented can be vulnerable to this deception.
They don’t want to miss out on anything. These are the people who are envious of what someone else receives and because of their self-centered lifestyles they are driven by their desires to not be left behind.
They want to be with the person they follow. Like a puppy following a little child, some people follow other people because of their desire to be with that person. This can be found in the perverted desire of the stalker.
They want to be like the person they follow. This is one of the highest forms of admiration. To follow in one’s footsteps is a figure of speech that expresses a desire to demonstrate the utmost respect and reverence for another. So now we get to the so what of this introduction:
Why are you following Jesus? And if you aren’t following Jesus, why not?
The Gospel of Mark is the gospel in action. Jesus is described in the narrative as actively ministering in the midst of the people. So to keep up with what Jesus is doing in the first few chapters, we see Him moving about in many different locations and many multitudes are following. After the first eight verses introduce Him, we see that He came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized. From there it is the desert, where apart from the angels, He is alone in His temptations. After John’s arrest, He returns to Galilee, preaching the gospel of God. Walking by the sea, He calls some disciples to follow Him. They left everything, the nets, the boats, their father and friends. He passed by the booth of a tax collector who left his ledgers and livelihood and followed Jesus. What was the powerful motivation for people to follow? From the seashore to the synagogues and from the private homes to the public places, Jesus interacted with the people of the land. Today’s passage may help us understand why people followed Jesus in that day and what motivates them to follow Him in our day. Let’s hear now the word of the Lord:
Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, 8 and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. 9 And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; 10 for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. (Mark 3:7-10)
Jesus rejected the motivation of the multitude who followed only to have their earthly needs met.

…a great multitude…a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him…

People throughout history have followed their gods because of what they could gain. Pagan religious superstitions abound in antiquity. The gods of the lands in which God’s people resided were territorial and limited in their power and protection. One could gain the favor of a god through a combination of the right kind of sacrifice, or if the god was in a good mood, or if the stars were aligned rightly, or if they were worshiping the god of the land. Whether you were hoping for a good crop or a large family, appeasing the gods was no small task to take on. Then the Great God of the Hebrews began to reveal Himself not only to His people but to the people surrounding His people. By the time of Jesus, the Hebrew or Jewish people had been scattered from their homeland and had influenced many of the different nations around them. So we read in the text that Galileans, local people, began to follow Jesus. From Jerusalem, the capital of Judaism, to Idumea, the ancient land of the descendants of Esau, people came to follow Jesus. From beyond the Jordan, the people of modern day Jordan and Iraq, and perhaps even Iran, came to follow Jesus. From the ancient seaports of Tyre and Sidon, idolatrous strongholds, they came to see what Jesus was doing. Jesus…the hope of the nations.
People who do not follow Christ as God have more hope to lose than anything they could ever gain. The multitudes were more interested in what He was doing than why He was here. The favors they sought were centered on themselves and their need. The what’s-in-it-for me attitude drives many to follow in our day as well. But people will find that following a self-centered agenda only makes them losers. They lose the peace that comes by knowing Christ personally. Christ does not call people to follow Him so their lives will be financially prosperous or holistically healthy. When a person follows Christ they surrender their life as they have known it. They no longer live to please self but desire to please God. Christ did not come so we could be comfortable in this world. He came to deliver us from hell in the next one. If a person never turns to Christ and follows Him as God, he will lose his soul, even if he gains the whole world. Why would someone do that? Why chase after earthly favors and lose eternal favor with God? Maybe because they confuse favors from God with favor with God.
Christ extends His favor to His favorites. The disciple is the favored follower of Christ. Does Christ love all men? The Bible tells us …For God so loved the world… So does the whole world find favor with God through Christ? Not unless they are His disciples. Not unless they believe and trust God with their lives. Not unless they repent from their sin, receive and believe in the gospel. A disciple is a learner who follows Christ to learn of Him and learns of Him to follow Him. God has chosen the chosen followers of Christ to show them His favor, or His blessing. This is what Christ is doing in this passage. He is living out the promise that God promised to Abraham. Through Abraham all nations would be blessed. Jesus, the seed of the woman, Son of God, descendant of David, child of Abraham, came to bless the nations and shed the favor, or the grace, of God upon all mankind.
Christ followers find favor in His personal presence. It is enough that God is with them in any circumstance. Whether we are in danger of losing our life, our health, our property, our families, our friends, God is with His people. Have you followed Christ long enough to know that He really doesn’t care about your SUV? He cares about your SOUL. And He comes to commune with us. He wants to be with us. And Christ followers find favor by spending time with Him.
The church runs the risk of wrongly reacting to the social gospel. There is a difference between the social gospel and the gospel that Jesus preached. The gospel is God’s good news for man’s bad condition. Jesus did not come to heal as much as He came to save. The social gospel is our man-centered belief that we must first attend to people’s physical needs before they will give the gospel a serious hearing. Well, tell that to Legion in Mark 5. He was a self-mutilating maniac who was a demoniac, homeless in a graveyard because it was not safe for him to live among the living. Imagine a team of people going out to him to assess his physical needs. Imagine them seeing him in his natural and by the way, naked, condition. They would have thought he needed shelter, medical treatment, psychological counseling, social interaction, clothing and possibly a shower. Then Jesus came by night to invade the pervasive darkness of his life. After the confrontation with the Christ, the man called Legion was sitting at the feet of his master, clothed and in his right mind. When Jesus went to get into the boat to leave, Legion wanted to follow. This is the gospel. It is the power of God in Christ to save.


Great multitudes have followed a Great God for trivial reasons. There is nothing trivial about the account of the Exodus. God brought judgment on the land of Egypt and directed Moses to lead His people out of slavery. They followed God to survive. You would think a slave would be ecstatic over his freedom. But amazingly enough, within just a few days of beholding the power of Almighty God, they began to grumble about their condition. When your life is self-centered, your god will be very trivial. This Great God Jehovah is worthy of following. Why do you follow Jesus? What is your reasoning? Do you follow Him because of who He is or what He can do for you? You will never be disappointed with who He is. You will often be let down because of what He has done for you. God does not exist to meet our expectations. We are not the focus of what God is doing. Deliverance from sin is the focus of the work of Christ. Jesus is not God’s gift to us to please us. He is God’s gift to us to save us. We follow Him to survive.
Followers who fall away usually have failed to find their heart’s desire. I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Some modern day preachers would add that following Jesus does the same thing. Well, I can agree with one out of three. Following Jesus makes one wise because the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When you follow Jesus you will fear God. Some have tried to follow Jesus without knowing He is God. And they have been disappointed because they think they are following some mere man who was a good teacher and a moral model. When life has gotten difficult, they have fallen away because they never understood that following Jesus is the wisest thing a human being can do. To follow Jesus is to seek wisdom. It is a fool’s choice to reject the gospel of God. A fool is disappointed with God.
The authority of Christ is on display for those who can recognize it. Not all who attempt to approach Christ understand who He is. Not everyone who pursues Him knows how to approach Him. Often we presume too much in our pursuit. The passage says that …all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. The language of the text says that they literally “fell upon Him”. They pushed their way into God’s presence because they wanted to “touch” Him. It is not right to crowd in on God. Contrast how the demons reacted immediately following our passage:
Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” (Mark 3:11)
The spirit realm knows what is hidden to the physical world. The unseen, but ultimate, authority of God can only be known spiritually. There is a difference in falling upon Him and falling before Him. Shouldn’t people who know Christ have at least as much reverence for His authority as the demons demonstrate? Do the people who are not following Christ see the followers of Christ living as though Christ is the authority in their lives? Our very lives should be a testimony of Christ in charge. Does the authority of Christ affect how you treat your wife? Does the authority of Christ reflect how you respect your husband? Does the authority of Christ shine through how you lovingly discipline your children? Do you work for a paycheck or work under the authority of God? Do you follow Christ as one who is under authority? The love of God in Christ is God’s basis for kingdom rule.
Disciples come to Jesus out of need and will follow Him out of love. Peter’s answer to Jesus in John 6 is a proper response. Many of the multitudes were falling away because Jesus began teaching some hard concepts. When Jesus asked the disciples if they were going away, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” When I came to Jesus it is because I answered His call to come and because I realized He was my greatest need. I continue to follow because of love. Not so much my love for Him. But His love for me is steadfast. Do you continue to follow Jesus because He continues to love you?
People will not follow Jesus unless they receive the gospel. Our challenge as a church is not to take lightly the needs of humanity. Our challenge is to keep it balanced with what we are to be about as the church. Our mission is to proclaim the gospel. We are not to get so entwined in meeting people’s physical needs that we never get around to presenting the gospel. This is why Jesus told His disciples to have the boat standing by. His mission was to preach the gospel of God. This is the mission of the church. Make disciples by presenting the gospel of God and continuously learn how to be disciples by living out the gospel of God. Following Christ because we want to be like Christ is one of the best reasons I know.

The “so what” of today’s message:I would rather be in the “favored following” category.
God has favored me by calling me to follow.
Are you following Christ for all the right reasons?
Have you decided to follow Jesus? If not, why not?
There is a difference between deciding and following. Let us follow Jesus.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Withered Hands and Shriveled Hearts

There once was a guy with an artificial hand. It was not one of those prosthetic devices that could be functionally used to do many things but it was one that was flesh-colored and rubbery, useless, except in appearance. Some right-handed people who have disabled hands will often shake hands with their left one. But this guy delighted in taking this lifeless right hand and placing in someone else’s hand as he introduced himself. He wanted to study how people reacted to the experience. Some recoiled immediately, laughing nervously about being the butt of some sick joke. Some people got angry at being caught off guard and embarrassed. They cursed him or threatened him with bodily harm. But the strangest reactions of all were those who acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. They smiled with pasted on expressions, all the while continuing to shake the hand. It was as if the man’s affliction was not a reality and they chose to ignore it altogether. How can that be possible? Weren’t they aware of his affliction?
Our passage today in Mark’s Gospel reveals how Jesus encountered a man with a disabled hand and solicited a response from the religious authorities of the day. Let’s look at the passage before us today and see how the responses differed between the man with the withered hand, the religious elite, and the Lord Jesus. Our hope is to learn how His truth can lead us into our own responses to His word today. Hear the word of the Lord.

He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. (Mark 3:1-6)


Is it lawful to do good...?

When God asks a question, He already knows the answer. The first dialogue we have recorded between God and the fallen man Adam is the question, Where are you? To Adam’s son Cain, He asks, Where is your brother Abel? To Moses, the reluctant leader, Who has made man’s mouth? Consider God’s servant Job. How did he answer questions like, Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? or Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? God does not ask questions to gain information. He asks questions to expose the truth. These questions are found all throughout the biblical story. In the text before us today, we come to the fifth question that Jesus asks in the Gospel of Mark. All five were directed to the religious leaders of the day. All five have to do with revealing the authority of God in Christ Jesus. In the synagogue that day Jesus asked a timeless question of religious people. Is it lawful… to do good…to do harm…to save…to kill…on the Sabbath? God already knew the answer. How would they respond?
Fearful and fallen men would rather do nothing than do the wrong thing. We can be mystified by stories we hear where people are assaulted by hoodlums and good people stand by and watch it happen and do not intervene. We hear of stories where people are injured in accidents and other people stand back and watch but dare not get involved. They justify it by saying it is none of their business. After all, they reason, they may get sued! It’s not against the law for them not to help, is it? I would argue that some things that are legal are not always moral. When you are so afraid of being seen doing wrong, you will miss the opportunity to do right.
Christ not only came to do the right thing, He came to be the right thing.
This second Sabbath day confrontation took place in the synagogue. Jesus had cast out a demon in the synagogue and discussion had ensued about His authority. This conflict is all about the authority of Christ over the authority of religious standards. The problem with the religious standard of the day was that it was open to Pharisaical additions and interpretations. The standard kept moving. And it kept moving people away from the worship of God. Christ came to intervene in this restrictive religious system of deadness with a new standard of life. Without Christ as the standard of righteousness, religious standards will become our master. Without Christ as our Master, we are never truly free.
Be discerning in the ways we exercise our freedom in Christ. Our freedom in Christ is not freedom from His moral law. It is freedom to do good, freedom to save life, freedom to worship God. The world is not impressed with Christians who profess to be followers of Christ while living habitually sinful lifestyles. They can see right through that hypocrisy. So can Christ. The Pharisees had an opportunity to respond rightly to the question God was asking. But they were too afraid. The man who was afflicted was not even an issue with them. Their fear rendered them ineffective in the religious community.
Fear breeds mistrust that creates a culture of impotence. In our lives together as a congregation, we will be faced with questions God is asking. He already knows the answer. We can remain in a safe place in the synagogue of the Pharisees, relying on our personal interpretation of our cultural religious tradition, and remain impotent. Religion can have a form of godliness, but lack power because of fear. Fear causes people to build walls between themselves, even if they are on the same side. Do we trust Christ with His church? Or are we afraid of the new things He can do and only He can do. Christ breaks down walls of division. If we will ask God to help us be right, He will also help us tell others how to do so.


...But they kept silent...

Man’s ideas for worship leads to man-centered culture. Consider the people of God as recorded in Exodus. They had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. During this time they had retained their identity as a people. The Exodus is the account of God’s people coming out of the Land of Bondage and moving toward the Land of Promise under the authority of God. His Presence had led them and provided for them while in the wilderness. When Moses went up to God on Mount Sinai, he left his brother Aaron in charge. In just a matter of days, the desire to be led by a god other than Yahweh infected even the leadership. Aaron was approached by the people who implored him to make another god (or gods) to lead them. They had waited on Moses long enough. You would think Aaron would be quick to defend the God of Israel as the One True God. But he told them to bring him the gold and he made them their god. Isn’t that what sinful man really desires to be? A god-maker? He shaped it into the form of a calf and the people began to behave as sinful people do without any restraint. Depravity always spirals downward. It leads to destruction. Listen to what God told Moses:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10)
This is the God of Salvation History. He is always at war with idolatry. He is always revealing His authority. He was willing to destroy them all, even Aaron, the brother of Moses, and start all over with Moses. God is still intent on making a people for Himself just as He did with Abraham, just as He did with Noah, just as He did with Adam. This God is serious about there are no other gods among His people. Idolatry is deadly. When leaders are caught up in idolatry, they lose their ability to speak for God. They stop telling others how to do right. The next step is teaching them to do wrong.
Humanistic philosophies will lead to anything other than God-centered ideology. The interpretation and addition to the law of God gave the religious elite of the day a power base. The religious, political, social, and economic lives of the people were controlled by the ones who made the rules. They cared more about the appearance of being godly than being godly. They were “good” people. This is the danger of the position that people find themselves in today. They think they are good because they aren’t as bad as some and somehow God grades on a sliding scale. They believe that they are relatively good because they have a relative truth. This is man-centered thinking. The cross of Christ is at the center of a God-centered lifestyle. And the “best” among us is judged by God according to His standard. Let the humanist ponder that for awhile.
Christ challenges the religious institutions of all ages with a standard of righteousness. How often has the church been silent when speaking God’s word would have been appropriate? How many times have you heard people say that the church does really well at telling people how they are doing wrong without telling them how to do right? For example, the church very vocal about the sin of homosexuality while silent to people in their midst about immoral hetero-sexual relationships. When a man and a woman used to live together without being married, it used to be called “living in sin”. Asked lately by someone who wanted to know if “living together” as Christians was sinful, I replied, “If you really say what it is, you will have your answer.” Any and all sexual relationship with anyone other than a marital partner is immoral and sinful. This is the standard of righteousness that Christ brings to the church. People who “live together” are actually dying together.
We can know differences of what it is to be culturally acceptable, traditionally desirable, and biblically non-negotiable. As Christians, we must decide if our lives can be described as Christ-followers. Not all who think of themselves as Christians follow Christ. Some things that are acceptable in our culture today are anti-biblical. Some things that seem right are so wrong. Some things that have been handed down for generations and have more power over us than our desire to please God need to be rejected. For a greater understanding of what are the non-negotiables, we must have a greater understanding of the biblical Christ. He continuously pressed against all that would mold Him into man’s image. We must push back against that as well. Learn what it means to live like God. Learn about Christ.
Humility in our corporate life will leave little room for hypocrisy. When we get the opportunity to speak truth into the lives of others it is always wise to consider our own lives before God. Consider how we would be impacted when people come to us and confront us in our sin. Consider how hard it is to be restored to God’s place. Consider how God’s word says to do that in Galatians 6:
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
Too much pride and too little humility leads to hypocrisy. Silence can result because we really don’t care about others. Humility frees the hypocrite from idolatrous bondage. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. Let’s be real with God and with one another. Speak Christ. He is humble in heart. Let us in the church be seen in our culture with humble and not hardened hearts.


...looking at them with anger...He was grieved at their hardness of heart...

Historically speaking, a hardened heart is a life-threatening condition. Both the Old and New Testaments give us God’s timeless counsel. If you can hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. When the first man Adam listened to the voice of another, his heart was hardened against God. His loss of spiritual hearing resulted in his loss of his spiritual life. The hardness of heart is a genetic spiritual and fatal flaw. It is in the DNA of every human. We are spiritually stillborn, until we are born by the Spirit of God. In this synagogue, the Word of God was in the midst of men with hardened hearts. This is the one passage in Scripture where it is very clear that Jesus was angry with those who by their silence and their treachery were intent on putting Jesus on trial. They watched to see what the God-man would do. And if He did the right thing, which was to heal this man with a withered hand, they would have grounds for condemnation. The healing of the man was insignificant to them. Maintaining their grip on their own authority was the issue. They would not concede that the right thing to do was the right thing to do. Hardness of heart affects spiritual understanding. They were in grave danger.
Unwillingness to respond to the voice of God leaves one exposed to the wrath of God. To the one today who is not following Christ but has a desire to do so there is hope. The reason you are here today is the same reason this man with the withered hand was in the synagogue. He was there to hear the word of a sovereign God. The gospel of Luke tells us the withered hand was the right hand. His hand of power was impotent. God in Christ came to restore that which was lost. If you have no relationship with the Christ and have not confessed your condition as a sinner against God, you are in grave danger. For until there is confession there is no repentance or a turning from sin to God. Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, you are exposed to the wrath of God. When Christ calls you, you can respond and seek His forgiveness. This man came to Christ, in response to the call to come forward, while the enemies of Christ remained nonresponsive. When Christ calls, our part is to come to Him. Then Christ asked the man to do the impossible. Stretch out your hand. He could not do this apart from the power of God. Respond to Christ as He calls you. Then Christ will do for you that which you can never do for yourself. This is the gospel.
Christ restored the hand that was withered and grieved over the heart that was shriveled. Both the withered hand and the hardened heart get God’s attention. To the hand, He is merciful, to the heart, He is angry. A hard heart is a lifeless heart, shriveled up, uncaring, dead, putrefied, and petrified. For it to be purified, it must be quickened with life...born again. But see the two things here that are coupled together. Anger and grief. He was angry because those with hardened hearts were not compassionate. And He grieved over what they would lose by being hard. I can only soak a raisin in water long enough to produce a plumper raisin. But without the power of God, it will never be a grape again.
Apathetic indifference to people’s afflictions speaks volumes about our spiritual heart condition as disciples. Do we care about the suffering that we see? Do we care about their lives? Do we see people as God sees them? Or do we see them at all? The danger is that we as believers can harden our hearts to the voice of the Lord. The progression of this will lead believers to unbelief. Unbelief will cause us to fall away from the Living God according to Hebrews 3. Apostasy follows apathy in God’s people. We will forget that it took the penalty of the cross and the power of the resurrection to give us a heart that lives and feels and sees what God sees. And we will revert back to our indifference to the God who makes a difference.
The gospel message is our constant reminder of our own withered hands and hardened hearts. We in the church are made up of many testimonies. Different as to when and where we came to Christ. But we are all alike as to how. Just as this man could not stretch out his hand under his own power, we can never claim to be born again apart from a work of God. Some formulaic sinner’s prayer could not do it alone. Some ritual baptism without an inward conversion holds no promise that we are children of God. We all came to God helpless to save ourselves. We all suffer from hardness of heart that must be guarded against. Come to the altar today and confess your condition to God. Whether it is a withered hand or hardened heart, God offers His gospel of grace.


...the Pharisees...began taking counsel with the to how they might destroy Him...

The story of the Bible is the story of God’s battle with His enemy. Humanity is only the supporting cast. God is the protagonist of the biblical story. Satan is the antagonist. God is the main character in the drama. He is the one the story is about. Satan is the one who once supported the protagonist, but now opposes. The stories of the Bible tell us how the supporting cast relates to the story. We all too often get caught up with trying to live like some of the biblical models. But as you can see, the Bible never hides the humanity of humanity. Then we are introduced to Christ, the God-man. All God. All man. There is none like Him. He is the restoring agent of creation and re-creation. He is the victor in this battle. Satan is the real loser. And he wants company in his misery.
The non-Christian has God as an enemy and God has never lost a battle. If you are not following Christ you are following the wrong person. Satan is a personal devil and there are only two sides. Which group of supporting actors would you find yourself in today if you really took a close look? What do you think Jesus would say?
Christ came to be the center of God’s plan and the center of Satan’s target on the cross. The natural progression of an unregenerate heart is death and not life, hurting not helping, destruction not restoration, tearing down and not building up. Christ came for a heart break. He came to mend the broken hearted and break the hard hearted. He died of heart break on the cross for the sin of all humanity for all of time. To a person who never knew sin, that is mighty destructive. He came to give life. He came to save men from themselves and the wrath of God. He died for those who destroyed Him. He died for those who degraded Him. He died for those who dishonored Him. He died for those who shamed Him. He certainly died for me and you. We have all played a part. How should we respond when we are treated like Him as one of His supporting cast?
Rejoice when you are conspired against, lied about, and become a target for the sake of Christ. Blessed are you, Christ said, when you are treated this way. How many of us know that sometimes God’s blessings are painful? Some days I feel more blessed than others. We live in a day when the reproach of being a Christian is often fashionable in our culture. Wear this as the clothing that Christ provides for us. His righteousness is enough. His grace is sufficient. Stay close to Christ these days. He has much to say to us. Stop trying to justify your position. Live like Christ told us to live. As wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.
Repent from attitudes of apathy toward what Christ has done in our midst, even if you did not understand. God is alive and well in the church where His word is held in high regard. Sometimes we are witness to different ways that Christ is at work around us in the church. And it is all too often a ho-hum experience for us. When we look for the grace of God in our midst we will find it. And it is as much a miracle as the raising of the dead. When God gives us a heart for those who are dying a slow death from living a fast life, we can be energetic and not apathetic for the cause of Christ.

What is our So What? for today?

Worldly authority found in dead religious tradition prefers an unchanging standard of lifelessness.
It is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
Hardness of heart grieves our Lord.
When the Lord asks a question, we need to answer.

What will be your response to Him?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lord Of The Law

When I was a boy, Sundays were different. Even if people didn’t believe that the day was set aside for a particular purpose, there was a general respect for the idea. You wouldn’t hear lawn mowers cutting grass during the time of worship services. And most church-going folks wouldn’t go fishing or skiing on Sunday afternoons. I remember one family who lived across the street from the church building. The mother would worship regularly on Sundays with her son and daughter. But her husband and their father never came as long as I attended there. He was a drunkard. I don’t know for sure how he was treated by any other church member. I don’t know whether they acknowledged him at all in any positive way. I never saw anyone go talk to him on Sunday mornings. The son and daughter were about my age and I spent a lot of time with them, but never went to play in their yard. It was as if the drunkard was to be avoided. As a boy I didn’t think much about this man’s need for Christ. It’s as though he didn’t exist at all.
I wonder today if this man was ever converted to Christianity and his life was radically changed. I wonder if he ever became the husband his wife was praying for or the father that God intended. I wonder if he is still alive and his days of hearing the church bell ring, piercing his Sunday morning hangover, are only faded memories if he can remember at all. Or I wonder if he has died and entered an eternity without Christ without saving faith in Christ. I wonder if the one who stood at the door of the church building ever thought about him very much at all. It seems the message of Christ is more than just about all the bells and whistles. The gospel is much more than that.
Outwardly religious people often care more about their holy days than people and their basic needs. The Gospel of Mark brings us this week into a head-on collision between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day in relation to the observance of the Sabbath Day. The tradition that was built and maintained was a powerful in the days of Jesus and it is still a powerful force today. Can we get so bound up in the observance of God’s law that we lose focus not only on people who are strangers to God but also ignore the needs of the people of God who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of it? Let’s read the passage together and see what we can find.

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain.
The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”
Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)



...the Sabbath was made for man...

In the beginning, Sabbath was a day for God’s glory and man’s benefit. In Jesus’ day, Sabbath day observance was a hardship...something hard to do. But it was not always so. The Sabbath was made to serve man. In the creation account, after six days, God had finished His work of creation. The crowning jewel of all creation had been formed. Man was created in the image of God. God set aside a special day. By His decree, it was a holy day, designated to be a day of rest. It was a day of rest, although God was not tired. But He rested. Why? In Genesis 2, He had finished the work of creation. And the purpose of the day was to reflect on the awesome grandeur of a holy God who speaks and it is so. The Creator is worthy of the worship of creation. Man would benefit from a regular time of rest; set aside as time that he could reflect on His Maker and listen for His voice. But then came chapter 3 of Genesis. In the fall, man’s purpose in creation became perverted. This seventh day observance became vastly different from what God had originally intended. By the time of the public ministry days of Jesus, the Sabbath had become a tradition that was void of the glory of God and the benefit of man. It had become twisted in its purpose.
The allusion to the time of Abiathar would have been provocative to the religious establishment. Before David was a king, he was a fugitive. King Saul was jealous of David and the favor that God had bestowed upon him. Young David had slain the Philistine champion Goliath and had become Israel’s champion. David’s status as a national hero provoked Saul and he tried to kill David. During this time, David came to a place called Nob. In 1 Samuel 21 we read that he approached a priest named Ahimelech and asked for some bread for him and his men. The priest only had the consecrated bread, or the showbread, traditionally kept for worship purposes. The priest relented after David had appealed to him and gave him this holy bread. The priest also gave David the sword of Goliath as well. Witnessing this event was a man named Doeg, who was an Edomite shepherd of Saul, the worldly king. See the contrast here. The Edomites were descendents of Esau, the brother of Jacob, whom God had chosen to father His people. Jacob was called Israel. Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected. Doeg was a shepherd who aligned Himself to Saul, an earthly king. David was a shepherd who said that the King of Heaven was his Shepherd. Doeg related this episode to Saul, who assembled Ahimelech and the priests at Nob. Saul commanded Doeg to kill the priests and he slew eighty-five priests that day. One escaped the calamity and his name was Abiathar, one of the sons of Ahimelech. The time of Abiathar that Jesus referred to was the time when God preserved His priest and His king in the midst of murderous hypocrisy. Saul pretended to be in authority and it looked like he had the upper hand. But God had anointed David before he had ever killed Goliath. The time of Abiathar was a time when God had chosen David, who was a hungry king who pursued the heart of God. In the aftermath of the slaughter at Nob, it is believed that David wrote Psalm 52. Listen to the passionate cry of his heart as he mourned over his provocative part in this episode.
Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The lovingkindness of God endures all day long. Your tongue devises destruction, like a sharp razor, O worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, Falsehood more than speaking what is right. Selah. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
But God will break you down forever; He will snatch you up and tear you away from your tent, and uproot you from the land of the living. Selah. The righteous will see and fear, and will laugh at him, saying, “Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and was strong in his evil desire.”
But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, and I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.

I believe when these Pharisees heard the reference to the time of Abiathar, they knew Jesus was referring to them as being more like Saul than like David in their religious observance of the Sabbath. They would have been more aligned with ungodliness in their observance. They did not care about people. The Law was their lord.
Christ declared that human need supersedes mere ritual and ceremony. He did not come to abolish the Law. He came to fulfill it. He came to set man free from his burden of keeping the Law. One of the Ten Commandments deals with the observance of the Sabbath. By the time of Jesus, this one command had grown into many prohibitions tacked on like many Congressional earmarks to today’s legislation. The things that were added to Sabbath observance had nothing to do with the intent of God’s original command.
Although Christians are not bound to Sabbath Law, there are benefits to the Sabbath principle. Even before the fall, God had seen that man needs time to wind down and reflect on God and His word. Sundays are not the Sabbath. Sundays are our reminder of Resurrection Day. Often this is used to justify people who live and work in a culture with a self serving motive. Either we work every day because we think we can or we take the day off to pamper ourselves. The holy day has become a holiday so we can do what we want to do. Holy days become hollow days when we think one day in seven is more about us rather than all about God. Sabbath is for God’s glory and man’s benefit.
The Sabbath principle is beneficial to the congregation because we can be too busy to effectively be about God’s business. I used to think that a church that has something going on every day, bustling with the busyness of many activities, is really on mission with God and accomplishing His purpose. If the devil cannot tempt us as a church to successfully to do wrong things, we can quickly fall into the trap of doing right things in the wrong way.


…and not man for the Sabbath.

Man was created to be free to worship God and not free from the worship of God. Here is the original purpose of the Sabbath. Consider that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath. What was God up to? The most holy act of worship ever experienced was the crucifixion. The most holy sacrifice was presented to the Most Holy God. And when He was taken down dead from the cross, the Sabbath Day was for reflection. God said…and it was so. Think about what that means for you and me. It makes me want to worship God. And this side of the Cross, we are free to do so. But we are never free to not worship God.
Man is not free to worship a system of rules because the Law will quickly become a hard master. Man was created to worship God and serve Him as master. When the day that God set aside for our benefit became our bondage, something was wrong with that picture. Jesus came to do something about that.
Christ came to restore true worship of the Living God. Anytime we keep God’s law out of a sense of duty or even grudgingly we can become captive to it. They were free to worship Him using that which was created. The Sabbath was not intended to be a heartless despot that man must serve regardless of the cost to himself; rather it was given to meet man’s need for rest. It was given to meet man’s need for God.
Walking with the God who gives rest is radically refreshing. These disciples were walking with God. And God was walking with them. When is the last time you have “passed through the grainfields”, walking with the Creator, and trusting Him as your provider?
When the people of God look for God’s provision daily, they will see their Provider. There is a time upon us in the Church today that we can look to worldly situations and see the emptiness of worldly solutions. We can be fearful in living out our lives, running to and fro, increasing our knowledge, and be desperate for wisdom. Here is wisdom. Spend time with God today, thanking Him for His daily provision. You will see your Provider.


So the Son of Man is Lord ... even of the Sabbath...

God designated the Sabbath in the beginning and has full authority in its purpose. God thinks of everything. When He provided manna for His people in the wilderness, He made provision that they could gather twice as much on the day before the Sabbath so they would not have to gather it on the Sabbath. The Sabbath Day’s provision would not spoil or rot. But if they tried to do this on any other day, and work around God’s direction, the manna would spoil. How can you explain this? God has within His authority to make judgments about law He Himself establishes. It is so in the physical realm as well. We read that an ax head floated and the sun’s shadow went backward on a staircase. We read that the sun stood still, extending the daylight so a battle could be fought and we read that a Crucified Savior was raised to life from the dead. God and His authority are ultimate. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.
A person will not have a concept of a holy day without a concept of a holy God. The unbeliever cannot have the concept of worshipping God or reflecting on His blessings without receiving these blessings. But they do have a concept of worship. That is what is wrong with their lives. Something is demanding their time, talent and resources. Their worship is out of whack. Holy days will be hollow days or holidays.
The authority of the Law is found in Christ. Christ was not above its authority, He was the authority. He was not asserting his freedom to violate the Sabbath law, but rather he was declaring his authority to interpret that law. What the disciples were doing did not violate God’s Sabbath. They violated man’s interpretation of it.
When Christians are yoked together with Christ they can find rest for their souls. Consider these words of Jesus:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
A yoke was something that was hung around the necks of two animals working together so they would walk together. One was always a lead animal who paced the pair and guided their direction. Are you yoked to Christ? How do you know? Because no matter what Christ calls you to, He does not call you to slavish Sabbath keeping. You will not find rest serving the Sabbath. You find rest serving Christ…take His yoke upon you…learn from Him. Heaven is a continuous Sabbath rest, forever yoked to Christ.
Holy days are hollow days when we spend time serving and worshipping other things. Our challenge as a church is to reach this city with a celebration of the holiness of Christ. There are plenty celebrations around Raleigh that you can choose to be a part of. As a matter of fact, you can so compartmentalize your Christianity that you can be worldly in your witness. This means that if I see you in public, I would not be able to tell the difference in your behavior than people who do not follow Christ. Are you a Christ follower? They stood out in the grainfields to people who saw their difference as negative. Will you be willing to stand out in your neighborhood as someone different in a positive Christlike way?

Our so what for today:

Is my worship experience holy or hollow?
Do I encounter the Christ of the Bible or practice some ritual on a religious checklist?
Do I practice the Sabbath principle?
You must take the time or the time will take you.
Here is an acrostic for the word BUSY to remember: Being Under Satan’s Yoke.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Different Discipleship

Have you ever seen what happens when four or five Mentos brand mints are dropped into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke? There is an extreme and volatile reaction. The bottle cannot hold the contents in. The liquid shoots out of the top of the bottle, spewing forth under pressure much like the eruption of a geyser in Yellowstone National Park. A world record was set on the television show Mythbusters. With the use of a nozzle it sent a jet stream into the air over 29 feet high! This reaction occurs when some different ingredients are introduced that causes a change in the nature of that which is inside the bottle. It could be described as a “change reaction” or a reaction to change. The setting for such a display would not be appropriate for us here today. It would create a very messy environment. The container could not contain the change.
The religious people who were critical of Jesus and His authority in the Gospel of Mark knew absolutely nothing about Diet Coke and Mentos. But they knew change when they saw it coming. They knew what happened when someone came along and tampered with their tradition. They knew what might happen when disciples acted differently. It made an absolute mess of their institution. It threatened their way of life because things happened outside of their control. Disciples of Jesus were different from what people had been used to seeing. They did not always act in the ways of the Pharisaical tradition. And this caused no small amount of conflict among the practicing religionists of the day. This is the first century setting for today’s message, Different Discipleship. Let’s read the text before us from Mark’s Gospel.
John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”
And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:18-22)

Jesus brings new life that religious tradition cannot produce or keep contained.

...John’s disciples were fasting…the Pharisees were fasting...
Fasting symbolized mourning and sorrow and over time it grew into man-centered activity. The origin of the fasting of God’s people has its roots in the Old Testament. As God's people progressively heard from Him, He commanded them to set aside one day a year that came to be known as the Day of Atonement where they were to “humble their souls” in repentance and seek God’s forgiveness. To humble the soul required self humiliation and self denial, expressing sorrow for the effect of sin. The practice of fasting became a practical act of self-denial, abstaining from the intake of food. Fasting was often a response that symbolized sorrow and grief. Consider someone who grieves the death of a loved one and their response is so sorrowful they do not eat for some time, often for days. People also fasted in biblical times while seeking God’s direction, answers to prayer, or desired a heightened awareness of God’s presence in their mission and ministry such as Moses and Elijah. God’s people often fasted in situations of loss such as in the Babylonian captivity, where the Jews had lost their home and some believed they had lost their heritage as well. In the aftermath of the exile, the Jewish people continued their practice of fasting even after they had returned to their land. At the close of the Old Testament era, a group called the Pharisees rose to power and called the people to return to the basics of their religious tradition. By the first century, in the time of Jesus, the Pharisees would demand that people fast as much as twice-weekly. They were on the lookout for those who fasted and those who weren’t. They wanted themselves to be plainly identified as observers of the fast. They thought it gave them the appearance of being super-spiritual. Fasting became a religious activity focused on the display of man’s religious standing before other men. Here is the reason for the question to Jesus. Why don’t we see your disciples fast? Implied in that question is … Why don’t we see your disciples fast… like everyone sees that we do?
Fasting as an act of repentance is motivated by godly sorrow. Another faction of religious practitioners was found in the desert community of Qumran. The Essenes were the real deal when it came to fasting. Their fasting was not a public display of religion on parade. There was no parade in the desert. They were seriously seeking Messiah. Have you ever longed so much for someone’s presence that you did not eat? John the Baptist was criticized for his ascetic lifestyle where he lived on wild locusts and honey. Fasting was a part of his routine. His disciples followed in his tradition that seems similar to that of the Essenes. John’s disciples practiced fasting as it represented a denial of basic human desires such as food or drink. This denial demonstrated a desire beyond their physical hunger. They desired God more than they desired food. They mourned over their present condition of sorrow for their sin. Their Messiah was near. This was what John’s whole life purpose was about. He was to announce the Messiah’s arrival. They were living out the message to Repent, for the kingdom of God is near. This message is still relevant today. Repent. The kingdom of God is near. The person who desires to get close to God will never get there without repentance. People will never truly repent unless they experience godly sorrow. We often see God as some unfeeling, cold, and judgmental deity who is far removed from our existence. But know that our sin affects God. He is a Person. Sin offends Him. Are you sorrowful that your sin has hurt the heart of God? Repent. Change your direction. Turn from your way to God’s way. Mourn and weep over your sin. Godly sorrow leads to repentance. If I did not know God as my Savior, I would not want to eat until I had that assurance. A real relationship with the Living God is more valuable to the soul than food is to the body. We cannot live long without it.
Christ fasted miraculously in the wilderness. The Gospel accounts say He was there in the desert fasting for forty days and forty nights. Was He sorrowful over His sin? No, because He knew no sin. His mission lay before Him and He was tempted by the devil. He who knew no sin was to become sin for us. He fasted to demonstrate that He would not succumb to demonic temptation and turn the stones into bread, although He could have. He came to do the will of His Father, not the will of the tempter. He came to give Himself and deny Himself. Christ shows us that fasting can clarify our priorities. God-centered priorities can be clearly seen when we deny ourselves our basic desires.
Fasting cannot manipulate God. When fasting is ritualistic and legalistic, it leads to an empty expression of worship. God is not obligated to move on our behalf because we fast. Fasting should be done with purpose. One great purpose is to hear from the Lord as to matters of great consequence. Fasting should be purposeful and private. Fasting should be done discreetly. The whole world should not know we are fasting. It is between us and God. Self exaltation does not move the heart of God.
Fasting can be helpful as we learn to direct our focus on the Lord concerning His will. To know His will, we can look in His word. Fasting does not always have to be food-related. Fasting from wasteful activities can be a great way to discover God’s way of living in these frightening times. We can turn off the TV and open up the Word. The God of the Bible is not represented favorably from Hollywood productions. Biblical principles to guide our lives are found in the Bible.

...Your disciples do not fast...So long as they have the bridegroom with them...
Men either rejoice, tremble, or ignore God when He is in their midst. Historically, man was created for communion with God. And it was an enjoyable thing. Then the fall of man brought shame and fear and men trembled when God revealed Himself. The most dangerous stage of the God-and-man relationship is when people began to take God for granted and no longer trembled. People ignored God and His word and were deceived to think He did not matter to them and His word was irrelevant for them. Their dead and lifeless religion became a ritual and a burden to those dying in their sin. So the Word of God became flesh and began to dwell and eat and teach and work and love among them. This was a different thing to the ones who were mourning and the ones who were pretending. Christ came to bring the joy of living back to men who were created in His image.
The absence of joy in the non-Christian betrays a lack of contentment in the ways of God. Why are your disciples doing things differently? Jesus was asked. The “why” question is a prevailing one. These days people are asking for explanations rather than answers. God does not owe us explanations as to why He does what He does in the ways that He does. From a self-centered perspective they ask, “Why didn’t He perform the way we expected?” It’s because God does not act for man’s primary benefit. He acts to demonstrate His glory. If you haven’t noticed, humans that don’t get their way can become dissatisfied and discontent. Non-Christians can suffer great disappointment with a God who does not meet their expectations. They do not enjoy joy. Don’t miss the contrast of joy and sorrow in this passage. Jesus draws this out using an illustration of a wedding that portrays life within God’s community.
Christ is the Bridegroom that everyone has been waiting for. Traditional wedding ceremonies in our Western culture find all the invited guests, along with the bridegroom, anxiously awaiting the entrance of the bride. At the first chords of the Bridal March, the guests rise to honor the bride and all eyes are fixed upon her. You can hear the hushed whispers, Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t her dress gorgeous? But in the first century Oriental culture the bridegroom was the center of attention. As a general rule, the bridegroom would travel to the bridegroom’s home under the cover of darkness. His attendants would travel with him and he would dress like a King coming to claim His queen. The attendants of the bridegroom would no doubt be infected with His contagious joy as he anticipated union with His bride. Bridesmaids were usually waiting with the bride for the arrival of the entourage, which was led by the bridegroom. I honestly think this is one reason we are a little confused about who we are as the church in our culture today. We are the Bride of Christ. But we seem to think that the wedding is all about us. We think it’s about how we are dressed, and how beautiful we are. It’s not about the Bride. It’s all about Christ. All eyes are to be looking out for the Bridegroom. We can eagerly anticipate the Bridegroom’s arrival, no matter how dark it is around us and within us. Behold the Bridegroom comes! His arrival triggers a great celebration. Christ is the Bridegroom everyone’s been waiting for.
The joy of being with Christ should be a defining mark of the disciple of Christ. In our text the disciples of Jesus are not called Christians. They were called disciples. Disciples were students or followers. Disciples were first called Christians in the early church at Antioch, a few years into their future. Today many people call themselves Christians because they aren’t Muslims. They call themselves Christians because their parents were Christians. They call themselves Christians but they don’t follow Christ. And they are not disciples. A follower of Christ has learned that they can consider it all joy when they encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of their faith produces endurance, according to James 1. Many people who call themselves Christians today are living in fear and despair. They are anxious and panicked, distraught and angry, bitter and unforgiving. A different disciple that has learned to trust God with their lives. One who has joy in the midst of sorrow. One who has joy because they are in Christ and they know Christ is with them. Joy is like a spiritual tattoo. It marks us for identification for those with eyes to see.
Hope in the Bridegroom’s return overshadows the sorrow of His absence. The disciples of Jesus would indeed fast. In the wake of His death there would be days when fasting would be appropriate. Almost two thousand years since the day that our Lord was hung on a cross the church has had ample opportunities to fast and mourn in this sinsick world. But even in these days between His resurrection and His return, there have been days filled with the glorious hope of Christ. Christ in us is the hope of glory. This day is one day closer to the Bridegroom’s arrival than it was yesterday. World events in the political realm are lining themselves up for the imminent Return of Christ. There are many technological advances that have set the stage for the day when according to Matthew 24, “…all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory…”. Take hope. God’s tribe, His church, His Bride will have hope on that Day. Behold, church, your King is coming! Hallelujah! There is a new day on our horizon. There is new life with Christ in our midst. We have reason to celebrate! Even when…and even though…

...a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment...
God Himself has come to bring a new solution to an ancient problem. New life offered in Christ was a different picture than what people were used to seeing. This God was different than what the religious rituals had come to represent. Christ would not stay inside their boundaries. He did not fit their mold. Christ did not come to abolish the Law. He came to fulfill it. Men were in bondage to the religious tradition. Fasting in the manner of the Pharisees was not commanded. It had become like many commandments of God. Through additions and alterations, the law became a great burden. Jesus came to change men’s lives that were enslaved to sin and bound in ritualistic religious activity. Religious ritual is one of the greatest tools of the devil. It helps us do right things wrong.
People want to believe in quick fix solutions and painless problem solving. If you asked people today whose lives are eroding before their very eyes if they would like to see their lives get better, you would probably get an enthusiastic and affirmative response. But better would be a relative term. Better than what? Sometimes our desire for the amount of change we want is just enough so we can become comfortable with our lives once again. We want a fast solution for an enduring problem. We want a painless patch job but sin’s damage cannot be patched and plastered over.
Christ does not patch the worn and torn; He brings new garments with Him.
The change that Christ was bringing into the first century world is just as radical as it is to us in our time. He comes with change that is the great exchange. He wants to exchange our ragged life for His righteous one. He doesn’t come with part of Him for part of us. The change is total. He wants all of your life. The authority He brings is the authority of God. He has paid for this exchange with the currency of His blood on the cross. His garments of righteousness are offered to cover our sin-wrecked lives. Will you exchange your rags of ruin for His robes of righteousness? Tired of being torn and worn?
The Christian is in the midst of a complete foundational renovation and not just a surface remodeling. Why doesn’t Christ just patch up our lives? Because what He is trying to do requires that He use different building materials. The holy cannot be joined to the unholy. Our lives are corrupt. We are fallen beyond repair. We are in need of complete renovation. God wants to get to the foundation. He is building something holy. Therefore, the foundation must be solid. If your foundation is not the confession that Jesus is Lord, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, you will need a new foundation. Your man-centered life must be renovated to a God-centered one. You and I are like a house being built for eternity. A new coat of paint or a power washing of the siding just will not do. Are you honestly seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?
As a church, we can expect that growth can bring change and change can bring conflict. A new patch on an old garment is not only incompatible; it can be detrimental. For us to survive as the Body of Christ in the days to come, we will have to be vulnerable to one another and transparent. When we bump up against one another, there will undoubtedly be conflict and some will be offended. We will have to be diligent to seek peace with Christ and one another. We have come to the place where we cannot afford to treat conflict as irreconcilable or ignore it as if it does not exist. We must learn to treat it biblically. Ignoring conflict, rationalizing people’s sinful responses to it, or adopting new programs for solutions to old problems will be like placing a new patch on an old garment. The new will pull away from the old and a worse tear results. And I, for one, am a little weary about the Body of Christ being torn apart, aren’t you?

...the wine will burst the skins...
New wine communicated a Messianic message of dynamic spiritual change that cannot be contained. Prophetic messages such as Isaiah 25:6 and 55:1 claimed that the Living God would provide the best wine at a future banquet and without cost. Wine was an important part of Jewish culture and is significant in the first miracle of the Gospel of John. Remember the wine had run out at the wedding of Cana.. We are told intricate details about the water pots that held the water for ceremonial washing. When Jesus changed the water to wine He was demonstrating that man cannot make himself ceremonially clean before God. Only God can cleanse. The Messiah had come to the people. A new way of life was here. It was time to celebrate. New wine ferments with violent internal reaction. Change reactions in old wineskins cannot be hidden. Life on the inside spills over to the outside.
A problem that a non-Christian has in surrendering to Christ is that he is afraid Christ will change his life…and He will. Christ saves us to change us and He changes us to save us. The person who would rather have his self-centered sin-filled lifestyle is trading away the glory of God for the pleasures of sin. I talked to a man recently who has worked as an investment banker for years. Since the fall of last year it has been hard for him to make a living. He put it like this. Long term and short term thinking has changed. Long term is what will happen next week. Short term is what will happen before dark. For the person who does not know God today and the sign of the times, it’s going to be dark pretty soon. There is still time for Christ to change your life.
Christ is the ultimate change agent. Jesus came so that we may have abundant life. He came to change us to people who want that for themselves and their families. We will not be changed into these kinds of people without Him. We cannot change ourselves or kick our destructive habits. This is the gospel. Christ has come to do for us that which we are helpless to do for ourselves.
Disciples of Jesus Christ will often break the molds of religious institutions. Did you know that some of the most influential leaders in the church over the ages have been criticized by the religious establishment of their day? Peter, John, Stephen, Paul, Martin Luther, John and Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody and Billy Graham are just a few. Will you be a disciple that breaks out of the mold of religious institution? Christ said that He will build His church. And the gates of hell will not stand against its assault. That’s a different kind of church from the one that withdraws into a fortress of institutional tradition. I want to be a different kind of disciple. Don't you?
Different Disciples will result in a different church. A church sign that I heard about this week reads “Looking For a Dead Church? Keep on Driving!” I would like to add something to that sign if it were on our sign. It would read, “Looking For a Dead Church? Keep on Driving! Looking For a Different Church? Come On In!” Some people are looking for churches that manifest life and are not monuments of death. Some people are looking to become different disciples. What are you looking for today? Christ in us makes us different disciples. Is He in you? Are you in Him?
So what is our so what today?
We will not enjoy Christ’s new way of living if we love our old ways of life too much.
The time of fasting is almost over for Disciples of Christ. The time of feasting is close at hand.
The Kingdom of God is near. Are you close to the King?
Repent and believe in the Gospel.
There is joy in the presence of the Lord. Do people see the joy of the Lord in you?