Christianity 201

April 13, 2017

Feeling Nervous? Romans 8: 31-39

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Feeling nervous? If you are one of the disciples entering into Jerusalem with Jesus then you probably should be. Yes there is the excitement of the crowds waving their palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” but there is also the danger that exists when revolution is in the air. Jerusalem at the time is the home of powerful people with powerful ideas. Some have the idea that Rome should get lost and the occupying Roman army should take a hike. Others think that every hint of revolution should be squashed. These are dangerous times. Within a few decades there will be a revolution and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But right now, revolution is in the air and there’s a miracle worker entering Jerusalem on a donkey, which means he may as well wave a banner saying “I am the Messiah, I will rescue you.” To most minds this means “I will kick the Romans out.” Revolution is in the air, blood will be spilled. If you are one of the disciples entering Jerusalem with Jesus, you should be nervous.

What does the “triumphal entry” of Jesus and the events we celebrate on Palm Sunday have to do with our sermon series on Romans chapter 8? The connection is found in Paul’s quotation from Psalm 44:

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

Psalm 44 is a “Psalm of complaint” where the Psalmist complains that God’s righteous people are suffering and need to be rescued. Implied in the appeal for a rescue is also, of course, that God would deal with the enemy. This is an appeal to the justice of God, that He would do the right thing and rescue His people. In Jesus’ day you could think of the Jews of Jerusalem being the righteous sufferers while the Gentiles from Rome are the evil oppressors. Surely when the Messiah comes he will rescue Jerusalem and destroy the Romans! However, the facts are set straight at the cross.

By the end of the week, blood has been spilled. It is not the blood of Jewish revolutionaries, nor of occupying Roman forces. It is the blood of one man, Jesus. He is the one accounted as a sheep to be slaughtered. He is the one who can appeal to innocence and the injustice of his death as the righteous sufferer of Psalm 44. He is the one who can appeal to God the Father for a rescue, and the destruction of the enemy.

Therein lies the problem. Everyone is included in that enemy; the Roman authorities granting the final word, the Roman army carrying out the deed, the Jewish authorities instigating the whole rotten affair, and the Jewish crowds shouting “crucify him, crucify him.” The saying is spot on: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Well almost, there is one who is righteous, the one being crucified on trumped up charges, the one experiencing the culmination of hatred, the one experiencing injustice.

This is the moment in which God the Son, as the innocent sufferer, could call upon God the Father to do “the right thing,” to rescue him and destroy the enemy. Problem is, of course, that destroying the enemy would mean destroying everyone. If there is ever one moment that stands out as the moment for God to unleash his righteous anger at the world, this is it; at the cross. If there is ever a moment proving God’s righteousness in sending a flood, this is it. The flood in Noah’s day was due to man’s violence against humanity. Now at the cross humanity’s violence is turned to God Himself. Rebellion against Rome hung in the air, but we sank to our lowest low when, in our rebellion against God, Jesus hung on a cross.

Perhaps we should be nervous? The blood of Jesus is on our hands too. Would we have acted any different than the disciples in abandoning Jesus? Than Peter in denying Jesus? Than the religious leaders in seeking the death of Jesus? Than the crowds in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus? Than Pilate in acquiescing? Than the Roman solider in carrying out orders? We are no different.

So should we be nervous knowing that we are complicit in crimes against God Himself? Let us turn again to Romans 8:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Romans 8:31

But is God for us?

When we ask if God is for us, we may think of the crucifixion as overwhelming evidence of our rebellion against God. However the cross was not just our great act of rebellion, it was also God’s great act of love. Consider:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Satan, the accuser, may have a lot of dirt on us. Actually, not just may, he does have a lot of dirt on us. We have given him a long list of things to choose from as to why we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. However:

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34

Satan may argue forcefully about all the reasons we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. God says in effect “I already know about all that, in fact I already paid for it.” When we are in Christ, the dirt does not stick.

When we ask if God is for us, some may point to our own suffering as evidence that maybe He is not. Paul brings us back to the facts. We measure God’s love for us, not on our suffering, but on His. We suffer because we are humans living in a broken world. He suffered because of His love for broken people.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

Our suffering is not evidence that God does not love us. The suffering of Jesus is evidence that He does.

Feeling nervous? Because of sin, you should be. Many a person in this world should be quaking in their boots right now. However, in Christ, you needn’t. Which brings us back to where we began in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at Clarke’s blog: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 23, 2016

Jesus, Some Greeks, and Your Agenda

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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•••by Clarke Dixon

As Jesus enters Jerusalem he is faced by many people who want much from him. There are the crowds shouting 

Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel (John 12:13 )

They were waving palm branches, often a symbol of victory in ancient times, but in the hands of Jews living in a land occupied by the Romans, a symbol of a coming victory, and therefore symbol of rebellion. That is what they want and expect from this miracle working Jesus, the leading of a rebellion to kick the Romans out.

The Pharisees also want something from Jesus:

The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’” (John 12:19)

They already do not like Jesus for his blasphemous teachings and religiously incorrect acts. Now they are worried that things will become too exciting and the Romans will come and shut the city down. They want Jesus to disappear, or at least be quiet. If only he would just teach some nice things and do some nice miracles, at the proper times of course, so not on the Sabbath, then everything will be okay. How some things never change as many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, would prefer a quiet unoffending Jesus.

Then there are the Greeks who come to see Jesus:

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus. 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. (John 12:20-22)

What do they want from Jesus apart from the opportunity to meet him? We don’t know, we are not told. And we do not hear about the Greeks ever again. They almost seem to stick out in John 12 like sore thumbs, as if they have nothing to do with Jesus entering into Jerusalem on His way to the cross. Indeed it once bothered me that Jesus “answered” Andrew and Phillip but then seemed to go on teaching without really responding to the Greeks at all. That was my misunderstanding. As we read on we do find out what Jesus wants Phillip and Andrew to tell the inquisitive Greeks. In fact, while the crowds and the Pharisees are looking to get something from Jesus, in responding to the Greeks Jesus makes known what God wants for them, and from them.  Let us see what he has to say;

“Jesus answered them [Phillip and Andrew], ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’” (John 12:23 )

In referring to himself as the “Son of Man” Jesus is taking us back to Daniel 7 where Daniel has a vision of four beasts, each representing an empire marked by inhumane leadership. But then,

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 NIV italics mine)

In this vision the oppressive kingdoms of the world are replaced by the good and Godly Kingdom of the Son of Man. The Good News coming through Israel and through this one Jew, Jesus, is Good News for all the world. Tell the Greeks that. This is a blessing the Lord has in store for them.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)

Jesus is about to declare that he will be killed. His death will bear much fruit, it will bring many blessings worldwide. Tell the Greeks that. Through his death Jesus will bear much fruit, so much in fact that all the world will be invited to eat of it.

Whoever serves me, the Father will honour (John 12:26 )

The “whoever” is very important here. It is not “God’s set-apart people, the Jews who serve me,” it is not “people from a certain ethnic and/or religious background who serve me.” It is “whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” Tell the Greeks that. The opportunity is coming for them to know the blessing of being honoured by God.

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. (John 12:31)

We normally think of judgement in negative terms, but the judgement of the oppressors of the world and the driving out of Satan, the current ruler of this world, is a good thing for all the world. Tell the Greeks that. Jesus has come not to rid Jerusalem of Romans, but to rid all the the world of evil.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (John 12:32-33)

Death by crucifixion was in view here and we therefore have an admission by Jesus that the Romans, the very people the crowds are hoping Jesus will kick out of the land, will see to it that he dies. The startling bit is that having been killed Jesus “will draw all people” to Himself. Yes, all people, even the Romans who crucified him. Yes, all people, even the Jewish religious leaders who led him to Pilate.  Yes, all people, even the crowds who misunderstood him. Yes, all people, including the Greeks who were asking to see him. Tell the Greeks that. Let them know God has a plan of salvation for them. Jesus has entered into Jerusalem so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News of God’s love, can go out to all the world.

These are the things that God wants for the Greeks. These are the things God wants for you.

But Jesus also speaks about what God wants from the Greeks:

24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. (John 12:24-26)

Dying to self. Bearing fruit. Changed priorities. Serving and following Jesus. Tell the Greeks these are the things God is wanting from them. Don’t tell them to become observant Jews. Tell them to center their lives on Jesus. That is what God wants from them. That is what God wants from you.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem there are a lot of people wanting a lot of things from him. We often talk about Jesus entering into our hearts. Perhaps we do the same thing as the crowds, saying something like “Now that you are here, let me tell you what I want.” What if we were the Greeks in John chapter 12? Do we come to Jesus with an agenda, with a list of what we want? Or do we come with a blank sheet and pen in hand ready and waiting to hear what God wants for us, and what God wants from us?

(All scriptures are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise stated)