Love: It’s Who I Am! (Week 3)

“The Boundless Love of Jesus!”

(Luke 1:26-38 & John 19:25-30)

 

Today we are talking about how Jesus redefined love through His life, starting with His very unique birth. Throughout this sermon I am going to attempt to describe the “boundless love of Jesus.” The image I hope to invoke in you is of a love that tears down the boundaries of who is in and who is out. Politically, this would be like us discussing whether or not our nation should have a wall on our southern borders that keeps the ins in and the outs out. But we are not talking about a nation-state and its immigration policies, more importantly we are talking about our human hearts and our willingness to love without boundaries like Jesus first loved us!

 

Read Luke 1:26-38. Jesus’ birth is the beginning of a new way of God relating to His people and how His people were to relate to one another. While I am calling it new, in many ways it is only new in that it is novel to our life experiences. To God it is not new at all, but a return to the beginning of how He designed us to interact with Him and with one another—as Image Bearers who are members of God’s household.

 

Jesus came to reestablish the household of God by tearing down the boundaries between us caused by sin. God tore down the boundary between heaven and earth by taking on flesh and becoming one of us. That is a love that will do anything—the boundless love of Jesus Christ!

 

What was God’s vehicle for this great rescue mission? Family through a teenage mother named Mary! And God continues to use willing vessels of His boundless love to continue the work of this rescue mission!

 

God may have started with Mary, but through her He birthed Jesus whose family is to transform the world by giving the same love God first gave to them. Jesus’ family are not those who can find a genetic connection to Abraham or Moses or King David or Mary or one of the original Apostles. Jesus’ family is founded in FAITH, but made visible by LOVE!

 

Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:46-50,

 

While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”[1]

 

Our family loyalty is to Jesus, but the outflow of our loyalty to Jesus is to how we love one another. As Jesus says of this new family system in Matthew 23:9-12, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”[2]

 

We are BOUND to Jesus, but our love must ABOUND to one another to show it. Mary, the mother of Jesus, made herself available to God as a willing vessel of God’s boundless love in Jesus Christ. But she then made herself available to God’s boundless love while Jesus was dying on the cross. How? Watch what happened in John 19:25-30,

 

Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.[3] (emphasis mine)

 

Just like Jesus’ death on the Cross tore the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, Jesus’ resurrection tore down all the boundaries of human love so that He could reestablish that which sin had destroyed: the household of God. I want to emphasize in John 19:27 the use of the word ‘household’. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible explains of this important concept: “Biblically, the term ‘family’ is interchangeable with ‘house,’ and ‘founding a house’ can refer to setting up a separate dwelling as well as establishing a family. In his preaching Jesus used the family as a symbol for the relationship of God to his people (Mt 19:14; 23:9; Lk 8:21). From the cross he handed over responsibility for the care of his mother to his disciple John (Jn 19:27).”[4]

 

By receiving John as her new son, Mary’s needs would now be cared for by her new family. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection has made the way for a new human family with Jesus as the head, made possible by a love that does not come from ourselves, but from God in Jesus!

 

Are you willing to take on a new son or a new mother? Are you willing to practically live out the call to be family with others who are of the household of God?

 

What are some practical implications for your daily life if you were to love like Jesus?

 

As disciples of Jesus we are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ into members of God’s household and as members of God’s family we are to “love others as God first loved us.” That is why we have given everyone a red wrist band, children and adults alike. To remind us to love when we don’t feel like. Love is not an emotion; it is a choice based on our identity in Christ!

 

John, the beloved of Jesus, teaches in 1 John 4:19-21, “We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”[5] The very disciple that Jesus gave to His mother as a son, to care for her and provide for her, is now saying to us that we are to love one another in that same way. We are to love one another so that the world will know that we are His disciples. We are following the Way of Jesus, not the ways of the world!

 

Who are you following? This is where our “7:1 Initiative” hits home. It’s a practical application to following Jesus! Are we loving well in relationships –who are your 7 people that you are investing in as family? Are we serving others well in our communities—where is your 1 place of service that you are giving yourself to others in the name of Jesus?

 

We are to give one another the love that Christ first gave us. Give to others as He has already given to you. That’s why Jesus said of the coming judgment in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”[6] When we love one another, we are loving God!

 

God is establishing His household and ultimately we are to love one another with God’s boundless love because that is the way people will see Jesus’ love for them. It is our love for one another and our willingness to welcome others into our faith family that puts on display God’s boundless love. If you create boundaries, your life becomes a wall of God’s love!

 

How are you loving? Are you willing to carry within you the love of God in Jesus Christ?

 

Remember, we are heading towards the greatest family reunion ever. There is a party we are on the way to and our job is to invite others to the party by the way we love them.

 

Who can you invite to into your life, into your home or out for a meal, to an event or activity that you care about, into your small group or class, to church with you?

 

We have a whole community that needs to know the doors have been opened and they are invited. They will feel invited and welcomed into our church family if they already have been welcomed and invited into your family.
 
Listen to it here.
 
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 12:46–50.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:9–12. Bruce Malina writes, “I might point out here, incidentally, that Paul’s solution to the problem posed by such dyadism, much like the solution envisioned in Matt. 23:8-10, is to point out that obligations owed to Jesus have to paid back not to Jesus, but to others in dyadic relation with Jesus, that is, one’s fellow post-Jesus group members. The result is a sort of polyadic relationship (“poly-” means many): a number of people in equivalent social statuses organized around a single interest and mutually obligated in terms of this single interest, much like a guild or Roman burial association” (Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Third Edition, Revised and Expanded [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], 97).
 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 19:25–30.

[4] Hazel W. Perkin, “Family Life and Relations,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 768.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 4:19-21.

 

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 25:40.

 


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Love: It’s who I AM! (Week 1)

“The Life-Transforming Love of Jesus!”

1 John 4:19 & John 13:34-35

In preparation for my sabbatical (that is only 4 months away) I want to share with you some of my heart-felt desires for us. I have been praying for the church and three big foci keep standing out to me for now and into our future. Let me introduce them by asking three questions:

 

1) Are we a church focused on yoking with Jesus by studying the Bible to learn all that Jesus commanded us?

2) Are we a church focused on praying (communicating with God) as Jesus taught us and modeled for us?

3) Are we a church focused on loving others as God first loved us?

 

Today, right now, if we had a reputation in our community, I would want it to be found in one word: LOVE! To hear from our community, “We may not agree with them on some things or understand their faith in Jesus, but those Christians from FBC sure do love us well.” LOVE!

 

What the community sees is the tip of the iceberg of who we are! How we love others is a visible part of who we are as Jesus’ people. Invisible to most, including to one another, is our time with Jesus—our personal Bible study and prayer times. The good fruit of all that is invisible to our community is love! The Bible calls love a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the collective fruit shows our maturity in Jesus. It’s what we get when we connect with Jesus. Allow me to share a short illustration: Once upon a time, I was an athlete. No one saw how fast I sprinted in practice or how much I lifted in the weight room or how well I rested or practiced or kept my diet. In fact, if someone came bragging to me about how much they benched or squatted, but didn’t compete well, I was far from impressed! What matters to people are game day results, but every successful athlete will tell you it is what happens that is not visible that determines those results! For us, that is LOVE! If you tell people how much you read your Bible and how hard you pray, but you don’t love, they will not be moved![1]

 

We are called as disciples of Jesus, members of God’s household, to “love others as God first loved us.” In fact, the Apostle John, who is called the beloved of Jesus, teaches in 1 John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.”[2]

 

We just celebrated Easter and we saw God’s eternal love exemplified for us in Jesus Christ. The night before His death, Jesus gave a new commandment to the Church, in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love [ἀγαπάω] one another, even as I have loved [ἀγαπάω] you, that you also love [ἀγαπάω] one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love [ἀγάπη] for one another.”[3]

 

The Greek word agape is a key focus of this text because we are to love one another with God’s heart, His eternal love, an unconditional love that we cannot produce on our own. We are to give to others that which we first received. Listen to one commentator reflect on John 13:34-35,

 

The point is surely clear: The mutually lived-out heart love of Christians for one another will be the single greatest missionary force in the world. It is important to notice that the power for disciples’ love for one another does not come from the disciples themselves; it comes from the preceding love of Christ for them, a love they already know and experience. So disciples are not being asked to “work up” a love they do not already have at work in them by Jesus’ presence with them and by his prior and continuing love for them. They are more simply asked to let this love (that they already have and are experiencing) enjoy its source (Jesus) and its goal (other people). In teaching settings, in order to catch the full force of the Greek, I have sometimes translated our verse this way: “Keep on loving one another out of the well of my love for you! Come on, keep on loving one another!”[4] (emphasis original)

 

Today, you are being given a wrist band that we want you to wear. If you brought some kids with you today and they are in children’s church they are getting a wrist band too. The kids’ wrist bands simply say “love” and our wrist bands say, “loving others as God first loves us”. We want you to make God’s love visible to our communities. You may have received your wrist band on the way in, if not you will receive it on the way out. Please put it on and wear it for the next 6 weeks as we go through this series. Please memorize it, then remember who you are!

 

While the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-21), it never says “love is God”. There is a big difference and one that begins and ends with Jesus. You don’t become loving focusing on love, but by focusing on the God who is love. Love is the outflow of your relationship with God.

 

How then do we become more loving if not by trying to be loving? Within this question is the key. You can’t become more loving by focusing on being loving. It doesn’t work. You have to set your eyes on becoming more like Jesus, who is love!

 

Disciples of Jesus are to be…

1) Jesus-yoked: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:29).We are committed to applying the Bible in relationship with Jesus and people, not as rules, but as people who are “full of grace and truth” like Jesus. Remember, we can be right and wrong at the same time! Right in what we believe and wrong in how we live it and communicate it. The great proof of our relationship with Jesus is how we are like Him!

 

2) Prayer-connected and Spirit-empowered: We are in an ongoing conversation with God, as a way of life. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without connection to God, we are powerless to love as Jesus loved us! We are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. With 1 & 2 in place, we can then do #3 truly and from the inside-out.

 

3) Loving others like Jesus: We are living out the Father’s Heart that we just spent 8 weeks focusing on in our “Belong” series based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This is where our “7:1 Initiative” hits home. Are we loving well in relationships –who are your 7 people that you are investing in? Are we serving others well in our communities—where is your 1 place of service that you are giving yourself to others in the name of Jesus?

 

Is your love real love (from the Source) or “fish love” (for yourself)? Watch this video to understand the difference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMcHtSjtNBY

 

Counterfeit loves doesn’t work and it doesn’t last! We need the real thing and that can only happen through a relationship with Jesus Christ! How do we learn to be like Jesus?

 

Listen to this book excerpt that illustrates the answer to this question:

 

Many [people] are trapped in brokenness that may not have to do with moral failure, but they really need help in putting their relationship back together. What’s their hope? Their hope, like ours, is the gospel. If the gospel can’t heal the worst situations when people yield, repent and open themselves to the disciplining, restoring grace of God, then the gospel isn’t worth much. But we know the gospel is worth everything because Christ provided it through His death and resurrection. People can sincerely seek healing for brokenness; however, they’ll never find it if the Christian community around them isn’t committed to healing. And that’s one of the tragedies occurring in places where men and women have failed—the Christian community doesn’t have the will to offer healthy healing. Only when the Church commits itself to restorative ministry will men and women stop acting in self-righteousness and, with the tenderness of Galatians 6:1, start being committed to getting every broken player back on the field again to serve in the Kingdom. Then I think we’ll see a revival spirit break out as we begin to act as if we believe restoration is possible and desirable.[5]

 

In response to this quote, one of our elders wrote me, “That’s awesome. And radical love, like the one demonstrated by Jesus, is all that will work. Not the pseudo-love that we often show, which often has as much self-interest and reciprocity baked in as any semblance of real love. No sacrifice, really very little discomfort.”

 

What the elder was talking about is the difference between real love (that comes from God first and is on display for the world to see through Jesus) and the fish love you heard the rabbi speak about earlier. When we love others with a desire for them to love us more or to reciprocate the love, then we are not loving them, we are loving ourselves through them.

 

This sermon is just the beginning of a 6-week series called, “Love: It’s who I AM” and this is not just a 6-Sunday focus on love. To love as God first loved us as Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[6]

 

What flows in and through you and out of you throughout you days, your circumstances? If there is bad fruit, then get to the root of it—confess, repent, and ask Jesus to transform you from the inside out! You can’t change yourself and you can’t make yourself a loving person and your relationships will suffer if you are peddling a counterfeit version of love. In fact, the testimony of Jesus suffers when His Church deals in counterfeit love!

 

The only way we will become people who love others as God first loved us is to receive the love of the Father by grace, as a gift! Paul said in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[7] God’s love is a love you don’t clean up to receive and you can’t work to earn it. It’s grace and once received it will fundamentally change who you are! God’s love is a life-transforming love! We have been placed in this area and in this time to be a part of Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. The gospel transforms stories and we have the privilege to make that our focus.

 

How is our love for God and for one another in the church family attracting others to want to belong to the family of God? This is not a task to do. This is not an evangelistic strategy. This is not a church growth campaign. This is not a new class or method. This is who you are when you are in Christ.

 

Love: It’s who I AM! It’s who I AM in Christ Jesus. I am a new creation with a new nature. Behold the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thank you Jesus!

 

If I asked those closest to you to describe you in one word, what would that word be? Would it be ‘love’?  
 
 
Listen to it here.
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] “The formidable Augustine of Hippo believed that all Christian reading of Scripture should be governed by the pursuit of virtue. In his case, he emphasized love (charity) above all else. As far as Augustine was concerned, reading Scripture should encourage the reader’s love for God and for his or her neighbor. ‘So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them’” (E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012], 189–190). In an article on evangelizing Muslims, after great effort to discuss theology and approaches, the Patrick O. Cate writes, “However, no matter what we do or how we look at it, the sine quo non of introducing Muslims to our Savior and Lord is love and prayer” (Patrick O. Cate, “Gospel Communication from Within” (International Journal of Frontier Missions, Vol 11:2 April 1994), 97.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 4:19.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 13:34–35. Emily Hurst, one of our church’s worship leaders, commented on this passage and provided an excellent resource to understand the depth of its language, “This being Jesus’ final command gives it great weight, and the Greek here makes it even more powerful. “Agapate allelous”, Love, here, is the agape love. The unconditional love, the soul-level love with which God loves us. It’s fairly obviously Jesus didn’t command us to “eros” love here; but I believe many have interpreted this verse to be referencing “phileo” love or “storge” love. Especially the latter, which is defined as natural affection or obligation. Instead, Jesus called us to value one another highly, as precious and to place the well-being of others above ourselves. I found this resource that broke down the four kinds well: https://www.mcleanbible.org/sites/default/files/Multiply-Resources/Chap3/GreekWordsforLoveWS_Chapter3.pdf.”

[4] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2012), 796.

[5] H. B. London Jr., Neil B. Wiseman, and J. F. Dobson, Pastors at Greater Risk (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), Chapter 4.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 3:16.

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ro 5:8.
 

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Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 8)

“Jesus, the True Elder Son!”

(Luke 15:11-32)

 

In this parable, the Father didn’t just welcome the older son back into relationship with Him personally, but wanted him to celebrate with the whole household (with his younger brother and all the rest who were already inside). In fact, the parable ends with the Father outside the party Himself, dealing with His older son who was obstinately refusing to join in the party because of who the Father had allowed into the party. He refused to go in with the Father because the Father’s grace for the wild child who had come home broken and repentant was too much for him. Maybe the older son thought the younger son didn’t suffer enough or long enough, didn’t eat enough of the pig feed to suit him, or maybe the older son thought the younger son had to come apologize to him personally before a family gathering was agreeable. Worse off, maybe the older son thought that only death was good enough for this former brother of his. The older son thought there could be no payment for the shame his brother brought to his family name!

 

The older son’s failure to fulfill his Father’s heart for the Family smacks us in the face. He did not fulfill his responsibility as his “brother’s keeper” by going after him when he was lost in a faraway country; He was supposed to go looking. He was supposed to be the hero of the greatest rescue mission of his time, but instead he stayed home. Jesus even set up these three parables in rapid succession so that you would expect him to go searching for that which was lost! First, the lost sheep, then the lost coin, and now, the lost son. But unlike the first two parables, no one goes searching for the lost son. All you see, is the Father desiring to have Him back Home! No hero!

 

Why? Exactly, that’s the primary point of the whole parable! Jesus is a master teacher!

 

This parable ends with the character of the older son left in tension on purpose. It’s a plot twist that was targeted to hit Jesus’s intended audience right where it counted—in their hearts, in their racism and classism, and in all their religious, self-righteous pride![1] According to Luke 15:1-2, we know that Jesus is telling these 3 parables to a group of grumbling religious leaders. They were mad at Jesus because He had the audacity to show compassion and mercy to tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. Jesus was letting those people come into the party and because they were welcomed, the religious leaders (older sons) would have nothing to do with Jesus! They were very upset, so much so that their bitterness would crucify Jesus because He brought so much shame on them. Like the older son, the way for them to restore the honor to their family name was through Jesus’ death.

 

Amazingly, this parable explains why Jesus had to die. Tim Keller explains, “Jesus’s parable of the lost sons ends in a party-feast that represents the great festival of God at the end of history. Why does [Jesus] speak this way? He does so because there is no better way to convey vividly what it means to live out a life based on his saving work. Jesus’s salvation is a feast [and] feasting is communal by nature.”[2]

 

Jesus died on the cross because He came to earth as the true elder son to do what the older son in this parable would not do, be His brothers’ keeper and bring him Home to the Father. The Apostle Paul explained it best in what is called the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11,

 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[3]

 

Jesus simply said of Himself when He was sitting in the house of a notorious sinner, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”[4] This really upset the religious people because eating with someone in their culture was an offer of friendship. Jesus came to not only rescue us, but to invite us into a loving family relationship.

 

Again Jesus would say to the religious people about why He came, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”[5]

 

Jesus was inviting the Pharisees and the scribes as well as the tax collectors and the sinners of His day. Jesus is inviting the religious and irreligious alike, the moralists (good boys and good girls) and the rebellious (wild ones) of our culture today. Jesus did not make distinctions in His invitation based on anything we can see or know about another person. Jesus, our true elder brother, came with an invitation to the greatest family reunion in human history!

 

Jesus came on a rescue mission, to seek and to save that which was lost, to rescue people so that they can be with God the Father. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where someone is being held by enemy forces and needs to be rescued? Don’t you feel like cheering when the person is rescued and is able to go home, safe and secure. Maybe it’s “The Princess Bride” and you experience the great romance of the rescue. Or more soberly, it’s “Saving Private Ryan” where they are safeguarding the only son back to his family. Maybe it’s “Unbroken” when Louis Zamperini is first liberated from a POW camp and then later rescued from his PTSD, hatred, and alcoholism. Maybe it’s “Schindler’s List” where the Jewish people are yearning for freedom and release from the sheer horror of the Holocaust. They are waiting to be rescued. Have you been rescued? Do you even feel the need to be rescued? What do you need to be rescued from?

 

Jesus came to set us free, to heal us, to deliver and rescue us, to restore us back to the Father and be with His Family. And then Jesus passed the baton on to us—to carry on the rescue mission of seeking and saving the lost! His job is now the job of His Church, the body of Christ! We are to follow Jesus’s example and invite all people to come Home and belong to the Father’s Family through the true elder son’s efforts to pursue them and make a way for each of us through His atoning death on the Cross and His victorious defeat over death. We participate in God’s great romance for His children, by being coopted into His rescue mission!

 

Jesus is inviting you! He is inviting at the heart level for each of us to come and party with Him. As we see in the last book of the Bible, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”[6] Remember, the invitation to dine with someone in Jewish culture is an invitation to friendship. This is what we are each to have, a growing friendship-type relationship with Jesus.

 

Jesus wants you to join Him in the party and not just any party—the greatest family reunion in human history. And you can be a part of it. It’s going to be awesome!

 

In 1 John 3:1, we experience the depth of what Jesus has done for us, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.”[7] Through the true elder son’s sacrifice on the Cross, victory over death, and open invitation to dine with Him, we each are invited to experience what it means to belong to the Family of God, to be Home with the Father. As Jesus Christ said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”[8]

 

Christians are simply people who have been rescued by Jesus and are on our way to the greatest party in human history. We are not there yet, but every day brings us closer. On the journey to the Family Reunion we are to practice how to party Heaven’s way while we are still on the earth.

 

We didn’t deserve it the day we were invited and we still don’t deserve being a part of the greatest family reunion ever. Our purpose is to invite everyone to join us at the party. It’s not our place to make distinctions on who should be invited. Our faith is made visible in our words and deeds to invite others to belong to God’s Family and to treat them in such a way that they want to BELONG.

 

Church, let’s be on mission with Jesus by showing people the way to the greatest family reunion in history. Let’s help them know that they BELONG here because God loves them and sent His Son Jesus for them to BELONG to His Family! You have a place where you BELONG!
 
 
Listen to it here.

 

FOOTNOTES:

 
[1] Otherwise the parable could have ended with verse 24 and the homecoming and restoration of the younger son. Instead, Jesus reveals the real purpose of His parable by continuing on in verses 25-32.
 

[2] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 119, 121, 139.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 2:5–11.

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 19:9–10.

 

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 9:12–13.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Re 3:20.

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 3:1.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 14:6.


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 7)

“The Father’s Invitation!”

(Luke 15:11-32)

For today’s message called “The Father’s Invitation”, I want to briefly direct your attention to 2 parts of the Parable of the Prodigal Son that we have been studying so diligently the last 6 weeks.

 

The first is Luke 15:22-24 which records the response and words of the Father when his younger son came home to Him with a broken and contrite heart, “ ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”[1]

 

No matter what you have done or who you have done it with, God, our Heavenly Father, is waiting for us to return to Him with a humble and repentant heart. If this applies to you, if there is a sin you have not yet come to God with and repented of, do not be afraid to come to the Father this morning and receive the grace of God.

 

The second is Luke 15:31-32 which records the response and words of the Father when his older son refused to come home to Him because of the Father’s grace for his younger brother: “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”[2]

 

The brother who we all would naturally assume deserved to be in the party was missing it because he felt slighted by the Father because he had been faithful and his brother had not, yet here was his brother being honored. He missed the point because of his sense of entitlement, as so many churched people struggle: All that we have is a gift from God! All life is grace! It is not earned, we can’t work for it, we simply receive it and live in gratitude to God for it.[3]

 

The key is to remain humble in God’s grace and to keep our heart in a place of thanksgiving to God for His amazing grace. Listen to the last half of a powerful parable taught in Matthew 20:1-16 that illustrates the major tenant of our faith: God does not give us what we deserve (a wage, for the wages of sin in death), but God gives us grace! In this parable many people came to the vineyard to work by the invitation of the foreman, and they came throughout the day…

 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’[4]

 

One of our elders humbly explained about this parable, “Inevitably, most people (myself included) might be tempted to identify with the workers who have been there the longest, got there the earliest, did the most work, etc., which is certainly shades of the older brother. Both stories (wages and prodigal) can serve as a Rorschach test to help us diagnose ourselves. Do you see the old lady or the young lady? Do you see yourselves as the early in the day workers who earned their keep or the late in the day workers who rely on the Master’s grace?”[5]

 
How we see ourselves in Jesus’ parables is very important as it exposes our heart conditions before God and our absolute need for God’s grace everyday of our lives. Let me illustrate for you the opportunity you have today through the true Elder Son, Jesus Christ, who came to make a way back to the Father through His death on the Cross of Calvary. Luke 23:39-43 records for us that on that Friday, there were two criminals also being crucified…
 
 
 

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”[6]

 

Two thieves like two brothers. One came home to the Father through a broken and contrite heart and the other simply felt entitled to the Father’s blessing… How are we to come Home to the Father? By putting our faith in Jesus Christ who put on display for the world to see God’s amazing grace. Do you see your own personal need for God’s amazing grace?
 
Listen to it here.
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:22–24.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:31–32.

 

[3] As one reader responded, “This point cannot be made too loudly, too clearly, or too often. It comes up regularly and we’re still missing it! Christians seem to become more frustrated with their lot in life more quickly than non-Christians, because we believe we don’t deserve to struggle or suffer since we follow Christ. We forget that we are expected to sacrifice ourselves (our security, our control, our career, our dreams, the list goes on) to follow Christ and we should EXPECT to face these trials.”

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 20:8–15.

 

[5] Picture used from http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5639/2020/1600/chica_o_vieja.jpg (last accessed 4/10/2019).

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 23:39–43.


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 6)

Finding ‘The Way’ Home to God’s Family!”

(Luke 15:11-32)

Have you ever been lost? Maybe you were driving around or out in the woods or in a store? Have you ever lost a child in a store? How did that make you feel? Wasn’t that the longest minute or hour of your life? In that moment, wouldn’t you do anything to find what was lost?

 

Remember back to time when a child did get lost in the store. An employee or security guard would find him and reunite the lost child with his family. Their role was to safeguard the child and return them to the parent. That’s why Jesus came; that was His mission—to reunite the lost sons and daughters with the Father. It’s our job to carry on that mission Jesus came to do.

 

I heard a true story this week that happened before cell phones. A family was traveling and pulled over late at night to stop at a rest stop. They asked their son, Tim, if he wanted to go in to the rest stop. Sleeping in the darkened back seat, Tim said, “no.” After the parents went into the rest stop, they returned to the car and got on their way. Pretty soon, the parents saw police cars everywhere. “Man, they are really looking for somebody,” the dad said. Pretty soon, they got pulled over by the police and the dad was asked about his son, who had assumed he was sleeping peacefully in the back. He wasn’t – he had gotten out of the car to go into the rest stop without anyone knowing, and his parents had left him. The troopers had mobilized all their forces to return a lost son to his family. That’s Jesus’ job—that’s why He came. And now, we, the Church, are the forces that He mobilizes to reunite lost sons and daughters! We gather every week to remind ourselves of that because we so quickly make it about us and forget the BIG STORY!

 

This is the big story of the Bible! Because of God’s great love God chose to create the heavens and the earth. In God’s climatic act of creativity, the Father breathed His breath of life into us.

 

Out of nothing God created and out of the dust of the ground arose humanity. God created you and me from His love and for love, to love God with all of our living being and to love one another, for we were created to be His Family. God first created the Garden of Eden to be His dwelling place with us, but because of our selfishness and sin, we were removed from His presence and death overtook us. That is the effect of sin on humanity, from the beginning. We always think of the Bible story from our view point, the effect sin had on us, but…

 

Can you imagine how this must have made God feel? As hard of a question as that is, Jesus is intentionally telling this story. He wants us to see the love of God as our Father. So that we could see His Heart and how much He yearns to have all of His children securely Home with Him.

 

Jesus tells three parables back-to-back in Luke 15. They all focus on the something being lost—a sheep, a coin, a child. Losing something important is a terrible feeling. We panic when we lose our phones or wallets or keys or a password to one of our accounts, so we keep passwords saved in accessible locations, tracking devices on our phones, keys go on the hook next to the door every time (or we lose them), and wallets with all of our IDs and credit cards, they usually stay on us or somewhere we know. Why? Because we all have strong emotions about losing things!

 

It is one thing to lose something you love but it is another thing to lose someone you love!

In our family, we do a head count to make sure we have all three children in the car before we drive away. We keep our eyes on our children in the park instead of playing with our phones because the thought of having one of our children walk off, or worse yet being taken is absolutely horrifying. I have a visceral response just thinking about losing one of my children.

 

Can you imagine how the Father in Jesus’ story must have felt to have lost his younger son in such a painful and personal way? Can you imagine how the Father felt to have that son come back home, but only to learn from his homecoming that his other son had been lost in a completely different way all that time? What would it take to have all the children come home to the family, not just physically be home, but be home in their hearts, minds, and souls?

 

This is why Jesus came, the true elder Son, the One who understood His responsibility as His “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9; the Cain and Abel story). Jesus testifies honestly and lovingly in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.[1] (emphasis mine)

 

Jesus came on a rescue mission, sent by the Father, to seek and to save that which was lost because of the damning effects of sin on all of humanity—we were unable to rescue ourselves! God’s Family was torn apart by our selfishness, our sin, our betrayal of the Father. So when confronted with His own anger (“wrath of God”) for our sin, God the Father responded in love to satisfy His own wrath by sending Jesus Christ (“propitiation”). Christ came to earth to take our place—He lived the sinless life, He died a substitutionary death on the Cross to pay for the wages for our sin (“atonement”), He defeated death with His victorious resurrection. So that the lost sons and daughters could be found and restored to the Father (“reconciliation”). This is all God’s grace; this is the Gospel—the good news of God! We read in Galatians 4:3-7,

 

So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.[2]

 

That is why we call it the Gospel—it is the Good News of God’s Grace! Jesus came from Heaven to earth to restore us back to the Father. Sin had not only broken our relationship with God, but sin has also damaged our abilities to think right, respond to situations correctly, do relationships God’s way. God’s heart is to restore us to His original intent for our lives, and not only us but all of creation. This is why being a member of the church is so important: Jesus Christ died on the Cross, gave His life, so that we could be brought to life by being restored to the Family of God as adopted sons and daughters of God. Listen to Michael Heiser explain,

 

The language of divine inheritance advances the Old Testament idea that humans were meant to be in the family of God. The New Testament writers thought in terms of “adoption,” “heir,” and “inheritance” to describe what the Church really is—the reestablished human family of God. They also used these terms to describe what the Church will be in the final form of the kingdom on the new earth when believers are glorified. The believer’s destiny is to become what Adam and Eve originally were in Eden in God’s presence before the Fall: immortal, glorified imagers of God (see 2 Pet 1:2–4).[3]

 

Can you begin to imagine how much God must love us, His created family, that He would come from Heaven to earth for us? Can you imagine how much you would use everything at your disposal to go after your loved ones to rescue them and bring them home? How far would you go, would you even give your life to rescue your child or grandchild, or your little sister?  

 

Losing a loved one, especially a child, is an unbearable thought for so many of us. And for those of us who have lost a child, whether through the grief of a miscarriage or tragic loss of a baby or adult child, this message could be eliciting emotions that are extremely deep, painful, and possibly raw. I acknowledge that and deeply care for you and your loss. Please know that in your suffering for your lost child, you are touching the heart of God. Allow me to pray for you…

 

This parable that Jesus teaches points to the very heart of God as our Father and the primary purpose for the gospel of Jesus Christ—to seek and to save that which was lost and to restore God’s Family. Listen to an ancient witness make this very point:

 

Who is this if not the God who created all people and loves them with a fatherly affection, the God who preferred to be loved as a father rather than feared as a lord, even though he was Lord by nature? On this account, at the beginning of the commandments of the law, he did not say, “You shall fear the Lord with all your heart” but “you shall love the Lord with all your heart.” To elicit love is not characteristic of a lord but of a father.[4] (emphasis mine)

 

The church are those who belong to God, not because we deserve it, but because of God’s grace. Jesus is the way for lost sinners to return Home, to the Father. Once being safe at home we join with Jesus in His rescue mission to bring other lost sons and daughters Home, to the Father.

 

Your life and how you relate to God and others is how others will come to know the way Home to God’s Family. Your living faith is made visible in your words and deeds to invite others to belong to God’s Family and to treat them in such a way that they want to belong. As one of my friends wrote me in response to this statement, “This is so important. The self-righteous, superior approach Christians can tend to take toward people who are lost is such a hindrance to the mission of Christ.”

 

And may I add, we do this to each other too, we judge one another, and it is such a hindrance to people seeing Jesus in and through His church! Let us truly be humble because none of us deserve any of this—neither our salvation nor being a member of His church! It’s all God, His grace, so let’s start acting that way—with humility, thankfulness, compassion, and mercy.

 

Church, God will bring all things back to His original plan to have His family with Him for eternity, including the heavens and the earth that He created for this very reason. Listen to God’s plan for His family and for all of His creation in Revelation 21:1-5.

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”[5]

 

We don’t want anyone to miss out on the greatest family reunion ever! Do we have a family, here at FBC, that is on mission to help our lost brothers and sisters to find their way home to God’s family? Will the world see us, His church, as a picture of what is coming or do they just find more of the same in here as what they can find out there in the world?

 

If you were out shopping with a friend who brought along a child and that child got lost somewhere in the store, what would you do? I know what you would do: You would join with your friend in crying out that child’s name and start looking everywhere. And you would get other people to help. And you would find an employee to make an announcement and to secure the facility, just in case. I’ll tell what you wouldn’t do, you wouldn’t keep on shopping like all is fine with the world and you wouldn’t go looking through the magazine rack for some entertainment or the snack aisle to please your taste buds. Nor would you be disappointed and upset when the child was found. No! You would look for that which was lost! We all would; of course we would. That’s what Jesus did, our true elder brother! Let us do the same. Let us search for that which was lost and in doing so, we will become more and more like Jesus.

 

Have you ever been lost? How did it make you feel? Did you hope someone was looking for you?

 

Church, let’s be on mission with Jesus by showing people the way to the greatest family reunion in history. Let’s help them know that they BELONG here because God loves them and sent His Son Jesus for them to BELONG to His Family! YOU BELONG! You are safe and your inheritance is secure, now go out there and be on mission with Jesus…
 
Listen to it here.
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 14:6.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 4:3–7.

[3] Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 187.

 

[4] Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 222.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Re 21:1–5.


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 5)

The Father’s Heart!

Luke 15:11-32

In this series called “Belong”, we have been confronted with the heart conditions of the younger and the older sons of the Father. I and many others have found aspects of each one’s condition in ourselves. I, too, can be selfish and rebellious like the younger son, self-righteous and entitled like the older son. But the real choice comes down to not whether we see these things in us, but what we do about it when we are confronted! When confronted with the Father’s heart we will either experience brokenness over our sin or become hardened in our sin. This parable has taught us that both the older son’s heart condition of religious legalism and self-righteousness is just as big of an issue as the younger son’s worldly licentiousness and selfishness. Both are sin!

 

Here’s the main difference and in this difference, the true point of Jesus’ parable: The younger son ended in brokenness and repented for his sins against the Father. On the other hand, the older son ended hardened toward his Father and neither repented nor forgave his younger brother. The older on was too good (moralistic) for that and wouldn’t be scandalized by His Father’s grace. He, who represents the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing with His parable (ref. Luke 15:1-2), is far from the Father’s heart even though he was serving the Father and by his own testimony had never done anything but keep all his Father’s commands. But his moralistic, self-righteous superior attitude kept him far from having or exhibiting his Father’s heart.

 

What is the Father’s heart and how can knowing it help us respond to God and others properly?

 

The Father’s heart is like a diamond and there are many aspects to understanding it, so please allow me to illuminate just a few characteristics of the Father’s heart.

 

The Father is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29)! We often miss this detail in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but it is the first thing in the parable that would have caused Jesus’ intended audience to step back in confusion or shock. The Father actually gave the younger son what he asked for. This is found in Luke 15:12, “So he divided his wealth between them.”[1]

 

The Pharisees and the scribes would have thought that the Father in Jesus’ parable was a fool to give the younger son what he requested. They would not have accepted the premise of the story, nevertheless the conclusion. This story is a scandal to religious people from beginning to end.

 

What was the Father thinking? Well, since the Father in this story represents God we can only imagine that He knew something we do not. We just need to be gentle and humble in heart ourselves to believe God to be doing something true and right, good and just, especially when we don’t understand it or Him. As the Prophet Isaiah quotes God in 55:8, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”[2]

 

When you don’t understand God or His ways, don’t harden your heart in response, choose to worship Him instead! That is a much better decision for peace to guard your heart and mind, and to find rest for your soul. When in doubt, take on yourself the yoke of Jesus and learn from Him, who is “gentle and humble in heart.”

 

We see that the Father is “gentle and humble in heart” when He breaks all cultural norms of his time and runs out to receive the younger son and welcomes him back in Luke 15:20-24,

 

So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.[3]

 

The Father knew His younger son’s broken heart and saw His willingness and yearning to repent of His sin that had broken their relationship. This parable reminds me of a real-life scandal in the life of Jesus. Listen to John 8:1-11 and it’s the same cast of characters with religious leaders (older sons) on one side and a woman caught in adultery (younger son) on the other:

 

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”[4] (emphasis mine)

 

Turn with me to Psalm 51 and let’s do some heart-work together. Time of prayer in Psalm 51…

 

The sacrifice that God desires from you is a living one, your who life (Romans 12:1)—a life that is sincerely marked by “broken and contrite heart”  (Psalm 51:17) or as Jesus said, a “gentle and humble heart” (Matthew 11:29).

 

 

Jesus tells this parable to describe the Father’s heart for lost sinners (both the older and the younger), just like Jesus put on display His Father’s heart for three years of earthly ministry. There is one more way I would like to describe the Father’s Heart to you this morning…

 

The Father is “grace and truth” (John 1:14)! This is found at the end of the story when the Father is pleading with the older son to come in and celebrate his younger brother’s salvation. In 15:31-32, “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”[5]

 

All are welcome home, but the Father’s heart is not just grace, it is grace and truth. The Father does not hesitate to speak the truth to His older son’s heart condition. The parable ends right here on purpose, because Jesus was posing an invitation to the Pharisees and scribes to stop grumbling about tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners being saved by coming back to God through faith and repentance. He is not only inviting the Pharisees and the scribes to celebrate the grace of God through the gospel, but He is also inviting them to a righteousness that exceeds their own. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[6] The only way to Heaven is through the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We must receive an imputed righteousness from Jesus that allows us into the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

 

Allow Jesus to illustrate this point with another parable from Matthew 22:1-14:

 

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.” ’ “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.”[7]

 

Jesus Himself very clearly declares the message of the gospel as both a message of grace and truth. Jesus Himself was a person full of grace and truth. The Father’s heart calls for all to come into His family, but to belong you must have the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ covering your sin (the wedding clothes) as your justification. Your good works, your faithfulness, your track record on earth can only earn you death, but faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ for you gives eternal life (Romans 6:23).

 

What will you boast in? Your works or God’s grace? Who will you boast in? Yourself or Jesus?

 

Listen to his powerful quote from Pastor Kevin DeYoung,

 

We desperately need grace in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)  We need to know that God doesn’t expect us to clean up our act before we come to him.  He implores us to come, now, today, just as we are–in brokenness, in pain, in humility, in repentance, and in faith.  We need to hear that wayward children, who have squandered their inheritance and lived an immoral, rebellious life, can come home into the arms of their heavenly Father (Luke 15:20). And we desperately need truth in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  And we need to hear from Jesus what this saying really means: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…But if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).  We need someone as gracious as Jesus to tell us the truth: you are not okay.  You do not need to push away those feelings of guilt that weigh you down.  You are guilty.  And anyone who tells you otherwise, is not telling you the truth.  And because they won’t tell you the truth, you won’t experience the grace you need. We need truth. We need grace. We need Jesus.[8]

Jesus put the Father’s heart on display for all the world to see it and respond…

 

Older sons and younger sons alike, from every culture and tribe, are invited to respond…

 

Your life and how you relate to God and others is your response to the truth and grace of the One who is humble and gentle in heart.
 
Listen to it here.
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 15:12.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Is 55:8.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:20–24.

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 8:1–11.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:31–32.

 

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:20.

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 22:1–14.

[8] Kevin DeYoung, “Full of Grace and Truth” (June 3, 2014). The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/full-of-grace-and-truth/ (last accessed March 25, 2019).


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 4)

“The Heart Condition of the Older Son”

Luke 15:11-32

 
In Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father in his heart nor is either fulfilling his responsibilities as a member of the Father’s Household. How could they?

 

They are distracted—too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they could get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or with one another. If each son represented a church, we would say they are both off mission!

 

The Older Son is so busy being good, that he is distancing himself from God with his self-righteous moralism. Jesus used the older son to describe the Pharisees who were more in love with their ideas and traditions about God than with God Himself! This is a very dangerous place to be as it is easy to get off God’s mission when your ideas and traditions about God start defining your focus more than God Himself prioritizes your focus.

 

The Younger Son is so busy being free to do what he wants to do that he is distancing himself from the Father with his free-for-all “no one can tell me what to do” lifestyle. Jesus used the younger son to describe the Tax Collectors and sinners who wanted nothing to do with the Household of God and all of the older brothers who thought they were better than everyone else. This is also a very dangerous license that many people take, even doing so in the name of Christ. Christ did not die on the Cross so that you can be free to do anything you want, but so that you can be free from sin to live for righteousness in His easy yoke of discipleship.

 

Both groups—the tax collectors and Pharisees—are being selfish because neither is focused on being with the Father or desiring His will for their lives. Both were off mission on what it meant to be a member of the Household. Both heart conditions kept them far from God, but by the end of the story, one is in right relationship with the Father and the other is hardened against God and His grace given to the other. By the end of this story, we know what it means to be on mission as the Family of God and we know what it takes to get on mission.

 

Why is it that people who claim to be followers of Christ so often end up unsympathetic to people who are in need of finding Christ?

 

Until you have had an experience of the Father’s grace that has saved you from being lost (and that only happens when you realize your true brokenness) you will remain distracted by your need to make your life work out for you the way you want your life to work out for you. It is especially sad when your religion and traditions become a way of finding self-satisfaction and self-justification for what is opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s examine the heart condition of the Older Son and see how this applies to us today?

 

There is another parable Jesus teaches before His crucifixion that I see is an important way to enter this conversation. It is called the Parable of the Two Sons from Matthew 21:28-32,

 

But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”[1]

 

Again, two sons. One seems to start off well saying the right things, but he doesn’t end well. The other, doesn’t start off well saying the wrong thing, but he does end well. Which is on mission?

Obviously, the one who did what His Father asked! The one who at first rebelled, but repented.

 

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son is forever marked by his last words in this parable. Jesus’ character of the older son and his final words are targeted at the grumbling Pharisees and scribes of Luke 15:1-2. In 15:29-30, Jesus says that the older brother responded to the Father’s grace for the younger son with anger (28), saying very disrespectfully, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”[2] Do you hear it? Here is the heart condition of the Older Son:

 

Moralistic! It is obvious that the younger son was selfish in his actions, but what has not been so obvious is that the older son was selfish too—self-righteous and superiority! In a powerful article called, “Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is”, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler clarifies the false gospel of moralism,

 

Most moralists would not claim to be without sin, but merely beyond scandal. That is considered sufficient. Just as parents rightly teach their children to obey moral instruction, the church also bears responsibility to teach its own the moral commands of God and to bear witness to the larger society of what God has declared to be right and good for His human creatures. But these impulses, right and necessary as they are, are not the Gospel. Indeed, one of the most insidious false gospels is a moralism that promises the favor of God and the satisfaction of God’s righteousness to sinners if they will only behave and commit themselves to moral improvement.[3] (emphasis mine)

 

The scandals of both sons are the same – both are sin!  One son is a public failure and the other son feels superior and judgmental. What you really have to worry about is the bitter root that is being created in the older son that causes him to think, feel, and act less and less like the Father. As Pastor Tim Keller said, “Elder brother self-righteousness not only creates racism and classism, but at the personal level creates an unforgiving, judgmental spirit. This elder brother cannot pardon his younger brother… Because he does not see himself as being part of a common community of sinners, he is trapped by his own bitterness. It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel superior to him or her.[4] (emphasis mine)

 

Jesus says to those in the older son condition in Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[5]

 

Moralism is not just a false-gospel, it is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of God’s grace! The Pharisees were more than off mission, they were actually acting in ways opposed to the mission of God, and Jesus was showing them this in His parable.[6]

 

The Condition of the Older Son was not only Moralistic, but also Entitled! What we see come out of the older son at the end of the parable is as sinful, as disrespectful, and as rebellious as the younger son. The venomous spirit of entitlement. Pastor Tripp wrote,

 

Entitlement always seems to follow pride. If you think you’ve earned _________, then you will think you deserve __________. Then, carrying around not only pride but also entitlement, you will tend to turn blessings into demands and gifts of grace into what is to be expected. We must never forget that we have earned neither our standing with the Lord nor our place in ministry. Each moment that he accepts us and each situation in which he uses us are the result of one thing and one thing alone: grace. We have no right before God or others to self-assuredly stand with our hands out. We are independently entitled to nothing but his anger; it is only grace that entitles us to his accepting love. The smug expectation of blessing will cause you to question not only the appreciation of the people around you but also the goodness of God.[7]

 

The Older Son wanted what he had coming to him and he wanted to share it with only the people he deemed worthy to be his “friends”, which would most likely not include his brother or his father. His self-righteousness and entitlement fueled exclusivity based on who measured up. It created heart barriers to be on mission—to seek and to save the lost!

 

The older son does not understand grace because he thinks that he is better than other people. He doesn’t remember a day when he wasn’t a good person obeying his father—“I have never neglected a command of yours”. Whereas the younger son is so rebellious that he wished his father dead, asked for his inheritance, ran away from home with it and lived a wild life until it all came crashing down. When he hit bottom, he realized what he had at home and he repented. Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:10-14 to contrast these heart conditions:

 

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ [emphasis on the ‘I’ mine] But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.[8]

 

It wasn’t the older son’s efforts to please the Father that caused Him to be distant from the Father, it was his attitude that he somehow had already earned and was now entitled to what His Father has to give. Remember, God’s grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning! As soon as you feel entitled to receive something from God and you don’t get it, you have 1 of 2 choices: 1) in your brokenness you get angry at God and harden your heart at Him and towards others, or 2) you experience your brokenness and then you fall into the arms of God’s grace and become a herald of grace for others.

 

If you don’t experience brokenness, like the Younger Son, then you are only left with this option: a Hardened Heart! The younger son ended the story with a broken heart that led to a right relationship with the Father, whereas the older son ends up hardened and far away from God, judging the Father’s grace to receive back the younger son as evil because it violated his worldview of moralism and entitlement. A hardened person, no matter their church affiliation or religious zeal, is not on mission with Jesus Christ to seek and to save that which was lost. And if you are not about this, then you are not yet truly about Jesus or the work of His Father.[9]

 

The older son was supposed to be the hero of the story! He was supposed to go after his younger brother, but he was stuck in his own heart condition. That is the point of these three back-to-back parables in Luke 15: Jesus intends for you to start expecting someone to go searching for what was lost and when no one does, you are left wondering why.

 

To miss the point of this parable is to be distracted from the mission of Jesus Christ because our hearts are hardened against the very mission Jesus came for and created His Church to do—to seek and to save the lost sons and daughters who are designed to belong to God, but are caught up in either the older son or younger son heart conditions.[10] It’s God’s desire to have all of his children at home with Him, truly with Him at the heart level, so much so that all of his family represents His heart to all who are not yet home belonging as His Household!

 

Who is going to demonstrate the heart of the Father to the next generation?

 

At least the younger son had the decency to be honest about his rebellion—shockingly to our sensibilities and former understandings of this parable, the younger son was the more honorable of the two because he was honest with himself, God, and others. The older son hid behind the appearance of being a good person, an obedient and dutiful son, but the whole time wanting his own way, his rights, and what he felt was coming to him.[11] Religion and morality can become a control mechanism for making life work for you, just like rebellious living. Both are an abuse of God’s grace and both are willful-activities against the heart of the Father. Both are ways to be in control, but neither saves! Only through God’s grace can you be saved!

 

The person who will demonstrate the heart of the Father is the person who has been broken and truly knows it, who is daily and actively experiencing the forgiveness of God through a relationship with Jesus, and upon receiving God’s grace lives by grace and gives grace to others.

Whether you grew up in the church or not, we all have tendencies toward the heart condition of the older brother. We each must war against this tendency by remembering that at some point, we each had to have made a personal faith decision for Christ. You may not have as dramatic of an experience of hitting rock bottom like the younger son, but in order to be saved, you must come to place where you understand how desperately we each needed saving—whether you hit that point because you ran away from home or because you dutifully stayed home!

 

Salvation can neither be earned nor lost, it can only be received! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always God’s good news of His work for salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

The person who is gladly receiving this good news as today’s (every day’s) top head line will be the one who is on mission! This is the person who belongs to the Family of God and invites others to belong and works hard to help all people know they can belong, too.

 

Pastor Tripp wrote, “God has chosen to build his church through the instrumentality of bent and broken tools. It is your delusions of strength that will get you in trouble and cause you to form a ministry that is less than Christ-centered and gospel-driven.”[12]

 

In order for FBC to be on mission to seek and to save the lost we must be broken first. We cannot be older sons, we must repent of any self-righteousness, superiority, moralism, or sense of entitlement. We must pray and ask God right now to soften any hard places in our hearts and break us of any pride caused by our church affiliation, backgrounds, or traditions. Any delusion of strength will only get us in trouble. Our church and community does not need modern day Pharisees or Tax Collectors, but people who demonstrate the Father’s heart for all of us family. We can only be this because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

What is your heart condition?

 

Let us be a Christ-centered and gospel-driven church where the broken are healed and the lost are found. You belong here and so do they. We are God’s Household!
 
Listen to it here.

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 21:28–32.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:29–30.

[3] Albert Mohler, “Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is” (September 3, 2009). https://albertmohler.com/2009/09/03/why-moralism-is-not-the-gospel-and-why-so-many-christians-think-it-is/ (accessed March 19, 2019).

 

[4] Tim Keller, The Prodigal Son: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 63.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:27–28.

 

[6] Tripp comments, “You see this dynamic in the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as righteous, perfect law givers, they had no problem laying unbearable law burdens on others. Their misuse of the law had its roots not only in bad theology but also in ugly human pride. They saw law keeping as possible, because they thought they were keeping it. And they thought that others should get up and keep it as well as they did. They were the religious leaders of their day, but they were arrogant, insensitive, uncompassionate, and judgmental. They were not part of what God was doing at the moment; no, they were in the way of it” (Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012], 153).

 

[7] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 161–162.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 18:10–14.

[9] It is amazing how you can appear to be close to God and still be far from Him in your inner attitudes, thoughts, and actions. If you want to do a quick self-diagnostic, here are four gauges you can check.  If you are feeling insecurity, performance anxiety, shame, or are just weary and heavy-burdened, you may be off mission. Here are the four gauges: 1) Insecurity! Every time something goes wrong in your life or a prayer goes unanswered you wonder if it’s because you aren’t living right in a certain area. You have not yet experienced the assurance of your salvation that is 100% grace and 0% works. 2) Performance Anxiety! Criticism from others doesn’t just hurt your feelings, it crushes you. This is because your sense of God’s love is performance-based and you need the approval of others to help you see that you are doing right. You have a hard time experiencing the unconditional love of God for yourself. 3) Shame! You experience irresolvable guilt when you do something wrong. You have a struggle or inability to forgive yourself that comes with a vague sense of shame, if not a strong feeling of condemnation. You do not yet know the justification of Jesus. 4) Weary and Heavy-Burdened! You have a dry prayer life. Not that you don’t pray, you do so dutifully, but it is just that, a duty and not a joy to be in the presence of the Lord and in awe of Him. The yoke with Jesus is ill-fitted and His commandments feel burdensome. You’re not living in the power of the Holy Spirit in and through you. Ideas original to Tim Keller’s, The Prodigal God (72-73).

[10] One reader noted a potential discussion on this topic, posing a different perspective, “An interesting dynamic to explore might be the idea that we harden our hearts as a defense mechanism. Sometimes the vastness of the mission of Christ, the sheer number of people who are lost or unreached is so overwhelming that it feels hopeless. When we hear statistics about abortion, genocide, victims of trafficking, etc., the astronomical figures make us feel hopeless. So the only way to keep us from curling up in a ball on the floor, devastated at the evil, corruption, and despair in the world around us, is to harden our hearts as a defense mechanism.”

[11] In speaking of the Pharisees, “That although they met with so much care, they were worse than harlots and publicans, and by so much” (John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost and M. B. Riddle, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series [New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888], 415).

[12] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 152.


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Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 2)

“The Heart Condition of the Younger Son”

At the closing of last week’s message I taught that in Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father in his heart nor is either fulfilling his responsibilities as a member of the Father’s Household. How could they? They are too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they could get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or with one another.

 

The three parables in Luke 15 have an immediate audience to whom Jesus is telling these stories. You here who His original audience is in Luke 15:1-2, “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”[1] (emphasis mine)

 

John Barry in Faithlife Study Bible states, “In response to the religious leaders’ complaint, Jesus tells parables to explain His purpose in welcoming sinners and sharing table fellowship with them. He teaches that each repentant sinner prompts a heavenly celebration (vv. 7, 10, 32).”[2] That is the big picture of all three of these parables: The Lost Sheep (15:4-7), The Lost Coin (15:8-10), and the Lost Son (15:11-32). Listen to Kevin Zuber in The Moody Bible Commentary emphasize the three major points of these parables in their original context:

 

The primary point of the parables, usually neglected in popular lessons on them, is that the religious leaders should not have been criticizing Jesus for seeking tax collectors and sinners (15:1; note how this verse introduces all three parables). God rejoices when such are “found,” and the sour attitude of the Pharisees and the scribes is condemned (as seen in the interaction between the father and the older brother in 15:25–32, which makes up nearly half of the parable, another point frequently neglected). A secondary, though admittedly important, theme of all three parables is that God rejoices when repentant sinners turn to Him and are “found.” “The way to God is through repentance. God’s arms are open to the person who will seek Him on His terms. God’s arms close around the child ready to run to Him and receive what He offers” (Bock, Luke, 1295). Another theme is the joy that comes when that which is lost is found.[3] (emphasis original)

 

Over the next month we are going to look at all three of these main players in Jesus’ parable: The Father who represents the God whose arms are open and ready to receive back that which was lost, the Older Son who represents the “Pharisees and the scribes,” and the Younger Son who represents the “tax collectors and the sinners.” This morning, we are going to focus on the heart condition of the Younger Son.

 

As we learned last week, Jesus was sent by the Father to restore the Household of God back to the Father. The Church is nothing more and nothing less than the Family of Believers, saved by God’s sovereign grace—members of the Household of God. In Greek, the word we know as “church” is ekklesia which technically means “the called-out ones” but in its normative usage simply means the “assembly” or “gathering.” Biblically, the church is the people called out of the world by God to gather as His family for His purposes and His glory. With Jesus as the Head, we are His body and we are united to continue the work of Jesus in building the Household of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to carry on the work of why Jesus Christ came: “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And the body is not only 100% dependent on Jesus, the Head, but mutually dependent on one another. The illustration I used last week was the human body, none of the 12 organ systems in the body are fully self-reliant. The cardiovascular system does not work without the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is useless without the nervous system. And none of it is worth a thing if the lymphatic system doesn’t keep up our immunities. This is the same in the body of Christ—we need one another, of all generations, men and women, working together with all of our spiritual gifts, talents, resources, perspectives, and backgrounds. We aren’t functional if we are not healthy!

 

This week, we learn that there is a great danger to the healthy functioning of the body to fulfill God’s purposes for this world. It is the heart condition of the younger son! We are all blinded by our own sin tendencies that causes us to act like the baby of the family when we don’t get our own way: taking the ball and going to play somewhere else. Pastor Paul Tripp states in his book Dangerous Calling, “Because sin blinds, God has set up the body of Christ to function as an instrument of seeing in our lives, so that we can know ourselves with a depth and accuracy that would be impossible if left on our own.”[4] In other words, the church is designed to be a place where sin is dealt with directly because it is sin that destroys relationships and sin that isolates members of the body from one another. The heart condition of the younger son causes us to not be a healthy, functioning body because it keeps the members from working together in unity. But if I try to help you remove sin from your life, you have a choice how you are doing to respond and that will determine whether or now we are healthy body or a dysfunctional body.

 

Listen again to Tripp as he makes an important observation about the church:

 

I’m convinced that the big crisis for the church of Jesus Christ is not that we are easily dissatisfied but that we are all too easily satisfied. We have a regular and perverse ability to make things work that are not and should not be working. We learn to adjust to things that we should alter. We learn to be okay with things we should be confronting. We learn how to avoid things we should be facing. We would rather be comfortable than to hold people accountable. We swindle ourselves into thinking that things are better than they are, and in so doing we compromise the calling and standards of the God we say we love and serve. Like sick people who are afraid of the doctor, we collect evidence that points to our health when really, in our heart of hearts, we know we are sick. So we settle for a human second best, when God, in grace, offers us so much more.[5]

 

What is the something more? It is living in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ, submitted to the Father’s will, working together as members of the body of Christ for the glory of God by making disciples to grow the Household of God to further the reach of His body on earth. In short, to seek and to save that which was lost! We must be able to gaze into the truth that is the condition of our own hearts through the body of Christ and the work of the Word, both empowered by the Holy Spirit. Let’s focus our time together today by specifically looking at three aspects of the heart condition of the Younger Son.

 

The first condition is selfishness. In Luke 15:12, the Younger Son said to his Father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.”[6] As the younger son, who is most likely in his early 20s (possibly younger) and presumed unmarried, by the Jewish law he has a legal right to 1/3 of his father’s estate upon his father’s death. For him to ask for it at such a young age and before his father’s death would be considered a vulgar act of selfishness. It is essentially wishing his father to be dead because He wanted the benefits of his father’s household without honoring his father or submitting to his authority. There is no rest found in living your life in a selfish way. It’s not all about you and what you want! It’s about God and His purposes for your life as a member of His Household. As members of the body, selfishness destroys our unity and our functionality. There are no biblical grounds for selfish motives anywhere in the church.

 

The only antidote for this is to be found in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ who promises rest for our soul by taking on His teaching, submitting to His will, and living according to His grace. Listen to Paul speak to this in Philippians 2:3-11:

 

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[7]

 

Where do you see selfish tendencies within your own thoughts and actions? How have you seen selfish decisions hurt you and others? What are some practical steps of generosity you can take today and this week?

 

The second condition is rebellion. Jesus says of the Younger Son in Luke 15:13, “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.”[8] From the ends of this verse and 15:30 (“who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes”), we learn that the Younger Son indulges his passions in a decadent and rebellious lifestyle. Outside of his father’s household he knew no restraint and burned out his life, his resources, and his opportunities.

 

First, he dreamed of a life that was better than one in his father’s household, doing his father’s work. Second, he wished his father dead so that he could live how he wanted. Then he used his inheritance (his birthright from his father) to gain independence from the father. He no longer felt that he needed the father because he “sold his birthright” for the illusion of personal freedom and self-fulfillment outside of his father’s household.[9] Outside of his father’s household, he sought to live in such a way that was not restrained from what he perceived to be oppressive cultural norms, antiquated religious ideals, and limiting family values. The Younger Son’s desire for uncontested personal liberty through “a deliberate renunciation of a set of values”[10] led to the loss of all that was promised to him and a destruction of his very personhood until he was ashamed of himself and the depths of his loss. The pursuit of absolute freedom from all authority is a rebellion that leads to a slavery with a fickle and unforgiving master called “the flesh” (i.e. “me, myself, and I”).

 

We learn by Jesus’ example that the only answer to mastering the flesh’s desire to be in control and to rule every area of your life is to crucify it (submit it to the Father’s will). As Paul said in Galatians 5:13-17, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”[11]

 

Do you see the damage done when people are mastered by their own body’s needs and desires?  

Which dominates your thoughts and actions—your flesh or God’s Spirit in your life? What does it look in your life to take on the easy yoke of Jesus and learn from Him how to submit to the Father’s will? What would be the benefits to the whole church if we each did that?

 

The third condition is brokenness. All of us must face the heart condition of the Younger Son that is in each of us in order to be saved and welcomed home by the Father. There is no salvation apart from our ability to empathize with the Younger Son, to say that I too am a sinner in need of God’s grace, just like the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was addressing this to in the first place. To not be able to say that would put us into the Older Son’s heart condition (the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was also addressing) and that is another sermon for another day.

 

Here is the main issue of brokenness! Without seeing it in yourself, you can’t be saved. You just won’t see the need! The Bible says that all of us are selfish, rebellious, broken people. You can’t heal yourself from being broken or manage your life in such a way that you don’t experience your brokenness (other than self-delusion, but that is where the church helps you get honest with yourself, God, and others). The only way to be saved is to look at your heart condition without distortion, without white washing, without covering over. We need one another to be healthy members of the body of Christ. Or we can hide in shallow relationships, platitudes, and the illusion of peace (Jeremiah 6:13-16) and be a dysfunctional church that does not do the work of God, but rather spends most of its time simply trying to convince itself of its need to survive.

 

If we cannot admit our own selfishness and our rebellion and desire to rule our lives, then we will never get to the necessary state of heart to be saved: a broken heart that is willing to go back home to be with the Father, in the church family we call that repentance! Psalm 51:17 says about the Father, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”[12] A broken and contrite (repentant) heart is a heart willing to go home to the Father! A heart that has hit bottom of trying to swindle God and scheme for the pride of position in this life. For the Younger Son, the promises of the far country (that allured and beckoned him in the beginning) turned out to be “a land of faded dreams and spiritual hunger.”[13] His nights turned into loneliness and his days into bankruptcy. The Younger Son hit bottom and saw that his only way to have life was to have it as a member of his Father’s Household, even if it meant forsaking his rights as a son. When the Younger Son came to the logical conclusion of his own heart condition, he did the only thing that could save him—He went home honestly (15:14-19)!

 

Notice in 15:20 that the Father was eagerly waiting and looking for the Younger Son to return, but He doesn’t go and bless him in the far country. God is patient and His grace is available today as much as it was yesterday. He looks for you to hit bottom of your own brokenness and come home to Him. He desires for you to come Home! Our mistake is in lying to ourselves that we are either not in the far country or that the Father is ok with our disobedience and that we can live an abundant life our way. God’s arms are ready to embrace any person who is willing to come to Him in repentance. A person who admits that all his selfishness and rebellion has only caused destruction to his own life and the life of those he loves. Are you ready to come home to be a son or daughter in the Household of God? The church should be a safe place for all the younger sons and daughters to be able to come home and feel like they BELONG! Are you?
 
 
Listen to it here.
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:1–2.

 

[2] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Lk 15:2.

 

[3] Kevin D. Zuber, “Luke,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1581–1582.

[4] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 34–35.

 

[5] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 59.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:12. Richard Blight attempts to answer the question of how the father would have fulfilled this request, “The son wanted the equivalent value of the property in the form of money [Gdt]. This division required that a considerable part of the holdings of the estate be sold and converted to cash [NTC]. When the father gave the younger son his share in money, he also made over the rest of the inheritance to the elder son [Hlt, NICNT, NIGTC, TH; HCSB], while retaining the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of the property during his lifetime [Hlt, NIGTC]. Or, the elder son would not take possession of his share of the inheritance until his father’s death [NTC]. In dividing the estate, it does not mean that the father gave all of the property over to both sons, since the dividing would be accomplished by giving a third to his younger son and this was probably the case since throughout the parable it appears that the father still possessed the property [AB]. Or, both sons received their shares and the elder son kept his share at home where he was still under the control of his father [Alf, BECNT, TNTC]. Perhaps it means that the elder son was assigned capital goods but not a claim to their produce while the father remained alive [WBC]. It is not relevant to speculate whether the father was wise or foolish in submitting to the younger son’s request [NAC]” (Richard C. Blight, An Exegetical Summary of Luke 12–24, 2nd ed. [Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008], 144).

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 2:3–11.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:13.

 

[9] In using the phrase “sold his birthright” I am alluding to the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:33f that is referenced in Hebrews 12:15-17. As this text states, we fall short of God’s grace and harm others when we act like an “immoral or godless person like Esau who sold his own birthright for a single meal.”

 

[10] Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 (2001): 13.

 

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 5:13–17.

[12] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ps 51:17.

 

[13] Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 (2001): 14. He continues, “The only employment the younger son could find was looking after pigs, unclean animals in Jewish dietary and social law. That he fulfilled this work on minimal wages is evidenced by his hunger for the food that the pigs were eating. In the context of the parable the hunger of the younger son’s body is symbolical of his inner hunger of spirit for something to sustain his human being and to rescue his life from its downward spiral into oblivion and destruction.”


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Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 1)

“The Big Story of Belonging!”

Play “Belong Series” video with reading of Luke 15:11-32.

This is the story for our new series “Belong: We are God’s Family!” It is classically called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but I personally title it, “The Parable of the Father’s Love for His Family.” It is the third of three parables given to us by Jesus with a searching theme—the Lost Sheep in 15:1-7, the Lost Coin in 15:8-10, and the Lost Son in 15:11-32.[1] When Emily Hurst and I were talking about this, she said, “I wonder if, for Jesus, it was like those moments a teacher has where they explain a concept one way, look out to a sea of blank faces, and dig deep to find another way to explain it until they begin to see the ‘lightbulb’ effect.” That is a great way to think about why a Master Teacher would use three parables in a row. That would make this one, the third of the three, very striking and important. Jesus sets up a pattern on purpose!

 

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to redeem humanity back into right relationship with God the Father. Luke 15 tells the story of God’s extravagant love and to what extent God is willing to go so that we know we belong to His family. A good parent desires to have the children at home, safe and secure. God the Father desires His children to go looking for one another and not to be focused on their own inheritance, but to be secure in His love. Now ask yourself: what is missing from this story? What’s missing is that no one went searching for the lost son! Where was the older son when his younger brother went off the grid in rebellion against his family?

 

That is why Jesus came: Jesus came to fulfill the role of the elder son! Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[2] Listen to Galatians 4:4-8, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.”[3]

 

We are God’s family! Look how far Jesus, our elder brother, came to search and to find us, the little brothers and younger sisters to bring us home and into the safety of the Father’s home and the security of the Father’s inheritance! As His household, we are the Father’s sons and daughters, and we are invited to be a part of God’s redemption plan “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10; cf. 14:21-24). Paul teaches us of our responsibilities as members of the household of God in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”[4] [emphasis added]

 

Here is a start to how we are to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of Christ:

  1. We are to be patient and kind with one another, even when we have something hard to say.
  2. We listen to both sides of the story and aren’t quick to make judgments without knowing.
  3. We speak truth in love gently, remembering we can be right and wrong at the same time.
  4. When we mess up the first three we go to the person to get right and seek forgiveness.
  5. We help when a person can’t do it themselves. We encourage them to do it for themselves when they can, even if they would rather someone else do it for them.
  6. We talk about Jesus with people and build a healthy relationship to not only “save souls” but also “make disciples.”
  7. We pray for people and allow God to move our hearts toward them.
  8. We model a healthy life of work and rest, sacrificial giving, and biblical lifestyle choices.
  9. We keep short accounts: we forgive others just as readily as we ask God to forgive us.
  10. We strive to not be cliquish in the Family of God, either in who is here or in who we invite. Ambassadors represent Jesus to everyone for He wants all of His children safe and secure.

 

From the beginning, God designed us to belong! We were created to have a relationship with God—to belong as members of God’s family, to be His Image Bearers (Genesis 1:26-27), but our sin separated us from Him (Genesis 3:22-24; Rom 3:23). That is what it means to be dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13), it means we are cut off from the Family of God and from our inheritance of eternal life. When we are still in our sin we don’t belong because sin cuts off our relationship to God and damages all relationships (1 Corinthians 15:17). As Isaiah 59:2 states, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”[5]

 

But God did not want this for His creation so He did something about it—God sent the Elder Son to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10)! Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can belong to God and to one another forever. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection all point to this big truth: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). More specifically and more to the point of our series, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).

 

We are God’s Family in this life and in the Life to come![6] One day, we’ll be with God in the perfect relationship He intended from the beginning (Revelation 21—22). What a glorious day that will be; when we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6; John 14:1-6). This is the promise we anticipate for eternity, but this is also the hope we live in today. And as members of God’s household, we share this faith and hold tightly to this hope.

 

On some days here in this very broken world, our faith and hope in Jesus is all we have because we lose our faith and hope in people, including our families and our churches. But we hold on to our faith in Jesus which means we cling to His promises for His Family, His people who gather regularly to remember and to proclaim![7] We cannot lose hope! Without hope, we are done!

 

God’s Family is not our preference, it is God’s priority for our lives (John 13:34-35). We are God’s Family, held together by our hope and faith in Jesus Christ. Tim Keller diagnosed, “We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.”[8]

 

We remain faithful to our family because we are held together by faith and hope in Jesus, not in one another. When I was discussing this with one of my fellow church members, that person said to me, “This is the big problem with unity in the church. We rely on other broken people, and we take it personally when they let us down.” Wow! Listen to Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”[9] We gather to refocus ourselves and others on Jesus—to belong!

 

What holds us together? Listen to some excerpts from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

 

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave [Jesus] as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Therefore I, [Paul], implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.[10] [emphasis added]

 

Jesus is the head of His Body and we must remain yoked with Him and have connective tissue that holds us together, working under the direction of the One who is Head, Christ Jesus. But God established it where we would not only absolutely depend on Jesus, the Head of the Body (there is no life apart from Him), but our fellow members of the Body as well. We each need to be connected and working together because that is the way a body works. This is why we have called everyone to the 7:1 Initiative at FBC: 7 friends and 1 place of service to invest yourself into to the glory of God and the building up of His body! We each need 7 friends in this church who know and love us and who have permission to hold us accountable for our Christian walk. We each need 1 place of service to be the functional part of the Body God designed us to be.

 

Until Jesus’ return, God has designed His plans to be accomplished in the world through His Family, the church.[11] I am discerning that currently we don’t have the connective tissue as His body to do God’s will in us or through us. We have enough members at FBC, we just don’t have enough connection to one another as His body. We are not belonging to one another as God has saved us to be, commanded us to do, and designed us to walk—as one body, His body, not as individual body parts! This is why we are calling everyone to the “7:1 Initiative” at FBC!

 

To illustrate this need: in the human body, none of the 12 organ systems in the body are fully self-reliant. The cardiovascular system does not work without the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is useless without the nervous system. And none of it is worth a thing if the lymphatic system doesn’t keep up our immunities.[12] This is the same in the body of Christ—we need one another, of all generations, men and women, working together with our spiritual gifts, talents, resources, perspectives, and backgrounds fully at play. None of us should resort to childish tactics, “I’m taking my ball and going somewhere else to play” just because of an issue in the Family or because of “I want it my way” or “I know best” thinking. That includes the pastor doing this (many people remember those moments from decades ago), but it also includes each of us doing this (and what a problem this is on a month to month basis, every year)!

 

The church is not ours! It is God’s Family and God is like a Father with 2 sons. In Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father at their hearts and fulfilling their responsibilities as members of His Household. How could they? They are too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they can get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or one another.

 

How does Jesus’ parable apply to the churches of our day and age?

 

Please watch this video to find out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_bkNkrWdz8

 

Ask not: How can I make the church more about me? That is the trend in our culture and at FBC! Rather ask this: How can God use me to be a blessing to His Family and to help others belong?

 

We believe that you BELONG in God’s Family at FBC!
 
Listen to it here.
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] I was first tuned into this perspective by Timothy Keller in his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008).

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 5:8.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 4:4–8.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 2 Co 5:17–20.

 

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Is 59:2.

 

[6] “Paul’s writings make much of the filial status and relationship that believers in God, through Christ, attain to the moment they believe (Rom. 8:14–17, Gal. 4:4–6). Not only are we pardoned at law, through the representative obedience and suffering of Christ, but through our union with him by faith, we are received as extra children at the Father’s hearth and home, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, whom he loves like his only Son (Rom. 8:28–30). He lavishes his love and care on us, because we are precious to him as those he has predestined for adoption” (Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 [2001]: 20).

[7] Jesus invites us to belong to Him and to one another! Those who worship Jesus Christ together in truth and spirit (John 4:23-26) are promised to be together for eternity where we will worship in the very presence of our resurrected Lord (Revelation 7:9-17). When we worship in truth and spirit, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds because we are being conformed into His image, from the inside out (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2).

 

[8] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 100. This connect beautifully to the rest motif found in Matthew 11:28-30.

 

[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Heb 10:23–25.

 

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Eph 1:22-23; 4:1-6, 15–16.

[11] Kevin DeYoung stated about the church in his book Crazy Busy, “The only work that absolutely must be done in the world is Christ’s work. And Christ’s work is accomplished through Christ’s body. The church—gathered in worship on Sunday and scattered through its members throughout the week—is able to do exponentially more than any of us alone. I can respond to Christ’s call in one or two ways, but I am a part of an organism and organization that can respond and serve in a million ways” (Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013]).

[12] Thank you to Emily Hurst for this wonderful illustration and insight.


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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus (Week 8)

“Living in the Easy Yoke of Jesus!”

Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 In my Tuesday morning devotional reading this week, Charles Spurgeon stated: “The Christian has permanent peace with God (Romans 5:1). The ruling peace of Christ in the heart is not supposed to be an optional extra (Colossians 3:15).”[1]

 

I wholeheartedly agree, but our version of Christianity falls short of God’s grace when we settle for one without the other, either direction![2] When we only teach, preach, and heal a person to have permanent and eternal peace with God (“saving souls”), without teaching, preaching, and healing people to have a ruling peace over their hearts and minds in everyday life (“making disciples”), then we are falling short of the grace of God as Jesus’ new people. We should not teach people that they have an assurance of eternal rest, if we do not also teach them to experience that God’s promised rest within that same “nephesh”![3]

 

Today we conclude our 8-message series on Jesus’ comforting words from Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”[4] We will focus on that last statement that reinforces everything we have taught up to this point: Jesus described His teaching that we are to learn from Him in v. 30 as, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

 

This last line is very important for it provides the reasoning behind all that was offered. As Graham Stanton stated, “The first four lines are well-balanced and are undergirded by the ‘reasoning’ of the fifth and final line.”[5] Stanton continues, “The ‘yoke of Jesus’ is the yoke of discipleship. And for Matthew discipleship involves teaching, preaching, and healing which is modelled precisely on the actions and words of Jesus himself. In the final verse of the gospel the disciples are told by the Risen Jesus to teach men to observe all the commandments Jesus had given them. They are to retain the words of Jesus and to proclaim their continuing importance. For Matthew call and demand are inextricably interwoven.[6] (emphasis added)

 

I am struck by what appears to be a paradox in Jesus’ words regarding His yoke. If what Stanton says is true and “call and demand are inextricably interwoven,” then how is this an easy yoke and a light burden for all who answer Jesus’ invitation to “come to Him” and become His disciples?[7]

 

The call of discipleship comes with the work of Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20 and many other commands found in the NT, so how is answering the call of Christian discipleship an easy yoke and light burden? For 16 years of pastoral ministry and 22 years of Christian discipleship, it sure hasn’t been an easy or burden-free life, so what is Jesus’ saying?

 

A clue comes from Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:39, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”[8] If Jesus is Himself the rest that He is offering to His disciples, then rest is found in submitting your life to the yoke of Jesus—to Jesus Himself! As Stanton concludes of this critical passage, “The disciple who has taken the cup of salvation ‘for the forgiveness of sin’ is called to take the yoke of Jesus in costly and demanding discipleship; he is promised ‘rest’ and the presence of the Risen Christ and told to go and make disciples of all nations.”[9] Stanton inextricably interweaves Matthew 11:28-30 with 28:18-20.

 

The way that we have peace of mind and heart, rest for our soul, the fulness of joy from our salvation is by following Jesus Christ and not just on your way to Heaven, but as we are going about our day-to-day lives learning from His very real presence with us. We are called to be with and become like Jesus and in doing so we will make disciples! It’s an inside-out process that bears the fruit of obedience to Jesus because He loves us and in response we love Him.[10]

 

Let me explain by going back to the yoke imagery. The yoke Jesus is describing is steeped in both the Jewish religious culture and agricultural imagery. It is the yoke that unites two oxen to work alongside one another, pulling together. What one ox can pull alone (2 to 5 thousand pounds depending on the maturity and training of the ox) is much less than what two can do together (10 thousand pounds when a mature ox is training a young one and up to 15 thousand pounds when both are mature and trained). Taking this at straight value, Jesus is saying we can do a lot more when we are yoked with Him. We know though that Jesus very clearly taught in a different conceptual metaphor of the vine and branch imagery in John 15:5 that if we are not connected to Him we can do nothing. The imagery is not incongruent, but saying the same thing!

 

What is Jesus exactly saying to us about the yoke?

 

Jesus is calling us to have “a relation of absolute dependence” on Him for Heaven and for our daily life![11] The original metaphor was used by the Rabbis to talk about being yoked to Torah (the commandments of God), more broadly yoked to Heaven, and more specifically yoked to the Rabbi’s teachings on how to fulfill Torah. The Moody Bible Commentary helps us understand this imagery: “Rabbinic literature speaks of taking on the yoke of the Torah or the yoke of the commandments, meaning ‘adopting Torah,’ including the performance of Rabbinic instruction as a lifestyle. Jesus is contrasting following Him, which is light, with following Rabbinic Torah, which is burdensome (Mt 23:4).”[12] John Barry, in the Faithlife Study Bible, helpfully explains that the yoke “refers to the traditions of the elders, not the law itself. This contrasts with the light, easy burden of Jesus (11:30). Jesus’ teachings are not easy, but obeying them leads to life, not bondage.”[13] (emphasis is author’s)

 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus not only sets up the contrast between the Pharisees’ teachings and His own teachings as heavy vs. light, He says it’s impossible to have rest with God on the basis of the example of the works of those same Pharisees.[14] Jesus emphasizes this:

 

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.[15]

 

We are commanded to learn from Jesus’ example of His works! After embodying the Law, perfectly living according to it, and declaring Himself Lord over it, Jesus invites people to find their righteousness by coming into relationship with Him. In fulfilling the Law, Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, and now invites us into a relationship with Him that includes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is God’s promise of putting the Law inside the people’s hearts, as seen in Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:33-34; and Hebrews 8:8-13.[16]

 

Listen to the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 2:19-21, “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”[17]

 

Rest is found because of God’s presence in us! Our righteousness is not of our own effort, but of Jesus’ completed works on the Cross and promised presence in our lives through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We find our rest in Him, just like we have our righteousness in Him, just like apart from Him we can do nothing!

 

In other words, it is only by God’s grace that we can be righteous! Spurgeon helpfully explained, “God be merciful to me, for to keep this law is utterly beyond power; even to know the fulness of its meaning is not within finite capacity. Therefore great God cleanse us from our secret faults—save us by thy grace, for by the law we never can be saved.”[18]

 

The reason that the yoke is easy and the burden is light is because Jesus’ way is by grace! Heaven is grace, not earned! Peace in this life is grace, not earned. Rest for your soul is grace, not earned. Grace comes to the humble who believe. Listen to Jesus explain the importance of being found in Him through faith: “Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace [emphasis added]. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”[19]

 

We already know that the rest Jesus offers is not a peaceful life with no burdens and no suffering and no stress. That is just not real. But how do you deal with it, think about it, emotionally handle your circumstances, navigate difficult relationships, and remain focused on Christ through the ups and downs. You can have a restful soul in a chaotic world! How?

 

Listen to Kevin DeYoung as he graciously considers the topic of Sabbath:

 

I hope every Christian can agree that God has made us from the dust to need regular times of rest. He built it into the creation order and commanded it of his people. God gives us Sabbath as a gift; it’s an island of get-to in a sea of have-to. He also offers us Sabbath as a test; it’s an opportunity to trust God’s work more than our own. When I go weeks without taking adequate time off, I may or may not be disobeying the fourth commandment, but I’m certainly too convinced of my own importance and more than a little foolish. If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest.[20]

 

Rest is the witness of whether or not you are in Christ. With that understanding, listen to the Apostle John, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. [emphasis added] For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?[21]

Faith in Jesus Christ is getting in His yoke and in His yoke you will obey His commands because that is what the Spirit does when you, the branch, are connected to Jesus, the vine. If you are born of God you overcome the world! If you are connected to the vine you produce fruit!

 

I love how Paul directly addresses the Galatians in how they had this backwards, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul overtly states, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”[22]

 

Listen to Jesus’ most stringent rebuke against the religious leaders of His day in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.”[23] Connect this to the agricultural imagery: “Often the burden the ox had to bear was so heavy that it would cause them to stumble and fall under it, but Jesus promised that the burden of His followers would never be that heavy.”[24] Because Jesus is faithful to be with His disciples and He provides for that which He commands!

 

Jesus promises an easy yoke and a light burden because of our faith in Him and through that faith, His Holy Spirit in our lives! Listen to Craig Keener explain, “They will find Jesus’ yoke light because he is a Master who will care for them (Mt 11:29). Jesus’ yoke is not lighter because he demands less (5:20), but because he bears more of the load with us (23:4). In contrast to unconcerned religious teachers who prided themselves on their own position, like some religious leaders today (23:4–7, 29), Jesus was going to lay down his life for the sheep (20:25–28).”[25] This is Jesus’ teaching in John 10 when He states, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”[26]

 

Rest is a gift of right relationship with God and right relationship with God is not only through coming to Jesus by God’s grace, but through obeying all that Jesus commanded through the presence and power of God’s grace in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.[27] There is a rest to be found in knowing that you are never alone. In His yoke, Jesus is with us every step of the way![28] As Paul taught us in Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”[29]

 

To illustrate the point, listen to how Spurgeon would encourage a believer to find peace:

 

Do as the child did, when he ran and told his mother as soon as his little trouble happened to him; run and tell your Father the first moment you are in affliction. Do this in everything, in every little thing—“in everything by prayer and supplication make known your wants unto God.” Take your husband’s head-ache, take your children’s sicknesses, take all things, little family troubles as well as great commercial trials—take them all to God; pour them all out at once. And so by an obedient practice of this command in everything making known your wants unto God, you shall preserve that peace “which shall keep your heart and mind through Jesus Christ.”[30]

 

Jesus is with us and He knows better than we do our need for His healing presence inside of us. We get caught up in our circumstances, but Jesus is after our hearts. You will never have rest for your soul until your heart is in His hands. In relationship with Jesus we become aware of our daily need for a Savior and not just for Heaven. Kevin DeYoung explains this theological reality of our profound need to be yoked with Jesus in order to experience the rest He gives:

 

And because we know ourselves to be fallen creatures, we will accept the limits of our human condition. We cannot have meaningful relationships with thousands of people. We cannot really know what is going on in the world. We cannot be truly here and there at the same time. The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance—and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.[31]

 

Knowing this truth about ourselves is essential in teaching us how to find rest for our souls in the easy yoke of Jesus. Which is by the way, the yoke of being His disciple who is called to the Great Commission. We are called to make disciples through a relationship with Jesus that bears good fruit in relationships with others. The Kingdom of God is a relational kingdom and it is built one relationship at a time! Listen to Jesus in Matthew 16:18, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.[32]

 

When we are yoked with Jesus Christ, we trust God to do what Jesus promised to do by the work of the Spirit in His people. Listen to C.H. Spurgeon preach about how God works in the world,

 

Where is the Holy Spirit all the while? Is he lying idle? Oh, no; he is floating over the earth, and when he sees a weary soul, he says, “Come to Jesus, he will give you rest.” When he beholds an eye filled with tears, he wipes away the tears, and bids the mourner look for comfort on the cross. When he sees the tempest-tossed believer, he takes the helm of his soul and speaks the word of consolation; he helps the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds; and ever on his mission of mercy, he flies around the world, being everywhere present. Behold how the three persons work together.[33]

 

Jesus builds His Church. As disciples of Jesus, we cultivate soil through relationship! Only God brings the increase. If you forget this, you put yourself and others in a burdensome, exhausting, and painful yoke that quickly mutates the church through “Christian Pharisaism”.[34]

 

We are to work alongside of Jesus to cultivate the soil, working the fields of God’s harvest. In doing so we are following Jesus’ example and answering His prayer found in Matthew 9:35-38. One blogger wrote of this issue: “Why would taking on a yoke be ‘easy’, and the ‘burden light’? It is the shared load that makes the work easier. Although single yokes can be used, the efficiency is far greater when two pull together under the same yoke. Jesus is clearly saying, ‘come walk alongside me, share my yoke and I’ll pull you through whatever you need to go through.’ Together, it will be easier, the load less heavy, the relief profound.”[35]

 

A yoke is easy and the burden is light when the oxen are pulling together. The younger oxen must remain (abide) in the posture of the heart (gentle and humble) to be trained to learn from the master. If you are not willing to come under the daily lifestyle of apprenticeship to Jesus, regardless of whether or not you believe He is the Son of God or said a prayer to Him for the forgiveness of your sin, you will not find rest in this life because you are not living your life with the mind of Christ or by the Spirit of God. Your dragging your feet or pulling away from Him![36]

 

Listen to Jan Johnson help driven people find rest in their lives:

His insight—”drivenness must give way to peacefulness”—reassures us that those of us who are driven are not excluded from the contemplative way. It helps us seek God instead of our own goals. Perhaps this idea of contemplation as burnout prevention explains why Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Mercy, who work among the poor and dying in Calcutta, India, don’t get overwhelmed. Even though they get so much important work done, “only five hours a day of their time is spent among poor. The rest is spent in prayer and meditation and things that focus them on God. Their effectiveness and ability to keep going is multiplied incredibly because of their time with God.”[37]

 

The yoke of Jesus is an invitation to a side-by-side conversational relationship with Jesus (which is my best understanding of the word “contemplative” and how Johnson is intending it in her book). When we work from a place of a rest, we are not pulling at the yoke by going faster or slower than Jesus or by pulling away from Jesus. We are not allowing fear or anxiety to drive us, but we are allowing the Good Shepherd to lead us. We are living by faith! We must prioritize above all else the work of staying inside the yoke and learning from the Lord of Sabbath in the rhythms of work and rest that God has established for our lives from creation.[38]

 

Listen to this powerful insight from Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy:

 

Setting priorities can be difficult. Sticking to them can seem impossible. But Jesus understands the challenge. He lived with unrelenting demands and unbelievable pressure. He also knew that if he were to accomplish the purposes God had for him, he would have to pass up ten thousand good purposes other people had for his life. The Son of God could not meet all the needs around him. He had to get away to pray. He had to eat. He had to sleep. He had to say no. If Jesus had to live with human limitations, we’d be foolish to think we don’t. The people on this planet who end up doing nothing are those who never realized they couldn’t do everything.[39] (emphasis added)

 

Did you hear that last line? It’s my favorite because it cuts to the heart of my pride! Listen to DeYoung diagnose each of us to the root of the issue that Jesus’ gracious invitation confronts:

 

As Christians, especially, we ought to know better because we understand deep down that the problem is not just with our schedules or with the world’s complexity—something is not right with us. The chaos is at least partly self-created. The disorder of daily life is a product of disorder in the innermost places of the heart. Things are not the way they ought to be because we are not the way we are supposed to be. Which means our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many of our other sins: pride.[40]

 

As James stated, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”[41] And Peter said:

 

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[42]

 

Issues of pride are spiritual issues and cannot be relieved with worldly solutions. These are matters of spiritual warfare as you see from both these verses and this is not something to mess around with! Bringing the operating principles of the world into your life or into the church community life will only reap unequal yokes, which will rub you raw (for that yoke is not well-fitted for a disciple) and crush you (for that yoke is a burden in and of itself).[43] And you will not get the results you would want long-term. In fact, it will only make it worse and this is why we are seeing so many messes in good people’s lives and in good people’s churches. I would argue, it’s also why we are seeing so many high-profile American pastors falling short of God’s grace—they are being crushed under the weight of ministry for Jesus because they were not taught to do ministry in the yoke of Jesus.[44]

 

There is a different way, but it is ministry from the inside-out. Jesus took the 663 commands of the Rabbis and gave us 1 command as the Master Teacher: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”[45] We are to follow His example and be like Him! That is God’s will for your life, not to make Christianity into a new form of Pharisaism, which is what has happened and is still happening through the course of 2,000 years of church history.[46]

 

Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. That is what we are to learn by yoking with Him and that is what we are to teach as we make disciples. We find rest by loving people like Jesus loved, by serving people like Jesus served, by forgiving people like Jesus forgave. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, not the produce of our own efforts.

 

I conclude with these thoughts from Kevin DeYoung, “We all have a cross to carry. But it’s a cross that kills our sins, smashes our idols, and teaches us the folly of self-reliance. It’s a cross that says I’ll do anything to follow Jesus, not a cross that says I have to do everything for Jesus.”[47] (emphasis original to author) DeYoung concludes, “But if Jesus is any example, God does expect us to say no to a whole lot of good things so that we can be freed up to say yes to the most important things he has for us.”[48]

 
Listen to it here.
 
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon and Terence Peter Crosby, 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 1998), 57. Col 3:15 states, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Paul says similarly in Phil 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Cf. Mark 4:35-41.

 

[2] I am alluding to both Hb 4:1-16 and Hb 12:12-17 when I use the phrase, “falls short of God’s grace.”

 

[3] See Sermon #7 where I explain about the Hebrew word nephesh translated “soul” in Jer 6:16 which Jesus quotes in Mt 11:29, “you will find rest for your souls.”

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 11:28–30.

[5] Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992), 340.

[6] Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992), 375.

[7] See previous sermon touching on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and how Jesus intensified the teachings of Moses to such a place that it is impossible to keep the Law by a matter of the will; it is foolish to even try.

 

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 10:39. Stanton explains, “The closing verses of the gospel are particularly important. At 28.18 it is not ‘Come to me’, but ‘Go, make disciples of all nations’. In both cases it is the authoritative teaching of Jesus which is central: ‘learn from me’ (11.29) and ‘teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (28.20). In chapter 11 the demand of discipleship is tempered with the promise of rest; in chapter 28 the promise to those engaged in the task of making disciples of all nations is the presence of the Risen Christ” (Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew [Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992], 376).

[9] Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992), 377.

[10] To understand this teaching and the role of the Holy Spirit in its fulfillment, read Jn 14:12-31.

[11] Stanton gives us the Jewish context for “yoke”, but also a strong conclusion for what Jesus is meaning when He uses this word in Mt 11:30: “‘Yoke’ is also used in Jewish writings in a much wider sense in phrases such as ‘the yoke of heaven’ ‘the yoke of God’; the term expresses a relation of absolute dependence” (Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew [Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992], 375). This is also reflected clearly in the Sermon on the Mount, especially Jesus’ teaching on prayer, specifically Matthew 6:11.

 

[12] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Matthew,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1473. Van Alstine and Opperwall confirm this view, “With their legalism the Pharisees of NT times made the law of God a very heavy yoke (Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1). By contrast, Jesus stated that the yoke of His discipline was refreshing and easy to bear (Mt. 11:29f.)” (G. A. Van Alstine and N. J. Opperwall, “Yoke; Yoke-Bar,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 1165).

[13] John D. Barry, Douglas Mangum, et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mt 23:4.

 

[14] I am not saying there will be no works in your life as works are a necessary “fruit” in your life in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ. As Eph 2:10 says, there will be plenty of good works to walk in for the disciple of Jesus, but those works will flow from the life of Christ, not for a life with Christ. I am reminded again of Dallas Willard saying, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.” Listen to Michael Heiser explain the theology, “In the New Testament, works were essential to salvation (Jas 2:14–26), but they were never the meritorious cause of salvation; God owed salvation to no one on the basis of works. This is not contrary to Paul’s assertion that no one was justified by works. James and Paul could thus be fused this way: ‘For by grace are you saved through faith, which without works is dead’ (Eph 2:8; Jas 2:17). No element can be eliminated. Jesus said that a tree (and hence a believer) was known by its fruit (Matt 12:33). If an individual does not have works (‘fruit’), there is no evidence of salvation. The presence of works is essential for calling someone a believer. But works do not put God in the position of owing salvation. Salvation comes by faith in Christ (its object), which produces works. Both must be present” (Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017], 78). (Emphasis original to author)

[15] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:17–20. “Matthew 5:17 records Jesus saying, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.’ Many of Jesus’ teachings find halakic parallels in the Mishnah” (John C. Johnson, “Mishnah,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016]).

[16] Michael Heiser explains, “In all this, Israelites could not do the works of the law and then presume God owed them salvation. God was in relationship with Israel because he chose to be in that relationship—he chose this before obedience was any issue. God extended grace by calling Abraham; Abraham believed, and then Abraham showed that belief by obedience (Rom 4). The concept “circumcision of the heart” is telling in regard to the balance of faith and works. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant. Since performing it required human activity, it could be thought of as a good work. God desired obedience—the submission of one’s will—on this matter. ‘Circumcision of the heart’ speaks of a heart that believes, not a work. It is a heart submitted to God, not merely the will. A circumcised heart was a believing heart, and it was essential for right relationship to God (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 31:33; 32:39, 40; Ezek 11:19; 36:26, 27)” (Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017], 79–80).

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 2:19–21.

 

[18] C. H. Spurgeon, “Sin Immeasurable,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 6 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1860), 105. Heiser insightfully explains that the Old Covenant was not devoid of grace in and of itself, “In the Old Testament law and the sacrificial system, failure was inevitable; fellowship with God would inevitably be broken. Moreover, humans were impure by nature and unable to approach the perfect divine presence. The book of Leviticus indicates that people could purge (“atone for”) the impurity caused by sin and transgression through sacrifice, which resulted in forgiveness (Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7; Num 15:25–28). But they did not earn forgiveness; God provided the entire means of forgiveness—the sacrificial system—through his grace. God was not forced to provide a means of atonement or reveal what he would accept for atonement. The means of restoring fellowship with God was an extension of God’s grace” (Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017], 80).

 

[19] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 16:31–33.

 

[20] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), ch. 8. While DeYoung also affirms the following beliefs about the Sabbath for NT believers. He quotes G.K. Beale’s three conclusions, “First, the seventh-day commemoration in Gen. 2:3 and Israel’s Sabbath ordinance is transferred to the first day of the week because of Christ’s resurrection. Second, Israel’s way of observing the Sabbath, with all its detailed requirements, falls away, and there is a return to the creational mandate. The observance of this mandate is a day of commemoration of God’s creative rest, a celebration that Christ has entered that rest, that believers have begun to enter such rest, and a pointing forward to believers completely entering that rest. In addition, Christ’s coming fulfills Israel’s unique Sabbath commandment, since he is Israel’s Messiah, accomplishing Israel’s end-time exodus and representing true Israel and the end-time temple.”

 

[21] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 5:2–5.

[22] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 3:1-3; 5:1.

[23] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:4.

 

[24] James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 434.

[25] Craig S. Keener, Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Mt 11:28.

 

[26] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 10:14–16.

[27] Spurgeon preached, “‘Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ This is the second instruction. It brings with it a further rest that we ‘find.’ The first rest he gives through his death. The second we find in copying his life. This is no correction of the former statement but an addition. First, we rest by faith in Jesus, and next we rest through obedience to him. Rest from fear is followed by rest from the turbulence of inward passion and the drudgery of self. We shall not only rest from the guilt of sin—this he gives us—but we shall rest in the peace of holiness which we find through obedience to him. ‘Come to me’ is thus a divine prescription, curing our ills by the pardon of sin through our Lord’s sacrifice and causing us the greatest peace by sanctifying us to his service” (Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible: Notes [Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017], 1298). (emphasis original)

[28] Jan Johnson explains, “What we can expect to hear from God in the quiet of contemplative prayer are the words ‘I am with you,’ ‘I delight in you,’ ‘I see your faults and invite you to come to Me.’ ‘Prayer,’ says Thomas Merton, ‘especially meditation and contemplative prayer, is not so much a way to find God as a way of resting in him who we have found, who loves us, who is near to us, who comes to us to draw us to himself’” (Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, ed. Dallas Willard and David Hazard [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999], 181).

 

[29] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 4:9.

[30] C. H. Spurgeon, “How to Keep the Heart,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 4 (London; Glasgow: Passmore & Alabaster; James Paul; George John Stevenson; George Gallie, 1858), 126.

 

[31] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

[32] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 16:18.

 

[33] C. H. Spurgeon and Terence Peter Crosby, 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 1998), 28. I defend that the Holy Spirit is doing this work through God’s people.

 

[34] I was introduced to this concept by Pheme Perkins who describes Matthew’s efforts to avoid the NT churches making Jesus’ invitation a new and updated version of “Christian Pharisaism.” Perkins writes, “Others are overly influenced by the teachings and practices of the Pharisees and may even be seeking to establish a form of ‘Christian Pharisee’ within the Church. Matthew counters that threat by intensifying the traditional tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees into bitter accusations against the Jewish teachers for being hypocrites, who only seek to place heavy burdens on the backs of the people and to advance their own honor and glory (6:1–6, 16–18; 23:1–36). Matthew carefully avoids the dangers of Christian Pharisaism by insisting that Jesus’ ‘yoke’ (an expression used of obedience to the Torah) is a light burden (11:28–30). It focuses on what really counts in the Torah: justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23:23). The Christian who follows Jesus’ righteousness recognizes that it comes from the ‘suffering servant’ who bears the spirit of God in order to make God’s justice victorious among the nations (12:15–21)” (Pheme Perkins, “Ethics: New Testament,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 659).

 

[35] “Lenten Meditation: Resting in the Yoke” https://briarcroft.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/lenten-meditation-resting-in-the-yoke/ (Last accessed January 25, 2019).

[36] I have heard it said that some people have just enough of religion to make them miserable. This is the primary issue for why a Christian person can be saved, but be miserable. They are not finding rest in His yoke!

 

[37] Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, ed. Dallas Willard and David Hazard (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), 138–139.

[38] “It was God’s will at creation that the sabbath have the purpose of serving mankind for rest and bring blessing. The Son of Man as Lord determines the true meaning of the sabbath. The sabbath activities of Jesus are neither hurtful provocations nor mere protests against rabbinic legal restrictions, but are part of Jesus’ essential proclamation of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in which man is taught the original meaning of the sabbath as the recurring weekly proleptic ‘day of the Lord’ in which God manifests his healing and saving rulership over man” (Gerhard F. Hasel, “Sabbath,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 855).

 

[39] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013) ch. 5.

[40] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

 

[41] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jas 4:6–8. NASB formatting of an OT quote is all caps.

[42] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Pe 5:5–8. Both are quoting Prov 3:34.

[43] Jesus calls us friends because He not only desires relationship, but also partnership with us. Listen to Van Alstine and Opperwall, “Believers are never to forget the radical difference between the dynamic of their life in Christ and the operating principles governing the world. Forming alliances that unite these two alien motivations is like plowing a field with an ox (a “clean” animal) and an ass (an “unclean” animal) yoked together (see Dt. 22:10; cf. 14:3–8)” (G. A. Van Alstine and N. J. Opperwall, “Yoke; Yoke-Bar,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988], 1165).

 

[44] As the Apostle Paul stated in Ga 6:7-9, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

[45] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 13:34–35. We should not add to that which has been made lighter for us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As Bernard of Clairvaux is quoted as saying, “What can be lighter than a burden which takes our burdens away, and a yoke which bears up the bearer himself?” (“Called to Advent—yoking” https://briarcroft.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/called-to-advent-yoking/ [Last accessed on June 25, 2019]).

[46] Ulrich Luz explains, “The Christian cliché of the Torah as a collection of many confusing and senseless individual commandments has made it difficult to understand the text (as well as Judaism). Such an interpretation was significantly reinforced by the Enlightenment. Here the fullness “of Pharisaic regulations and ceremonies” was every bit as cumbersome as the Christian yoke ‘of dogmas and secret doctrines.’ Kant thus understood the easy yoke of Christ as the moral law of the mature person. It consists of the duties that everyone ‘can regard as imposed on him by himself and through his own reason; and that yoke he therefore … takes upon himself freely.’ Therefore ‘only the moral laws …’ are ‘divine commands.’ Basically Kant’s answer is not so far removed from the classical Christian answer. Thomas Aquinas, for example, tried to achieve a balance between Matt 5:19 and the antitheses on the one hand and Matt 11:28 on the other by claiming that the ceremonial law was invalidated and at the same time by stating that Christ added little to the natural law. Thus the heavy burden is the Jewish law, the easy yoke is the lex evangelica. On a deeper level Maldonat sees four reasons why the Jewish law is a hard yoke: (1) the infinite … number of precepts that exceed the natural law; (2) the penalties for transgressing the law that are based on a spirit of fear and servitude; (3) the coercion in the law and the free expression of love in the gospel; and (4) the gift of the Holy Spirit that is lacking in the old covenant. The most perceptive response, however, is probably that of Augustine: ‘Whatever is hard in what is demanded of us, love makes easy’” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001], 172–173).

[47] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

 

[48] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), ch. 5.


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