07/12/2015 – I John 1:8-9 – “A New GPS: Grace Placement System”

Mark Wheeler

I John 1:5-10

“A New GPS: Grace Placement System”

July 12, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, anything, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

This coming Friday evening is our church’s “faith night” at Avista Stadium – a group of us from LPC will cheer on the Spokane Indians as they battle it out with the Tri-City Dustdevils. One of the joys of Minor League Baseball is the games the audience gets to play – like “catch the T-shirt” where they shoot rolled-up T-shirts out of a cannon and the audience tries to be one of the few lucky winners. But catching a T-shirt, or for that matter a foul ball, consists of four things all converging: 1) you have to be at the game; 2) you need to be paying attention; 3) there has to be a T-shirt being shot out of a cannon (or a foul ball hit off a bat); and 4) you need to be in exactly the right place for the shirt/ball to land in your lap.

We are in a series which explores the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. Today we’re going to talk about how those same four factors fit into our study on Grace.

1)   Are we “at the game”?

2)   Are we paying attention? What do we expect?

3)   Is Grace being shot out of a cannon?

4)   Are we in the right place to receive it?

This morning we are reading from the First New Testament Letter from the Apostle John, and then we will also look at the Old Testament book of Psalms #32.

The first 3 of the factors we just mentioned are going to be assumed – and yes, I know that’s always a mistake – but because we are here this morning, and notat the lake” or still in bed or off to the casino, let’s just pretend we are all “at the game”. (The whole spectator image is a troubling image to begin with, right? We should all be “in the game”, not just “at” it. But let’s go with this failed metaphor for now. We’re at the game – we recognize that the Christian faith, as described in the Bible and taught by Jesus, is the only right faith system to live under. We areat the game”!

Let’s also assume we are paying attention! That’s a huger assumption, but for the sake of today’s topic I am pretending that I am paying attention to the things of God as well as you are; and that together we are paying close enough attention to actually see where God is leading us.

And the 3rd factor-assumption is the truth that Grace is being shot out of the cannon! God shot that Grace at us on the day that Jesus was crucified on our behalf. Grace was shot out on that day when I heard the Gospel clearly for the first time. Grace was shot out when I was fired, or cheated on, or failed that test, or missed that bus – and God’s perfect revealed will brought me to my knees. Friends, Grace is shot out today, right now. Are you at the game and paying attention?

From I John 1:5-10 we read these words of truth …. —-

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness [if we claim to be “at the game” and paying attention, but are, in fact, either not really walking in faith at all, or maybe we have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, but today we have decided that it’s just not worth the struggle – if that’s the case], we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. [Ahh, there’s the Grace shot out of the cannon!]

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

The 4th factor is where we are concentrating today! Are we in the right place to receive the Grace that has been shot out? What does that reading from I John 1 tell us is the key to this 4th factor? If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Confession puts us in the right place to receive God’s Grace! Confession is the Grace Placement System! What does that mean? And how does that work?

The definition of the word “confession” includes the act or process of confessing, as in telling one’s life story as a series of failings or tribulations. We think of it as admitting when we’ve done wrong.

The root-word of “confession is the Latin word “fateri”, “to admit“, akin to “fari”, “speak“. And you add to that root the prefix “con which means “together” (congregate = gather together, commune = unite together). Therefore, confess = admit, tell, together.

When we confess our sins, we take off our masks, we reveal our-selves, we open our vulnerabilities, to God (and maybe to one another). And that act puts us in the right place to receive God’s perfect grace (and the grace that might be offered from the victim of our offense).

How many of you had a mom who told you something like: “Confession is good for the soul”? How is “confession good for the soul”? It puts us in the right seat to catch that T-shirt of God’s Grace! That’s the secret difference between going to the Indians baseball game and catching a foul ball or a T-shirt. Being in the right seat is just a matter of luck! Not true for catching God’s Grace. It’s not a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

But do not hear me say that there’s a way to earn God’s Grace. Confession does not make us worthy of God’s Grace. There is nothing we can do to make us more or less worthyGod’s perfect Grace is un-earnable. What confession does do is put us in the right placeconfession readies our soul to receive, confession softens our heart to consent, confession opens our spirit to accept the Grace God offers through His Son Jesus Christ, as Savior and as Lord!

Probably the most famous Bible confession is the Old Testament King David. You know the story: King David looked out over his kingdom and peeping-tommed a neighbor-lady named Bathsheba, whose husband was away serving in the military. So he invited her up for dinner, and before the night was over she was expecting a baby. The story gets much worse than that, but that’s the beginning.Later, David’s friend and adviser helps him see the error of his way – and he confesses, both to his friend and to the Lord.

Psalm 51 contains some of the words of that confession; and Psalm 32 tells the story of that confession. Psalm 32, verse 5, is in your Sermon Notes page, but listen to verses 1-4 as well …. —-

Blessed is the one    whose transgressions are forgiven,     whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one    whose sin the Lord does not count against them    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,    my bones wasted away    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night    your hand was heavy on me;   my strength was sapped    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess    my transgressions to the Lord
.”   And you forgave     the guilt of my sin.

Did you catch the principles of confession in this psalm?

The beginning of verse 5 says:Then I acknowledged my sin to you    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess    my transgressions to the Lord.”

ADMITTING that we have sinned. Admit it! Acknowledge the fact that what I did was a sin! It offended God’s sense of justice and love. It was against His Laws. I disobeyed my Lord! Admission of guilt! I am a sinner!

The end of verse 5 says:And you forgave     the guilt of my sin.BELIEVING that God actually forgives sinners.

He forgives my sins. God forgives your sins. Christ paid the debt our sin deserves when He died on the cross – and was raised to eternal life. The letter of I John, our Thursday class has been discovering, repeats 3 tests of Genuine Faith – the moral test (do you obey the Lord’s commands?), the love test (do you love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind? and do you love your neighbor as yourself?), and the belief test (do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He forgives your sins through His death and resurrection?).

I John 1:8-9, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Confession becomes a new Grace Placement System – confessing our sin puts us in the right place to RECEIVE God’s grace.

 

The very bottom of your Sermon Notes page has a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his WWII era book called Life Together, written for the underground Church in Germany during Hitler’s tyrannous regime. Listen to his words: “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

We Protestants get a little uncomfortable when we talk about “going to a confessional”. The Roman Catholics teach a doctrine about how forgiveness can only be achieved by confessing to the Father through a priest; and we Protestants believe that the Bible calls us directly to God, without the need of a human arbiter. But, there is something powerful about allowing our inmost fears and vulnerabilities be seen by a brother or sister in Christ. I have avoided this for most of my faith, except in general terms as we pray together in church. But for the last 15 years I have been meeting almost weekly with another pastor, a friend, a colleague, a brother, with whom we share our struggles and our fears and our sins, for the purpose of hearing a brother pray with and for us! I confess that I experience the presence of God in the reality of my friend Chris.

In just a moment we will go to the Lord in prayer, but let’s go there to sit in the right seat. Let’s be in the right place to receive God’s Grace.

Let us live into the challenge of Hebrews 12:15: “Let NO ONE fall short of the grace of God.” Let’s pass God’s invitation on to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates; let’s invite them to come into contact with the GRACE of God – maybe by confessing our sins with each other! Amen. 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Life Together; Harper & Row; San Francisco, CA; 1954; P. 116.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 79-89.

07/05/2015 – Ruth 4:13-17 – “Full of Grace and Ruth”

Mark Wheeler

Ruth 4:13-17

“Full of Grace and Ruth”

July 5, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, anything, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

This past month has been one of those months when we realize how difficult following Jesus can be:

Hate-filled tragedy in Charleston, terrorist attacks, global financial instability (Greece), US Supreme Court decisions, legal and political posturing from candidates and government employees, at least 7 predominantly Black churches (from several denominations) burned to the ground in the last 10 days!, social media bombardment.

Many people outside the Church, and just as many inside the Church, feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented.

Some are feeling hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

Can anyone here relate to any of that?

You are not all on your own!

We are in a series which explores the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. Our scripture today comes from the Old Testament story about a woman named Ruth. How many of you have read (or heard) this story before? This Old Testament story of Ruth is in the context of despair, depression and doom.

The story starts with the news of a severe famine in southern Israel, surrounding the town of Bethlehem, a little more than 1,000 years before Jesus was born. The famine was so severe that families were packing up and moving into neighboring, semi-enemy, countries, including Naomi and her husband and two sons. But once they got settled, Naomi’s husband died; and her two sons married women from this enemy territory, and then her two sons also died! Naomi was suddenly a widowed mother with no living children!

So she decides to go back home, traveling by herself, to be with relatives who knew her customs and religion. Talk about despair and depression and doom; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone! Have you ever wondered if you might never escape the misery you were in? Darkness, fear, abandonment, estrangement … It is a terribly lonely experiencenobody, and it feels like no God!

But then this Old Testament story of Ruth also speaks of HOPE and GRACE.

One of her widowed daughters-in-law decides to go with her. Ruth was her name. She tells Naomi, “Your people will be my people (think how huge that would be – she left her own homeland and family to be with this strange mother-in-law and her extended family!), and your God will be my God (and this is even bigger than moving into a strange community – it’s a strange community and their stranger religion!).

So these two widowed women, unrelated except by marriage, move into town with no job, no family, no means of support, no children or grandchildren, no hope ….

And God provides a job, more food than they can eat, and the attention of a handsome, wealthy, land-owner, farm-manager who falls in love with Ruth and eventually wins her to himself. From the Jewish heritage in which they lived, his title was “kinsman redeemer”. He saved her, and her mother-in-law, from destitution, and he saved them for God’s plan of Redemption for humankind.

We read in Ruth 4:13-17 (almost the end of the book) where …. —-

13 … Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

Some of you will remember that way back in Genesis 12, God called Abram from the land of Ur and Promised him a new Land, and a Nation, and a people, and that one of his offspring would be a Savior for the world. And before that in Genesis 6, God promised a first salvation through Noah and that there would be a second salvation for God’s people. And before that in Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would crush the head of Satan and be a Savior for the people.

The story of this desperate foreigner woman named Ruth invites us into God’s perfect story of His perfect grace.

Almost without any regard for how valuable and important this information is, we are told, that “they named [their son] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Who was David? Does anyone know? Yup, the second-greatest King Israel has ever had! Who was the first-greatest King? C’mon – someone say it: Jesus!

Are you ready for some hope and grace?

1,000 years after Ruth, her ultimate descendant is JESUS, the Savior who comes full of Grace and Truth.

John’s Gospel tells us this truth with poetic beautyJohn 1: (*read with breaks at the asterisks to explain some key points) “1In the beginning* was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God*. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made*; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind*…. 14The Word became flesh* and made His dwelling among us*. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father*, full of Grace and Truth*…. 17For the law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ*!

I am going to close early this morning, because we are about to move into a time of prayer, where I know some of you are living with some sincere fears and worries, some anxieties about uncertainties, recovering from surgeries and preparing for treatments, and still hearing the national and local news reports about how people suffer at the hands of other people, by natural disaster, because of less-than-smart decisions – and some of those people are very close to our hearts.

We feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

But follow the story of Ruth. Her story leads directly to Grace and Hope – we can live lives full of Grace and Ruth – simply by trusting in the One who is the Way and the Truth and the LifeGod’s perfect propitiation and expiation for our sins and our struggles.

Right after the prayer and our offering, we will be invited to the Lord’s Table where we might just experience God’s gift of Grace and where we might receive ruth-ful Hope.

And may we never forget the challenge of Hebrews 12:15: “Let no one fall short of the grace of God.” Let’s pass God’s invitation on to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates; let’s invite them to come into contact with the GRACE of God! Amen. 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Fellowship Community; 8134 New LaGrange Road; Suite 227; Louisville, KY; 40222; invite to Annual Conference in August 2015.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 66-75.

06/14/2015 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – “Grace Pays Our Debt”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

“Grace Pays Our Debt”

June 14, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For those of us who pay quarterly estimated taxes, due date is tomorrow. The June due date is only 2 months after the April due date, so it always sneaks up on me and I occasionally miss it. So when June 16 comes around it always reminds me of how Grace works.

Grace” and “taxes”? Yup. They always go together for me. Here’s why:

In the Spring of 1990, 6 months after my ordination, I was preparing to file my first Clergy Tax Returns – oh my goodness, I could not believe how complicated this is – Clergy file as self-employed employees of the church – yup, you heard right.

So we called a woman in our church who did taxes for a living – and asked for her help. What we learned was that I should have been filing these kinds of tax returns for the previous 3 years (I worked as a “Pastor’s Assistant” while in seminary). So, I owed some $4,000 – and we had $0 in our savings account!

This sweet tax preparer, Tamara, decided to not charge us for her work (she counted it as professional training, she become the firm’s clergy tax expert) – and then she paid our $4,000! Interest free!

Talk about Grace!

Have you ever received an unexpected, undeserved, gift of grace? Maybe not $4,000 worth, but something?More recently, I asked a friend who works in the auto industry for advice on some work on Caitlin’s car – he took the car for a few days and made almost every repair – for FREE! Grace? That’s a picture of grace! This Summer we are looking at different aspects of this theologically loaded word: Grace – more than we deserve, and greater than we imagine. Listen to today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah 52 & 53…. —-

52 13 See, my servant will act wisely;    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,     and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53 1 Who has believed our message    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,  stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,    and made intercession for the transgressors.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

 

This passage of Isaiah was written some 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem – but is there any confusion among us whom God had in mind when Isaiah wrote this?

God’s plan of having His own Son, Jesus, become a human, and suffer and die on behalf of sinners like you and me, was no after-thought; this was no last-ditch effort to try to save humankind; this had been God’s plan since the beginning. Check out Genesis 3 where God talks about the offspring of Eve crushing the head of Satan, and in Genesis 12 where God promises Abraham that his offspring will be a Savior for all the world. Both Eve’s and Abraham’s salvific offspring is Jesus! Isaiah reminds the Israelites of this truth 600 years before this Savior is born.

On Good Friday, Pontius Pilate reminded the crowd that it was their custom to release one prisoner for the Passover holiday. He offered the crowd a choice: JESUS (against whom Pilate could find no criminal offense) or BARABBAS (who was a convicted murderous rebel).

Most of you know this story. Which of these men died for the other?

Pilate tried some 4 different times to get the crowd to let Jesus off the hook. Pilate said, in so many words, “I see no reason for Jesus to be condemned. He has done nothing deserving crucifixion.” He pled a lesser punishment – “How ‘bout a severe whipping?Nope, not good enough. Finally, Pilatewashed his hands” and sent Jesus back to the local magistrate, Herod.

It seems that Paul later says plainly what Pilate was thinking: “God made Him who had no SIN [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him WE might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21)

That is Grace! Jesus Christ, who was sinless – not that He was unable to sin, remember the temptations in the wilderness; but that He refused to sin – took on our sin, experienced the painful effects of my sin, extreme separation from His own Father, remember His “Why have You forsaken me?”. Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him!

That is Grace!

600 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah knew who deserved what. Look at verse 6 on your Sermon Notes page: “We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY.” He goes on and says, “Each of us has turned to our own way.

And friends, we know that our ways are not God’s ways. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life – and no one comes to the Father except through/by me.

“We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY. Each of us has turned to our own way. … and the Lord has laid on Him (who is the “Him”?), and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all!

That is Grace! Say it with me, “That is Grace!” How have you “gone astray”? Is there a habit that is not God-honoring? Is there a choice you know is wrong? How about an attitude – of superiority, or disgruntledness, or worry, or pride?

How has our church “gone astray”? Are we as faithful in reaching beyond our doors as we should be? Do we feed the hungry like we might? Are there some kinds of people we just “don’t want around here”? Have we ignored God’s clear teaching and done our own thing?

How has our church “gone astray”?  

What does Isaiah 53 say Jesus did for us? Does it not say, The Grace of Jesus paid off our debt of sin?! He paid it all! We are completely free to follow Him well and serve Him wholly!

That is Grace!

Who is someone in your life who does not deserve Grace? Seriously, who deserves retribution? Who deserves their comeuppance? Who deserves to be smacked, or at least shelved? Got that face in mind? (Why is everyone looking at me?)

Now, how will you show that person God’s Grace?

Hebrews 12:15 gives us the clear challenge to “let no one fall short of the GRACE of God.” How will you do this this week?

That, my friend, is Grace! 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 31-37.

Micah 7 – Who Is a god Like Yahweh?

Mark Wheeler

Reformation Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Micah 7

Who Is a God Like Yahweh?

Pour out Your Spirit’s power upon Your people, O God, until we humble ourselves, seek Your face, and turn from our wicked ways. Revive Your Church and heal our land. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Have you ever gone up to Green Bluff to find the perfect pumpkin for your jack-o-lantern carving contest on the day before Halloween? Or to the costume shop on Halloween? Or even to the grocery store to buy your favorite bag of candy after 4:30 on Halloween? What do you find? Nothing! There are no round-enough pumpkins, nothing the right size, and the only bags of candy left are those peanut-flavored marshmallow things!

That is the image we find when we open the last chapter of the Old Testament prophet Micah. Only Micah isn’t looking for a gourd or a costume or some candy – he’s looking for just one righteous person left – and he can find none!

We are now in our seventh and final week looking at the Old Testament prophet Micah – a book of WORSHIP – a book which author’s name translates as “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”. A book within which every chapter talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him!

But this is also a book that claims that this God who is worthy of our worship is a God of JUSTICE who demands righteousness, which authorizes His JUDGMENT against us and provides a means for His GRACE.

So with that backdrop in place, on this Reformation Sunday when Protestant Churches commemorate our beginnings by reflecting on how much the Church needs to always keep looking to Jesus, let’s open this seventh chapter of Micah, & see what it says about who we are, and who is a god like Yahweh. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 7:1-20…. —-

What misery is mine! …. Many translations say, “Woe is me!” And then Micah starts listing off the ways his world – the people of Jerusalem and Judah – mistreat each other, how we take advantage of those who have less, and even how the family-system has broken down, and our best friends, even our spouses, cannot be trusted.

Micah lives in a time and place where the government did not care about God’s Word, and his neighbors just did whatever was right in their own eyes. He lived in a world where city mayors could subpoena church pastors for their sermon notes, because God forbid the preachers might actually preach what the Bible teaches (are you aware of this exact thing happening in our own country less than two weeks ago?).

Like Abraham before him (Genesis 18:23-33) and Jeremiah (5:1-5) and Ezekiel (22:30) after him, Micah is on the hunt for one righteous person! But like the poor family looking for a decent pumpkin on October 30 – there just aren’t any!

The next 6 verses are filled with all the ways people act un-justly, hate mercilessly, and walk boldly without their God anywhere in their lives! But even in the darkness of this seemingly endless cave of evil, Micah holds out for salvation, But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,    I wait for God my Savior;     my God will hear me.

 In technical terms, Bible scholars write that Micah 7 begins with a giant-sized LAMENT. OK, the scholars don’t really talk like that, but that’s what they mean. He writes on behalf of his people who are grieving about their HUMAN condition.

Micah confesses the sins of his people, and he proclaims their desperate need for a Savior.

That is our human condition, too. The next 10 verses describe how hopeless we are without our God to save us. We might think we’re doing alright – and compared to the guy next door, maybe we really are! But when we honestly evaluate our values and life choices against what the Bible teaches, no one can claim “good enough”. We just aren’t … good enough.

I get angry over the silliest stuff. And then I plot revenge. Caitlin shows me, regularly, the grace of doing dishes that she did not dirty, and she washes them without complaint – I complain, and plan payback. I never follow through with those schemes – but I think about them! Not good enough.

Paul writes, quoting from the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes (7:20), “There is no one righteous. No, not even one!” (Romans 3:10).

If you came with your spouse today, look at each other and confess some way you have acted unworthy of the love you still expect to get. If you came alone, look up to God, and just apologize for an attitude or a thought you have had with you this morning, maybe even while sitting here in worship.

Because while this chapter starts with lament – the whole middle section clings to the promise of God’s SALVATION!

And then the closing lines simply praise Yahweh because even in the midst of their terrible hardship – even when my job is on the line, even when the mortgage is beyond what we can afford, even when we are separated from loved ones, even when sickness and disease afflict our bodies and drain our resources, even when we are hurt by someone we trusted – Micah reminds us that God is TRUSTWORTHY!

He sings out: 18 Who is a God like you,    who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever    but delight to show mercy.
19 You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot    and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
20 You will be faithful to Jacob,    and show love to Abraham,
as you pledged on oath to our ancestors    in days long ago.

 Yes, calamity had come – we experience some sense of scary stuff every day – but Yahweh will be a light in our dark places! Micah cries out for God’s protection, and then he recalls how God had led His people out of slavery and bondage in Egypt; and he prays for his people to see God’s works of wonder again! May our enemies see God’s mighty acts of wonder – and praise God!

Paul tells us that one day “every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!” (Philippians 2:10, compare Romans 14:11)

Who is a god like Yahweh? No one!

Who pardons sin and forgives the offenses of our ill-fated attempts to be good enough? Only Yahweh!

Only the only God, the creator if the heavens and the earth, who so loves the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Who is a god like Yahweh? No one!

Our God is greater; our God is stronger; our God is higher than any other!

Our God is healer, awesome in power; that’s our God! There’s none like Him; there’s none like Him!

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?

And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?

Micah closes this chapter, he finishes his whole book, singing about how unique our God is – completely incomparable! He is victorious over our sins and He buries them in the depths of the sea.

700 years after Micah wrote these lines, Mark tells us about Jesus Christ the Son of God; John tells us how Jesus came to take away the sins of the world; and Matthew and Luke refer us directly to Micah’s prophecies and how Jesus fulfilled them to the “T”!

Are you in a funk today? Is there darkness in your life, or the lives of loved ones? Are you grieving the state of our nation? Are you mourning over your church’s denomination? Are you afraid or worried about what might be around the corner?

Are you like the disappointed family in the pumpkin patch looking for just one last relatively OK pumpkin?

Remember who your God is! He turned water into wine. He opened the eyes of the blind. There really is no one like Him – none like Him. Into the darkness He shines – so that out of the ashes we might rise!

Who is a god like Yahweh? There’s none like Him!

He loves you! And He sent His only Son to die – for you. Trust Him today. Do you? Amen.

Pour out Your Spirit’s power upon Your people, O God, until we humble ourselves, seek Your face, and turn from our wicked ways. Revive Your Church and heal our land. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Resources:

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 496.

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 54-60.

Tomlin, Chris; “Our God”; 2010.

 

Micah 5 – What Promise Are You Waiting For?

Mark Wheeler
October 12, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Micah 5
What Promise Are You Waiting for?

O God, through Your Son, the Man of Sorrows, You are acquainted with our grief. We pray for Your Church, especially in places of persecution and distress. When hope grows dim, kindle within us patience in prayer and persistence in the struggle for justice and peace. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

In 1865, shortly after the Civil war, the Pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston, Massachusetts. was helping with a Christmas Eve service — — — in Bethlehem. He later wrote about his feelings as he went down the hill from Jerusalem into Bethlehem – riding a horse. He said, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, – close to the spot where Jesus was born.
The whole church was singing hour after hour splendid hymns of praise to God, it was as if I could hear angelic voices telling each other of the Wonderful Night of our dear Savior’s birth.”
Two years later, in 1867, this Pastor, Phillips Brooks, put his pen to paper and wrote a very special, and very biblical song that we often hear during the Christmas Season. He wrote these glorious words:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Those verses declare the heart of Christmas. It is a time of celebration, a time of salvation and a time of quiet contemplation.

We have been investing these early Autumn weeks worshiping God through the Old Testament prophet Micah, who lived about 700 years before Christmas. Micah’s book is a book of WORSHIP – even the prophet’s name suggests worship. The name “Micah” means, “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”, and then every chapter in the book talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him!
And we have been learning over and over again that this God who is worthy of our worship is a God of JUSTICE which authorizes His JUDGMENT and provides means for His GRACE.
So with that backdrop in place, let’s look at the fifth chapter of Micah, & see what it says about a promise God’s people had been waiting for. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 5:1-15…. —-
1 Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”…
… 10 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “I will destroy your horses from among you and demolish your chariots.
11 I will destroy the cities of your land and tear down all your strongholds.
12 I will destroy your witchcraft and you will no longer cast spells. 13 I will destroy your idols and your sacred stones from among you; you will no longer bow down to the work of your hands. 14 I will uproot from among you your Asherah poles when I demolish your cities. 15 I will take vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations that have not obeyed me.”

The prophet Micah put his pen to papyrus and wrote about this little town of Bethlehem. In just a few brief words, Micah tells the story of a very special town. Though his words may be brief, they contain a wealth of spiritual truth.
The Story of Bethlehem is a special story that needs to be told and retold. Especially in these trying times in which we live. We are living in a day when the real story of the birth of Jesus is lost amid the trees, the decorations, the shopping, and the controversy about appropriate “holiday greetings”. And, yes, I know there are still 74 shopping days till Christmas – for Micah there was still 700 years before Christmas!
And The story of Christmas is also a story of a little town, a town of Bethlehem.

And the Story of Bethlehem is the Story of a Place. When Micah writes of Bethlehem, he writes about a little town that is destined to produce great things.
While Bethlehem may have been a tiny rural village in the country of Israel, it had a colorful past and a brilliant future.

When we think of Bethlehem, we often only remember that it was the birthplace of Jesus, our Lord. But, within the history of this little town, there is a wealth of spiritual truth.
The town of Bethlehem is only five miles south of the great capital city of Jerusalem.
Bethlehem is first mentioned outside of the Scriptures in a historical letter from one of the kings of Palestine to an Egyptian Pharaoh in 1250 BC (that is only 25 years after Moses died!). This would have been during the time of the Judges, shortly after Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and moved the Israelite people into the Promised Land. Bethlehem was already in existence before Israel became a nation.

The name “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”. Micah also calls it by another name “Ephrathah”. Which is an older name for the city, and means “Place of Fruitfulness”. Bethlehem, the Place of Fruitfulness, and the House of Bread.
How fitting that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem! For He is the true bread – “The Bread of Life” that takes away the sin of the world. And His blood fills the cup of the new covenant, the cup of redemption, the fruit of the vine.

Bethlehem is first mentioned in Scripture in Genesis, the first book of the Bible (Gen. 35:16-20). When Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, and his family are journeying home to Canaan (about 400 years before Moses), Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to a son; but Rachel dies in childbirth, and as she is dying, she calls her son’s name “Benoni”, which means “Son of my sorrow”. And Jacob’s wife Rachel was buried just outside of Bethlehem. Jacob changed his son’s name from Benoni to “Benjamin”, which means the “Son of my strong right hand”.

So Bethlehem is initially associated with sorrow and death, but was transformed prophetically into a place that seats the son of my right hand.
Jesus, too, can take a place associated with grief and suffering and transform it into a place of strength and glory.

Jesus was called by the Prophet Isaiah “a Man of Sorrows” (Isa. 53:1-3). The One Who created the universe had nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). The One Who left Heaven to come and die was rejected by the those He came to reach (John 1:11). He knew pain; He knew sorrow; and in the end, He knew death – on the cross (Isa. 53:4-6; and all four Gospels).
Jesus is our “Benoni”! He is the “Son of My Sorrow”! But he is also the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, The Son of God’s Right Hand.

The beautiful story of Ruth also transpired in the town of Bethlehem. It was in Bethlehem that Ruth found redemption from her pain and from her past. She found grace, she found mercy, love, and acceptance. She found restoration, hope, family and a future – all in that place called Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is the birth place of David, the shepherd-boy who became the greatest King Israel has ever known. It was a drink from the well in Bethlehem that refreshed David’s soul during a day of battle (II Sam. 23:14-16).
And, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a spiritual well was given to us all. Everyone who drinks from this well, from this living water, will find that they will thirst no more; their thirst is quenched for all eternity (John 6:35; John 7:37-38).

Bethlehem was the focus of an amazing prophecy by the prophet Micah. And that prophecy is the focus of our text today.
Bethlehem witnessed the most amazing miracle the world has ever seen. Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, God in flesh came into the world and was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20). Bethlehem was where the wise men found the Christ Child and offered Him not only their gifts but their worship (Matt. 2:1-12), for He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Yes, Bethlehem is a story of a place. But, it is also a story of a promise. The words from the Old Testament proclaim “From you (Bethlehem) shall come forth for me …. one who is to rule Israel”! These words tell us that God has a glorious plan for humanity. And this little town of Bethlehem is a part of His plan.

When mankind turned from God in Eden, God gave humanity the first glimpse of this promised plan. He told Adam and Eve that a Redeemer would be born (Gen. 3:15). And as the years went by, more and more of God’s plan was revealed. When God saved His people from their bondage in Egypt by the blood of a Lamb (Ex. 12), He revealed a little more of His plan.
When He gave them Manna in the wilderness and brought water from the rock, He revealed a little more of His plan.
When He gave Israel the Law and the sacrificial ceremonies, He was revealing more of His plan.
Every aspect of the Tabernacle, the priesthood and the sacrifices revealed more and more of God’s plan.

Through the mouths of the prophets God gave insight into His plan. When Isaiah wrote about a virgin birth (Isa. 7:14), he was writing about this promised plan. Then the prophet Micah revealed the birth place of the Messiah – He shared where the King would be born – He proclaimed that the One Who would fulfill the promise would come from the little town of Bethlehem.
This glorious plan involved God becoming a human being, one of us. It involved Him going to the cross to die for the sins of the world.
His plan called for our Lord’s resurrection and for his Ascension. And it involves Him coming again — Returning in glory to rule and to reign on this earth. The Micah 5:2 promise is fulfilled in JESUS. But Micah 5:10-15 won’t be fulfilled until Jesus RETURNS!

It is a plan designed with you and me in mind! The prophet Micah closes this prophecy with these words concerning the Christ: “Whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” These words reveal the truth that this One Who would be born in Bethlehem (in 700 more years) was no ordinary Man.
The Prophet Micah tells us that while He may be coming out of Bethlehem, He is eternal! He may be born in Bethlehem, but His beginning is not there. He is Eternal. Jesus is eternal and He is in our midst this very day.
For where two or three are gathered together in His name, Jesus is in their midst. Jesus is in our midst – He is with us this day. Do you feel Him? Can you tell He is here?

The story of Bethlehem is a story of a miracle. The miracle of Bethlehem is that God became man. He did not stop being God! He merely “added” humanity to His deity. Theologians call this “The Hypostatic Union”. Miraculously, God placed Himself within Mary’s womb. Some nine months later Mary gave birth to a Son. And when she looked into the face of her little boy, she was looking into the face of God. God in human flesh!
We cannot fully comprehend the incarnation of our Jesus. He was Fully God, yet, He was fully human. He was as much God as if He had never been a man. And, He was as much man as if He had never been God! Yet he was both!
Jesus experienced humanity in its fullness — He suffered, He was hungry, thirsty, He knew loneliness, He knew grief, He grew weary, slept, wept, was rejected, and He died. Yet, while He was absolutely human, He lived His entire life sinless!
Jesus came to this earth because He loves you and He gave His life as a ransom for you. He came to offer you salvation.

The very end of this chapter says something about God taking “vengeance in anger and wrath”. While we worship this God who became human, who lived and suffered and died, for you and me – the reason this was necessary is because He is also a God of justice. You know how the meaning of words sometimes change over time – in Sunday School last week Madeline mentioned how the word “gay” has changed – no longer meaning anything like it used to.
That’s what happened to “vengeance” here. “Vengeance” really means JUSTICE. What Micah is really saying is that God will act justly with people who reject Him and His ways – but He offers Grace through the miracle of Bethlehem.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord …Emmanuel!

Amen and Amen!

Resources: (My biggest thanks to J. Jeffrey Smead for his Advent message last year)
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 487.

Smead, J. Jeffrey; “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem”; Epiphany Anglican Fellowship; Ligonier, PA; December 2013.

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.

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.