Questions from the Street: “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”

Mark Wheeler

June 29, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Romans 3:21-26        

Questions from the Street: “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”

Compassionate Comforter, pain and evil surround us and grief is twisted into the fabric of our lives. Give us, we pray, strength equal to our need, and courage equal to any challenge. For this we give You praise and thanks in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I have a touch of bitter-sweet in my heart this morning. For the last 2 months or so we have been in a series addressing questions about the Christian faith, the Bible, the Presbyterian ways, people often ask. We have had some fantastic questions from friends and neighbors who might not be believers, and we had had some pretty good questions from people who sit right here with us every week!

I feel bitter-sweet because it’s been kind of fun to listen to your questions, and coordinate dates for attendees to hear their questions be entertained, and to flex my theology muscles – as weak as they may be; so it is bitter to finish this series. But it’s kinda sweet to start a fresh series in the New Testament book of Philippians next week.

Lucy and Linus are gazing out the window at a staggering downpour.

“Boy, look at it rain,” Lucy says, fear etched on her face. “What if it floods the whole world?”

“It will never do that,” Linus responds confidently. “In the 9th chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.”

“You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” Lucy says with a sigh of relief.

Linus replies, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!”

Today’s question is probably the biggest and most important question of sound theology for followers of Jesus to get a handle on. Today’s question is: “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

George Atley was killed while serving with the Central African Mission. There were no witnesses, but the evidence indicates that Atley was confronted by a band of hostile tribesmen. He was carrying a fully loaded, 10-chamber Winchester rifle and had to choose either to shoot his attackers and run the risk of negating the work of the mission in that area, or not to defend himself and be killed. When his body was later found in a stream, it was evident that he had chosen the latter. Nearby lay his rifle — all 10 chambers still loaded.

George Atley shows us the reality of what it means to truly sacrifice for the good of others and I believe gives us a rare glimpse of the character of Jesus working in the lives of His people.

The Oxford Press defines a sacrifice as “an act of giving up something one values for the sake of something that is of greater importance”.

Sacrifice is very much a part of understanding the nature and work of Jesus Christ. In fact, without this understanding Jesus simply does not make sense at all. I believe that the life Jesus led was one of continuous sacrifice:

• He gave up the glory of Heaven
• He gave up human comforts to reach the lost
• He gave up popularity and acceptance to share the Truth
• He gave up His “rights” to accomplish a greater good
• He gave up everything so He could reach those who needed Him most
• He gave up His life so you could keep yours

Our passage from Scripture this morning is Romans 3:21-26. Listen to God’s Word from the Apostle Paul to the future seat of the Christian Church…. —-

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, to which the Law has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – 26 He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Jesus had to die to demonstrate the love of God.

Humanity had a problem that is almost as old as time; we have fallen from the purpose and plan that God had for us when He first created us. Literally, humanity had known God but had chosen to part from Him. Sin is both rejection of God and rebellion against God. In other words, sin is the act of turning away from God and doing what we know to be wrong. The result of sin was a marred relationship between God and humanity.

The goodness of God in humanity had been replaced with our stubborn selfishness. The glory of God had been swapped with the gain of self. The power of God had been traded with the helplessness of humanity.

Sin destroyed our relationship with God.

Sin was the obstruction that caused a separation to develop between God and humanity. Adam had walked with God in the garden and now that personal relationship was forever damaged because of sin. Sin had created a fundamental breech in the divine-human relationship and it was one that we could not repair.

Sin delivered death into the world.

Adam and Eve were made to live forever and be in fellowship with God in a deeply personal way. Just as sin destroyed the fellowship that Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy, it also brought death into the picture. The life that they were meant to have was now surrounded by the power of death. When sin entered the world so did death. Paul teaches in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” In other words, the just payment that sin gets us is death. The reality of sin is entirely connected with the reality of death.

From the Law and the Prophets, the means for the justice of sin’s debt to be paid was by the blood of sacrifice. The sacrificial lamb atoned for the sins of God’s people. Hebrews tells us that Jesus became that ultimate Sacrificial Lamb. Jesus came into this world to suffer and die as a way to reveal the love that God has for every person. Jesus came so that He could show God’s limitless and abundant love.

Again from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8)

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?Even though we were still filled with sin, Jesus made the choice to show God’s love by dying for us. Jesus came to this world to die, nothing more and nothing less.

Jesus had to die because a price had to be paid.

There is a little piece of silk in the museum of Springfield, Illinois, which can not be bought for any amount of money. Why the value attached to it? Because of its significance. That little bit of silk is all covered with blood. It was once a part of a dress worn by a beautiful girl, who sat by Abraham Lincoln when he was shot; and it was that beautiful girl who took his head in her lap, and it was that girl who held him while he bled his life out. The State of Illinois purchased that dress, and cut out this piece of silk covered with the blood of the great statesman, emancipator of an enslaved race, and the man who in the program of God became a cohesive force in the salvation of this great nation.

If sin results in death, someone or something had to pay the price. Let’s be honest, none of us is worthy enough to be able to pay for our own sins. The Old Testament is filled with rituals and regulations for living but it is also filled with the grace of a loving God. God instituted a system of sacrifice to cover the sins committed by His people. The price of sin was paid for in His blood.

Jesus came to pay a price He did not owe, because we had a price that we could not pay. Jesus died so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of sin. Jesus came so that we could be set free from the penalty of sin and the bondage of the Law. Jesus came to fulfill what we could not, and to do for all of humanity what we could not do for ourselves.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Jesus had to die to provide our redemption.

Jesus comes into the picture as our substitute; He put Himself in our place and died the death we rightfully deserved. Jesus shed His blood to pay the price for the sins that we committed and He bought our redemption with His own blood.

Jesus paid it all! Jesus paid for the time you lied to your husband. Jesus paid for the time you desired a woman who was not your wife. Jesus paid for the time you used your words to hurt instead of help. Jesus paid for the time you cursed God’s name in anger. Jesus paid for the time that you took what did not belong to you.

Jesus paid for every time that you ever sinned. Jesus paid for every time that you turned your back on God. Jesus paid it all! Your debt has been canceled and the slate has been wiped clean.

Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice….

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

The simple fact is that Jesus had first to die before He could be raised to new life. Jesus gave His life as an act of love, an act of sacrifice and an act of redemption. The blood He gave was the ultimate donation to the existence of humanity.

Jesus has given us a precious gift, what are we doing with it?

For those of you who have not yet found your way to come to Christ, you have a deep need to accept this sacrifice and allow it to change your life.

For those of you who are new believers, you have a need to share the news of the blood of Jesus with those you know who need it the most.

For those of you who have been believers for a long period of time, appreciate it. Live out your life with a bold thankfulness for what Jesus has done for you and for the power you have experienced. Amen.

Resources:

Dewitt, David; “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”; March 2005.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 425.

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Questions from the Street: “How Can We Know God’s Will?”

Mark Wheeler

Grad’s Day, June 22, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Amos 5:4; Habakkuk 2:4; Micah 6:8; Matthew 6:33; I Corinthians 2:10-12

Questions from the Street: “How Can We Know God’s Will?”

Author of all beauty, source of all wonder, You make the mountains sing for joy and the trees clap their hands with glee. Inspire us to join with all creation in jubilant praise and thanksgiving through our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom and through whom all things have their being. Amen.

Have you ever been in a position where you had to make a decision about something, and your biggest responsibility felt like it was trying to discover what God’s will for you was? What is God’s will for my life? Is this man the man God has chosen for me? Is that job what God wants me to do?

What are some of your “God’s will” questions?

I am going to say something this morning that will disappoint some of you; I will disturb some of you; I will cause some of you to wonder if I am saved? Are you ready?

I think we make too big a deal over trying to figure out God’s will.

Other times we make far too little over God’s will. Have you ever heard someone, probably trying to be comforting or consoling, tell a grieving parent or newly widowed spouse, “Well, this just musta been God’s will?

This time I’m going to say something that will look like blame or accusation. Ready?

I think God’s will is a big a deal and we should not simply attribute life’s circumstances to the will of God.

We are in a series addressing questions people off the street might ask. We have had some fantastic questions from friends and neighbors who might not be believers, and we had had some pretty good questions from people who sit right here with us every week! Today’s question comes from one you, and I chose today to address it because we are honoring our grads, who tend to be the biggest population who seriously ask this question. Today’s question is: “How Can We really Know God’s Will?

My neighbor and I have argued and debated about this very topic more times than I can count. His argument, which, by the way, I totally agree with, comes straight from the Bible. Let me share some of those Bible passages with you:

What is God’s will?

Exodus 20:And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Moses, by the way, added slightly over 600 more “laws” to these 10 commandments. There’s the will of God.

Isaiah took those 10 (or 613), and narrowed them down to 6, Isaiah 33:15, “Those who walk righteously
    and speak what is right,      who reject gain from extortion                   and keep their hands from accepting bribes,
who stop their ears against plots of murder                   and shut their eyes against contemplating evil—
.”

Do that, and you’re doing the will of God!

The prophet Micah took those 6, and condensed them to 3, Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?                   To act justly and to love mercy                and to walk humbly with your God.

Those three, there’s the will of God!

Isaiah, again, sums those three with these two: Isaiah 56:15, “This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice
    and do what is right,           for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed..

Just two things, and the will of God is in the bag!

These two, the prophet Amos reduced to one: Amos 5:4, “This is what the Lord says to Israel:

‘Seek me and live.’

How hard is that?! Seek God! That’s all there is to it!

Jesus said it like this in His Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” And then toward the end of His life on earth when the disciples asked Him which of all these commandment is the greatest, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)

How can we know what God’s will is? Seek first God’s Kingdom, and love Him with everything you’ve got! That is God’s will. You will know when you are doing it when you love your neighbor as yourself!

For those of you who look at the Newsletter, and try to read ahead on what we’ll be talking about each Sunday, you will notice that I told you to read Habakkuk 2:4. It is on your Sermon Notes Page. Look at that single verse: “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by faith.” Lest it might be supposed that God’s will can be found only in the fulfillment of the law, Habakkuk reminds us that the just shall live by faith.

We discover the will of God when we live like we believe what we say we believe.

This is the kind of thing my neighbor argues – and that I totally agree with. So why do we argue? Because he believes that what that means is that it never matter what you do, so long as you do it with a heart and mind set on serving God.

I add to his truths that sometimes God calls particular people to particular tasks – and while we cannot foil God’s ultimate plan, we can grieve the Holy Spirit by disobeying and/or ignoring His particular voice for us.

I believe we can still live godly lives that glorify God by our living by faith, no matter what choices we make – but imagine how much more if we actually paid attention to particular callings/vocations.

That’s what many high school graduates are asking. College graduates ask more particular questions about careers or jobs. What is God’s will for me today?! Do I take this road or that road?

In one sense, it may not matter, as long as we seek first the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, if you sense a nudging from God to go to Alaska – you’d be wise to answer that call!

So far I have thrown a lot of short Bible passages at you (the 10 Commandments being, by far, the longest). Look with me at one more, from Paul’s first letter to the Church n Corinth, chapter 2:

However, as it is written:“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—  the things God has prepared for those who love him— 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.Steven Furtick says that, you know when you go on an airplane you’re supposed to turn your phone off, or at least put it on airplane mode – this allows you play games on it, but you cannot make or receive calls. Furtick says we too often live our lives in spiritual airplane mode. Our faith is on, but we have disabled our ability to hear the Holy Spirit speak to us. Let’s take our lives off of spiritual airplane mode, and receive from God every revelation He wants to give us.] The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”    But we have the mind of Christ.

James tells us that when we lack wisdom, we should pray for wisdom. God loves to give His people His wisdom.

Among the churches whose roots are planted in the Reformed teachings of the Protestant Reformation, the Westminster Confession has stood the test of time and trial as a faithful witness to what Scripture teaches. This was written in 1647 at the Westminster Assembly to set doctrine in a standardized format. But this is a long and difficult statement of faith, so the writers also wrote two catechisms – Qs & As designed to teach what the Confession says. Listen to Q1 of the Shorter Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” (What is humanity’s main purpose?) A1: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

In other words, what is God’s will for us? God’s will is to glorify Him – does your life, and your life choices, bring glory to God? And God’s will is that we enjoy Him – do you? Or is it just a big chore to try to live by faith? This is God’s will!

Q & A2: “What rule has God given to direct us how to glorify and enjoy Him? The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.”

Today we honor our graduates, and we gather around them with the charge to glorify God, and to enjoy Him – in whatever you do – this is living by faith! This is doing God’s will!

And when you hear a particular nudge – judge it by the Scriptures’ rule, and when it passes muster – obey that calling.

But this is not just for graduates – this is for all followers of Jesus. Choose today to rejoice and be glad in the day the Lord has made for you, and glorify God, and enjoy Him for all eternity. Amen.

Resources:

Furtick, Steven; “Spiritual Airplane Mode”; ChurchLeaders.com; 06/02/14.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 395-396.

Sittser, Jerry; the Will of God as a Way of Life; Zondervan; Grand Rapids, MI; 2004.

Questions from the Street: “If God Already Knew How Bad …, Why Did He Even …?”

Mark Wheeler

Father’s Day, June 15, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

I Samuel 15:11, 35                                                                                                            

Questions from the Street: “If God Already Knew How Bad …, Why Did He Even …?”

Mighty God, You have delivered us from sin’s captivity and freed us from the powers of death through Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord. Inspire now our songs of extravagant praise until all the world knows that You alone are Savior and Redeemer. Amen.

I have this terrible ability to always pick the slowest check-out lane. When someone stands in line behind me, I almost automatically apologize for how long it will take them to get thru – not because I have some complicated transaction to make, but simply because I am standing in that line!

It has come to the point of me just picking any cashier, because I know it will be slow. All the other lanes will start to rush thru each customer, just because I’m not in one of those lines.

So, when I’m with someone, I might confess, “I know this will be the slowest lane, but this is where I’m going.” “Why? Why not go the next line?

          “Because if I moved over, than that would be the slowest line!

We are in a series addressing questions people off the street might ask. We have been blessed to get some excellent questions from some of your friends and neighbors. Today’s question comes from a church-attender – but not this church. I agreed to see if I could answer it because it is such a great question. The question asked was “If God already knew how sinful humans would be, why did He bother creating them?

Behind this question stands the Reformed theological belief that God is omniscient (all-KNOWING).

So, if God knew, before He created Adam and Eve, that they would sin and turn away from Him, why did He even bother?

And that question can be extrapolated out to probably every story in the Bible. If God knew Cain would kill Abel, if God knew humans all over the earth would have only evil in their hearts (see the Noah story), if God knew that Noah’s descendants would build the Tower of Babel, if God already knew that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, if God knew Abram would sleep with Hagar, if God knew the new Israelite nation would rebel and turn away from God – even against God … why did He bother to create, to rescue, to call, to establish? Why did God bother?

Or, maybe God did not know, maybe He does not know what He’s doing. What do you think?

Those are solid questions! Let’s see if I can come close to approaching a way to address this question. A month ago, one of you said something to me about how much you have appreciate my “entertaining” these kinds of questions; and I picked on her for saying that I only “entertain” the questions, but don’t really “answer” them. I know what she was truly saying, but I think “entertain” might be the correct word for this particular question. Let’s see if I can dance a little soft shoe around this question.

I invite you to look with me at a specific instance in the Bible where one might wonder, what was God thinking? “If God already knew how bad …, why did He even …?” Listen to the Word of God, I Samuel 15:11 &35 …. —-

11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night….

35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

This is one specific instance to illustrate that God did something that He knew would end badly – God chose Saul to be the first king of Israel, even though God knows all things – any honest examination of the whole of the Bible reveals that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Creator of heaven and earth, knew from the beginning how things would unfold; that is undeniable from the very first stories which offer promises of the Savior who would arrive in the form of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying n a manger several thousand years later – and God knew that Saul would rebel against God and lead His people away from God. David was the rightful king all along, but Saul was anointed first. Why?

Perhaps the larger question behind any single example of people failing to carry out God’s purposes is, “Why would God create the world in the first place if He knew that evil would enter the world, people would sin and terrible things would happen?

This question is related to the questionwe addressed two weeks ago, “Does God ever change His mind?” The answer we discovered was, “Yes, but only because God’s CHARACTER, His nature, never changes.”

What is the character of God that is revealed when evil or rebellion is experienced? [Opportunity for shout-outs. Maybe “grace”, “mercy”, “freedom”, “sovereignty”.]

This whole topic opens into a debate of FREE-WILL versus PREDESTINATION. I know that we have some strong philosophies of God’s sovereign predestinational prerogative – and it is soundly grounded in Scripture. But, God, in His ways which are not our ways, in His wisdom which is beyond our understanding, holds us in tension to also being responsible for the choices we make; that is, we have free will, too.

Norman Geisler argues that a free world where no one sins or even a free world where everyone sins and then gets saved is conceivable, but it may not be achievable. As long as everyone is really free, it is always possible that someone will refuse to do the good.

Of course, God could force everyone to do good, but then we would not be free. Forced freedom is not freedom at all. Since God is love, He cannot force Himself on anyone against their will. Forced love is not love; it is [violence]. … Love must work persuasively but not coercively.

Hence, in every conceivable free world someone would choose to do evil, so a perfect evil-free world may not be possible.

Why would God allow evil that He knows is going to happen? Here’s a weird tension that exists in reality. If evil is not permitted, then it cannot be defeated! The Seattle Mariners will never win another game unless both the Mariners and their opponents show up at the stadium.

God may have permitted evil in order to defeat it. If evil is not allowed, then the higher virtues cannot be attained. No pain, no gain. Tribulation works into patience. There is no way to experience the joy of forgiveness without allowing the fall into sin.

That is not to condone or endorse or encourage sin, Paul says in Romans 5:20-6:2, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

So, a world where evil is absent would not be the best world achievable. While a world where sin does not occur is theoretically conceivable, it would be morally inferior.

Some people may think they would prefer it if God had never created the world in the first place. Why risk the possibility of evil?

Others may wish that God had not created people with the freedom to sin rather than to love and obey Him. Why risk the possibility of rebellion?

Still others may wish that God would simply rid the world of all the evil people so that only the good ones who never go against God’s will are left – Ila Vista, CA, shootings; SPU shootings; HS in Troutdale, OR, shootings; STA stabbing. Why let bad people live among all the good ones who always only do things the way God wants them done? Follow-up question: who among us would be left?

In any of these idealized cases, such preferences negate the possibility of the “wisher’s” own existence. I would wish myself out of existence.

Why would/should God bother with our freedom to make bad choices? Because God’s character proves that there is always HIS WAY. Jesus said, John 14:7, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The challenge for us – for us fathers (of any age), and also for us followers of Jesus of any gender – is to seek God’s glory and discover God’s grace, even in, especially in, the bad/evil outcomes of life’s events. And to commit ourselves, and to train our loved ones, to follow Jesus; and to experience God’s grace in brand new ways; and the trust that in God’s perfect foreknowledge – He will see us through even the slowest of lines and the most difficult of results.

Mighty God, You have delivered us from sin’s captivity and freed us from the powers of death through Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord. Inspire now our songs of extravagant praise until all the world knows that You alone are Savior and Redeemer. Amen.

Resources:

Burchard, Kenny; God Sometimes Changes His Mind (But Only Because He Never Changes); ChurchLeaders.com; 05/20/2014.

Geisler, Norman; The Avoidability of Evil”; Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics; Baker Books; Grand Rapids, MI; 1999.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 415-417.

Questions from the Street: “Who/What is the Holy Spirit/Ghost?”

Mark Wheeler

Pentecost, June 8, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

John 14:16-17, 26

Questions from the Street: “Who/What Is the Holy Spirit/Ghost?”

God of all, may Your lavish grace and saving power be known by all people in all places, so that the world may resound with Your praise as all nations bow down before Your loving rule made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Last week I was working on a project for our home – and if it works, for any smallish room in the church. I am making a homemade portable air conditioner. Now, I don’t care if you like Home Depot or Lowe’s or Ziggy’s or Harbor Freights or any of the Ace Hardware stores. When I am in the process of inventing something – nobody has exactly what I want/need, so I wander around the store looking – for someone/anyone to help me. I like Home Depot because they wear those bright orange vests – if only those bright orange vests knew how to help….

When I finally find someone, I usually say something like, “I know this isn’t your department, but I’m looking for something like …..

We are in a series addressing questions people off the street might ask. We have been blessed to get some questions from some of your friends and neighbors. Today’s question comes from someone right here in our pews. It’s a great “Home Depot” kind of question. The question asked was “What is the Holy Ghost?” And another person asked, “Who is the Holy Spirit?

It’s a great question, in part, because many of us do not understand the different roles of the different “persons” of our “Triune God”. Wow – that was a ton of “Churchese” packed into one sentence. Let’s unpack a little, and then try to answer this question in particular.

There are any number of Bible passages that speak to this question, and to the words Christians use to talk about this question – so, admittedly, I picked and chose one of my favorites. I invite you to listen to the Word of God from the Gospel according to John 14:16-17, and 26 …. —-

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you….

26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

As Christians, we believe that God is the holy TRINITY – Three in One, traditionally named FATHER, SON, and HOLY SPIRIT. More contemporarily, people have used names like “Creator, Christ and Comforter” – which has the preacher’s advantage of alliteration. This, too, is biblical, but in my mind doesn’t carry the weight of relationship like “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” does. The technical, theological language is “three persons in the one God-head”.

This is, truly, one of those mysteries for which there is no great, accurate, certainly no easy, understanding. We believe that, somehow, God is, by Himself, a divine community. All three “persons” are co-equal and completely God, all at the same time. This is one of those times when I wish we had the capability to show video clips in the sanctuary, because there’s a wonderful 3-minute animated argument between St. Patrick and a couple of Irish snake-farmers discussing the bad analogies used to describe this Trinity. For those who have FaceBook, I will try to post that video alongside my sermon this afternoon. (here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw)

But, just to start the conversation, today’s passage from John includes all three persons of the Trinity. “And I (the Son) will ask the Father, and He will give you … the Spirit …. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my (the Son’s) name ….

The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, Page 14 in your Song Books, give definitions for these “persons”.

The FATHER is the CREATOR of all that exists.

The SON proceeds from the FATHER and is SENT to us as our LORD and SAVIOR. The Son is God, of the same substance as God the Father. He existed from the beginning, but was made incarnate (came in bodily form) of a virgin about 2,000 years ago; eventually He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; but on the third day he rose from the dead. 40 days later He ascended into heaven where He reigns/rules with God the Father; and He will come again one day to judge the living and the dead.

The HOLY SPIRIT proceeds from the FATHER and the SON, and was given to believers after the SON ascended back to the FATHER. The Holy Spirit also fully God, is equal to the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is not just a “THING” that God gives us – the Bible uses a PERSONAL pronoun to describe this “person” of the Trinity. Look at today’s passage again. Jesus, the Son, says, “I will ask the Father, and He (the Father) will send another advocate to help you.” And advocate has personal connotation. Advocates are not merely things; advocates are personal. But look further: “The world cannot accept HIM (not IT!), because the world neither sees HIM nor knows HIM … but you know HIM, for HE lives with you….

Okay – but what is His job? Which department does He work in? When I pray to God, is it ever appropriate to pray to the Son or the Holy Spirit, or is it always supposed to be to the Father?

Real quickly, and too briefly, the Holy Spirit’s job, according to John 14, is to come alongside believers and help us in our faith. He is our Advocate. Some English translations here say He is our Counselor, Consoler, Comforter(ah, there’s that contemporary name). The Greek word is parakleton, “beside-caller”, “comer-alongside”. He is our strength, our courage, our confidence, our help. He is the one who “giftsbelievers with things like faith and words of knowledge and speaking in tongues, and prophetic words and gracious hospitality. It is the Holy Spirit, as our helper, who produces in the faithful the “fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

So is it OK to pray to the Holy Spirit? YES! And to pray seeking His aid and resources and for faith to live and do what is right in our world so filled with wrong.

Today when we go to our time of prayer, I will invite different forms of prayer for the Holy Spirit’s presence to be revealed in us and with us. On that first Christian Pentecost Day, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit swept across the believers in some powerful ways, demonstrating God’s perfect power and love for His people – thunder, wind and flames filled the Upper Room where they met. Outsiders thought they were drunk – and 3,000 Jews became Christian believers that day. That’s what I’m praying for here!

But before we go to prayer, one more common question I get – do we call Him Holy SPIRIT or Holy GHOST?

The first mention of this third person of the Triune God is in GENESIS 1:2 (that’s pretty early in the Bible), where it says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, the SPIRIT of GOD was hovering over the waters.”

Of course, that’s one English translation. The old King James Version usually names Him Holy GHOST, most more modern English translations have chosen the slightly less spooky word Holy SPIRIT. They are both attempts to translate the Hebrew word “ruach” and the Greek word “pneuma”, both which also mean wind and breath. Was it the wind of God that hovered over the earth? Was it the breath of God that was breathed into (inspired) the first human?

The Latin Vulgate (the first translation of the Bible into a vernacular language used the LatinSpiritus Sanctus” = Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).

Henri Nouwen writes, “Being the living Christ today means being filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus. Jesus and His Father are breathing the same breath, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the intimate communion that makes Jesus and His Father one. Jesus says: ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14:10 [just before our passage today]) and ‘the Father and I are one’ (John 10:30). It is this unity that Jesus wants to give us. That is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Living a spiritual life, therefore, means living in the same communion with the Father as Jesus did, and thus making God present in the world.”

The Holy Spirit’s department is to bring us closer to Jesus. Let’s lean on Him for that, and invite His power into our everyday lives of faith. Amen.

God of all, may Your lavish grace and saving power be known by all people in all places, so that the world may resound with Your praise as all nations bow down before Your loving rule made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Resources:

A Vision for the 21st Century for Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry”; Theology Matters; May/June 2014; Pp. 7-8.

Nouwen, Henri; http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Daily-Meditation–God-s-Breath-Given-to-Us.html?soid=1011221485028&aid=-WhxAb0nMKU; June 5, 2013.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 411.

Questions from the street: “Does God Ever Change His Mind?”

Aside

Mark Wheeler

June 1, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Genesis 22:1-19; Exodus 32:9-14; Malachi 3:6

Questions from the Street: “Does God Ever Change His Mind?”

God of certitude and confidence, You invite us to pray for things we think we need and for our loved ones – teach us to pray with understanding so that we can pray with faith and assurance of Your perfect unchanging will and grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Have you ever gone out to a restaurant, and had a hard time ordering? And after finally making your choices, specific and clear and special ordered – you hear what someone else orders and so you change your mind? (Husbands, do NOT look at your wives right now – unless it’s with a sheepish expression of guilt/apology.)

Or maybe it was a much bigger decision – like a new car. And after you got it home you wish you had gotten it in blue instead of red?

Maybe it was a career choice, or a city to move to, or the name of a child. Once it’s done, it’s a little too late to have regrets – but have you?

Have you ever wondered if that inability to make a decision and stick with it – or to be happy regardless of what else comes along next week – is a piece of how we were made in the image of God? If it is, does that mean God, too, might want to change His mind? Does God have regrets over God’s plan? Hmmm.

We are in a series addressing questions people off the street might ask. We have been blessed to get some questions from some of your friends and neighbors. Today’s question comes from one of our deep-thinker members. The question asked was “Does God ever change His mind?

The question comes from the oft quoted, and almost never referenced, Malachi 3:6, which says, “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.

We’ll take a closer look at that later. There are other verses which say things like, “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” And we link that with God’s promise to “never leave us or forsake us.”

But then we read a story like what we find in Genesis 22. This is a key Old Testament story, one on which the foundation of the whole Bible-story is built. What do we do with this? Listen to the Word of God, Genesis 22:1-19 …. —-

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”         “Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”…

10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”         “Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.…

17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Now there’re whole sermons of theology in this story – in fact this question came after such a sermon during Lent this year when I was preaching on the theme of sacrifice that runs through the whole Bible. We could spend hours talking about how sacrifice illustrates God’s perfect justice and perfect love for us – how Abraham was to offer his only son, whom he loved, on the same mountain that God’s only Son, whom He loved, was the ultimate sacrifice for our sin almost 3,000 years after this Abraham and Isaac story.

But the question that came from this story was – why did God change His mind? He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and then He changed His mind and had Abraham sacrifice a ram caught in the thicket instead. “I thought the Lord did not change – but here He did.

And then I thought of this other Old Testament story where God is convinced that His plan needs to change, and so He does. This is the story where Moses and the Israelites are traveling through the Wilderness from Egypt to Canaan and Moses climbs up Mount Sinai and spends time with God getting the 10 Commandments, but when he comes back down the mountain he sees that Aaron had invited the restless Israelites to melt all their gold jewelry into a mold that they made into a golden calf to worship. Listen to God and Moses as they haggle over the right thing to do with these people. Exodus 32:9-14 …. —-

‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.”’ 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

What? This God who does not change, it says, “relented and did not do what He had threatened”? So, does God ever change His mind, or not?

The short answer to this question is that God does (insofar as you and I are able to understand it and experience it) seem to change His mind on some things, but that is only because God never changes his mind on others. I would suggest that Godchanged His mind” in these two stories (and we could find several others) in order to remain unchanged, true, to His character and essence.

“Changing direction” for God is not, as it is for us, an evidence of indecisiveness. It is rather a change in His method of responding to a person based on some change in the other individual.

The change, then, was in Aaron and the Israelites. The problem was with their disobedience, their wayward hearts and lack of trust.

The change was in Abraham’s faithfulness. There had been a time when Abraham did not trust God enough to give him his promised son, so Abraham and Sarah’s maid took matters into their own hands. But now Abraham fully trusted that God would somehow miraculously provide what would be needed for Isaac to still be the beginning of the promises God gave to Abraham. Since Abraham changed, God offered a different sacrifice, a substitutionary atonement.

To assert that God is unchanging does not mean He cannot experience regret, grief and even a change of heart. If unchangeableness meant transcendent detachment from people and events, God would pay an awful price for immutability. Instead, God enters into relationship with sinful humans that demonstrate His willingness to respond to each person’s action uniquely according to their obedience to His will.

The point here is that God’s essential nature and His ultimate commitment to His own sovereign will and ultimate authority do not change.

When God engages in relationship and interaction with a volitional person (such as Abraham or me or you) or a people (such as the Israelites or us), He remains true to His own “God-ness” and His ultimate purposes. In cases where the person or people with whom God is partnering decide we don’t want to do things along the lines of God’s will, God remains true to Himself, which will mean that we will feel and experience every indication that we and God are not on the same page.

In the case of Adam and Eve, it was God’s intention to work through them to project His image into the creation, and to expand His dominion over all of the creation through them. When they decided to ignore God and do their own thing, God remained true to His ultimate commitment while “changing the plan”. Thus, the first couple is ushered out of the program, and God Himself engages in the process of restoring what people ruin. This exact pattern can be seen over and over again in the Old Testament. God never changes His ultimate purposes, and God never changes in His goodness and His “God-ness.” 

Thus, Go­d can be said to change His mind, or regret, or change His actions toward people on various occasions, as a way of illustrating (and ultimately remaining true to) His own unchanging nature.

Ultimately, the larger story of Scripture resolves with Jesus opting to function completely on God’s terms to the point of death, and with God vindicating Jesus through resurrection as the affirmation that Jesus is the one person who was wholly faithful to God.

Jesus remains true to God, and God remains true to Jesus; and in the end, God hands the entire creation over to Jesus (see Matthew 28:18) which is exactly what God said He would do in Genesis 3:15. And what He promised in both of today’s Old Testament stories.

Back to that one verse in Malachi. Listen again to what this Old Testament prophet says: “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.God’s ultimate aim to hand the world over to an image-bearing human who reflects His image back into the creation, and who rules on His behalf, never changed. Jesus, as the fulfillment of thousands of years of covenantal promise, stayed true!

God does not change simply because it is not in His nature to mutate – He is immutable. And it is that constancy which keeps His people from being destroyed. Thank You, Jesus!

In a few minutes we come to the Lord’s Table, and we commemorate the immutable, unchanging character of God’s perfect justice and grace and mercy – doled out for us on the cross and from the tomb.

God of certitude and confidence, You invite us to pray for things we think we need and for our loved ones – teach us to pray with understanding so that we can pray with faith and assurance of Your perfect unchanging will and grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Burchard, Kenny; God Sometimes Changes His Mind (But Only Because He Never Changes); ChurchLeaders.com; 05/20/2014.